[OPE] Michael Lebowitz, “It’s necessary to arm the people and develop militias from below.”

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Thu Nov 05 2009 - 13:33:09 EST

Michael Lebowitz: “It’s necessary to arm the people and develop militias
from below.”
November 5th 2009, by José Sant Roz - Aporrea

On the question of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, Michael Lebowitz
is one of the thinkers who has penetrated deepest into our process. He
plunges his scrutinizing gaze, into its most diverse and conflicting issues,
in order to then, calmly and forcefully reveal its truth with knifelike
clarity. He talks like a peasant or a worker who dips into the reality that
they experience, that they suffer and feel.
At the Centro Internacional Miranda, I had a chance to converse with
Lebowitz, a professor from the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia
Lebowitz is the author of outstanding books such as “Socialism does not fall
from the sky” (much discussed by President Chávez) and “Build it now:
Socialism for the 21st Century”. I do not hesitate to declare that Lebowitz
is an essential light for us in the Bolivarian revolutionary process. Many
problems and many concerns were raised in this interview and he responded to
them with simple and accurate clarity. Here I present the first part.

SR: We are concerned with the issue of socialism, but there is sometimes a
big difference between what is said and what is done in reality.

ML: This is always going to be true. But the first thing we need to do is to
create a vision and for this you need the words. There is an old saying that
if you do not know where you want to go, any road will take you there, but
no, this is not true; rather, if you do not know where you want to go, no
road will take you there. And I think that in Venezuela, with the
development of the concept of socialism for the 21st century, we know where
we want to go. We don’t want to move towards a society in which the State
directs everything. It should be a society where people develop themselves
through their practice, through their protagonism.
This vision is clear and it is a vision that is very different from the
experiences of socialism in the twentieth century. That is the first step, a
very important step, but now we come to the crucial step: Understanding how
this should be done in practice and how can we establish the institutions
that allow people to develop. This is being developed now through the
communal councils, workers councils, where people participate in making the
decisions that affect them. The problem, though, is that it’s not so easy to
do that when there are people who want to do everything for others from
above. They say: we are going to create communal councils everywhere,
communes everywhere. And if the people are not ready to develop their
communal councils, they say we’ll do them ourselves.
Part of the problem is impatience that does not respect the process and the
time that must elapse for people to develop themselves. Furthermore, there
are people who are totally opposed to the idea that the people themselves
make their own decisions. The clearest case can be seen with worker’s
participation. There are people who believe that workers are unable, that
they are not prepared, and that they don’t have the knowledge to make
decisions affecting their work process. The result of this attitude that
workers are not capable is reflected in the fact that electricity outages
are occurring throughout all of Venezuela. The workers know what the
problems are, but they have not been allowed to implement the solutions, to
take the necessary steps to prevent such outages. Vision is important but it
is not enough; it is not sufficient--- struggle is always necessary.

ST: When you say that there are people who oppose this process are you also
referring to people within Chavismo?

ML: Yes, of course, within chavismo. That's why, for example, there is no
worker’s participation at PDVSA.

ST: Simón Bolívar founded Gran Colombia on 17 December 1819, and died on 17
December 1830, and then this tremendous work he created with his great
strength and will disappeared. What if Chavez were to disappear today?

ML: I think it would be a great loss, not only for Venezuela but for the
whole world, because under the leadership of Chavez the hope that was lost
has been restored, the hope that there is an alternative to neoliberalism.
If such a thing occurred at this time it would be more than a loss, it would
be a tragedy, because I think the process is not sufficiently developed that
it could continue with leadership from below. Perhaps by 2020 there would be
a possibility that the process could continue without Chavez. But right now

ST: What can be done to ensure that there are substitutes that can take over
the struggle from Chavez without much trauma?

ML: There are people working very close to Chavez, in his circle, who have
Chavez's ideas, his vision, his consciousness, but they lack the charisma of
the President to lead. At the same time there are others that are much
better known, but I'm not sure they share the project that President Chavez
is leading. And today I am speaking very carefully, sometimes I say this
very strongly and openly.

ST: With the oil situation, which remains our major export product, and in
the face of the new global drama of high food prices, we find ourselves with
a situation of abandonment in the countryside: how in a short period of
time, could we structure a form of economy different from that of
mono-production imposed on us by capitalism?

ML: Oil is not a problem but a blessing. There are many countries in the
same situation where agriculture has been abandoned or has been more or less
marginalized by transnational corporations. The existence of oil resources
allows the Venezuelan State to take a part of this revenue to build
infrastructure and create conditions in the countryside so that people feel
they want to return to work in the countryside and see that it is possible
to have a good life. With the food crisis it is absolutely essential to
encourage people to go to live in the countryside. With oil revenues these
conditions can be created. Compare this situation with the situation in Cuba
where they also have problems with agricultural production, and where people
are leaving the countryside, and they do not have the oil revenue to attract
people back to the countryside. What appears to be happening in Cuba is that
they are saying we will allow private property in agriculture [and thus
attract people] and some people will make lots of money producing and
selling food at great profit.
In Venezuela it is possible to use part of the oil wealth to create units of
agricultural production in the countryside and to attract people, not
through high incomes for producers but based on the quality of life that
these people can enjoy living in the country. Agriculture has been an area
where all attempts to build socialism have failed. The Soviet Union ignored
agriculture and in some rural areas it was impossible to walk or drive on
the roads. People had to bring products to market by air. China said that
they would not follow the Soviet path, and would develop agriculture, but
they didn’t. They were still extracting resources from the countryside for
industry. So instead of what happened in other places where agriculture
served industry, here in Venezuela, you can do the opposite: make oil serve

ST: If the countryside is abandoned, it will require a long time to train
people who want to do the jobs required by agriculture. People have changed
a lot in the cities and it would be very difficult to convince them to be
“peasant” farmers.

ML: Yes, it will take time. This is not going to happen overnight. But I
think that President Chavez understands this problem. It is no coincidence
that there are so many "Hello President" shows in rural cooperatives, in the
new socialist farms. I think it's a way of saying to people who are living
in the hills and barrios and who are spending a lot of time trying to get to
work, to say, look, it's time for a change. There is much more you can do.
In Brazil the MST [Movement of Landless Workers] has many young people, and
when the MST occupies land, they gain land for these families to begin a new
life. In Brazil the stereotype that all farmers are old is not true. Perhaps
what is needed is to launch a campaign aimed at young people to facilitate
this process of repopulation of the countryside.

ST: In view of the international situation: we are very threatened; how
should we prepare ourselves to face a more critical situation in northern
South America?

ML: I just finished a book that addresses an issue which is the problem of
the old state that progressives have appropriated, and not necessarily by
force. In the long run, socialism requires that the old state is replaced by
the new, the state from below. The immediate situation requires, though,
that the two states complement each other. The new state from below that
helps people develop can not initially have a global vision. The old state,
though, is in the habit of giving orders from above. What is essential is to
develop the interaction between the two states and for a time you have to
walk on two legs; and the same is true when it comes to preparing for a
crisis of military intervention. That implies having a traditional army that
can protect people, but we should also arm the people and develop the
militias from below.

*Translators Note – this is a slightly abridged translation of the first
part of a three part interview with Michael Lebowitz carried out in late
Translated by Kiraz Janicke for Venezuelanalysis.com

Source URL (retrieved on Nov 5 2009 - 14:30):
License: Published under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). See
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