In Venezuela, a process of toughening of the regime is taking place by means of different measures of the Hugo Chavez administration increasing his control over the different sectors of society, among others the mass media.

On 27th May, the closure of the RCTV broadcasting was a clear demonstration of all that. It may seem a progressive measure. Many workers and students must have regarded it with fondness, for it was an attack on a bourgeois and reactionary broadcaster, always engaged in campaigns against interest of the Venezuelan people. And yet, if we analyse it thoroughly we can see that things are not this way. Historical experience proves that this type of measures, seemingly popular, sooner or later wind up by turning against the workers.    

Fake argument: “attack coup makers”

With the argument that Chavez is a “popular government” and that he is building the XXI century socialism, the vast majority of the left-wing trends supported the measure. The main argument was that this was “a coup makers’ channel”, which is true. Controlled by millionaires, the RCV and all the remaining private broadcasters did make an overt and violent campaign for the April 2002 coup.

Some of them even went as far as encouraging murder against Chavez. Actually, at the moment of the coup, it would have been necessary to close that channel to prevent it from acting as a transmission belt and spokesman for a policy schemed by George Bush. But to close it now, several years later, when the coup time was over and no coup-like perspective could be envisaged on the horizon, is not something that can be justified. Nothing shows that there could be another coup in the short run precisely because there is an agreement between Chavez and the same bourgeoisie who sponsored that coup. Some of the major coup-makers bourgeois are in, Chavez’s party, the PSUV, and they call themselves “socialist entrepreneurs”!

It is true that, in 2002, imperialism, Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the right had a policy to topple Chavez with a coup and then with the economic lock out. But the failure of these attempts (defeated by workers’ and popular mobilisation), forced them to accept him as the only alternative if they wanted to have the masses controlled.

That is why they abandoned the coup-making ideas and to encourage a different policy: stake on his wearing-out in the long run and then defeat him in elections. The stern criticism of such measures by Chavez voiced by imperialism, Latin American governments and international press are part of this policy of erasing rather than preparing a coup atmosphere.

At the same time, imperialism and the Venezuelan big business started doing very good business with the government, as did Mendoza-Polar and the new “socialist entrepreneurs”. In the last twelve months, bankers have seen their profits rocket by 38%. But supposing that Chavez closed the RCTV to attack the coup-makers, the question still remains, why did he not close the remaining broadcasters were just as coup-prone? Why did he not close the Cisneros, the biggest coup maker of them all, the main entrepreneur of communication in the country, owner of Venevision and top coup-maker against Chavez? Not only was he not repressed but also today he has a factual agreement with the government and is actually benefited with the closure of RCTV overtaking his competition’s advertising business.    

“Reactionary broadcaster”: A piece of truth as a useful pretext to attack freedom of press     

The other argument posed by the defenders of the closure of the channel is that it was a way of putting an end to the reactionary broadcasting of programmes polluted with bourgeois ideology. Chavez even argued that he was closing the channel not because of its coup-proneness but as an expression of censorship of their programme.

“This channel has been causing much harm to the country for a long time: the anti-values, the mass bombarding of violence, hatred, racism, misinterpreted and misunderstood sex, disrespect for women, children, scorn for many manifestations of social life, against the homosexuals, against the country and the world, against people with some physical incapacity. That is the deep reason” (Folha de S. Paulo, 5/6/07).

It really is a reactionary channel spreading fatal bourgeois ideology and defends interest and values opposed to those of the working class, particularly against working and poor women, against the children and the oppressed. According to Chavez and the organisations that defend him, this is the reason for no allowing the TCTV to go on broadcasting. But this not only a pretext: all the Venezuelan TV channels are run by either the bourgeoisie or the government and all of them spread the same kind of ideology.  

The real motives for the measures taken by the Chavez administration  

But if the coup is not the reason for the attack on the RCTV for no coup is there to fear nor is it underway, if the bourgeois ideology of this channel is not the reason either, for it is not a feature of the RCTV, we might as well ask ourselves what the real reasons for such an attack on the RCTV is. The answer is in what is said at the beginning of this statement:

“In Venezuela, a process of toughening of the regime is taking place by means of different measures of the Hugo Chavez administration increasing his control over the different sectors of society, among others the mass media.”

The proof is that when Chavez took over, the government controlled only one TV channel in Caracas; now they control six. A more recent evidence is: all the institutes of assessing public opinion have been publishing results that indicated that between 65% and 80% of Venezuelans are against the closure of RCTV.

Chavez responded penalising the institutes of opinion (he suspended the authorisation for two days in the case of the two leading institutes). His argument was “tax evasion”. This policy of Chavez’s in the milieu of communications comes together with his strategy in the political milieu.

For example, his call to build PSUV aims at controlling all the sectors of society, especially workers. That is why he demands that all the workers’ organisations are to join this party and those who refuse to do so are accused of being counterrevolutionaries). At the same time he declared that there must be an end to “autonomy” of trade unions and trade union centrals. This means that these workers’ organisations must submit themselves to the PSUV, that is to say, to the decision of the Chavez administration.    

It is not the first time that a case like that of the RCTV takes place in Latin America

The measure taken by Chavez against freedom of press, taken with the excuse of attacking a coup-prone or reactionary channel, has caused a lot of confusion among the left rank and file, even among those who – from revolutionary positions – appose the government. Many of these sectors, carried away by the noble aim of fighting against imperialism and coup-prone bourgeoisie have just given their support to the Chavez administration in his raid at freedom of press.

A raid that today is aimed at a sector of the bourgeoisie tomorrow will be against workers who may dare to oppose the government. This confusion is due, to a great extent, to the fact that many sectors of the advance guard are surprised and believe that the measures taken by Chavez have an unprecedented character. But his is not true.

In 1951, in Argentina, General Peron, in order to increase his totalitarian control over workers, expropriated the newspaper La Prensa property of a sector of oligarchy. The arguments used by Peron were the same as the ones used by Chavez and again there was a sector of the left who lent their support to the measure. However, there was a sector of the left, under the leadership of Nahuel Moreno, was not deceived by Peron’s demagogic speech and was unfalteringly against it. That did not prevent him, time after that, demand that the government give weapons to the workers to hold back the coup-makers who finally toppled him in 1955.

There is another similar case that took place in Mexico in 1938. The Lazaro Cardenas administration started a campaign against the “reactionary press” in order to close it. This policy was supported and encouraged by the Communist Party and the trade unions under its influence. That administration had taken much deeper measures against imperialism than the ones taken by Chavez and the reactionary press kept on harassing him constantly.

And yet, Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionist who at the time was living in Mexico and highlighting the “highly progressive” character of the measures taken by Cardenas, was not misled by his campaign against the reactionary press. When he wrote on this situation, he alerted against the real class character of the measures against the freedom of the press.

In his opinion, even if initially the campaign was meant to “bend the reactionary press. the ultimate consequences would be suffered mainly by the working class (.) Historical experience as well as theory rove that any restriction of democracy in bourgeois society is, when all is said and done, invariably aimed against the proletariat.” (Leon Trotsky, Escritos, Tome IX, page 605).

As to the trade union leaders of the Communist Party who backed and encouraged the attacks against the reactionary press, he said in the same article, “any ‘leader’ of the working class who arms a bourgeois administration with special resources to control public opinion in general and particularly the press, is, precisely, a traitor. Ultimately, the sharpening of class struggle will force the bourgeoisie of every kind to reach agreements among themselves; they will pass special laws, all kinds of restrictive measures and all kinds of “democratic” censorships against the working class. He who still does not understand this must leave the rank and file of the working class.”   

And what is Chavez were a socialist?     

Perhaps many readers of this statement will say, “hat Trotsky wrote is valid for bourgeois administrations, but Chavez is fighting against imperialism and bourgeoisie. His government represents ‘XXI century socialism'”. Those who reason this way are wrong because they regard the bourgeois Chavez administration as socialist. Actually, Chavez’s XXI Century socialism does not differ from reformism of the XX century.

Trotsky used to say “reformists only speak of socialism on holydays”. In his speeches, Chavez speaks of socialism, of Lenin and even of Trotsky. But in his everyday policies he faithfully complies with all the commitments with imperialism, maintains the means of production in the hands of capitalists, negotiates the pass-over of oil reserves to the great multinationals and his administration is supported mainly by the principal institution of the bourgeois state: the Armed Forces. Apart from that, those who reason that way are doubly wrong because they consider that the fact of being a socialist would entitle Chavez to exert the censorship of the reactionary bourgeois press.

Trotsky, one of the top leaders of the Russian Revolution held the contrary opinion. In his opinion, the fact that the working class had seized power and expropriated bourgeoisie did not justify curtailing of the freedom of the press for bourgeoisie.

“However, even from the point of view of the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, banning or censoring bourgeois periodicals is nothing like a programme, or a principle or an established ideal. Measures of this type can only be temporary and unavoidable evil… On seizing power, the proletariat may be forced, for a short time to take special steps against the bourgeoisie if the bourgeoisie takes attitudes of overt rebellion against the workers’ state. In such situation, restricting the freedom of the press is a measure that goes side by side with other measures used during a civil war.

“Naturally, if someone is forced to use artillery and airplanes against the enemy, he cannot be expected to allow the same enemy to keep their own centres of information and propaganda inside the armed cap of the proletariat. And yet, even in this example, if the special measures expand so as to become a permanent pattern. They would by themselves boost the danger of becoming incontrollable and that the workers’ bureaucracy could obtain political monopoly that would be one of the sources of degeneration.

“The real tasks of a workers’ state do not consist in muzzling public opinion in a police-like fashion but rather to liberate it from the yoke of the capital. This can only be achieved by putting all the means of production, including that of public information, into the hands of the entire society. Once this fundamental socialist step is taken, all the trends of public opinion ought to have the opportunity of expressing themselves freely.

“It is the duty of the workers’ state to make all the technical media required such as printing machines, paper and transport accessible to them in proportion to their numbers. One of the main causes of degeneration of the state apparatus is the monopoly of press held by the Stalinist bureaucracy, which jeopardises all the achievements of the October revolution placing them on verge of extinction.”   

Fighting the reactionary press  

When Chavez decided to make at the freedom of the press, most of the left spoke of a non-existing coup as an argument to defend the government and its most reactionary measures. By doing so they do not benefit the cause of socialism for they leave the banners of the struggle in the hands of imperialism and the most reactionary sectors of the Venezuelan and Latin American bourgeoisie. Workers are among the most interested in fighting against reactionary press but not at the price of attacking the freedom of press.

Once again we shall quote Trotsky. It is essential to start an unrelenting struggle against reactionary press. But workers cannot allow a repressive fist to hit it using for this purpose their own organisations and their own press. Today, the state may seem graciously predisposed towards workers’ organisations; tomorrow the government may fall and will inevitably fall into the hands of the most reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie. In such case, any restrictive measures that may exist will be launched against the workers. Only reckless adventurers who can barely think beyond the needs of the moment would fail to see this danger.”

We have quoted Trotsky long-windedly because it seems to us that these opinions are fully valid today. Venezuela workers probably do not know these opinions. And yet, more likely than not – by mere class instinct – many of them have arrived at a similar conclusion. This is what explains why a vast majority of the population, which – if the opinion surveys are to be believed – still support Chavez, now challenge is steps against freedom of the press. It would now be a good thing if most of the left, especially those who claim to be Trotskyist, should do the same.  

Sao Paulo 19th June 2007-06-30

International Secretariat of the IWL (FI)

International Workers’ League – IV International