Fri Jun 21, 2024
June 21, 2024

Whither Venezuela?

The Venezuelan political crisis divides waters throughout the Latin American and world left. Most of the reformist left aligned with the Maduro government “against the coup.” It is a criminal maneuver to hide that the real blow is being given by Maduro, who is imposing a dictatorship in the service of the “boliburguesía” [Bolivarian bourgeuoisie].
I.W.L. Statement.
Imperialism pressures Maduro with diplomatic sanctions, with a farce “in defense of democracy” in support of its representatives, grouped in the MUD.
We call on the mass movement activists around the world to fight against Maduro’s dictatorship and for an independent alternative of workers in Venezuela.
I – Brief summary of recent Venezuelan history
Venezuela is a country with a rich revolutionary history. In 1989, the application of a neoliberal plan of the government of Carlos Andres Perez (with a great devaluation of the currency and price increase of gasoline) caused a popular insurrection, the “Caracazo”. The poor people of Caracas came down from the hills, confronted the police, and sacked the shops for four days.
The army repressed hard, causing thousands of deaths. The bourgeoisie was able to regain control of the situation, but the government and the regime were injured. The Armed Forces were divided. The then Colonel Hugo Chávez attempted a military coup in 1992. The coup was defeated, but Chávez gained enormous popular prestige among the poorest sectors. Carlos Andrés Pérez was dismissed in 1993.
Chávez won the elections in 1998, beginning a long period of Chavistas governments that remain until the present day.
Chavismo had partial conflicts and a rhetoric against American imperialism, which gave him great prestige throughout Latin America. Chavez’s speeches against Bush were clearly different from those of Lula and other governments on the continent.
In the beginning, imperialism attacked Chavez. Bush struck a coup in April of 2002. The masses reacted violently, initiating a new insurrection that defeated the coup and was only stopped with the return of Chavez, two days later. Later there was also an oil lockout, similarly defeated in 2003.
Imperialism learned from the defeat of the 2002 coup and the lockout. It then went along with the Chavista governments and to use them to maintain the exploitation of the country. In the meantime, it supported the right-wing opposition to electorally capitalize the weariness of Chavez governments and reconquer the government later.
Imperialism went on to use what we call a” democratic reaction “, that is, the use of electoral processes to channel political crises. A demonstration of this is that in 2004 the right-wing opposition proposed a “recall referendum”, which was accepted by Chavez (largely won by him).
Chavez was re-elected in 2006 and 2012 and died in 2013. Chavez’s vice-president, Maduro, took office and was later elected president in April of that year.
The economic crisis, with the fall of oil prices, collapsed the material basis of Chavism. Since 2014, the country has experienced a depression rarely seen in history. The resulting policy was the rupture of the popular sectors that traditionally supported Chavismo. In 2015, the right-wing opposition won parliamentary elections, capitalizing on Maduro’s demise, and electing more than two-thirds of the National Parliament.
The Maduro government simply ignored the elected parliament and resorted to hold on to power by relying on the armed forces. The governor elections, which should have been held in December 2016, were postponed because everything indicated that Maduro would lose. The opposition went on to campaign for a “recall referendum” (the same mechanism envisaged in the Chavez Constitution, which Chávez accepted in 2004), but despite getting the signatures planned, Maduro maneuvered in every way to prevent the referendum because he knew he would be dismissed.
Today, the Chavez government has 80% of the Venezuelan population against it. That’s why Maduro is promoting a coup. It called a “Constituent Assembly”, suppressing the universal vote for the election of parliamentarians. He established distorted criteria among voters, favoring the rural areas in which he has more weight. In addition, 30% of the deputies were elected in a corporate manner by sectors such as “peasants”, “students”, “entrepreneurs”, “workers” who were indicated by the bureaucracies of these sectors, while a large part of associations and unions are prevented by the government to make elections for their leadership renewal . All this to transform a minority into a majority.
There was a gigantic fraud in the vote of the “Constituent”, denounced by the company contracted by the Maduro government, in charge of the election. There was no 42% vote announced by the government. Independent sources indicate a participation of 15 to 17% of the population, even with all the pressure of the government on the public employees and dependents of the social programs so that they went to vote.
The municipal elections that should occur in 2017 and the 2018 presidential elections are questioned since the “Constituent Assembly” defined that it will last two years. The country’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, appointed by Chavez but critical of the Bonapartist course of Maduro, was dismissed by the “Constituent” on her first day.
To impose that blow, the repression is very hard: more than a hundred dead, more than five hundred prisoners. In addition to attacks by the armed forces and the police, there are “collectives”. These are paramilitary groups that suppress the mobilizations and kill the opponents. They resemble the “Tonton-Macoutes” of Haiti and the “Triple A” of Peronism, in Argentina.
There is a coup in Venezuela, given by the Maduro government. A government that has nothing “socialist” or “anti-imperialist”. It is a bourgeois government, corrupt, repudiated by the masses … and supported by an important part of the reformist left around the world.
II – What kind of State is Venezuela?
The class character of a State is defined, according to Trotsky, by the “character of the forms of property and of the relations of production which the State in question protects and defends.”
There are no “middle” states in capitalism, either they are bourgeois or they are workers. The State in Venezuela is undoubtedly bourgeois, it is at the service of the maintenance of capitalism, of the multinationals in the exploitation of Venezuelan oil, and of a new bourgeoisie – the Bolibourgeoisie – in the control of the country.
The Venezuelan bourgeois state remained intact, with its armed forces controlled by Chavismo. There was never anything like bodies of power of the masses. The PSUV is a bourgeois party, controlled by the state by Chavista mafias, similar to the Argentine Peronism, the Mexican PRI and the Colorado Party in Paraguay.
The “21st-century socialism” of Chavismo is hardly an ideology to win the vanguard and the masses for its bourgeois project. In reality, Chavism is a bourgeois nationalist current, such as Peronism or Aprismo (Peru). But with the limitations that bourgeois nationalism has in times of globalization of the economy in the twenty-first century. Chavez did much less than the actual nationalization of Cárdenas’s oil in Mexico in 1938, or even with the nationalization of oil, electric power, and railroads in Perón’s time in Argentina.
Chávez’s anti-imperialist (or to be more precise anti-American) rhetoric never materialized in a real rupture with imperialism. After the verbal confrontations with Bush, the relation with the imperialism of the United States changed with Obama. In 2008, Chavez went so far as to say that if he were an American, he would vote for Obama. Moreover, with European imperialism, the relationship was always much friendlier.
The Venezuelan government continued religiously paying the high foreign debt. The so-called “nationalization of oil” – Chávez’s most famous measure – was only the maintenance of joint ventures and an increase in the percentage received by the State in association with the multinationals established in the country for oil exploration and refining. These multinationals can own up to 49% of companies and oil reserves. In the case of gas, they can own up to 100%. This type of agreement with the multinationals is similar to the one existing in countries like Brazil. Chavismo maintained the supply of oil to the United States even when imperialism invaded Iraq.
The few nationalizations of companies in other sectors-such as the National Telephone Company, Caracas Electricity, or the Orinoco Iron and Steel Company-were made in accordance with the criteria for buying and selling shares accepted by the capitalists.
Main sectors of industry, such as automobiles, are controlled by multinationals.
Besides the multinationals, the Venezuelan state serves another bourgeois sector, the “boliburguesía” (combination of the words “Bolivarian” and “bourgeoisie”). This bourgeois sector emerged from the state apparatus, particularly from the top of the armed forces. Its capitalist accumulation came from the intermediation of the oil business abroad, from open corruption to public contracts, from “briefcase companies” (fronts), from frauds with the foreign exchange market. From this enrichment, the new bourgeois went on to buy or found companies. The richest Chavistas helped and still help loot oil income, as part of its own capitalist accumulation.
The strongest group is that of Diosdado Cabello, a senior officer of the Armed Forces. It is the second business group in the country, owner of banks, industries and service companies. Another group that follows him has as owner another retired officer – Jesse Chacón – with a bank, a factory of milk powder and farms. There is a third very strong business group, also owned by two retired military personnel, Ronald Blanco La Cruz and Edgar Hernández Behrens.
In addition to these, the boliburguesía includes the entrepreneurs and bankers that approached Chávez from the beginning and thus they extended their fortunes, like Alberto Cudemus, president of Feporcina. Or even Alberto Vollmer, owner of rum company Santa Teresa, and Miguel Perez Abad, president of Fedeindustria and government official, and Victor Vargas Irasqüín (Occidental Bank of Discount), and many others.
The bourgeoisie boasts its wealth abusively, with cars, houses, and parties (many in Miami). In addition, the military is directly linked to food trafficking.
Chavismo maintained capitalism in Venezuela while speaking of “socialism of the twenty-first century.” The “social” side of Cchavismo is the same as that used by other Latin American governments on the left and on the right: compensatory social programs, welfare services.
The Venezuelan “Misiones” have the same character as the “Bolsa Familia” in Brazil, that “Juanito Pinto” and “Renta Dignidad” in Bolivia, that “Zero Hunger” in Nicaragua, that “Families in Action” in Colombia, “Opportunities “in Mexico,” Together “in Peru.
These programs have absolutely nothing contrary to neoliberal plans. In fact, they are recommendations of the World Bank and the IMF to be applied along with neoliberal plans. They are partial compensations from budget cuts in health, education, and retirements to guarantee the payment of debts to the bankers. According to these imperialist institutions, these are “low cost” efficient programs that help implement neoliberal plans and maintain political stability.
Neoliberalism is applied by Chavismo in Venezuela in the same way as in the rest of the world. The difference in relation to other countries is the weight of oil in the economy, which makes it possible to increase the quantitative weight of these compensatory programs, which reached over 40% of the population there. That assured for many years electoral and political support to Chavismo. There is no “socialism” in Venezuela. This is colonial capitalism, preserved by Chavismo
III – Who is responsible for the Venezuelan economic crisis?
There is a depression in Venezuela. In 2016, GDP fell 18.6%. In 2017, another fall of around 10% is expected.
According to economist Michael Roberts, “… Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% lower than in 2013, and 40% lower in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than that of the 1929-1933 depression in the United States when U.S. GDP fell by 28%.” [The tragedy of Venezuela]
Added to this catastrophe are two others: hyperinflation and shortage. Inflation reached 180% in 2015, 800% in 2016, and would reach 1,000% this year.
The shortage is terrible. Venezuelans are forced every day to face huge wait lines to get bread. To get basic products they are obliged to buy those that are imported, at very expensive prices.
The situation of the workers is dramatic. The current minimum wage is about $ 15 a month, much less than that in China or any South American country.
The current reality of Venezuela has rarely been seen in history in countries outside situations of war. There are already waves of Venezuelan refugees escaping from that situation to neighboring countries, especially Colombia and Brazil. That is the material basis for the rupture with Chavismo.
Maduro’s government and its sympathizers in the world left attribute this crisis to the “multinationals and the sabotage of the bourgeoisie.” We agree that the domination of the economy by the bourgeoisie is the root of this crisis. But it is still necessary to answer the question: what did Chavismo do in 19 years of power to end this dominion? What is the responsibility of Chavismo in this crisis?
A comparison is necessary. In 2017, we are commemorating a hundred years of the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks took power in 1917 in an undeveloped country and devastated by War. With the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, the country was able to solve the basic problems of the population, such as employment, education, food, and housing. While the capitalist world was plunging into depression in 1929 (twelve years after the seizure of power), the then USSR grew in its industry at 16 percent a year between 1928 and 1940.
In Venezuela, Chavismo did the opposite in these 19 years. It maintained the domination of the multinationals and even deepened the rentier, parasitic and colonial petroleum model. Oil accounted for 64% of exports in 1998 and increased to 92% in 2012.
The country de-industrialized with Chavismo, going from 18% of GDP in 1998 to 14% in 2012. A report from the Conindustria indicates that of 33,000 industries that existed in the country in 1998, it fell to 17,000 in 2012.
Oil accounts for 90% of state resources. When the commodity boom ended, economic disaster and depression came.
The boliburguesía is co-responsible for the economic crisis, as part of the dominant bourgeoisie. These bourgeois parasitic groups take advantage of the crisis and the trafficking of food and foreign exchange, like the other sectors of the bourgeoisie. The high command of the armed forces is directly associated with corruption and trafficking.
The Chávez government aggravated the crisis by prioritizing the payment of foreign debt and reducing the import of food and medicine. It is impressive how a country in an economic depression, with hyperinflation and lack of supply, punctually and dutifully pay the foreign debt to international bankers.
All advocates of Chavismo as “anti-imperialist” should explain this. According to Maduro himself: “Venezuela paid $ 60 billion in international commitments during the last two years.”
Michael Roberts states: “… the government decided to ‘honor’ foreign debt payments and cut imports instead; As a consequence, imports of goods and services per capita fell 75% (adjusted for inflation) in real terms between 2012 and 2016, with an even greater fall in 2017. ”
Maduro’s other reaction to the economic crisis was to deepen the sale of the country. Contrary to the ideology of Maduro’s “anti-imperialism”, in 2016 the government announced the plan of the Orinoco Mining Arc, which delivers 12% of the country’s territory, rich in gold, diamonds, iron and other minerals.
The Chavistas governments are responsible for the catastrophe that is fought over Venezuela, for having maintained and deepened the control of the multinationals and of a parasitic bourgeoisie over the country.
IV – A Bonapartist regime, now much more authoritarian
The Chavista regime was already Bonapartist before the “Constituent”, supported by the government and the armed forces.
The political regime of a country is defined by the combination of the institutions through which power passes. If power passes through parliament and periodic elections, it is a bourgeois democracy. If it passes through the armed forces, it is a Bonapartist, authoritarian regime.
In the Venezuelan case, Chavismo imposed a change in the bourgeois democratic regime after Chávez’s inauguration, which he would concretize with the Bolivarian constitution in 1999. The real power was passed by the Chávez government and the armed forces. But in that period he had great popular support. For that reason, for many years, that Bonapartist characteristic was masked by the electoral majority that supported the government. He had an elected parliament, with no powers. And there were presidential elections, which were maintained while Chavismo could win them, as well as for governor, etc., and Chavez himself appointed candidates of the PSUV, thus imposing his will at all levels of government.
This type of populist political regime was characterized by Trotsky as “Bonapartist sui generis,” something similar happened in several countries led by bourgeois nationalism, such as Peronism in Argentina, Cardenism in Mexico, and Nasserism in Egypt. These bourgeoisies were based on authoritarian regimes, and relied on sectors of the mass movement – making concessions – to negotiate conflicts with imperialism, by a slightly greater margin of independence and better economic conditions.
Even at that time, they were holding back for the masses. Chávez fiercely repressed strikes, such as Sanitarios Maracay, in 2007. In 2009, two striking Mitsubishi workers were killed by police. There is a corrupt and mafia-like Chavista trade union bureaucracy, similar to the Argentine Peronist bureaucracy. Union elections in key sectors such as oil companies were suspended four years ago to keep those gangster-like bureaucrats in command. The economic crisis and the fall in oil prices changed everything. Towards the end of 2015, the right-wing opposition won the parliamentary majority, but the government scorned the outcome. Power continued to pass through the government and the armed forces. The upcoming presidential elections in 2018 would put Chávez’s power in check because the electoral majority passed largely to the right-wing opposition. That is the explanation of the “Constituent”, in fact, a coup. The “Constituent Assembly” is a Bonapartist turn within the regime, stepping over even the Chavista Constitution. It annuls the universal vote, the basis of bourgeois democracy, abolishes the elected parliament and has already led to the dismissal of the opposing prosecutor. In short, it ends the “democratic contradiction” within the Bonapartist regime. In Venezuela, we are seeing the consolidation of the transformation of Bonapartism sui generis into a classic right wing Bonapartism. Similar to the evolution of other processes of bourgeois nationalism that evolved to right-wing Bonapartism, such as the Mexican PRI since Cardenas, and the evolution of Nasser to Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt.
V – The imperialist democratic” farce
The Trump government “defends democracy” in Venezuela, and does not recognize the Constituent Assembly of Maduro. The European Union did the same thing, as did most South American governments.
This is a farce. The same imperialism that supports the Nazi-fascist state of Israel speaks of “democracy” in Venezuela. The United States government, which sponsored a coup in 2002, now calls itself a defender of democratic freedoms.
In reality, imperialism has no commitment to democratic freedoms. It only uses that tactic to further wear down the Venezuelan government. Trump pushes Maduro for an agreement that will allow elections for the MUD to win ( the pro-imperialist right-wing opposition).
Thus, that bourgeois right would regain control of the country. The economic program of the MUD is the radicalization of neoliberalism in Venezuela, opening the country even more to imperialism and reducing or suppressing social programs.
But it is important to define the concrete policy of the United States government because the majority of the reformist left denounces the “imperialist military coup.” At least until now, that does not exist, precisely because imperialism learned with the defeat of the 2002 coup, and now defends another tactic, with the same strategic objective.
That is so evident that the New York Times did an article explaining why the U.S. government does not make a military intervention, saying that could trigger a “more violent clash.” And that “shock waves throughout the hemisphere could create more complications for the American government as it tries to concentrate on North Korea and Iran.”
The U.S. government also imposed slight economic sanctions by blocking Maduro’s assets in the United States. If Trump wanted to strike hard in economic terms, it would be enough to stop buying Venezuelan oil. But that is of no economic or political interest to Trump.
Most of the South American governments accompanied the position of imperialism; Mercosur suspended Venezuela for “breaking the democratic order.” These same governments have trade agreements with Israel. In addition, it is impressive to see the farce of Temer and Peña Nieto, who are repudiated by 90% of the population of their countries, criticizing Maduro.
We were on the front line of the fight against the 2002 coup sponsored by imperialism. Before any initiative of a military coup by imperialism, we will have the same position that we had in 2002, categorically against, and in the front line of the confrontation. And today we are against the pressures of imperialism, diplomatic and economic. Nothing positive will come from Trump, European governments or the South American bourgeoisie. It is the Venezuelan masses that must overthrow Maduro.
VI – The rupture of the masses with Chavismo
There is a central change in the political situation of the country, with the rupture of the popular sectors with Chavismo. Popular neighborhoods, formerly Chavista strongholds, now openly vote against the government. The Venezuelan tragedy is that an alternative (neither syndical nor political) of the workers was built against the two bourgeois blocs, independent of Chavismo.
The mobilizations against Maduro no longer reflect only the middle-class neighborhoods, as in the mobilizations of the MUD of the past. They already include important popular sectors, such as the mobilizations against the Argentine government in 2001 and the days of June 2014 in Brazil. Surveys indicate between 80 and 85% of repudiation of Maduro and the “Constituent”.
The labor movement is paralyzed by the economic depression, by the harsh repression and bureaucratic-state control. The PDVSA, as well as the state factories, such as Sidor, are run by the military.
The working and popular base of the country is against the government. That is the most important change in the political situation of the country, and that caused the open crisis of Chavismo. Chavista sectors breaking with Maduro are increasing.
The synthesis of the Venezuelan situation can be expressed in a simple image of a Venezuelan colleague: in the past, anyone who spoke against Chavez on a bus in a popular neighborhood in Caracas could be attacked and thrown off the bus. Today, anyone who defends Maduro in the same neighborhoods can be attacked.
But there is a distrust also in the popular sectors against the MUD. That is the fundamental reason why until today the popular neighborhoods, even being strongly against Maduro, did not go out to fight in a new Caracazo. That does not happen yet, but it can happen at any time.
Some activists in Venezuela speak of 15% of the population supporting the government, 35% supporting the MUD and the rest against the two.
The biggest problem is that a left alternative against Chavismo was not built, not even a minority, because of the capitulation of the reformist left.
VII – What are the prospects?
Today the Maduro government relies essentially on the armed forces. If there were a military break, the Chavista regime could collapse. What explains the support of the Armed Forces to Maduro is the boliburguesía. The leadership of the Armed Forces is an essential part of the Bolibourgeoisie, and would lose some of its privileges should the government and the regime fall.
According to Rolando Astarita: “The military can buy in exclusive markets ( in military bases), they have privileged access to credits and purchases of automobiles and apartments, received substantial increases in wages. They also won lucrative contracts, exploiting exchange controls and subsidies. For example, selling in the neighboring countries cheap gasoline bought in Venezuela, with huge profits. ”
But if the high-rank armed force is part of the Boli-bourgeoisie, that does not extend to the whole of the armed forces, the low officialdom and the soldiers in particular. For this sector, only the crisis and repression to the people remains. For this reason, elements of crisis accumulate at the base of the armed forces. There are already more than 100 military prisoners, according to the press.
By blocking an electoral exit, Chavismo strongly tensed the country. The crisis may lead to some of these hypotheses:

  • A popular uprising similar to Caracazo, but now against the Chavista government;
  • Bloody repression, with a “Syria” version;
  • A Chavista military crisis that forces the government to cede and negotiate an electoral way out.

There may be a combined variant of these first three hypotheses. Or even the consolidation of the post-constitutional Bonapartist regime may occur for a period of time. The continuity of the economic and political crisis tends to reduce this hypothesis strategically
VIII – The support of the reformist left majority to the Maduro coup
The majority of the reformist and centrist left in the world is supporting Maduro’s “constituent” coup. It is not the whole reformist left, but its majority. These are the Stalinist parties around the world, as well as social-democratic parties with leadership cadres of Stalinist origin, such as the PT in Brazil. This is also true of neo-reformist parties such as PSOL (Brazil), Podemos e Izquierda Unida (Spanish State) and Die Linke (Germany). There are also centrist sectors and some who call themselves Trotskyists such as the CWI (International Workers’ Committee) and MAIS (Brazil) in open support for Maduro.
There are also the reformist sectors closest to Social Democracy that are opposed, albeit to a limited extent, as the Left Block (Portugal), Melenchón (France) and a part of the PSOL. In the end, being Maduro’s allies is not good for winning votes. Bachelet, from Chile, spoke out against Maduro’s coup. The Uruguayan government supported the suspension of Venezuela in Mercosur.
There are still centrist sectors, such as the PO, PTS and Nuevo MAS (Argentina), which are opposed to the Constituent of Maduro but refuse to defend “Out Maduro” in a capitulation to the Venezuelan dictatorship.
The reformists and centrists who support the coup are accomplices to the murders of more than 100 people and the prisons of more than 500. And assume their responsibility for everything that can still come, such as consolidation of the coup. They are accomplices of a capitalist dictatorship, giving it a “left” cover. That is a political crime.
They speak in defense of “Socialism” and the “left”. In fact, they play the game of anti-communist propaganda of the bourgeoisie, associating socialism with the capitalist and corrupt filth of Maduro. They help to completely deform the image of socialism, just as Stalinism did. It is necessary that the workers of Latin America and the world know that there is no socialism in Venezuela and that the revolutionary socialists oppose that capitalist and corrupt dictatorship
Reformism and centrism grew tired of denouncing “parliamentary or military coups” against popular front governments and bourgeois nationalists when they did not exist. Now that there is a coup, carried out by Chavismo, they assume their defense.
IX – A program for the country
Out with Maduro!
For a general strike organized from the base to overthrow the government and regime. For a “Venezolanazo” that unifies all the struggles against Maduro!
General Elections Immediately!
Down with repression! Freedom and union autonomy! Free elections in all unions, without State interference.
For the broadest unity of action against the dictatorship of Maduro! Workers must organize and decide on the base, actions against the government.
No support to the MUD that wants to capitalize on the discontent of the population to impose an even worse economic plan.
For the political independence of the workers in relation to the two bourgeois blocs!
For an economic program of workers based on the expropriation of multinationals and large companies. Down with Maduro’s neoliberal plan, as well as the MUD. Oil and gas must be 100% Venezuelan. For the revocation of the Orinoco Mining Arc plan. For non-payment of the foreign debt! Expropriation of Boli-bourgeoisie companies and of all the big companies! Freezing of food prices, and imprisonment and expropriation of speculators.
For the workers’ and popular control of the production and distribution of food! In defense of the poor people, expropriate food from bourgeois companies!
Prison and confiscation of the property of all corrupt and corruptors! Sliding scale of wages according to inflation!
For the self-defense of the workers! We call on the bases of the armed forces to break with their leadership and not to repress the workers and join their arms to the mobilizations.
Neither Maduro nor MUD! For a socialist government of the workers!
For the construction of a revolutionary leadership in Venezuela!
Translated by Corriente Obrera.

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