Venezuela: 'People are the beginning and the end'

Luis Britto Garcia was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1940. He is the author of a vast work that encompasses 47 titles, eight of them narrative fiction. In 1970, he won the Casa de las Americas Prize with his collection of tales Rajatabla. In 1979, he won that international distinction again with his novel Abrapalabra.

Britto Garcia has written 17 plays, all of them performed, and in 1980 was awarded the Andres Bello Latin American Prize for Drama for his work The Slave's Mass. He has published 15 essays on social sciences, among them vast research pieces on political discourse and the countercultures, including The Mask of Power in 1989 and The Power Without the Mask in 1990. Both works won the prize for scientific research in social sciences of the Central University of Venezuela in 1988 and the Municipal Prize for Literature (Essays) in 1990.

One of the leftist intellectuals most committed to the popular cause throughout his life, Britto Garcia is currently supporting the Bolivarian revolution. Right now he is participating actively in the Commission for Constitutional Reform, which is revising the Venezuelan constitution. In January of this year, he presented his latest book, Our America: Integration and Revolution.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and years of ferocious neoliberalism and a certain silence in the struggles of the popular camp, not only in Venezuela but on a Latin American and even world level, the Bolivarian revolution makes its appearance. It is a new source of hope for those struggles, for the left, for the progressive forces. How do you assess this process Venezuela is living through?

I've always said that World War IV began in Venezuela. WWIII was the Cold War, which culminated in the fall of the Soviet Union and the apparent triumph of neoliberalism. World War IV began in Venezuela on February 27, 1989, with the first rebellion by an entire nation against a neoliberal package. As a result, we have discovered that a global extension of neoliberalism into the economic, social, political and cultural fields is impossible.

That rebellion, it should be noted, was entirely popular. Although many of us insisted on pointing out its imminence, it did not respond to orders from a political or intellectual vanguard. That's the signal that Venezuela sends: once again, people are the beginning and the end of everything.

The historical context of the Bolivarian revolution after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the process of capitalist aperture in China creates a scenario very different from the Cuban experience of 1959 and the Nicaraguan experience of 1979. Knowing by experience the difficulty — or impossibility — of developing socialism in a country, how can we understand the rise of today's 21st century socialism? What model is being built? Where is this revolution headed?

Let us rather begin from the impossibility of developing capitalism in the world. There are not enough resources to allow the almost 200 countries on the planet to reach a development comparable to that of the Group of Eight. For that we would need 20 planets, which would be destroyed in less than a century.

As I see it, 21st century socialism must start from this realisation. It is not possible to imitate that style of development, which is founded on waste, planned obsolescence, overexploitation, consumerism and pollution. We must develop another kind, based on austerity, recycling, conservation and sustainability.

The Soviet Union fell because world capitalism blocked it and forced it into an arms race that consumed its economic surplus. About China, I would have to study that country closely to find out if its collaboration with some capitalist enterprises has, in fact, turned it into a capitalist country. It is a study no-one in the world has conducted in a scientific and dispassionate manner.

I have talked to European capitalists who maintain that China continues to be, in essence, communist. In any case, 21st century socialism should be based on the integration of blocs in a multipolar world. The United States was successful in imposing a league of imperialist powers. We must triumph by organising a counterpart, formed by the exploited nations.

It has been accurately said that "violence is the midwife of history". All profound social change is necessarily linked to processes of social violence, to strong political commotions. But the Bolivarian revolution is a "graceful revolution", a revolution in which no-one (so far) has fired a shot. Violence, in any case, is something that comes from the opposition, whether national or foreign, from US imperialism. For how long and to what extent will it remain a revolution without social violence? Is it possible for opposing classes to coexist? And how?

The violent episodes of the Bolivarian process have been de-emphasised. The right tries to cover up, with the cloak of oblivion, the date February 27, 1989 — a popular rebellion by unarmed people that was quashed with a nationwide genocide that took thousands of lives. The left perhaps does not sufficiently remember that February 4, 1992, was a military rebellion that left numerous victims.

The putschist right premeditated several dozen murders to use as an excuse for the coup of April 11, 2002, and in the course of many years it has murdered about 150 peasant leaders through the use of paid assassins. About 150 paramilitary gunmen disguised as Venezuelan Army soldiers were arrested in the farm of an oppositionist in the outskirts of Caracas. Prosecutor Danilo Anderson, who investigated the implications of the April 11 coup, was murdered with a car bomb.

The opposition has not unleashed more violence, not because it hasn't wanted to but because it has been unable to. It is the last recourse left for someone who has lost popular support. It is possible that, as socialism directly affects some interests, the assassination attempts and terrorist explosions will multiply. I do not believe in the peaceful coexistence of antagonistic classes: the ruling classes of Venezuela demonstrated that they don't believe in it, either.

I should add that the abundance of resources in Venezuela could soften some confrontations: the government could expropriate land by paying for it generously instead of confiscating it; it could create enterprises of social ownership that might be sources of work and consumer goods for the large majorities; it could promote agriculture and cattle-raising to achieve food security; it could intensify the educational and cultural resources to educate people in the values of socialism.

We increasingly behold a process of growth in the people's power, the power from below. In fact, that's one of the five engines that propel the revolution, according to President Hugo Chavez. The entire process is undissolubly linked to his figure, same as happened in relation to other leaders in other circumstances: Lenin in Russia, Mao in China, Castro in Cuba, etc. Can popular power dispense with a leader, with a great conductor? How is popular, horizontal power, participative democracy and grassroots self-government maintained in Venezuela and other societies that seek a change in paradigms?

The opposition has understood this so perfectly that one of the constant elements of their message in the communications media is the undisguised call for the assassination of Chavez and a personal hatred toward him.

According to available testimony, the putschists of April 11 who kidnapped him prepared to execute him. What the opposition has been unable to understand is this: at the time of the popular nationwide uprising on February 27, 1989, Chavez was an obscure lieutenant-colonel and the people alone dismantled the basis of bipartisanship. From that time on, neither Democratic Action nor COPEI [former ruling parties] figured again in any election in any determining role.

On April 11, 2002, Chavez was held captive in some undisclosed place and most of his collaborators were either in prison or hunted, yet the people knew how to organise themselves spontaneously to restore the legitimate government. Chavez is the focal point of a process of popular participation. Chavez's violent disappearance would be followed by a popular uprising on a scale never before witnessed in Venezuela, and by an intensified radicalisation. The opposition should pray every day for his good health.

Venezuela is one of the largest suppliers of crude oil to the US economy and has enormous reserves of crude oil, believed to be the world's largest. It is unthinkable that Washington should resign itself to lose all that without going into battle. On the other hand, the example of this revolution and its leader, Chavez, has set off all the alarms in the White House, which sees in all this a challenge to its historical domination in what it calls its natural "backyard". What strategies can we foresee from Washington and what should we do in that new scenario?

I've always said that the first casualties in the war in Iraq fell in Caracas on April 11, 2002. The coup was an attempt by the US to ensure its supplies of Venezuelan oil before striking out against Iraq. The fate of the situation in Iraq will have a decisive influence on Venezuela. If the imperialists fail in Iraq, as it seems is most probable, they will turn against us to steal our resources. If they win in Iraq, they will also turn against us to consolidate a monopoly of fossil fuels that will give them control over the entire world.

On the other hand, a reestablishment of the US dominion over the hemisphere is not as simple as it might seem. An entire group of nations is looking for its own economic road, through Mercosur [Market of the South, a regional trade agreement]. Cuba is living proof that the world's top empire does not dare invade a country that has consolidated around a social project. Simply put, in Venezuela and Latin America we must achieve a similar degree of consolidation, which will dissuade the US from attempting military plunder.

To Latin America, integration in the free-trade treaties advocated by the US government is not at all convenient. What is undoubtedly convenient is integration based on other criteria, such as those posited by ALBA [the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America], that places popular solidarity ahead of everything else. How and to what extent can that type of hemispheric integration be revolutionary, be a path to socialism?

An integration that is not subordinated to the US, such as Mercosur, is a giant step forward, although it should be noted that this bloc includes the decisive participation of the transnationals. Also, for a while now, Mercosur has engaged in talks toward a possible free-trade pact with the European Union.

An anecdote reveals how decisive mutual support can be. At the time of the oil sabotage in December 2002 and January 2003, when the leading oil producers in Venezuela paralysed the industry's news service and damaged their own installations, Venezuela mobilised in part with gasoline imported from Brazil. Later on, in March 2003, the country returned to its historical level of production.

In my latest book, I maintain that a truly alternative integration should be achieved from the point of view of mutual support for social movements, political parties, governments, economies, diplomatic entities, strategic forces and cultural creations for the purpose of carrying out a revolution in Latin America and the Caribbean.

On the roads of dependency, social inequality and political paralysis that we have trod for the past two centuries we shall go nowhere. Now, at last, we're moving toward each other.

[Abridged from . First published by Argenpress.]