The Importance of Connecting With Existing Struggles–Lessons from Venezuelan History

One key lesson that modern revolutionaries can take from the experience of mid-century communist guerillas in Venezuela is the importance of connecting with existing struggles, rather than attempting to create a revolutionary vanguard organization from scratch.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, radical activists (mostly communist militants) who were opposed to the newly minted Venezuelan “democracy” headed for the hills, in order to launch a guerilla war against the government.  This strategy was inspired mostly by the success of the Cuban Revolution and the ideology of foquismo, the theory that small bands of militants can direct and inspire popular discontent through military actions against State and Capital, and eventually inspire a general insurrection and the overthrow of the targeted regime(s).

This strategy, as seen in Chapter 1 of the book We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, was a failure, and illustrates the general need for revolutionary struggle to be embedded with and within the masses and the struggles that are constantly happening at the local levels.

This line of analysis is one that is advanced by former guerilla fighters themselves, like Douglas Bravo.  One particular point that is important to analyze is that revolutionaries completely ignored militant organizing that was already taking place in various communities around Venezuela, with goals and strategies that were very much aligned with the strategies of the communists.

A general error was the decision to send isolated focos to the mountains rather than connecting guerilla units to existing campesino struggles, such as the more than three hundred sixty “Fronts for the Right to Bread” formed by 1960, which had seized local haciendas and occupied the lands with “machete and rifle in hand.”  But blinded by vanguardism and foquismo, the young guerillas neglected existing struggles, choosing instead to create their own out of thin air.” (41)

I think this historical lesson is one that is significant to American radicals and would-be revolutionaries.

For one thing, there appears to be a disconnect between radical groups and the communities that they operate in.  For instance, there are a decent amount of non-profits that are owned and controlled (or at least, influenced) by local communities that serve the poor and needy–food pantries, homeless shelters, etc.  But there does not appear to be any real interaction between these various non-profits, or between these non-profits and radical political groups.

Of course, most of these non-profits that serve local communities will overtly be non-political.  But I’ve heard enough anecdotal evidence to be convinced that there is a strong anti-capitalist current among the people who run and work in these community-based non-profits.  And even if this current is vague, and more reformist than revolutionary, networking with such existing struggles would be a powerful and much-needed step forward for radical groups in America.

We should also generalize this need to network with communities themselves.  Again speaking from anecdotes and personal experience, I am not convinced that radical groups (and in particular anarchist groups in urban areas) are doing much in terms of connecting their movements with the communities they live and operate in.  It is one thing to squat in an abandoned building and tag the outside with all sorts of nice anti-state, anti-capitalist graffiti and murals and whatnot.  But it is something entirely different to use these reclaimed spaces as a space from with to engage directly with the outside community. Events should be held not just for the dispersed radicals throughout the city, but for people who are close in geographical proximity–even if said people aren’t politically motivated along your own particular ideological lines.  This is one reason why I was pleased with Occupy Oakland’s community cook-outs, where free food would be passed out in different areas, and provide a time and space for the people to mingle, joke, hang out, and discuss politics.  These types of spaces are much more likely to involve and empower local communities than marching around shouting slogans (although the latter tactic is still very fun!).

But admittedly, outreaching to individuals and people not already involved in political or alternative economic is difficult (a lesson that socialist groups at universities seem hard-pressed to realize).  Present outreaching and networking efforts should probably focus on connecting with groups already engaged in anti-capitalist and anti-statist organizations (even if–and perhaps especially if–they do not overtly identify as anti-capitalist and/or anti-statist).

Just as the Venezuelan communists failed to network with the existing local struggles during their time, so too will we face failure if we do not acknowledge and network with existing movements.

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