Venezuela provokes debate. It is not easy to define what Bolivarianism is. Chavez has changed notions a number of time. It would be quite easy to label him a 'bonapartist' or 'left nationalist'.
We have not seen anything like the Bolivarian revolution for at least 50 years. It is as novel as Arab nationalism or Guevarism was back in the day.
So Venezuela should be discussed, as, apparently, the branch of the IS in New Zealand want to do. I would have some doubts (to say the least) about their analysis of "dual power" in Venezuela.
There is no rival state power emerging from the struggle. A lot of the initiative has passed upwards, to Chavez and his immediate allies. The last mass uprising, truly and honestly, was in 2004, with the recall referendum.
The missions and the communal groups, welcome though they are, have been devised by the Bolivarians as a way of bypassing the old state. State corruption and mismanagement is a hot topic.
But there is a missing part of the equation. The UNT, as we know, is wracked by infighting. Unions are the most basic form of working class organisation. If Venezuela simply represents socialism in action then we are wrong to see the working class as central to the process. Marx and Engles were wrong to describe socialism as the working class organised as the ruling class.
As this article describes and, as my very slim contact with actual Venezuelans has confirmed, the government is often ahead of the working class, calling for workers control of production before they are capable of doing it on any kind of mass scale. The experiments in workers control are actually carefully designed instances of co-management. Without knocking it we have to point out co-management has existed and thrived under capitalism before.
Which, in a very roundabout way brings me onto my key points:
(1) We are not opposed to the Bolivarian revolution, we would like to see it go further.
(2) However, it is not an issue for mass mobilisation. We do not have to agitate. We do not have to look to the model of the united front to tackle this issue. Granted, the IS should be sending as many Spanish speakers over there as often as possible, to find contacts and make whatever impact we can buuuut, over here we can approach it from a propaganistic point of view.
(3) There are lots of people who'd like to appropriate Venezuela. Ken Livingstone, for example, has brought Chavez over to Britain (even if he did hide him away in Camden Town Hall) to buff up his left credentials. Our polemic not should be with any Bolivarians who, for one thing, are even more aware of the limtations of Venezuelan society than we are. Our polemic is with people/organisations/networks etc with other ideas of social progress.
In 1968-74, within the limtied scope for growth between the Labour and Communist parties, the IS was very successful in recruiting students and young shop stewards. A key part of this was the theory of state capitalism, which lays the stress of building socialism back onto working class self-activity. At the time, the British working class was militant, confident and organised. The argument about workers power was being won on the shop floor. It was self-evident. The IS grew from around 400 to around 4000 members because its theory best served and described the times.
In Britain today for most people workers power a theoretical argument, at best something latent. Meanwhile, huge numbers of people are breaking with mainstream politics. The best way to sharpen up people who come over to revolutionary socialism is by getting into the arguments around the Bolivarian revolution.
When the next working class upsurge happens in Britain, the more activists we have who are clear in their mind about socialism from below, the better our headstart will be.