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Re: ISO reponse to NZ SW on Venezuela

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  • stuartmunckton
    There is some discussion happening at the Leftclick blog over this. http://leftclickblog.blogspot.com/2007/06/australian-isos-response-to-new-zealand.html In
    Message 1 of 4 , Jun 20, 2007
      There is some discussion happening at the Leftclick blog over this.

      In one post, Peter Boyle wrote:

      "But isn't this just an abstract justification for the sectarian idea
      that the IST (in this case, though it could apply to a range of mini
      "internationals")holds the only correct revolutionary program and
      therefore a "real" revolution cannot take place without being led by a
      group with the said "correct" program? So there is no serious
      examination and analysis of the actual revolution because it is
      defined, a priori, as a logical impossibility. Or is this too harsh?"

      This is my thoughts. I orignally just meant to make brief comments but
      got carried away as I often do. This doesn't deal with many important
      questions, such as trying to figure out how far has the revolution
      come, state power, the concrete role of Chavez and a lot of other
      things already thrown up by contributions to this debate, but just the
      question of sectarianism.

      I think Peter gets to the heart of the matter. It is only too harsh if
      it is understood in too narrow or crude a way. That is, the position
      defended by Alex Calinicos and the Australian ISO is not the same as,
      for instance, the much more extreme sectarianism of the Alliance for
      Workers Liberty (AWL), who have a clearer stance of opposition towards
      the Chavez government.

      There is much about how the IST has related to Venezuela that is
      positive — they haven't simply slammed it or refused to offer support
      against the attacks from imperialism. It is easy get carried away and
      fail to recognise this. I think Dave got caught out with that over the
      RCTV angle, with the response of the UK SWP countering his assumptions
      about their position. So this is a discussion among comrades who have
      taken a positive approach to the gains, and see the need to defend the
      both the gains and the government, although the differences over how
      to approach the revolution that remain real and very significant -
      hence the debate.

      There is much that can, and should, be said about what is wrong with
      the analysis put forward by the ISO and Callinicos, but at its essence
      it represents a sectarian stance towards the actual motion of the
      class struggle. And whatever else is right or wrong about the
      position put forward by NZ Socialist Worker (and it isn't exactly the
      same as the analysis of the DSP, which I belong to, it is ultimately
      THIS that they are challenging. The NZ comrades have put forward a
      position that recognises and seeks to proceed from reality as it
      exists, not an abstract conception of how reality SHOULD exist, which
      becomes the benchmark by which to judge reality.

      The Callinocos/ISO position says, we recongise the gains the advances
      BUT the most important thing is all the problems and contradictions.
      The NZ comrades have turned this on its head and said, we recognise
      the limitations and contradictions BUT the most important thing is the
      advances for the class struggle, that we recognise, support and seek
      to relate to this.

      From what I can see, the NZ Socialist Worker has sought to proceed
      from the reality of the socialist revolution in Venezuela, not from an
      abstract measurement of a socialist revolution that demands any
      revolution has to score enough points on a scorecard to be recognised.

      Sectarianism is not simply saying you don't like those people over
      there. AWL does that with Chavez, they are quite clear that they don't
      like him or his government much at all. However, the Callinicos
      position doesn't say this. The official take of the IST has been to
      say, yes they DO like Chavez, he is an inspiring figure, and the
      pro-people policies of his government should be supported and defended.

      But the position put forward by Calinicos and the ISO are still at
      heart sectarian, because sectarianism means setting yourself against
      the movement of the class. The IST position still seeks to take what
      it sees as its unique position, called "socialism from below", and
      counterposes it the mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela, as it
      actually exists with all of its existing limitations and contradictions.

      To me this is the key difference. The Callinicos line raises very real
      problems and contradictions, ones that are widely recognised in
      Venezuela including by Chavez, but then sets the process as it
      currently exists in stone. It is assumed these contradictions can not
      be resolved in a positive way. So Callinicos quotes Chris Harman
      saying the reason why the new party won't work is because it has three
      contradictory currents in it. Well, this suggests that the new party
      will suffer instability and a struggle will occur over its nature. Why
      is this going to automatically resolve itself in the negative? Won't
      this be the product of struggle? And shouldn't we throw ourselves in
      to this struggle by relating in a positive fashion to it?

      From what I can see, this is what the NZ comrades are trying to do.
      They are not standing on the sidelines pointing out why this process
      is bound to fail, they recognises the problems and dangers but put
      upfront that socialists understand the significance of this battle and
      are in solidarity with it.

      Yes, the bureaucrats might end up in control of the PSUV, but anyone
      with two eyes can see that there is enormous enthusiasm from the ranks
      for this party - five million members shows how keen the rank and file
      of the revolutionary movement - that is the radicalising working
      class, as it actually exists - see this new party as a weapon to
      advance the revolution. This gives an enormous impetus to the struggle
      to make the PSUV a genuinely revolutionary party. It gives great hope
      that the contradictions within the party can be resolves in favour of
      the working class and the revolution.

      But Callinicos treats it as though the issue is already resolved
      against the revolution simply because there are contradictory forces
      are at work. It may be a nice idea, but it wont work, therefore maybe
      revolutionaries should join it "for tactical reasons" but don't have
      any illusions. This position sets you up AGAINST the actual struggle
      within the revolutionary process, leaving those who joined this doom
      struggle for tactical reasons at the very best going through the
      motions of a struggle you know you will lose in order not to be
      completely isolated from the class.

      For all the talk of "socialism from below" it actually reflects a very
      negative view of the ability of working people "from below" to win
      this struggle. The new party seems tainted by its contradictions, and
      most of all tainted because Chavez has called for it.

      The role of Chavez is another factor predetermined. It seems it is
      impossible for him to play an important leadership role in making the
      socialist revolution. This seems to come down to a moral judgement of
      Chavez. He is disqualified from helping lead a socialist revolution by
      the very fact he was elected president overseeing a capitalist state
      and a capitalist economy, making him ineligible from playing a
      positive leadership role in advancing the socialist revolution and
      struggle for workers power.

      Here we face the same problem of taking a contradiction that leads to
      a struggle, and in advance assuming it must be resolved in the
      negative. To have a president at the head of a mass movement pushing
      ever more in an anti-capitalist direction, that is in the midst of
      struggle to create a revolutionary state and destroying the old state
      (leaving aside the discussion about how far this has gone) and urging
      working people on towards socialism is a big gain in and of itself

      Essentially, through the struggle, you have had a government arise
      that is independent of the bourgeois forces that dominate the economy
      and still a fair part of the state apparatus. This is not sustainable,
      but is it really set out in advance that this contradiction can ONLY
      be resolved in the negative, with Chavez either turning on the working
      class or else being overthrown by counterrevolution?

      Both the Comintern in 1922 and Leon Trotsky in the Transitional
      Program (which Chavez urged Venezuelan people to go and read recently
      on his nationally televised program) raised the concept of a "workers
      and farmers government", that is a government independent of the
      bourgeoisie but which still rests on a capitalist state. Different
      forms of such a government were conceived of, including one based
      directly on communist leadership. Obviously, such a situation is not
      stable and can only be transitional to a workers state or else the
      reestablishment of bourgeois control over the government. Such a
      government has to move to work to dismantle the bourgeoisie state and
      replace it with a revolutionary one.

      Such a thing can only be achieved by the working people themselves,
      the role of such a government is to encourage and help lead this
      process. There is a fair chunk of evidence that this is the course
      Chavez is on at the moment and important gains are being made, but
      lets leave that aside and ask whether such a thing is even possible
      according to the approach taken by Callinicos/ISO? Regardless of
      whether or not we think Chavez is doing it, is it POSSIBLE for him to
      do it? Such a course of action appears to be written out as not

      So yes, the struggle has to be "from below", that is it can not be
      decreed by Chavez or anyone else but must be made on the ground by the
      working people themselves. But we all acknowledge that leadership is
      important and here we get to the nub of the question. Chavez appears
      to be ruled ineligible from being a central part of that leadership.
      He is "stained" by having gotten himself elected into the office of

      It would be much cleaner, of course, if the Venezuelan revolution had
      not gone and made use of the bourgeois electoralism at all. If the
      workers had simply risen up, formed soviets and smashed the bourgeois
      state in one fell swoop back in 1999. But they didn't. The struggle to
      resolve the needs of the working people and their allies placed Hugo
      Chavez in Miraflores palace on a platform to achieve change. The
      subsequent struggle against the implementation of the platform has
      created a massive class struggle, this has radicalised both the
      impoverished mass and Chavez, pushed the process forward, made some
      important gains both social and political and opened the road to
      socialist revolution.

      That is the reality of the Venezuelan revolution. The revolution has
      reached this point through a course determined by the Venezuelan
      reality, regardless of whether or not this was the most ideal way for
      it to go. Unfortunately our class appears incapable of walking in
      straight line to get to the destination it needs to as quickly as

      The real question is not about "socialism from below" at all. This is
      really a tautology anyway. Socialism involves the fundamental
      transformation of social relations on a massive scale, it can only be
      made by the working class. You cannot create socialism except "from
      below" (ie: made by the working class). It is actually about the fact
      that we all recognise that revolutions require revolutionary
      leadership, and the Callinicos line doesn't recognise the existing
      revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership.

      Of course, this revolutionary leadership is very much a work in
      progress. There is the leadership on a national level centred in the
      figure of Chavez. That so much authority is vested in one individual
      is a weakness, but again there is no point complaining because reality
      is not perfect.

      There is also the emerging revolutionary grass roots leaderships in
      communities and workplaces. Both are seeking to push the process
      forward and have been blocked to varying degrees by bureaucracy that
      controls much of the state apparatus. The new party is an attempt to
      overcome this problem, to deepen and strengthen the grass roots
      leadership that is arising to break down the road blocks. Whether this
      can happen, whether the broad based mass revolutionary leadership
      required to decisively take the revolution forward will be created or
      not, will be the product of struggle.

      The problem seems to be that the Callinicos position rules out in
      advance the possibility of the creation of a genuinely mass
      revolutionary leadership through such a process, and deny the
      important gains already made along this line. It isn't how the IST
      have always said it should happen, so rather than conclude maybe there
      is a need to broaden the IST's understanding of how the possible ways
      a revolution can occur and the different roads to solve the problem of
      revolutionary leadership the class struggle might throw up, the
      problem is concluded to be with the Venezuelan revolution. Chavez
      simply can't be a revolutionary leader, and the revolution simply
      can't occur in such a way.

      This is why you can have generally positive attitude to the gains of
      the revolution, as the IST does. You can defend it against attack, as
      the UK SWP did in the pages of their press against the media onslaught
      over the RCTV decision, an article that is hard to fault. But if you
      acknowledge that there is a socialist revolution and that Chavez is
      attempting to lead it, and if you support the struggle for a
      revolutionary party to take it forward that is underway — as the NZ
      comrades have done — then you challenge something much more fundamental.

      This is obvious from the way the discussion has explicitly raised the
      question of IST organisation. The New Zealand comrades have pointed
      out the obvious, which is when discussing how socialists should relate
      to each other internationally, you must take into account and seek to
      relate those currently leading a socialist revolution. They take this
      approach despite acknowledging the unfinished nature of the struggle
      for power, and despite the weaknesses, such as in the organised
      workers movement.

      The Callinicos line, on the other hand, seeks to use these things as
      an excuse not to proceed from such a position. It doesn't mean, as
      Callinicos implies, that this means creating a new "international
      centre" in Caracas. It doesn't mean denying the steps still to be
      taken and the potential for the process to be derailed. It means that
      you relate to this struggle with open arms, and seek to collaborate
      with and learn from the comrades who are leading it, many of whom come
      from a wide variety of traditions and reflect, within the
      revolutionary process, various positions.
    • stuartmunckton
      I put this in the ocmments section at the Leftclicksblog post on ISO response to NZ SW
      Message 2 of 4 , Jun 21, 2007
        I put this in the ocmments section at the Leftclicksblog post on ISO
        response to NZ SW

        Some more thoughts on the question of "socialism from below". I said
        in my last comment that I thought it was a tautology, but I think
        there is even more to the question that that.

        I think taking the term "from below", which is perfectly useful and
        correct in the right context, and raising it up as THE defining
        concept brings with it the danger of confusing what is essential,
        which is the question of CLASS. This where the abstract concepts of
        "above" or "below" in and of themselves start to become a little
        meaningless because they don't specify the question of class. You
        could argue that the opposition student protests were "from below",
        given they represented interests that don't have control of the
        government, but that doesn't tell what class interests were at work
        when these spoilt brats threw a public tantrum.

        It runs the risk of confusing the essential question, which is not
        "above" or "below" in and of itself, but what advances the self
        organisation of working people.

        If, as a rank and file member of a trade union, you give a brilliant
        speech that helps elucidate the nature of the system and help both lay
        bare the need for and inspire your fellow workers to struggle to
        organise themselves, recognising that the working class is the
        revolutionary class and only by organising itself can change be won,
        then surely that is a very good thing.

        Does this stop being a good thing if, when making a speech which has
        this impact - and, okay we all know one speech isn't good enough, but
        rather over a period of time you prove yourself a useful agitator to
        this end - if, while doing this, you hold an official union position?
        Are you tainted by this position? Why, if the end result is an
        increase in the self organisation of workers?

        And, what then, if you play this role from the position of president
        of the country? Is it somehow worth less than if you were a rank and
        file member of the union? Even though, as president, your hearing is
        amplified by such a large degree? Is this all just tainted by being
        from "above"?

        I think we need to strip it down to the question of class. The only
        class that can carry out a socialist revolution is the working class,
        in combination with allies among urban and rural poor etc. Therefore,
        we must support every action which works to increase the level of
        organisation, confidence in its own power, and consciousness of its
        position in society of the working class. The working people have to
        govern in order for far reaching social change to be affected, and we
        know, for this to last, not just in one country. And we oppose the
        things that work to hold this back.

        This is the CLASS criterior we have to judge the role of actions,
        individuals, organisations etc by. In this sense, we are talking about
        "socialism from below". But the class content is more important than
        the concept of "from below" versus "from above". Explained outside the
        difficult struggle for the self organisation of the working class,
        conscious of itself as a class, to destroy the old order, these terms
        can help confuse the class nature of the struggle and even impart an
        abstract moralism that departs from the practical question of what
        advances or holds back the struggle.

        That struggle can only be resolved through the self activity of the
        working class - through working class involvement en masse in
        struggle. But having advanced this struggle, why turn your backs on
        its gains when, for instance you have successfully liberated the
        position of president, or the government more broadly, from the hold
        of the bourgeoisie, simply because you have a schema that says this is
        "from above"?

        I think Peter captures the dynamic of "from below" and "from above" in
        the Venezuelan context well in his last comment*. They both are
        serving to advance each other in Venezuela, and I think the type of
        line put forward by Callinicos only looks at one side of this dynamic,
        the bit from "below", without seeing how this is an intrinsic part of
        a whole and can't be separated out from it. You can't understand the
        growing radicalisation and pressure "from below" without understand
        how it intersects with, is influenced by and influences in turn the
        moves "from above", from sectors like the government that have been
        liberated from the direct control of the bourgeoisie.

        This is the key dynamic driving forward the Venezuelan revolution
        today. The Callinicos line only sees one part of it, and as such
        strips that part of its actual strength. It also means the Callinicos
        line takes a hostile approach to the push for a united party, which
        aims to strengthen this dynamic and take it to a whole other level.

        * Peter Boyle had written:

        "What makes me think that "revolution from below" is being used as an
        excuse here is that the ISO and the Dutch ISTer are actually impatient
        with the pace of the Venezuelan revolution - which like all real
        revolutions in our epoch can ONLY progress through mass movement. The
        Venezuelan revolution is unfolding as a series of revolutionary
        initiatives/leadership from the Chavistas ("from above" if you like)
        unleashing wave after wave of popular pressure (from "below" if you
        like to put it this way) around demands that increasingly cut into the
        rights of imperialist and large local capitalists.

        This is a revolution that moves forward with the masses and through
        mass action. It is really strange to see supposed champions of
        "revolution from below" displaying their impatience and blindness to
        the fact that this is a revolution being made from below. The
        leadership provided by the Chavistas (there isn't another tendency
        providing effective revolutionary leadership there) has demonstrably
        an enabling and empowering effect on a mass movement that has been
        constructed from among the ruins of many failed political movements,
        including the old workers' movement in Venezuela. Chavista leadership
        helps the masses fix on the next target then helps them self-organise
        to go onto the next offensive.

        This is no revolution made from some recipe book, nor on the basis of
        masses ever-ready to make a social revolution. There was mass
        rejection of failed neo-liberalism but also mass disorganisation,
        depoliticisation and disunity. The revolutionary credentials of the
        Chavista leadership is not their pre-existing adherence to some
        allegedly perfect and correct paper program but their real leadership
        of the masses.

        This is probably how it is going to be like in all revolutions in the
        21st century."
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