Home > General Politics, Local Democracy, Socialism > Chavez’ fifth international is not a step forward

Chavez’ fifth international is not a step forward

A few days ago, at an extraordinary conference of the PSUV in Venezuela, Chavez announced his intention to form a “Fifth International” built around Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while not resurrecting ‘old structures’ and ideas that have become useless. Like real socialism perhaps. In earlier remarks, Chavez defended Carlos ‘the Jackal’ as a revolutionary, along with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Elements conveniently absent from the reports by Chavez’ cheerleaders amongst the British Left.

A fine account of the deficiencies of Chavez’ regime can be found here, including details of his sending two hundred PSUV members to China to be trained by the ‘revolutionary’ regime of Hu Jintao. Chavez’ claim that the new international should provide a school for cadres to study ideology, it hardly bodes well that he considers the Chinese model of education to be a good one. Meanwhile the Mision Robinson, the programme undertaking the abolition of illiteracy in Venezuela, is stalling – along with many other programmes of reform.

Is the call to a Fifth International liable to gain any traction? A certain section of trades unionists certainly like to parade alongside the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, and will be touring the UK with members of the trades union leadership from Venezuela in the next few weeks. Attending the conference of the PSUV were members of the Labour Party ‘Friends of Venezuela’ campaign (of which the founding secretary and treasurer were Jon Trickett and Jon Cruddas). But in terms of wider working class sentiment in support of Chavismo, not much can really be said.

People don’t want another war, so they’ll come along to Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) or Hands Off Venezuela (HOV) marches and demonstrations – but there are frequent reports of the Venezuelan state using repressive measures against Venezuelan workers – and our own workers are not soft enough in the head to believe that the dictators Chavez praises, like Colonel Gadaffi of Libya, really are ‘socialists’, with the interests of workers at their heart. There’s a good chapter in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed which explains the type of echo Chavez might get.

At present the chief contribution to the treasury of thought is declared to be the Webbs’ book, Soviet Communism. Instead of relating what has been achieved and in what direction the achieved is developing, the authors expound for twelve hundred pages what is contemplated, indicated in the bureaus, or expounded in the laws. Their conclusion is: When the projects, plans and laws are carried out, then communism will be realized in the Soviet Union. Such is the content of this depressing book, which rehashes the reports of Moscow bureaus and the anniversary articles of the Moscow press.

Friendship for the Soviet bureaucracy is not friendship for the proletarian revolution, but, on the contrary, insurance against it. The Webbs are, to be sure, ready to acknowledge that the communist system will sometime or other spread to to the rest of the world.

“But how, when, where, with what modifications, and whether through violent revolution, or by peaceful penetration, or even by conscious imitation, are questions we cannot answer.”

This diplomatic refusal to answer – or, in reality, this unequivocal answer – is in the highest degree characteristic of the “friends”, and tells the actual price of their friendship. If everybody had thus answered the question of revolution before 1917, when it was infinitely harder to answer, there would have been no Soviet state in the world, and the British “friends” would have had to expand their fund of friendly emotion upon other objects.

These were the same Webbs who opposed the General Strike in the UK, for example. The sort of middling people who enjoy popular enthusiasm for almost anything, from a comfortable distance, whilst lacking the principles which would hold their own feet to the fire and provoke them into real action to achieve anything on behalf of the ideals they espouse. Not that I’m necessarily characterising Cruddas or Trickett in this way. I’m simply saying that, as during the Russian Revolution, it’s easy to support anything when you don’t have to act yourself.

Bottom line: I don’t see that Chavez’ call for a fifth international will get much more than tepid hangers-on here in the UK. In Latin America, however, the story might be different – and this is perhaps why socialists elsewhere need to take cognisance. A top down approach to organising a Latin American socialist congress might divert the needed pressures away from the governments of participating countries, governments which while they are left wing do not unambiguously represent workers. This is what the Comintern did for Stalin and it was disastrous.

A grandiose plan to rally the world’s socialists (such as are acceptable, no doubt, to Chavez himself) to his banner may be an internationalist gesture – an attempt to reach agreements that will allow expansion of social democratic tendencies on the part of leaders. Left-mayoralties, governorships and presidencies of the world, unite! It may even pull together sections of the working class in areas where the Bolivarian Revolution has great prestige. But coupled to Chavez’ antipathy to the US and friendship towards dictators, it could be another Comintern.

Speaking of his antipathy towards the US, Chavez’ militarism, particularly the spending of money on Russian and Chinese military hardware, even while infrastructure reforms are hardly begun, is disturbing. Fronting off between Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia is not encouraging either. Yet the sort of quasi-nationalist rhetoric that emerges from Chavez, as well as his moves to squash any socialist activism independent of the PSUV, coupled to his reconciliation with sections of the capitalist class, potentially make war more likely, with Chavez as a new Bonaparte.

The last thing the world’s socialist movement needs right now is a self-proclaimed socialist hero, newly garlanded by a gathering of international socialists, to suddenly encourage or begin a war that will do little but butcher peasants or invite the wrath of US imperialism upon more jungle villages. For all these reasons, we need to be very cautious in our approach to this Fifth International. Patient work by socialists of and amongst the working class will produce socialist cadres; they will not be commanded into existence by even the most gifted of Generals.

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  1. November 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    In earlier remarks, Chavez defended Carlos ‘the Jackal’ as a revolutionary, along with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

    Don’t forget the great anti-imperiaist hero Idi Amin…

  2. November 24, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I didn’t, though his remarks about Amin were a bit odd. Something along the lines of, “We used to think he was a cannibal but, I don’t know, maybe he was a patriot” or something to that effect – so I didn’t feel the need to muddy the waters by mentioning him.

  3. November 24, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Many of Chavez’s international affiliations are misguided alliances of convenience driven by an ill-defined sense of anti-imperialism. But domestically, in terms of the real advances for the poorest sections of Venezuelan society, the massive social programmes, the redistribution of wealth, the workers co-operatives, the raising of life chances through health, education and welfare programmes, Chavez is a socialist, a progressive force and, for all our criticisms of his bluster and rhetoric, we need to engage with him. Otherwise where does that leave us? Back to twiddling our thumbs and hoping the next revolution will be a little bit closer to utopia.

  4. Robert
    November 24, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    I do not know which country I rather be in right now, because this country could do with a good bloody dose of real socialism.

  5. splinteredsunrise
    November 24, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    There’s not much point criticising him for allying with Iran or China. If the Yanks keep on trying to kill him, it makes sense for him to get himself some allies. But this sort of tension between running a state and being an internationalist revolutionary is why the Soviet diplomatic service had to be hived off from the Comintern in the 1920s.

  6. splinteredsunrise
    November 24, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Oh yeah, like the logo. Am tickled to think of Hugo joining Workers Power. They’d be much too purist to take him though.

  7. November 25, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Summary: Chavez wants to form international alliances with right-wing dictators to protect Socialism In One Country.

    That never went wrong before.

  8. November 25, 2009 at 2:53 am

    Honestly Dave, I think you have Chavez all wrong. I question where you get evidence that the social programs are “barely started”. Frankly, the majority of the text of your article seems to be derived from capitalist media sources, which is a shame.

    Do you read VenezuelaAnalysis.com? You should. As for Chavez questioning whether or not certain international “bad guys” deserve their labels, again, remember where the information we are getting comes from and what agenda is behind it.

    Are you certain Mugabe is such a bad guy? Remember, he led a communist revolution against white rulers. It should be obvious to any socialist that this it is an unforgivable crime for people of color to rise up against white rule.

    As for Venezuela’s military buildup – lets be realistic – the UK has a bigger military budget than Venezuela and most industrialized nations aren’t worried about a British threat. Considering that the US is threatening Venezuela and has a larger military budget than the rest of the world COMBINED, what leader would not build-up defenses?

    Finally, I challenge you to find any leader in the world today who is more literate in Marxist thought and has done more for the working class, including supporting strikes going so far as to nationalize entire industries and turning over partial ownership to unions/workers, than Chavez.

    And where’s my blogroll link mate!? ;)

  9. November 25, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    @Salman – yeah I completely agree that Chavez represents a real boon to workers and the poor. For all that, however, the greatness of Chavez, or the success he has had in implementing redistribution programmes, do not escape the labour/capital dichotomy. At a certain point, the economy must be taken out of private hands, or the private hands will use their power to destroy the good things Chavez represents.

    This is further complicated by the bureaucratic nature of Chavez’ regime. It has popular support, but is not popularly accountable – as evidenced by the amount of workers the State has acted against. It is for the workers, but not necessarily of or by the workers. I’m not saying we don’t engage with Chavez’ movement – especially the PSUV. But this type of gesture on Chavez’ part needs careful examination before anyone gets on board.

  10. November 25, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    @Splinty – I think there is plenty of reason to criticize him. In terms of realist geopolitics, he should follow the example of the Bolsheviks during the civil war. He should arm the people of Venezuela, and call on the working class and organised labour movements of the world to support him, to derail any campaign by the US.

    @Shane – Mugabe was not a communist. Just because people declare themselves communists doesn’t mean that they objectively are. As for the ‘contribution’ Chavez has made, the key element to socialist history and politics is the power and control of the workers, not how wonderful any one individual is. And there are plenty of indications in socialist media from around the world indicating that, yes, Chavez reforms are great – but the economy is seizing up, and the reforms are slowing down.

    Moreover, as I said to Salman, mere redistribution will bring the working class solidly behind the PSUV but it will not defeat the power of capital, and it certainly doesn’t amount to ‘socialism’, just a radical social democracy.

  11. November 26, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Chavez stole our thunder!

    http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/venezuelas-president-hugo-chavez-calls-fifth-international

    Its a question of struggle over whether this is a step forward. The project of building a fifth international, if left in the hands of Chavez and his “allies”, will be a complete disaster and set the cause of revolutionary socialism back years. However if revolutionaries intervene vigorously in every forum where this is debated and organised around there is a chance we can win significant sections of the working-class internationally to the project of building a real, revolutionary fifth international which is independent of any state power and fights for revolutionary internationally.

  12. November 26, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Ludicrous. Firstly, there’s no possible way you can say that if we intervene in every forum, we have a chance to do anything at all. For a start, we don’t know a) what exactly Chavez is proposing, b) who he’ll allow to be part of it and c) who will control the purse strings.

    I think c) is particularly important bearing in mind how craven certain sections of the British Left are (something replicated internationally).

    Secondly, to say we can win significant sections of the working class internationally to the project requires the notion that it is Chavez participation which will secure the involvement of the global working class. I think this is quite a leap, and is made without any evidence whatsoever. The banner of a fifth international has been raised on numerous occasions – rarely with success.

    Which brings me to thirdly; what thunder? No offence intended, but let’s be realistic. Tiny grounds declaring an “International” makes a mockery of the concept.

  13. November 30, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Well this post and much of the discussion certainly lives up to the title of this blog.

    Remarkably, none of it seems to actually refer to what was said in the call for a new international.

    If anybody would like to go beyond abstract denunciation they can visit http://links.org.au/node/1378 and http://links.org.au/node/1375

  14. November 30, 2009 at 9:39 am

    I have in fact engaged both with what Chavez said and with the actions of his government. Hardl ‘abstract’ denunciation then, is it?

    Is my crime, in your eyes, not rather that I’m prepared to criticize Chavez?

  15. Jacob Richter
    March 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    This article reeks of sectarianism. The pluralism may exceed that of the International Workingmen’s Association by including left Peronistas, but a solidarity populist front is a step above both popular fronts and united fronts (whose policies eventually become bourgeois-fied).

  16. March 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Pray tell, how does it reek of sectarianism Jacob?

    At any rate, what’s being discussed isn’t the PSUV, which clearly has mass support and which all revolutionaries should work inside, with a critical stance towards the leadership. This is what a lot of Marxist groups have been doing, some belatedly, others not so much.

    We’re discussing a Fifth International – and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to query who’s calling it together, and what forces it proposes to represent, and with what programme it convenes. There will be a time for a Fifth International – but I think the final paragraph of the above article makes very clear why I don’t think this is it.

  17. Jacob Richter
    March 8, 2010 at 4:53 am

    I do agree with your concerns about who might eventually affiliate, but I do think that Chavez’s “anti-imperialist” overtones to Iran, Libya, and so on are separate from this call.

    My approach towards the proposed FSI is the same as towards the PSUV, especially if the likes of the Honduran Liberals, the Mexican PRI, other parties more conducive to mere “anti-imperialist” solidarity, and ruling parties like the CPC are excluded. Based on such exclusion, I wouldn’t mind if Die Linke or the “Eurocommunist” Japanese Communist Party joined.

    Michael Albert and his pareconists are aggressive in pushing for a “Participatory Socialist International,” and I wrote an article critiquing him and Chavez (if you’re interested via e-mail).

    “Patient work by socialists of and amongst the working class will produce socialist cadres; they will not be commanded into existence by even the most gifted of Generals.”

    You underestimate the subjective role of charisma. “Patient work” in the Kautskyan sense has been twisted the past decade or more to mean anarchistic single-issue politics, direct actions labelled as “battles” (Seattle), and pathetic discussion fora (World Social Forums).

  18. March 8, 2010 at 7:18 am

    I don’t underestimate the subjective role of charisma; in the sense you seem to mean it, I reject it utterly. People aren’t won over just through gifted oratory. They have to be put in the position of class struggle, they have to be educated through that struggle, to realise their own interests and to fight for them.

    In those circumstances it’s possible for agitation to have an effect, but a conviction that is not hard won is easily lost. Oratory will not prepare people to act as organizers and strike leaders, or to fulfil the other tactical roles required for actually winning some battles against the ruling class.

    All the stuff about Kautsky and anarchistic “single-issue politics” is irrelevant to what I’m saying.

  19. Jacob Richter
    March 10, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Actually, I wasn’t referring to just “gifted oratory” when I referred to charisma. There’s also how the person is perceived by supporters and sympathizers. Chavez comes across as someone who is folksy rather than someone with good oratory.

    Education, by the way, doesn’t come through so-called “struggle.” That line of thinking which has predominated the left makes a fetish of action, action, action, and hasn’t done much to raise the theoretical level of workers in general. Education comes more through “schoolmastery” (not repeating the same mistakes from past episodes in organized labour’s history, for example).

  20. March 10, 2010 at 7:27 am

    When I said struggle, I wasn’t attempting to convey a merely action orientated practice. I am very much in favour of the sort of schoolmastery of which you speak, in the sense that everyone should become a master of our school of theory and history. But learning does not take place in the abstract. If it is not rendered relevant and practical, it will be less effective.

    This doesn’t change the point, therefore, that simply having the odd brilliant leader – and folksy charm is part of good oratory, ask the ancient Greeks – will not of itself raise the consciousness of workers. The proposed Fifth International must be assessed on its platform, and if it intends to be an International – an organisation of the most advanced layer of the working class in all countries – then this must be water tight.

    Since it has Chavez himself as a motive force, I doubt it will be – and this is what I express above.

  21. Jacob Richter
    March 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    BTW, are you interested in my work papers (a number of them) via e-mail?

    Note: I agree with you re. charisma. My role model for “charisma” is more along the lines of Oskar Lafontaine, combining charisma with the projection of an uncle persona.

    The Fifth International is more along the lines of a “mass” party than a “vanguard” party, but back in the early 20th-century the two were identical (Lars Lih’s work on WITBD and emulating the SPD model).

  22. April 6, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I am new in this issue, realized the existence of the Fifth International only a few weeks ago, looked it up in Wikipedia and -then- in their own site…
    …and I don’t understand very well WHY is Chavez (and his pros or cons) relevant to the fifth international?

    Is that site really Chavezian?

  23. April 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    P.S. Sorry, forgot the link:

    http://www.fifthinternational.org/node/1018

    (this is their manifesto actually)

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