Report on constitutional amendments

The Activist - Volume 16, Number 2, February 2006
By Doug Lorimer, for NE minority

The NE minority is proposing that this congress rescinds all of the amendments to the DSP constitution adopted by the previous DSP congress, and is putting a motion before the delegates to that effect.

It is not my intention to reopen the debate on our perspectives for building the DSP and for building the Socialist Alliance. I will just note that this congress has approved the general line of a resolution on DSP-SA relations that recognises that the SA cannot be transformed into a party in the existing conditions of the Australian class struggle and that the DSP should cease to attempt to function as a purely internal tendency of the SA and again become a public revolutionary socialist organisation.

It is the NE minority’s view that, with regard to the DSP’s constitution, rescinding all of the constitutional amendments adopted at the previous DSP congress is the most consistent way to implement that political line – as we explained in the PCD article by John Percy and myself in The Activist Vol. 15, No. 4, to which we appended the constitutional amendments adopted by the last DSP congress and reproduced the DSP constitution as it was before the 21st congress.

With regard to the amendments that have been proposed to the NE majority: While we think they fall short of what is needed, these amendments do represent a limited formalisation of a shift away from the line of the last congress. The NE minority therefore recommends that delegates who support the NE minority platform do not vote against these amendments.

The first of the NE majority’s proposed amendments would remove from the constitution the aim of transferring the political and organisational acquisitions of the DSP to the SA.

The second proposed amendment, while continuing to make membership of the DSP conditional on membership of the SA, i.e., members of the DSP are required to join the SA, the amendment also provides for the possibility of there being exceptions to this requirement, i.e., if this is approved by the DSP national executive.

I assume that this has been proposed because the comrades recognise the possibility that in seeking to recruit from outside the SA, as the resolution projects we will seek to do in the period ahead, it may be a hindrance to require prospective DSP recruits to join the SA. However, the reason why this possible exception was included was not motivated when the two proposed amendments were presented to the NE, nor has it been motivated either in the PCD or in the report Dave has just presented. Perhaps in his summary, Dave can clarify what the thinking is behind this proposed change.

On the socialist character of the Venezuelan revolution: A reply to Comrade Janicke

The Activist - Volume 16, Number 2, February 2006

By Doug Lorimer, Sydney branch


Our assessment of the Venezuelan revolution, from April 2003 to October 2005

At its April 2003 plenum, the DSP national committee adopted a report on the international political situation which made the observation that "[t]throughout the 1990s one of the greatest factors bearing down on the morale of the Cuban revolutionaries was the Cuban Revolution’s isolation in Latin America – the fact that there was not a single other revolutionary government in the hemisphere. Today, however, the Cuban Revolution has an ally in Latin America – the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez, which has made significant progress in dismantling the institutions of capitalist power in an oil-rich, partially industrialised country with a population more than twice the size of Cuba’s’’.

The report went on to note: "Through mass mobilisation of the working class, the Chavez government has defeated a US-backed coup by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and its generals, splitting the ranks of the army away from the bourgeois officer corps and linking the ordinary soldiers with Chavez’s working-class supporters. The government, relying on the combined mobilisation of soldiers and workers, has defeated the Venezuelan bourgeoisie’s attempt at an economic strike, and has succeeded in wresting the state-owned oil industry out of the hands of its bourgeois managers and placed its running into the hands of the oil production workers...

"While still largely cloaked in constitutional legality, the Venezuelan revolutionary process has been moving forward toward neutralising and dismantling the institutions of capitalist power within the country, and beginning to organise the Venezuelan working class as the country’s ruling class. If it continues on that trajectory and succeeds, it will have an electrifying effect upon the masses of Latin America, and upon radicalising youth around the world, including in the imperialist countries, creating a big new opening to win them to the perspective of socialist revolution.’’1

The DSP’s 21st congress, in December 2003, discussed and adopted a report on the international political situation which, while concentrating on the rise of the Iraqi war of national liberation against the US-led occupation, made the assessment that "the failure of the April 2002 US-backed generals’ coup against President Hugo Chavez as a result of a massive worker-soldier insurrection, and the Chavez government’s organisation of oil production workers to smash the oil bosses’ December [2002] lock-out and to expropriate the oil industry, has demonstrated Washington’s weakness in the face of the advancing proletarian revolution in Venezuela’’.2

At its November 2004 plenum, the NC adopted a report on "The Venezuelan revolution and our solidarity tasks’’3 which made the assessment that the Chavez government was "a workers’ and peasants’ government – a government that attempts to rule in the interests of the workers and peasants over the interests of the capitalists and attempts to organise the working class to defend its interests against the resistance of the capitalist class’’. The report went on to make the assessment that the Venezuelan revolution was not simply on an anti-imperialist, but an anti-capitalist, trajectory, arguing that "the nationalisation in practice of the oil industry was both a measure in the anti-imperialist stage of the revolution and an anti-capitalist move given who expropriated it – the workers involved – for what end – for a government that serves the interests of the poor to use the wealth produced to redistribute to the poor. The oil money being poured into social spending is money that, without the expropriation of the industry, would have ended up in the hands of the capitalist class. The oil industry is being used in a way that goes against and undermines the logic of the capitalist system.’’

At its October 2005 plenum, the NC adapted a report given by Comrade Roberto Jorquera on behalf of the NE which made the assessment that the Venezuelan revolution has passed over from an anti-imperialist, national democratic revolution (a "fight for national liberation’’) to the beginnings of a socialist revolution (a "conscious battle for socialism’’).4

Disputing this assessment

Comrade Kiraz Janicke (The Activist Vol. 15, No. 26) has argued against the assessment made in the October NC report that the socialist stage of the Venezuelan proletarian revolution had begun.. She wrote: "In his report, Rob [Jorquera] argued that the ‘socialist character of the revolution is being brought forward’ and ‘ we need to stress that this is a revolutionary socialist process that is being undertaken in Venezuela. However, in The Activist 15/20, Doug actually goes further than this, contradicting the line of Rob’s report by claiming that the ‘socialist stage’ is opening up in Venezuela. I think this is the key question we need to clarify in our analysis of Venezuela.’’

Indeed it is. However, it does not help the achievement of clarity in our analysis of where the Venezuelan revolution is at, of what tasks it has already accomplished and what tasks remain to be carried out by the revolution, for Comrade Janicke to claim that in defending the October NC report’s assessment that the revolution has entered the stage of a "conscious battle for socialism’’ against Comrade Federico Fuentes’ denial of this in his PCD article inThe Activist, Vol. 15, No. 16, I am "contradicting the line’’ of the report.

Later in her article, Comrade Janicke states that "the Bolivarian revolution remains within the framework of [an] anti-imperialist, national-democratic revolution, with bourgeois-democratic tasks such as the rural [land] reform only just beginning’’. Leaving aside the fact that the land reform in Venezuela does not involve the eradication of property forms that are an impediment to the development of capitalist agrarian relations (i.e., survivals of pre-capitalist production relations such as the semi-feudal property forms that existed in tsarist Russia) and therefore does not have a "bourgeois-democratic’’ character5, does Comrade Janicke think that her assessment of the character of the Venezuelan revolution – that it has not passed beyond that of an anti-imperialist, national-democratic revolution – is consistent with the "line’’ presented in the October NC report, i.e., that it is a "conscious battle for socialism’’, a "revolutionary socialist process’’?

Comrade Fuentes also argued that the Venezuelan revolution had not passed beyond being an anti-imperialist, national-democratic revolution and therefore objected to the assessment made in the October 2005 NC report that it is not simply a fight for national sovereignty against imperialist domination but a "conscious battle for socialism’’. He argued that "Chavez has begun the discussion on socialism, but this did not signify the opening of the socialist stage’’ of the revolution. Comrade Fuentes disputed the report’s contention that the Chavez government had set as its "main task’’ the reorganisation of the economy through "the creation of state enterprises in the main sectors of the economy, further development of workers’ control and increased level of nationalisation of industry’’. Comrade Fuentes stated that he had "‘not heard of any industry that is going to be nationalised, let alone put under workers control’’, thus disregarding the fact that a series of major industries – the oil industry (which accounts for one-third of Venezuela’s GDP), the iron ore, bauxite and coal mining industries, the aluminium production industry, the electricity production industry (all which had previously been dominated and run by state-capitalist corporations in the interests of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie)6 – had already been "nationalised’’ by being taken out of the control of their capitalist managers and placed under the control of a working people’s government (in fact, converted into de facto departments of this government5) and reoriented to operating as industry-wide state trusts meeting social needs (the needs of the working people as a whole through the use of PDVSA’s income to fund public housing, free education and free health care), rather than operating as profit-oriented, commercial businesses.

The battle for control of PDVSA

It was the Chavez government’s move in February 2002 to transform the state-capitalist oil monopoly PDVSA (Latin America’s largest corporation) into a de facto government department providing the funding and organisational infrastructure for the government’s social services missions (health, education, housing, job creation) that set in motion the deepening class confrontation that culminated in the bourgeoisie’s reactionary coup of April 11, 2002. As the December 2, 2002, Los Angeles Times reported:

The battle for PDVSA has become the battle for Venezuela’s soul: Will the company, and the nation, focus on profits or poverty?

"PDVSA will serve the interests of Venezuela, and not the elite’’’, Chavez said Sunday in his weekly presidential address.

PDVSA is far more than an oil company. It is the pride of Venezuela, a symbol for those who believe that the country can be a booming economy and have a vibrant middle class.

The company came into being in 1975, after President Carlos Andreas Perez nationalized the industry, paying about $1 billion for all the foreign-owned oil licenses and assets in the country. With reserves of 77.9 billion barrels of oil, Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil supplier in the world, producing about 2.7 billion barrels a day...

The conversion brought workers from businesses such as Shell into a state enterprise. From the start, the idea was to separate the company from politics and the messy business of running a country.

Although owned by Venezuela, PDVSA would be run like a private company...

Over the years, PDVSA employees [i.e., its managers and technicians] came to see themselves as the best and the brightest, creators of a First World company in a Third World nation. They believed that they could best help the country by being the most profitable company possible...

Middle and upper management workers [sic] earned far more than most Venezuelans, though salaries are low compared with multinational oil companies. Today, young executives bring in $30,000 to $45,000 a year. Top executives reportedly make as much as $250,000 a year...

Chavez and his supporters are unapologetic about their vision for PDVSA. As a state company, it’s a state tool. The idea that it is a business, driven only by profit, is wrong, they say.

They are seeking an oil company that is more like an arm of the state, a partner in a quest to have roads, electrify towns, build sewers and support Chavez’s left-leaning policies.

The crisis between the white-collar PDVSA employees and the nation’s leader came to a head in February, when Chavez installed five of seven directors and named Gaston Parra, a left-leaning university professor with no experience in the industry, as corporate president.

The workers [i.e., the managers and technicians], led by [PDVSA’s manager of planning Juan] Fernandez, began work slowdowns and stoppages.

The sequence of events leading up to the April 11, 2002, coup demonstrate how central the battle over control of PDVSA was. On April 5, the managers of PDVSA’s El Palito refinery shut it down. The following day, the right-wing bureaucracy of the CTV labour federation, headed by Carlos Ortega, announced that it would organise a 24-hour general strike on April 9 in solidarity with PDVSA’s capitalist managers and middle-class technicians. On April 7, Chavez sacked 13 top PDVSA managers. The next day, Pedro Carmona, the president of the main employers association, Fedecamaras, announced it would support the CTV’s "general strike’’, turning it into a employers’ lock-out. On April 9, Fedecamaras and the CTV declared the "general strike’’ a success and extended it for a further 24 hours, after which they proclaimed it "indefinite’’ until Chavez resigned. They also called for an anti-Chavez demonstration to march on PDVSA’s administrative offices in the opulent eastern Caracas neighbourhood of Chuao to demonstrate support for the sacked PDVSA managers.

When Carmona was sworn in as president of the civilian-military junta that installed itself as the new government on April 12, he announced the suspension of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution. According to a report in the April 28, 2002 Venezuela Analitica, "one of the results of the coup was to be the privatization of’’ PDVSA. "To do this, the 1999 Constitution had to be abolished and PDVSA’s internal conflict had to be leveraged, where the higher ups had been acting in accordance with directives sent by PDVSA’s former president, Luis Giusti, from the US.’’

A working people’s government

In her Activist article, Comrade Janicke not only disagrees with the assessment that the socialist stage of the proletarian revolution had opened in Venezuela with the Chavez government’s expropriation of PDVSA in February 2003 (through its smashing of the December 2002-January 2003 oil bosses’ strike), she also calls into question the assessments made by the November 2004 NC report that the Chavez government is a working and peasants’ (a working people’s) government. She argues that there are "competing class interests within the Venezuelan government’’ and that the "capitalist state still clearly exists in Venezuela’’. What she means by this is not clear. She criticises Comrade Zoe Kenny for using an "incorrect and exaggerated formulation’’ in The Activist Vol. 15, No. 14, viz, that we had made the assessment "that the coup in 2002 fundamentally changed the class nature of that country’’. This is certainly an incorrect formulation, i.e., Venezuela remains a capitalist country, a country where capitalist production relations are still dominant. However, that is not the same thing as saying that the "capitalist state still clearly exists’’, i.e., the country is still under the political rule of the capitalist class.

Later in her article, Comrade Janicke states that she thinks "the best way to characterise Venezuela is as Chavez himself does, as a ‘revolutionary democracy’, which as yet has not gone beyond capitalism’’. But for Marxists, democracy is a form of rule – rule by the majority. When applied to a capitalist society, it means rule by the working people. So describing Venezuela as a "revolutionary democracy’’ is just another way of saying it is a country that is rule by a revolutionary working people’s government. That of course, is precisely the explicit assessment we have made in the November 2004 NC report, and have implicitly held since April 2003 NC plenum.

Against the view that the Chavez government is a working people’s government, Comrade Janicke claims there are "competing class interests in the government’’, citing the "the conflicting positions on the question of cogestion between the Ministry of Energy and Mines (responsible for PDVSA and the electricity sector) and the Ministry of Labour’’ as supposed evidence of this. But how this is an expression of "competing class interests’’ she does not say.

In his article in Activist Vol. 15, No. 16, Comrade Fuentes points out that the ministry of energy and mining (MEM) "has taken a position of opposition to co-management in strategic state sectors’’ while the labour ministry "is pushing co-management’’. He goes on to note that "Chavez is supporting wholeheartedly the Minister of Energy and Mining in his job’’. Comrade Fuentes argues that, rather than being expressions of "competing class interests’’, the differences between the MEM and the labour ministry over cogestion are "different viewpoints on the way forward, with the MEM concerned that co-management could have a detrimental effect on these industries which are key to the progress of the revolution’’, adding: "They are rightfully concerned workers, like they did in PDVSA, could, rather than look outwards towards the community, look at how they can enrich themselves, including via corruption’’.

As further supposed evidence of "competing class interests’’ within the Chavez government, Comrade Janicke notes that "in October the Ministry of Basic Industries was promoting a forum at the Caracas Hilton on the Role of Private Enterprise in the Socialism of the 21st Century. And Vice President Jose Vincent Rangel recently argued that they were considering a ‘socialism that respects private property’.’’

Rather than reflecting "competing class interests’’ in the Chavez government – unless Comrade Janicke is arguing that the minister of basic industries and vice-president Rangel are pursuing a different policy toward private property owners than Chavez and other in his government – these examples seem to be consistent with the policy of the Chavez leadership to (a) reassure small business owners that they will not be expropriated (a policy that is not in contradiction with the socialisation of the ownership of capitalist, i.e., large-scale, property), and (b) seek to "persuade’’ capitalists not to attempt to sabotage the economic policies of the working people’s government by holding out the prospect that those who cooperate with it will be allowed to continue operating (even though they will face increasing competition from rival state-owned enterprises).

In his "Report on the Soviet New Economic Policy and the Perspectives of the World Revolution’’, delivered on behalf of the leadership of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (November 1992), Trotsky explained that a similar economic policy would have been pursued by the Bolshevik-led working people government had they not been forced by the invasion of Soviet Russia in mid 1918 by imperialist armies to carry out the wholesale expropriation of capitalist property. If this hadn’t been the case, Trotsky said, "we could have tranquilly taken hold only of the large-scale enterprises, leaving the middle-sized and small ones to exist for a while on the private capitalist basis; later we would have reorganised the middle-sized enterprises, rigidly taking into account our organisational and productive potentialities and requirements. Such an order would unquestionably have been in harmony with economic ‘rationality’, but unfortunately the political sequence of events failed to take it into consideration this time, either...

"[But with the imperialist military intervention and the outbreak of the civil war there] could be not even be talk of coming to terms economically with the bourgeoisie or even a section of it, in the sense of granting it certain economic rights... With the aid of the trade unions the [Soviet] state took physical possession of the industrial enterprises and set up an extremely cumbersome and unwieldy centralised apparatus, which despite all its defects nevertheless enabled us to provide the armies in the field with supplies and military equipment, the volume of which was extremely inadequate but which nevertheless, sufficed for our emerging from the struggle not as the vanquished but as the victors.’’7

The concept of a "working people’s government’’ (or a "workers and peasants’ government’’) does not simply mean a government that seeks to act in the interests of the working people, of the working class, the semi-proletarian urban and rural masses, and the exploited sections of the petty-bourgeoisie. It is a government that arises out of revolutionary struggle of the working masses and that, basing itself on their mass mobilisations, begins to replace the institutions of capitalist state power with new institutions of state power that suppress the resistance of the capitalist class to the implementation of measures that advance the interests of the working people. As the resolution on "the Cuban Revolution and its extension’’ adopted by our party’s 9th congress (January 1983) noted:

The idea of such a government was first conceived by the Bolsheviks and elaborated on at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in 1922. The "Theses on Tactics’’ adopted at that congress describe the workers and farmers’ government as a government that is "born out of the struggles of the masses, is supported by workers’ bodies that are capable of fighting, bodies created by the most oppressed sections of the working masses.’’

According to the "Theses’’, the elementary measures which distinguish such a government "consist in arming the proletariat, disarming the counterrevolutionary bourgeois organisations, installing supervision over production, shifting the burden of taxation onto the rich, and smashing the resistance of the bourgeois counterrevolution.’’ They point out that such governments "fall short of representing the dictatorship of the proletariat, but are still an important starting point for winning this dictatorship.’’8

Prior to the mass worker-soldier insurrection of April 12-13, 2002, the Chavez government was a government consisting of revolutionary-minded petty-bourgeois democrats who sought to carry through a series of anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal reforms by utilising the institutions of bourgeois democracy inherited from the Fourth Republic (e.g., its elected executive presidency, parliamentary legislature, bourgeois legal system and civil service bureaucracy), while mobilising the country’s military forces (which were still dominated by pro-capitalist generals) to implement public works and social welfare projects in collaboration with the social movements of the poor

The revolutionary mass mobilisation of the poorest sections of working class, the semi-proletarian urban masses and the pro-Chavez officers and soldiers against the right-wing coup carried out by the leading figures of the bourgeoisie (including the bourgeois generals) with the backing of the US imperialist government, fundamentally altered the relationship of class forces in Venezuela to the advantage of the working masses and the detriment of the capitalist class. The armed forces split along class lines, with the majority siding with Chavez against the US-backed bourgeois counter-revolutionary coup.

While the personnel making up the Chavez government was not fundamentally changed as a result of the mass insurrection, the government was able from then on to base itself on armed forces purged of pro-capitalist officers and a greatly radicalised mass base (including among the pro-Chavez army officers and soldiers), much more conscious of the fundamental antagonism between working people’s interests and those of the.capitalist oligarchy. The post-insurrection Chavez government had come to power as a result of "the struggles of the masses’’ supported "by workers’ bodies that are capable of fighting’’ (the pro-Chavez majority of the armed forces) and was capable of "disarming the counterrevolutionary bourgeois organisations’’ (by purging the armed forces of their bourgeois officers) and "smashing the resistance of the bourgeois counterrevolution’’ (which it did very effectively during the bosses’ strike of December 2002-January 2003).

Unlike in Cuba, where the revolutionary transformation of the armed forces preceded the coming into being of the working people’s government (through the defeat and then dismantling of the bourgeois armed forces by the worker-peasant Rebel Army in early 1959), in Venezuela the working people’s government came into beingas a result of a mass struggle in which one section of the armed forces (the pro-worer-peasant section) was pitted against the pro-capitalist section.

The victory of the Cuban Rebel Army in January 1959 brought into being a situation of "dual power’’ somewhat analogous to that which preceded October 1917 insurrection and the formation of the Russian working people’s government headed by Lenin. As our 1983 resolution on "The Cuban Revolution and its extension’’ explained:

The victory over Batista resulted in a coalition government, in which bourgeois forces held the most prominent posts. Two bourgeois liberals, Manuel Urrutia and Miro Cardona, became respectively president and prime minister, while Fidel Castro took no post in the government...

Thus a situation analogous to the dual power created by the February 1917 revolution in Russia appeared in Cuba during the early months of 1959. While armed power lay with the worker-peasant Rebel Army headed by Castro, the bourgeois liberals held the governmental apparatus in their hands...

The contradiction between the government’s inaction and the revolutionary-democratic goals which the Castro team continued to argue for had to be resolved. On February 16, Castro become prime minister, with a mandate to implement his democratic program...

However, the bourgeois liberals continued to use their governmental positions to resist the most radical measures, particularly the agrarian reform. Matters came to a head in July 1959, when President Urrutia’s opposition to the agrarian reform law led to Castro’s resignation.

The revolutionary leadership of the July 26 Movement, supported by the trade unions, organised a series of mass demonstrations that forced Urrutia to resign. He was replaced by Osvaldo Dorticos, a firm supporter of Castro, and Castro resumed his post as prime minister. While bourgeois elements remained in the government for some time after this, they were unable to resist the implementation of the Castro government’s revolutionary measures. Basing himself on the support of the worker-peasant masses, Castro was able to remove them one by one.

The mass mobilisations of July 1959 produced a shift in the class relationship of forces that enabled the Castro grouping to resolve the dual power situation in favour of the workers and peasants. The government that emerged out of the July 1959 crisis, while still including personnel from the bourgeois coalition government set up in January 1959, was nevertheless of a qualitatively character from the later. Governmental power was now in the hands of those who represented the interests of the exploited classes rather than the exploiting classes. The way was now open for the Cuban masses to use this lever to defend their existing gains and to go on to conquer new ones, including the eventual elimination of capitalist exploitation.9

A workers’ and peasants’ state power

In the theses on "The Class Nature of the People’s Republic of China’’, which the DSP adopted at its 18th congress (in January 1999), we pointed out that for "orthodox Marxists, as Lenin explained in his 1917 book The State and Revolution, the state is a centralised organisation of force separated from the community as a whole which enforces, through special bodies of armed people and other institutions of coercion, the will of one class, or an alliance of classes, upon the rest of society...

"The existence of a contradiction between the class nature of the state power and the prevailing property relations is a distinguishing characteristic of a social revolution or of a social counter-revolution. The class nature of the state power durinbg a social revolution or a social counter-revolution is, therefore, not determined by the property relations that are initially dominant, but by the measures that the state power adopts toward the antagonistic classes, i.e., by which class forces the state power attempts to organise and which class forces it attempts to suppress’’.10

In the November 2004 NC report on Venezuela we made the assessment that the "centralised organisation of force’’, i.e., the Armed Forces of Venezuela "is now a workers’ and peasants’ armed force. It defends the interests of the workers and peasants over the interests of the capitalist class.’’ That is, the decisive instrument of state power is not under the command of the bourgeoisie but supports and is under the command of a working people’s government.

While noting that since the "military has provided the backbone for the projects of the revolution’’, Comrade Janicke claims that it "it is unclear as to exactly what extent the military is simply institutionalist or supporting the revolution’’, adding that "Sooner or later the parallel structures of the revolution are going to come more and more into conflict with the existing structures of the bourgeois state and with the deepening of the revolutionary process it is likely that we will see further splits in the armed forces.’’

While there may be some "further [minor] splits in the armed forces’’ – as there was in Cuba between the formation of a working people’s government in July 1959 and the establishment of a socialist state as a result of the centralisation of all large-scale production in the hands of the working people’s government in the second half of 196011 – the class character of the Venezuelan armed forces as a whole was fundamentally altered by the decisive split that occurred in April 2002, and the subsequent forced retirement of some 400 senior officers and administrative personnel. This assessment was confirmed by the fact that there no rebellions in any part of the armed forces during the Venezuelan bourgeoisie’s desperate struggle in December 2002 and January 2003 to retain its control over PDVSA, and no objections by any senior officers to Chavez’s commitment to advancing toward socialism in close alliance with the Cuban socialist state.

A clear demonstration that the generals who today head the Venezuelan army are only "institionalists’’ in so far as this means they adhere to the institutional subordination of the armed forces to the anti-capitalist policies of the working people’s government headed by Chavez rather than bourgeois property forms that are still upheld by the courts, is provided by the following report in the December 5 Caracas Daily Journal:

The general charged with carrying out a Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) ruling to evict farmers from the Santa Rita ranch said he didn’t have the "suitable resources’’ to carry out the order. Army Gen. Luis Enriquez Henriquez said that by complying with the TSJ eviction order issued in 2003, the cooperative members and poor farmers would "suffer harm’’.

In his report to the constitutional chamber of the TSJ, Henriquez said the troops under his command have been withdrawn from the ranch, however. They were deployed there to protect the recipients of land permits granted by the National Land Institute (UNTI), he said. Henriquez said he also told members of at least 13 cooperatives and organised farmers to vacate "immediately’’ from the ranch. Henriquez said that the very nature of what the armed forces was set up to do was in contrast to what the TSJ ordered. The army was trained to fight to defend the country with weapons and not to "evict farmers that include children, seniors, men and women’’, he added.

On Nov. 1 INTI Barinas office chief Edur Machado handed in his report to the constitutional chamber. In it he told the occupants to move off the ranch. But he admitted that he did nothing to ensure that they comply. "At this moment, it is immpossible materially to execute, by ourselves, and evictiopn of this magnitude’’, Machado said. He said 500 families earn a living and make their home on the ranch.

The TSJ in November 2003 ordered the army to evict the farmers and return the taken land to owner Rogelio Pena. The TSJ said a report prepared by INTI that declared the soil of the ranch idle was flawed. In September 2005, after complaints by the owners that the ranch was still occupied, the TSJ told INTI and Henriquez to prepare a report describing what measures woiuld be taken to evict the farmers. The army’s report was handed in this month, a month-and-a-half late.

Here we have a perfect illustration of the contradiction the exists in Venezuela between the worker-peasant class nature of the state power (the Chavez government and the armed forces it commands and that support it) and the prevailing (bourgeois) property relations – a contradiction that exists precisely because Venezuela is undergoing a social revolution.

Can there be a socialist revolution without a Leninist party?

Comrade Janicke makes a number of arguments against the view, which she attributes solely to me, and not to the October NC report, that the socialist stage of the Venezuelan revolution has begun. She writes: "Firstly, if the ‘socialist stage of the revolution has opened up’ what does this mean in terms of our understanding of the need for a revolutionary party, does Doug no longer think a revolutionary party is necessary?’’

The recognition that to conquer and hold state power the working class needs to have the leadership of a class-conscious revolutionary workers’ party is a fundamental cornerstone of Marxism, of the scientific theory of socialism. As Engels noted in 1889, "the proletariat cannot conquer political power, the only door to the new society, without violent revolution. For the proletariat to be strong enough to win on the decisive day it must – and Marx and I have advocated this ever since 1847 – form a separate party distinct from all others and opposed to them, a conscious class party.’’12 But Marxist theory is not a dogma, but a guide to revolutionary action’’, i.e., it only marks out the revolutionary proletariat’s general tasks, which are necessarily modified by the concrete political and economic conditions that it faces a given time in each country.

Historical experience in the 20th century has demonstrated that in particular political and economic conditions it has been possible for a anti-imperialist, national-democratic revolution to pass over into a socialist revolution in an underdeveloped capitalist country without the leadership of that revolution being organised into a revolutionary workers’ party. In Eastern Europe and North Korea in the late 1940s and in China in the early 1950s, for example, socialist revolutions took place under the non-Marxist leaderships of Stalinist petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships.

Closer in time and geography to the Venezuelan revolution, the socialist revolution began in Cuba under a consciously revolutionary socialist leadership holding governmental power without this leadership being organised into a revolutionary wokers’ party – though this leadership, headed by Fidel Castro, soon came to recognise the necessity to create such a party, publicly acknowledging this in December 1961. While the Union of Young Communists (UJC) was founded in April 1962, it was not until October 1965 that the Cuban Marxist-Leninist party, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was founded, with 50,000 full and candidate members.

The fact that the Cuban revolutionaries did not begin the socialist revolution with an already constituted Marxist-Leninist revolutionary party did not mean they were not organised into a political formation that had some of the attributes of such a party. For example, the Cuban revolutionaries were organised into a centralised and disciplined revolutionary combat organisation (i.e, the Rebel Army headed by Fidel Castro and the revolutionary wing of the July 26 Movement’s urban network headed after the death of Frank Pais in 1957 by Armando Hart and Haydee Santamaria),. The officers and soldiers of the Rebel Army provided the bulk of the leading personnel for the main institution that carried out the expropriation of capitalist property in Cuba – the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), created in May 1959, was largely staffed by officers and soldiers from the Rebel Army, as was INRA’s department of industry (created in October 1959, with Major Ernesto "Che’’ Guevara as its first director). The administration of all the non-agricultural production enterprises seized by INRA was handed over to the Ministry of Industries (MinInd), created in February 1961 with Che as its first chief. MinInd absorbed all the staff of INRA’s department of industry, INRA’s Mining Institute, the Cuban Petroleum Institute (set up in November 1959 to prepare to take over the management of the privately owned oil refining and distribution industry) and INRA’s General Administration of Sugar Mills (set up in October 1960, following the expropriation of the island’s 160 sugar mills, the largest of which had been US-owned).

The non-existence of a unified revolutionary socialist party is the central weakness facing the Venezuelan revolutionaries, particularly in tackling the tasks of reorganising Venezuela into a socialist state. But leading Chavistas are well aware of this fact. As Guillermo Garcia Ponce, a former Communist guerrilla fighter and a senior adviser to Chavez, has noted: "The principle weakness of the revolutionary process is the absence of the party of the revolution. In Venezuela we have many revolutionary parties that support the process but we lack one capable of uniting them all... The revolutionary political parties have not been able to form a solid structure at the base level. They continue to be, in some ways, electoral apparatuses with organisation at the level of the upper and middle leadership but very weak at the base.’’13

What is the beginning of the socialist revolution?

While acknowledging that in semi-colonial capitalist countries like Venezuela "the struggle for socialism objectively flows out of the anti-imperialist, national-democratic revolution, and that there is no ‘Chinese Wall’ between this and the socialist revolution’’, Comrade Janicke states that she is "a bit unclear as to what the exact point we can say that the ‘socialist stage has opened’.’’ She goes on to write:

According to Doug, in his PCD, "What we are really considering when discussing the question of the "opening of the socialist stage of the proletarian revolution’ in Venezuela is beginning of creating a transitional society based on the organisation of a predominantly socially-owned, centrally planned economy. That requires more than the expropriation (‘nationalisation’) by a working people’s government of the capitalist means of production. It also requires the creation of centralised organs for the administration of production on a national level and the replacement of capitalist managerial personnel with a system of workers’ management, rather than just workers’ control (supervision) of the capitalist managers.’’...

To support his claims, Doug argues that, "Of course, Venepal was not the first company to be expropriated by the Chavez government – that was PDVSA, the state-capitalist oil monopoly, expropriated as early as 2003 in the process of smashing its capitalist managers’ lock-out of the oil production workers. While this expropriation took place before the Chavez leadership publicly proclaimed its goal was socialism, it gave the working people’s government born out of the April 2002 mass insurrection against the bourgeoisie’s counter-revolutionary coup control over the most important industry in Venezuela.’’

Is Doug implying then that the ‘socialist stage opened’ in 2003, with the expropriation of PDVSA? It not then why bother making this point. if so, then I would point out that state-owned industry and nationalisation does not necessarily signify the opening of the socialist revolution, as Doug argued in his article, "Imperialist economism, democracy and the socialist revolution’’ (Links 17), the nationalisation of the means of production is not the socialist revolution, but rather "the socialist revolution is the socialisation of the ownership of large-scale production by the proletariat organised as the ruling class in order to direct this production according to a centralised plan’’ (Comrade Janicke’s emphasis).

Yes, the socialist revolution is not simply the nationalisation of industry – its juridical transfer from private property to state property, which can simply involve its transfer from the ownership of one capitalist family or an association of capitalist families (a joint-stock corporation) to the ownership of a capitalist state – but a revolutionary process involving two qualitative turning points, the first of which is (to cite the words of the Communist Manifesto) "to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy’’. Having accomplished this first task, the revolutionary "proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees [i.e., by "notches’’, "steps’’, "stages’’ – DL], all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all the instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class... Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of [bourgeois] property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production, by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production’’.14

In my article in Links No. 17, a little after the sentence partially quoted by Comrade Janicke, I wrote:

On the basis of the experience of the October Revolution, the Communist International, in its founding platform, reaffirmed the view advanced by Marx and Engels that the fundamental socioeconomic task of the proletarian-socialist revolution is to "subordinate production to a centralised plan’’, adding, "The proletarian dictatorship will be able to accomplish its economic task only to the degree that the proletariat can establish centralised agencies to administer production and introduce workers’ management’’.

[Phil] Hearse, on the other hand, affirms that the conquest of political power by the working class, rather than the beginning of the centralisation of large-scale production in the hands of centralised agencies of the proletarian state, is the beginning of the socialist revolution.15

In Links No. 16, Hearse, a British defender of Trotsky’s ultraleft theory of permanent revolution, had argued that seizure of factories by workers in Catalonia at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and their conversion into producers’ cooperatives marked the beginning of the socialist revolution in Spain. In a reply to Hearse, defending Lenin’s Marxist policy of a two-stage, uninterrupted revolution, printed in the same issue of Links, I argued:

For the working class in Catalonia in 1936-37 to have even begun the socialisation of the ownership of means of production, they would have first had to do what the Russian workers did on October 25 (November 7), 1917, i.e., raise themselves to the position of ruling class by effecting a revolutionary transfer of political power from the bourgeois government to a workers and peasants’ government....

Without the expropriation of factories, mines, banks, railways, etc, by a proletarian state power, the seizure of the factories by individual groups of workers amounted, not to socialisation, but rather, as [the US Trotskyist Felix] Morrow put it [in his 1937 pamphlet Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain], to "syndicalist capitalism’’ – "a form of producers’ co-operatives, in which the workers divided the profits’’ and in which "real planning was impossible’’.16

This is probably the reason why, as Comrade Fuentes stated in his article in The Activist Vol. 15, No. 16, the Cubans in Venezuela have been saying that cogestion (where it is conceived of as turning factories into producers’ co-operatives) is "counter-revolutionary’’, i.e., anti-socialist. Lenin held a similar view, writing in early 1918 that: "Any and all direct or indirect legalisation of the rights of ownership of the workers of any given factory or any given trade on their specific production; or of their right to weaken or impede the orders of the state authority, is a flagrant distortion of the basic principles of Soviet power and a complete rejection of socialism.’’17

Such "syndicalist capitalism’’ is one of dangers that can arise out of the seizure of individual enterprises by their workers that is not subordinated to a "conscious battle for socialism’’, from a conscious struggle to place of the management of industry under the administration of a working people’s government. It is one of the reasons that the Cuban revolutionaries, in carrying out their socialist revolution, opposed the introduction of workers’ control (supervision of management by elected workers’ committees with veto power over managerial decisions) in the enterprises that they expropriated from the capitalists. As James O’Connor noted in his 1969 book The Origins of Socialism in Cuba (based upon research he conducted during three visits to Cuba in 1960, 1961 and 1963) "workers’ control of industry never received serious consideration. The revolution’s leaders and the island’s top unionists and labor publicists rejected the idea on both ideological and practical grounds. It was believed that workers’ control would reduce the authority of the collective and create local pockets of autonomous decision-making, setting one group of workers against another’’.18 Cuban workers participated in the administration of the nationalised enterprises through elected "technical advisory councils’’, whose "specific tasks were to develop ‘emulation’ plans in order to fully utilise the workday, improve labour discipline, conserve raw materials, improve working conditions and employment security, and create volunteer work battalions, to formulate production and investment plans; and to obtain the consent and active participation of workers in planning goals laid down by the Central Planning Board’’19

The beginning of the socialist revolution is therefore signalled by the beginning of the centralisation of large-scale production in the hands of a proletarian state power, i.e., its expropriation and administration by a working people’s government, which reorients production to serve the interests of the working people

The Chavez government’s expropriation of PDVSA – a step towards socialism

Comrade Janicke asks: "Is Doug implying then that the ‘socialist stage opened’ in 2003, with the expropriation of PDVSA?’’ Yes, that is exactly what I am arguing. I pointed out in my reply to Comrade Fuentes that, while the expropriation of PDVSA "took place before the Chavez leadership publicly proclaimed that its goal was socialism, it gave the working people’s government that was born out of the April 2002 mass insurrection against the bourgeoisie’s counter-revolutionary coup control over the most important industry in Venezuela... By placing this huge state-capitalist monopoly under the control of Venezuela’s revolutionary-democratic government, the Chavez leadership took a major step toward the socialist goal of ‘production for social need’ replacing ‘the competitive quest for private enrichment’.’’

That was also the view that was implicitly taken in the November 2004 NC report. It argued: A social revolution has not been carried out yet in Venezuela, but it is underway. We adopted this perspective in the international report given by Doug Lorimer to an NC last year and it is the position in Venezeula: The Revolution Unfolding in Latin America by Jorge Jorquera as well as articles in Green Left Weekly and Links.’’. It was implicit in the November 2004 NC report’s recognition that "the nationalisation in practice of the oil industry was both a measure in the anti-imperialist stage of the revolution and an anti-capitalist move given who expropriated it – the workers involved – for what end – for a government that serves the interests of the poor to use the wealth produced to redistribute to the poor. The oil money being poured into social spending is money that, without the expropriation of the industry, would have ended up in the hands of the capitalist class. The oil industry is being used in a way that goes against and undermines the logic of the capitalist system.’’

We held off from explicitly saying that the expropriation of PDVSA marked the beginning of the socialist stage of the revolution because the Chavez leadership had not presented this anti-capitalist measure within the framework of a conscious struggle to advance toward socialism.

Against the view that the expropriation of PDVSA (and its reorganisation from a profit-oriented commercial business to a de facto department of the working people’s government serving the needs of Venezuela’s working people) marked the beginning of the socialist stage of the revolution, Comrade Janicke argues that "Centralised organs for the administration of production on a national level do not exist and workers’ control certainly does not exist in PDVSA, the key industry, let alone the replacement of capitalist managerial personnel with a system of workers’ management. In fact, we met with PDVSA workers who on conditions of anonymity told us that militant workers within PDVSA were being isolated and sent to different parts of the country, and showed us documents and letters proving that sections of the old management who had supported the [April 2002] coup and participated in the [December 2002] bosses’ lockout, were creeping back into PDVSA.’’..

By "creeping back into PDVSA’’ I presume Comrade Janicke does not mean they are sneaking in the deal of night back into their offices, but are being rehired. If that is so, it does not prove that PDVSA is reverting from being managed by the working people’s government (with the minister of energy and petroleum, Rafael Ramirez, being president of the company) to being managed as a profit-oriented commercial business. It simply proves that the government recognises that, as the Program of the Democratic Socialist Party points out (see p. 125), "In effecting the transition from a capitalist economy to the nationalised, planned economy of a socialist state, it is to the benefit of the working class to seek to take advantage of those capitalists, and the even larger layer of managers and middle-class technicians, who can be persuaded to place their managerial and technical skills at the service of the working class.’’

As for "militant workers within PDVSA were being isolated and sent to different parts of the country’’, what the significance of such moves, if true, are depends upon what sort of "militant workers’’ these are, e.g., are they militantly "economistic’’ workers who think that PDVSA’s wealth should be used primarily to benefit its employees rather than the working class as a whole?

Comrade Janicke claims there are no centralised organs for the administration of production on a national level in Venezuela. However, even before it was expropriated by the working people’s government, PDVSA, as a state-capitalist monopoly, was a centralised organ for the administration of production on a national level – an organisation with 40,000 employees that directed from a single centre the entire production and distribution of refined petroleum products in Venezuela. Perhaps Comrade Janicke has forgotten that it is the internal centralised planning that exists within giant capitalist companies, particularly where one or a few of them dominate particular branches of industry, that is the objective economic basis for the introduction, via their expropriation and administration by a working people’s government, of socialist planning of these branches of industry. As Lenin explained in his 1917 book, Imperialism, the Highest Form of Capitalism:

When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organises according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths of all this is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported to the most suitable place of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other,; when it a single centre directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of numerous varieties of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and thousands of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American "oil trust’’) – then it becomes evident that we have socialisation of production, and not mere "interlocking’’, that private economic and private property relations constitute a shall which no longer fits its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed...20

The expropriation and administration of PDVSA by a working people’s government has freed the objectively socialised production content of Venezuela’s biggest industry (accounting one third of Venezuela’s GDP) from its capitalist, profit-oriented, commercial business shell.

In my reply to Comrade Fuentes (in The activist, Vol. 15, No. 20), I pointed out that in his September 1917 pamphlet The Impending Catatrophe and How to Combat It. Lenin made the point that "given a revolutionary-democratic state, state-monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than a step, towards socialism! For, if a huge capitalist undertaking becomes a monopoly, it means that it serves the whole nation. If it has become a state monopoly, it means that the state (i.e., the armed organisation of the population, the workers and peasants above all, provided there is revolutionary democracy) directs the whole undertaking. In whose interest? Either in the in the interest of the landowners and capitalists, in which case, we have not a revolutionary-democratic, but a reactionary-bureaucratic state... Or in the interest of revolutionary democracy – and then it is a step towards socialism.’’21

The expropriation of PDVSA, a huge state-capitalist monopoly, by the Chavez’s working people’s government, by the revolutionary-democratic state-in-formation, and its reorientation from a profit-oriented, commercial business into a state trust serving the interests of the workers and peasants, was just such a step towards socialism. As the report on "Imperialist crisis and the advancing Venezuelan revolution’’ adopted by the DSP’s 22nd Congress noted, "the socialist stage of the Venezuelan revolution has opened, not just in Chavez’s declaration of the battle for socialism and resulting discussion and debate among the Venezuelan masses, but also in the practical anti-capitalist measures being implemented, in particular the expropriation of the oil industry and the reorientation of oil profits to funding social programs, and the beginnings of the reorganisation of the economy along popular lines’’.


1.        "The Iraq war and US imperialism’s drive for global domination’’, The Activist, Vol. 13, No. 5 (May 2005).

2.        "The Iraq war and the crisis of US imperialism’‘, The Activist, Vol. 14, No. 1 (January 2004)

3.        "The Venezuelan Revolution and our solidarity tasks’’. The Activist, Vol. 14, No. 5.

4.        "The revolutionary process in Venezuela’’, The Activist, Vol. 15, No. 12.

5.        The November 2004 NC report pointed out that the "land reform, although it is not based on socialising land, is nonetheless expropriating capitalist property’’, i.e., the property of foreign and Venezuelan capitalists. It could be argued that since a major aim of the land reform is to achieve national self-sufficiency in basic food production and that the achievement of this objective would reduce Venezuela dependence upon imported food from the imperialist countries, it is an anti-imperialist, national-democratic measure, and therefore could be classified as is a "bourgeois-democratic task’’. However, the whole framework of the land reform is to promote the establishment of agricultural Co-operatives, i.e., a measure transitional to the socialisation of agricultural labour.

6.        According a 2003 US Department of Mines report, "Venezuela was the world’s 7th leading producer of bauxite, the 9th leading producer of alumina, the 10th leading producer of aluminum, and the 11th leading producer of iron ore... Bauxite, alumina, and aluninum production was controlled by the government through Corporation Venezuela Guyana (CVG)... Production of iron ore was nationalized in 1975; the only producer was CVG Ferrominera Orinoco’’. In 2002, CVG accounted for 80% of Venezuela’s electricity production. From January 1, 2006, CVG was restructured into a National Mining Corporation and a National Basic Industries Corporation, both of the managements of which are subordinate to the minister of basic industries and mines (Mibam). According to a 2002 report by the US Department of Energy, "Venezuela is the third largest producer of coal in Latin America, after Colombia and Brazil. Because of its oil and gas resources, however, Venezuela is not a large consumer of coal so almost all of the coal mined in Venezuela is exported, mainly to other countries in the region, the eastern United States and Europe. Venezuela’s coal sector is dominated by Carnozula, which is owned by PDVSA.’’

7.        L Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. 2, Monad Press, New York, 1972, pp. 225-226, 228-229.

8.        The Cuban Revolution and its extension, Pathfinder Press, Sydney, 1984, pp. 26-27

9.        ibid., pp. 27-28.

10.     The Class Nature of the People’s Republic of China, Resistance Books, Sydney, 2004, p. 25, 26-27

11.     The most significant split in the worker-peasant Rebel Army occurred in November 1959 when Huber Matos, the commander of the Rebel Army in the eastern province of Camaguey, and 20 other Rebel Army officers, were arrested for obstructing the agrarian reform. Camaguey’s economy was dominated by the big cattle ranchers, the most vociferous opponents of the agrarian reform. Matos, an outspoken anti-communist, had also opposed the introduction by Raul Castro, the minister of the revolutionary forces, of socialist ideological training in the Rebel Army.

12.     Letter by Engels to Gerson Trier in Copenhagen, December 18, 1889, in Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978, p. 386.

13.     Cited in J. Jorquera, Venezuela: The revolution unfolding in Latin America, Resistance Books, 2004, p. 27.

14.     K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1998, p. 62.

15.     Links, No. 17, p. 112.

16.     Links, No. 16, p. 104.

17.     Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 42. pp. 100-101.

18.     J. O’Connor, The Origins of Socialism in Cuba, Cornell University Press, Ithaca (New York), p. 195.

19.     20, ibid., p. 199.

20.     V.I. Lenin, Imperialist, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999, p. 122.