In June I wrote a review of a recent book on Venezuela, together with a brief article on the attitude of Socialist Appeal toward its president Hugo Chávez (Solidarity 3/54). In particular I highlighted the illusions sown in Chávez by Alan Woods, one of Appeal’s leading figures.
To my surprise, Woods has “replied”. Or at least I think he has. In July Woods published a long rant against his critics on the Appeal website, titled Foxes and Grapes, apparently quoting from my short article – but without mentioning the author or the paper that criticised him.
Woods compares his critics to the sour fox that couldn’t get the grapes in Aesop’s fables. He tells his readers that “sects” are attacking him, “barking and snapping at our heels like a little dog”. In reply he says he is “obliged to deliver a well-aimed kick to rid ourselves of a small irritation” – in fact he produced a 9,000 word reply that addresses none of the criticisms raised of his politics. It is truly like being savaged by a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
Originally I argued that Woods has become so enamoured with the “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela that he is providing a “Marxist” gloss for pro-Chávez politics. Woods promulgates a bowdlerised version of “permanent revolution” that portrays Chávez’s “Bolivarian” politics as compatible with, and even transitional to, independent working class socialist politics in Venezuela. In his own way Woods has turned Chávez into a (unconscious) socialist revolutionary, giving him political endorsement that is not becoming of a Marxist.
I tried to show quoting his own words that Woods spreads the most ridiculous illusions about a peaceful road to socialism in Venezuela. He says workers’ committees should be tied to sections of the army. The result is a “Marxist” rationale for dissolving independent working class politics in Venezuela into Chávism.
Woods’ reply largely ignores the issues of political substance. He fails to characterise the “Bolivarian Revolution” in class terms and makes no defence of his theory that Chávez acts as a locum for a workers’ party. And he goes even further with his praise for Chávez, saying: “Trotsky said that the colonial revolution can throw up some outstanding leaders, and Hugo Chávez is one of those leaders”.
Trotsky is in no position to offer a verdict on Chávez, but his comments on populist leaders in the 1930s suggest that my characterisation of Chávez as a bourgeois Bonaparte figure is more consistent with the Trotskyist approach. In fact Woods doesn’t even seem to be clear about the class character of the Venezuelan social formation and its state – yet its position as a major oil producer suggest it is far from a colony or semi-colony, with at least an element of autonomy within the world economy.
In reality Woods rests his reply solely on the idea that his tendency is actively intervening in Venezuela, while other socialists are silent. But it simply isn’t true that Solidarity has been silent on Venezuela or Chávez. We published an account of the April 2002 coup at the time that clearly denounced the plotters and their US (and British) backers. Our reports of the attempted coup in December 2002-January 2003 clearly identify it as an employers’ lock-out not a workers’ general strike. We’ve also reported on the formation of the new union federation, the UNT and discussed Chávez’s politics through a review of Richard Gott’s book, In the Shadow of the Liberator.
It is true that Woods’ tendency has supporters in Venezuela, and that most other Marxist organisations, including the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, do not. However Woods is over-egging the pudding, since his international organisation and most of its “sections” barely exist anywhere except in cyberspace.
But the substantial issue is the political line advocated for Venezulean workers. Woods makes a telling comment about why he doesn’t call Chávez a Bonapartist, saying ”it would immediately cut us off, not just from the masses, who are firmly behind Chávez, but also from the activists, most of whom remain loyal to Chávez”. In other words, Woods won’t tell the truth to workers, but prefers to buttress the illusions some sections have in Chávez. It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog (or maybe the fox) – of tailing behind sections of the class rather than calling things by their right names. Woods may well temporarily have the ear of Chávez and his friends, and even an audience in Venezuela – but he has nothing to teach the Venezuelan workers about fighting for their own interests.
Unlike Woods, the AWL encourages comrades to read and debate the real issues. Readers can find his piece at www.marxist.com/Latinam/foxngrapeslatest.html, along with links to his other pro-Chávez articles.