For more than a decade now the major corporate media and the U.S. government have been celebrating the growing “democratization” of Latin America. Rather than reflecting a genuine concern with democracy, however, this was meant to symbolize the defeat of various revolutionary movements, particularly in Central America in the 1980s and early ’90s. To the extent that formal, limited democracy actually made gains in the region this was viewed by the ruling powers in the United States as a means of institutionalizing and legitimizing structures of extreme inequality in line with the ends of the American empire.
It is not surprising then that with the appearance of a real democratic upsurge in Venezuela—where an elected government has dedicated itself to practical improvements in food availability, health, education, and working conditions for the mass of the population—this has been greeted by Washington and the U.S. corporate leadership not as a further instance of democratization but as pointing to the dangers of populist dictatorship (see the Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2004).
The recall referendum that took place on August 15 in Venezuela resulted in a resounding victory for President Hugo Chavez, who received about 60 percent of the vote. There is no mystery about the basis of Chavez’s popular support. Billions of dollars of oil revenue formerly monopolized by the rich are being diverted to the Venezuelan poor and working classes. Educational programs are promoting literacy among populations that had few previous educational opportunities, including some 250,000 children whose social status would previously have prevented them from receiving any schooling. Health care facilities are being rapidly expanded in poor areas where thousands of neighborhood clinics have been established, staffed by 10,000 Cuban doctors, plus numerous Cuban dentists and therapists. Programs providing free food to the needy exist almost everywhere.
These social programs, which are revolutionary in nature, have given Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution a solid base among the disadvantaged. The fact that Chavez, who was elected president in 1998 and reelected under the new constitution in 2000, had the support of a majority of the Venezuelan population was never really in doubt. What was in doubt was whether the 75 percent of Venezuela’s population living below the poverty line (the result of the whole history of exploitation in Venezuela) could be mobilized sufficiently to defend his Bolivarian Revolution in the face of a recall referendum promoted by the Venezuelan rich and middle classes with the support of the United States. The entire private media system, controlled by the well-to-do, propagandized day after day that Chavez was a dictator and should be removed from power. In most instances media control of this kind, coupled with a lack of effective mobilization among the poor and U.S. financing of pro-imperialist parties, would have made it possible for the wealthy to control the mechanisms of formal democracy in order to create an undemocratic reality.
But Venezuela in August has shown that it is possible for democracy to prevail even in the face of such blatant imperialism and class struggle from above. As MR author Michael Lebowitz, who is currently living in Venezuela, wrote in a letter to a family member immediately after the vote (we quote with his permission):
It was incredibly inspiring visiting the barrios on the days before the referendum. Chavez, completely frustrated with the parties supporting him, had called upon the people to organize themselves into patrols to organize their neighbors….And, they responded incredibly—very unevenly to be sure—in barrios, workplaces, missions, etc….Chavez had said, wake up early, get to the polls….At 3 a.m. people in the barrios woke up to trumpets blaring. The polls opened at 6 a.m. and the lines were already immense [news reports indicated lines a mile or more in length, with lines still stretching half a mile in the afternoon—Eds.] They were supposed to finish at 4 p.m. but it was soon extended to 8 p.m., and then by 6 they extended it to 12 midnight, saying anyone then there could vote. Lots of people waited 10 hours to vote—the international observers (including Jimmy Carter’s Carter Commission, which does this all the time) said they had never seen anything like it.
Despite the enormous lines and the long wait some 73 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the recall referendum.
As a concrete instance of democracy in practice the events in Venezuela have few parallels. Yet none of this has led to a celebration of Venezuelan democracy in the main organs of power in the United States. Quite the contrary, the reaction from the powers that be at the apex of the American empire was one of dismay. This was the third major victory that the Venezuelan people have won over the American empire in two years—the first was the reversal of the April 2002 coup supported by the United States, the second was the defeat of the winter 2002–03 oil industry shutdown and general lockout, which had Washington’s backing.
We congratulate the Venezuelan people on their democratic (as well as humanitarian and socialist) accomplishments and look forward to publishing an article on these events in our next issue.
In August MR author Martha Gimenez received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marxist Section of the American Sociological Association. Congratulations Martha! At the same meeting the Marxist Section voted to rename their annual book award the Paul M. Sweezy Book Award. We at MR are pleased to acknowledge both of these awards and the continuing efforts of those involved in the Marxist Section of the ASA (many of whom are MR readers and supporters) in promoting Marxian analysis in the United States. In this context we would like to note that Kevin Anderson, who has recently stepped down as chair of the Marxist Section, is coeditor of the new Monthly Review Press book, The Rosa Luxemburg Reader.
The Tamiment Institute, an archival library of labor and radical research materials, is making available the papers of Sally Belfrage, a longtime friend and reader of Monthly Review who died in 1994. Belfrage wrote numerous books on the personal side of some of the important political events of her time, including life in the USSR in the 1950s, the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and the antinuclear and Irish freedom movements in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s. She was the daughter of Cedric Belfrage, a frequent contributor to MR and a founding editor of the National Guardian. Her papers have joined his at Tamiment, which will hold an opening reception at NYU’s Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South on October 12 at 6 p.m. Space is quite limited, so if you wish to attend please RSVP to Peter Filardo at 212-998-2639 or by e-mail to peter.filardo [at] nyu.edu.
In publishing last month’s Review of the Month, entitled “The American Empire: Pax Americana or Pox Americana?,” we omitted mention of the fact that this was the preface to John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, eds., Pox Americana: Exposing the American Empire, recently published by Monthly Review Press. The book contains essays from the July–August 2003 special issue of MR on “Imperialism Today” as well as other articles from the magazine and some new material. Those who found the September ROM intriguing will want to look at the book.
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