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Hugo Chavez Death and the Way Forward for Venezuela
Clearly the poor people and workers of Venezuela want socialism. Hugo Chavez promised that the Bolivarian Revolution was how to get there. In this essay we look at the class character of Venezuela today, the gains and setbacks and the road ahead for the Venezuelan revolution.
Hugo Chavez Death and the Way Forward for Venezuela
With the following observation from the thespec.com we hope we can dispense with the illusions of what ‘Bolivarianism’ and ‘21st Century Socialism’ are presented as and identify the actual class character of the state that the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) administers, what road-blocks still exist for workers on the path to socialism, and what defending and advancing the social gains already made in the anti-imperialist struggle means and how it can be done.
“Venezuela today has the fairest distribution of wealth in the Americas, with the obvious exception of Canada. Venezuela’s “Gini coefficient,” which measures the wealth gap between the rich and the poor, is 0.39, whereas the United States is 0.45 and Brazil, even after 10 years of reforming left-wing governments, is still 0.52. (A lower score means less inequality of income.)
For all of Chavez’s ranting about class struggle and his admiration for Fidel Castro, this was not achieved in Venezuela by taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. It was accomplished by spending the oil revenue differently. He changed the political psychology of the country, and it now has the potential to be a Saudi Arabia with democracy”
Despite “liberating” their oil, through compensated nationalization, Venezuela has not escaped the clutches of imperialism. World capitalism in the imperialist epoch dominates and must super-exploit the semi-colonies to survive. Even the most self-sufficient workers collectives are dominated and exploited via the imposition and financialization of markets, the commodification of labor, overt military threat of intervention and covert subterfuge and counter-revolutionary instigation. Venezuela has been subject to all these obstacles to liberation and socialism.
To overcome these obstacles, nationalization without compensation of imperialist and big national capital is paramount: the establishment of workers control of production, the establishment of a social-economic plan under workers control and the imposition of a monopoly of foreign trade are all required to hold off the exploitative consequences of the international dominance of the law-of-value (which commodifies labor power making profit and capitalism possible) on any nation seeking to escape imperialist control. In addition a conscious policy to spread these transformative measures across borders is essential because such a system, as was proved with the USSR and China, cannot long have a peaceful coexistence with imperialism. On a world scale either the working class takes ascendancy and abolishes the capitalist mode of production or the capitalist reaction acts in every way possible to crush the rise of the working class, ideologically, economically, militarily, and subordinate it to the barbarism of the domination of the law-of-value.
Between two Imperialist Blocs
Today the same forces that call Obama socialist peg Venezuela as such, but by any scientific or Marxist measure we must conclude Venezuela remains a semi-colony of imperialism looking for the best deal between its two major trading partners, the competing imperialist powers US and China.
While Chavez hand-in-hand with Hu JinTao in April 2009 cut oil deals while trumpeting the New “5th International” and the building of “21st Century Socialism” the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) had something else altogether in mind. The Financial Times bloggers comment:
“State-owned CDB has agreed to lend Venezuela $42.5bn since 2008, or around half the loans the country received during that period. Almost all of those loans are backed by sales contracts for crude oil…,
Shipments of oil to China by Venezuela’s state energy giant PDVSA have increased nearly ten times since 2006 and the country now sells around 19 per cent of its oil output to China, … Venezuela’s second biggest trading partner after the US.
But a glance at the terms of the loans extended by CDB so far show that the Chinese lender has been thinking for a long time about how it would get its money back when Chávez eventually left the stage.
As well as securing most of the loans with oil contracts, CDB has insisted that most of the loans are spent on projects that directly benefit the Venezuelan people, particularly housing and public infrastructure projects.
Part of CDB’s stated mandate is to support Chinese businesses to expand overseas and so large chunks of the loans it gives to Venezuela and other countries are also conditional on Chinese companies getting the contracts to build that housing and infrastructure. (Emphasis ours)
Sources close to CDB have told the FT that the bank’s thinking in Venezuela was that as long as the money was spent on projects that obviously benefit the nation then whoever comes after Chávez will not be able to easily default on the loans.”
Rather than building socialist internationalism the Chinese foreign investment/trade model is relatively indistinguishable from that of the IMF loan-to-build model except that it is wrapped in Red Flags, easily embraced by the populist and eclectic leader, yet rendering long term and disastrous effects for the people of Venezuela whose wealth it is that will be paying off the Chinese contracts. This week’s Latin America Herald Times reports:
“Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Thursday that Venezuela is sending 640,000 barrels a day of oil to China, of which 270,000 barrels a day are used to repay the loans, according to Ramirez. A confidential US cable from the US embassy in Caracas to the State Department in Washington revealed by WikiLeaks in 2010 documented that a PDVSA director had revealed that the state oil company "had analyzed its crude sales to China and determined that China had only paid $5 a barrel of crude on a couple of deals." (Emphasis ours)
According to the Venezuela Central Bank, in December there was a 78.1% shortage of sugar; 76.8% of wheat flour; 86.1 shortage of sunflower seed oil; 56.8% shortage of corn oil; 67.1% shortage of mixed vegetable oil; and a 43.3% shortage of pre-cooked corn flour. Shortages worsened in January.”
Defend and Extend the Gains of the Venezuelan ‘Revolution’
While joining in the worldwide mourning among the workers and oppressed, the major gains made during Chavez’s term have been highlighted and celebrated by much of the left. One Mike P., on a San Francisco Bay Area chat thread’s sentiments exemplify the views of much of the left:
”The past 13 years of President Chavez rule has seen Venezuela improve by all economic indicators education indicators, health care indicators, housing indicators and especially the building from the bottom, a true democracy. The latter is in danger today as USA is currently spending tens of millions of dollars inside Venezuela to defeat the Bolivarian Revolution and reinstate the old oligarchy…
Many of us will miss Chavez greatly, but we take solace in knowing he did all he could to prepare his country for this moment…. …the people of Venezuela will defend the gains against our government's coming assault…. …we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the people in Venezuela to protect their gains, while learning form the good people of Venezuela what it means to build a 21st century socialism…”
We salute the enthusiasm of comrade Mike and join his defense of the gains accomplished in Venezuela and agree that Obama (Chavez’s choice in the last US election) will mobilize the might of imperialism to undermine those gains. Our duty as internationalists is to defeat imperialism’s interventions against the people of Venezuela; be they overt military, covert, diplomatic, economic, ideological, propagandistic etc. To support the people of Venezuela we advocate a united front of workers organizations to educate American workers and their allies about imperialist interventionism and set networks in place to launch the types of mass actions, political and general strikes needed to stop the imperialist intervention. To put an end once and for all to imperialist intervention workers must put and end to imperialism and this requires the socialist revolution in the imperialist homelands.
A Sober Assessment: Limits on the Bourgeois Nationalist Revolution
We disagree with Mike’s assessment however that Chavez “did all he could to prepare his country for this moment.” A sober assessment of Chavismo, the “Bolivarian Revolution” and “21st c. Socialism” is required if workers in Venezuela or here at home can be mobilized to defend and advance its gains described above.
Chavez came to power as a radical populist democrat, a Venezuelan nationalist. And as is the history of radical democracy in Latin America, populists who come to power quickly run up against the limits imperialism sets for the semi-colonies. Seemingly democratic and nationalist tasks such as purchasing the wealth of the nation back from imperialism exposes the limits which the world’s billionaires will allow radical nationalist/democrats in semi-colonies to go before attempting to destabilize and replace them. From Arbenz to Pinochet to Zalaya, from Mosaddegh to Lumumba to Aristide imperialism has shown over and again it has only so much patience. The aspirations of the liberal national bourgeois in the semi-colonies for ‘modern democracy,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘opportunity’ are limited by imperialism’s insatiable thirst for profit and the numeric and material weakness of their class. Modern revolutions against imperialism in these nations depend on populist mobilizations of the masses which can either be constrained by a populist leader committed to defending capitalist property for the national bourgeoisie but willing to make concession to the populace, or become unleashed (think Fidel Castro) resolving the contradiction of the semi-colonial bourgeois revolution by making the revolution against imperialism permanent by seizing the power and wealth of the national bourgeoisie and spreading the revolution beyond its borders.
Had Bush/Cheney not gotten US imperialism bogged down in Afghanistan, which served as a jumping off point to invade Iraq, and had the masses not been mobilized, the 2002 coup-d’état against Chavez might have been successful. Despite the media blackout of the anti-war movement building internationally with millions out on the streets in February 2003, the imperialists knew they were pushing the patience of the masses and as dim-witted as Bush was, there were some real calculating bastards running the show who understood how far they could push our patience and that military intervention, at least for a time in Venezuela, would not be an option.
Chavez survived the failed 2002 coup, came back re-invigorated with anti-imperialist sentiment and committed to building his version of ‘Bolivarian Socialism.’ For this he created a popular front/cross class party, the PSUV, which rejected Marxism and established its version of socialism based on the state’s ‘conquest’ of the nation’s oil wealth. Chavez rejected the lessons of revolutionary Marxism and under the guise of developing a new road to socialism contained the proletariat’s revolutionary movement, confined the revolution to capitalism with welfare and minimal distributional gains of the oil rent. Today much of the left embraces this without saying directly, “it is the best we can do under the current conditions.” Some long-time socialists even praise Bolivarianism as a socialist revolution and Chavez as the first great Socialist leader of the 21st century.
The US Communist Party (CP-USA) which long ago abandoned the revolutionary road to socialism states:
“…we were delighted with the progress that Venezuela made, under Chavez' wise and firm leadership, in eliminating poverty and illiteracy, in providing for the health care and housing needs of the Venezuelan people, and in rechanneling the country's oil wealth away from corporate greed and toward meeting the needs of the people.
We were no less enthusiastic about President Chavez's role in international affairs. His work in creating ALBA) (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples' of our America), PETROCARIBE and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), as well as his government's activities to develop MERCOSUR and UNASUR, have had a revolutionary impact in correcting the imbalance of power between the Latin American and Caribbean countries on the one hand, and the United States, Canada and Europe on the other.”
Thus, like the Bolivarians the CP sees these new capitalist trade alliances, rather than socialist revolution (the expropriation of the capitalists and the construction of a planned economy,) as the road to liberating the masses from imperialism. Alongside the Bolivarians they ignore or willfully hide from the masses the fact that even these ‘liberated trade zones’ are mediated by the constraints of the capitalist production cycle and that their reliance on an alliance with their own weak comprador bourgeoisie, traps the workers as wage slaves in a multi-class party and popular front government which enforces the capitalist property relations at the point of production through the vehicle of the state.
REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST OR BOURGEOIS BONAPARTIST?
Chavez is quoted in Aporrea (7/29/07) as stating that the PSUV will not be Marxist-Leninist, as Marxism is a dogmatic thesis that is now over and is not in accord with today’s reality. He went on to say the working class is not the motor of socialism. The following day Jorge Giordani Minister, of People’s Power and Planning stated, “There does not exist any contradiction between private enterprise and Venezuelan socialism.”
To which Earl Gilman, long time revolutionary worker and editor of El Nuevo Topo, commented:
“If the working class is not the motor of the revolution, then apparently the officer corps are that motor. Though he may make justified criticisms of Marx, by rejecting the Marxist method he is following the footsteps of such figures as General Velasco of Peru and General Juan Peron of Argentina.”
Contrary to common view of most “socialists” the Revolutionary Communist Internationalist Tendency (RCIT) pointed out in their obituary for Chavez:
“The truth is that Chavez was no socialist. He was rather a bourgeois-Bonapartist politician who used socialist rhetoric but led a capitalist regime for 14 years. Under his government, between 1998 and 2008 the private sector’s share of the economy grew from 64.7% to 70.9% at the expense of the public sector. In particular, the parasitic sector of “finance and insurance”, i.e. money capital, grew rapidly in this period, by 258.4%.... According to United Nations UNCTAD and other sources, the share of workers’ wages in national income is today below the level when Chavez took power….
In addition, militant workers who organized strikes or factory occupations faced reprisal, dismissal, jail or even murder. A well known example for this is the union leader Ruben Gonzalez, a member of the Chavez’s party PSUV, who was sentenced to 7 years in prison, which accused him of violence during a strike at the state-owned Ferrominera Orinoco. While he was freed after one year in prison because of mass protests, at least 125 worker militants remain in prison for being involved in various strike actions or occupations and more than 2,500 activists have faced criminalization.”
The RCIT goes on to answer the question that if he was not a socialist “why was he despised by the rich and powerful?”:
“…They hated him because Chavez stood at the top of a regime which had the support of only a minority of the Venezuelan capitalists and which had to rest on the lower grades of the army and the millions of workers and poor. It was a regime similar to those which Trotsky analyzed in Mexico in the late 1930s and which he characterized as “Bonapartist sui generis of a distinctive character”.
Therefore the Chavez regimes was forced – given the massive pressure from the workers and urban poor – to subsidize certain social reforms (“misiones”) which were beneficial for the poorest strata of the population and which have contributed – at least according to official statistics - to a certain reduction of the extreme inequality of income in the country. The regime could do so because Venezuela is the fifth largest oil producer of the OPEC member states and its oil production and trade accounts for roughly 30% of GDP, 94% of export earnings, and more than 50% of the central government’s budget revenues. This gave the regime the material basis to finance certain social reforms.”
In their rejection of Marxism not only does the PSUV abandon the centrality of the working class in making its own revolution, they reject the need to end capitalist exploitation at the point of production, to expropriate the big bourgeoisie and foreign capital-without compensation. They reject the Marxist theory of the state as they ignore the lessons of the Paris Commune-that the working class can not just lay its hands on the bourgeois state and administer it for its own historic interests and that instead, the capitalist state apparatus (the military, the legislature, the judiciary, the executive, the bureaucracy, the police and the prisons) must be smashed and replaced by the armed workers assemblies, guiding the task of social and economic reorganization to advance and protect the process of the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the socialization/negation of capital. Chavez rejected building up the workers assemblies to replace bourgeois legislative and executive institutions. The popular assemblies in Venezuela were not organized to replace the rule of the bourgeois state but rather to buttress it.
IN THE PANTHEON OF SOCIALIST LEADERS
Taking his place alongside the defunct socialism of the Kautskyian Social Democrats, the Mensheviks, Stalinists and Maoists, Chavez rejected the revolutionary Marxist insistence upon the political independence of the working class. In his theory and practice he opposed the workers organizing their own party and forming their own working class dictatorship. His populist democratic credentials were exposed as mere rhetoric as he rejected the best traditions of worker’s democracy (the right to form political factions) inside the PSUV while drawing to it layers of the national bourgeoisie including former coup plotters.
Indeed embryonic stirrings of the new proletarian state (emergent whenever class independence, self organization, and self armament takes place, such as in cordones industriales and workers councils) inside the old state run counter to Chavez’s project and needed to be manipulated and declawed. The theoretical foundation upon which Chavismo is based is flawed and will have to be defeated theoretically and organizationally replaced with a revolutionary socialist workers party in order to fight back the counter-revolution and make the socialist revolution possible.
It follows, like the cart follows the horse that if the task of expropriating the big capitalists is taken off the table and foreign capital is compensated for properties nationalized, there is no need for the workers to have their own class independent party, or their own mass assemblies, or their own armed brigades. The bourgeois legislature, the bourgeois courts, the professional army are, in the Chavez theory and practice, the agency of ‘Bolivarian Socialism’; the entire history of class struggle under capitalism teaches us this is a formula for the defeat not the triumph of the working class.
“…THE SECOND TIME AS FARCE”
Instead of basing the Bolivarian Revolution firmly on materialist footing as Lenin had in 1917, Chavez, a moralist and idealist used his charisma, his moral certitude (in himself-a strength of will) based upon his roots from among the impoverished. His democratic credentials became heroic when he led the failed coup against the oligarchy in 1992, winning to himself a following among a small layer of the capitalist class, the “Bolibourgeoisie.” This layer was fed up with the power of the oligarchy and the subservience of the economy to imperialism, yet was too weak itself to fight for independence from imperialism and to establish sufficient national democracy to meet their class needs and desires. Today in the power vacuum following Chavez’s death, it will aim to drive the PSUV further to the right.
This alliance that formed around Chavez of a sector of the capitalist class on one side, the strong populist Bolivarian revolutionary leader mediating the state and the unfulfilled masses striving for socialism on the other is not an original historical drama. Chavez ignored Marx’s analysis of the French Revolution wherein Bonapartism was identified. Therein Chavez may have glimpsed a mirror image of himself bridging the gulf between irreconcilable social classes, limiting the drive of the most downtrodden toward socialism by sharing some of the wealth recouped from the oil rent bought back from imperialism, yet maintaining the social relations inherent in the capitalist mode of production, through which the workers exploitation is perpetuated.
THE POPULIST ALLIANCE BURIES THE WORKERS PROGRAM TURNING MARXIST THEORY INSIDE OUT!
In Chavez’s theory and practice he drew around him all the forces of the left who traditionally join or give left cover to popular fronts and cross-class alliances. Among those who have abandoned the fight for class independence there is a coalescence of anti-Leninism, neo-Kautskyianism, World Social Forum (WSF) and layers of fake Trotskyists (like Alan Woods whose IMT drops its programmatic independence to join the PSUV,) and those who argue that underconsumption rather than overproduction is the explanation for the cause of the capitalist crisis replacing the need for social planning with Keynesian pump priming on the consumption side.
This intersection of “Bolivarian Revolution”-“21st Century Socialism” and the “Market Socialist” example of China is held up by both the Bolivarians and the International Communist League (ICL/Spartacist) as a model of a post capitalist state, albeit one which is market-driven and fully integrated into the world of capitalist system of finance, production for profit and market driven-distribution.
If preparing the masses for the task of socialist construction is what Mike P. was referring to, then despite the gains made by the masses during the era of Chavismo, el Commandante did not prepare the people for the task ahead. Not unless his intention was to replicate the super-exploitation for capitalist accumulation which, for a strange confluence of the Bolivarians, Marcyites, Robersonites, Castroites, and even the Chinese Stalinist-capitalists themselves, is passed off to the international workers as varied and sundry forms of a post-capitalist Workers State--that is China today (21st C. Socialism for the Bolivarians, Market Socialism for the CCP, and Deformed Workers State for the ICL.)
To build socialism, the workers need their own revolutionary socialist party which must build a revolutionary international which refuses to compromise with exploiters and oppressors. How can the exploited Venezuelan workers make common cause with and expect the support of the workers revolution in Colombia, for example, when the PSUV collaborates against the FARC; or solidarity with the super exploited diamond miners of Zimbabwe when Chavez embraces their exploiter-Mugabe; otherwise the international proletarian unity needed to overthrow imperialism and all their lackeys will not be assembled.
As a leftist icon Chavez and his movement became a magnet for professed anti-capitalist, progressives, the WSF, leftists, self-styled socialists, and even the Hollywood set. From Oliver Stone, Danny Glover, and Sean Penn, to Tariq Ali (one time leader of the USEC-Fourth International and current editor of New Left Review,) Madea Benjamin (Code Pink,) Cindy Sheehan (the Peace mom,) Alan Woods (leader of the fake Trotskyist IMT) and the Castro brothers (capitalist restorationist leaders of the beleaguered Cuban people); ‘progressives’ of all stripes found something in Chavez to celebrate, encourage and support-a spark of hope in a dark world.
And as could be expected, Chavez sought allies among the enemies or supposed enemies of imperialism. He famously gave out copies of Simon Bolivar’s sword to heads of state whose anti-imperialism and nation building he likened to Bolivar’s.
Befriending imperialism’s list of ‘bad boys,’ Ahmadinejad, Gaddafi, al-Assad, Castro, Mugabe, Morales as well as the moderates Lula, Zalaya, Kirchner and others, Chavez sought protection for Venezuela building alliances with other semi-colonial states. Yet, aside from Cuba, all these nations were capitalist, in the worst of them crony capitalism elevated the leaders families, clan and tribes while the masses and/or migrant labor were exploited and oppressed. In an advanced semi-colony like Brazil the Workers Party’s (PT’s) socialism had been reduced to “la bolsa de familia,” (a minimum grocery package for the poor.) In “socialist Cuba” a privileged bureaucracy, rather than the masses, ruled and were finding the maintenance of their privileges threatened by the isolation of the Cuban deformed workers state, so they were busily restoring capitalism, turning beachfront property over to imperialist hoteliers, inviting Spain, Canada and China to reap profit at the expense of the Cuban people who, in the name of liberalization and reform, found themselves thrown out of work by the tens of thousands! It was in Castro that Chavez found his “special friend,” mentor and trading partner. Indeed it was the oil for doctors and educators trade that resulted in the most progressive advances for Venezuela and helped alleviate some of the economic (read oil) isolation Cuba had felt since the counter-revolution in the USSR.
Of course you can’t blame the President of a nation with one of the world’s largest oil reserves for being feted and photographed with every imperialist thug and practically every comprador bourgeois tin pot dictator on the planet. When you are in the oil business and the social programs you promised to the people depend on your selling and burning every drop of fossil fuel rather than expropriating big capital and negating the exploitative relations of production, you have to be very friendly; so friendly in fact that this unsustainable aspect of ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ and its inherent threat to the environment is ignored by the Greens and Green/Red alliance.
As the unfolding events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown, imperialism will tolerate many a tin pot dictator if they provide a service and are able to contain the national revolution by keeping the working class in check. Mubarak contained the Egyptian masses and kept a lid on the Palestinian Revolution, Gaddafi, a thorn in the side of imperialism for decades made nice and was accepted back into the fold in 2003 and Syria’s al Assad, like Mubarak was a contract torturer for the CIA and both kept the Palestinian revolution in check for Zionism. The imperialists stand by these thugs until it becomes clear they could no longer contain the masses, sending imperialism to look for a new strongman, or comprador layer, who while posing as democrats, step into the leadership vacuum over the top of the unfolding revolutions and contain them and restore capitalist “stability” for imperialist exploitation.
So it should have come as no surprise to the supporters of Gaddafi who place the responsibly for his downfall and death on imperialism rather than on the righteous uprising of the Libyan masses, or to Cindy Sheehan, whom Chavez dubbed “Senora Esperanza,” that rather than supporting her campaign for vice president in which she presented herself as a “revolutionary socialist,” anti-imperialist and a friend/supporter of Chavez, He chose to support Wall Street’s pick for the CEO of US imperialism, calling Obama a "good guy" and stating that, "If I were American, I'd vote for Obama." Ironic? Go Figure!
THE REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST ROAD FORWARD
While socialists oppose the interventions and exploitation by imperialism of the semi- colonies we do not for a moment abandon the masses there who, in order to survive find themselves in revolutionary struggle against capitalism as it is brutally maintained by the likes of Ahmadinejad, Gaddafi, al-Assad, Mugabe, Morales as well as Dilma, Kirchner and others. Yet there are many fake socialists who fawn obsequiously and abandon the socialist revolution wherever a national liberation movement arises that forms a bloc of classes, makes some progressive gains against direct imperialist domination and exploitation, even when these regimes support and maintain the power of the local bourgeoisie and cut new deals with imperialism at the expense of socialist revolution.
These self-styled Marxists from Alan Woods to Tariq Ali and Cindy Sheehan, make common cause, through their uncritical alliance with Chavez, with the criminal exploiters of the masses in Syria, Libya, Zimbabwe, Iran, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Cuba and China.
Overcoming the legacy of Chavez, the international working class, that of Latin America and of Venezuela in particular, must come to major theoretical understanding of the role of a Bonaparte, the strongman who mediates between social classes but allows the dominant mode of production to remain intact. Out of such a theoretical reevaluation an international revolutionary Marxist workers party must be built to re-establish the working class program.
Comrade Earl Gilman warns that today following the passing of Chavez a period of ‘dual power’ is opening as the Bolibourgeoisie in the PSUV and the government seeks to appease the counter-revolution. We do not see this as ‘dual power’ in the classical sense. For dual power to emerge the workers need to break from the popular front and assert class independence. To defend the gains of the workers movement, revolutionary workers in Venezuela need to advocate for the formation of workers, farmers and soldiers councils and militias and for seizing all power by a workers council government. That demand will split the working class base of the PSUV and the regime away from the Bolibourgeoisie and state bureaucracy. Then we would have dual power, which will open the road to socialism. To advocate for and make this real the workers need their vanguard to be organized as a combat party of professional revolutionaries.
March 10, 2013
Liaison Committee of Communists
Revolutionary Workers Group Zimbabwe
Communist Workers Group USA
Communist Workers Group Ao/NZ