By Zuleika Matamoros y Carlos Carcione
In his article “How did the left which claims to be working class and socialist position itself before Chavism? Elements for debate” (I), the editor of La Izquierda Diario (LID) Venezuela Milton D’ León, demonstrates, in an almost intellectual tone, a classic operation of the sectarian groups that abound in the international left. He attempts an “assessment” of the revolutionary currents in the face of Chávez and Chavism during the early years of one of the most tumultuous experiences of the Latin American mass movement. To do so, he resorts to the extraction of quotations out of context, ignores the specific historical context of the period he analyzes, and through this omission falsifies the history of a political strategy and a tradition of Venezuelan working class leaders and revolutionary militants who bet on immersing themselves in the class struggle of their country. And these revolutionaries did so to try to build a revolutionary leadership that could intervene in the fight for the orientation of the Bolivarian process and its driving force, Venezuelan workers and the poor. Thus, in this way, D’ León makes an a-historical leap of two decades, at the end of which he explains, retrospectively, how the prophecy that a young Milton or his gurus of the international Trotskyist Fraction, made 20 years earlier, was fulfilled. Of course, the international situation does not appear in his context either, which at the moment he analyzes has the importance and influence of the implosion of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which with all its contradictions was used by imperialism in its campaign for the End of History. This process had a full impact on international organizations such as the LIT-CI and even on the origin of the FT, events that provoked a deep pessimism in these organizations towards the future of the socialist revolution.
Not here nor there
In the period he proposes to discuss in this first article, D’ León, like a bad suburban conjurer, eliminates history from his text and from his “assessment.” He barely mentions a few lines of the 2002 coup d’état, little or nothing about the employers’ strike that lasted most of 2002, and much less does he mention the oil sabotage. There are no important actors in his account, neither the National Union of Workers nor the Popular Revolutionary Assembly, a united front that led the rebellion against the coup, and organized workers appear as passive subjects, expectant and submissive to the wishes of leaders or to the “declarations” of political groups, with no process of evolution of consciousness, nor of the marks that their struggles may leave, nor the lessons that these provided in the working class and the poor that were willing to leave their lives in the struggle against the regime of the Punto Fijo pact. For D’ León it is a process without history, without genesis.
The workers and the people who surrounded the barracks and defeated the civic-military coup organized by the US embassy, and brought Chávez back to Miraflores on April 13, 2002 are also missing; as are the oil workers and the new oil unions and other unions that together with the nearby populations surround the refineries, occupied them and put the wells and factories into production. They are not part of the story of the Editor of LID Venezuela. They disappeared, there are no classes, not here nor there. There is a bourgeois government and some parties, groups, leaders and militants who “did not understand” or “were not prepared,” and of course many partial quotes. This is undoubtedly a not only a-historical but a-classist account of the process. In short, there is no history and there is no class struggle in it. And just as there is no class struggle, there are no imperialist policies, which are only mentioned in passing as the coup is also mentioned in the same way.
The article has a paragraph for the coup and the employers’ strike for the sake of affirming that the newspaper of the author´s group at the time, with a circulation of a few dozen copies, warned against trusting Chávez and that its small group participated diluted in some of the hundreds of demonstrations that liquidated the coup. Here, those who confronted the coup, those who led the people from the hills surrounding Caracas to march on Miraflores exist. Neither the tactics nor the politics of the group of comrades who decided to form the Popular Revolutionary Assembly exist, nor many other known or anonymous working class and popular leaders who, against the capitulation prepared by Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, even Chávez himself from Orchila, organized from bellow and led the rebellion against the pro-imperialist coup and the sabotage strike. All this history, the debates that took place, the positions that were debated, are reduced to a few lines by the “nucleus of young people” that edited a newspaper of a few dozen copies.
This introduction is necessary because if a serious debate is really sought, it is essential to contextualize it historically, to specify the facts, to evaluate the set of policies and the practical action of the organizations being studied in the heart of the class struggle. Otherwise, rather than a debate that allows us to draw conclusions on the mistakes that were made and to strengthen the task of building a revolutionary party, the debate proposed by the editor of LID Venezuela is pure propaganda of his positions. The old resource of demonstrating that one was right from the beginning and tacitly demand “self-criticism” from the rest, in the worst Stalinist tradition.
The collapse of the Punto Fijo regime and the CTV, the first Chávez governments
The 1989 Caracazo marks the beginning of the end of the Punto Fijo regime. One of the most dynamic events of this collapse for revolutionary politics was the debacle of the CTV, the labor central that guaranteed the governability of AD and Copei, the two parties on which the regime was based. A decade long process, before Chávez came to power, in which the masses and the crisis of the bourgeoisie itself demolished a regime that had dominated the country for more than 40 years, annihilating its parties, the union central and the old Adeco unions.
Not analyzing these events in depth or at least describing them, prevents us from understanding the strengthening of the PST in that period, or the tragedy that the dissolution of that party meant for the revolutionary mass movement (we will return to this). Its militants and its labor leaders passed a first test in the great textile strikes of the 1970’s, and they consolidated themselves as main leaders of a new workers’ movement that formed unions of hundreds or thousands to replace the old Adec bureaucracy. Those new leaders were already organized in the Bolivarian Workers Force before Chávez’ government. This was united front in permanent tension between the forces of the reformist left and the revolutionary left which contested the leadership on equal terms and in many cases surpassed the reformists by far.
Comrade Milton also forgets the drive by ex PST militants who were grouped in OIR to found the National Workers Union (UNT), to try to provide it with a democratic method and even to develop processes of important struggles and mobilizations once it was founded in 2003 and through 2008, which is the period covered in his article.
On the other hand, to associate the dissolution of the PST only to the Chavist wave that supposedly neither its leadership nor its main cadres were able to confront, is of an astonishing superficiality that can only be explained by the a-historical character (by necessity of the author) of the analysis with which we are debating. These pages have no intention of making an assessment of the PST, but it is very important to clear out the maneuver intended in Milton´s text. Not recognizing the tremendous impact of the rupture of the LITCI due to the liquidationist skepticism into which a part of its leadership was plunged by the implosion of the USSR, by not recognizing the contradictions that this collapse contained, leads to a sectarian and propagandist error that intends to justify, like the article as a whole does, the political line held by the group of young people that is today called the LTS. It is true, however, that a sector of the PST decided to immerse itself in the trade union and political process of the liquidation of the CTV and the emergence of hundreds of new trade unions. And that is why it was possible to put up a fight to compete with the majority sectors of the reformist, counterrevolutionary left, for the leadership of the movement, until overcoming them in the tumultuous Second Congress of the UNT in 2006, which led to the distancing of that new central from the tendency led by Maduro.
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No class struggle, elections yes
The author has little interest in the concrete political and labor activity of the comrades he criticizes. He bases all his questioning on statements and electoral tactics taken out of context. And to justify it, he casually –like everything else in his article– makes false comparisons and deliberately confuses tactics with strategy and principles.
One of the most grotesque examples his affirmation of the supposed difference between the Chávez governments and those of the classic Popular Front. According to the author, the Popular Fronts were more “radical” than the Bolivarian ones, but hi provides no explanation in relation to program or government measures. The opposite is actually true: while the Popular Fronts, like the French one of 1936, was constituted by powerful counterrevolutionary workers’ parties, in addition to the bourgeois party that integrated it, Chavism took almost a decade to reconstruct something similar to a political regime and only achieved it for a brief period. Unlike the popular fronts, the Caracazo and the process that followed demolished the old parties, including the new ones of the left, such as the MAS, while the classic Stalinist parties did not capitalize on the crisis of AD and Copei. The fact is that the collapse of the Punto Fijo regime opened an enormous opportunity to contest the leadership of the mass movement and the working class, that is what the comrades that D’ León criticizes dedicated themselves to attempting.
D’ León questions the very reunification of the former militants of the dissolved PST in OIR, once they had achieved an extraordinary implantation with central roles in the labor and mass movement and had built novel and powerful means of communication such as Aporrea.org for the time. This criticism is also superficial.
The central criticism made in the text is related to the elections, in which it would be wrong to support even critically the candidacy of Chávez. This would explain the supposed implosion of the PRS, a party that did not have time to consolidate itself, and which is important only for the author because his group joined it and then withdrew. We could extensively quote Lenin’s work  on the vote for English Labor Party in order to accompany the experience of a working class that was preparing for a revolutionary process. One could even argue that the Labor Party was based in the trade unions, or exaggerate and affirm that it was a workers’ party. However, the reality was that it was the same Labour Party that accompanied the Conservatives in the Great War with a clear pro-imperialist policy. But it makes no sense to extend this text with quotes, the reader can access that work by Lenin in the link below, and it makes no sense, especially because the editor of LID Venezuela is not interested in reaching common points from which to debate the balance sheet of the revolutionaries in the Bolivarian process; he only seeks to ratify his positions. That is why his criticisms never take into account the class struggle, but only decontextualized statements or electoral tactics. D’ León’s article questions the performance of the historic current of Venezuelan Trotskyism but does not assess the performance of his own group, the LTS. And he does not do so because he would have to explain why that group has always remained the same as itself, small and inconsequential in the political reality and the class struggle of the country, from its “great predictions” to the present day.
Tactics and strategy
It is important to clarify that our position does not defend the work “Why did Chavism fail?” defended by the comrades of the PSL current, because we consider it unilateral, partial and therefore mistaken. We mention it because D’ León uses it as an excuse to open that debate.
On the other hand, the answer to the tactics that this editor questions, are answered in Lenin’s text that we mentioned, and surely their correctness can be discussed, but that is only possible with those who are willing to do so with intellectual honesty. What we are sure of is that all the attempts by the Trotskyist militants questioned by D’ Leon, in the specific period dealt with in the article, comply, in spite of their weaknesses and the errors that may have been committed, with the two strategies that are conditions to be recognized as part of the international Trotskyist movement: to use the method of the transitional program to develop the permanent mobilization of the mass movement and to build the party of the socialist revolution.
Outside the specific period in which the debate with D’ León’s article takes place, in 2007 there was a split between the comrades whose best known figure was Orlando Chirino and those of us who decided to found Marea Socialista. That year, Chavism presented the initiative to create the PSUV. While the comrades who would later form the PSL, with Chirino in the lead, broke with the orientation of linking to the working class and popular base of the Bolivarian process, and at different times flirted with the right wing, even forming a common front against the expropriations, those of us who formed Marea Socialista decided, in order to be coherent with the fight for the construction of a revolutionary organization immersed in the working class and popular sectors, to initiate an experience of entryism in that party. We did so without joining the government, maintaining our organization, our publications and making public our positions, criticisms and debates with Chávez and the PSUV leadership. We exposed the embezzlement of the nation, we denounced the first experiences of special economic zones as comprising a sell-out and we were among the few voices that warned against the plundering of the Orinoco Mining Arc, exposing the material base of the Bolivarian bourgeoisie. And among many other political battles, we put up a public fight against the government bureaucracy, installing the debate against bureaucracy and capital on the agenda.
 Lenin on the Labor Party: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x03.htm#fw2