Alan Woods

Argenpress interviews Alan Woods on Latin America

A democratic workers' state in Venezuela would have an even greater impact than Russia 1917

This interview appeared on Argenpress (see Spanish original) and we are reproducing it here with the original introductory note.

Introductory note by Argenpress: Alan Woods is one of the most prominent theorists of Marxism today. Born in Wales (Great Britain), 64 years old, he graduated in Russian and Slavic philology at the University of Sussex (UK), and was a postgraduate in Sofia (Bulgaria) and the Moscow State University (former Soviet Union).

Alan Woods He is an important political activist and intellectual cadre. He describes himself as a Trotskyist Marxist. He was one of the founders, along with Ted Grant, of the International Marxist Tendency (known by that name since 2006), originally born as the Committee for a Marxist International in 1992, one of the largest groups that carries the mantel of the ideas and struggle of Leon Trotsky.

The Tendency is constituted as a world party made up of political groups from different countries, which describe themselves as a "tendency" and currently do not consider it necessary to proclaim themselves as a revolutionary party in line with their theories about the mass organizations of the working class. It is present in about 30 countries and has over 5,000 cadres.

Since 2006 Alan Woods has been their main leader. He is also the editor of its website: "In Defence of Marxism", a prestigious publication that appears on the internet in many languages. He has written numerous articles and books, some of them jointly with Ted Grant. Among these are: Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for (1969), Reason in Revolt: Marxist philosophy and modern science (1995), Bolshevism: the road to revolution (1999), and Marxism and the national question (2000).

ARGENPRESS correspondent Marcelo Colussi, spoke with him. (Interview in English. Spanish Translation by Marcelo Colussi).

Q: What are the implications in the immediate and medium-term of the Colombia Plan for the countries of Latin America?

AW: The so-called Colombia Plan is an excuse for the USA to intervene militarily in Latin America under the pretext of a war against drugs. In reality, it is only a cover for backing the reactionary Uribe regime in its war against the insurgents. Using this cover, Washington has turned Colombia into an armed camp and transformed the military balance of forces in the region.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is aimed primarily against Venezuela. We know that for some years Colombian paramilitaries have been active inside Venezuela. What are they doing there? They are armed and trained by the CIA, which, as everybody knows, has been involved in many plots to overthrow democratically elected governments in Latin America and assassinate leaders who were not to their liking.

Not long ago, when Aznar was still in power in Madrid, the Colombian government was negotiating for the purchase of Spanish tanks. What use are tanks in the struggle against guerrillas in the jungles? No use at all. These were weapons designed for conventional war. War against which country? The question answers itself! This was a clear threat against Venezuela, and nobody even mentioned it. Yet when the Venezuelans announced their intention to buy guns from the Russians there were howls of indignation from Washington about the alleged "aggressive aims" of Caracas. The insolence and hypocrisy of the imperialists really knows no limits!

However, I think the Colombia Plan is running out of steam. A war between Colombia and Venezuela seems less likely than it was a couple of years ago. If Uribe ordered an invasion he would get a bloody nose. The Venezuelans would fight like tigers and he would be fighting on two fronts. The people of Colombia would not sit with arms folded while their government perpetrated an act of armed aggression against Venezuela.

On the other hand, do not forget the people of the USA! They are already fed up of the war in Iraq and will not want to see their country get mixed up in another criminal adventure in South America. Support for the Colombia Plan is collapsing in the USA itself. The US public is revolted by the stories of torture and corruption and the proven links between Uribe and the paramilitaries. Congress is withholding aid. If the Democrats win the Presidency, the outlook for the Colombia Plan is not very bright. This is yet another indication of the growing weakness of US imperialism.

Q: Is the integration of the ALBA project a vision of progress for the people? How? In what sense?

AW: As an alternative to predatory imperialist economic treaties such as the Free Trade Agreements, the Chávez government is proposing a mechanism of integration, aid, and solidarity between Latin American countries (ALBA), exchanging oil and other natural resources for food, education services, and healthcare. Some steps forward have already been made in this in Venezuela and Cuba, and now also in Bolivia, with positive results.

The importance of ALBA is that it provides us with a glimpse of what would be possible if the colossal resources of the Americas were in the hands of workers and peasants. For instance, the utilisation of Venezuelan oil resources, together with the advanced medical knowledge of Cuba has made it possible to restore the sight of tens of thousands of poor Latin Americans. This example gives us just a small idea of the great things that would be possible on the basis of a socialist planned economy that would unify and mobilise the resources of Latin America.

However, the only way to use resources in this way, that is, in the interests of the majority, not for the aggrandisement of the private profits of a minority, is to carry out the expropriation of the capitalists and landlords under the control of workers and peasants. Unless we take that step, the ALBA will remain a bare potential, a limited experiment and a historical anecdote, the results of which will not be long-lasting.

The intentions are good, but all this is only a pale reflection of the enormous potential that would open up for the poor masses of Latin America if the resources and economies of these countries were integrated and brought together under a centralized democratically controlled plan. It would be naïve, however, to think that the other Latin American countries, governed by direct or indirect agents of the local bourgeoisie and imperialism, would be interested in agreements of this type.

The unification of Latin America can only be achieved from below, by revolutionary means. In can only be realised as a Socialist Federation.

Q: What scenario will be created by MERCOSUR for Latin America in the coming years?

AW: The weak Latin American bourgeoisie is incapable of carrying through the great historic task posed long ago by Simon Bolivar: the unification of Latin America. The last 200 years has demonstrated conclusively that this historically progressive and necessary task is impossible on the basis of capitalism.

MERCOSUR is not a step in the direction of the unification of Latin America but only a weak economic bloc created as a customs union, based on the idea of common external tariffs on goods imported from outside the MERCOSUR. However, after the economic crisis that plagued the region at the end of the 1990s, MERCOSUR entered into crisis. In spite of the subsequent economic recovery, none of the fundamental problems of the region have been resolved.

The high rates of growth in the last period led to a huge growth of inequality but no real improvement of the living standards of the masses. Now the economic climate is worsening again; the USA is already in recession and the world economy is facing stagnation in the best case. This will have serious consequences for Latin America and MERCOSUR.

When there is a struggle for scarce markets, the tensions between the national capitalists will be intensified, especially between Brazil and Argentina. The Argentine bourgeoisie has lost ground in the last period and has been displaced by Brazil. It will seek to impose numerous safeguards and tariffs to limit Brazilian imports into the country. This will put severe strains on MERCOSUR.

Under these conditions, the weaker partners like Uruguay and Paraguay will find their interests ignored and will be tempted to abandon MERCOSUR altogether and to sign their own Free Trade Agreements with the United States. The manoeuvres of US imperialism to strengthen its domination of the continent will encourage this tendency with the aim of weakening MERCOSUR and possibly breaking it up.

Chavez is trying to use entry into MERCOSUR as a diplomatic weapon against the manoeuvres of US imperialism to isolate Venezuela internationally. But Venezuela's entry has not changed the perspectives for MERCOSUR in the slightest. If it manages to survive, it will because it benefits the multinationals operating on both sides of the Brazilian and Argentine border and because it is politically useful to the Brazilian bourgeoisie, which is using its dominant position in MERCOSUR to project Brazil as the leading power within the region, while demanding a role in world diplomacy.

Q: US imperialism seems to be entering into decline. It is certainly not defeated, but it is slowly beginning to decline. In fact, at the moment it is entering a process of recession perhaps unique in its history. How will all this have an impact on its traditional "backyard": Latin America?

AW: US imperialism is still a giant. Its economic and military power has no precedent in world history. In the past there were always three or four major powers in the world, vying for influence. This imposed certain limits on all of them. But since the fall of the USSR there is only one superpower. 500 billion dollars are spent on arms in the USA every year so they can dominate the world. The so-called Bush doctrine gives the USA the right to intervene in any country on the basis that they think there is a threat.

Nevertheless, the power of US imperialism is not unlimited. We see this in Iraq and Afghanistan, where despite its colossal power and wealth, the USA is bogged down in wars it cannot win. This has major implications for the perspectives for revolution in Latin America, which is now in the front line of world revolution. At the present time there is not a single stable bourgeois regime in the whole continent. Washington is becoming increasingly alarmed at the situation and is striving to contain it.

However, the combination of war and economic recession will create new problems for the US ruling class and limit its scope for action in Latin America. In the past the USA would have solved the problem by sending the Marines but this is now almost impossible. The US army is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is unthinkable that it could be involved in another military adventure at this time. So they are obliged to use other methods: diplomacy and intrigue. But even here Bush is limited by falling popularity and a hostile congress.

Instead of direct military intervention, the United States is forced to use diplomatic pressure to compel Latin American countries to do what it wants. It also uses economic pressure on them to sign bilateral Free Trade Agreements. All this is provoking numerous mass protests in all of these countries, creating more political and social unrest in the region.

Q: Is the Bolivarian Revolution with its oil an alternative, destined to become a point of reference for the advancement of Latin American peoples in their struggle for better living conditions, towards anti-imperialist and socialist options?

AW: The Venezuelan Revolution is a very important development for socialists and Marxists on a world scale. The revolution has already lasted ten years. This is really unprecedented. For all this period the workers, peasants and semi-proletarian masses have shown tremendous courage, revolutionary spirit and a high level of consciousness. But the revolution is not finished. What is the central problem? Only this: that a number of key economic levers remain in the hands of the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The problem here is both economic and political. The oligarchy will never be reconciled to the Revolution. Although its property has hardly been touched, although it still enjoys its wealth and privileges, although it still holds in its hands powerful means of communication in the shape of the main daily papers and TV channels, which it uses to spew out a daily torrent of filth, lies and slander against the democratically elected government – despite all this, it is not satisfied. And it will never be satisfied until it has overthrown the government and crushed the masses under its feet.

Only the revolutionary movement of the masses from below prevented the counter-revolution from triumphing at the time of the 2002 April coup. The masses defeated the reactionaries and imperialists. At this point it would have been simple to inflict a decisive defeat on the reactionaries, who were divided and demoralized. If the President had lifted his little finger, it would all have been over. But he did not take the necessary action to disarm the counter-revolutionaries, probably because he listened to the advice of "practical" reformist advisers like Heinz Dieterich who urged him to be cautious, not to go too far, and so on and so forth.

The central problem is a problem of leadership. Hugo Chavez has shown himself to be a courageous fighter against imperialism and the oligarchy. But he is not a Marxist and reformists and bureaucrats who are constantly striving to put the brakes on the revolution surround him. The masses are striving for socialism and wish to take decisive action against the counterrevolutionaries but are beating their heads against this counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which forms a kind of Fifth Column that is undermining the revolution from within.

The destiny of the Venezuelan Revolution ultimately depends on the struggle between these two tendencies, which at bottom reflect mutually antagonistic class interests. It is the duty of Marxists to fight to defend the Venezuelan Revolution against imperialism and the counterrevolutionary opposition. We cannot be neutral in the struggle between revolution and counterrevolution!

At the same time, we must actively assist those forces within the Bolivarian Movement who are fighting for socialism and workers' democracy, against corruption and bureaucracy and for workers' control. We actively participate in the discussions and debates that will clarify the nature of socialism and clearly define the immediate tasks of the socialist revolution. We consider that the revolution can only succeed if the proletariat places itself at the head of the nation.

All the conditions are maturing in Latin America for the victory of the socialist revolution. One decisive blow would be sufficient to commence a chain reaction that would pass from one country to another, from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande – and beyond. The workers and peasants of Venezuela are well placed to deliver that blow. But if they hesitate and fail to strike when the conditions are present, all will be lost. Those who argue that we must wait for a better moment are wrong. Time is not on our side but on the side of the counterrevolution. It is not too soon, but very, very late.

It is impossible to keep the masses in a state of permanent ebullition without showing a way out. The example of the French Revolution is highly instructive on this point. The December referendum was a warning that the masses are getting tired of endless delays, tired of empty talk about socialism and revolution, when the old bosses and bureaucrats remain in place. They are tired of endless parades and demonstrations, referendums and election campaigns. They demand action and they demand it now!

On the basis of a common plan of production and the nationalisation of the banks and monopolies under democratic workers' control and management, it would be possible really to unite the productive forces of the whole continent, thus mobilising a colossal productive force. Unemployment and poverty would be a thing of the past. The example of a democratic workers' state in Venezuela would have an even greater impact than Russia 1917. Given the enormous strength of the working class, and the impasse of capitalism everywhere, the bourgeois regimes in Latin America would fall rapidly, creating the basis for the Socialist Federation of Latin America and, finally world socialism.

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