Re: [OPE-L] Venezuela After the Referendum

From: Dave Zachariah (davez@KTH.SE)
Date: Fri Dec 07 2007 - 14:29:10 EST

Hi Dogan,

Sure, you are entitled to your wide definition of "revolutionary", but I 
think it lacks any connection with its historical meaning and requires 
that you declare it with every new person you communicate with. For 
instance, by your definition Swedish social-democracy was a 
revolutionary movement, something its party ideologues would have firmly 

The real division within the Left today is between the socialist Left 
and the non-socialist Left, i.e. between those who want to transform the 
capitalist economy and those who merely want to patch its faults. The 
Bolivarian movement belongs to the socialist Left, and it is trying to 
achieve an economic transition or transformation it by reformist means.

I think your example of the Kurdish question in Turkey is very good. You 

> Of course you have to do
> everything to convince the masses, to gain their support. But if you fail
> to gain their support in the short run what would you do?

The short answer is: have patience and try to build mass opinion. Yes, 
there will be people with conservative or reactionary views and it is 
the task of socialists to defeat them; either by convincing them or by 
defeating them in a vote. But it is in the institutions of direct 
democracy where this can be done best. If these institutions exist they 
*increase* the prospects of implementing socialist policies because 
these generally benefit the bulk of the population. Moreover, if people 
are empowered they will not give up their gains without a fight. It is a 
mistake to think that they should be established "after socialism", on 
the contrary.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks were completely wrong on this. Putting aside 
democratic rights is *never* valid from my point of view. However, you 
are quite right to argue that there are extreme situations where it is 
practically impossible to fully exercise direct democratic decision 
making and where "strong leadership" --- i.e. immediate and effective 
action --- becomes necessary for the viability of the state or society. 
These are periods of large-scale human disaster or counter-revolutionary 

The question of the collapse of the Soviet Union perhaps belongs to a 
separate thread. But I don't think the underlying factors are that 
complex to understand. It was a result of the economic reforms 
introduced in the 1980s, which in turn were a response to the stagnation 
that followed the rapid growth that lasted into the post-war years. 
Economic reforms were necessary but there was no incentive for the state 
aristocracy to actively seek and push for them before. In sum, the 
ultimate factor for the collapse was the constitution of the 
Soviet-state which concentrated the power in the hands of this aristocracy.

//Dave Z

on 2007-12-07 09:58 Dogan Goecmen wrote:
> Hi Dave,
> many thanks for your thoughts and formulating these contradictions.
> They enable us to move forward - at least ideally. My  replies are below.
> Dave
> ==========
> First a note on terminology: Yes, I'm using a narrow concept of 
> revolutionary situation because it is common parlance. In this sense 
> Russia in 1917, Germany in 1918, Chile in 1973 and Portugal in 1975 are 
> all examples of revolutionary or counter-revolutionary situations: There 
> were strong political forces that aimed and were capable of overthrowing 
> the existing state apparatus by illegal means in the existing juridical 
> framework. They differed from a simple coup d'etat in that they did not 
> simply change the head of the state but re-wrote the relations of power 
> flowing from the state apparatus.
> Dogan
> ===========
> To refer to both broad and narrow concepts of revolutionary situation 
> enable us
> to pursue and implement in all situations revolutionary programms and 
> politics
> including everyday politics. To rely on both of them enables us to 
> implement
> dynamic revolutionary politics in any situation.If we do not use broad 
> concept
> of revolutionary situation we cannot prepare and manage the actual 
> revolutionary
> situation. Indeed in that case we are condmened to say that the 
> current situation
> is not revolutionary and we therefore cannot implement revolutionary 
> politics - as you
> do in case of Venezuela in current situation.  By revolutionary 
> politics we should
> not understand just the forms of political struggle to take 
> immediately the political
> power. Following Gramsci we can define any forms of political fight as 
> a form of fight
> for ideological and political hegemony. So in one case to achieve 
> little success against
> privatasation may be as revolutionary as - in another case - to take 
> power. In other words,
> the actual situation of taking power may be defined as the highest 
> culmmunation point of
> tousands of little revolutionary steps.
> In fact your examples of Russia and Germany illustrates my case very 
> well.
> Unlike Menshewiks Bolsheviks used both concepts of revolutionary 
> situation
> and were able to take power in November 1917. Germany in 1918 is 
> rather different
> and much more complicated. But in any case we say that in Germany 
> during the
> November 1918 uprisings there werent any revolutionary party to lead 
> the revolution.
> The leadership of SPD was taken over by reformist and revisionist 
> forces. USPD
> was not decided enough to lead the revolutions and KPD was just 
> established.
> At the end they failed to take power though the situation would have 
> allowed them
> to take power.
> Dave
> =====
> Venezuela is perhaps in a period of transition from an economy dominated 
> by private capitalism toward one dominated by state capitalism and 
> cooperatives. But the situation is not revolutionary and it need not to 
> be either.
> Dogan
> ======
> From what I said about revolutionary sitution you may see that we are 
> very
> well be able to define the actual sition in Venezuela as revolutionary 
> in the
> broad sense of the term. But not just that. Since revolutionary forces 
> are in power
> in Venezuela they must deepen the process towards a socialist society.
> The development from what call private capitalism towards state 
> capitalism
> and establishing cooperatives is a revolutionary process, though it 
> may be
> just the beginning of it.
> Dave
> ======
> Classical democracy is not just an aim in itself, it 
> is also the *means* in the political struggle. I would have it just the 
> reverse to your assertion. To implement socialist measures you must win 
> a political battleground for the poor masses and classical democracy is 
> precisely that.
> Dogan
> ======
> I do not see any disagreement here. As a dialectician and since Kant 
> we know
> that everything must be seen as aim and means at the same time. This 
> is not
> our disagreement I think. Our disagreement is probably this: whereas I 
> say in the
> periods of transition there may well be situations in which you may 
> have to
> emphasise the role of leadership rather than elements of direct democracy.
> Bolshewiks wanted to implement as broad and as much as possible direct 
> democracy.
> But the situation did not allow that, just because many other 
> revolutionary parties and groups
> wanted to establish a constitutional monarchy or some sort of 
> bourgeoise parlamentary
> governement rather than a socialist government. Lenin referred to that 
> many times when said
> that  restriction of democratic rights were temporaray; that they were 
> take to control the situation.
> Dave
> ======
> I disagree that Lenin, Stalin, Tito et al simply "became what they could 
> became in their historical situation". It was a consequence of the 
> communist movement's failure to formulate a constitutional form of the 
> state that was not based on the "Leadership of the Communist Party" and 
> the state aristocracy that inevitably followed. (This was also the 
> ultimate cause for the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.)
> Dogan
> =======
> This is a complicated issue. In the last 15 Years there have been many
> attemps to explain why soviet experiment failed after all 70 and more 
> years.
> I am going into that here. To understand what happened and why it 
> happened
> after 1917 in the most decisive years it is perhaps worthwhile to read 
> E. H. Carr's
> *Bolshewik Revolution*.
> Dave
> ======
> I strongly disagree with your statement that "popular support 
> can change sometimes even from day to day" and so it can be sidestepped 
> in the short-run for the cause of social transformation. This puts the 
> question for whom is socialism for? If it is for the benefit of the 
> masses then surely mass opinion must be considered, even from day to 
> day. Where is to be expressed if not in the institutions of direct 
> democracy?
> Dogan
> =======
> I do not draw the same conclusion as you think I would in this
> mechanical way. By my statement I say in certain situations
> it may just be inevitable. But we must always to everything to
> have popular support. The concept of mass is not a clear cut
> concept and the massesare never a harmonious unity. I will
> give an example. Socialism must be internationalist. Otherwise
> it cannot be socialism. In Turkey in the current situation the
> masses including a huge majority of working class support
> nationalist policies against Kurds. But if you want establish
> socialist policies not just in the issues of Kurds you have to attack
> their Turkish nationalist attitudes towards Kurds. If you are in Power
> and want to implement internationalist policies in Kurdish-question
> and if the masses still oppose to any form of internationalist policies
> would you just give up the principle of internationalism or would try to
> solve the question in internationalist sense? Of course you have to do
> everything to convince the masses, to gain their support. But if you fail
> to gain their support in the short run what would you do?
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