Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Enabling Law in Venezuela – a class point of view

By Patrick Larsen - www.marxist.dk

"The dogs bark, but
the caravan moves on"

The bourgeois media in many countries have launched a new attack against the Bolivarian revolution and against Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez. Having been effectively defeated by the mass movement in the December elections last year, they are now using every attempt to sow doubt and confusion in the Chávez regime and portray it as a regime heading towards dictatorship.

When Chávez made a change of ministers in his cabinet some weeks ago, the bourgeois press singled out the selection of Adán Chávez (Hugo Chávez's brother) as the new Minister of Education as a sign of his "dictatorial and corrupt" tendencies.

Running out of arguments, they have now turned to the new Enabling Law, which gives Chávez the right to rule by decree in certain areas of Venezuelan politics. They portray this as a "consolidation of dictatorship". Their aim is clearly to try to scare workers and youth all around the world away from solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution.

Incredibly, even some groups on the left have begun to diffuse the same prejudices. They are calling on everyone to oppose the Enabling Law on the grounds that it is "undemocratic". They follow this up with demagogic speeches about "democracy from below", etc.

Their concept of democracy is entirely idealist. That is to say, it is democracy taken out of any material context, removed completely from time, place and broader political developments. With such an approach every left-wing activist - as genuine as he or she may be - can be mislead into saying and promoting things that actually benefit the bourgeoisie in a given situation.

Hypocrisy of the international bourgeoisie

The Enabling Law is not - as some desperately try to claim - something new, nor a big surprise. It is not something that Chávez suddenly pulled out of nowhere. Enabling laws are actually a very common feature in Venezuela, and have been used on several occasions by previous governments. The Chávez government used the same method to pass 49 laws in December 2001 that led to the furious oligarchy taking up arms against the government and preparing the failed coup d'etat of April 2002.

Let us ask one question straight away: why did the established international press not protest when previous Venezuelan presidents were given similar powers under similar enabling laws? For example, where were all the critics when Jaime Lusinchi (Venezuelan president 1983-1988) had a similar Enabling Law passed in parliament in June 1984? Or where were their protests when the government of Carlos Andrés Peréz sent the military to slaughter thousands of innocent Venezuelans in the failed Caracazo rising of 1989?

Let us be clear on this one: the bourgeoisie and its press are not at all interested in democracy. Their own version of democracy can be found in Iraq were they have plunged the country into misery, killings and the use of torture against prisoners. That shows their hypocrisy. They have no moral authority whatsoever to discuss democracy with Venezuela. Their interests are crystal clear: they do this only to sow doubts about the progressive nature of the Bolivarian government and to side step the real issue: the nationalisations, which they hate as the devil hates holy water.

A class point of view

It is necessary to see the new Enabling Law in its concrete context and see it from a class point of view. As Chávez has pointed out, the main aim of the law is to allow for a number of expropriations and the nationalisation of various companies and firms - especially ones that have been privatised by previous governments.

We must ask concretely: would this benefit or not the exploited masses of Venezuela? Would it be a step forward for the revolution? Would it accelerate the revolution towards socialism?

There can be but one answer to this question for real revolutionaries: we are entirely in favour of the radical measures against capitalism that Chávez has announced. We support them while arguing that the process be radicalised even further and that the revolution finish off with capitalism once and for all.

Making a class analysis of the real meaning of the law also means taking into account the debates taking place amongst the Venezuelan masses. What is the reaction of ordinary Venezuelan workers and youth towards the new law?

Far from the hysterical attacks one finds in the international bourgeois press, the Venezuelan masses have actually welcomed this law enthusiastically. For them, the burning question is to change society, to change their miserable conditions of life and to make themselves masters of society. They feel that a law speeding up the process is progressive and in the given context they see it as a revolutionary measure that challenges the iron grip of the bureaucrats in the old state apparatus.

This was very aptly described in an article that Michael A. Lebowitz wrote recently for Monthly Review Press (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/lebowitz010207.html)

"I had dinner last night with two friends (one a first-time visitor), who had spent a full day talking with people active in communal councils in two Caracas neighbourhoods (one extremely poor). And, they were telling me about the frustration and anger of so many with local and ministry officials who were holding back change -- and about their identification with the impatience of Chavez, whom they trusted. Not surprisingly, this led us to a discussion of the Enabling law and of Lopez Maya's interview. No, they said, the people they saw weren't worried about that at all -- they agree with the need for speed. You mean, I asked, that the people are in a hurry? Yes, they readily assented (to my surprise), and one commented that they are less interested in democracy as process than in democracy in practice."

Revolutionary democracy

Chávez won the election with some 63% of the votes. He openly said that if he won, his next term in office would be devoted to the building of a socialist society in Venezuela. That is what he is doing now and that is why it is necessary to speed up the process and have the necessary power to do so. One should think that this alone justifies the new Enabling Law or that it at least makes sense to argue that the Venezuelan people have been completely aware of what they were voting for on December the 3rd.

However, for certain groups on the left, this is not enough. They must fight to maintain their "democratic" credentials, that is to say, they must be seen as respectable and decent democrats. They jump on the bandwagon and join in the chorus of complainers. They denounce the Enabling Law as "a step towards undemocratic rule". There are even some groups on the left that have begun to demand a "sovereign parliament" and promote this as a progressive and even a "socialist" demand in the present situation.

This is a completely false slogan. First of all, it would not change anything fundamental, as the chavista parties hold an absolute majority in parliament as a result of the boycott of the opposition of the parliamentary elections in December 2005. It would only make the process much slower. Secondly, this slogan takes the focus away from the revolutionary movement to the parliament. The question is: who do you believe should be the main driving force in the transformation of Venezuelan society? If you raise the slogan of "a sovereign parliament" you will actually be saying that the main demand is to give power to the 167 deputies in the National Assembly - many of them who are widely distrusted by the masses - and along with it the task of building socialism in Venezuela.

The revolutionary Marxists answer the question in this way: we do not advocate a "sovereign parliament" but a sovereign revolutionary movement. That is to say, we fight for the strengthening of the revolutionary democracy from below - the communal councils in the poor neighbourhoods, the social control councils, the mass revolutionary student organisations and most importantly the movement of occupied factories. We also call for the strengthening of workers' control in state-owned companies and the strengthening of the revolutionary trade union, the UNT. All these organs are embryos of real revolutionary democracy and they must be coordinated and built from below, with the right to recall all representatives, where workers' leaders will receive a workers' wages, and so on. The same goes for the new United Socialist Party, the PSUV. It must be built as an instrument of the rule of the people. Only in that way can a real, revolutionary democracy come about.

The phoney calls for "democracy" the bourgeoisie have undertaken must be rejected by revolutionaries in all countries. We have never shared the same vision of democracy and we never will. Our task is not to join in with the attacks against Chávez but to defend the Venezuelan revolution, while at the same time giving our own perspective to the movement.

See also:
Why Aren't You in a Hurry, Comrade? by Michael A. Lebowitz - Monthly Review (Febryary 2, 2007)
Venezuela: The real meaning of “Fatherland, socialism or death” by Pablo Roldan (February 1, 2007)
Venezuela: Five planks in building socialism, workers’ councils and the role of the working class by Luis Primo (January 23, 2007)
There can be no democracy while the media remain in capitalist hands by Fernando Buen Abad Domínguez (January 15, 2007)
“What is the problem? I am also a Trotskyist!” - Chavez is sworn in as president of Venezuela by Jorge Martin (January 12, 2007)
Chavez announces radical measures against capitalism in Venezuela by Fred Weston (January 9, 2007)
Chavez announces United Socialist Party of Venezuela by Jorge Martin (December 20, 2006)
The struggle at Sanitarios Maracay is key for the socialist future of the Bolivarian Revolution (December 13, 2006)