Is Chávez the heir of the Cuban revolution?

March 27, 2007

In La Verdad Obrera 219 and 220 (you can read those issues in in Spanish) we gave an account of the Cuban Revolution. In this last installment we want to discuss the self-interested vision promoted by castrismo and chavismo that seeks to identify the Cuban Revolution with the Bolivarian movement.

Chavismo presents the so-called "Bolivarian revolution" as the new
model of "twenty-first century socialism." It permits Hugo Chávez to
display himself as the ideological heir of the Cuban Revolution. The
Cuban leadership helps him in his attempt to present himself before
the Latin American masses as an anti-imperialist leader. In turn, he
flirts ideologically with bourgeois nationalism, by promoting it as
the ideological mentor of an alleged "twenty-first century socialism."

Some groups that claim to belong to the Marxist left, like the
Argentinean MST or the El Militante current get excited at Chávez’s
declarations of "Patria, socialismo o muerte" and the nationalizations
and claim they are a step forward on the road of socialist revolution.
In this way they erase the qualitative differences between a
worker-peasant revolution that swept away the bases of imperialist and
capitalist domination and gave rise to a deformed workers’ state, and
a nationalist movement with bourgeois content that promotes a "passive
revolution," political reform from above, and maintains the bases of
the state and capitalist domination of Venezuela, through class
conciliation, that has not been able to confront imperialism

A state of what class?

Revolutionary socialism has always explained to the working class
that, to establish a correct policy against the state, it had to
define clearly what class was retaining power, its social character
and content. Social revolutions destroy the capitalist state by
passing power from one class to another, replacing the old bourgeois
legal, political and military machinery with a new state order. In
Cuba the revolution of workers and peasants defeated not only Batista,
but also the old state dominated by the bourgeoisie and landlords,
which served the interests of imperialism. In Venezuela the old state
machinery continues to stand. In Venezuela chavismo expressed a change
in the regime of parties from the Punto Fijo agreement, which was
demolished after the Caracazo [uprising] of 1989, but it did not mean
a change in the state order. The state institutions, the armed forces,
the courts and the bureaucratic machinery, were reformed, but they
continue to fulfill the role of being the guarantors of capitalist

El brazo armado [The armed wing of the state]

In Cuba the revolution meant the end of the bourgeois state and of
social domination by capitalists and landowners. This was possible in
the first place because the armed forces of the old regime were
defeated by the popular insurrection and the forces of the Rebel Army,
leaving the bourgeois state without its fundamental pillar and without
its repressive means of support. This fact explains the dynamic that
the Cuban revolutionary process assumed. The state’s repressive forces
were replaced by workers’ and peasants’ militias, the armed people,
who guaranteed the defense and deepening of the revolution. The
formation of the revolutionary armed forces and the regimentation of
the militias in pursuit of a professional armed force created with
time a special detachment of the bureaucracy that until now has been
the main economic force of Cuba, intimately tied to capitalist
businesses since the latter half of the nineties [1].

In Venezuela, the armed forces continue to play the role of defenders
of bourgeois order and are one of the fundamental pillars on which
chavismo is supported. For that it appeals to an organic law that
dates from 1995 (when the old political system was in force with the
officials that repressed the Caracazo [uprising]).
According to this law, that the Bolivarian Constitution also contains,
its prerogatives are national defense, contributing to public order,
and to the defense of the Constitution [2]. Even the national armed
forces have a special wing, which is the National Guard, dedicated to
maintaining internal order. Chavismo is in its origin an expression of
military nationalism, from a plebeian origin that opposed the
repression of the 1989 uprising. This base of soldiers, NCO’s, and
middle-level officers was the leadership, together with the Venezuelan
masses, of the defeat of the big coup attempt of April, 2002. The
discipline and authority of the military hierarchies, the officer
caste and its privileges were repaired, with sectors related to Chávez
standing out in the leadership. The national armed forces are the
guarantee in the final instance of a strong power, that, while
appealing to the masses with its populist rhetoric and anti-US
sentiment, keeps soldiers as a special body of repression to confront
popular rebellion if necessary. The so-called Bolivarian militias are
only a body of civilian origin and in no way a popular militia called
to replace the permanent army.

Ownership of the means of production

Social revolutions mean a change in the order of property. For this
reason, the Cuban Revolution ended landowning property through the
agrarian reform that distributed the land to the peasants, and later
through collectivization and nationalization of the ownership of land.
Industry and the fundamental services were expropriated and
nationalized, together with banking, and the state monopoly over
foreign trade was established. The expropriation of landowners and
capitalists and planning of economic resources created the economic
basis of a workers’ state. But they did it in a bureaucratic manner,
without breaking the dependency of the Cuban economy on sugar
production and subordinating it to unequal exchange with the USSR and
the old Eastern European "socialist" states, denying the workers and
peasants any opinion and decision on political economy and planning [3].

In Venezuela chavismo is the guarantor of capitalist property. The
Bolivarian Constitution in Article 115 guarantees the right to
property, although it rejects monopoly, which has no practical value
when it comes to permitting joint deals with transnational
corporations like Shell and Repsol. But the same constitutional
article has great practical value for respecting capitalist property
and interests. For example, the Minister of Finances Rodrigo Cabezas
indicated about the recent nationalizations, that they will be made
"respecting the constitutional and legal framework that among other
things prohibits carrying through expropriations" [4]. The
nationalizations caused enthusiasm in the population and in the
leftist media, but in reality they represent buying the firms from
privatizing groups, as recognized by the Chairman of the Finances
Commission of the Asamblea Nacional, who declared that the
nationalizations are not "a measure of expropriation; the strategic
firms will be purchased."

Chávez has maintained that "We have not rejected private property . .
. it must only be increasingly a function of social welfare." [5]
This is why businessmen’s groups like Empresarios por Venezuela
(Empreven), the C�mara Venezolana de la Construcci�n (CVC) and the
Confederación Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos (Confagan), among
so many other businessmen’s associations, launched the creation of the
Confederación de Empresarios "Socialistas" de
Venezuela. As our comrades of the JIR commented, "It is a strange
revolution where those who constantly exploit, continue normally with
their transactions; what is more, they have prospered in their
profits." [6]

The situation of workers and the people

In Cuba the revolution involved a qualitative change in the living
conditions of the masses of workers and peasants. Thanks to the
changes brought about in the nature of property, the revolution put an
end to the scourge of hunger, illiteracy, child labor, and
unemployment. To get an idea of the social scope of the revolution, it
should suffice to say that it permitted a reduction in infant
mortality to 7% (2003 data), raising life expectancy to 77 years and
eradicating illiteracy. In its time, it gave a big boost to public
health; if in 1958 there was 1 doctor for every 1,076 inhabitants,
today there is 1 doctor for every 159 inhabitants, who get
personalized attention, and similarly, 1 dentist for every 1,066
inhabitants. Unemployment is currently 1.9%.

In Bolivarian Venezuela, the situation of the masses is kept in the
framework of poverty and degradation caused by capitalism. According
to official statistics, poverty has been reduced from 50.4% in 1999 to
33.9% at present, but keeping the enormous gap and social inequality
between rich and poor. CEPAL tends to agree with government data:
"For the year 1999, poverty was at 49.4%, but six years later, it was
37.1%." [7] The informal economy occupies about 50% of the active
labor force of the country. While "the distribution of income in 2002
in wages and salaries reached 33%, falling by 2005 to 25%,
capitalists’ profits rose from 38% in 2002 to 49% in 2005." [8]

Socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution

Che Guevara set out as the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution, "On the
other hand, the indigenous bourgeoisies have lost all their ability to
oppose imperialism “if they ever had it†and only form its tail.
There are no more changes to be made; either socialist revolution or a
caricature of revolution," [9]Some time ago, the castrista leadership
announced the abandonment of this struggle and now puts its prestige
in chavismo to strengthen Chávez as a leadership that represents the
interests of class conciliation between the impoverished and
hardworking masses and the national bourgeoisie. This is consistent
with the policy of preventing revolution and its extension, as it did
with Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s.

Chávez is not the representative of the Venezuelan people and of the
peasant masses of Latin America. His objective is not the workers’ and
peasants’ government, the development of workers’ and popular
self-organization, nor the struggle to overthrow capitalism as a means
of struggle against imperialism, but preventing new revolutions that,
as in Cuba, could topple the power of the bourgeoisie. His
international efforts are based on presenting as friends and allies
the servile governments of the national bourgeoisies that present
themselves as progressives, as is the case with Lula or Kirchner and
those who seek to curb revolutionary processes led by the workers’ and
peasants’ masses, like Evo Morales in Bolivia or Rafael Correa of
Ecuador. "Twenty-first century socialism" is the discourse that masks
this aim.