DEMOCRATIC LEFT FRONT
10 March 2013
TAKING FORWARD THE REVOLUTIONARY LIFE AND SYMBOLISM OF HUGO RAFAEL CHÁVEZ FRÍAS
The Democratic Left Front (DLF) joins the millions of poor and working people and their mass movements in Venezuela, the Caribbean, Latin America and across the world who celebrate the revolutionary and emancipatory life and symbolism of Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías. Since his tragic passing away on 5th March, our hearts draw inspiration and courage from his example and symbolism. As the 9 million people who attended his funeral on Friday showed, Chavez represented and personified immense hope and possibility: hope for the wretched of the earth, hope and faith in the ability of the mass of exploited and oppressed people to self-organise and challenge inordinate power relations in society, and thereby be their own liberators, and realistic hope in the possibility of constructing a socialist alternative to the barbarism of capitalism.
His unique role in history was to defiantly and positively affirm the absolute necessity of a democratic, feminist and ecological socialism relevant for the 21st century as a response to capitalism, neo-liberal globalisation and imperialism. Chavez’s public pride in his provenance from African slaves was another powerful personal statement against white supremacy and racism that remains responsible for genocide, humiliation, subjugation and oppression of indigenous peoples and descendants of black African slaves in Latin America.
During the 14 years of his democratically elected and widely popular government, Venezuela witnessed immense socio-economic progress based on wealth redistribution. As reported in www.venezuelaanalysis.com, the facts speak for themselves: “the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.” This was reaffirmed by a 6th March article published in the capitalist, London-based Independent newspaper (www.independent.co.uk): after 14 years of Chavez’s rule in Venezuela there are six million children who receive free meals a day; near-universal free health care has been established; education spending has doubled as a proportion of GDP; and education is free from daycare to university. Since, 2011 over 350,000 homes have been built, taking hundreds of thousands of families out of sub-standard housing in the barrios. Whilst the country remains dependent on oil, his government had begun to envisage a transition plan to structurally diversify the Venezuelan economy beyond oil. This remains a major structural challenge and vulnerability.
Thanks to its embrace of neo-liberalism, Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa cannot even dream of similar transformative socio-economic indicators, not for the last 18 years of its rule, not for any time in the foreseeable future. Venezuela’s transformative socio-economic achievements were not made possible by the ANC kind of neo-liberalism but by a redistribute economic policy which included the nationalisation of oil, telecommunications and other key strategic sectors of the Venezuelan economy with the proceeds from these nationalised enterprises redistributed to transformative socio-economic programmes in education, health and housing. In contrast to the Bolivarian process in Venezuela, the ANC in South Africa has shaken and conceded to capitalism at every conceivable moment. Every progressive programme, strategy and intention is either abandoned or rejected by the government in the face of the brutal logic of managing a capitalist state. The ANC has shied away from confronting capital and white privilege that was left largely intact when the end of apartheid was negotiated. This has resulted in a situation where the ANC leadership has adapted itself to the power of capital. No wonder then that post-apartheid capitalism is leaving a trail of hunger, poverty, anger and misery. The wealthy elite, the bosses and their hangers-on refuse to concede a single inch to the urgent needs of the majority. This is the example that Chavez stood against and actively built an alternative to.
After addressing an October 2008 international solidarity conference held in Caracas, the African socialists present there appealed to him to work with popular and socialist forces here given that “Africa was now in a sorry state of its former revolutionary self”. His response was to challenge African socialists and popular movements to reclaim the essence of human liberation from below. As this African appeal and his response to it show, Chavez holds a useful mirror against which to assess the extent to which the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other African national liberation movements have long abandoned any hope, belief in, and commitment to socialism given their active political agency to maintain and reproduce capitalism in South Africa and other African countries that they govern. As a response to the failure and limits of national liberation politics in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa, the DLF is a modest initiative in South Africa that seeks to support the growth and solidarity of anti-capitalist mass movements and construct an alternative eco-socialist political pole. As part of its growth, the DLF is critically studying and debating lessons, impacts, outcomes, contradictions and possible future trajectories of the Bolivarian revolutionary process that Chavez initiated and led.
Given the potent anti-capitalist symbolism that Chavez represented, it is not a surprise that capitalists, the imperialist United States of America (USA) and Europe, neo-liberals, post-liberation political elites and mainstream media including the ANC-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) produced false propaganda that Chavez was a dictator, a populist and so on. Strange dictator he was: since he was first democratically elected in 1998, there have been 17 elections and referenda, all of whom were declared free and fair by international bodies, and most of which he won. He was elected with 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, defeated a coup in April 2002 on the back of mass power, received over 7 million votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote in October 2012. Even the former US President Jimmy Carter conceded that “of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” Beyond the state and formal democratic institutions, Chavez also opened the path to the emergence of nascent participatory democracy institutions such as communal councils with competencies to plan and allocate resources, solidarity and communal enterprises, cooperatives and financing institutions like the Women’s Development Bank.
Chavez's problem and shortcomings laid elsewhere. No social transformation or a transition to socialism can ever depend on one person or through a compromised political infrastructure in a self-declared socialist state or even in a self-proclaimed socialist party. Any such change crucially depends on the self-organised and critically conscious class power of the vast majority of poor and working people. The still-to-be achieved socialist alternative that Chavez envisioned was clearly different from Stalinism, as he grappled with how it must be based on democracy and popular participation, and how this socialist alternative must learn from the self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ but ultimately disastrous and failed statist experiments of the 20th century.
The Chavez-led revolutionary process has not yet transformed and placed all power firmly in the hands of the working class. Insufficient independence and autonomy of popular movements, the significant power held by the Chavista bureaucratic and political elite, and problems in the functioning of the state are ever-present subjective dangers. If the mass movement does not swiftly claim the example and symbolism of Chavez and deepen the revolutionary process, there is a real possibility that the Chavista bureaucratic and political elite may entrench itself and constrain the promise of liberation, solidarity, people’s power and socialism that Chavez had opened. The struggle to build a new and different kind of society continues.
Beyond these internal challenges, the Bolivarian revolutionary process faces guaranteed counter-revolution from the oligarchs in Venezuela and Barack Obama’s imperialist government in the US. The same mass forces facing the challenge to deepen the Bolivarian process internally must now also continue to organise and defend the autonomy and sovereignty of Venezuela. The struggle continues on all fronts!
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