Sat Jul 13, 2024
July 13, 2024

Venezuela | There is an Urgent Need to Build an Alternative for the Working Class and the People

By: Leonardo Arantes, Socialist Unity of the Workers (UST), IWL

On Sunday, October 22, primary elections were held in Venezuela. They were called by the parties of the Venezuelan bourgeois opposition organized in the so-called Platform for Democratic Unity (PUD). The purpose was to choose the candidacy of this pro-bourgeois political coalition for eventual presidential elections to be held in 2024.

As was foreseeable, María Corina Machado (MCM) of the Vente Venezuela party won by a landslide, while the election itself registered important levels of participation. This was in spite of the maneuvers orchestrated by Nicolás Maduro’s government to prevent it from happening and to sabotage it on the day it was to be held.

The government’s anti-democratic maneuvers

In order to sabotage the internal elections of the pro-employer and anti-worker opposition coalition, the bourgeois-dictatorial government of Nicolás Maduro carried out a series of anti-democratic maneuvers. These included applying pressure to force the resignation of the National Electoral Council (CNE) board of directors, and namely its former President Pedro Calzadilla, and the subsequent intervention of this body to elect a President with closer ties government interests. The aim was to elect Elvis Amoroso, who until then had been serving as Comptroller General of the Republic, as well as former vice-president of the fraudulent 2017 National Constituent Assembly (ANC), and former deputy to the National Assembly for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. These positions and his political trajectory make evident Amoroso’s bias in favor of the current government.

Subsequently, they introduced appeals before the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) to invalidate the primary elections. Then, through the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR), they disqualified the opposition pre-candidate María Corina Machado (who is the favorite to win the opposition primaries). They prohibited her from running for or holding any public office for a period of fifteen years. They have argued that she supported the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and supported Juan Guaidó, who declared an interim presidency in 2019 [1]. Next, they denied the technical support to the CNE that had been requested by the National Commission of Primaries (CNP) because they proposed a change of date for the primaries.

In addition, just two days before the opposition coalition’s internal elections, the Maduro government issued a resolution through the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL), which prohibited the country’s public and private television, radio, and digital media from reviewing or covering the electoral event.

In addition, the government had already previously disqualified other bourgeois opposition pre-candidates, as in the case of Henrique Capriles Radonsky, who was also disqualified for running for elected office for a period of 15 years beginning in 2017. The government has also withdrawn the legality of opposition parties on both the left and the right, and it has intervened in their legitimate leadership through legal maneuvers to appoint parallel boards of directors, which are more open to the interests of the ruling party. The most recent case is the intervention of the board of directors of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV).

Finally, threats, intimidation, and coercion were carried out against potential primary voters by armed collectives financed by the government and municipal leaders linked to the ruling party. Within various neighborhoods, these groups were given the task of intimidating, and even threatening with physical aggression, those who tried to exercise their right to choose their candidate. Voters have also been blackmailed by these groups who threaten to deprive them of receiving “benefits” that, in the context of the country’s current crisis, are essential for their subsistence and they include essentials such as food or access to gas cylinders for cooking.

What the primaries show  

It is clear that the above government maneuvers are aimed at demoralizing and discouraging the participation of millions of workers and residents of the country’s popular sectors. These groups have shown their eagerness to change the current corrupt, repressive, and starvation government of Nicolás Maduro. They have also demonstrated their just and legitimate anger against it for having subjected them to years of suffering and hardship, for having violated their salaries, contractual benefits, and trade union and social rights. The people are angry at the fact they have destroyed their standard of living, severely reduced their circumstances, and have left basic services such as water, electricity, gas and telecommunications in total ruin, as well as a totally impoverished public health and education system.

All this anger and willingness to change the current government is evidenced by the significant participation of the working and popular sectors in the internal opposition elections process. Despite the above maneuvers, the turnout was close to 2.6 million, and 92% or 2.4 million of the votes were cast for María Corina Machado.

The proof is also in the courageous and rebellious attitude with which the workers and residents of the popular sectors defended their right to vote in the face of intimidation and blackmail by the collectives and leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). They also ignored the Chavista regime’s threats of reprisals and disciplinary measures against workers in public institutions and state-owned enterprises.

We can confidently say that the considerable participation in the election represents a serious defeat for the government, especially when we consider the government’s obstacles and anti-democratic maneuvers, and the bourgeois opposition’s internal crisis, which manifested itself in different positions regarding the electoral process (and in the fact that several candidates withdrew a few days before elections were held). In its eagerness to prevent the election at all costs, the government even negotiated with sectors of the pro-government opposition. This is of great concern to the ruling party because it indicates the popular pressure and interest of the masses in holding presidential elections in 2024, in which the PSUV and its allies foresee unfavorable results.

This is because the considerable participation in the primaries makes clear the working class and popular masses’ interest in ending the dictatorial capitalist government of Maduro, which has for years been applying a brutal anti-worker and anti-popular sectors package that has pulverized wages (today they are barely more than $3. 00). They have also reduced the rights won in collective bargaining agreements, cut the increases in income bonuses (the wage bonus policy proposed by FEDECAMARAS)[2], and destroyed the living conditions of workers and humble country people by plunging them into total poverty. They have done all of this in favor of the interests of the main national employers’ organizations including FEDECAMARAS, CONINDUSTRIA [3], CONSECOMERCIO [4], among others, as well as the bankers and transnational businessmen who are the main beneficiaries of the application of the “paquetazo”[5].

The Government’s Reactions

Following the primaries, the government has continued to show its fraudulent and anti-democratic nature. Following the opposition’s electoral event, leaders and spokespersons of the government and the PSUV made statements about electoral fraud and even filed complaints with the judicial authorities about supposed fraud, in addition they questioned the participation figures, which they said were inflated by the opposition through the CNP. If it were not for the seriousness of the matter, this would be laughable since it borders on the ridiculous and does not follow any reasonable logic within the most elementary democratic thinking.

The first question to be asked is: How is it that the government thinks they can interfere or attempt to interfere in a opposition party or coalition of opposition parties’ private and internal electoral process, especially when the elections are organized by them according to their statutes and rules? How can they interfere by denouncing fraud and questioning the results and participation figures when no public office is being elected, and when the government is not participating? How can state authorities, at the behest of the government, try to interfere and judicialize a process with these characteristics without any prior complaint from any of the parties involved who may feel affected by the results and the handling of the same?

The government also intends to hand over the minutes, lists, and voting books of an internal electoral process, in which it did not interfere, to the CNE and the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) which leads us to believe that it is trying to re-establish the infamous Tascón list [6].

But the most troubling aspect of the matter is that on Monday, October 30, 2023, the TSJ issued a ruling suspending “all effects” of the opposition primary. This means that for the government and its TSJ, the opposition primaries never happened, nor will their results have any effect, much less will the desires of  the nearly 2.6 million Venezuelans be respected in their right to choose the candidate of their preference for a possible presidential electoral process.

From the Socialist Workers Unity (UST), we emphatically reject these anti-democratic maneuvers of the Maduro government, which do nothing but curtail the political and democratic rights of the workers and the Venezuelan people, as well as demoralize and demotivate the Venezuelan masses in their aspirations to get out of the capitalist, dictatorial, and repressive government of Maduro through the electoral process.

The working class and popular sectors should not have high expectations of María Corina Machado

While we defend the democratic rights of working people to hold presidential elections with formal guarantees of participation and victory for any opposition, and also defend the right of the opposition to freely choose its candidate, we must warn the workers and humble country people that the winning candidate in the most recent elections, María Corina Machado, does not represent a favorable alternative for the workers and the Venezuelan people.

María Corina Machado represents the most reactionary and miserable far-right tendency that is unfolding on the continent and around the world. She is an ally of George Bush, Donald Trump, Bolsonaro and Álvaro Uribe Vélez, among others, and is bonapartist and authoritarian in the best style of the above. She is also xenophobic, aporophobic [7], pro-imperialist, and against any guarantee of the rights of workers and poor people.

The opposition’s political-economic program, as it has made clear in countless statements, is based on prioritizing the payment of foreign debt and in a privatization plan that includes advancing the privatization of PDVSA, as well as all activities related to the oil industry, and the companies that provide basic services, as well as the rest of strategic public companies. It also includes plans to more heavily tax on workers and humble people for the benefit of the business sectors, and in handing over the country’s resources and sovereignty to North American and European transnationals, in addition to the Russian and Chinese, to whom Maduro is already handing over national resources and business.

In short, their program is nothing more than a continuation and deepening of the anti-worker and anti-popular package already implemented by Maduro. That is why the candidate of the employers’ opposition says nothing about miserable wages, the violation and virtual elimination of collective agreements, and the reduction of union guarantees and wage bonus among other issues with working conditions.

Finally, as a businesswoman and representative of the bourgeoisie that she is, MCM’s policies are favorable to the bourgeois sector that she represents. It is clear that she intends to ensure that the bourgeois sector (herself included) directly benefits from its application, as well as from the rest of the business related to the management of oil revenues and the state as a whole.

It is worth saying that if at any time she denounces how trade union leaders and social activists have been deprived of their freedom, it is only to increase her standing with—and win the vote of— democratic sectors that demand and fight for the liberation of these people and political prisoners in general.           

Given the disaster of the Chavista regime and Maduro’s government, which have impoverished workers and popular sectors and exposed them to great desperation and anxiety, it is understandable that these social sectors see in María Corina Machado a useful option to “get out of the government by any means necessary.” It is also reasonable that they have great expectations in her ability to improve their living conditions, and even more so when she centers her campaign on false promises about the return of prosperity to Venezuela in the form of excellent living standards.

But the truth is that, because of the class she represents and her political alliances, María Corina Machado will end up disappointing these expectations. This is also evident in her program, whose measures, we insist, will not bring any solution to the problems of Venezuelan workers.

Blackmail and pretensions by the trade unions affiliated with the bosses’ opposition party

Some sectors and trade union leaders, mainly those who belong to the parties of the bourgeois opposition, are propagating the idea within the workers’ movement that they must “get Maduro out of government no matter what.” This is a form of blackmail since it taps into the working class’ desire to be rid of Maduro by offering the bourgeois opposition as the only alternative. In other words, they want to force the people accept and vote for any bourgeois candidate, in this case for María Corina Machado, regardless of her anti-worker and anti-popular program.

They are telling us that her politics do not matter now, that at this moment the only way out is by supporting the pro-corporate and pro-imperialist sectors, that is, by supporting our exploiters. Unfortunately, this position is also being echoed by some so-called leftists.  

They also tell us that elections are the way out of the crisis, and that once María Corina Machado is elected president, all the people’s problems will be solved. They insist that this will be true in terms of  living conditions and the attacks on democratic freedoms, and that there will be a wide range of freedoms and democratic guarantees that will allow the people to confront her government in order to respond to anti-worker and anti-popular measures that it could adopt. With this discourse, they try to subordinate everything to the electoral question and even transform the spaces of working-class organization that they have built with the militant trade union sectors into a force that responds to the campaign demands of their winning candidate.

The pressure of the rank and file, who demand wage increases and the recovery of their working and living conditions, have forced the opposition to call for mobilizations and to participate in spaces of shared struggle together with militant trade union sectors. It is from these spaces that they call for demonstrations, where they are also under the pressure of the militant trade union sectors. Yet, they refuse to radicalize and deepen this process of mobilization, as was shown by their refusal to call for a national general strike for the teachers’ union.

In addition, they are fully aware of the fact that the mobilized working class is not something that suits their candidate’s pro-corporate and pro-imperialist program, which is why they organize mobilizations only to apply pressure and win votes and electoral prestige. Their ultimate aim is to contain these mobilizations and subordinate them and the needs of the working class to their electoral interests.

It is necessary to build a united and broad alternative for the working class and popular sectors

From the UST, we want to express our differences with such statements, positions, and demands. We share with working people the desire and the goal of getting out from under the capitalist, starvation, corrupt, and repressive government of Maduro. However, this does not oblige us to support a bourgeois candidacy like that of María Corina Machado, whose program, as we have said before, has nothing to do with the interests of the workers and the popular sectors, and we want to express this clearly to these sectors of the population.

Secondly, we believe that elections do not guarantee that there will be solution to the economic crisis that is favorable to the working class. Therefore, we maintain that we should not condition our alternatives for a solution to the crisis to an electoral process between two exploitative bourgeois options. On the contrary, our priority should be to continue organizing struggles and to continue mobilizing for our demands.

In this sense, we say that we can’t wait for an electoral process to solve our hunger and the other hardships that we suffer. For this reason, we reject the pretense of subordinating and conditioning mobilizations to an electoral process that can’t be guaranteed under the Maduro dictatorship.

We believe that unity is of the utmost importance, but not unity with pro-exploitation and pro-imperialist political sectors. Instead, we believe in unity among the working class and the popular and oppressed sectors of our country, and of organizing independently from the bourgeois opposition.

We believe that unity must be built with the greatest democracy and breadth, in the heat mobilizations, and that it must serve the fight for our demands, including the democratic right to free elections. We believe that is must also serve as an alternative in the electoral field, which must be built on the basis of a program of class independence against the two bourgeois options vying for power. And that it must have at its center the interests of the working class, as well as the main socio-economic demands of the popular sectors.

The disaster into which the Chavista regime and its governments (Chávez and Maduro) have dragged the country is unfortunately identified by broad sectors of the working population and popular sectors as a consequence of socialism and the application of its measures. In this sense, many believe that this demonstrates the failures of this system. Responsibly, from the UST, we must warn that such ideas are wrong.

Unfortunately, the years of support and capitulation to Chavismo by a large number of Venezuelan and international leftist organizations have contributed to a deepening belief in these false ideas. Today, they continue to be nourished by the ruling party and its allies, who continue to speak falsely of socialism. This is also true of trade union and political spokesmen of the pro-employer opposition, who lie and accuse the government of being socialist and communist, and by the reformist left, which continues to support Chavismo and speaks of the need to rectify and correct this or that error and deepen the socialist revolution in the country. Nothing could be more wrong. Unfortunately, all of this has contributed to disorganizing and atomizing the workers’ movement, confusing it, and corrupting it in many ways.

Under these circumstances and in the current political and electoral situation, there is no independent alternative for the working class, and it is not easy to build. However, its construction is of the utmost urgency today. To refuse do so would be to reduce workers and the popular sectors’ legitimate aspirations for a change in government by electoral means to a simple change in the executioner. That is, it would only change the one who applies the adjustment.

For this reason, we propose to open a debate about the construction of the aforementioned program and the possibility for a candidacy that represents workers and the people—and that is independent from the exploiting sectors. We know that there are already some initiatives working on this, and for this reason we propose that all sectors of the independent left, trade unions, popular movements, students, and social activists who oppose the Maduro government come together to begin building such an alternative.

A workers and popular program to confront the current emergency

The program must be totally opposed to the package that Maduro is unloading against the working people, as it must also be independent from María Corina Machado, who, as we have said, represents the continuity and deepening of the current situation for working people.

We believe the first demand should be for an increase in wages and pensions to meet the value of the basic family basket as set by the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (CENDAS – FVM). It should also include the repeal of Memorandum 2792 and the ONAPRE instructions, the recuperation of collective agreements, the immediate negotiation of expired collective agreements, and the defense of the right to unionize and the right of unions to engage in collective bargaining.

It must also defend the freedom and autonomy of trade unions and independent elections in the unions. In addition, it should call for the holding of elections in unions and federations with expired executive boards without interference from the CNE, the MPPPST, and the bosses.

We also call for the complete and immediate freedom of all workers and social, political, and trade union leaders who have been imprisoned and prosecuted for protesting. We say no to the criminalization of protest, no to the repression of mobilizations and demonstrations, the withdrawal of the GNB and SEBIN forces from state enterprises, the repeal of the law against hate, an end to the suspension of salaries and exclusion from contractual or extra-contractual work benefits. In addition, we say no to blackmail and threats against protesting workers, and no to the forced retirement of leaders and militant activists.

In addition, we are against the privatization of PDVSA and the companies that operate under the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG). And we believe our program should be for the 100% nationalization of the oil industry and the companies that offer basic services, without transnational or mixed companies. We are for investment in the recovery and maintenance of the oil industry to recover the production and refining of crude oil, gasoline, and other fuels. And we are against the privatization of strategic state companies and essential services (electricity, water, gas, telecommunications), for the non-payment of the foreign debt, and a strong progressive tax on large national and foreign companies, as well as on high profits and luxury consumption, so that those who have more pay more. And we are for the repatriation of capital flight, the confiscation of the assets of the corrupt, the nationalization of the food industry, the banks, and putting the main economic sectors under workers’ control, and for the lifting of imperialist sanctions.

All resources should be allocated for a major public works plan focused on schools, universities, housing, and hospitals to meet the needs of the population and create productive jobs.

We should expect nothing from the Barbados Accords

A few days before the primaries, on October 17, 2023, two partial agreements were signed between the opposition and the dictatorial government of Maduro on the island of Barbados. The first deals with guarantees for the holding of elections in the second half of 2024, and the second is about the border dispute with Guyana over the Essequibo River and the ownership of Citgo and other Venezuelan assets abroad. Within the context of these agreements, U.S. imperialism has announced a temporary easing of sanctions for a period of six months, conditioned on the performance of the Venezuelan government in terms of taking steps towards the holding of presidential elections in 2024.

These agreements have been signed at the behest of the U.S. government and are a pact among elites that respond to the interests of the Maduro government, the employers’ opposition, and the U.S. government. Urged by the current critical international situation, the U.S. wants Venezuela to return to the oil market as a secure supplier of crude, and it wants to open the possibility for the imperialist oil transnationals to collect outstanding debts with the Venezuelan government.

They have been forced to do so by the crisis of the world economy, which has been marked by the increase in the price of oil and consequently of fuel, in addition to the inflation that plagues the main economies, which has been driven by an increase in the price of fuel and food. All this is taking place in a political context marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the attacks of the Nazi-Zionist State of Israel against Palestine in the Gaza Strip, which has aggravated the economic crisis of imperialist capitalism.

It is the workers and humble people of Venezuela who do not see their interests reflected, which could not be otherwise in an agreement reached between national leaders. There is nothing in the agreements about wage and pension increases at the level of the basic family basket, nothing about rescuing the collective agreements, respecting their provisions, and discussing those that have expired. There is nothing about the freedom of the workers and activist fighters imprisoned for protesting in defense of their rights, nor about the freedom of political prisoners in general. There is not a word about corruption in PDVSA and punishing those who have embezzled from the oil industry, not a single mention about restoring basic services in the country or improving the living conditions of the working people.

For this reason, the UST affirms that we, the workers and humble people of Venezuela, have nothing to expect from the above processes in terms of our vital interests beyond the importance of achieving democratic electoral guarantees.

Finally, it must be said that such agreements do not guarantee the democratic conditions for a possible electoral process. This is because that, for a dictatorship accustomed to violating democratic freedoms, only mobilization and struggle in the streets can obtain electoral guarantees of equality and transparency. Otherwise, what we can expect to get are agreements that resemble a declaration of good intentions in which a dictatorship like Maduro’s “agrees” to do what it is already obliged to do by law.

That is why we continue to insist on building an independent class alternative that unites the workers, popular, and oppressed sectors for the mobilization and struggle for our economic and social demands, as well as for the achievement of democratic electoral guarantees and even for the electoral struggle.

Notes

[1] It should be noted that the opposition candidate has been banned from leaving the country for nine years, and in 2015 she was disqualified for a period of 12 months. On that occasion, the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic stated that the political leader did not include in her declaration of assets some bonuses she received in the exercise of her position as a deputy in the National Assembly. The candidate denies having received such bonuses. https://www.vozdeamerica.com/a/venezuela-inhabilita-a-maria-corina-machado-para-cargos-publicos/7162173.html

[2] Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Construction.

[3] National Council of Industries, which brings together the bourgeois sectors related to industry and manufacturing, and is affiliated with FEDECÁMARAS and is part of its Strategic Committee.

[4] National Council of Commerce and Services, made up of chambers and associations representing the tertiary sector of the economy, mainly commerce, and affiliated to FEDECAMARAS.

[5] For example, from 2013 to 2017, the Maduro government canceled more than $71.7 billion in international and transnational banks (https://www.telesurtv.net/news/Presidente-de-Venezuela-Hemos-pagado-nuestra-deuda-externa-hasta-el-ultimo-centavo-20171102-0067.html).

[6] This was a list managed by the late former Chavista congressman (at the time) Luis Tascón, through which people who had signed in favor of a recall referendum against the late former President Chávez in 2004 were persecuted, intimidated and blackmailed; the coercive measures against those who appeared as signatories ranged from refusing to hire them in public institutions, denying them work or social benefits, to dismissing them from their jobs in state institutions and companies.

[7] The word “aporophobia” is a neologism used to refer to “rejection, aversion, fear, and contempt for the poor, for the underprivileged who, at least in appearance, cannot give anything good in return.

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