Contributors Joaquin Bustelo
Bolivarian Revolution begins expropriation of landowners
16th of March, 2005.
The Venezuelan government announced over the weekend what are tantamount to the first expropriations under the agrarian reform law adopted more than three years ago.
The four estates affected are part of a group of 14 that were "intervened" --put under government administrators-- at the beginning of the year, and these four have been declared public property because the putative owners could not provide proof of title. Thus technically they aren't "expropriations" subject to compensation, but rather the recovery of government property, which will now be turned over to small farmers, and for which the previous "owners" are entitled to no compensation.
One of the properties affected is popularly known as "the English ranch," which was considered a sacred cow. A British firm owned it, and I'm told that firm is generally believed in Venezuela to be a front for the Royals. If so, that is a pretty clear political message that no capitalist sector can consider itself safe from the application of revolutionary laws.
Another is a huge tract of nearly 100,000 hectares. The family that controlled it --one of Venezuela's richest capitalist families-- had allowed it to lay fallow for decades. Their mouthpiece now claims it wasn't fallow, oh no, it was a "nature preserve" and "tourist resort." Somehow I'm not 100% certain the authorities will accept the explanation.
I think these interventions and recoveries of land are very much connected with Cház coming out openly as a socialist in the past few weeks. Although in general and in the abstract, these measures do not go beyond the bounds of bourgeois property relations --no nationalization does--, it should be remembered that in many countries in Latin America there really is no separate landowner class, lands are just part of the holdings of various capitalist families. So a struggle with "landowners" very immediately and directly becomes a struggle with the capitalists as such, and usually as a whole. (THEY, at least, are clear on the need for class solidarity.)
That certainly appears to be the case in Venezuela from the political reaction. It was the adoption of the land law and a law changing taxes and royalties on petroleum more than three years ago that set off the Christmas-time lockout ("strike") that was then followed by the attempted coup in April of 2002. Just the *threat* of doing what is now actually beginning to be done led to the ruling class making a sharp turn in its policy towards Cház. They went from a "democratic.," "civic" and "electoral" opposition to an unabashed campaign to overthrow the democratically-elected government by force and violence in about three days when these laws came out.
One very important question is whether the agrarian reform will be led by the Cház forces as a class struggle "from below" by the poor peasants against the capitalist/landlord class (as happened in Cuba) or whether it will be handled as more of an administrative reform "from above," however much it is meant to benefit the poor peasants and even draw them into its application (which tended to be the way it was handled in Nicaragua). It is impossible from this distance and given the reporting I've seen coming from Venezuela to know what is actually going on the ground, and especially without very detailed knowledge of Venezuela's class structure, which I don't have.
However, Cház's increased talk about socialism suggests that he is conscious of the class struggle involved. There certainly is no widespread socialist sentiment among the masses that he is demagogically playing on by such pronouncements; on the contrary, he's had to go out of his way to make clear he's not talking about socialism such as they had in Eastern Europe, but a new kind of socialism that is democratic and so on, suggesting he is going against anti-socialist prejudices that the capitalists and their media have succeeded in implanting in the population. So my hope/guess is that he is trying to prepare his supporters for a further and deeper showdown with the domestic capitalist class.
Another indication of a deepening of the revolution is what may be a signal of a coming shift in U.S. policy. According to a UPI news analysis:
"In comments published Monday in the London-based Financial Times, the United States came out swinging, saying it was creating a policy to 'contain' the leftist Chavez in the face of his alleged dedication to fostering leftist subversion among other Latin American countries. 'Chavez is a problem because he is clearly using his oil money and influence to introduce his conflictive style into the politics of other countries,' said Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs at the Pentagon.
"Without expanding on just what that 'containment' policy might be, Pardo-Maurer made it clear that the United States was ready to refocus its attention on Latin America after largely ignoring the region in the wake of the Sept.11, 2001, attacks. Other U.S. military officials and officials and the U.S. State Department have expressed concern in recent weeks about Venezuela's purchase of weapons from Russian arms dealers, including MiG fighter jets, helicopters and some 100,000 assault rifles. Those worries may have been the reason why U.S. naval vessels chose to conduct exercises off the coast of nearby Curacao, located fewer than 50 miles from Venezuela's coast."
Rogelio "Roger" Pedro-Maurer is a cadre of the counterrevolutionary cabal centered among CIA-connected Cuban exiles. In the 1980's he ran the contra's pretend-official Washington Office (the *real* office, of course, was in the National Security Council "situation room" in the White House basement that Oliver North operated from). Thus, I don't think one can be 100% certain that this *is* a shift in policy, it could be a trial balloon, a warning shot or even advocacy of a change in policy that hasn't yet been adopted. The "exporting revolution" pretext is pretty threadbare.
Still, things aren't going well for uncle sam south of the border. The pretend resignation of Bolivian president Mesa failed to achieve its immediate political goal, which was to pressure Evo Morales and the other representatives of the Indian Coca-growing peasantry to give political cover for a hydrocarbons law that falls far short of the demands of the masses. Instead, Morales and his sector have been driven into the arms of the intransigent opposition (where they should have been all along).
In other countries in the region a clear shift to the left continues in repudiation of the so-called "neo-liberal" policies, which in reality are not a matter of ideology but rather of inviting the imperialists to rape and plunder at will.
In addition, the mention of the Russian arms by "Roger" Pardo-Maurer is significant. Everyone knows those 100,000 rifles are destined for the Bolivarian militia in Venezuela, a force composed of working people and projected as a parallel force under its own command structure to the standing army. *Precisely* the sort of force that came in so handy in Cuba when the time came to expropriate the capitalist class as a class (and that in April 1961 smashed their CIA-sponsored invasion at the aptly-named "Bay of Pigs" -- although the name "Bay of Pigs" itself is a mistranslation).
To this day there are a few old-timers in Miami who will still explain to you the brutal *unfairness* of what happened: the very *worst* element among the workers, rabble rousers and trouble makers to a person, even people you had fired, show up at your plant or warehouse at the head of an armed squad wearing the uniform of the National Revolutionary Militias and TAKE IT OVER by force and THROW YOU OUT.
However one may characterize the exact stage or phase that Venezuela is going through or judge the merits or demerits of the Chavez leadership, there is very little question that this is a deep-going revolutionary process which increasingly is bringing out into the open the naked class --property-- interests that are usually hidden in the day-to-day retail politicking of bourgeois "democracies."
For that reason, I would urge every comrade of the right age to consider taking part in the U.S. delegation to the World Festival of Youth and Students being organized in Venezuela this summer.
There was a similar festival held in Cuba in the summer of 1960, held under the slogan "Make the Andes the Sierra Maestra of Latin America" and during which Fidel announced the initial round of expropriations of capitalist non-agricultural properties and Che became the first Cuban leader to openly discuss Marxism in relation to the Cuban revolution.
There is no way anyone can guarantee quite such historic moments at this festival, but even without them, I believe that the comrades who go, and keep their eyes and mind open on what they experience, are going to learn things about politics and the class struggle that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, and which are best learned from an open revolutionary class struggle such as the one now going on in Venezuela.
Joaquin Bustelo is also a contributor to the Marxism List, the Avocado Education Project and Solidarity in Atlanta.
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