By Andy McInerney
The revolutionary process underway in Venezuela passed a decisive test over the weekend of April 13-14. Hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants across the country rose up to defeat a U.S.-backed coup attempt organized by the Venezuelan capitalist class against President Hugo Chávez. It was a genuine victory of people's power in the first open clash of social classes in the oil-rich South American country. But the victory also lays bare the fundamental question of the Venezuelan Revolution: how to organize the popular classes--the workers, peasants, soldiers and students--to defend the revolution against further assaults by the propertied oligarchy and the weight of U.S. imperialism. The Venezuelan Revolution, a process that opened with Chávez's election in 1998, is at a decisive crossroads. Its progress will require the international solidarity of all progressive people, especially in the United States. CHÁVEZ AND THE "BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION"
Venezuela is a mineral-rich South American country bordering the Caribbean Sea. It is the third-largest exporter of oil to the United States--down from the largest when Chávez was elected in 1998. But the tremendous wealth that the oil industry generates has never impacted the lives of Venezuela's working class. More than 80 percent live in poverty. One percent of the population owns 60 percent of the arable land. The tremendous social inequities have caused tremendous explosions of popular outrage. In 1989, the ruling class unleashed a military assault on tens of thousands of people demanding lower food prices; more than 3,000 were massacred. In 1992, junior military officers led by Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez staged a coup attempt in solidarity with huge demonstrations against International Monetary Fund-dictated austerity measures. After spending two years in prison, Chávez toured the country, advocating what he described as a "Bolivarian Revolution" against the pro-U.S. Venezuelan oligarchy. Named for the great South American independence leader Simon Bolivar, Bolivarianism has come to mean using Venezuela's wealth for the benefit of the people of Latin America, and Latin American unity against U.S. domination. His 1998 election was the result of an alliance between his Fifth Republic Movement, based on progressive junior military officers and rank-and-file soldiers, and the parties of the working class and left. His new government began to dismantle the political power base of the rich oligarchy. The two main political parties of the ruling class--the Democratic Alliance and the Social Christian COPEI party--essentially collapsed. A new constitution and National Assembly enshrined many of the key progressive political features of the new Bolivarian Republic. In the arena of foreign relations, the Chávez government steered clear of the traditional servile position to U.S. imperialism. Chávez traveled to visit Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He encouraged an independent OPEC. He brokered a deal providing Cuba with oil at terms favorable to Havana. He refused to participate in the Pentagon's military campaign against Colombia's Marxist insurgencies. Beginning in June, the Venezuelan government began to turn its attention from the political arena to the economy. In November, Chávez signed a package of 49 laws aimed at addressing the social disparities in the country. At the heart of these laws were a land reform law and legislation aimed at restricting the power of the old oligarchy in the state industries, especially the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. The pro-U.S. ruling class in Venezuela had been grumbling since the 1998 elections about Chávez's independent foreign policy and populist rhetoric. But when he began to make moves that affected their vast wealth and private property, grumbling changed to outright opposition. BOSSES LEAD ANTI-CHÁVEZ OPPOSITION