National Sections of the L5I:

To the comrades of the PRS from the League

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The revolutionary events in your country over the last five years or so are of extraordinary importance to working class militants all over the world. The very fact that the overthrow of capitalism, the destruction of the capitalist state and the construction of socialism are being debated by huge numbers of workers and the urban poor is of enormous importance. It shows that the formation of a workers' government, based on the armed people, can be accomplished in Venezuela if there is a revolutionary outcome to the struggles ahead. This depends crucially on the Venezuelan working class achieving organised political class independence, i.e. a revolutionary party. A Venezuelan socialist revolution can be a first step in the struggle for a socialist federation of Latin America and world socialist revolution.

We know you share this goal and we wish to discuss with you the strategy and tactics that revolutionaries need to adopt in order to achieve it. In this letter we outline our thinking on the crisis in Venezuela and the way forward for the left. We know you have different views among yourselves on strategic and tactical questions facing the left, and would welcome responses to this letter from either side of the current debate on the PSUV. In the analysis and positions we outline below, we know there is much you will agree on, but we wanted, in this opening letter, to state the "totality" of our view, including those aspects that are uncontroversial, in order to ensure the greatest possible clarity in our exchange.

Before we outline our thoughts on revolutionary strategy in Venezuela, we must first thank you for the hospitality you showed our comrade our comrade during his stay at the beginning of September. If one of your comrades wants to travel to Europe, of course she/he would be very welcome anytime and we will do our very best to support her/him in a similarly generous manner! We, like all the many left organisations, social movements and activists, have been discussing extensively the crisis in Venezuela. Our discussion is now much more informed thanks to the knowledge you have helped our comrade develop during his visit, which he has, of course, since shared with the League. Lastly, we express our solidarity with your work in Venezuela and the class struggle trade union federation you have built in the struggles of the last years. We think that the UNT as a whole, and the "classista current" (CCURA) in particular, represent very important achievements, which would not have been possible without your work. Your victorious struggle against the trade union bureaucracy has opened up a new period for Venezuelan workers organised in the UNT.

Venezuela in a prolonged revolutionary situation

The government of Ch·vez is the product of the class struggle by the Venezuelan masses over the last years. As such, Ch·vez must be defended against any attacks by US imperialism and the old Venezuelan Èlite of landowners and capitalists. Nevertheless, he will not lead Venezuela into a genuine socialist revolution because, in the final analysis, he defends the private property of the capitalists. Ch·vez relies on the bourgeois state (army, police, bureaucracy) and has no intention of smashing it. Certainly, he has had to mobilise and partially arm the masses to help ensure that he himself does not fall victim to the bourgeois elements in the army leadership. He has talked about replacing the capitalist state machine with a popular one based on militias and communal councils but this is a smokescreen. His ideology is a left nationalism, based above all on the idea of using the national oil reserves to the benefit of "the people". His government has consistently sought to slow down, manage and soften the biggest class conflicts in Venezuela and doesn't encourage the workers to seize the private property of the capitalists. On the contrary, it opposes the workers' movement and even attacks workers with police forces. We believe that the Ch·vez government is a left-bonapartist government, an example of "bonapartism sui generis" as Trotsky described the regime of C·rdenas in MÈxico in 1937. The socialist revolution will have to be made against Ch·vez, not with him.

However, although we should reject any idea that Ch·vez and his left bonapartist regime could bring us "21st century socialism", we must not make the mistake of concluding from the non-revolutionary, bourgeois character of the government that Venezuela is not in a revolutionary situation. On the contrary, Venezuela is in a prolonged and deep revolutionary crisis. The bonapartist regime has lost the support of the ruling class, but yet remains at the head of the bourgeois state. It is therefore repeatedly compelled to seek the mobilisation of the people to resist bourgeois reaction. The social welfare reforms brought in by the regime have, of course, won it significant support from the masses, but their maintenance is dependent on continued oil revenues. Moreover, the struggles in Venezuela have created a long term radicalisation of the masses, who now desperately yearn for a genuine, anti-capitalist socialist transformation that does away with the old bourgeoisie. For all these reasons the Ch·vez government is inherently unstable.

For a vanguard party united on a revolutionary programme

The destiny of the Venezuelan revolution is dependent on whether a revolutionary party that can succeed in leading the masses qualitatively beyond "Chavismo", and to Bolshevism, can be built. Only if the workers, the farmers, the oppressed and exploited realize that they must expropriate the capitalists, native and imperialist, as a class, smash their state and replace it by a workers' state, will the revolution have a future. Thus, the task of revolutionaries must be to build a revolutionary party, which constitutes a clear and open alternative to "Chavismo". This historical task is in your hands. It poses enormous questions of revolutionary tactics and strategy in the late imperialist epoch.

In your struggles of the last years, you have made great strides forward in building a radical, class struggle trade union. Despite the divisions amongst the far left in Venezuela on the PSUV, it is our view that the unity of the CCURA can be maintained on the basis of exemplary internal workers' democracy, absolute independence from the state and continued militant class struggle against the employers and their government. A confused split in CCURA would mean a defeat for the Venezuelan revolution and a victory for the bureaucracy. In our opinion, neither the split in the PSR nor any differences over the attitude to the PSUV should automatically lead to such a split.

However, the task of building a revolutionary party goes beyond the perspective of building a combative class struggle trade union. To subordinate this political task to even the most militant trade unionism will lead to disaster. Indeed, the crucial political questions must be taken up vigorously in the trade unions. The question is: how can we link the economic struggles of the vanguard; of the oil workers, the colleagues from Sanitarios Maracay, Toyota, Coca Cola etc.; to the perspective of creating a revolutionary party of the mass vanguard forces in Venezuela? How can the combative trade unionist consciousness of the progressive workers be raised even higher, to a political class-consciousness, via the creation of a revolutionary party that embraces the vanguard of all aspects of the class struggle in Venezuela and offers a lead to the proletariat across your continent and, indeed, worldwide?

The revolutionary programme in Venezuela today

For us, the answers to these questions lie in the experience of the Russian Revolution, and the programmatic documents of the Third and Fourth Internationals prior to their degeneration and collapse. They, of course, shared the same strategic concerns as we have today; how can the daily struggle of workers be turned towards the struggle for power? As Trotsky argued in the Transitional Programme, we should not "discard the program of the old ìminimal" demands to the extent that they retain their vital force... Indefatigably... [we] defend... the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But... [we carry] ... on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective... [we] advance... a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regimeî (Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Programme, 1938).

By developing and re-elaborating Trotsky's transitional method we can link the immediate, economic struggles of the working class, to the struggle for proletarian power. In short, we must fight in Venezuela for the completion of the revolution. This necessitates i) winning the working class to the principle of class independence from the state through the building of its own democratic organs of power, independent of the Bolivarian state; ii) struggling for the immediate expropriation of the bourgeoisie; iii) breaking the illusions of the masses in Ch·vez and winning them to a perspective of proletarian, class independence.

Therefore, we propose the following "key slogans" for revolutionaries in Venezuela:

• In all institutions set up by the "Bolivarian Revolution" we fight for democratic demands - free and unrestricted elections of all officials and their immediate recallability

• For an action programme to deal with low wages, unemployment and poverty, aimed at finally eradicating ill health, illiteracy, the oppression of women, the youth, etc. Rank and file workers active in the missiones must be free to help draw up this programme which must be paid for by taxation of the rich and confiscation of their property

• For workers' control in the factories and the immediate expropriation of the bourgeoisie

• For an independent working class militia, free of presidential and state tutelage, electing its own officers and commanders

• For democratic rights for the army rank and file to organise independently of their officers

• For democratic councils in the factories and poor communities, linked up with city, regional and national councils

• The land to all those who work on it. Confiscation of the big ranches and foreign agribusinesses and their management by workers' and peasants' collectives

• For a sovereign national congress of delegates chosen by the workers, urban poor, and peasants.

• For a workers' and peasants' government

The PSUV and the entryism question

The struggle for a revolutionary party and its programme must be taken to the masses. To win the masses to break from Ch·vez, and to an independent, revolutionary proletarian policy for the completion of the revolution, we must avoid the twin pitfalls of opportunism and sectarianism. Ch·vez and his entourage have designed the PSUV to be a means of controlling the revolution, to stop it expropriating the bourgeoisie and establishing a proletarian state. We cannot have any false hopes that the PSUV, under the leadership of Ch·vez, will be an instrument of the revolution. We equally cannot entrust the fate of the revolution and its positive development to any "revolutionary process" or the spontaneous militancy of the masses. Against both these perspectives, we assert the need for a revolutionary party, to fight for a revolutionary programme.

Just as we should not confuse the bourgeois leadership of Ch·vez with the revolutionary character of the situation in Venezuela, equally we should not mistake the bourgeois programme he advances in the PSUV with the ideas and aspirations of the mass forces coming into the party. As you are aware, millions of Venezuelan workers and poor have signed up to this party. It is having a debate on the programme needed to win "21st century socialism". We strongly urge you - and as many members of CCURA as possible - to enter this party and fight for it to be founded on a revolutionary programme. We believe it would be sectarian to abstain from joining the party at this critical moment. It would mean losing the opportunity to win support amongst the masses for a revolutionary socialist programme to complete the revolution.

We believe that this entry should be undertaken in the manner advocated by Lenin in the 1920s (the British Labour Party) and Trotsky in the 1930s (the French and USA Socialist Parties). This would include an open fight for a revolutionary programme, not the so-called entryism sui generis, sponsored by Michel Pablo in the Fourth International after 1951, in which revolutionaries disguised themselves as reformists or centrists. Such a revolutionary entry tactic does not presume that the party entered has some sort of inherent capacity either to make the revolution or take it forward a whole stage. It requires only that it contain mass forces that the revolutionary vanguard needs to win in order to become a real force, something stronger than a mere propaganda group.

It might be objected - with some justice - that the PSUV is much nearer to a populist 'anti-imperialist' party than a reformist workers' party but this is not decisive when it comes to the tactic of entryism. In 1922-3, the still revolutionary Comintern advised the Chinese Communist Party, then only some 400 strong, to enter the Guomindang (Kuomintang) that was just such a populist party. They entered formally as individual members, though in reality they maintained their party organisation. Trotsky is, of course, remembered for his insistence on the political and organisational independence of the CCP in 1926. By that time, largely through the entry tactic, it had grown to 60,000 members who were playing leading roles in the mass strikes and peasant land occupations and the representatives of the Chinese bourgeoisie in the Guomindang had demonstrably turned to the right. At this point, Trotsky correctly objected that clinging to a "permanent entry" tactic meant political submission of the CP to the bourgeoisie, which indeed had completely disastrous consequences in the next two years. But precisely then he stated:

"The participation of the CCP in the Kuomintang was perfectly correct in the period when the CCP was a propaganda society which was only preparing itself for future independent political activity but which at the same time, sought to take part in the ongoing national liberation struggle" (The Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang, September 27 1926).

The PSUV is certainly an instrument intended by Ch·vez to control and incorporate the working class and thus prevent a proletarian revolution. The question is how to prevent him being successful in this. We believe that it is best to do so inside the party, before it has fully crystallised into a bureaucratic populist party. The more class conscious and organised workers carry out this entryism, the more it should be possible to win widespread support for their practical programmatic and organisational proposals.

We recognise that the fight for this revolutionary programme and for inner party democracy would be a struggle against Ch·vez and his bourgeois supporters. They are counterrevolutionary forces that have at the moment a much stronger organised expression than the forces of the revolution and they are conscious of their goals. They include the state (military and political) bureaucracy and the trade union sections that support Ch·vez. Their intention is to make the PSUV from the outset an instrument to control the masses and to consolidate a bureaucracy within it. Their aim is to form, not a workers' party, but a "people's party" i.e. a bourgeois party. But they have not yet won this struggle.

The Ch·vez-controlled apparatus of the PSUV cannot yet fully control the party. Thousands of branches, with around one million militants, are impossible to control completely. They can be the arenas for a struggle against Ch·vez and for a revolutionary programme. But we should not have the illusion that we will be able to change the character of the PSUV peacefully. Indeed, our perspective from the outset is that the PSUV will split on class lines, i.e. a split with the Ch·vez leadership. We should fight for the maximum, working class unity around a revolutionary programme of demands. You have an excellent opportunity to encourage radical trade union militants to enter the PSUV and to fight within it for a revolutionary programme, seeking to win support from the broader layers of the poor and oppressed that are attracted to the party.

As is suggested by this approach, we believe it would be fatal to adjust our programme to what is acceptable to the PSUV leadership. The work in the PSUV must never have the aim of avoiding a conflict with the bureaucracy. On the contrary, such a struggle with Ch·vez is the very aim of entry! From the outset, we should fight for full democratic rights for minorities and factions within the party. We should fight for a democratic debate over the programme of the party, in which we must put forward a full, revolutionary programme, and for a democratic conference to decide on the programme.

Will Ch·vez tolerate an open, combative revolutionary opposition in the PSUV for long? Certainly not - such a struggle would quickly bring the bureaucratic weight of the PSUV apparatus to bear on the revolutionary forces. However, if the revolutionary elements are prevented from joining the PSUV, or are expelled from it by the bureaucracy, this will itself be a powerful weapon that revolutionaries can use to win support from the masses. It throws the responsibility for disunity of the class and anti-imperialist forces onto Ch·vez. It deprives him of the demagogic argument that the revolutionaries are splitting the forces opposed to the imperialists and the Venezuelan elite. What better opportunity exists at present to show the masses the real character of the Ch·vez government? Which better possibility exists to take the most combative elements with you out of the process of the PSUV's formation and thus come out stronger?

We think that the current situation can lay the foundations of a revolutionary party which is not merely a propaganda group of dozens or hundreds - even a militant one with a genuine leading role in the unions - but a real party of the mass vanguard. Only such a party can challenge for the leadership of the Venezuelan revolution. Such a Leninist combat party is urgently needed. The PSUV certainly won't be this party! But we think that a revolutionary entry tactic can help lay the basis for such a party - although time is of the essence. If we wait outside the PSUV too long it will become consolidated behind the bourgeois leadership and programme of Ch·vez. This, revolutionary, entry tactic neither puts revolutionaries outside of the process of the PSUV nor forces them to adjust their programme to it.

There is one other issue that we believe needs to be raised, the widespread talk about "following the Cuban Road", coming from Stalinists and even from some who call themselves Trotskyists. In our view, even if it were possible, this model would mean the prior subordination of the working class to an all-powerful bureaucracy, hostile to workers' council democracy and the right of workers to choose which party they believe best represents their class interests. Even if a bureaucratic regime were to expropriate the capitalists, there would be no workers' control, no democratic planned economy and no workers' council democracy. Such a state would be an obstacle to the development of the workers' state towards socialism, which in any case can only be built on an international, continental, global scale. In addition, the Cuban Road would not lead to international revolution but to the dead end of trying to build socialism in one country. In the 21st century, in the period of globalisation, this would have even more disastrous and reactionary consequences than it had in the twentieth century.

The eyes of all of us are focused on the revolution in Venezuela. We write you this letter with all due respect for your greater knowledge of your own terrain and experience of fighting in the workers' movement. Nevertheless, we believe that internationalism for Trotskyists must be based on giving our opinions clearly and frankly. We hope that the revolutionary forces in Venezuela are enormously strengthened in the coming months and years. We also urge you to extend your struggle to the call for a new revolutionary international. A socialist revolution in Venezuela would be a huge victory for the world working class and an enormous blow to the imperialist system.

In international solidarity,

International Secretariat,

League for the Fifth International