BY ROBYN MARSHALL
CARACAS — Dr Carolus Wimmer is in no doubt that a revolutionary process is underway in Venezuela. "Really it's a process of social and economic transformation, which I defend as, definitely, a revolutionary process", he told Green Left Weekly.
A veteran member of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), Wimmer is the director of international relations for the Venezuelan National Assembly and a firm supporter of President Hugo Chavez's government.
Wimmer argued that the Chavez-led Bolivarian revolution is not a socialist revolution "at this stage, but a revolution of national liberation", in which the working masses are struggling to defend their national sovereignty against US imperialism, particularly their right to determine who should be the country's president without US interference.
In Wimmer's view, the revolutionary process began with the February 1989 revolt by the poor in Caracas, sparked by an overnight hike in bus fares instigated by the then President Carlos Perez, under the orders of the US-dominated International Monetary Fund.
The "Caracazo" was an outburst of frustration and anger that rapidly spread to the provincial cities; people were in the streets, ransacking the supermarkets and burning buses.
"They were rejecting the social system", said Wimmer. "It was not organised by a solid, left vanguard from any party. The capitalist system heavily repressed the uprising for four days, with a result that the army shot dead 4000-5000 people. The official figures say 400.
"There was no investigation of those killings. After the Caracazo, everything went quiet."
Then in 1992, 2000 soldiers, led by Colonel Hugo Chavez, attempted to carry out a coup against Perez. It was defeated. But Chavez asked that he be allowed five minutes on television to tell his fellow conspirators in the other cities that they should give themselves up in order to avoid bloodshed. Chavez uttered the now famous words "Por ahora, we have not been able to achieve our objectives." The phrase "Por ahora", meaning "for now", became the catch cry of the workers and peasants in Venezuela.
When he ran for president in 1998, Chavez was able to won 56% of the popular vote. "The USA was present at all stages of that presidential election", said Wimmer. "They did their utmost to prevent Chavez from winning the election through the actions of the then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. But popular support made it impossible for Chavez to be defeated."
Wimmer claimed that the international left had tended to follow a dogma — that first it must achieve basic economic and social change, then win the political victory. " In this revolution, Chavez did the exact opposite. First, he began with the political struggle since the first thing he did was to change the Venezuelan constitution by a nation-wide debate and discussion and then a referendum. The economic and social solutions have been implemented much later."
Break with past
Chavez had set up the Movimientio Quinta Republica (MVR), the Fifth Republican Movement, in July 1998 to create an electoral organisation to run in the presidential election. The name of the new movement symbolised its aim of making a complete break with the past, with the "fourth republic" established in the late 1950s through a deal between the liberal capitalists and the landowner-military oligarchs who had traditionally controlled Venezuelan politics.
"Our aim now is also to get a newspaper for the MVR. As left militants, we have to try to unify the civilian and the military role, not in a mechanical way. This is not a European country. The armed forces have always played an open role in politics, in elections in this country."
Wimmer explained that a unique feature of the Venezuelan armed forces in the 1980s was that junior officers were sent to study social sciences in civilian universities. Unlike the junior officers of other Latin American countries, they were not trained in the School of the Americas, run by the CIA in Panama.
Junior officers from poor families could get army scholarships to study at civilian universities. Chavez's parents, for example, were poorly paid school teachers and Chavez himself was doing a post graduate degree in political science when he led the 1992 coup.
Chavez has been accused by his right-wing opponents of "militarising the country" because he believes the armed forces, in which there are now many university graduates with degrees in medicine and engineering, should be put to work to serve civilian needs, particularly the needs of the country's poor.
"We are building a military and civilian unity. It's a revolutionary step", explains Wimmer. "It's a new concept here, the economic and social wellbeing of the people. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the USA are very conscious of this; they understand very well that this is a conscious revolution."
Wimmer pointed out that the defeat of the April 2002 attempted coup by the Venezuelan capitalist oligarchy against Chavez was a decisive turning point, particularly in the development of the working people's political consciousness — in understanding their class interests as opposed to those of the capitalists.
Outlining Venezuela's foreign policy today, Wimmer said: "We need to fight for a multipolar world, not a unipolar one we have now with the USA. We really don't have sovereignty and independence. Our international work is very weak. Our enemy is external and internal.
"The USA does not allow investment from European countries into Venezuela. There are few European cars; the cars are, in the majority, General Motors and Chrysler. There are few Renaults. Toyota plays a small role.
"All Latin American governments depend on their relations with Washington. Other Latin American countries have a great dependence on the USA, such as Chile. We are looking for new relations in Europe; it's a necessity. We do not want to break off relations with the USA, but we have to assert our independence."
According to Wimmer there is no organised political party behind Chavez, only the Bolivarian Circles, which are similar to the neighbourhood-based Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in Cuba. The great danger, Wimmer said, is that the working class is not well organised in support of Chavez. Another weakness for the Venezuelan struggle is its dependence on one man.
"The danger of Chavez being assassinated is a grave one. The great difficulty for the USA is that this is an atypical revolution. This is a revolution partly reflected within the institution of the state. This is a national liberation struggle that is anti-capitalist but not socialist.
"The errors of the past are that we have not enough trained political cadre; the government institutions are administered in large part by people with a mentality of the fourth republic. Our own people are in a minority [within the state institutions]."
Wimmer said the PCV was one of the first parties to support Chavez. "It was difficult inside the party to convince the membership. We considered the program of Chavez to be fundamentally the same as the program of the PCV. We sensed a great opportunity. National liberation and independence, the right to choose our president, participatory democracy — are all things we strongly support. But if we lose, there will be a dictatorship worse than in Chile [under Pinochet]; they will impose a gigantic massacre.
"There is no alternative. It's an opportunity for the great participation of the population in politics. We can advance forward, but there is much opposition."
Wimmer pointed out that while the Catholic hierarchy had backed the April 2002 coup against Chavez, the priests in the barrios support Chavez. The military is also divided. But the opposition lost many supporters in the armed forces because of its actions during the April 2002 coup, such as its sacking of the entire National Assembly. The well-off middle class is a small, but very influential, sector of the population, with many right-wing political activists.
"One of the mistakes of the pro-Chavez forces is that we didn't pay enough attention to the needs of the middle class, to win over a section of them", said Wimmer.
"There is also a division in the trade unions. Workers were locked out in December 2002. A new trade union movement emerged in 1999. It had been dominated by the social democrats up till now. We lost the trade union elections for the CTV [Workers Confederation of Venezuela] as it was conducted at the wrong moment."
Another coup is always possible, said Wimmer. But "we are optimistic. We are fighting for a new world."
He stressed the need to win international solidarity for the Venezuelan revolution. "We have very poor contact with the international left. We must find a way to exchange opinions and our experiences. Our enemy is globalised but we are divided. It's impossible to win this fight alone. We need to overcome our differences on the left."
From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
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