Sunday, May 06, 2007

SWP's international divided over Venezuela

In a remarkable statement by the Central Committee of the SWP’s sister organisation in New Zealand, internal divisions between the SWP and its international affiliates over the nature of the Venezuelan revolution are laid bare, as well as concerns about the privaleged position of the SWP within the IST's decision making.

This statement is a response to a proposal by the SWP’s Alex Callinicos (27 September 2006) that the International Socialist Tendency (IST) adopt a new "Coordination" structure. The IST is the international grouping of the SWP. Socialist Worker-New Zealand has been an affiliate of the IST since 1995.

The full text of their statement is a welcome appraisal of the significance of the Bolivarian revolution, and is worth reading in full . (See the Red Squirrel's blog for more on this topic ).

Socialist Worker (NZ) make a very positive assessment about the significance of the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) "While the initiative for the PSUV came from Chavez, it will be built "from below". Socialist militants, who played a key role in mobilising the Chavista vote during the 2006 presidential election, have become the "promoters" of the new mass socialist party. They are going out to the people to register members, who will be organised into "socialist battalions" of 200 people each. The aim is to organise 20,000 of these "battalions" across Venezuela, from which delegates will be elected to attend the PSUV's founding conference in August 2007. ”

Socialist Worker (NZ)'s appraisal is closer to that of the Australian DSP than the British SWP's. It was noticeable that Munyaradzi Gwisai , leader of the SWP's Zimbabwean affiliate and a former Member of Parliament in Harare, visited both Australia and New Zealand in the last two weeks, and his public meeting in Australian was built for by the DSP. Zimbabwe ISO is one of the most significant sections of the IST.

With regard to the SWP and the IST, the following section of the Socialist Woker (NZ) statement is very interesting:

"It is within the context of the deepening revolution in Venezuela that Socialist Worker-New Zealand responds to Alex Callinicos's proposal to create an IST "Coordination". Alex defines such a Coordination as consisting of "selected organisations" whose leaderships would consult and meet between annual IST gatherings "to deal with initiatives, problems, etc".

“Socialist Worker-New Zealand has two substantive concerns with this Coordination proposal. First, it is not intimately linked to the global political situation, and in particular to how the IST needs to engage with the mass revolutionary process in Venezuela. Instead, the proposal is couched in terms of the IST's own internal processes.

“Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the unfolding Venezuelan revolution, if it continues to move in the direction it's currently going, will reshape the socialist and labour movements in every country on every continent, just as the unfolding Bolshevik revolution did from 1917-24. Therefore, rather than looking inwards, the IST needs to be focused outwards towards the most advanced revolutionary upsurge in 90 years and the global socialist regroupments it will inevitably set into motion.

“At present, there seem to be real differences between IST affiliates over the nature of what is happening in Venezuela. At one end of the IST spectrum, Socialist Worker-New Zealand see Chavez & Co as being at the centre of the most important "revolution in the revolution" since the Bolsheviks proclaimed "All power to the Soviets" in 1917 Russia. At the other end of the IST spectrum, the Venezuelan revolution was a "non-topic" in the official discussion bulletins of the British Socialist Workers Party in the lead-up to their national conference in January 2007.

“So how do we form an IST Coordination when the IST appears to lack real political coordination over the key strategic issue of Venezuela's revolution? If we were to do it just on the basis of IST tactical organisation, any such IST Coordination would be a sham from the outset.

“The deepening Venezuelan revolution has sparked intense discussions among the world's different Marxist organisations about what makes a revolution, how to move towards socialism, what is the dialectic between the leaders and the masses, how to establish workers' control and other strategic questions.

“We all have a lot to learn from the world historic events in Venezuela. We cannot assume that any one Marxist group has readymade answers to everything. Any IST Coordination, therefore, must be based on facilitating this global debate among all Marxist groups, most of them outside the IST, in tandem with fusing the IST into a strategic engagement with the PSUV's leaders.

“It's a global debate about the Venezuelan revolution that the IST needs to start coordinating, and that requires democratic input from all IST affiliates around the world.

“That brings us to our second substantive concern. The IST Coordination proposal calls for unspecified powers to be granted to "selected" organisations. Any such "selection" would leave non-selected IST groups on the margins of IST decision-making, given the tyranny of distance over a global coalition like the IST. It would fix the bureaucratic curse of the initiating "centre" and the non-initiating "periphery" onto the IST.

“Why can't every IST affiliate have one representative on the IST Coordination? With modern communications technology, face-to-face meetings in London can be replaced by extremely cheap "virtual" meetings that link all continents. The material basis already exists for an all-in IST Coordination that interacts on a global scale as frequently as needed. The real question is whether the IST has the political consensus and the political will to bring it about”

Socialist Worker (NZ) concludes: “In Venezuela, for the first time since Lenin's Bolsheviks, we are seeing a mass movement well on the way towards establishing socialism within the borders of a whole country. The front line of the epochal war between capitalism and socialism is now in Venezuela.

“Even where there has been resistance to the neo-liberal offensive over the last two decades, the international workers' movement has been floundering on the widespread assumption that "there is no alternative". The Venezuelan revolution is putting socialism back on the agenda in a practical and living way -- the way most people will come to socialism. The IST must be an organic part of this process.

“Any IST Coordination needs to be focused on relating to forces outside the IST. That's because the forward movement of the Venezuelan revolution and the wider Latin American uprisings look likely to provide the essential material foundations for a positive regroupment of the socialist and radical left on every continent, and the parallel emergence of a mass socialist international.

“Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the political and organisational decisions made within the IST must reflect this historic opportunity to move towards a mass socialist international. This is the first time since the early days of the Comintern that such a possibility has existed.

“This requires the IST to directly engage with PSUV leaders in the building of a mass socialist international. The IST can play a positive role in this process if we make that turn now.”


Korakious said...

Finally, some sense from a member of the IST.

I can't see the British overlords being too happy about it.

David Spartacist said...

The SW NZ statement is correct to highlight the weakness and internal divisions of Venezuela's trade union movement I think the statement fails to recognise the danger possble to the Labour movement by the Chavez government. The statement states that "Workers have been encouraged to take control of factories and create workers' councils.". In fact worker occupation of factories has only been backed where political opponents of Chavez have closed the factor down in an attempt to dislodge him from power. The national government have been less forthcoming in support for workers fighting for their own interests. For example:

" the state of Aragua where unions that support the worker takeover of a bathroom ceramics factory, Sanitarios de Maracay, have been in open conflict with the pro-Chavez governor Didalco Bolivar. Recently, a worker demonstration in Maracay was violently broken up by the local police and the National Guard.

The UNT-Aragua issued a statement with ten points yesterday, in which it called for union autonomy, denounced the actions of the state security forces, and called for the governor’s resignation. It also stated that the UNT-Aragua is “concerned” about Chavez’s recent statements that questioned union autonomy, when he called for the unions that support the government to join the newly forming Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Similarly, the UNT faction headed by Orlando Chirino, known as C-CURA (Classist Current, Unitary, Revolutionary, and Autonomous), sent an open letter to Chavez for May 1st, that insisted on the importance of union autonomy. Chavez had stated in early April, during a PSUV event, that “unions should not be autonomous, one must put an end to that.”

The letter cites Vladimir Lenin, who once stated that unions should be independent of the state and goes on to refer to Chavez’s comment that the PSUV will not be a Stalinist party. “When Stalinism took political power and led the state and the party, one of the first things it eliminated was the independence of the unions, precisely against the opinion of Lenin, who had already died.”

These developments are a cause for concern. Venezuela has made many great achievments both nationally and internationally but these gains could be undermined if Chavez goes down the Peron root and usurps power from the popular movements

cliffspab said...

Wow, differences of opinion within the IST. Big surprise there.

SW-NZ is right to argue that an international coordination structure for the IST should have reps from all IST groups. But I'm not convinced by the first objection. Should coordination be dismissed if it doesn't strategically orient itself to the PSUV? A strategic orientation by the IST to the PSUV and the Venezuela revolution in general is necessary, but it is not the sole reason why coordination is necessary. There are a wealth of other issues - notably the war in the Middle East and the IST's work within the Cairo Conference - that are also vitally important. A strategic orientation towards Venezuela necessitates coordination, but to call it a sham because it does not start with strategic questions is foolish.

But does Callinicos argue for a tactical or strategic coordination? It would be very helpful if Callinicos' proposal was published or linked to in this post. Readers ought to have all the information before jumping to conclusions about SW-NZ's response to Callinicos' proposal.

AN said...

cliffspab: It would be very helpful if Callinicos' proposal was published or linked to in this post. Readers ought to have all the information before jumping to conclusions about SW-NZ's response to Callinicos' proposal.

Yes it would, and I suggest you rasie this with Alex Callinicos. As it has not been published, I don't see how I can link to it.

Cliffspab: Wow, differences of opinion within the IST. Big surprise there.

well cliffspab, I don't know how experienced you are with the politics of the IST, but it has not been able to contain serious differences of opinion without splitting in the past. the fracture with the ISO in America was over much less fundamental disagreements than this.

You are correct that there is no reason in principle why such differences should not coexist in the IST. Let's hope this starts a fraternal and constructive debate about Venezuela in the IST and SWP.

cliffspab said...

I'll leave aside Andy's comments on the ISO-IST split since I disagree with him and I am not here to debate that issue.

I was not aware that the document wasn't publicly available. The Callinicos document ought to have been published by SW-NZ when they decided to publicly respond to what appears to have been an internal document. Even if it wasn't an internal document, it doesn't appear to be online so they should have provided it in the interests of clarity. Callinicos should publish it in the interests of clarity, but it is really SW-NZ's responsibility at this point.

As far as I'm aware there is a healthy debate and discussion within the IST over Venezuela. But I don't think that the full range of this debate is reflected in IST publications, though differences of opinion can be uncovered from reading varying IST publications. IS Canada, of which I'm a member, has a wide range of opinions on Venezuela (though none is sectarian).

The best that come from SW-NZ's contribution is an open acknowledgement of the existing debate within IST groups and the IST. A broader and published debate can help move the IST towards a coordinated orientation regarding Venezuela. The SW-NZ contribution can also push forward the establishment of an IST coordination with representation from all groups.

That said, I think SW-NZ's characterization of the SWP's attitude towards Venezuela - a "non-topic" - is far from the case given Joseph Choonara's pamphlet, regular coverage in the ISJ and SW, speakers and topics at Marxism, and the strong IST intervention at the 2006 WSF. That it seems to have been a non-topic at the SWP's January 2007 national conference is disappointing, though I'll hold off judgement until I hear what SWP members say about it. The IST's orientation to Latin America has also developed in recent years with the formation of its first member groups in the region. The SW-NZ's inaccurate characterization of the SWP's position on Venezuela has led some to declare that SW-NZ is opposing the SWP's "sectarianism" - see Louis Proyect at Marxmail: I've got similar takes on some other marxist email lists. I hope this doesn't draw away from the real issues at hand.

AN said...

Cliffspab: The Callinicos document ought to have been published by SW-NZ when they decided to publicly respond to what appears to have been an internal document.

Yes I agree.

Perhaps if you left a comment on their blog to that effect they might publish it. It wouyld come better from you as an IS member than from me.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the length of this:

David Spartacist comments on potential danger to Venezuela's trade union movement posed by the Chavez government, and quotes a recent Venezuela Analysis article to back it up. Simply presenting the article as is done risks a very serious distortion. The error is in some ways in the original article, however, there is a political error in not being able to distinguish between what is incidental, and what is essential. And for not bothering to investigate the reality of a situation before casting aspersions on the Chavez government.

The article quoted follows two very separate things one after the other. It states:

" the state of Aragua where unions that support the worker takeover of a bathroom ceramics factory, Sanitarios de Maracay, have been in open conflict with the pro-Chavez governor Didalco Bolivar. Recently, a worker demonstration in Maracay was violently broken up by the local police and the National Guard."

This attack is an outrage, but there is a problem in labelling Didalco Bolivar as "pro-Chavez". Bolivar may be "pro-Chavez", in the most nominal way at least in the sense that tying yourself to the Chavista bandwagon can get you elected. Chavez, however, is most certainly NOT pro-Didalco Bolivar. Bolivar is a leader of Podemos, the most consciously organised right-wing of the pro-Chavez camp. Bolivar and other leaders have strongly opposed the call for a new party built from the ground up because they know the aim is to build it into a political weapon most of to attack the right-wing, reformist, bureaucratic and pro-capitalist sectors who have latched onto the Chavista bandwagon and dominate the institutional structures. Chavez has increasingly slammed these layers.

Chavez has responded by attacking Bolivar and other Podemos leaders, saying they are counterrevolutionary, and support capitalism. In regards to Bolivar, Chavez has said he does not support the slogan "socialism, fatherland or death", that he failed to oppose the coup. In response to Bolivar’s claim to support “democratic socialism”, Chavez has said that he supports a socialism that is democratic, but that Bolivar is a social democrat. Chavez has said as far as he was concerned Bolivar and other Podemos leaders were in the opposition.

Just in case there was any confusion on the matter, he has publicly backed moves to use recall referendums to replace Bolivar and other governors from Podemos, calling for them to be voted out.

(Some examples of Chavez’s attacks on Podemos leaders, including Bolivar: (Spanish)

In fact this issue of the attack on the Sanitarios Maracay workers gets to the heart of the growing divisions between the revolutionary and reformist wings within the Chavista camp, differences at the heart of the "revolution within the revolution" and push to "deepen the revolution" - as the NZ-SW comrades have rightly pointed out.

This attack shows which side of the class divide cutting increasingly deeply into the Chavista camp and the Bolivarian project Diego Bolivar is on. On the contrary, the new labour minister marched WITH the Sanitarios Maracay workers recently and addressed their protest and supported their demands. ( He said that Chavez was aware of his presence and backed the workers (the state bureaucracy is blocking their attempt to have their company nationalised - this is the same state bureaucracy Chavez has lashed as "counterrevolutionary", with a call to create a "new revolutionary state" to replace it).

Then, quoting the article (like I say the article is at least partly to blame though the author or a short news article cannot be expected to provide detailed analysis to prevent the information provided being presented in such an out of context fashion) David Spartacus presents the debate within the revolutionary movement sparked by apparent comments by Chavez that would seem to deny union autonomy, that unions should be drawn into the new party. I haven’t seen Chavez's comments, so I don’t know exactly what he said. But it would seem an obvious position that unions should be independent from the new party (and the government, although it is unclear whether Chavez said anything about that, or merely mentioned the party).

However this is clearly a very different case from the first one involving a brutal attack on workers organising. It is a debate within the revolutionary movement. Nowhere in the NZ-SW statement do they say that revolutionaries need to agree with every single thing Chavez or any other member of his government says or does. It deals with the general dynamic, and does it well in my opinion.

Chavez says a whole lot of things, he constantly throws up all kinds of ideas, which then spark debate and discussion. With the unions, the revolutionary movement has a difficult task and is trying to find a way forward, it is possible that positions can be thrown up and pushed for they don't help, but hinder this. That happens in revolutions. It does not, however, invalidate anything fundamental in the NZ-SW article.

Also, let’s keep in mind why, in answering Chavez, Chinero refers to the experience of Stalinism and Lenin's support for union autonomy. It is because CHAVEZ HIMSELF has repeatedly in recent times raised the example of Lenin and counter posed the early stages of the Bolshevik revolution with its degeneration into Stalinism. Quoting Trotsky, he recently argued that the Stalinist communist parties adapted themselves to the capitalist system in the 1930s and betrayed revolutionary opportunities. Chavez repeatedly has worked to radicalise the politics and ideology of the Bolivarian movement, leading this process rather than being pressured from below to do so. Even if he is wrong on union autonomy, he has been crucial to creating a situation where he can be answered by a union leader using the example of Lenin as opposed to Stalin.

It is this, and the very real and serious push to thoroughly democratise society from the ground up - also described well in the SW-NZ statement, that gives the process its revolutionary dynamics and its key difference with the experiences of Peronism raised. David is right, the gains could be undermined if Chavez goes down that road, but it isn’t the road currently being travelled. Nothing is set in stone, the current trajectory could be altered, or become derailed, if the motor of the mass movement starts to falter. But this will be the product of struggle, and the most important point in the SW-NZ statement is revolutionaries around the world MUST orientate to this struggle, not stand on the side lines pointing out exactly how it is bound to fail in advance, which unfortunately some in the international left do.

Stuart Munckton.