What is the role of Marxists in politics? To tell the truth to the working class, to instill a sense of what Gramsci called 'the pessimism of the intellect'. It is to map out a path for independent working class politics, so that the working class can emancipate itself, take power and bring about a socialist society.
That is so far from the political method of the tendency associated with Ted Grant - known as 'In Defence of Marxism' (IDM) and publishing Socialist Appeal in Britain. So far that it has become enamoured with the 'Bolivarian revolution' in Venezuela to the extent that it provides a 'Marxist' gloss for pro-Chávez politics.
This group has launched a 'Hands off Venezuela' (HOV) campaign that goes beyond the laudable goal of opposing US intervention in Venezuela to providing a socialist lustre for Chávez. Thus the HOV statement requires signatories to agree to the 'defence of the revolutionary process' in Venezuela and its website is subtitled 'in solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution'.
However its real betrayal lies in providing a 'Marxist' rationale for dissolving working class politics in Venezuela into Chávism.
In March this year Chávez sent a message to IDM expressing his 'gratitude for your solidarity actions in favour of the Bolivarian Revolution'. Around this time Socialist Appeal leader Alan Woods seems to have sent Chávez a copy of his book, Reason in Revolt. Apparently Chávez so appreciated the gift that he read extracts from it on his TV show 'Alo Presidente' on March 21. He also read out the HOV statement, talking about the issue for 20 minutes.
Woods visited Venezuela in April. At the edition of Alo Presidente on Sunday 18 April Woods was 'placed in the front row, in a prominent position immediately opposite the president'. He was also 'received by President Chávez for a private audience that lasted well over an hour'.
Chávez apparently flattered Woods on camera, reading from another book Woods’ had given him, and saying not without a touch of irony, 'he who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it'. The report coos that, 'In the course of the programme, Hugo Chávez mentioned Alan at least three times' and 'has given his personal support to the publishing of the Venezuelan edition of Reason in Revolt'.
Woods’ own account of his visit, Encounters with Hugo Chávez, (April 29 2004) is even worse. He provides Chávez with an unqualified endorsement. He says: 'Hugo Chávez for the first time gave the poor and downtrodden a voice and some hope.' Woods swoons: 'From my limited contacts with Hugo Chávez, I am firmly convinced of his personal honesty, courage and dedication to the cause of the masses, the oppressed and exploited.'
Chávez apparently told Woods that he didn’t consider himself a Marxist. Woods says: 'From this conversation I had the distinct impression that Hugo Chávez was looking for ideas, and that he was genuinely interested in the ideas of Marxism and anxious to learn.' He finishes his report by saying: 'I believe that a growing number in the Bolivarian movement are looking for the ideas of Marxism. I am sure that this applies to many of its leaders. And Hugo Chávez? He told me that he is not a Marxist because he had not read enough Marxist books. But he is reading them now.'
Woods has also provided a 'Marxist' rationalisation for the 'Bolivarian revolution' in two long essays: Marxism and the Venezuelan Revolution (May 4 2004) and his Theses on revolution and counterrevolution in Venezuela (May 20 2004).
Woods offers a scandalous interpretation of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution to justify turning Chávez into a (unconscious) socialist revolutionary. He says socialist revolutions normally require a Marxist party to be victorious - but since this is absent today 'all sorts of peculiar variants are possible'. He makes it clear that Chávez is such a peculiar variant - in fact a locum: 'In the absence of a mass revolutionary Marxist party the forces of revolution have gathered around Chávez and the Bolivarian Movement.'
Woods spreads the most ridiculous illusions about the peaceful road to socialism. He says that in Venezuela in April 2002: 'It would have been possible to carry out a peaceful transformation of society after the collapse of the coup' - adding that a peaceful transformation was also possible after the lockout in 2002-2003.
In fact he prostrates the working class to the armed forces and the Venezuelan state. The HOV campaign and Socialist Appeal call for workers committees and defence squads to defend workers against the opposition and to prepare for possible US intervention. However they then raise the erroneous demand that these committees and squads 'should be linked to the loyal sections of the army' - namely to the central arm of Chávez’s bourgeois state. A shorter suicide note for independent working class politics is difficult to imagine.
Woods says the big industries must be nationalised, but insists this 'can be done by introducing emergency legislation through the congress' - the old 'enabling act in parliament' he used to preach in Britain. He adds that an appeal should be made to workers to introduce workers’ control to 'ensure a peaceful and orderly transition to a planned economy'.
Later Woods says the masses must 'purge' the state. He says the government has carried out a partial purge - but 'a serious purge can only be carried from below'. So the state does not need to be smashed, the army does not need to split - this is indeed a reformist perspective on the tasks of workers in Venezuela.
Woods’ method is well summed in the opening paragraphs of his Theses on revolution and counterrevolution in Venezuela. There he describes Venezuela as polarised between 'two antagonistic camps' - the 'revolution' including Chávez and the 'counterrevolution'. By lumping the working class with Chávez, he effectively does away with our class as an independent factor. The workers are subordinated to the Bolivarian revolution, with no interests separate from Chávez - in short they are merely a stage army for his 'petty bourgeois' politics.