[R-G] Michael Lebowitz on Challenges for Venezuela's revolution

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Tue Nov 14 18:28:31 MST 2006

What better gift in this gift-giving season than a taste of
21st-century socialism? -- Yoshie

BUILD IT NOW: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century
by Michael A. Lebowitz: <http://www.monthlyreview.org/builditnow.htm>

Challenges for Venezuela's revolution

Coral Wynter & Jim McIlroy, Caracas
10 November 2006

Michael Lebowitz is a director of the Centro Internacional Miranda
(CIM), a Caracas-based foundation for analysis and discussion of
Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution; professor emeritus of the
department of economics at Simon Fraser University, Canada; and author
of several books on Marxism and socialism, including his newly
published Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-first Century. He
spoke to Green Left Weekly's Coral Wynter and Jim McIlroy about the
unfolding revolution in Venezuela.

"There is a fascinating process happening here", Lebowitz explained.
"The process began with the [1998] election of [President Hugo]
Chavez, but took significant form with the establishment of the
[Bolivarian] constitution [in 1999]. There are enormously unique
elements in this constitution: in particular, the focus on human
development, the focus on the full development of everyone's
personality, and the clear recognition that this can only occur
through practice.

"Only through meaningful practice in struggle are people able to
develop themselves: these are not just the abstractions of the
constitution, but there are concrete references to self-management,
self-government, these kinds of institutions.

"The constitution itself, however, was a contradictory document. At
the same time as you had these aspects, you also had the elements of
support for private interests, private capital, the maintenance of the
independence of the central bank and so on. So, it was a snapshot at
that point of the stage of consciousness, and of the coalitions that
had emerged at that time.

"Which way it would have gone is unclear to me. But, as Marx
explained, slaveholder revolts put the sword in the hand of the social
revolution, so it moves faster as a result. That's precisely what
happened in Venezuela, with the opposition [from the right wing] to
the laws that would put some teeth into the process [of implementing]
the constitution.

"Then there was the [April 2002] coup, which was reversed relatively
quickly, and even more important was the bosses' lockout, which went
on for months [from December 2002 to February 2003]. The consciousness
of people expanded enormously in that period, even more so than at the
time of the coup and reversal of the coup, because that happened so
fast. That longer period [of the lockout meant] coming together and
struggling together, with new groups emerging.

"So the revolution began to move significantly forward at that time,
after those developments in 2002 and early 2003. And the kinds of
things that Chavez started to talk about then, the social economy,
meant that it wasn't a gigantic leap when he began to talk about
socialism, because he had already been saying those kinds of things
about the social economy. But it was important because, when he began
to talk about socialism, it was a whole process of beginning to change
the consciousness of people. That's the role Chavez plays, as teacher
and leader, in terms of developing the consciousness of the masses.

Chavez and Chavistas

"One of the problems, of course, is that there is a gap between the
promises and the rhetoric and what is actually realised in practice.
Partly that gap is the result of the state that Chavez inherited, a
state that was filled with people on a clientalistic basis, by the old
regime, by the Fourth Republic.

"Another part, though, is that all the supporters of Chavez are not
necessarily in agreement with the socialist direction. In the
concluding chapter of my new book, one of the things I talk about is
that there is significant opposition within the Chavez camp to the
advance of the revolutionary process. Some people talk about Chavism
without Chavez. Far more significant is the group of people who want
Chavez without socialism; who don't want to see self-management and
co-management within the enterprises; who don't want to see
communities making decisions at the local level; who want to retain
the power to make decisions from above, both because of their own
economic interests — and corruption is a major problem here, it is
part of the tradition — but also because they don't want to lose the
power to engage in clientalism.

"The Chavez parties are engaged in this sort of activity — they want
credit for everything; they want to engage in these activities, to
make the decisions. So, you have this tension, between people in the
local communities and the Chavez parties, the functionaries, who want
the power and control within the communities — thinking, like so many
people on the left, that if we don't have the power, everything will
go wrong. And that is precisely contrary to the conceptions in the
constitution, which talk about the fact that people develop through
their own activity.

"Rosa Luxemburg said the working class demands the right to make its
own mistakes and learn in the dialectic of history. If they're going
to be prevented from making mistakes, you won't have the continuing
advance of the revolutionary process.

"This is a tension right now, which is reflected in the current
[presidential] election campaign. If we remember the [2003-04]
referendum campaign [an opposition attempt to use the provisions of
the new constitution to hold a referendum on whether Chavez's term
should end prematurely and a new election be called], Chavez had
turned first to the Commando Ayacucho, bringing together the parties
and the party leaderships to conduct the campaign against the
opposition before the signatures were actually achieved. And the way
they functioned was by making grand speeches, macho speeches, and did
very little at the grassroots. They were completely lost, they were

"The opposition did get the signatures. The response from the parties
was, well, it's a fraud, don't go with this. Chavez had better sense.
He concluded it was necessary to accept those signatures, take on the
referendum campaign, and turn it into a positive thing. He then went
around the parties to create Commando Maisanto. The leadership was all
picked from civil society, rather than the parties. He went to the
people in the neighborhoods, formed local committees. It was a
struggle for the parties to figure out, where do we fit into this

Organising the grassroots

"In this current election campaign", Lebowitz continued, "one of the
things that has happened is that it has returned to the Commando
Ayacucho concept. It's back to the parties at the top making the
decisions, organising everything. That is a concern that I have."

Most opinion polls show that Chavez has a crushing lead over
right-wing candidate Manuel Rosales, the governor of the state of
Zulia, in the presidential election campaign. Lebowitz said his sense
is that it would be very difficult for Rosales to defeat Chavez "but
you never know what imperialism has planned".

"I'm sure they have lots of plans", he explained. "One of those may be
to have Rosales withdraw to discredit the process. They are probably
sitting in back rooms on a daily basis [discussing this].

"One of the options that was written about in Green Left Weekly was
building on Rosales's campaign to create a process of separation,
separatism [in Zulia]. Chavez is very conscious of that, and will
throw a lot of resources into Zulia, to keep those [opposition vote]
numbers down. It's certainly seen as a critical place for the
electoral struggle. But anything is possible. Vigilance is essential."

Lebowitz described the election as "crucial", adding that "one of the
critical questions is what way will the election campaign be carried
out". "There needs to be a mandate for the revolution to proceed.
Everywhere, you hear people say that 2007 is going to be a qualitative
difference, and how it will [signify] the deepening of socialism. If
these questions of socialism are raised increasingly in this campaign,
then that will create the conditions for a significant advance next

On September 9 Chavez called for the creation of a "great party of the
Bolivarian revolution" to unite the groups that support the
revolutionary process in Venezuela. Lebowitz believes that the
proposal for a "unique party" is a good one in principle, "but it
depends on its content".

"If its content is just more of the same [an amalgam of the existing
parties], it will in fact be a way of reducing democracy from below.
If its content is going to be one that strengthens people within the
communities for the ability to struggle, and also strengthens the
ability of people to organise in the state sectors, where there has
been an incredible campaign against co-management, then it [can be
positive]. If it doesn't strengthen people from below, the unique
party will be a blockage on the way to revolutionary change, to
socialism, rather than an advance.

"That is something I discussed about in my book, which talks about the
need for a revolutionary party that can unify those people in the
communities and the workplaces, to create people power from below."

GLW asked Lebowitz about the role that organisations created as part
of the Bolivarian revolution — the social missions, the Communal
Councils — have played in the revolutionary process.

"I wouldn't lump them all together", he replied. "The missions command
enormous loyalty from the people. But all the missions aren't the
same. Health, education, the food mission Mercal, those have been very
successful. Mission Vuelvan Caras [a cooperatives-based training and
employment mission], though, is another question. It is not clear
whether it's delivering on its promises. There has been some
disappointment, and pressure on the government to move faster.

"I look at these kinds of institutions, and say, this is what is
unique about the [Venezuelan] process. There is a process whereby
people are developing their right to make decisions, and it's not easy
to do that in any country. But people have been poor, and apathy has
been part of the pattern. So, it is exciting to see the awakening of
people, and their sense of 'this is our right, to go and demand this'.
That is the future of the revolution. The question is, will it be
nurtured, or will it be cut off?

Revolutionary democracy

"I gave a talk recently to a meeting in Vancouver. There was an
Iranian militant who said that it was like this in the early days of
the Iranian revolution. We had these factory committees, he said. We
worked closely with the communities, but it didn't last. There were
all these processes set in motion, but it was cut off. I said, it was
similar in Cuba. In the early days of the revolution, there were these
workers' committees in the factories, there was a sense of active
workers' power …

"These things can be part of the fervor of the early days of a
revolution. The problem is how do you institutionalise them, how can
you create the means by which they can, in fact, not be transitory?
Things like the Communal Councils are extremely important, because
they institutionalise something here that is not present elsewhere. If
they can work, if they can get, for example, the money from those who
have it for their own projects, then you can achieve a symbol for
revolutions everywhere.

"In Cuba, there is a process where there are neighbourhood committees,
there are local councils, but their power is really limited. One of
the things I hope that the Venezuelan revolution can succeed in is to
stimulate the possibilities in Cuba as well. This is a real dialectic,
which is very healthy."

Chavez has declared the Bolivarian revolution's goal to construct a
"socialism of the 21st century". Lebowitz explained, "One of the
things that Chavez has been very good at in his statements on this is
that we are not going to repeat the [previous] process. We don't want
to worship machines, the state; we want a humanistic socialism that
starts from human beings, and that's what the constitution is saying.
I think that those are central characteristics.


"The link between socialism and democracy is an ideal that is being
pursued here. And that means democracy, not just as, every four years
you vote, and not as a form, but democracy as practice. Democracy as a
process by which people take control over their lives, make collective
decisions at every level of their societies. And I think that is a
unique conception.

"Compare Yugoslavia [under Josip Broz Tito]. For a whole period, you
had the process of self-management in the enterprises, functioning
within the market, competing against each other, but no sense of
responsibility for a community. Everything was self-interest there [in

"That is something Chavez is very sensitive to. I know he´s been very
interested in this. We talked about the problem of Yugoslavia, and the
problem of self-interest there. That is why he has insisted on a
focus, not on exchange of commodities, but on a process in which, as
Marxists like Istvan Meszaros [author of Socialism or Barbarism: From
the 'American Century' to the Crossroads and Beyond Capital: Toward a
Theory of Transition] talk about, there is exchange of human activity
based on communal needs and purposes.

"Chavez talks about the need to create a new socialist morality —
socialist consciousness, which is based on solidarity. That's why he
has been focusing on the Empresas de Produccion Social [Enterprises of
Social Production], the EPSs. The idea is that these would be
enterprises that would be oriented to satisfying people's needs. That
was his conception of it.

"And why not cooperatives? Isn't that sufficient? Because cooperatives
are self-interested — collections of producers who have their own
goals. And what Chavez was stressing was the need for these groupings
of people to internalise their responsibility to the communities in
which they function.

"Now, with the EPSs, again there's always this gap between the
conception and the way in which that conception is realised. The way
the EPSs are going right now is horrible. They're not realising this
conception … they're creating institutions that see their
responsibility to the community as [providing] 10% of their income. We
call that taxes! So, that shows the possibility of the perversion, the
distortion of the concept.

"There are a lot of potential problems. And, to quote my book, in
describing the situation before the revolution, before the election of
Chavez, talking about the corruption, clientalism, and bureaucracy of
the state, it stated that Venezuela 'required an economic revolution,
a political revolution and a cultural revolution'. And, as I go on to
say later, the economic revolution is underway, but the political
revolution has only just begun. [The political revolution] made a leap
forward with the constitution, but it requires a real transformation
of the state.

"And, furthermore, the cultural revolution, which requires a strong
attack on corruption and clientalism, has hardly begun. So, without
those other two, the revolution cannot help but be deformed. That is
the central question.

"People keep saying, the problem in Venezuela is, how can you talk
about socialism there because they still have private capital, private
ownership of the media, private banks, etc. That is not the problem of
the Venezuelan revolution. The problem of the Venezuelan revolution is
from within. It's whether it will be deformed by people around

[Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-first Century is published by
Monthly Review Press.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #690 15 November 2006.


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