CARACAS, VENEZUELA, Nov. 23 — Chanting “Educación Primero para el hijo del obrero; Educación después para el hijo del burgues” (First educate the workers’ children, and only then those of the bourgeoisie), and “Obreros y Estudiantes, Unidos en Combate” (Workers and Students, United in Struggle), tens of thousands of college, high school students and teacher from all 24 states marched to Miraflores, the presidential palace, on Nov. 21 to support President Chávez’s Constitutional Reform referendum scheduled for Dec. 2. It was the biggest youth march in recent history, countering those by right-wing students opposing Chávez’s plans.
The reform has sharpened all the contradictions here. The right-wing opposition says it will establish Chávez as a “communist dictator.” They have used the right-wing students to lead the anti-Chávez attack and are trying to provoke a military coup against him. It’s also sharpened the in-fighting among Chávez’s supporters. General Baudel, his former Defense Minister, has now joined the opposition.
But Chávez’s reform won’t bring in “communism.” It will continue Chávez’s Bolivarian Socialism — state capitalism with lots of privatization.
The U.S. and the local opposition say the reform will enable Chávez to be re-elected forever. Of course, they don’t level this criticism against Egypt’s Mubarak, Pakistan’s Musharraf, Saudi rulers or any other U.S. ally actually in power with no real mass support.
The reform, while making some nationalist changes in the army, won’t change its class nature, and it will still serve the executive power. The National Guard will become a Territorial Guard and will include “Bolivarian people’s militias,” but will still be subordinate to the Army. And the latter’s main pillars will be discipline, obedience and subordination. So basically, soldiers will be ordered to serve the ruling faction.
The reform will facilitate state expropriation of private companies for the “social interest.” But this maintains “just payments” to private owners for their holdings. Recently the government bought Verizon, paying it more than its value on the stock exchange, a good deal for the phone company. This is just a “change” from one form of capitalist property to another. It will guarantee “mixed-capital” ventures like those PDVSA (the state-owned oil company) now has with big international oil corporations — again another form of capitalism.
The reform will institute a 6-hour work-day and “popular councils,” supposedly organs of “people’s power.” But these councils will be limited to the municipal level. They’re similar to Brazilian President Lula’s ruling Labor Party (PT) “reforms.” Its “participatory budget” (as labeled in Brazil) has even been attacked by PT rank-and-filers as government control of the mass movements.
In Venezuela, these “popular councils” will have no power over national policies, the state budget, the PDVSA, the armed forces or the judicial system.
This constitutional reform fight is one about which kind of capitalism will rule Venezuela, not one about destroying capitalism and putting workers in power under a system based on workers’ needs not on profits. It also involves a section of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie wanting a bigger piece of the pie, and not giving the best part to the U.S. imperialists (as the old ruling class did).
Chávez now is making deals with international imperialist companies in China, Russia and even India instead of just with U.S.- or Spanish-owned corporations. (That’s why Spain’s King shut down Chávez during the recent Ibero-American Presidential Summit meeting in Chile). Brazil’s Senate has just approved Venezuela’s full membership in Mercosur (the Brazilian/Argentinean-controlled South American Common Market).
In 1989, Venezuela’s workers and students rebelled with a mass popular uprising (“el Caracazo”) against International Monetary Fund-imposed austerity measures. It was crushed brutally by the then social-democratic President Carlos Pérez, who sent the army to smash it with tanks, killing over 1,000 workers and youth. Afterwards, Chávez and a few other officers, fearing the masses would continue to rebel and eventually topple the whole capitalist system, led a military revolt against the old corrupt ruling class. He was jailed and then released and ran for President in 1999, winning with the support of angry workers and youth.
But revolutionary workers’ power — communism — won’t come from above, from any “savior” trying to reform capitalism, but only through organizing a mass communist-led movement. That movement must be built among the workers and students who have supported Chávez, struggling with them to shatter their illusions in “Bolivarian socialism.”