Socialist View, No. 13, Winter 2004

The Battle of Venezuela by Michael McCaughan

Reviewed by David Convery

LEFT-WING JOURNALIST Michael McCaughan's new book The Battle of Venezuela, is a vivid account of the process which has been evolving since the election of left-wing populist President Hugo Chavez six years ago.

McCaughan kicks off his book with an introduction to the troubled history of Venezuela.

It is a history of military coups, a two-party state, left-wing guerrilla struggle and the disillusionment in the neo-liberal policies of the IMF; a history of corrupt government and big business resulting in the rising of workers and poor in the Caracazo of 1989, which was viciously put down by the army and police. This process further led to Chavez's failed coup attempt in 1992 and ultimately to his election victory in 1998.

The second part of the book titled The Bolivarian Project, details the many reforms and changes brought about under Chavez. McCaughan describes among others, the introduction of the recall referendum, the establishment of huge communal farms, the dropping of school fees allowing a further 600,000 to enter school, the programme to eradicate illiteracy, and how the working week has been fixed at a maximum of 44 hours with night work at 35 hours. However he does not take these reforms at face value, but is alive to the real situation facing the working class in Venezuela; "Such laws would come as some surprise to the workers in the bakery opposite my hotel, who work 7am to 9pm, six days a week, not forgetting an hour each way on the bus."

The third part of the book is titled Reaction, and details the opposition to Chavez's rule from big-business, the church, the middle-class and the right-wing politicians supported by US imperialism. It describes the failed coup of 2002 and the bosses' lock-out of December 2002-February 2003. Part four, Scenes from the Bolivarian Revolution, describes the process on the ground and the change in the lives of ordinary people in the cities, shanty-towns and countryside.

McCaughan's book is a very enjoyable and informative read. He does an excellent job of highlighting the history of Venezuela and the many reforms initiated by Chavez. More importantly, he vividly describes what this process has meant for the ordinary people in Venezuela. He describes the benefits it has brought them but also the crime, the reaction of business and little anecdotes that really bring home the gritty reality of life in Venezuela. McCaughan ends his book by saying that, "The next phase of this process will not rely on the charisma of a single individual but upon the collective memory and joint action of a people awoken from the slumber of the bayonet, alive now to the certainty that they can reclaim their country from its arrogant elite". McCaughan is correct in this point. However, while realising that the next step will rely on the mass of the people, he fails to put forward the alternative that they must embrace in order to ensure a future free from corruption, poverty, and exploitation. That alternative for Venezuela is socialism.

Other articles on Venezuela

Venezuela Right-wing referendum defeat
This article is from the Sept. 2004 edition, Socialist Voice
FIFTY-EIGHT percent of Venezuelans have voted against the recall of President Chavez in a referendum that was demanded by the right-wing parties and their supporters. Despite the opposition claims of electoral fraud, this result is a clear victory for the reforming government led by Hugo Chavez.
By Paul Murphy
Interview with Venezuelan revolutionary socialist
This article is from the Sept. 2004 edition, Socialist Voice
Yasmin, a leading member of the Venezuelan revolutionary socialist organisation Utopia attended the CWI summer school in Belgium and spoke to the Socialist Voice.

Revolutionary Socialists and the Venezuelan revolution

The revolutionary crisis in Venezuela has entered a new and critical phase. The left-populist regime of President Hugo Chávez appears to have taken a left turn in the face of a renewed threat from reaction.

Tony Saunois, CWI, 21 June 2004

On two occasions, an attempted coup in April 2002 and during an employers’ lockout between December 2002 and January 2003, the working class and poor, through their own spontaneous mass movements from below, defeated these attempts at reaction. These reactionary attacks on the regime have now been followed by others. Firstly, a plot was exposed involving over 100 members of right-wing death squads from Colombia. This force entered Venezuela in collusion with sections of the ruling class in Caracas and was part of a plot to destabilise the Chávez regime and assassinate him. It was this threat that provoked a turn to the left by Chávez. As we have explained in 'Venezuela - a new phase in the revolution' (24 May 2004) Chávez for the first time directly attacked capitalism and raised the issue of arming the population.
Read the rest of this important, extensive document....

Bosses 'Strike' to Oust Chavez by Michael O'Brien Socialist Voice, Jan. 2003
Venezuela: What has happened to the ‘Bolivarian revolution’?
Tony Saunois Socialism Today, No. 64, April 2002

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This article is from the Winter 2004 edition of Socialist View (it was printed in late October '04).

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