Socialist Worker (SW-NZ), an organisation of revolutionary socialists in New Zealand, has sparked a new round of debate among socialists internationally over how to understand and relate to the socialist revolution in Venezuela, led by the government of President Hugo Chavez. On May 1 SW-NZ issued a statement arguing the Venezuela's revolution is of "epochal significance".
The statement argued: "The deepening revolution in Venezuela is an historic opportunity for socialists everywhere to spotlight a real-life alternative to capitalism's inequality, eco-chaos and war." SW-NZ followed the statement with a call for a widespread debate on the organisation's blog.
The statement makes a positive assessment of the revolution's leadership, and highlights Chavez's call to unite Venezuela's revolutionary forces into the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which SW-NZ sees as "vital to educate, unite and organise the grassroots masses in Venezuela so they can push forward the socialist revolution". The statement argues that "revolutionary groups in other countries need to establish comradely relations with the PSUV".
While calling for a debate among socialists of all traditions, SW-NZ has in particular called for a debate within the International Socialist Tendency (IST), the international grouping of socialist organisations that the organisation is part of.
The IST, which is led by the British Socialist Workers Party, bases itself on the political thought of Tony Cliff, a founding leader of the SWP who passed away in 2000. Key to this is the concept of "socialism from below", which supporters of Cliff counterpose to the imposition of "socialism from above". They argue that this was what happened with the Cuban Revolution and every other socialist revolution in the 20th century, with the exception of the Russian Revolution. Supporters of Cliff argue that what exists in Cuba, and what existed in the former Soviet Union after Stalin took control, is "state capitalism".
Belief in these concepts has traditionally been used by the IST to justify the establishment of socialist parties independent of other revolutionary socialists (even from other anti-Stalinist political traditions) that don't hold these views.
While welcoming the gains for working people in Venezuela and supporting the Chavez government against attacks from imperialism, the position of much of the IST is that the Chavez government is trying to build socialism "from above".
The SW-NZ statement was issued partly in response to proposals by the SWP to create formal IST structures and give the tendency more international coordination. SW-NZ argues that any plans for reorganising the IST must take into consideration the importance of Venezuela's socialist revolution. The group claims that there are significant differences within the IST over Venezuela and that the issue of the Venezuelan revolution was a "non-topic" in the discussion bulletins of the British SWP in the lead-up to its January 2007 national conference.
SW-NZ argues that if the Venezuelan revolution "continues to move in the direction it's currently going", it will "reshape the socialist and labour movements in every country on every continent, just as the unfolding Bolshevik revolution did from 1917-24 [in Russia]".
Claiming that any IST coordination that didn't attempt to make the Venezuelan revolution a "key strategic issue" would "be a sham from the outset", the statement argues: "We all have a lot to learn from the world historic events in Venezuela. We cannot assume that any one Marxist group has ready made answers to everything." The statement argues, "the forward movement of the Venezuelan revolution and the wider Latin American uprisings look likely to provide the essential material foundations for a positive regroupment of the socialist and radical left on every continent, and the parallel emergence of a mass socialist international".
The SW-NZ statement has sparked debate on a number of left-wing blogs and email discussion lists. There have been two formal responses from within the IST, one by SWP leader Alex Callinicos and the other by the Australian International Socialist Organisation. These contributions have challenged SW-NZ's assessment of the "epochal" significance of Venezuela's revolution and its positive assessment of the Chavez leadership and its push for the PSUV, claiming it is largely a push "from above". Callinicos asked whether the Venezuelan revolution was really more significant than a series of other mass uprisings in the 20th century that all failed to overthrow capitalism, such as the 1918-23 German revolution, the 1936 Spanish uprising and the May-June 1968 student-worker uprising in France.
However, John Riddell and Roger Annis, the editors of independent Canadian publication Socialist Voice, congratulated SW-NZ in a contribution posted on the organisation's blog on May 31. Riddell and Annis wrote that they agreed with the assessment that the Venezuelan revolution was an historic opportunity for the international socialist movement. They stated: "We look forward to working together with you and with other currents from diverse political backgrounds in this process."
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