Chavez, Ortega, and the Latin American Revolution
By Arthur Shaw. An Axis of Logic Exclusive
Jun 21, 2007, 12:14
In March 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spoke in Ciudad de Leon, Nicaragua’s second largest city, and he summed up the thing we call the Latin American Revolution:
“There are new winds blowing in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba that allow these to form an axis of popular forces, of progressive, revolutionary, and socialist governments, which cross the entire American continent to consolidate the union of the people and to defeat the empire and its new offensive.” – President Hugo Chavez Frias
In other words, the Chavez said the “new winds” consist of an array of political and ideological forces, blowing, so far, in six countries. The most noticeable omission is Brazil where an “axis of popular forces” surely exists and the government is sometimes described as, at least , “progressive.”
What is interesting, among other things, about Chavez’s comment about “new winds” is his division of the politics of the region into something he calls an “axis of popular forces” and “governments.” These “governments” themselves appear to be specific items within the “axis of popular forces.”
Chavez goes on and divides the governments into three kinds:
Chavez could also apply this threefold division, not only to governments but also to the “axis of popular forces.”
CHÁVEZ: THE THREE-FOLD DIVISION
The gist of “socialist” seems to be mainly an economic thing that entails the distribution or redistribution, usually by the state, of the national income or the gross domestic product, in large part, to the working, poor, and middle classes or, in other words, a redistribution of national income away from the bourgeoisie. Chavez didn’t identify which of the six governments he views as socialist, but he probably referred only to Cuba and views the Venezuelan government as only socialist-oriented, not socialist, because the redistribution of national income is not yet large enough or complete.
The gist of both “progressive” and “revolutionary” as concepts seem to be primarily political in nature and not necessarily economic.
Both words are defined or used in many ways.
LENIN’S CONCEPT OF REVOLUTION
If Chavez had Lenin in mind when he spoke in Nicaragua about revolutionary things, he probably meant something like “The passing of state power from one class to another is the first – the principal – the basic sign of a revolution.” See Lenin’s “First Letter on Tactics” (1917).
In other words, the passing of power from the millionaires to the workers is … concretely … a revolutionary move.
Lenin’s definition of revolution implies that the bouncing around of power from one sector of a class, say from US bourgeois reactionaries, to another sector of the same class, say to the US bourgeois liberals and is not a revolution, but only a change of government and it may even be less. Again, a revolution, according to Lenin and those who follow Lenin, requires the passing of power outside of the old class and into a new class.
Chavez didn’t identify which of the six countries have undergone revolutions, but he probably meant only Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and perhaps Nicaragua.
There are cases of the passing of power from one class to another but one of the classes is domestic to the power and the other is foreign. One example is the current struggle between the Iraqi patriotic bourgeoisie against the aggression, occupation, and bestiality of the US imperialist bourgeoisie. The 18th century struggle of the US bourgeoisie led by George Washington against the UK imperialists serves as another example.
Are these struggles revolutionary in character although they are between the same socio-economic strata from different countries?
It is very difficult to make sense out of the word “progressive” because everybody, except Lenin, seems to make up their own definitions for convenience and propaganda. But using Lenin’s definition of revolution, we may be able to understand what the term, “progressive” is all about. To some, “Progressive” appears to be the passing of power among classes or to a sector of a class that is closer to the working class or, at least, to the revolutionaries within the working class.
Progressive change is not truly revolutionary because the class to which power passes, say to the liberal sector of the bourgeoisie or to the middle class, bears too many similarities to the class or sector from which power passed in the first place.
Some political abstentionists or people who holler for the need for non-participatory politics argue that all sectors of the bourgeoisie, are equally distant politically from the workers and the poor. Therefore, they say, the passing of power from the bourgeois reactionaries, like PAN in Mexico, to the bourgeois liberal, like PRD in Mexico, is not even “progressive.”
Again, Chavez didn’t identify which of the six countries are progressive, but he probably meant Argentina and perhaps both Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Returning to those abstentionists or the people who yell for non-participatory politics: They don’t seem to want power to pass from one class to another or from one sector of a class to another sector. They seem to want power to pass from existence to non-existence. This passing of power into non-existence is what they call “revolution.” Abstentionists deny that their intent is to help power remain where it presently lodges in bourgeois society although this is sometimes the result of their hollering.
As a rule, power passes from one class to another as a result of armed or electoral struggle; so, when we renounce both armed and electoral struggle, we want power to remain where it presently lodges.
Impressionistically, this seems to mean that about 90 percent of people are neither revolutionary nor counter-revolutionary, that is, people who want power to pass backward. This 90 percent does not want power to pass either forward or backward, they want it to remain where it presently lodges.
We can add that most progressives and most socialists are not revolutionaries, in the Leninist sense, because the passing of power to the workers is not the “first” and “principal” thing, but only something incidental or undesirable to most of the progressive/socialist type.
Revolutionaries, about whom Chavez speaks, are a distinct specie within the genus of the political Left.
FIVE COUNTRIES ON HUGO CHAVEZ’S LIST
Now we should take a quick look at five of the six countries on Chavez’s list, revisiting with each of them the concepts of progressive, revolutionary, and perhaps socialist as well as estimating the size of the “axis of popular forces” in the country.
We will conclude with Nicaragua, thereby saving the best for last.
In Argentina, the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie obviously has the power. According to the latest opinion polls, the “axis of popular forces” backing the liberal bourgeois regime appear to consist of an astounding 65 percent of the people and electorate. The progressive government in Buenos Aires is anti-imperialist and bold in the defense of its sovereignty. Economically, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner redistributes the national income favoring somewhat the Argentine bourgeoisie over the foreign imperialist creditors. Kirchner has also increased discernibly the amount of the national income that goes to wages and salaries of the working and middle classes and the amount of the national income that goes to social programs — health care, education, housing , nutrition — in lieu of wages and salaries of the working and middle classes.
Although power has passed to the liberals, many of the senior positions of the regime … especially in the military, police and judiciary … remain in the hands of reactionaries. So, not all of the power has passed. These reactionaries of the Argentine bourgeoisie are bestial, depraved, compulsively genocidal, and generally rotten to the core. But the liberals, who enjoy political legitimacy and prestige, seem to have a firm grip of the executive power, especially the bureaucracy, outside of the military and police.
It’s too early for us to make heads or tails about what is going on Ecuador. Hugo Chavez only promises that Ecuador will be either progressive or revolutionary or socialist. Nobody seems to know whether Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is a revolutionary or something else. Correa describes himself as ” a humanist and a Christian of the Left.” If Correa is what he says he is, then he may be the most revolutionary of the bunch. But it is very clear that power is passing away from the reactionary and pro-imperialist sector of the bourgeoisie. But nobody seems to know where power is ultimately headed — perhaps to the liberal bourgeois like in Argentina, to some kind of middle class thing, or to class conscious workers. We haven’t seen as yet an attempt at a major redistribution of national income in favor of the workers, the poor, and middle class, but Correa seems intent on moderating the amount of national income that goes to pay the foreign debt which was a whopping 45 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) when Correa took office.
The IMF and World Bank are very much alarmed by Correa’s presidency. The “axis of popular forces” backing Correa seem to constitute about 55 percent of the people and electorate under the current bourgeois constitution. Correa has very properly concentrated much of his time on rewriting the bourgeois constitution. Significant issues of stratification and discrimination both horizontal, such as class and other strata, and vertical, such as nationality, gender, and race complicates the analysis of the class struggle, both of the people against the rich and the rich against the people. The rewriting of the bourgeois constitution which presently, among other things, favors descendents of European immigrants over the indigenous peoples and those of mixed ancestry should alter the balance of what Hugo Chavez calls the “axis of popular forces” and reshape the course of the class struggle for decades.
Bolivia resembles Ecuador in respect to serious problems of both class and vertical differences in society. Perhaps the Bolivian problems in this regard are more serious than those in Ecuador. In Bolivia, the power, especially most of the executive power, seems to have passed to revolutionary workers. Reactionaries, centrists, and liberals are still ensconced in the legislative and judicial powers. Although Bolivian President Evo Morales and his revolutionaries seem to be in charge, he has truly reached out to almost all strata and sectors of society in appointing officials for the executive power.
The revolutionary government in La Paz expropriated some of the means of production and raised prices of its products, significantly increasing the amount of the national income. The revolutionaries in power are trying to moderate the amount of the GDP that goes to the foreign debt and fund social programs, especially for education, health care, and nutrition. The government is exploring creative ways to bring a large sector of the poor which is effectively outside of the workings of the economy into the sphere of wage labor. Bolivia also resembles Ecuador in the difficulties it faces in rewriting the bourgeois constitution which now rigs the political struggle in favor of the rich and the privileged. Like Ecuador, again, the axis of popular forces backing the revolution seem to consist of about 55 percent of the population and electorate under the current constitutional set-up.
As for Cuba, it’s more difficult in the absence of opinion poll data and in the presence of multi-candidate, rather multi-party elections, to estimate the size of the “axis of popular forces” backing the Havana government. But many observers feel comfortable with the estimate that a staggering 80 percent of the Cuban people and electorate support the revolutionary government. A reported 97 percent of the officials of the revolutionary government in Cuba are workers. [I have no idea what the other 3 percent are.] The overwhelming mass of the national income goes straight to the people either as wages or as social services. Some foreign private capital is present and gets a modest share of the GDP in the form of profits, interest payments, commodities, and bourgeois salaries. Cuba is as much of a draw to revolution and socialism as Venezuela because Cuban Revolution has given the highest standard of living to its people of all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean if we use indices of health care, education, housing, nutrition, and public access to the arts as the chief indicators of living standards of the people. Cuba shows and proves that socialism works, despite the interminable and savage hostility of US imperialists.
The political and ideological composition of the government of Venezuela resembles that of Bolivia. At the core of government is a force of extremely sophisticated proletarian revolutionaries from both the theoretical and organizational points of view. But around this revolutionary core is a plethora of “progressive” forces, including elements of the middle class and patriotic elements of the bourgeoisie. In April 2002, some of the bourgeois elements in the regime, especially in the military and police, grew fangs and attacked the revolution, seeking in a counter-revolution to pass power back to the most reactionary sectors of the bourgeoisie. But, in April 2002, the “axis of popular forces” backing the revolutionary government was something like 58 percent of the people and electorate; so, the counter-revolution barely lasted two days.
President Hugo Chavez has presided over a monumental redistribution of the national income in favor of workers, poor, and middle class at the expense of the domestic bourgeoisie and the foreign imperialists. It’s difficult to say whether the mass of the gross domestic product still flows as dividends, interest payments, rents, and bourgeois salaries to the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the imperialists. In any case, bourgeoisie and the imperialists have certainly lost a lot of ground in Venezuela in respect to their former access to the national income. What is distinct and exciting about the Venezuelan Revolution is the colossal amount of power that has already passed to the revolutionaries.
In 1999, the revolutionaries and their diverse allies had a grip only on the bureaucracy in the executive power; but today, their grip extends to the military, central bank, and the state oil company. Only parts of the police, which collude with US imperialists and organized crime, are still “off the reservation” in the executive power. The legislative power is surprisingly pure. As for the judicial power, the revolutionaries and the progressives are in charge, but this branch of the power is plagued by a foul reactionary and bourgeois presence. The revolution, here, has reached the mopping up stage.
Another distinctive characteristic of the Venezuelan Revolution is its profound proletarian and humanitarian internationalism.
Today, the “axis of popular forces” seems to be about 63 percent of the Venezuelan people and electorate. The reactionaries therefore have lost about 5 points between 2004 and 2007.
Read the rest here.