[OPE-L] In the Laboratory of a Revolution

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Sep 23 2005 - 10:20:44 EDT

This article was published in www.venezuelanalysis.com

       Interview with Marta Harnecker
     In the Laboratory of a Revolution     In this
interview, activist, analyst, and theorist Marta Harnecker
offers significant first hand information regarding the
debates and exercises that pace the reality of the
Bolivarian Revolution.

  By: Ignacio Cirio – Siete Sobre Siete

Published: 22/09/05

Her work Fidel: The Political Strategy of Victory, which
illuminates the Cuban revolutionary process, is known in
various editions throughout the Latin Amercian continent
and has been one of the most read texts on the subject over
the past 20 years. In another one of her works, Making
Possible the Impossible: The Left on the Threshold to the
21st Century(1), initially published in Cuba and later in
Chile, Colombia, México, Portugal and Spain, Marta
Harnecker offers a panorama of Latin American popular
movements and, as the title suggests, ventures to define
the new political drive—to make possible what at first
sight appears impossible—that is today illustrated by,
among others, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and is
embodied in  the sentiment of Bolivarian Revolution.
Three years ago, the Chilean that left her country
persecuted by the Pinochet dictatorship, moved from Havana,
Cuba to Caracas where she resides and works as a close ad
hoc collaborator of Chávez in what she herself defines as
the revolutionary “laboratory” that the petro-country has
become. Harnecker is thus part of a select group of
intellectuals—militant, organic—that, from within or out of
Venezuelan territory, “assesses” the advancement of the
process, which since the beginning of the year has had as
its declared goal the construction of “socialism of the
21st century”. Theoreticians, journalists and analysts such
as Heinz Dieterich Steffan (German professor at the
University of Mexico), the Uruguayan director of TeleSur
Aram Aharonián and Luis Bilbao (journalist and director of
the magazine América XXI), among others, make up this think
tank of the left. Harnecker, for example, was responsible
for the edition and indexation of “El nuevo mapa
estratégico” (The New Strategic Map), a collection of
speeches given by Chávez in November 2004 to the upper
echelons of his government. This booklet contains the
condensed doctrine of the Bolivarian Revolution.
From this perspective, in the following interview with
Siete sobre Siete, Harnecker offers significant first hand
information regarding the debates and exercises that pace
the reality of the Bolivarian Revolution. She explains that
after the defeat of the general strike that caused an acute
scarcity of basic products at the end of 2002, there was a
break in the Venezuelan bourgeoisie confrontations with the
government. In addition, she explains why, while advocating
the necessity to “construct socialism,” Bolivarian leaders
make extraordinary efforts to incorporate the private
sector into the country’s economic plans without renouncing
possession of the means of production or forfeiting a profit
margin that is limited by measures required to abate the
biting levels of Venezuelan poverty.
At what political moment did you encounter the Bolivarian
In a moment of intensification. During an effort to make
the State apparatus more efficient, to combat corruption,
to purify the police and the State security forces, to
expand participatory democracy, and to prepare for the
implementation of a different economic logic: a humanist
and cooperative logic.
What have been the most important steps in the political
process since Chávez defined the socialist path of the
Bolivarian Revolution?
It may surprise you if I say that there have been no
relevant steps made since the mentioned definition. What
has happen is that in practice, the leadership of the
process has found that the humanist and cooperative logic
they began to implant at every level, especially in the
economic realm, collided at every step with the capitalist
logic of profit.
For example, it would not be possible to create
agricultural or basic industry cooperatives successfully if
the State did not assume a large role in the purchase and
distribution of said products. It would not be possible to
control the effect of excess cash flow, resulting from the
enormous quantity of grants that the government is offering
to all Venezuelans who are studying in the different
missions, if a mechanism for controlling the prices of the
basic diet items of the humble sectors was not implemented.
How could these issues be resolved within the capitalist
logic where the motor of the system is profits and not the
satisfaction of human needs? One measure that was adopted
as an emergency measure to secure alimentation of the
population during the business strike at the end of 2002
when the opposition tried to stop the revolutionary process
by starving the Venezuelan people—the massive purchase of
food from outside the country to supply improvised popular
markets—illuminated the way. Today hundreds of popular
markets, distributed throughout the country, cover 40% of
food consumption(2). They offer products at prices much
cheaper than the private supermarkets. These prices have
been sustained by state subsidies since the program’s
inception. In addition, these markets are stimulating small
farmers to produce internally that which until recently was
imported by insuring the sale of their products and
eliminating the middlemen.
As you can see, "socialism" did not begin in Venezuela when
Chávez declared it—at the beginning of 2005—but instead much
sooner. And I speak of socialism in quotations, because in
reality what has been initiated in Venezuela is not
socialism, but a path that could lead to a society ruled by
a humanistic and cooperative logic, where all human beings
can reach their full development.
Chávez does not deny that initially he believed it possible
to resolve Venezuela’s deep economic and social problems by
a third way; he believed that it was possible to humanize
capitalism, but experience has shown him that this is not
The insistence on socialism as the only path paradoxically
appears at the same time efforts are being made to
incorporate the private sector into the economic plans of
the government. Isn’t this contradictory?
It is somewhat contradictory for the classic vision of
socialism as a society in which all the means of production
must be in the hands of the state eliminating the foundation
of private property. This classic view puts the emphasis on
the ownership and not on the control of the means of
production. When Chávez speaks of the socialism that he
intends to build in Venezuela he always clarifies that he
means the "socialism of the 21st century" and not a copy of
past socialist models. The focus today in Venezuela is to
rise out of poverty. A short while ago I heard a leftist
youth criticize the vice-president of the Republic calling
him a reformist because he had said that poverty is the
principal enemy that must be eliminated, instead of saying
that the bourgeoisie needs to be eliminated. What
blindness! What dogmatism! What is the point of attacking
private companies at this moment? This is merely radical
rhetoric that has little to do with an analysis of the real
situation. How could this youth not understand that in order
to rise out of poverty, among other things, productive
employment must be created and that the reactivation of the
private sector has been the principal source of employment
in the country in recent months? Why didn’t he ask why the
Venezuelan bourgeoisie, who tried to destroy Chávez in the
past, is now ready to collaborate with the government?
Not even Lenin thought that it was necessary to eliminate
private property to begin building socialism. Few have read
one of the initial decrees of the recently inaugurated
soviet government: the decree states that private
capitalists ready to collaborate with the government should
be allowed to advertise. It was not the socialists that
marginalized the capitalists of Russia, it was the
capitalists who marginalized themselves by refusing to
collaborate with the soviet government and opted for civil
When analyzing this problem the theme of the correlation of
forces cannot be forgotten. While the bourgeoisie feels
strong and believes it has the power to dominate the
situation by vote or by arms it is understandable that they
are not disposed to collaborate with a revolutionary project
that goes against the logic of capital. But, what can the
Venezuelan bourgeoisie do after three-times being defeated:
failed military coup of April 2002, failed corporate strike
at the end of that same year, and failed referendum in
August 2004? They are left with no alternative except leave
the country or collaborate with a government that
facilitates credit and assures a market.
But doesn’t coexistence with the bourgeoisie present a
Sure it poses a danger. The logic of capital will always
attempt to impose itself. There will be a constant struggle
to see who will defeat whom. We are at the beginning of a
long process. The control of political power, the control
of exchange, a correction of the credit policy in which
capitalists receive loans under predetermined conditions
set by the government – producing for the national market,
creating sources of employment, paying taxes, collaborating
with local communities etc.— are formulas that the
Bolivarian government uses to insure that small and medium
size Venezuelan companies commit to collaborating with the
government program of eliminating poverty. These business
sectors are precisely those who are most affected by
neoliberal globalization.
But, it must not be forgotten that they come from a society
where the logic of capital reigns, with a culture that
encourages the owners of the companies, as much as the
workers who labor in them to pursue individualistic
objectives. For this reason socialism will only triumph
over capitalism if along with economic transformation, a
cultural transformation of the people is also put in
motion. When people begin perceiving the positive effects
of the new humanist and cooperative economic model that is
being put forth, when they begin conquering individualism,
consumerism, and their own drive for profit, they will
arrive at the same conclusion that Chávez has: that the
only alternative to the tragic consequences of neoliberal
capitalism is socialism. It is symptomatic that recent
polls indicate that today 40% of the population considers
socialism to be something positive. This is a great
improvement if the ideological bombardment the people have
been subjected to is taken into consideration. The
practical results of the government’s adoption of
humanistic and cooperative measures are rifles much
stronger than all the media missiles launched by the
Being aware that it is a matter of two antagonistic
economic models, it is fundamental that an important part
of state resources be destined to finance and develop the
state sector of the economy. Controlling strategic
industries is the best way to assure the triumph of the new
humanistic and cooperative logic and fulfill the national
plan of development aimed toward the elimination of
Collaboration with private capital should only be sought in
so far as it permits the advancement of the goals of the
This definition implies a conceptual change. What does
"inventing socialism" mean in 21st century Latin America
under severe North American hegemony. What theoretical
innovations appear most urgent?
More than theoretic innovations, I think that there are
many elements that already exist in the works of classic
Marxist thinkers that are unfamiliar or forgotten. The
Socialism of the 21st Century will have to resurrect them
while at the same time it will have to invent new solutions
to the new problems resulting from recent global
changes.  One important concept is: socialism as the
more democratic society. Lenin once said, "capitalism
equals democracy for the elite; socialism equals democracy
for the great majority of the people". Another, important
concept is: the workers’ control. Production can be state
property, but without worker control it is not socialist
ownership; conversely, private ownership with worker
control could perhaps be closer to socialism than the
former. Another: every country must find its own path of
transition to socialism. What can or cannot be realized
will depend to a large degree on the correlation of forces
in this country, and at the global level, manifest in favor
of socialism.
If we want to truly be radicals and not just radicals in
name, we must immerse ourselves in the daily work of
constructing a social and political force that permits us
to bring forth the changes that we want. How much more
fruitful would it be if those who spoke out were those who
were committed to this daily militancy instead of those who
practice their militancy from a desk.
After many years of living and working in Cuba, Why have
you come to live in Venezuela?
To closely accompany this laboratory that is the Bolivarian
revolution and to illuminate it to the world. To lend
support in whatever I can—especially in the area of
protagonistic participation of the people, which is my
Although Chávez’s presence grows stronger on the Latin
American scene, some forces of the left, both civil and
governmental, still appear to view his leadership with
caution. Do you think that the left of the region
adequately values the Venezuelan process?
I believe that they are increasingly valuing it. The facts
cannot be denied. But still there are those, however few,
as many inside as outside the country, that do not
understand the importance of being able to count on a
popular government in order to advance the struggles of
their people.
What are the implications of the fact that today in Latin
America, fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union,
the debate about the construction of a counter position to
capitalism has been renewed with such gusto?
We are beginning a new cycle of revolutionary advancement
and we must accelerate the construction of the subjective
factors that circumvent new historical frustrations.
Unfortunately, there are few countries where the social and
political forces of the left work harmoniously reinforcing
each other. Egoism and political ambition usually prevails
among their leaders. They have not sufficiently understood
that power is in unity and that unity is constructed by
respecting each other’s differences. They have not
sufficiently understood that the art of politics is to
construct a political and social force capable of making
that which appears impossible today, possible in the near
future; that in order to construct political strength you
must construct social strength.
1. MEPLA, Havana, February 1998. Some of passages of this
work, along with various other articles of Harnecker can be
viewed freely at www.rebelion.org/harnecker. Editor’s note:
This book was published for the first time by Siglo XXI
Editores of Spain.
2. The popular market program is called MERCAL.
Translated for Venezuelanalysis.com by Dawn Gable

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