Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 26, 2007

Alex Callinicos debates New Zealand SWP over Venezuela

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 7:08 pm

Alex Callinicos

As many of you are aware, there is a debate taking place in the International Socialist Tendency (IST), the state capitalist formation led by the Socialist Workers Party in Great Britain. The New Zealand Socialist Workers Party, an affiliate, has begun to push for a much more positive attitude toward Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution:

Socialists worldwide should be enthusiastic about the Bolivarian Revolution. Socialists worldwide need to engage with the revolution’s leaders, who will be in the PSUV, so there can be a reciprocity of ideas that promotes the global struggle for grassroots self-emancipation. Thus Socialist Worker-New Zealand is looking to forge practical links with our PSUV comrades in a land where socialism is well on the way to becoming a determining force.

In his response to the New Zealanders, Alex Callinicos of the British SWP tries to stake out a position somewhere in-between the New Zealander’s enthusiasm and the kind of hostility expressed in a Chris Harman article from 5 years ago:

Chavez has described the attempts of the upper classes to get rid of him as a “class struggle”. But his response to these attempts has only partially relied on the backing of the country’s poor.

After the attempted coup in April he repeatedly called for “national conciliation” between the rich and the poor. Although the US had given some backing to the coup, he declared he was prepared to work to ensure the US government got its oil supplies.

And while Chavez denounced neo-liberalism in words, his government’s budget accepted the neo-liberal principle of cuts in government services. The result is that the poor have continued to get poorer. Meanwhile, public sector workers have been faced with job cuts and cancellation of bonuses to which they are entitled.

Although Callinicos et al do not use the term “Bonapartist” to describe Chavez, it is not too difficult to glean this from his response to the New Zealanders:

But exciting though such remarks [a reference to Chavez’s salute to some of Trotsky’s writings] may be for Trotskyists confined to the political margins for two generations, it doesn’t alter the fact that he presides over a bureaucratic state machine that continues to sustain capitalist social relations against the mass movements on which any real revolutionary breakthrough depends. Hence the constant balancing act [ie, Bonapartist] between the state and the mass movements that he is constantly forced into.

Clearly, what’s at work here is the “socialism from below” mindset that I do not find very useful, particularly in Venezuela. While Chavez superficially might be regarded as “from above” because of his military background, there is clear evidence of his close bonds to revolutionary organizations operating at the grass roots level. If I were the IST, I’d pay a little less attention to orthodox Trotskyist figures like the oddly named Stalin Perez and more to the men and women who were members of Causa R and now form the backbone of the Bolivarist movement. They were the first to understand the importance of Chavez’s initiatives and have helped keep the revolution on track, even if they haven’t gotten the kind of attention they deserve.

Callinicos tells the New Zealanders that they should be careful and not make the mistakes of the American SWP and the Australian DSP, who were formerly political allies in the Fourth International. The first group has evolved into a grotesque sect-cult while the Australians are doing a good job building a socialist propaganda group under difficult circumstances. Some time ago, Peter Camejo urged them to study the Causa R but they unfortunately seem to prefer the Zinovievist methodology of James P. Cannon, the founder of the American SWP. Callinicos writes:

One reason for adding these notes of caution is to avoid the mistakes that the far left have made over past revolutions in Latin America. For example, in the mid-1980s the Socialist Workers Party (US) and the organization now calling itself the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) in Australia abandoned the theory of permanent revolution and broke with the Fourth International on the grounds that the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua had thrown up a ‘new revolutionary leadership’ that rendered the Trotskyist tradition obsolete. This political shift led both organizations in what can be best described as a left Stalinist direction that, for example, led the DSP to try to resurrect the bankrupt formula of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in respect of the Indonesian Revolution of 1998.

We believe that there is a qualitative difference between the cases of Nicaragua and other Central American struggles in the 1980s and Bolivia and Venezuela today. The geopolitical context has changed dramatically – then the Second Cold War made the Sandinistas and the FMLN in El Salvador key targets in the Reagan administration’s counter-revolutionary strategy, now, as we have noted, Latin American movements confront a weakened and distracted American imperialism. More important still, the Venezuelan and Bolivian struggles are driven by politically diverse popular movements employing the weapons of mass action, and not by national liberation fronts specializing in guerrilla warfare and therefore necessarily distanced from the urban masses that dominated the Central American left a generation ago.

All the same, we should learn from the mistakes made by the SWP (US) and the DSP and not to be too quick to proclaim that we are on the verge of ‘a mass socialist international’ centred on Caracas. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid the ‘engagement with the Bolivarian Revolution’ that you advocate. On the contrary, as indicated above, we have made some attempts to do so, and will continue with this. The basis on which this should be, in the first place, solidarity with Chávez and the Venezuelan masses in their clashes with both US imperialism and the Venezuelan oligarchy. Following from that we need to develop closer links between trade unions and the like in our own countries and mass organizations in Venezuela (we have taken some steps in this direction here in Britain, but undeniably a lot more could and should be done). Finally, we should, to the best of our abilities as organizations in countries mostly a long way away from Latin America, pursue dialogue with the different elements of the radical and revolutionary left in Venezuela.

There’s a lot of analysis (most of it incorrect) that is packed into the preceding three paragraphs. Let me try to sort things out as they say in British gangster movies.

To begin with, I think it is necessary to avoid thinking in categories such as “permanent revolution” or “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” when it comes to a living revolution. In my own writings on Nicaragua, I have tried to describe the social and economic processes without resorting to formulae that arose from the Russian revolution. When Trotsky developed the theory of the permanent revolution, it was part and parcel of trying to understand what was unique to the struggle against Czarism. But the theory was driven by the data and not the other way around. In general, I find that Trotskyist groups are always trying to shoehorn reality into their pet theories. A much better way to proceed is to study the history of the country in question and develop an analysis that engages with that history and not some other country’s history.

While it is easy to take potshots at the transformed FSLN of today, there was every reason to acknowledge their breakthrough in 1970s and 80s. This was the first revolutionary movement to have won the backing of the overwhelming majority of workers and peasants since 1959. It was incumbent on all revolutionaries to study what had worked in Nicaragua, especially the ability of the FSLN to craft a program that was rooted in the Nicaraguan experience. Their ability to raise slogans that connected with the experience of poor peasants and workers was much more critical than where they stood on “permanent revolution”.

There is also some confusion on Callinicos’s part about the role of mass action in the Central American revolutions of the 1970s and 80s, which he unfortunately sees in terms of Regis Debray’s foquismo theory:

More important still, the Venezuelan and Bolivian struggles are driven by politically diverse popular movements employing the weapons of mass action, and not by national liberation fronts specializing in guerrilla warfare and therefore necessarily distanced from the urban masses that dominated the Central American left a generation ago.

Actually, the guerrilla warfare in El Salvador only took place after a prolonged series of powerful mass actions were finally drowned in blood by the government. Even after the movement was forced to go underground, the urban masses were deeply involved in the struggle. It would appear that Callinicos is making the same mistake that his comrade Mike Gonzalez has made about the Cuban revolution. Rather than seeing it exclusively in terms of rural guerrilla warfare, it is better to trace the deeper historical roots in the left-nationalist parties such as the Ortodoxos and much earlier institutions and personalities such as José Marti. From this perspective, there is much more in common between the “urban” Venezuela and the “rural” Cuba than seen at first blush.

Finally, it would appear that there are certain built-in limits to Callinicos’s goal:

Finally, we should, to the best of our abilities as organizations in countries mostly a long way away from Latin America, pursue dialogue with the different elements of the radical and revolutionary left in Venezuela.

That dialog will be difficult to sustain in the face of IST hostility to the Cuban revolution. Unfortunately for the comrades, there is the obvious political affinity between the Venezuelan, Ecuadorian, and Bolivian heads of state and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Even the Grant-Woods tendency has been forced to backtrack on its assessment of Cuba, a sea change in the kind of ortho-Trotskyist politics they represent.

It continues to astonish me how detached from reality these otherwise sensible comrades are in the face of Fidel Castro’s recent communiqués. Most revolutionaries would greet his words, drafted from his sickbed, as astonishing in their insight and commitment to class politics. Two months ago, Castro wrote an article titled “Where Have All the Bees Gone” that is imbued with the ecosocialist politics of most of his recent articles. He writes:

On our poor and anything but consumerist island, one would be unable to find enough workers to endure the rigors of the harvest and to care for the sugarcane plantations in the ever more intense heat, rains or droughts. When hurricanes lash the island, not even the best machines can harvest the bent-over and twisted canes. For centuries, the practice of burning sugarcane was unknown and no soil was compacted under the weight of complex machines and enormous trucks. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphate fertilizers, today extremely expensive, did not yet even exist, and the dry and wet months succeeded each other regularly. In modern agriculture, no high yields are possible without crop rotation methods.

On Sunday, April 1, the French Press Agency (AFP) published disquieting reports on the subject of climate change, which experts gathered by the United Nations already consider an inevitable phenomenon that will spell serious repercussions for the world in the coming decades.

According to a UN report to be approved next week in Brussels, climate change will have a significant impact on the American continent, generating more violent storms and heat waves and causing droughts, the extinction of some species and even hunger in Latin America.

The AFP report indicates that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forewarned that at the end of this century, every hemisphere will endure water-related problems and, if governments take no measures in this connection, rising temperatures could increase the risks of mortality, contamination, natural catastrophes and infectious diseases.

In Latin America, global warming is already melting glaciers in the Andes and threatening the Amazon forest, whose perimeter may slowly be turned into a savannah, the cable goes on to report.

Because a great part of its population lives near the coast, the United States is also vulnerable to extreme natural phenomena, as hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005. According to AFP, this is the second of three IPCC reports which began to be published last February, following an initial scientific forecast which established the certainty of climate change.

Instead of publishing the sad, sectarian musings of an obscure college professor like Sam Farber, the IST comrades should wake up to reality and publish these twilight thoughts of Fidel Castro that are sure to be studied one hundred years from now as the best that 21st century socialism had to offer.


  1. Socialism is a dead concept

    Comment by SEOidiot — June 26, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  2. It strikes me that Alex is showing a distinct streak of schematic dogmatism, and not for the first time. We don’t have a simon-pure revolution led by an SWP-type party, therefore it’s a Bonapartist regime that can only issue in state capitalism. Not very useful from a practical point of view.

    Comment by splinteredsunrise — June 27, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

  3. Callinicos fears IST groups taking an independent revolutionary line (independent from what the SWP CC, that is). Hence the “warnings.” If they persist in their independence, they will be expelled just as the ISO (US) was.

    Stalin Perez is so named because his parents were Stalinists and he became a Trotskyist as a teenager. One can only imagine how tough his adolescence must have been.

    I wonder if you think that examining and talking about the persistance (and indeed, growth) of racism and sexism in Cuba is sectarian:

    Comment by Binh — June 27, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  4. Binh, it is not sectarian to talk about the problems of racism or sexism in Cuba. But to describe Cuba as “Stalinist” defies logic. I wouldn’t know where to begin in dismantling D’Amato’s article but would refer you to something I wrote on Cuba to answer a “state capitalist” about 10 years ago:


    Comment by louisproyect — June 27, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  5. “Clearly, what’s at work here is the “socialism from below” mindset that I do not find very useful, particularly in Venezuela'”

    I think that about says it all…

    But no, there’s more…

    “Australians are doing a good job building a socialist propaganda group under difficult circumstances.”

    Apart from their recent split and the collapse of their pet-project the Socialist Alliance?

    “But the theory was driven by the data and not the other way around. In general, I find that Trotskyist groups are always trying to shoehorn reality into their pet theories.”

    Perhaps they are using the theories to analyse the past and current reality?

    “A much better way to proceed is to study the history of the country in question and develop an analysis that engages with that history and not some other country’s history.”

    So, i guess that rules out using Marxism, especially most of its economic theory given it was largely based on the development of capitalism in Europe.

    “Their ability to raise slogans that connected with the experience of poor peasants and workers was much more critical than where they stood on “permanent revolution”.”

    Well, clearly, given they were never socialist revolutionaries.

    “Most revolutionaries would greet his words, drafted from his sickbed, as astonishing in their insight and commitment to class politics.”

    Quite lucid for a dictator, I grant you that!

    Comment by Chav — June 28, 2007 @ 3:14 am

  6. I read your piece but I think its basic shortcomings are the following: 1) it is implicitly assumed that state ownership = socialism, the more the state took over, the more socialist Cuba became and 2) there is little to no analysis of class relations in the new Cuba. Who makes what decisions and why?

    You covered the progressive nature of the revolution very well. You explained the reaction of the old rulers to Castro (hatred, hatred, and more hatred). But I didn’t see any discussion of class relations – who has what power on the shop floor? Why is economic investment in one area a priority and not another? Why can’t Cubans form political parties within the framework of “communism” or “socialism” i.e. parties that support the revolution’s gains but have a difference of opinion with Castro on foreign policy or domestic policy? How are decisions made in the Cuban CP and how is its structure or functioning differ from the old USSR CP?

    Those are questions that I think Paul’s article tackles head-on and that’s why I posted a link to it. Even if you are opposed to the argument that Cuba is state capitalist, those are important questions that need to be wrestled with for any substantive Marxist analysis.

    Comment by Binh — June 28, 2007 @ 4:11 pm

  7. My apologies Mr. Proyect, I posted the wrong link:


    I forgot that that particular issue of ISR had TWO Cuba articles and hastily posted the link to the “why Cuba is state-cap” piece. Haste does indeed make waste.

    Comment by Binh — June 28, 2007 @ 4:16 pm

  8. Binh asked, “But I didn’t see any discussion of class relations – who has what power on the shop floor?”

    That’s the problem when you read articles by Paul D’Amato or Mike Gonzalez. They are cherry-picked to avoid any evidence that would contradict the line. You’ll never find anything like the following in their articles.

    Edward Boorstein’s “The Economic Transformation of Cuba”:

    By October 1960 most of this administrative and technical personnel had left Cuba. The Americans and some of the Cubans were withdrawn by the home companies of the plants for which they worked, or left of their own accord: they found themselves unable to understand the struggle with the United States, unwilling to accept the new way of life that was opening up before them.

    The Revolutionary Government had to keep the factories and mines going only with a minute proportion of the usual trained and experienced personnel. A few examples can perhaps best give an idea of what happened.

    Five of us from the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, on a business visit, were being taken through the Moa nickel plant. In the electric power station–itself a large plant–which served the rest of the complex, our guide was an enthusiastic youngster of about 22. He did an excellent job as guide, but his modesty as well as his age deceived us and only toward the end of our tour did we realize that he was not some sort of apprentice engineer or assistant–he was in charge of the plant. I noticed that he spoke English well and asked him if he had lived in the States. “Sure,” he answered, “I studied engineering at Tulane.” As soon as he finished, he had come back to work for the Revolution and had been placed in charge of the power plant.

    In another part of the complex, the head of one of the key departments was a black Cuban who had about four years of elementary school education. He had been an observant worker and when engineer of his department left he knew what to do–although he didn’t really know why, or how his department related to the others in the plant. Now to learn why, he was plugging away at his minimo tecnico manual–one of the little mimeographed booklets which had been distributed throughout industry to improve people’s knowledge of their jobs.

    And so on throughout the Moa plant. The engineer in charge of the whole enterprise, who had a long cigar in his hand and his feet on the desk as he gave us his criticisms of the way our Ministry was handling his import requirements, was about 28 years old. His chief assistants were about the same age and some of them were obviously not engineers.

    Yet Moa was made to function. Even laymen are struck with its delicate beauty–a testament to American engineering skill. ‘Es una joya’–it’s a jewel, say the Cubans. It is much more impressive than the larger but older nickel plant at Nicaro. Shortly after the nickel ore is clawed out of the earth by giant Bucyrus power shovels, it a pulverized and mixed with water to form a mixture 55 percent and 45 percent water. From then on all materials movement is liquids, in pipes, automatically controlled. The liquids move through the several miles of the complex, in and out of the separate plants, with the reducers, mixing vats, etc. Everything depends on innumerable delicate instruments, and on unusual materials, resistant to exceptions high temperatures and various kinds of chemical reaction. The margin for improvising in repairing or replacing parts is small-much smaller than in the mechanized rather than the automated Nicaro plant. Yet the Moa plant was in operation when we were there: two of the main production lines were going-and all four would have been going jf it had not been necessary to cannibalize two lines to get replacement parts for the other two.

    Except that Moa was an especially complex and difficult operation, jt was typical of what happened throughout the mines and factories, and far that matter in the railroads, banks, department stores, and movie houses that had been taken over. The large oil companies had expected that the Cubans would not be able to run the oil refineries. But they were wrong. When a co-worker and I talked to the young administrator of the now combined Esso-Shell refineries across the bay from Havana, he said, only half-jokingly, that he was about two lessons ahead of us in his understanding of how the refinery worked–and I wondered how it was kept going. But we had been around the ten minutes earlier and there it was–going.

    A textile plant was placed in the charge of a bearded young man of about 23 who had impressed Major Guevara with his courage and resourcefulness in the Rebel Army. The former Procter and Gamble plant, which each year turns out several million dollars worth of soaps, and tooth paste, was run by a former physician who, besides being generally able, knew some chemistry. For many months, the Matahambre copper mine was in the charge of an American geologist, a friend of mine. After coming to Cuba to work for the Revolution, he had been pressed into service, though he was not a mining engineer and had never run a mine, because he was still the most qualified person available. He had to educate himself rapidly in mine ventilation; this was one of Matahambre’s biggest problems at the time. I went through the mine with him once end it was obvious from the way the men treated him that he had gained their respect for the way he was handling his job.

    Once an economist from the Ministry of Industry and I visited a large plant near Matanzas that produced rayon for tires, textiles, and export. We sensed at the plant that the harassed, outspoken administrator, almost the only engineer left, was all but sustaining the whole operation by himself. We got into a conversation about him with one one of his assistants. It turned out he had a bad leg of some sort which was giving him trouble; his father, who had owned valuable property in the nearby swanky bathing resort at Varadero was out of sympathy with the Revolution; and his brother, also an engineer, had left for Venezuela or some such place. But there he was, holding a meeting with his staff at 11 P.M., using all his energy to help keep the rayonera going.

    When you walked through a Cuban factory, you didn’t need to be told that it was under new management–you could see and feel it everywhere. In the Pheldrake plant for producing wire and cable, formerly owned by Dutch and American interests, the whole office of administration was filled by men in shirt-sleeves who were unmistakably workers; the engineers had gone and the workers had taken over. On the main floor, a group of them were struggling–using baling wire techniques–to repair one of the extrusion machines so that the wire required by the Cuban telephone industry could be kept coming. In a large tobacco factory, the administrator was black; in the metal-working plant formerly owned by the American Car and Foundry Company, the head of a department turning out chicken incubators was black. Black people had not held such positions before the Revolution.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 28, 2007 @ 5:04 pm

  9. A pox on all the theory purists.Life is not a theory it does not follow any preordained path.
    Have these guys actual understood what Marx really said,because no matter how I try I can never reconcile these SWP types or their interpretations of Marx with any of the Marxism I have read,and it has been plenty.Indeed my studies continue.
    …”Grey my friend is all theory, Green the golden
    tree of life”…
    Trotskyites make me ill,yawn

    Comment by dirk — June 29, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  10. Callinocos and his friends in the SWP and the ISO understand everything so far away so “clearly”, that they can’t see what’s going on in front of them. Anyone who’s ever tried to work with their cadre soon comes to be amazed at their inability to work outside of their construct, for example, their presentations on democratic trends within the unions that don’t include any of the literature from the actual opposition factions within the labor movement, or any effort to have actual opposition leaders address the complexities of building opposition to business unionism within the ranks.

    In our teacher’s union here in Seattle, we have seen their disappearing act a number of times. They come seeking endorsement for their friends and candidates who work in the Green party, we work to help them get that endorsement (when it makes sense), and once they have it, they disappear. We can’t get them to hold still long enough to help us juggle the crap in the union’s actual political committees, i.e., develop enough of a presence that they are seen as a credible voice in labor politics. And, as Hal Draper alluded a long time ago, if you can’t hold a position in organizations as dogmatic as educator’s unions in the United States have gotten to be, you’re sure not going to be worth much in the actual industrial unions.

    So the SWP and the ISO don’t have much to say to me about what socialism is or isn’t. They can’t even navigate fairweather friends to socialism like Noam Chomsky, a personality who never would have gotten past Lenin. They would like us to believe they could deal with the pressures of actual revolution, that they would have light to shed in Cuba or Venezuela, but they don’t even see what’s going on in front of them here at home. Nor are they dependable. What have they got to say to anyone about socialism?

    Comment by Michael Hureaux Perez — June 29, 2007 @ 6:32 pm

  11. Mr. Perez – it could be that the local branch’s political priorities do not match your own (maybe there’s a strong anti-war committee on a local campus they are working with). The best thing to do would be to ask them straight up instead of just assuming they are opportunist. I’d be interested in their reply.

    That’s the problem when you read articles by Paul D’Amato or Mike Gonzalez. They are cherry-picked to avoid any evidence that would contradict the line. You’ll never find anything like the following in their articles.

    I read the following article you posted. Sure one factory was under new management, i.e. the owners and managers bailed after Castro took over, but I found no answers to any of the questions I raised: Who makes what decisions and why? Who has what power on the shop floor and through what mechanisms? Why is economic investment in one area a priority and not another? Why can’t Cubans form political parties within the framework of “communism” or “socialism” i.e. parties that support the revolution’s gains but have a difference of opinion with Castro on foreign policy or domestic policy? How are decisions made in the Cuban CP and how is its structure or functioning differ from the old USSR CP?

    Comment by Binh — July 2, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  12. Binh, in the old USSR CP, there was massive repression. People were thrown into mental hospitals who had dissident political views. Nothing like this has ever occurred in Cuba. I must add that State Capitalist favorite Sam Farber did allege such a thing, but provided no evidence. I take this up at:


    Comment by louisproyect — July 2, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  13. Callinicos is no dummy, but purism is pretty always a problem on the Left. One has to try to work with what one has, and that especially applies to nation-states whose politics is more sympathetic than most to the left.

    Incidentally, would you believe that he’s apparently a descendant of Lord “Power Corrupts” Acton?

    Comment by MFB — July 4, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

  14. LP: “People were thrown into mental hospitals who had dissident political views. Nothing like this has ever occurred in Cuba.”


    Comment by Binh — July 5, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

  15. Binh, the only reference to electroshock therapy was in the wiki article you provided a link to. However, the article itself indicated that a citation was needed. But a search of Lexis-Nexis, a database of newspaper articles going back 20 years or so could turn up only a single reference to this business. It was a taunt directed at Michael Moore by cigar-chomping, rightwing scumbag Fred Thompson:

    “I’ve been looking at my schedule, Michael, and I don’t think I have time for you,” the GOP candidate said. “But I may be the least of your problems. You know, the next time you’re down in Cuba visiting your buddy Castro, you might ask them about another documentary filmmaker. His name was Nicolás Guillén [Landrián]. He did something Castro didn’t like, and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. A mental institution, Michael, might be something you ought to think about.”

    NY Daily News, May 16, 2007

    I am not into guilt by association, but you’d better do a better job of research if you want to be taken seriously. I guess this is what state capitalism phobia over Cuba leads to–bottom fishing.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 5, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

  16. The point of my post wasn’t about electroshock but to rebut the assertion that Castro’s regime never threw anyone into a mental asylum for (bad) political reasons.

    Here’s more, although I suspect it was authored by right-wing whiners, and the assertion that there is more international scrutiny of Guantanamo is laughable:


    And I managed to find a good response to Sen. Thompson by someone who wrote a well documented book about Cuba’s use of mental hospitals and torture to suppress dissidents:

    Dear Senator Thompson,

    I just saw your hilarious response video to Michael Moore — congratulations on such a clever comeback! I gotta tell you it really cracked me up.

    Boy, you really told him! And I love how you slammed Castro. I know of too many people who suffered terribly at his hands — people like Reinaldo Arenas, who was persecuted because he was gay. Thank god I live in a country where that kind of thing can’t happen.

    And it really does bug me when my fellow liberals (oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? I’m a liberal) do stupid things like sing Castro’s praises. Conservatives, of course, would never defend dictators or make excuses for their human rights abuses.

    I’m not the biggest fan of Michael Moore either — I can’t stand people who manipulate the facts in order to stage cheap political stunts.

    But you see, here’s the thing: what you did in your response was just plain wrong. Sixteen years ago, I co-authored a book, The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba. We documented several dozen examples of the Castro regime sending dissidents to psychiatric hospitals. I’m proud of our work — it helped expose an atrocious practice and ultimately led to the arrest and prosecution in the United States of Heriberto Mederos, one of those responsible for administering the shocks.

    One of the many people whose stories we tell is that fellow you mention in your little video. Nicolas Guillen Landrian was confined to the Havana Psychiatric Hospital after he made a documentary that included a scene of Castro climbing a hill. Doesn’t sound like much, but the thing is, Nicolas set the scene to the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill.” Nicolas later ended up coming to the United States, where he was a painter. At first, he didn’t do as well as he hoped – he and his wife ended up living on the streets for a while. He died of cancer a few years ago. I’m only sorry he can’t be here to tell his own story.

    So I have a question for you Senator: Where do you get off exploiting the suffering of Mr. Guillen in order to look so damn tough and clever? How is what you did anything more than the kind of cheap political stunt you accuse Moore of pursuing?

    What Mr. Guillen and other survivors of psychiatric abuse dealt with was truly horrifying: electroconvulsive therapy without anesthesia or muscle relaxants; the forced feeding of psychotropic drugs; and confinement, sometimes without supervision, with dangerously psychotic inmates in the forensic wings of psychiatric hospitals. Their experience is worthy of our sympathy, our outrage, and perhaps most importantly, our respect. It’s not however, worthy of being used as a cheap rhetorical flourish just to score points.

    And oh yeah, that was great how you ended your little YouTube moment by suggesting that Michael Moore should “think about” committing himself to a mental institution. I’ve heard that idea before — you know, the notion that those we disagree with should be locked away in a psychiatric hospital — it reminds me of something, but for some reason I can’t put my finger on it. Oh, I know — it’s the same position taken by the Castro regime.

    So congratulations Senator. You really did brilliantly. You used the suffering of a courageous man to score easy political points. Then you aped the very regime you intended to attack by implying that locking up someone who disagrees with you would be a really good idea.

    That’s just the kind of pathetic and callous “showmanship” I’m looking for in a Presidential candidate.

    Charles J. Brown

    Comment by Binh — July 5, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

  17. Binh, how do you know that Charles J. Brown’s book was “well documented”? Have you read it? I feel like I am wasting my time discussing this with you, so I will not bother having any more exchanges with you on this particular topic.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 5, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  18. I feel guilty for abusing this thread. Thought you might be interested in the latest ISR (www.isreview.org), of which this is an excerpt:

    July–August 2007, International Socialist Review Issue 54: INTERVIEW: Orlando Chirino

    The following interview was conducted with ORLANDO CHIRINO, national organizer of Venezuela’s National Workers’ Union (UNT) federation and leader of C-CURA (the United Autonomous Revolutionary Class Current) within the UNT. The interview was conducted after President Hugo Chávez proposed the formation of a new unified Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV). Originally posted on the left-wing Venezuelan Web site Aporrea.org in late April, it was translated and posted in English on the British International Socialism journal Web site in early May 2007.


    WHAT IS your assessment of the issues posed by President Chávez when he launched the proposal for forming the PSUV on March 24?

    THE GREAT virtue of the discussion that President Chávez has set in motion is that it gives us an opportunity to discuss the nature of the Venezuelan revolution, the project for creating the PSUV, the role played in the revolution by different social sectors, and in particular the working class. It’s a debate about how you build an organization and it raises a whole series of questions that we should discuss openly, publicly, and with complete honesty.

    What is most worrying is that the president ended up by doing exactly what he criticized.

    He criticized the political cannibalism that characterizes the organizations of the Left, but then he went on to say that anyone who does not share his views is a counterrevolutionary.

    I think this is a serious mistake, because far from encouraging debate it closes it down and encourages the sectarianism that the president has said he is anxious to fight.

    WHAT DO you think are the most important issues?

    THERE ARE lots of issues to discuss, but let me address two in particular.

    The president says, for example, that the reformists are a danger — and I agree. And yet it is my view that the program the president is putting forward rests on a reformist conception, and that there is no perspective for a break with the logic of capital.

    Let me explain.

    After the great neoliberal offensive of the 1990s, we are seeing again multimillion-dollar investments by international capital in strategic sectors of the economy such as oil, mining, coal, construction, and infrastructural projects.

    International consortia from China, Russia, and Iran are exploiting our workers more than ever.

    I don’t believe that some multinationals are better than others.

    They are all essentially concerned with monopolizing production and trade, exploiting workers, pillaging the natural resources of nations and intervening politically in the economic decision-making processes of those countries. This strikes at the heart of the kind of economic model we are building.

    The president represents investment by the multinationals as a step forward.

    I see it as mortgaging the revolution.

    For me, the first step toward socialism is to break with multinational companies and corporations.

    What this government is doing, on the contrary, is promoting concentration into larger and larger economic groups; the purchase of CANTV and the Electricity Company of Caracas are examples.

    There’s no question that the recuperation of these enterprises by the state is a step forward, but the business sector was so pleased with these developments that they made a public announcement of their support for the move.

    Equally worrying is the president’s announcement that Sidor (a major steel company) will not be nationalized because it is being run by “good capitalists.”

    In fact, this company was privatized under the Fourth Republic and is owned by a multinational consortium headed by Techint of Argentina.

    Our understanding is that the president took this view because the company is based in a country governed by a “friendly” president, namely Kirchner.

    But we wonder when we began to speak of “good” and “bad” capitalists?’

    The president is currently making a lot of public references to China.

    We would ask him not to do that, because capitalism was restored in China a number of years ago, and today it is the country where the working class is most exploited.

    They are modern-day slaves, led by a rotten party that calls itself communist, but is in fact completely subject to the multinationals.

    To cap it all, the Chinese have just introduced into the constitution the right to private property. China is hardly a good example.

    Another important issue is the role of social classes in this revolution.

    You don’t have to refer to Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Trotsky to know that the only way to overturn capitalism, a system in which a minority imposes its will on the majority, is that the working class and the people—we who are the majority and the producers—take the lead in expropriating the enterprises and place them under our control.

    In that sense, what we mean by socialism is very simply stated.

    Yet that is becoming more and more difficult in Venezuela.

    We workers are not in that position, even in the key sectors of the economy, to contemplate even joint management, let alone workers control.

    The government will not consider the possibility of co-management in strategic sectors.

    Our comrades at the Constructora Nacional de Válvulas (today called Inveval) had to undergo real physical hardships and hunger, and fight like hell before the government finally listened to them and agreed to expropriate the company.

    The workers of Venepal (now Invepal) had to fight for ten months before they beat the capitalists—while the government looked the other way.

    And now we have the case of Sanitarios Maracay where the workers are in the fourth month of an occupation for nationalization — but the government still seems less than interested in nationalizations like this.

    This suggests that the government’s program does not include expropriation, and nor will the PSUV’s.

    But if this doesn’t happen, we will not be moving toward socialism, but only toward some kind of state capitalism with a developmentalist perspective.

    This leaves private property untouched, and means that capitalist exploitation and the accumulation of profit by a very few will continue.

    WHAT ABOUT Chávez’s view on the independence of the trade unions?

    THIS IS a really important issue. The president can’t change history and argue that those of us who are fighting for the independence of the trade-union movement have somehow been “poisoned” by the experience of the Fourth Republic.

    On the contrary, trade union autonomy is the key antidote to bureaucratization; that’s why the revolution was saved in 2002 and 2003, and as long as it continues it will be the key safeguard of the revolution.

    The CTV (the old national trade union, the Venezuelan Confederation of Labor) sold its soul to the old two-party system and the governments it produced. For forty years the Venezuelan trade-union movement lived through its worst period, because workers were puppets in the games played by the old parties (Copei and AD) and the bosses’ organizations.

    Venezuelans still remember how AD (Democratic Action) decided the fate of workers, bought and sold contracts, and worked with the government to control the unions and the CTV.

    We should remember that the bosses’ strike of 2002–03 was led by CTV and Fedecámaras (the bosses’ organization) working hand in hand. The raison d’être of the new UNT union is exactly the opposite: to fight for trade union autonomy, and organize the workers to fight against any attempt to submit them to political control or give in to compromises.

    The president needs to remember that during the trade-union elections of 2001, when as we all know the CTV orchestrated an enormous electoral fraud, many workers did not support the alternative slate led by Aristóbulo Istúriz precisely because he was seen as the government’s candidate.

    The president has to understand that because of what we call the class instinct, and the levels of class and revolutionary consciousness, as well as because of their relationship with the bosses, the behavior of workers is different from that of peasants, communities, or students.

    The worst thing about the president’s comments, however, is the suggestion that by fighting for the independence of the working-class movement we are playing a counterrevolutionary role.

    That is not true.

    With other comrades we have built a national trade-union current that as well as fighting against bureaucracy and for socialism, is most committed to a fierce defense of trade-union autonomy.

    The second congress of the UNT was proof of what I am arguing. What happened there was not just about five different factions or currents fighting or some leaders squabbling with others because we have personal disagreements, and President Chávez is wrong to describe it that way.

    In fact, for the last two years “the mother of all battles” has been under way between two conceptions—on the one hand those who want to tie the trade unions to the government, and on the other, those of us who are fighting for the sovereignty and independence of the trade-union movement.

    We have thirty years of trade-union work behind us and we have never compromised with the bosses or the government, let alone with imperialism.

    And we have no intention of giving up now because the president has described us as “the poisonous residue of the Fourth Republic”!

    We have fought tirelessly within the trade-union movement for class principles, democratic methods, and an integrity born of proletarian morality. As PST-La Chispa (Workers’ Socialist Party) we are proud to have been the first political organization to support Hugo Chávez’s presidential candidacy. He will remember the first meetings we organized in the La Quizanda district of Valencia and with the textile workers of Aragua. So our history is unimpeachable.

    We are at the forefront of the struggle against the CTV, we supported the creation of the FBT (Bolivarian Workers’ Front), and we are enthusiastically behind the UNT.

    We joined the best activists in resisting the coup of April 11, 2002, and we were centrally involved in the recovery of the oil industry during the bosses’ lockout of 2002–03. Our record is an extremely honorable one.

    YET CHÁVEZ quoted the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg in support of his case. How do you see that?

    THE PRESIDENT has tried to use Rosa Luxemburg’s writings to support his arguments against trade-union independence — but we have to see her positions in the particular political and historical context in which she put them forward.

    When she discussed the question of trade-union autonomy she was referring to the German Social Democratic Party and arguing against syndicalist and bureaucratic tendencies within the unions. As a Trotskyist I have to recognize that Trotsky was wrong when he argued that the trade unions in Russia should not be autonomous shortly after the Bolshevik victory. Luckily, Lenin participated in the debate and he argued for autonomy. Trotsky’s arguments had real force, given that this was the time of the war economy, when there was hunger, civil war, physical assaults against working-class and trade-union leaders, and a confrontation with the holy alliance of the imperialist counterrevolution. Yet even so he was wrong while Lenin was right.

    This should tell you that we are not dogmatists, that we study reality and engage critically with our own history.

    It was not a coincidence that years ago the Stalinists described us as counterrevolutionaries because we were fighting for a new revolution that would sweep away the bureaucracy that had seized power in Russia.

    WHAT EFFECT has this discussion had on trade-union independence?

    IT HAS had major effects.

    We haven’t yet been able to hold the UNT internal elections, for example. The argument last year was that we had to give priority to the presidential elections. We were not against calling for a vote for Chávez, but we argued that the best way to campaign for that call was that it should come from a legitimately elected leadership. Unfortunately, it did not happen.

    The other reality is the tragedy that public-sector workers and oil workers are living through at the moment.

    If the trade-union movement were not autonomous and we had to accept what the government was saying, we would have to accept the contract negotiated by Fedepetrol and the other federations. The contract was not just illegitimate, but in fact was part of the leadership of the bosses’ campaign of sabotage supported by imperialism. It is our independent struggle that has prevented that.

    The same is true of public-sector workers. The current minister is busy making deals with the trade-union leaders who have no authority and are in a minority. Their power stems only from the leadership’s control of the apparatus and the support it gets from the government.

    And there is another issue related to autonomy. The FBT and the Labor Ministry allege that the UNT is not fulfilling its historic role and should therefore disappear. At the same time they are talking about setting up parallel structures and putting forward a series of proposals that will decimate the trade-union movement. It is crucial that these proposals are seriously and carefully discussed by the working class.

    It is because we are independent that day in and day out we are able to fearlessly express our views on the errors — sometimes the appalling errors — that the government is committing.

    Public-sector workers cannot be left waiting for twenty-seven months for their contract to be negotiated. And it seems that the oil workers will face a similar fate. The key question is whether it is right to struggle for the independence of the trade union, and whether our exposure of these issues makes us counterrevolutionaries.

    Of course this is not just about trade-union autonomy. It is also about the relationship between the PSUV and the government. Will all PSUV members be obliged to support the decisions of the government and its bureaucrats? Will the new party be more than just an appendage of the government?

    Imagine an oil worker who risked his life challenging the bosses’ sabotage participating in a meeting where the minister will order him to accept a collective contract negotiated with the people who organized the coup! These are important issues that need to be discussed.

    DO YOU feel you were properly represented by Osvaldo Vera, who spoke at the launch meeting of the PSUV as a representative of the workers?

    NOT AT all; he did not raise a single issue of concern to the working class. He just spoke in generalities.

    And I have to ask myself who decided, when and where, that he should speak in the name of the Venezuelan working class?

    For me this is the key question.

    How is the PSUV being built?

    I want to express my solidarity with thousands of my compatriots who went to Caracas to take part in the event and who were not only excluded, but mistreated and beaten in the bargain.

    On television we saw governors, mayors, and deputies who do not have mass support occupying the first rows.

    There were bosses and bureaucrats present who have defended the bosses, and a number of people who have been accused of corruption and the defense of policies that did not reflect the interests of the people.

    That is why there is so much discontent—because people know that this process has begun in a very questionable way.

    We in C-CURA believe that we have to be clear in our class allegiance.

    We cannot give space to bosses, landowners, bureaucrats, or those guilty of corruption. But it would be completely wrong to exclude the grass roots or those who disagree with the president.

    Everyone knows that Vera does not represent the working class. The FBT is a minority within the UNT, yet he stood and spoke in the name of all workers. That is why we are fighting for the PSUV to accept internal currents without conditions or qualifications.

    Nobody should be forced to dissolve — that would be completely arbitrary and designed to stop discussion before it begins. And we need to know what the position of the president and the organizing committee is on these matters.

    HOW DO you see the future of the PSUV project?

    WE HAVE to recognize that the people have placed great hopes in it; indeed, it is seen by many as a real political victory over the leaderships of the old parties like the MVR, PPT, Podemos, and all those other organizations that for years have fed a tiny group of fat bureaucrats while the majority grew thinner by the day.

    However, I must say to you that the way it has been presented by President Chávez will not succeed in bringing in the real class fighters, the honest revolutionaries working within the trade-union movement.

    And that is why we insist on taking part in this debate.

    We have a view of how to build a revolutionary party in Venezuela, which is imperative if the struggle for a revolutionary process is to continue and develop to the point where it can seize from the capitalists their economic, political, and military power.

    Until now, we have seen nothing of that in the discussion about the PSUV.

    What is important is that the debate is open and that everyone says clearly what they think and what kind of party they want, what its program should be, and how it should be built.

    We are part of that debate and we will not allow anyone to discredit our contribution or accuse us of anything.

    We will speak honestly, openly, and listen to others in the debate.

    Our views are different from those put forward by the president and the organizing committee.

    We will make sure that they hear our views and visions for the Venezuelan revolution.

    Comment by Binh — July 16, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  19. Wait, we’re still pretending that Chavismo and the Castro brothers are admirable historical developments? Seriously?

    Comment by John Barleycorn — February 22, 2016 @ 5:59 am

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