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Venezuela: We are a mighty river
'SOMOS UN rio crecido' ['we are a mighty river'] read one of the banners on the massive pro-Chávez (the country's radical, populist president) march on 4 February in Venezuela.
Andy Bentley, Caracas, Venezuela
One-and-a-half million poured out onto the streets of Caracas in a show of strength which turned from a river into a sea of red banners and flags that brought parts of the capital city to a halt.
Chávez supporters were packed like sardines on the metro trains trying to get to the march. They also came from miles around on motorbikes, buses, cars, on foot and even on crutches! Wave after wave joined in on the way. More than 100 buses came from the Vargas region alone, despite the recent collapse of the main viaduct link road.
Unlike the previous week's march, during the World Social Forum, this march was predominantly made up of the working class and other exploited layers of Venezuela. Workers marched behind their trade union banners and from their barrios. Campesinos (rural workers) came packed in open top trailers.
The opposition, represented by the capitalist bosses, latifundistas (large landowners) and the top layers of the church, all supported by US imperialism, thought that the tide was beginning to turn in their direction.
The widespread abstention of Chávez supporters in the recent National Assembly elections and opinion polls which showed a fall in support for Chávez added to the opposition's optimism. But the turnout on this march compared to the few thousands mobilised by the right wing opposition's counter-march confirmed again the real balance of forces.
Chávez used the march (originally called to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the failed military rebellion led by him as a paratrooper in 1992), as a launch pad for the presidential elections later in the year by calling for ten million votes to ensure his re-election. The previous day he had gone onto the offensive by expelling a US naval officer for spying and announcing a series of new reforms, including a 15% increase in the minimum wage which will benefit thousands of working class people.
However, winning another term as president will not be enough to solve the huge problems faced by the Venezuelan working class, campesinos and poor. Despite the significant reforms funded by the high price of oil, 70% of the population still live in poverty whilst big business continue to make massive profits.
The Chavez reforms and partial nationalisations and 'co-gestion' (worker's participation) have enraged the opposition without breaking, fundamentally, their ownership of the main industries, banks, finance companies and land.
The process of revolution and counter-revolution will continue to unfold in Venezuela but at some stage will reach a decisive conclusion. Either the forces of the counter-revolution will win through a bloody military coup, as in Chile in 1973, or a 'democratic' counter-revolution, as in Nicaragua in the 1990s.
Alternatively, the Venezuelan working class - supported by the other exploited layers - will build the forces necessary to break decisively with capitalism i.e. by taking into public ownership major industry, banks, finance houses and land under democratic workers' control.
This would allow production to be democratically planned based on the needs of the masses and not a privileged few. But such a successful conclusion will not be automatic. The need for the working class and exploited layers to build their own independent organisations, armed with a socialist programme, is now becoming increasingly urgent.
In The Socialist 9 February 2006: