The recent debate on the expropriations of the golf courses in Caracas, a measure adopted by the local mayor, Juan Barreto, in order to use the spaces for the building of houses and apartments for poor people, has had important repercussions. It has provoked a ferocious struggle inside the Bolivarian movement itself.

The expropriations of these areas, which are now used for golf greens, at first sight, might seem a small detail. But the debate has much deeper implications than mere details. The golf greens are a precious symbol of power for the oligarchy of Caracas. The fact that the Clubs of the rich and powerful, the “Amos del Valle” (owners of the valley), are allowed to occupy considerable spaces of the city, while tens of thousands are living in the streets without houses is a source of frustration for millions of oppressed, workers and young people.

Undoubtedly, the decision of Barreto, announced on August 24, is a courageous step. Barreto stated that the land of just one golf course could provide housing for 5,000 people, and that this first phase of expropriations could benefit 25,000 people. According to Barreto, 500,000 people in the Greater Caracas region live in “precarious conditions.” Furthermore he explained, “We have done serious studies that demonstrate that one square meter of golf course turf consumes what 20 families of 10 people need to survive for a week”.

However, this decision was met with the fury and tough resistance, not only of the opposition mayors in the two municipalities affected, Chacao and Baruta, but also of Vice-president José Vicente Rangel. With Chavez away from the country touring China and Asia, Rangel was the head of the government office and in an official statement he rejected the expropriations saying that Barreto alone was responsible.

In the statement he points out that the government does not agree with the expropriations because they consider that “they can affect constitutional norms and legalities of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”. Furthermore it says that: “in no way do we accept violating the right of property, as it is described in the constitution”.

Barreto answered this, firmly stressing that: “No political event, no matter of what nature, can be separated from its ethical dimension: Either we are in favour of the majority of the people and we act accordingly; or on the contrary we keep in silence and take the side of inaction and political abstention (which is also a policy), to avoid every noise or confrontation, as happened to us in the campaign of deputies and councilors. This demoralised our people. We will not bow our heads faced with the injustices that are taking place in the east of Caracas and accept the need for a peace without principles that does not in any way benefit the revolutionary process, allegedly not to damage opinion polls or scare off a part of the middle class.” 

Reformism and revolution

This polemic is not a secondary matter. It is a very important development because it shows that the struggle between revolution and reformism is developing within the Bolivarian movement and not only at the bottom. For the first time in the seven years of revolution in Venezuela, such a profound clash between two main leaders of the movement has been clearly exposed in public, in front of the masses.

Inside the very ministries, the different sectors of the state apparatus and even in certain parts of the armed forces, the debate is intensifying. Lively discussions are taking place, not only about this particular case, but also about revolutionary theory, and the ideas of all kinds of left-wing writers such as Marx, Lenin, Mao, Trotsky, but also about Noam Chomsky, Alan Woods, Toni Negri, etc. These are writers who in our opinion represent quite different positions, but what is significant, is the very fact that the discussions of these ideas are taking place among functionaries and leaders in the government.

Some sectors of the state are also trying to publish revolutionary material to educate the ranks of the movement. For example the Alcaldia Mayor (the greater Caracas council) published hundreds of copies of The Communist Manifesto for free distribution on May 5, 2006, in order to celebrate Karl Marx’s birthday.

But the position of the reformists is quite clear; the revolution needs to be limited, it needs to slow down its rapid pace and make concessions to the various sectors of the oligarchy and imperialism. These people – some of them honest, some of them not – think that it is possible to reach some kind of agreement with the capitalists and imperialism. What they do not understand or do not want to understand, is that it is not this or that reform that “provokes” these sectors, but the very idea of revolution.

The idea that there is a revolution in Venezuela has captured the minds of the masses. It has given them a sense of dignity and tremendous reserve of energy to fight for the complete victory of the exploited masses. That is what lies behind the mortal hatred of the national oligarchy and imperialism towards the Bolivarian revolution. What they want is not to stop this or that reform, but to destroy the very idea of revolution.

This is also the main reason why Rangel, one of the leaders of this reformist tendency, is so horrified about the expropriations. In a revolution certain measures tend to have a different effect on the mood of the masses than in a normal situation. In the context of a massive mobilization of the workers, the poor and the youth, the expropriations of small firms, such as Venepal and CNV, and later of various buildings in Caracas, has had an explosive effect on the consciousness of the masses. Although these measures also have their limitations and in themselves are not sufficient, they point in the right direction; they begin to threaten the private ownership of the means of production.

The masses see these measures as attempts to push the process forward, to take away power from the rich capitalists, speculators and bureaucrats that have ruled the country for decades. Expropriations therefore encourage them to step up their revolutionary activity and demand that the process destroy the base of the capitalist system. That explains the fear of the reformists; they know very well that the election campaign in December can escape their control and every measure that encourages the masses will make this perspective more likely.

After the statement of Rangel on August 30, the official spokesmen, including Chavez, have tried to put silence to the matter. In his speech at the September 1 demo, after he had arrived back from his trip and everybody was waiting to hear what he had to say on this matter, Chavez did not mention one word on the case. It seems that he has been pressurized by the “advisers” in the Miraflores Palace to keep silent and not commit himself to publicly defending any position in the dispute. These people think that the best thing is to postpone this discussion until after the elections, because it apparently gives a wrong “image” to the electorate. However, what gives a wrong image is not the radical measures that encourage the masses, but on the contrary, any sign of vacillation, hesitation or moderation on the part of the government. To remain silent faced with a burning issue is not the road to success but a path that to a certain extent can frustrate the masses and demobilize them.

The enthusiasm is still alive

In the Venezuelan population, the revolutionary spirit has not expired yet. It continues to be the main trend and it is felt in each and every corner of society. On Friday, September 1, Chavez returned to Venezuela from a long trip to China and Asia. A big demonstration was arranged and called for in less than 48 hours. The response was massive, with hundreds of thousands of workers, poor and youth turning up to receive the “candidate of the revolution” in O’Leary square in Caracas.

In his speech Chavez stressed the need to organize the re-election campaign for the presidential elections on December 3, 2006, which he referred to as “the Battle of Miranda”. In 2004, the electoral battle in the referendum was effectively won through the mass participation and the movement of organised workers, poor and youth from below. However, what many activists fear, is that the bureaucratic elements of the movement and inside the MVR, Chavez’s party, will exercise control and a tight grip over the campaign, not allowing the movement to slip out of grasp.

Chavez said that the parties, although playing an important role, must be subordinated to the movement, and that the command of the campaign must not belong to anyone, but that the unity of the workers, peasants and communities is above anything else, and that this unity must turn itself into a “Bolivarian hurricane” that can win the battle.

But although the vast majority still side firmly with Chavez and enthusiastically try to push the revolution forward, there are also some signs of frustration among certain sectors, especially amongst the vanguard of the movement. They are tired of the slow progress; they feel that there have been enough speeches about anti-imperialism, socialism and so on, but too little action.

This is an imminent danger facing the movement: If words are not turned into deeds within a short space of time, big layers of the masses can become disappointed. But another scenario is that part of the vanguard will become impatient and begin to promote ultra-left slogans that are not understandable to the majority in the Bolivarian ranks. None of this has happened as of yet, but there are indeed signs that this could occur, if the necessary measures are not taken in order to complete the revolution.

Rosales and the opposition

The opposition has been rumbling around for the past month in order to find out what to do with the elections. It is quite clear that they are weak, discredited and internally divided between various factions and groups. The mere fact that they are unable to draw up any joint alternative to Chavez, has caused many people, especially from the middle-class, to go over to the Bolivarian camp.

Now the opposition has finally come up with the candidature of Manuel Rosales, the current governor of the Western oil-rich region of Zulia, on the border with Colombia. In response to the Chavez’s call for 10 million votes for the revolution, Rosales is campaigning under the slogan “we are 26 million Venezuelans” thus trying to present an image of “national unity”, and so on.

Up until now, he has tried to take all the problematic aspects in the Venezuelan state and society and blame them on Chavez. However, he seems to have been met with very little response. The majority of the latest opinion polls indicate that Chavez is leading with a comfortable margin; while he counts with between 53-56% of the votes, Rosales would only get somewhere between 12-17%.

This is a good reflection of the present correlation of forces. The opposition finds itself increasingly isolated. Therefore, it cannot be completely ruled out that they will try some kind of manoeuvre to declare Chavez’s victory illegitimate or even that they will withdraw, as they did last December in the parliamentary elections. That could be accompanied by a campaign of provocations and diplomatic attacks on the part of US Imperialism. All these are prospects that can occur, if the counter-revolutionary forces see it necessary. But most likely, such manoeuvres would accelerate the process and radicalise the masses even further.

The workers’ movement and the Battle of Miranda

The most urgent task in the present situation, is for the workers’ movement to outline a clear programme and a plan to take the revolution forward, expropriate the main levers of the economy, the banks, the monopolies and the land and put it under a system of democratic socialist planning.

However, the congress of the UNT in May did not put this as the main issue, but rather sought to focus on the internal disputes between various factions, concentrating all the attention, not on broad political points, but on the question of internal elections in the union. The need for a discussion about the role of the trade union and the movement as a whole in the election campaign and the struggle for socialism is an urgent necessity. But what is even more urgent is that the UNT come up with a plan to take over the hundreds of factories abandoned by the bosses, and demand their expropriation and nationalization under workers’ control.

The lack of a determined leadership in the UNT has resulted in various isolated struggles for workers’ control. Workers at the Inveval factory in Los Teques took the initiative last February to set up FRETECO, the Revolutionary Workers’ Front of Occupied Factories, which includes representatives of a number of firms where the workers are fighting to implement workers’ control. 

On Saturday September 2, a meeting of FRETECO took place at the Inveval plant, with more than 40 people present, including representatives of Inveval, Invepal Morón, sacked workers of Invepal Maracay, Selfex, Invetex, Sideroca, Cooperative Alfaquartz and Cooperative Grupo 20. Also represented were the Brazilian factory Cipla-Interfibra and representatives of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign and the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Tendency).

The discussions were led off by various comrades from Inveval and were at a very high level. The speakers stressed that it was necessary to demand that the movement for workers’ control become a basic component of the Battle of Miranda and for socialism. The meeting decided unanimously to call for a big meeting of factories under workers’ control, occupied or in struggle, for October 12-13.

This will be an important event for all activists in the revolutionary struggle, precisely because the struggle for workers’ control is one of the necessary focal points if the revolution is to be deepened. After all, it is not enough to expropriate the golf greens of Caracas – it is necessary to expropriate the bourgeoisie as a class. This can only be done if the leaders of the workers’ movement go on the offensive and advance the struggles and encourage all layers of the working class to follow these examples.

Here lies the real potential of the Battle of Miranda. If the electoral campaign is combined with a socialist programme it will awaken the aspirations of even wider layers meaning that the movement can move beyond the control of the bureaucracy. This is what the reformist wing fears and this is what explains their resistance to any measure that radicalises the masses.

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