A Response to Les Bough

Shamus Cooke

An Open Letter to Axis of Logic and Venezuela Analysis
Workers Action

Below is Shamus Cooke’s response to Les Blough’s criticisms of his article addressing the Venezuelan Revolution.  Revolutions are profoundly complex transformations, and it is admittedly a difficult undertaking to decide which steps to take and when to take them, especially when the revolution is surrounded by hostile international forces such as the U.S. But in order to maximize the prospects for success, the best that can be done by those who wish it success is to have an honest and full discussion on the way forward for the revolution. However, we would consider what Axis of Logic did as not in the best interests of an honest discussion. And unfortunately Venezuelanalysis reprinted this less-than-perfect dialogue. Instead of printing Shamus Cooke’s article in full with Les Blough’s critical comments appearing immediately after it, Axis of Logic printed the Shamus Cooke article with Les Blough’s comments interspersed within it. In this way the reader was inhibited from following the logic of the comments, since they were constantly being interrupted. It is in everyone’s interests to have the fullest and clearest discussion possible in order to help illuminate the way forward.
Workers Action
Shamus Cooke’s original article: Last Chance for Venezuela’s Revolution? January 2, 2011
Les Blough’s commentary: Trying to ‘out-Left’ the Left, January 4, 2011


A Response to Les Blough
Shamus Cooke
January 9, 2011
Although Les Blough and I share many differences, I would like to narrow the focus to the following: Is the revolution in Venezuela stable enough to enjoy indefinite time, or are there warning signs — including widespread dissatisfaction among working people and the poor — that could quickly undo the revolution, which, if undone, would inevitably follow the course of all defeated revolutions, a right-wing dictatorship.
Anyone who travels to Venezuela, as I have, will notice instantly that there is incredible progress that still needs to be made, before any semblance of the word “socialism” can be used. This is not a denunciatory remark aimed at the revolution nor Chavez, but instead, a recognition that the country’s economy remains dominated by a tiny minority of very rich people, while the vast hillsides surrounding Caracas remain inhabited by shack dwellers.
This reality does not cancel out the very real progress of the revolution, as the right-wing media claims. Any believer in social and economic justice must support the Venezuelan revolution, based on its achievements in national sovereignty, health care, housing, literacy, and progress in the re-distribution of wealth and land.
But the progress is twelve years in the making, and many people in Venezuela would like it to speed up. This is a natural reaction for anyone who continues to live in a shack twelve years after the revolution began, or remains unemployed or with poverty wages, like much of the country does (regardless of how the Venezuelan government defines “poverty”).
Those who deny these facts will lack the urgency felt by the majority of Venezuelans.
Mr. Blough states that speed of the revolution is happening “about as rapidly as anyone can reasonably expect.” At the rate of new home construction, the vast majority of those living in shacks will remain there the rest of their lives.
What could we “reasonably” expect Chavez to do? He could use his new powers to completely nationalize the banking industry and housing related industries, so that the problem could be adequately and quickly handled; the resources of the country must be funneled into this and other social needs, instead of remaining in the hands of the countries rich.
According to Juan Reardon in Venezuela Analysis:
“While the Venezuelan government has nationalized hundreds of companies since first taking office in 1998, private banks in Venezuela still play a majority role in the country´s banking industry, managing roughly 70% of assets.” (12/20/11)
This is simply unacceptable. 70% of the country’s wealth is managed by for-profit corporations, after Chavez has been at the revolution’s helm for 12 years. That is, the great majority of the nation’s wealth is still in the hands of the revolution’s enemies.
I do not disagree with Les Blough’s enthusiasm over the creation of Venezuela’s neighborhood councils, Communas, citizen militias, and examples of workers control over industry. However, until these popular bodies are able to control this wealth, their potential as governing bodies and the promise of participatory democracy will remain unfulfilled. Consequently, the strength of Venezuela’s progressive social movements will be fighting against the right wing with one arm tied behind their back. That was my main point in writing that “Chavez must also encourage the self organization of working people.”
The second important issue addressed by Les Blough is my assertion that the revolution has entered a dangerous period.  Mr. Blough brushes this claim aside, claiming that the revolution is “permanent,” and has been since the days of Bolivar.
Chavez seems to disagree with Mr. Blough. Not only is Chavez understandably concerned about being assassinated by the United States, he also rightly worried about his country being invaded by Colombia, which leased seven additional military bases to the United States — near the Venezuelan border — in 2009.
President Chavez has also voiced concerns about the United States re-activating the Navy’s fourth fleet in 2008, obviously to be used as intimidation or direct intervention in Venezuela.
Another concern of Chavez’s that doesn’t worry Les Blough is the military coup in Honduras and the nearly successful coup in Ecuador. Chavez understands that Latin America is in many ways a single entity. In the same way that Venezuela’s revolution inspired the working people and poor of the continent and moved politics to the left, the right-wing’s success in Honduras — and its activity in Bolivia and Ecuador — are also shifting the alignment of forces within the continent, but in the opposite direction.
Honduras represents the first major defeat of the left wing in Latin America since Chavez became President; if Ecuador and Bolivia were to fall to similar coups, Venezuela would be even more isolated and consequently demoralized.
Although Venezuela has been threatened by right-wing street riots and nearly successful coups in the past, recent events must be taken as serious threats, not summarily dismissed.
Finally, Les Blough states:
“Authentic revolution by definition is a permanent revolution (Trotsky, right?). It cannot be a “rare period” with a beginning and an end. Chávez has always seen this clearly. Fidel has mastered it.”
Aside from the fact that Mr. Blough greatly distorts Trotsky’s concept of Permanent Revolution, there remains a profound difference between the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions: two years after the Castro government won power it nationalized the majority of the economy, including all U.S. and foreign owned corporations, plus the property of the anti-revolutionary Catholic church and wealthy Cubans.
These actions made Castro “permanently” popular in Cuba, and made the threat or counter-revolution relatively non-existent, as the right wing fled to Miami to fantasize about re-taking “their” country.
In Venezuela, the super-rich still own the vast majority of the economy. They are able to use their power in the banking, media, and other industries to destabilize the revolution, while working with U.S. NGO’s to destabilize the revolution (Eva Golinger does excellent research on this at www.chavezcode.com).
Pointing out these obvious dangers is the first step in taking the Venezuelan revolution seriously. Pretending that everything is rosy only serves to weaken the resolve of the working people, who must be prepared to drive the revolution further, faster, if they are to make their many successes permanent.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action. He can be reached at portland@workerscompass.org