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Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Venezuela

                                                 By Alan Woods and Ted Grant

Dramatic events are unfolding in Venezuela. On Saturday April 13, less than
36 hours after a group of right-wing businessmen and army generals had
control, the coup collapsed in a welter of confusion. Shortly after 10 pm,
interim President Pedro Carmona Estanga resigned and was reportedly under
arrest. Vice
President Diosdado Cabello, who was sworn in as president by National
Assembly President William Lara after Carmona was forced to reinstate the
elected members and other public officials he fired on April 12.

Finally, amidst scenes of wild rejoicing, Hugo Chavez, having been flown by
military helicopter to the Miraflores Presidential palace, was reinstated as
President of

Counter-revolutionary provocation

The counter-revolution in Venezuela was spearheaded by the recent
anti-Chavez strikes in the Venezuelan oil industry. These were
counter-revolutionary strikes -
the equivalent of the lorry-owners' strike that was organised by the CIA
against the Allende government in Chile. These strikes were organised by the
of the Venezuelan oil industry (the PDVSA) in alliance with the right-wing
trade union bureaucrats of the CTV. That the movement towards reaction was
headed by
oil interests was no accident. The PDVSA managers wanted to end the
restrictions on oil production and return to their previous position as the
single largest oil
supplier to the United States.

The coup itself flowed from the events of April 11, when a demonstration
said to be 350,000-strong was organised against the Chavez government. Since
the media
in Venezuela are virulently anti-Chavez, this figure is almost certainly
exaggerated. Press agency reports put the real number as no more than
50,000. Government
security forces and pro-Chavez militia were alleged to have fired into a
crowd of unarmed anti-Chavez protesters, killing 15 and wounding 157 people.
The right
wing used this as an excuse to demand the resignation of President Hugo
Chavez. But in fact, later reports have indicated that most of those killed
were pro-Chavez
demonstrators who were apparently shot by snipers on rooftops. The whole
thing was a manifest provocation.

The class interests behind the coup were obvious. The head of the
counter-revolutionary government was a wealthy businessman, Pedro Carmona -
the chief of the
bosses' association. His first action was to rescind Chavez's so-called
anti-investment laws - that is, all those laws intended to defend
Venezuela's interests and raise
the living standards of the masses. The corrupt and rotten Venezuelan
bourgeoisie is incapable of playing a progressive role. Its plans would
signify putting the
country and its considerable oil wealth firmly in the grasp of US
imperialism. The PDVSA managers had already drawn up a plan for restoring
and expanding
production that could bring Venezuela 300,000 barrels per day above its OPEC

Role of US imperialism

The coup was headed by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and their cronies in the
armed forces (FAN). But the hand that pulled the strings was clearly in
This plan was born and bred in the United States. The Bush administration,
delighted at the thought of Chavez in handcuffs, was preparing to take over
Venezuelan oil industry through the back door, allowing "aid" to go to the
new Caracas government - in the form of oil investment. This is part of the
strategy of US imperialism after September 11 to intervene aggressively

The US's interest in Venezuela is partly economic. There is talk in America
of an economic recovery. But this is still weak and unstable. Demand in
North America is
picking up, but in Europe this is happening to a far lesser degree and Japan
remains in deep trouble. In such a situation, the oil markets are
necessarily volatile. And
any serious disruption in oil production at this stage would have the most
serious consequences for the world economy. What is required for a serious
recovery is not
only an increase in demand (which can have an episodic character) but an
increase in profitability. Profit margins still remain depressed. An
increase in the price of
any one of the factors of production would depress profit margins still
further, sending the world economy into an even steeper fall than before. In
this sense, the
convulsions in the Middle East hang like a threatening storm cloud over the
economic scenario.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is stirring up the whole region in a most
alarming manner (Hezbollah, Syria, Jordan and Egypt are all getting
involved). Things are getting
complicated! And then there is the price of oil: This has fluctuated
violently, reacting to OPEC's supply curtailments, threats of war,
increasing violence in the
Middle East and political instability in Venezuela itself. The chaos in the
Middle East seems to have forced Washington to postpone its plans for an
attack on Iraq. It
appears that last weekend's summit between the US President and British
Prime Minister Tony Blair in Crawford, Texas, did not yield very positive
results. Even
such a great enthusiast for wars as Tony Blair was compelled to warn Bush in
private that it is sometimes better to look before one leaps. But
postponement does
not mean abandonment. Sooner or later the American boot will descend on

Bush is determined to press ahead with his plans for military aggression
against Iraq, but is uncomfortably aware that the general chaos in the
Middle East (underlined
by the failure of the Powell mission to force an Israeli withdrawal from
Palestine) can lead to a catastrophic drop in oil production that would lead
to spiralling prices
and destroy any prospect of an economic recovery. The USA is in urgent need
of a guaranteed oil supplier that is conveniently several thousand miles
away from the
Middle East.

The imperialists are attempting to keep oil prices low. There are rumours
that Russian producers, following Putin's line of collaborating with US
imperialism, are
scheming to steal Iraq's market share before the end of Baghdad's 30-day oil
export embargo, called earlier this week to protest Israel's recent
occupation of
Palestinian territories in the West Bank. In this worldwide drama, Venezuela
is a key actor. The policies of Hugo Chavez were threatening the interests
of the big oil
companies and causing increased concern in Washington.

With growing instability in the Middle East - where Iraq has just cut its
oil production - it was in the interest of the USA to undermine OPEC
cohesion. Before the
inauguration of Chavez in February 1999, Venezuela was OPEC's biggest
oil-production quota-evader. As recently as December 1999, Venezuela was
its production quota by a million barrels. But the new government, in its
attempt to stand up to US imperialism, transformed Venezuela into OPEC's
most enthusiastic
quota-enforcer. During his presidency Chavez led the charge for numerous
production cuts and toured the world last year to press for cuts in oil
production, which
met with a certain success. This inevitably brought Venezuela into conflict
with the big oil companies and US imperialism.

But there is a wider dimension to the activities of US imperialism in
Venezuela, which far transcends the question of economics. The US military
is actively involved in
a dirty war against the FARC and ELN guerrillas in neighbouring Colombia. It
is well known that Chavez maintained friendly relations with the Colombian
That alone would be sufficient reason for the CIA to want to depose him.

But the main reason was none of these. The main thing was that the
radicalisation of the masses in Venezuela threatened to spread to other
countries in Latin
America, which is now in the throes of a deep economic and social crisis. By
removing Chavez from power, US imperialism hoped to tighten its grip on
America. It would be a lesson to the masses in other countries. And in
addition, the installation of a more friendly and pliable government in
Caracas would lead to
an increase in Venezuelan oil production, thus bringing more stability to
oil prices. In short, a very sound business proposition! All that was
required was a little

How the counter-revolution defended "democracy"

Predictably, the right-wing coup was greeted by scarcely-concealed
satisfaction by the bourgeoisie internationally. These hypocrites described
the events of April 11
as a "return to democracy" in Venezuela! This was the line taken by the
Madrid daily paper El Pais. However, the same paper was compelled
subsequently to print
eyewitness reports stating that there were many cases of brutality and
violence by the counter-revolutionary forces. Chavez supporters were forced
to go into hiding
as the armed forces moved to arrest all government supporters. Prisoners
were taken to army barracks where they were beaten and tortured. Such are
the methods
of the bourgeois "democrats" in Venezuela!

Venezuelan Army commander General Efrain Vasquez Velasco - the principal
leader of the military rebellion - attempted to prevent any movement against
the new
government by implementing an aggressive "disarmament plan". The new regime
immediately launched searches of private property and vehicles in an attempt
seize all unregistered weapons and arrest Chavez supporters. He ordered the
army to "identify, disarm and dismantle" the civilian militias organised as

A witch-hunt was initiated against all supporters, pro-Chavez members of
parliament and officials of the legally elected government. Vasquez Velasco
confirmed that
military and civilian police were conducting a national search for former
vice president Cabello and Libertador Municipality Mayor Freddy Bernal, on
the grounds
that Cabello was the chief organiser and financier of the armed Bolivarian
Circles, and that Bernal was supposed to have commanded sharpshooters who
shot at the
anti-Chavez protesters from rooftops in downtown Caracas on April 11.

The victorious reactionaries set about systematically demolishing all the
progressive decrees of the deposed government, which had been elected by an
majority. They sought absolute powers for themselves - an unelected gang of
conspirators - while cancelling 49 decrees of the democratically elected
suspending and arresting elected members of the National Assembly, plus 20
judges (so much for the independence of the judiciary!), 12 governors and
pro-Chavez mayors. All these activities earned them the applause of the
western "democracies" as "steps towards the restoration of democracy" in
George Orwell could have written a very good novel about this.

>From all the reports, the counter-revolutionaries were over-confident. They
were convinced that there was little or no danger that the supporters of
Chavez could
launch a successful counter-strike to regain control of the government. At
worst, they anticipated isolated outbreaks of violence in Caracas and other
urban areas,
which they could easily control. They also feared that pro-Chavez elements
in rural regions could try to link up with Colombian guerrillas operating
inside Venezuelan

But these gentlemen reckoned without the Venezuelan masses. Despite the fact
that Chavez had not carried the revolution out to the end, and the crisis in
had begun to have adverse effects, the masses instinctively realised the
threat posed by the counter-revolution. Having recovered from their initial
shock, they poured
onto the streets of Caracas and other cities, sweeping all before them.

The collapse of the coup

The role of the masses was decisive in defeating the counter-revolution.
Faced with the spontaneous uprising of the masses, the attempts to impose a
immediately ran into the sands. Without the support of the armed forces, the
bourgeoisie could not establish a dictatorship. But the reaction of the
masses rapidly
aggravated the splits within the army. This was not supposed to happen! It
seems that Carmona's short-lived interim presidency unravelled because the
counter-revolutionaries - doubtless under the pressure of the CIA - tried to
go too far too fast, opening up a rift between them and a section of the
generals who,
quite correctly, feared civil war.

The leaders of the coup began to split and argue among themselves. From this
moment, the coup was doomed. Stratfor reports on the events that led to its

"The economic and political measures Carmona announced at his April 12
inauguration - including the National Assembly's dissolution and the
dismissal of the
Supreme Court judges and other key government officials - were not what had
been agreed upon by the political, civic and military factions that built a
coalition to back Carmona and were reaching out to the moderate center-left.

"The right-wing coup-within-a-coup was engineered by a group of military
officials who are proteges of retired Gen. Ruben Rojas, in partnership with
ultra-conservative businessmen and politicians - some of whom belong to the
extremely conservative Catholic Opus Dei organization. The Carmona
defense minister, Rear Adm. Hector Ramirez Perez, is a longtime protege of
Rojas, while Carmona's choice for foreign minister, Jose Rodriguez Iturbe,
belongs to
Opus Dei."

In other words, the reactionaries overreached themselves. When Carmona
announced the National Assembly's dissolution, the civilian-military
coalition supporting
Carmona's interim government collapsed immediately, while the balance of
forces swung back in Chavez's favour. With the growth of protests on the
Carmona's civilian and labour support evaporated, and the FAN also split
into at least three distinct groups now struggling for power inside the

Realising that the situation was escaping from his hands, Vasquez Velasco -
in a nationally televised address - conditioned his continued support for
Carmona to the
immediate reinstatement of the National Assembly. Carmona immediately
complied. However, reinstated National Assembly President Lara hastily
Carmona and swore in Vice President Cabello as acting president, pending
Chavez's return to the presidential palace. The rebellion collapsed like a
house of cards.
And the army was split wide open.

Splits at the top

It is clear that Chavez still has considerable support, not only among the
masses, but also in the army. General Baduel declared himself in rebellion
against the
Carmona government even before it was sworn in April 12. Having command of
2,000 elite paratroopers and a large arsenal of weapons and munitions, this
was no
small threat! Division Gen. Julio Garcia Montoya, permanent secretary of the
National Security and Defence Council, also declared himself in rebellion
and made his
opposition to the interim government known through a telephone interview
with Cuban television that was then broadcast back to Venezuela.

Stratfor continues: "One group is led by Army commander Gen. Efrain Vasquez
Velasco, who emerged April 11-12 as the leader of a center-right faction of
officers who oppose Chavez's attempts to politicize the FAN and shift the
country away from capitalist democracy. Vasquez Velasco's group negotiated
agreement with civic and political opposition leaders that installed Carmona
as a consensus interim president.

"A second group consists of ultra-conservative officers in all four branches
of the FAN. Some of these officers are longtime proteges of Rojas, and
others - including
some Opus Dei members - hail from the Christian Democrat Copei party, which
long has been dominated by former President Rafael Caldera (who also is
father-in-law). STRATFOR's sources report this group planned to launch a
coup against Chavez on Feb. 27, but aborted the scheme under strong pressure
centrist colleagues inside the FAN and from the Bush administration in

"The third group consists of pro-Chavez officers - including Gen. Raul
Baduel, who commands the 42nd Parachutists Brigade based at Maracay in
Aragua state.
This is Chavez's former unit, and Baduel is one of his closest friends and
political allies in the army, sources say."

Alexis de Toqueville pointed out long ago that revolution begins on the top.
The latest reports show clearly that the ruling class in Venezuela is split.
And this split
extends to the tops of the state and the armed forces. This, as Lenin
explained, is the first condition for a revolution. The failed attempt at
counter-revolution will have
exacerbated these contradictions and splits in the ruling class, and created
the most favourable conditions for a complete social overturn. The
reactionaries have been
forced onto the defensive, and for a time will be paralysed and unable to
act. A courageous word from the top would be sufficient to deprive the
reaction of its social
base and permit even a peaceful transfer of power to the working people.

There are moments in history that ere decisive. It is a question of
"either:or". The counter-revolution has thrown down the gauntlet. Their
first attempt has failed.
But it will not be the last! The bourgeoisie and its supporters in the
military is determined to get rid of Chavez by one means or another. Their
resolve will be stiffened
by Washington, which has many reasons for wanting to overthrow the Chavez

Marx pointed out that the revolution needs the whip of counter-revolution.
The present situation is reminiscent of the tancazo in Chile - the abortive
first attempt to
overthrow the Allende government - which was defeated by the movement of the
masses. There is no doubt whatsoever that if Salvador Allende had taken
advantage of that moment to appeal to the masses to act, the revolution
would have easily succeeded. But when the opportunity was thrown away, the
counter-revolutionaries in the armed forces (let us recall that Pinochet was
supposed to be a loyal "democrat") regrouped and prepared a bloody coup a
few months
later. This is a very serious warning to the workers of Venezuela!

The role of Chavez

After the events of April 11-13, the situation is completely unstable.
Nothing has been resolved. The situation resembles in many respects that
which existed in Cuba
in 1960. It is not generally realised that when Castro first came to power,
he did not intend to nationalise the means of production. His programme was
a programme
of democratic reforms that did not go beyond the limits of the capitalist
system. In fact, his publicly declared model was:the USA.

However, on a capitalist basis there is no way forward for countries like
Cuba and Venezuela. Castro's attempt to carry through reforms to improve the
of the Cuban people immediately brought him into conflict with US
imperialism and the big US monopolies that controlled the Cuban economies.
In order to defend
the gains of the revolution, Castro was compelled to nationalise the
property of US imperialism and eliminate capitalism in Cuba.

Although the Cuban revolution did not follow the classical model of the
October revolution, and the workers never held power through the rule of
democratically-elected soviets, nevertheless Castro had the support of the
masses and the expropriation of landlordism and capitalism in Cuba
represented a blow to
imperialism and a big step forward. The US imperialists burned their fingers
badly in Cuba. Their attempt to destroy the revolution by relying on
counter-revolutionary forces armed and financed by the CIA ended in a
humiliating defeat at the Bay of Pigs.

There is no doubt that Washington feared that Chavez might go down the same
road as Castro, whom he is known to admire. But that seems unlikely. Chavez
expect no help from Havana if he follows that path. The Cuban regime will
want to stay out of it. Havana will limit itself to giving advice - and the
advice it will give
will be to impress upon Chavez the need not to go too far, not to provoke
the Americans and so on. Since Castro will not want to provoke the Americans
from his point of view, this is sound advice, which he has already given to
Chavez. But it is advice that will mean the destruction of the Venezuelan

The drama is not yet played out. Venezuela is still in deep economic crisis,
the gulf between the classes is profound. There is a growing polarisation
between left and
right. The immediate crisis has resulted in a setback for the
counter-revolution. However, the conflict is far from over. The balance of
forces that shifted so decisively
back toward Chavez on April 13 can swing the other way equally rapidly. He
will be under the remorseless pressure of US imperialism. The bourgeoisie,
with the
active support and encouragement of the CIA, will intensify its campaign of
sabotage and disruption.

It is not even certain that Chavez has sufficient support in the National
Assembly to retain the presidency. According to an informal count in the
assembly and the
FAN, roughly 75 percent of the assembly's members oppose allowing Chavez to
continue as president. The former Interior and Justice Minister Luis
Miquilena, who
commands a sizeable block of moderate votes inside the dominant pro-Chavez
Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), will be a key powerbroker in any effort to
Chavez's presidency by legal and constitutional means. The position of
Chavez is therefore extremely precarious. If he does not do what the
capitalists and
imperialists demand, he can be deposed by the National Assembly itself.

The real Bolivarian revolution

Chavez is no doubt an honest man who wants act in the interests of his
country and his people. His intentions are good. But in politics as in life,
intentions are never
enough. The problem is that Chavez is not a Marxist, and is inclined to be
inconsistent. That can be fatal in a situation where the balance of forces
is so unstable. If
Chavez were a Marxist, he would appeal to the masses over the heads of the
National Assembly. The establishment of action committees in every factory,
refinery, and army barracks is the only way to defend the revolution and
disarm the counter-revolutionary forces. The working class must be armed to
defend itself
against the danger of another coup. Only decisive action can prevent a new
crisis in which the counter-revolution will assume an even more violent and

The position of the army is a crucial factor. The reactionaries in the
barracks have suffered a serious set-back. But they will already be
regrouping, with the active
assistance of the US embassy. The next 24 to 48 hours could be decisive. If
firm action is not taken to defeat and disarm the counter-revolution, civil
war could
erupt, with fighting between military units that support or oppose Chavez.
If the working class acts with sufficient energy, the rank and file of the
army can quickly be
won over to the side of the revolution. The best of the officers will follow
them, isolating the reactionary elements in the general staff. The
revolution can still succeed
with minimum violence and loss of life. But if the revolution hesitates, it
is lost. The way will be prepared for terrible bloodshed, ending in a brutal
military dictatorship
later on.

Above all, it is necessary to smash the resistance of the bosses and their
cronies. For the immediate expropriation of the property of the imperialists
and the
Venezuelan bourgeois! The only way to remove the danger of
counter-revolution is to eliminate its basis of support - by expropriating
the capitalist class. An
emergency decree to this effect must be put to the National Assembly. If the
counter-revolutionaries in the National Assembly attempt to block it, then
the only way
forward is to dissolve the Assembly and rule through the elected popular

Workers of Venezuela! Everything depends on you now. By your actions, you
have defeated the counter-revolution. But your victory is not secure. A
terrible danger
hangs over your heads and that of your families and loved ones. Remember
what happened in Chile! Do not trust those who tell you that all is
resolved, that the
situation must calm down, that democracy is now safe in the hands of the
National Assembly! Unless and until the power of the capitalists - those
local office boys of
US imperialism - is overthrown, the conquests you have made will never be

Rely only on your own strength and unity! Build action committees to defend
the revolution and defeat the reaction! Extend them and link them up, on a
regional and national basis. Once the power of the working people is
organised, no power on earth can resist it. The stage will be prepared for
the final, inevitable
showdown between the working people and the forces of reaction.

You face a powerful enemy in US imperialism. But in reality, this enemy is a
colossus with feet of clay. You have powerful allies in the millions of
exploited and
oppressed people of Latin America. These people are finding their feet and
their voice - in Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia - in one country after
another, the
workers, peasants and unemployed are beginning to fight back. These are the
mass reserves of the Venezuelan revolution!

Long ago, Leon Trotsky spoke of the permanent revolution. This is the only
way forward for countries like Venezuela. The facts must be faced. The
cannot play a progressive role in Venezuela. Only under the rule of the
working class can you even begin to solve the problems. On the basis of a
socialist planned
economy, under the democratic control and administration of the workers
themselves, immense progress can be made. But the revolution in isolation
could not last
for long. Either it spreads to other countries, or it would be destroyed
sooner or later. Internationalism is therefore a matter of life and death
for the Venezuelan

Hugo Chavez has spoken of the Bolivarian revolution. When Simon Bolivar
raised the banner of revolt against Spanish imperialism, he had in mind a
war of national
liberation that would unite all the peoples of Latin America. But this dream
was betrayed by the so-called national bourgeoisie that organised the
Balkanisation of
Latin America. This is the true cause of the enslavement and oppression of a
mighty continent.

The only way to defeat US imperialism is by uniting the revolution in
Venezuela with the struggles that are taking place in all Latin America.
Everywhere, the capitalist
system is in crisis. It offers the people nothing but poverty, misery and
unemployment. It subjugates whole nations to the control of US imperialism
and the
dictatorship of Capital, turning the words "democracy" and "sovereignty"
into meaningless phrases. All that is required is one victory and the rotten
and bankrupt
capitalist regimes would collapse everywhere. The road would be open for the
realisation of Bolivar's dream in the only form possible - as the Socialist
United States
of Latin America.

Last December the Argentinean working class showed the way. The Venezuelan
working class is now in the front line of the Latin American revolution. All
eyes are
now fixed on Venezuela. The stakes are very high. A decisive victory in
Venezuela would transform the whole situation. But victory is by no means

It is necessary to draw serious conclusions from the events of the last
three days. It is not possible to make half a revolution. It is not possible
to improve the
conditions of the masses and leave the rotten and reactionary bourgeoisie in
control of the means of production. The land, the banks and industries must
be taken out
of their hands. The economic power must be in the hands of the people. That
is the first condition for victory. Without that, no progress is possible.

What is required is a conscious and audacious Marxist tendency, which would
participate in the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) and give it the
revolutionary perspective, programme and strategy. The elements for such a
tendency already exist. Everything now depends upon the speed with which
they can
organise, mobilise the working class, and lead it on the path to victory.
The victory of the Venezuelan revolution would light a fire that would set
all Latin America

April 14, 2002

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