Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Which way forward for 21st century Socialism?

The Bolivarian populist regime in Venezuela is the flagship of the World Social Forum’s plan to build an alliance of states to fight for ‘globalisation from below’ by negotiating with ‘democratic imperialism’ for better terms of trade to fund 21st century ‘market socialism’. Is the recent loss of the constitutional referendum also a setback for socialism?

Constitutional Reform defeat

The narrow defeat of Hugo Chavez constitutional reforms last month has forced a 'rethink' within the Bolivarian movement. 3 million former Chavez voters stayed at home giving the anti-Chavez national bourgeoisie a small victory. Chavez accepted responsibility for making a mistake in holding the referendum and has called for a 'pause for reflection' on the road to the Bolivarian Socialism.

Meanwhile the founding Congress of the PSUV is currently meeting with the delegates debating a draft program and reporting back to their 'battalions' for discussion and decision making. The referendum setback has also seen more debate in the movement around the course ahead, and raised distinct tendencies in the PSUV against Chavez earlier expressed wish. He says he is now happy to see the various 'Chavista' parties forming tendencies inside the PSUV!!

One such tendency is the MAREA socialist current of Stalin Borges and Ismael Hernandez of the C-CURA wing of th1e UNT. This was the majority of the C-CURA that joined the PSUV to fight for a working class program against the bureaucracy. It seems that their voice is being heard not only inside the PSUV but in the wider trade union struggle. The MAREA current in the PSUV has publicly condemned the sacking of a prominent C-CURA leader Oswaldo Chirino from his job in the Venezuelan state owned oil company the PDVSA. Chirino is one of the leaders of a minority in the C-CURA that refused to join the PSUV on Chavez terms of liquidating any political tendencies. Instead he called for the formation of an independent workers party. He also called for a no vote on Chavez constitutional referendum.

The sacking of Chirino follows a long struggle in the oil workers unions for a new agreement with the Chavez oil ministry. Chirino is one of the leaders of the largest oil union, Fedepetrol, which has 35,000 of the 60,000 oil workers. The agreement has been in negotiation since April 2007. In September workers were attacked by Anzoátegui state police as they tried to enter the negotiations. The state governor objected only after 4000 workers took to the street to protest. The contract settlement in November did not meet all of Fedepetrol's demands and included a drastic provision inserted by the oil ministry that forced all the unions to amalgamate into the United Confederation of Energy Workers (FUTEV). Around the same time Chirino was told he did not have a job.

In the last issue of Class Struggle 75 we argued for a tactical entry into the PSUV to fight for the right of tendencies so as to split workers from the bourgeois fractions, but with no illusions as to the class character of the PSUV. We said that Borges had a false idea of the PSUV as a potential workers party, whereas the task of revolutionary entry could only be to split the workers out of the popular front party into a workers revolutionary party. It seems on the face of it, that despite these illusions in the character of the PSUV the MAREA current is coming out openly against a Chavista state ministry. Has Borges left behind his illusions in the PSUV?

Not at all. It is good that his faction has supported Chirino in his fight against the oil ministry. But the problem here is not just a bunch of right wing Chavista bureaucrats dominating the oil industry, but a Chavista state bourgeoisie that has to be smashed. The PSUV is not a bureaucratized workers’ party, it is a popular front party. And the Chavista state is not a bureaucratised workers' state, but a bourgeois semi-Bonapartist regime. This will become clearer if the Chirino faction in the oil unions mobilizes a UNT congress for his reinstatement and to repudiate the oil ministry settlement.

This is of course a demand that should be immediately raised by revolutionary Trotskyists who have entered the PSUV, to expose the Borges cover of the left leg of the popular front. It will be difficult when Chavez seeks to discipline the popular front in a confrontation with Exxon Mobil and US, but revolutionaries have to be clear that only a revolutionary working class party with a revolutionary program can win the struggle against US imperialism by taking power at the head of the working class and the poor peasants.

From state capitalism to state socialism?

Such a revolutionary program is necessary to expose the hollow pretence of ‘socialism’ in the draft PSUV program. This is full of talk of socialism, but very vague on how the existing state power that has served the bourgeoisie for centuries can become ‘popular power’.

It seems that the draft program embodies the fundamental misunderstanding of the ‘democratic socialist’ left in Latin America, which is, that the state is the instrument of the class that has the power to take it and use it. This misconception is what lies behind the 'socialist' currents of various kinds inside the PSUV. It is the utopian view that peoples' power can be 'constituent' power, in the sense used by Hardt and Negri, and now very fashionable in the Latin American reformist left. As the draft program puts it:

"Of course, all methods of action lead to an end: the taking and exercising of power. This is because possessing power signifies the possibility - the only concrete one - of directly carrying out in practice the programs for substituting one political structure for another, and for changing a defective society for an ideal society. A political party that does not aspire in some way to take power has no reason to exist."

This will result from a process:

"3. Build Popular Power. Socialise power: The program of the PSUV has as its objective making reality the slogan "in order to end poverty you have to give power to the poor", or better said: the people. That is to say, build a government based on Councils of Popular Power, where workers, campesinos, students and popular masses are direct protagonists in the exercising of political power. The program of the PSUV proposes the socialising of political power, establishing the direct exercising of decision-making power by the masses in their organisations; their unrestricted right to scientific research and the free artistic creation, and the democratisation of access to all cultural policies."

More specifically this is a transition from state capitalism to state socialism:

"4. Planned economy. Communal state: The program of the PSUV proposes to move in the direction of a democratically planned and controlled economy, capable of ending alienated labour and satisfying all the necessities of the masses. Throughout this period of transition, which at this moment marches from a state capitalism dominated by market forces towards a state socialism with a regulated market, the aim is to move towards a communal state socialism, with the strategic objective of totally neutralising the law of value within the functioning of the economy.”

Or as we have argued in Class Struggle for some time, "state socialism" in this sense is really "market socialism" implemented by a bourgeois state, or as the draft program puts it:

"A society with property models that privileges public, indirect and direct social, communal, citizens' and collective property, as well as mixed systems, respecting private property that is of public utility or general interest and which is subjected to contributions, charges, restrictions and obligations."

But how is it possible to “neutralise the law of value” while still “respecting private property”.”Subjecting [private property] to charges, restrictions and obligations” is exactly the definition of the “shared production agreements” of the oil multinationals with the puppet regime in in Iraq, and the “mixed system” in Cuba. By this means does the law of value, and the market, assert its domination.

Yet this program is full of revolutionary rhetoric coming out of the mouths of reformists, including fake Trotskyists, in living contradiction with the state’s ongoing defence of private property. Wherever this contradiction raises itself, inside or outside the PSUV, it is the task of revolutionaries to actively insert the lever of the revolutionary program to win the militant masses to that program.

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