"Caracas is a place where people have woken up. Revolution is part of everyday vocabulary", wrote Heiko Khoo, an activist from the international solidarity campaign Hands Off Venezuela in a July article on the In Defence of Marxism website entitled "Impressions of a revolution".
Written after visiting Venezuela in the lead-up to the August 15-16 recall referendum, Khoo continued: "Everywhere, amongst street vendors of cheap jeans and magic herbal potions, you also find a vendor selling [new revolutionary] laws... These law pamphlets are not for the consumption of students at the law faculty but for the poor...[so they] know how to exercise their rights according to 'their laws'. The masses feel that politics, government and the state belong, and should belong, to them."
Khoo provided a vivid picture of the intense politicisation in Venezuela: "At the Simon Rodrigez Experimental University, deep inside the impoverished district of El Valle, a creche full of children and a children's party are noisily taking place. Upstairs the local Ali Primera Radio station is broadcasting in FM as the forum, voice and self-organised entertainment channel of the community. On the stairway, a group of twenty or so local activists for the No vote gather and discuss and plan their action. In another room the Marxists are meeting; next door is a room full of beds for those needing rest. This building is a revolutionary centre, organisational, cultural, political and social. The dynamism and creativity of revolution sweeps aside petty bureaucratic formalism and impels the masses to participate.
"In a nearby restaurant, well a room that passes as one, we are served food and beer. Meeting me on the street afterwards, the owner asks why and for whom I am filming, when I explain for Hands Off Venezuela a look of great pride exudes from his face. I see him return to his open door and shout out 'Viva la Revolution!' to his family inside."
The victory for the supporters of left-wing President Hugo Chavez in the recall referendum was the third major defeat for the US-backed, capitalist-led counter-revolutionary forces in less than three years — after the smashing of the April 2002 military coup and the December 2003 bosses' strike.
Chavez's referendum victory was not just registered in votes. A week before the vote, at least one million supporters of the revolution demonstrated in Caracas in support of a "No" vote. At the same time, the anti-Chavez opposition failed to mobilise more than a few thousand.
The referendum involved a massive mobilisation of the working class. Queues at voting places began to assemble as early as 3am on August 15 and voters waited in line for up to 12 hours, with polling extended after 1am to cope with the significantly increased voter participation in working-class areas.
The working-class districts erupted with euphoria at the outcome, celebrations starting even before official results came through. The opposition cried fraud, but the Organisation of American States, which had sent observers, accepted the result.
Weighing up the relationship of forces and seeing an increasingly weak, discredited and divided opposition unable to mobilise any significant numbers of people on the streets, and recognising that behind the Chavez government is an increasingly radicalised and determined mass of poor Venezuelans, Washington decided to temporarily cut its losses and acknowledge the legitimacy of the vote, thus contradicting the pro-US opposition inside Venezuela.
However, this does not mean that Washington has decided to reconcile itself to the revolution.
Less than a month after the referendum — in which almost 60% voted "No" to recalling Chavez — the US government, having formally recognised Chavez's victory, announced it would seek to block loans — totalling US$290 million — requested by Venezuela from the Inter-American Development Bank and aimed at combating poverty.
Washington justified this by claiming Venezuela is not doing enough to stop the trafficking of Venezuelan women and children "for the purposes of sexual exploitation". The Venezuelan government angrily responded by pointing to its active cooperation with the United Nations to stop this trade.
The hostility of Washington and the capitalist elite inside Venezuela toward the Chavez government does not stem from what this government has failed to do, but from what it has done.
The Chavez government publicly opposes and campaigns against the US-driven Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, which aims to open up Latin America to increased exploitation by US corporations. Instead, Venezuela is pushing for a Latin American regional trading bloc that would empower the continent to defend itself against US imperialism.
A centrepiece of this push is the proposal to merge oil industries across the continent to form a united industry that would control almost 12% of the world's oil production and would give the continent enormous bargaining power against the economic might of the US.
Venezuela has been crucial to re-organising the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to ensure that oil-producing countries receive a better price for their oil. Chavez has not only stopped the Venezuelan capitalists' plans for the privatisation of the country's state-owned oil industry. His government has organised the oil production workers to take PDVSA, the state oil company, out of the hands of its capitalist managers and has redirected PDVSA, which accounts 30% of Venezuela's GDP, toward funding social programs that improve the lives of the poor rather than maximising corporate profits.
Venezuela refuses to participate in Plan Colombia, the US-funded campaign to crush neighbouring Colombia's mass-based, left-wing guerrilla movements. Chavez has publicly condemned the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. After the US occupied Iraq, Venezuela moved that OPEC refuse to accept an Iraqi representative until the country had won its sovereignty back. Venezuela continues to insist that the US invaders leave Iraq immediately.
Under Chavez, Venezuela has established close relations with socialist Cuba, providing the Cubans with much needed oil at cheap prices. In return, thousands of Cuban doctors and teachers have volunteered to provide medical care and education in the poorest neighbourhoods in Venezuela. Since the recall victory, the two revolutionary governments have signed dozens of new cooperation agreements, including approving 115 new projects in health care, education, sports and agriculture.
These reasons alone are enough for the US rulers and the Venezuelan capitalist class to do whatever it takes to see the back of the Chavez government. But these progrsssive policies by themselves are not what sends a chill up their spines.
What really terrifies them is the growing radicalisation, confidence and organisation of the Venezuelan working people that has been occurring under Chavez's presidency. Encouraged by his fiery rhetoric and progressive reforms, the masses of poor Venezuelans, both in the cities and the countryside, have been the driving force behind the gains that have so far been won in the revolutionary process and the force that gives the revolution its potential to go much further.
An inefficient, corrupt and often consciously anti-Chavez state bureaucracy — largely drawn from the families of the wealthy elite — has it necessary for the revolutionary government to organise the poor to create counter-structures to carry out the its radical reforms.
The creation of the new, revolutionary Bolivarian University is one example of this. So too are the various PDVSA-funded "missions" that carry out the provision of health care and schooling and other social services to the poor.
The working masses have organised through the Bolivarian Circles, mass popular assemblies, elected land councils that helped draw up the urban land reform laws and, more recently, the Units of Electoral Battle (UBE), grass-roots organisations set up to coordinate the campaign for the successful "No" vote in the recall referendum campaign.
For Washington, the greatest threat the Chavez government poses is the example it sets for the rest of capitalist Latin America, already in the throes of a continent-wide anti-neoliberal revolt. If the Venezuelan working people can organise to drive back imperialism and the local capitalist class, then why can't the working people across the continent do the same?
Revolutionary Venezuela is a beacon for progressives across the world. The construction of an international solidarity movement to defend Venezuela and the example it sets is crucial. Here in Australia we also have a role to play in letting people know what is happening in Venezuela and building solidarity with its revolution.
The national Latin America solidarity conference, being held in Sydney on November 6, will include a session to help launch an Australian solidarity campaign. One aspect will be organising a broad delegation of progressive Australian youth to attend the World Federation of Democratic Youth Festival being held in Caracas next August. As well as a chance to meet other radical youth from around the world, it will be an important opportunity to see the Venezuelan revolution up close and offer solidarity from Australia.
Committees are being set up around the country to help organise for this tour as well as organise fundraising and general solidarity work. For more information, contact the Resistance national office at <email@example.com>.
From Green Left Weekly, November 3, 2004.
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