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Issue #1801      November 1, 2017

Impressions of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

I recently attended an international peace conference convened by the government of the Bolivarian Socialist Republic of Venezuela. The “Sodomos Venezuelos” (We are All Venezuelans) convention was held over four days (September 16-19) in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. Present were delegates from more than 60 countries, as well as many Venezuelans helping host the event.

As well as attending the conference and events organised around it, participants also had the opportunity to witness life in the streets and interact personally with the Venezuelan people – not only those associated with hosting the conference, but also those we met more generally.

We found our own perceptions being challenged constantly as we were drawn into making a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the revolution and a society in flux.

The aim of the conference was to promote solidarity between the Venezuelan people and all people and movements around the world, who find themselves in a struggle with imperialism wherever it feels the planet-wide monopoly of its class “entitlement” to exploit humanity and nature is challenged by any expression of national independence, popular autonomy, or resistance. Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution is just such a challenge and offers just such a resistance.

At its end the conference declared: “We, the representatives of political, social, religious and trade union organisations and the personalities and intellectuals from 60 countries of the world (who) have gathered in Caracas ... firmly support the people and government of Venezuela in the face of the attacks by US imperialism, which every day aggravate its destabilising actions against the Bolivarian Homeland.”

For those who were at the conference our great gains were:

  • meeting with the wonderful Venezuelan people;
  • being immersed for at least a few days within a living social revolutionary process;
  • connecting with people from around the world committed to change and the need to resist imperialism to build people’s power; and
  • coming to see that building solidarity with the Venezuelan people’s revolution also helps build our own movements in what is after all, a global class war, with many shared allies and foes.

This is of particular relevance to the Venezuelan people and their Socialist Unity government because at every turn the forces of the US state – directly and working with Venezuela’s comprador and oligarchic forces – have striven to disrupt this process of deep social transformation.

Not only have Venezuela’s bourgeoisie, backed or directed by the United States – undertaken ongoing economic sabotage, it has provoked social disorder a number of times – using the now standardised colour revolution template – to give the US the pretext to intervene militarily and impose control on a country that, on one hand, possibly has the greatest remaining oil and gas reserves on the planet, as well as great mineral wealth, but on the other, in its audacity, has consciously set out, in the course of its own liberation, to offer a pathway for revolution that others may wish to follow.

These attempts to sabotage the revolution have so far failed. This includes the recent “uprising of the rich and spoiled” who orchestrated their revolt through the global corporate-state media, to maximise damage to Venezuela’s international reputation.

However, the media generated images of a Caracas that looked like a war zone belie the reality –of provocations largely confined to wealthier parts of the city. To quote a researcher residing in Caracas:

“The main thing I’d like to emphasise about daily life in Caracas is that indeed people are carrying on. Markets are bustling, children are playing in the streets, cultural activities are happening, etc. There is a major disconnect between this reality and what’s presented in the news ...”

These failed efforts at restoration of the old order seem, so far at least, to have actually strengthened the Venezuelan people’s commitment to their revolution, as the recent regional elections demonstrate, which delivered governorships to the PSUV in 18 of Venezuela’s 23 states. As stated by an international election observer:

“What makes this electoral victory so impressive is it comes amidst a devastating economic war ... Sunday proved a united, conscious people can overcome all odds. Despite ruthless attempts by self-anointed global tyrants to strip Venezuela of any buying power, reduce it to hunger and pauperism, provoke massacres and mass migration, the Venezuelan people stood up and triumphed.”

As is usually the case when it loses, the opposition has refused to recognise these election results and called for further protests. They now argue that “foreign pressure” is their “only real hope of hurting Maduro” ahead of the 2018 presidential elections. The US has obliged by vowing to “bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear in support of the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy.”

Since Chávez and the Bolivarians first came to office in 1998 the Venezuelan people have repeatedly voted Chávistas into office at national, regional and local level. Most crucially, they have continuously placed Chávistas in Venezuela’s executive office, the Presidency. Along with their control of the army this has effectively given the Bolivarians commanding control of the state – enabling the revolution to deepen, with the government able to roll out programs that advantage and empower the working class and other oppressed and dispossessed layers. This, in turn has reinforced their support of the Socialist Unity government.

So the Sodomos Venezuelos conference was very much a step by the Venezuelans to counter these oligarchic and imperialist predations – by raising the profile of Venezuela’s own revolution internationally and strengthening its ties with progressive forces from many nations; and by showing the Venezuelan people themselves that the world was watching and supported their struggle, even as the “global”, US-aligned forces opposed to the Venezuelan people’s revolution tried their best by economic subversion and a resort to violence to misrepresent, malign and deny its many achievements.

Wayne Sonter reports back from Venezuela, at the MUA Building, Sydney, October 21. Organised by the CPA Sydney District Committee.

Initial impressions and background

It is a swift freeway trip from Simon Bolivar International airport, on the northern coast of Venezuela, to the Caracas city centre, via a tunnel through the mountain range that separates them.

Caracas is a bustling, crowded and vast city. While the greater Caracas metropolitan area has a population of 5.3 million, comparable with Sydney’s 5 million, it is in about a third of the area. It is also part of a string of cities stretching over 500 kilometres (a little less than the distance between Sydney and Albury) whose combined populations approach 15 million people.

Venezuela’s population is about 32 million compared with Australia’s 24.5 million. On the other hand Venezuela’s land area is a little larger than South Australia’s.

Both Venezuela and Australia are highly urbanised – about 90 percent – and both also have large tracts of country virtually uninhabited. In Australia though it is largely arid, while in Venezuela it ranges from Amazonian jungle, to snow-capped Andean peaks, to some boutique-sized deserts.

Both economies’ exports are concentrated in primary industry sectors – in Venezuela’s case oil makes up to 90 percent of exports, while in Australia close to 70 percent of exports are primary based commodities, about 50 percent minerals and 20 percent agricultural. This largely reflects the colonial and neo-colonial status of both countries historically.

Caracas, as the capital, has many impressive public buildings and the city centre is a focus for the nation’s museums, theatres and major educational facilities as well as other built heritage that reflects nearly five centuries of European occupation and influence.

My first impression was of how young the people of Caracas are. Comparison with Australian demographic figures confirms this: the median age of Venezuelans is currently 27.7 years, while Australia’s is 37.5 years; less than 6% of Venezuelans are 65 years of age or older, while in Australia nearly 17% are.

This means half of Venezuela’s population was 10 years of age or less when Hugo Chávez first came to office, setting in play a period of immense transformation – the Bolivarian revolution. A whole generation has been born into and experienced a life intensely politicised social and economic change.

Over this time the Venezuelan people have maintained a government that has rolled out greatly needed and widely supported social programs – for housing, health and education, that has made laws to shift power – its management and control – deeper into communities and workplaces. In the course of achieving these outcomes, the people have witnessed and participated in power struggles that have directly affected their future.

Their failed attempts to overthrow a popularly supported government has exposed the reactionary, oligarchic imperialist cliques for what they are. This has, so far steeled the resolve of the mass of Venezuelans to defend, maintain and deepen the revolution and keep control of the state that is working for them through those they place there.

In Venezuela millions of people’s lives are changing; worldwide, hundreds of millions of people are watching, inspired by the revolution’s successful struggle against the vested interests that have tried to block it – vested interests remarkably similar those blocking progress in their own countries – and considering how they too, can adapt or extend this model of progressive change into their theatre of struggle.

This is what makes the Bolivarian revolution such a bellwether in this era of planet-wide transition from capitalism to socialism, a transition now in its hundredth year, as measured from the Great October Revolution.

In Venezuela we have a revolution that has now been “on the burn” for the best part of two decades, that is still developing, and which remains under a government that the mass of the Venezuelan people still regard as “their truest voice” and the protector of the material and spiritual gains they have already made. In their communities and workplaces they have a steadily growing sense of their own power and on the ground, they are aware that possibilities are opening up if they continue to work for them.

At the moment the major emerging issue is to make the “turn to productivity” that can create a modern, productive economy that best serves the people’s needs. This needs to both confront the resistance the oligarchic forces are still exercising through their command of “commanding” and strategic sectors of the economy and to develop the potential of a cooperatively managed economy, organised through and under the protection of a socialist, that is, workers’ controlled state.

Next week: the achievements and dilemmas of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution.

Next article – Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

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