From Socialist Voice, May 2005

Building the socialism of the twenty-first century

Seán Edwards reports on his second visit to Venezuela

Condoleezza Rice is concerned about the “negative influence” of Hugo Chávez on Latin America. On her recent tour of South America she concentrated on trying to isolate Venezuela. To no avail: such is Chávez’s popularity throughout the continent that political leaders there could not go along with her even if they wanted to.
    The purchase of AK47 rifles from Russia worries Dr Rice, as does the formation of an army reserve, which aims to recruit 2 million members. As Chávez says, the revolution is peaceful but prepared to defend itself.
    Venezuela is worrying Dr Rice in a number of ways. Land reform, for example: the law on land provides for the compulsory purchase of idle land and the distribution of land to the peasants. The landowners have resisted this, and many peasants have been murdered by their agents. The aim is “food sovereignty,” and there is now a drive to develop agriculture (or redevelop it after decades of decline) and associated industry.
    I visited a tomato cannery in Barinas, which had been closed down and is now reopened as a co-operative. In Barinas they are also now growing rice, with help from Chinese scientists. The revival of agriculture is of vital importance to Venezuela, which imports most of its food. The organisers of the stoppage of December 2002 calculated that this dependence on imports would bring down Chávez’s government.
    In industry, as in agriculture, the aim is “endogenous,” self-generated development. For example, Venezuela has begun to produce tractors. A number of companies that were closed down during the stoppage have been taken over and are jointly managed by the workers and the government. Some of these were kept going by the workers when the employers ordered them closed, notably the paper factory Venepal.
    “Co-management” is now being implemented throughout state-owned industry. Workers’ co-operatives are also being encouraged. Incentives are offered to private companies, in the form of credits and technical assistance, to “democratise their work practices and employer-worker relations.” Whether businesses will welcome this remains to be seen; it will be up to the trade unions to persuade them. They are not so keen on the tax collectors’ “zero evasion” campaign, and the strict accountancy it entails. Paying taxes is a novel idea for many of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie.
    Education is central to the “process,” as they call it. A number of “missions” are designed to bring education to the excluded. Misión Robinson is a literacy campaign, set up with Cuban help, which has taught more than a million people to read and write. Misión Robinson 2 was set up to help adults complete their primary education. Misión Ribas offers secondary education, and Misión Sucre brings third-level education to those who could not avail of it before. “Bolivarian schools” were set up in the poor barrios, providing children with three meals a day along with their education. One little girl said that what she liked about her school was “the teaching, the respect, and the food.”
    Bolivarian secondary schools are now opening. The new Bolivarian University occupies the offices in Caracas vacated by PDVSA, the state oil company. (The junior executives who “worked” there all joined in the stoppage of December 2002, and lost their jobs. Their absence has had no adverse effect on the company.)
    The Barrio Adentro mission, with Cuban doctors bringing medical services to the poor districts where Venezuelan doctors had never gone, has been a huge success. A medical service is now available throughout the country. The doctors also helped the communities to organise themselves for better public health and hygiene practices. Now some Venezuelan doctors are beginning to participate, and Venezuelan students are studying medicine in Cuba. A spectacular success has been the number of patients cured of blindness by a simple operation. (Cuba is prepared to make this treatment available to the whole of Latin America.)
    Neither the established state schools and universities nor the civil servants in the Department of Education were willing or able to take on the task of making education available to all. Consequently the “Bolivarian” section of the education system has been set up in parallel and has been pioneering new teaching methods and involving the community in its work. Like the education missions, Barrio Adentro is not administered by the “Yes, minister” bureaucrats of the civil service, who remain in place. Their bureaucracy and inertia, or in many cases outright hostility, remain a brake on the changes taking place.
    This is not the only “Fourth Republic” habit still in existence. The primary elections to choose the candidates of the MVR (Movement for the Fifth Republic) revealed the continuing political practice of personal electioneering and jockeying for position. Slogans like “Chávez and X guarantee the revolution” are surely in conflict with “participatory and protagonistic” democracy and the developing mobilisation of the people. During last August’s referendum campaign the political parties were so ill prepared that a new organisation of small local groups had to be set up, each with the responsibility of canvassing a hundred households. These groups succeeded in getting the vote out, proving that the threat of a return to the old regime mobilises the people more than anything else. Chávez no se va (“Chávez is not going”) and No volverán (“They are not coming back”) remain the most powerful rallying cries.
    May Day in Caracas showed how badly defeated the opposition has been. The CTV union attempted to organise a march but could bring only a few hundred bedraggled supporters onto the streets. After the defeats of the coup d’état of April 2002, the stoppage of December 2002 and the referendum last year they are in total disarray and incapable of mounting a political challenge. They remain as a dangerous and unscrupulous fifth column.
    The new trade union federation, the UNT, called a march and, with very little organisation, brought hundreds of thousands out. A huge banner behind the platform at the end of the march proclaimed “Co-management is revolution.” The UNT has proposed a law making this compulsory in private industry as well. Chávez in his speech said that the working class must take its place in the leadership of the revolution. Capitalism, he said, is incompatible with the full development of democracy envisaged in the constitution; we must build “the socialism of the twenty-first century.”

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