Federico Fuentes replies to Mike Gonzalez's 'Is Venezuela burning?'

Right-wing protesters.

By Federico Fuentes

February 26, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- I have had a few people ask me what I think of the recent article by Mike Gonzalez ("Is Venezuela burning"), regarding events in Venezuela.

Putting aside the fact he can't even get the name right of the oil minster (Rafael Ramirez, not Rodriguez), here are three things that are wrong with the article.

1) Gonzalez writes: “It is no secret that behind the façade of unity, there is a struggle for power between extremely wealthy and influential groups within government — a struggle that began to intensify in the months before Chavez’s death.”

If this was no secret, then surely there would be a mountain of evidence to prove this. But Mike Gonzalez offers none. A more serious analysis would indicate the opposite: that despite the narrow election victory by Nicolás Maduro in April 2013, the immediately wave of opposition violence and campaign around “fraud”, the ongoing economic war against the government, the municipal elections and the most recent events, there has been no visible signs of fractures in the government.

Even serious right-wing analysts can see this: “What makes Venezuela’s government so different is its absolute dominance of all the main levers of political power. President Nicolas Maduro’s administration wields unquestionable control over the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the oil industry -- the very institutions that could threaten his regime.” (http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-02-25/venezuela-is-no-ukraine.)

Add to that the solid support the government still maintains among working-class and poor Venezuelans and you start to see a very different picture to the one Gonzalez paints of a government on the brink of cracking up.

In fact, the only people who continually speculate about such internal struggles (apart from Gonzalez and a few other leftists) are the gossip columnists in the right-wing media.

None of this is to deny that there are political differences within the government and Chavismo more generally, which brings me to …

2) “All of this is an expression of an economic crisis vigorously denied by the Maduro government but obvious to everyone else.”

Again, it is just plain silliness to claim that the Maduro government is denying economic problems. In fact one of the key triggers of the recent protests (ignored by Gonzalez) was that the government had precisely begun to take measures to address the economic problems, starting with the imposition of set profit margins and accompanying regulations to open company account books.

But Gonzalez’s article goes further and also invents a crisis that does not exist. Let’s just look at what he says and some of the actual figures:

“2012 had seen inflation rates hovering around fifty percent (officially) and the level has risen inexorably throughout the last year.”

Inflation in 2012: 20.1% (http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/economia/inflacion-en-venezuela-cerro-2012-en-20-1.aspx).

Inflation in 2013: 56.2% (http://globovision.com/articulo/inflacion-en-noviembre-fue-de-48-y-la-de-diciembre-22).

That is, it was not around 50% in 2012 and it did not rise inexorably from that imaginary figure (even if it clearly did rise substantially in 2013).

“The shortages are explained partly by speculation on the part of capitalists — just as happened in Chile in 1972 — and partly by the rising cost of imports, which make up a growing proportion of what is consumed in Venezuela".

Value of imports in 2012: US$47.310 billion.

Value of imports in 2013: US$37.802 (http://www.ine.gov.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=48&Itemid=33).

That is the value of imports went down. In fact the value of imports in 2013 was higher in 2007, 2008 and 2009 than it was last year.

“Today, those funds [oil wealth] are drying up as Venezuela’s oil income is diverted to paying for increasingly expensive imports.”

As I showed above, imports are not more expensive. But its also not true that funds are drying up:

Value of exports 2012: US$97.340 billion (http://www.bcv.org.ve/Upload/Publicaciones/anuasectorexterno77-12.pdf?id=458).

I couldn’t find the figure for 2013, but I doubt exports fell by 2/3rds which would indicate Venezuela continues have a nice trade surplus.

I could continue to do the same for almost every other assertion Gonzalez makes. Or point to figures that show despite the “crisis” poverty rates and unemployment continue to fall, unheard of in any other economic crisis. But the main point is not so much the gross errors Gonzalez makes, but why he does so.

Blame

The reason is because what he wants to demonstrate is that the Venezuelan government is just as responsible for the “economic crisis” as the right-wing opposition. To do so he has to make up stuff like the government is going bankrupt, oil money is drying up, imports are skyrocketing while production at home has all but disappeared….All the same stuff that the right-wing media says.

This matters because, as the old saying goes: “If you make the wrong diagnosis, you will never apply the right remedy”.

The right wing says all this to prove that the Chavista economic model of state control and redistribution of oil wealth to meet people's needs will inevitable destroy the economy. They are not the only ones saying this. There are some in the government who disagree with key economic policies, hence the political struggles I referred to above.

This is also true more broadly with the Bolivarian Revolution. For example, Roland Denis, who Gonzalez is so fond of, is part of a group within Chavismo that argues much the same line as Gonzalez when it comes to the government’s economic problems. Unlike Gonzalez, they have put forward their alternative economic policies in the Que Hacer? document.

I’ll let you decide jut how “left-wing” their economic policies are.

Again, none of this is to say there are not economic problems, but behind this debate filled with dubious statistics and assertions is a more important political debate of what should happen to Venezuela’s oil wealth.

3) “What can save the Bolivarian project, and the hope it inspired in so many, is for the speculators and bureaucrats to be removed, and for popular power to be built, from the ground up, on the basis of a genuine socialism — participatory, democratic, and exemplary in refusing to reproduce the values and methods of a capitalism which has been unmasked by the revolutionary youth of Greece, Spain and the Middle East.”

This is all well and good, but ultimately a motherhood statement devoid of any content. I wonder if Gonzalez agrees’ with the alternative policies proposed in the Que Hacer? document as a way to refuse to reproduce the values and methods of capitalism? Who knows? All Gonzalez has to say can be summed up in a slogan “One solution: revolution!”

But this is not the only problem with such statements. Pretty much since 2002, leftists like Mike Gonzalez have been saying the same thing: “Venezuela is at a crossroads, only two options, restore old order or deepen the revolution towards socialism”.

But after 12 years should we ask ourselves some questions like: isn’t it perhaps possible that out of every crisis, the government has taken measures to deepened the revolution, hence why the Bolivarian Revolution is still going and the old elites are not back in power? Isn't perhaps true that implementing some kind of war communism in Venezuela (which tends to be what calls to deepen the revolution amount to) would not be the best course of action? Isn’t it the case that given the current international balance of forces it is possible for the revolution to continue advancing but that conditions do not exist for Venezuela to implement socialism in one country?

These are serious questions that some of the left continue to paper over, preferring slogans to real action.

[Federico Fuentes is an activist with the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network, a co-author of Latin America's Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism and a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia.].

Comments

Wishful thinking

Posted on behalf of Barry Sheppard

Given the mounting massive right wing demonstrations that show no sign of letting up, I think this article by Fred Fuentes is an example of wishful thinking. He says, "Pretty much since 2002, leftists like Mike Gonzalez have been saying the same thing: 'Venezuela is at a crossroads, only two options, restore old order or deepen the revolution towards socialism'."

What is playing out in Venezuela is exactly such a scenario. If the rightist demonstrations can be defeated by a counter-mobilization by the workers and their allies, it will mark a major shift in the balance of class forces against the capitalist class in favor of the working class and its allies. Conversely, if the demonstrations result in accommodation with the capitalists by the government in the name of "peace" and "stability," that will mark a shift in the other direction.

More disturbing is this by Fuentes: "But after 12 years should we ask ourselves some questions like: isn’t it perhaps possible that out of every crisis, the government has taken measures to deepened the revolution, hence why the Bolivarian Revolution is still going and the old elites are not back in power? Isn't perhaps true that implementing some kind of war communism in Venezuela (which tends to be what calls to deepen the revolution amount to) would not be the best course of action? Isn’t it the case that given the current international balance of forces it is possible for the revolution to continue advancing but that conditions do not exist for Venezuela to implement socialism in one country?" 

Who is advocating "war communism" or "socialism in one country"? Not Gonzalez, or the authors of "The Bolivarian Process without Chavez: 2013 a year of uncertainty, 2014 a year of definitions" written before the current crisis and printed in International Viewpoint. The latter article is more thorough and deeper than Gonzalez', and should be reprinted in Links as part of the discussion.

Some time before he died, Hugo Chavez characterized the Venezuelan state as capitalist. We had a very unstable situation of a government that fought for and carried out policies in the interests of the workers, peasants and other oppressed layers, but existing within a capitalist state and capitalist economy. I know the tradition that Fuentes came from (the Democratic Socialist Party before it split) held that with the defeat of the 2002 capitalist coup against Chavez, the capitalist state was smashed and a "workers and peasants state" was established. I'll leave aside that such a two-class state is impossible. Does Fuentes hold this position today?

I would guess not. What he appears to mean is, "Isn’t it the case that given the current international balance of forces it is possible for the revolution to continue advancing but that conditions do not exist for" a workers state to be established in Venezuela?

Given that Chavez was right that a capitalist state still exists in Venezuela, what Fuentes advocates is classical reformism (before reformism became counter-revolution in 1914). That is, the revolution can continue to "deepen," but never reach the overthrow of the capitalist state, at least until the "current international balance of forces" changes. But perhaps I'm wrong, and Fuentes believes the capitalist state was overthrown in 2002 in accordance with the old DSP position. But in that case, the present crisis gives the lie to that position.

Gonzalez's picture ignores actual developments

Barry doesn't respond to the fact that Fred shows that Gonzalez presents a picture that is false. It is disturbing the way many on the far left don’t even seems to even *care* that Gonzalez is wrong, that his facts are wrong, that he relies on innuendo and rumour and that he totally ignores major developments over the past few months, with the government seeking to take the offensive against the economic war and corruption, that are *essential* to understanding two things:

First, the crucial victory in the municipal elections in December, which registered the consolidation of the revolutionary government post-Chavez’s death.

Second, the latest violence – with the government threatening widespread expropriations *just before* the fascist violence.

(This allows Gonzalez uses to conclude: “What has emerged in Venezuela is a new bureaucratic class who are themselves the speculators and owners of this new and failing economy.” Leaving aside the wrong assertion the economy is “failing” -- though there obvious problems -- this is a direct counter to the government and Bolivarian movement’s insistence that it is the capitalists, as part of the imperialist-backed right-wing counter-revolution, sabotaging the economy. In doing so, Gonzalez echoes the lines of the capitalist media in their attacks.

Now, if it was true, then it’s true, you have to say it even if it seems to echo capitalist propaganda. That imperialists pointed to a lack of democracy in Stalinist nations for their own reasons, it did not mean the non-Stalinist left was not obligated to point out the lack of workers’ democracy. But Gonzalez’s points are not actually accurate overall.)

Barry says: "If the rightist demonstrations can be defeated by a counter-mobilization by the workers and their allies, it will mark a major shift in the balance of class forces against the capitalist class in favor of the working class and its allies. Conversely, if the demonstrations result in accommodation with the capitalists by the government in the name of 'peace' and 'stability,' that will mark a shift in the other direction."

At a certain point, that is all true, but there already are mobilisations, and I can't see them stepping away from this perspective.

But these mobilisations are *around* the need for "peace" and stability" -- rejecting right's violence. This hits at the fact that it is the right causing the violence and puts the ball into their court. When Maduro called for a national peace conference, inviting all actors to take part, the Right put demands on the government. The government did not accept the demands and so the conference went ahead... without the right. This helps isolate the right, a fact Capriles is clearly very worried about.

It is true, at a fundamental level, the government faces a choice between mobilising and accommodating, but accommodating is not a serious prospect, not in a fundamental sense. If it was, they would have done it already, yet the dynamic of the Boliviarian movement has been greater radiclisation, though of course not in an even line. The Maduro government has had plenty of time to accommodate, but has moved int he other direction, one of seeking to confront capital and its economic war. And it prepared this with mass meetings and discussions right through the country that took place last year.

And these mass meetings to discuss and take proposals (which took the form of Maduro leading his cabinet on "street parliaments" right across the country for many hundreds of meetings) themselves followed thousands of popular assemblies last December to discuss Chavez's draft socialist six year "plan for the nation" that he took to the preceding presidential elections. These discussed the proposals, made their own proposals, suggested amendments, and a new document based on these discussions was passed by the National Assembly. This is the government's basic program.

No question much is being done poorly, much is frustrated by bureaucracy, but uneven organisation and consciousness, undermined by corruption and ineffeciency and incompetence. But that is the general line of march.

In the face of the current violence, the government faces a question less of whether to mobilise, but *how*. It can be dangerous to impose tactics from afar -- if you mean mobilise working people to directly confront the fascists on the streets, than you are proposing a scenario that comes with real risks of developing into civil war, or steps in that direction.

Weighing up the likely hood of that, and its consequences, is something would weigh very heavily on the minds of the government and Bolivarian militants.

The question of how to proceed in a dangerous situation is tricky -- there is a real danger of demoralisation if the fascists appear to have impunity, but also of worsening the violence in the short term. This leads to difficult tactical calls I am not going to pretend to be able to make from outside -- just to recognise these are the things they have to weigh up.

On the bigger questions. Yes, there is clearly a capitalist state in Venezuela, weakened, which the capitalists having lost direct control over key institutions.

How to advance quicker is not as simple as wishing for it – the relationship of forces internally and internationally are real factors. The material forces, the movement of working people, needs to be in position to impose its power. The struggle to do this is not as simple as saying it needs to happen. For much of the far left, the starting point is programmatic, the ability to point to what needs to happen, not the actual forces themselves, the actual situation, the actual existing mass movement of the oppressed.

Contra to Gonzalez’s bleak outlook that “popular power has withered on the vine”, there are advances. The communal councils, far from withering on the vine, are expanding into communes, described by Chavez as building blocks of a new, revolutionary state. This is still at an early stage, still too underdeveloped and finding its way, but backed by Maduro and the government. Late last year, more than 1000 new communes were registered.

In other areas, the organised workers’ movement remains too weak. It has been frustrated by the state bureaucrats, but has been too weak to impose itself. This is a longstanding material weakness for the movement – to which there is no easy law that can be passed, declaration made or program written to can resolve it, otherwise it would have been resolved by the pro-worker laws, insistence by Chavez and Maduro the working class must strengthen itself and take the vanguard role and PSUV documents written.

The actual Bolivarian movement, with all of its unevenness and contradictions, has worked out its program –uneven, partial, understood in different ways, frustrated by various obstacles – through a mass process that Gonzalez ignores.

Gonzalez ignores the actual plans and struggles to deepen the revolution and revolutionary power that have been developed through a sustained mass democratic process – with no doubt many flaws. And no doubt the outcome is far from perfect. This is the six year socialist "plan for the nation" -- the *actual plan* to deepen the revolution.

That is the actual program of the Bolivarian movement, a mass movement with many contradictions and different forces and perspectives, but one with deep roots. The translated plan drafted by Chavez is here: http://links.org.au/node/3079

Report on some of the mass participation in debating, proposing and amending the plan: http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/7498

Report on the the first passing by the National Assembly of the plan:
http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10214

And there is the product of months long "street parliaments" carried out by Maduro last year, thousands of meetings right across the country to take proposals and discuss what to do next. This was an essential mass process to consolidate Maduro’s government, to carry out widespread discussion on what to do, to hear proposals from the ground and to win through discussion the mass movement on what to do next.
See for instance: http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/9706

Or the struggle to build up the communes -- which is not the grassroots against the government, but the grassroots, encouraged by and with support of the government. That is the *actual* attempt to create "genuine socialism" based on "participatory democracy". (a lot of detail on new developments with communes in recent months at Venezuela Anlyasis, but this analytic piece gives an overview of some: http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10186)

THIS is the context for deepening the revolution, this mass democratic process that Gonzalez totally ignores - because it violates his schema of a "revolution from below" *against* the government.

We may wish this mass Bolivarian movement was more advanced that it is. We may wish it had resolved things it is yet to resolve. We can note its contradictions and flaws threaten to overwhelm it. But it still exists, it is seeking to go forward in the living battle against imperialism that is raging in Venezuela and across Latin America. And the Gonzalez’s of the world, presenting a false picture to justify their own schemas, are not really helping.

Eclectic Avenue

Stuart Moncton's defense of Fred Fuente's article, while bringing a higher level of sophistication to the conversation than the original analysis, is also more revealing of the contradictions which lie at the heart of the Socialist Aliance's political position on the Bolivarian process.

The question Barry Sheppard asked regarding the nature of the present Venezuelan state, (capitalist or workers' state), touches on one aspect of these contradictions, and is symptomatic of the concern and unease that a significant majority of the revolutionary left, not only abroad but in Venezuela itself, have concerning the nature of the present conjuncture at one level, and the very nature of the process itself at another.

In regards to the former, the designation by Jeffrey Webber and Susan Spronk that the decisive battle with the right comes now as their third counter-revolutionary insurrection is set in motion is repeated in article after article by a diverse collection of popular and political organisations and published on the Aporrea.org website, the home page of the Venezuelan revolutionary left. The Webber-Spronk article, much more insightful than the original Gonzales story, in my opinion, condenses thematically the positions of those organisations, many of whom form the central core of the Gran Patriotic Pole, the electoral coalition behind Maduro's squeaker victory in the presidential election.

However, whilst we can argue about this or that aspect of a conjectural analysis; Fuentes says one thing, Gonzales says another, Webber-Spronk says a third, and so on: the real issues here are being skirted, but at least touched on tangentially by comrade Moncton's article. He puts it this way:" For much of the far left, the starting point is programmatic, the ability to point out what needs to happen, not the actual forces themselves, the actual situation, the actual living mass movement of the oppressed."

I believe that position can be restated this way. The revolutionary left, including great sections of the left of Chavismo itself, understand that the present level of intense class struggle can only be resolved by breaking through the thousands of ropes, the capitalist state and its bureaucracy, which have tripped up and hamstrung thousands of initatives by the revolutionary masses, holding back both the material progress of the revolution, and its political consciousness as well. It is the refusal or inability of the leadership of the Bolivarian process to break with the notions of bourgeois democracy, its timidity in the face of the ongoing low intensity civil war (for example, its refusal to pursue and punish the murderers of the more than three hundred peasant leaders which have been assassinated by the latifundistas), which has stalled the revolutionary process. Thus we have a failure to establish a decisive Maduro victory in the presidential elections, and a drop in overall support represented by the declining vote totals for the Bolivarian project.

This is not a fantasy of Mike Gonzalez, but an estimation by a large section of those who have both an intimate knowledge of the situation, and a theoretical framework through which to analyse this knowledge. It is their estimation that there needs to be mass mobilizations to not only confront the fascist right on the streets, but to move more rapidly to break the power of the capitalists who, after all, still control 70% of the Venezuelan economy.

In order to stop the rampant speculation linked to the availability of dollars, the government needs to establish a monopoly of foreign trade and currency exchange. In order to stop the hording of basic foodstuffs and household items, the government needs to nationalise the domestic food distribution system, starting with Polar. In order to finance and control the level of investment, there is need to nationalise the entire banking sector.

All this can be done, not through government decree, but through the active mobilisation of the productive forces involved in these sectors to seize and begin to run these organisms in the interests of the whole society.

In other words, the leadership of the process needs to make a conscious decision to break the power of the indigenous bourgeoisie and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, in order to allow the great creativity and enthusiasm of the Venezuelan people to solve the problems of scarcity, violence, inflation and devaluations, and to allow for the fulfillment of the 6 year plan.

These are the real issues underlying the differences between comrade Fuentes eclectic approach to reportage, and a Marxist way of dealing with these complex questions.

The Bolivarian process did not magically appear from the sky. It was stimulated and organised by a leadership with a political agenda and a political understanding framed by the equation of Stalinism with Leninism. The so-called 21st century socialism, of confining the political struggle within a slavish devotion to bourgeois democratic forms, is really nothing more than a new version of post-1917 Kautskyism.

The "programmatic "left appears more and more to be standing on a ground prepared by Marx, Engels, Lenin , Luxembourg and Trotsky and their understanding of the capitalist state. It is these difference on how revolutionaries should orient themselves to the question of how to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat (as well as the issues posed by a through going understanding of the Permanent revolution) which needs to be discussed in an open and friendly conversation, or so it seems to me.

Reply to Federico & Stuart

Anyone that has had the pleasure of meeting Federico or Stuart, as I have, will know their beliefs are sincere. And neither ever tries to win a debate by shouting. I hope to maintain that standard in my contribution to this discussion.

Stuart is correct the leaders of the opposition boycotted the Peace Conference in February. But their masters did not. Lorenzo Mendoza, the largest capitalist in the country, attended. He was flanked by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce. Readers can judge for themselves whether this corresponds to Stuart's characterisation of the conference as “Maduro isolating the right”. To this readers eyes Maduro was channelling Kerensky at the conference rather than Lenin.

Stuart also mentions elections. In April 2013 Maduro won the presidency by a margin of 1.49 percent over the opposition candidate Capriles on a 79.68 percent turnout. In December 2013 Maduro's party won municipal elections by a margin of 6.52 percent over opposition party candidates. Stuart is quick to attach significance to the December electoral snapshot as indicative of a “consolidation” of support for the government. What he fails to mention is that December saw only a 59 percent turnout. A turnout more like April might have seen a result and margin more like April. Regardless, the December result hardly represents a shift and confirmed that electorally the country remains split between two camps of roughly equal size.

Federico and Stuart remain vague as to their characterisation of the Bolivarian Revolution. Do they believe Chavez and his successors were bought to power by a working class revolution or not? Do they believe the government is revolutionary socialist or not? Can the capitalist state be used as an instrument of socialist transformation or does it need to be overthrown? Does a revolutionary party need to be built in Venezuela or does it already exist? Do the communal councils represent a fusion of economic and political power under democratic workers control like the soviets or not?

Ducking these questions with talk of potentialities and deepening will not do. Nor will references to six year program documents. Concrete analysis of recent history and facts on the ground is demanded. This matters not for the sake of point scoring or schemas. It matters because without an accurate understanding of the nature of the state and government I fear Federico and Stuart risk ending up on the wrong side of the barricades when workers attempts to push the class struggle forward in Venezuela brings them into conflict with that state and government. We have seen this time and again on the left. Over the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over the Arab Spring. Most recently over Ukraine. It must not be allowed to happen again.

Venezuela After Chavez: A Contribution to the Discussion

I am posting here the article referred to by companero Douglas, from the revolutionary Marxist tendency of the PSUV.

Unlike that of Mike Gonzalez, the straw man used by companero Fuentes, this analysis which in some way predicted the revolt of the right, has a much broader and deeper analysis of the situation.

Venezuela

The Bolivarian Process without Chávez: 2013 a year of uncertainty, 2014 a year of definitions

Thursday 30 January 2014, by Alexander Marin, Carlos Carcione, Gonzalo Gomez, Juan Garcia, Stalin Peres Borges, Zuleika Matamoros

When on the night of December 8, 2012 Commander Chávez warned something unexpected could happen, many who refused to believe were forced to recognise the gravity of the situation. The Bolivarian process began to live his biggest test in 14 years. A situation that no one wanted pushed us into a time of big challenges. One that would test the ability of the leadership chosen by Chávez to continue the project. The strength of the project itself would also be tested, and above whether it was ready to move forward at pace set by its driving force: the Bolivarian People.

So this is not just one more balance sheet. It has historic features . Is it possible to advance towards the final conquest of Independence ? Will we be able to break the ties with Venezuela’s dependent and parasitic capitalism ? Will it be possible to move forwards to the remaining tasks of the Bolivarian Democratic Revolution , turning this into a transition to anti-capitalism and socialism ? Will the leaders of the Process be up to the task? Or conversely, will they go all the way in applying the counter reforms demanded by the bourgeoisie and which these leaders have shown some readiness to apply, in exchange for a political system that is not that of the Process? These questions, among others, marked the level of uncertainty that reigned in 2013 and the answers to them will decide the future of the Revolution.

The death of the Commander had the impact of an earthquake. For more than ten days, in a huge parade of loyalty, the Bolivarian People mourned their leader. Over 7 million people paid their last respects and swore to continue the struggle. They did not obey the order to close the doors of the chapel where Chávez lay in state, and as on so many occasions before, they imposed their will. They had not rescued their president from the April coup and the country from the bosses’ lockout to stand outside the gates at this most painful of all the moments of the past 20 years.

They had to see and to swear. And they did, even though just a month earlier, on February 8, the standard of living of the people had received a great blow. The devaluation previously denied by the authorities, was enacted on the Friday before the Carnival holidays, in the best neoliberal style, leaving the people poorer.

Since then, the most serious economic crisis of this period became clear for all to see. It is a crisis which, whether through the passivity, innocence or complicity of sectors of the government, the right-wing opposition turned into a War against the Process, with the aim of defeating it. The numbers of this crisis speak for themselves: inflation at over 50 %, 30 % of shortages in essential goods, gross manipulation of prices, the evaporation of people’s wages, blatant speculation with the parallel dollar, disproportionate growth of the fiscal deficit, the application of gangster-like procedures to appropriate the dollars assigned for imports, among many other things, are the emerging evidence of a structural economic phenomenon: the struggle over the control and distribution of Venezuela’s Oil Rent, which now, without Chávez, the local bourgeoisie and foreign capital associated with key sectors of the state bureaucracy, felt it was time to recapture completely.

Forty days after the death of Commander Chávez, the presidential election gave Nicolas Maduro the slimmest of victories. The country’s streets were stained with blood, 15 revolutionary militants (one associated with Marea Socialista) were killed by the counter-revolutionary call to "express your anger" made by Capriles who would not recognize his new defeat, a crime that remains unpunished. The opposition launched a national and international campaign to further weaken the government. And encouraged the discontent that already existed because of the crisis that its local and international financiers were promoting, turning it into an economic war.

For his part, President Maduro and the government political team, instead of calling on the Bolivarian People, sought the support they thought they had lost in the vote, by building an agreement with leading businessmen and their chambers of commerce, in the vain hope of solving some economic problems those same sectors were creating. You could see the impudence with which Lorenzo Mendoza [1] asked Maduro on national television that the state food companies be handed over to him so that he could get them producing. Yet the fact is you still can’t find the Harina Pan [2] that his companies are supposed to be delivering to retailers. And so, while the government sought stability, yielding to the demands of the employers, the crisis deepened and the situation came close to the brink.

The turning point came on November 6 . When President Nicolas Maduro decided to take emergency measures against speculation and usury, measures that were strongly supported the people. These measures boosted the morale of the Chavista people who were upset, disoriented and, with their discontent about to burst, were pressing for a change of course. The pressure generated a strong current of opinion on the left of the process, leading to a debate and proposals that the government, previously paralysed, took on board. And the beginning of street demonstrations, although quite weak, showed the importance of popular participation in the development of policy. So in the streets and in workplaces, the shift in mood could be clearly felt. You sense that people were in tune with these emergency measures taken by the president. And an important side effect was the disorientation of the opposition, which was left exposed, defending the usurers and speculators, with the purely ideological argument of the defence of private property... that of the speculators. This change was expressed very clearly in the municipal elections on 8 December. We will not go here into the numbers, but in general we support the analysis by Javier Biardeau in his document: “Analyse with a cool head: the electoral difference between government and opposition”, http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a...

First the emergency measures and then the election results gave the government a new lease of life. However, given the structural severity of the crisis, if it does not deepen this new course, the recovery will not last and, indeed, it is already showing signs of running out of steam. Leaving aside the substantive measures such as the creation of a Single Centre for Imports and a Foreign Trade Corporation, which the government has scarcely mentioned since, it seems that the idea is simply to move toward a reorganization of the old scheme of a mixed economy. Moreover, the meeting between President Maduro and the opposition mayors and governors, full of " Christmas goodwill", shows worrying signs in relation to the type of political system the government wants to agree, all in the pursuit of "stability", with the political leaders of a "united” opposition, which has for now run its course and which is beginning to lose credibility among its own supporters.

In 2014, a year with no elections in sight, will see all these points of conflict come into the open. After the economic measures and the municipal elections that gave victory to the government, what we are seeing is the frozen image of a photograph that will burst back into movement. The hostile forces that the government wants to bring together with a call for "peace" – which ever since Chávez came to power in 1999 the oligarchy has shown it does not respect – are irreconcilably opposed to one another and will clash under pressure from the depth of the economic crisis. What position the government adopts in the face of these clashes, which have already started, will determine whether it is strengthened or weakened. 2014, free from electoral distortions, will undoubtedly be a year of definitions.

Putting order in the mixed economy or moving towards a new, independent and sovereign model?

The latest economic announcements suggest that the chosen path is to sort out and clean up the old model of a mixed economy, expanding the opportunities for private capital to accumulate. That means the participation of the bourgeoisie in the distribution of the oil rent. The adjustment of the economy’s highly distorted prices is starting with an attempt to eliminate "subsidies" without touching the structural basis of this distortion, and to administer in a more "orderly" fashion the allocation of dollars for imports.

The promised consultation on increasing domestic petrol prices – a consultation that will not be genuine unless based on a referendum as provided for in the Constitution – is an example of this approach. However, there is no mention of other profoundly outdated prices, like that of wages for example. This is not the place for a detailed study, but just taking the minimum wage and comparing it with the prices of basic goods, it is clear that its purchasing power fell by at least half in the last year. The proposed gradual increase in the price of petrol will have a sharp regressive impact if it is not accompanied by at least a similar adjustment in wages. This said, such a mechanism can only work as an emergency measure.

The policy of regulating prices in the domestic economy through administrative procedures, while necessary in the emergency, has a strongly voluntarist character. It does not take account of the fact that, given the rentier character of Venezuela’s dependent capitalism, these prices are formed in a dispute between different social sectors for the appropriation of oil revenues, that is the wealth captured abroad by selling oil. Therefore, unless the dependence on oil rent is broken, and a new productive model established, these prices which today are held in check with legitimate emergency measures, will not be corrected over the medium and long term through simple administrative regulation.

However, it is not just any productive model that has to be built. If we want to defend the Bolivarian process, and given the evident failure over the last ten years of the mixed economy model, we have to move in the direction of taking structurally anti-capitalist measures. In this sense, to be faithful to spirit of the Bolivarian Process, there are three economic levers that should be applied as the beginning of a plan:

a) Not one more dollar to the bourgeoisie. Absolute state control of oil rents and of the dollars in which this is expressed.

b ) Monopoly of Foreign Trade with strict social control.

c ) State Monopoly of credit allocation, in order to finance the new productive model.

Only in this framework will the correction of prices that profoundly distort the domestic economy, like that of petrol, achieve their objectives. Otherwise, they will feed an inflationary bonfire whose consequences will be suffered first and foremost by who live on their wages. This is why the proposed debate on the price of petrol or that proposed for electricity prices, should be in the context of an overall discussion, including: a new tax system involving the elimination of anti-popular taxes such as VAT, combined with higher taxes on profits, financial speculation and luxury goods, among others. That is a tax regime that makes those who have more, pay more. Similarly, recovery of the dollars stolen from the State through the falsification and manipulation of imports revealed in SITME, and now in CADIVI too, is an essential step in financing the plan. In other words, we say the debate has to look at the whole picture, and not just petrol prices.

What’s behind the social clashes to come

The sense of emerging political stability resulting from the Chavista victory in the municipal elections is the superficial expression of a combination of temporary factors:

a) The emergency measures against usury and speculation that had highly positive impact.

b) Being November and December, it’s the time of year when year-end bonuses are paid, meaning those who work to live get on average two and a half months additional pay.

Once this temporary situation has passed, the crisis will again show its cruellest face. In fact, even if the measures against usury and speculation affecting basic items such as food and property are maintained and extended, as the people hope they will be, and even if they succeed in bringing prices back down to the level they were at last May, wages will not have recovered their purchasing power, because at that point they had already suffered a depreciation of about 30%.

This, coupled with the counter-reforms already being promoted by private sector employers and state-sector managers, which are attacking the economic, social and socio-economic gains won by workers, herald a situation of intense conflicts. Here are some examples:

a) The failure of private companies and ministries to pay their workers’ HCM health insurance contributions, has caused acute problems of medical care. One example is that of teachers; an large part of the country’s 600,000 primary teachers have no health cover, and this at a time when the public health system is in a state of collapse.

b ) The paralisation of important collective bargaining agreements.

c) The inadequate and unfair character of many collective agreements that have been signed, leading to a serious lag in wage levels, as in the case of healthcare workers.

d) Discontent among car workers as a result of a decree intended to control car prices, but which is favouring vehicle importers and damaging the contractual rights of car workers, for example their annual quota to buy cars directly in factories where they work.

e) Dissatisfaction among cultural workers as a result of the decree to intervene in the Teresa Carreño Theatre, decided without consulting the workers and putting at risk the rights they have won.

f ) And the irregular and inadequate functioning of the workers’ and house-to-house MERCALs and PDVALS (subsidised food markets).

There are also other practices under way that for want of a better name we will also call counter-reforms:

a) The anti-trade union policies of the Ministry of Labour that favour the employers. For example, nearly two years without legalizing any new unions. Barriers and obstacles to normalizing the situation of those that already exist. The dismantling of the occupational health and safety system, and the attacks on health and safety reps. Plus the obstacles to trade union normalisation demanded in the Organic Labour Law of the National Electoral Council, the CNE.

b) The refusal of employers to implement key clauses of the new Labour Law, for example in adjusting the working week.

c) Finally, we cannot fail to note that the role of new managements or interventions in state enterprises by the military, is causing increasing discontent among the workers in these companies and a paralysis of production that seems in many cases to be deliberate.

We shall not dwell on this list which of course could be much longer. But it was necessary to spell out some of them because these are the real causes of discontent, which once the holiday season is over, will reappear in full force and lead to conflicts and struggles.

The political expression of these social forces

The conflicts that will develop after the Christmas period is over will take the form of struggles over specific demands and will most likely be isolated from each other. And it’s probable that for this reason they will be unjustly attacked, even though they will not lose their strength and impact. However despite the specific nature of these struggles, they will express the economic and political dispute over the need to build a new anti-capitalist, productive model, as an effective way, from the workers’ point of view, of overcoming the current crisis.

In this period it will become clear if the CSBT (Bolivarian and Socialist Workers’ Central, the main pro-government union confederation) is going to continue playing the role of firefighter is such conflicts, maintaining its extreme dependence on the government. Because if this role does not change radically, workers will not wait for a few leaders far removed from their members, but will take their own path. Reality will push them in this direction. If, as is rumoured, one of the main political advisers of the CSBT is appointed to head the currently lacklustre and discredited Ministry of Labour, the pressure of the workers will also demand that this body take a more forceful role, which it hasn’t done so far. [3] At the same time, because these coming conflicts will be profoundly political, similar in content to the fight that led to the nationalization of the steel works, Sidor, in 2008, they will also put to the test those that currently claim to be the political leaders of the Bolivarian People.

In this sense the role played by the PSUV (Venezuelan United Socialist Party) and the Great Patriotic Pole (the alliance of pro-government parties around the PSUV) in the municipal elections, should not confuse their leaders. If the leadership of the PSUV believes, as it is currently claiming, that the party has consolidated its hegemony as the representative of the Chavista people, it will find itself confronted with an even more serious haemorrhaging of its membership than in the recent past. Strictly speaking, the municipal elections were the PSUV’s last chance but one as the party seen by the Chavista people as their own in the electoral field. In the last few years it has tended to squeeze out grassroots activists and cadre with any critical attitude or even just with political concerns. It has changed its organizational form to make it almost impossible for anyone to play an active part unless they come under the umbrella of one of the various power groups within the government. It has become a party of cronies trading official posts and seeking to control decision making bodies. It functions as an electoral machine that has lost any kind of democratic practice. As a current within the party we can confidently say that this is not just our view, but that of many prominent leaders, cadres and activists whose criticisms are even sharper than ours. In any case, the calling of the PSUV’s long overdue Congress is essential to try to make the profound changes needed in the PSUV as it currently stands.

On the other hand, the parties of the Great Patriotic Pole – and we are talking about the parties that really exist as tendencies within the Bolivarian project, not the shameful electoral franchises that have appeared recently – should reflect seriously on their role. After a good electoral performance in October 2012, they have faded as alternatives to the vices that the Chavista people criticise in the PSUV. The new period we are entering means they too must contemplate a progressive transformation, breaking with clientelism, and promoting democratic practices that make it possible to develop revolutionary policies in a plural and critical way.

In terms of the organization of the political forces of the revolution we are also entering a defining moment. For now, we hope to have the opportunity to present our positions and to feel represented in the Party Congress, so that we can fight there for the transformation of this administrative machine into a living, democratic and pluralistic movement, where different currents of opinion they can feel represented and get heard, and thus help deepen the Bolivarian process in an anti-capitalist direction.

This point would be incomplete if we didn’t also note the profound crisis in the political representation of the right-wing opposition. The municipal elections showed, from the political point of view, and aside from the numbers, the weakness of this opposition as an alternative to Chavismo for working people. Without this support, it is unlikely they will be able to return to government through electoral means. The defeat they suffered on 8 December, more than just electoral, which it is, is political. Their project of "unity", seeking to become the alternative to Chavismo and build a new political system that could fill the space left vacant by the death of Commander Chávez, was defeated. This crisis and its internal dynamics of squabbles over leadership and possible splits, is, for the moment, a factor in favour of the government and its political stability, albeit an unpredictable one. But here too we can expect new developments.

The challenges of 2014 for working people

While continuing to fully defend the gains of the process, i.e. the revolutionary legacy of Chávez, the Bolivarian People, and beyond them, all those who live from their labour, will face three key challenges in 2014. These are the same challenges that will face those of us who, as part of that people, seek to move forward in the transition to socialism. They are:

a) To restore living standards lost in the crisis. Today, in the middle of the Christmas period, people are finding it difficult to maintain their standard of living. The shortages have not gone away, but above all the crisis and the economic war have evaporated the purchasing power of wages. From every rank and file union body, from every Federation, every Workers’ Council, every organised group of workers, the demand must be made loud and clear for the restoration of the family income. This will be to begin with a local struggle, but we must also take it to the national level. Therefore it is essential that from each of these struggles there is pressure on the CSBT to demand of the government a solution to this serious problem.

b ) To use the government’s proposal to discuss price lags as a way of opening up a national debate in which we as working people can outline the new production model of the transition. The task of building this new productive model should be in the hands of working people. We can not wait for a solution to drop from the sky. There are sectors of our working class who have already generated important inputs to this debate, such as the Socialist Guayana Plan. We can begin this debate by discussing in each company the government’s plan to increase the price of petrol. This debate is an opportunity to propose including wages in the prices that are out of date. And it is also an opportunity to ensure that the consultation takes the form of a referendum. In this way we will begin to build from the grass roots the Workers’ Constituent Assembly [4] and kind of production we need to define the new productive model that this Process needs.

c ) To develop the programme and the organisational form of the current, movement, or political party that can represent the left of the Bolivarian process. The year 2013 has clarified the political differences within the Chavista camp over the future course of the Process. Important debates have developed, especially over how to confront the crisis and the economic war. These discussions have shown that the radical left of the Process has important contributions to make, and these were clearly seen in the way the emergency measures were applied. But there are other areas in which the left of the Process has positions and contributions to make, for example in the field of the defence of the democratic rights of social activists like Julian Conrado [5] or Basque Asier [6]. Or the fight against impunity for those who carry out or plan the murders and persecution of social activists, like the indigenous leader, Sabino, [7] or peasant and labour movement leaders. Or the opposition to giving an amnesty to those responsible for the Llaguno Bridge massacre and other crimes committed during the April 2002 coup and sabotage, for example, Simonovis. [8] Or the struggle for the effective implementation of gender rights or in the field of environmental rights. Or the deepening democratic participation in the construction of anti-capitalism and our socialism. Or in the field of workers’ control and social oversight. Or in the area of active and concrete, international solidarity with peoples struggling around the world, like the heroic Palestinian people who are suffering the greatest genocide in history at the hands of the Nazi Israeli regime. Or in many other areas where so many of our currents, platforms and other organisations share the same approach. The development of a shared programme for this political space on the Left of the Process is crucial to make all these positions visible and break the media boycott imposed on critical thinking.

d ) One of the most characteristic features of the Bolivarian process was, from its inception, making visible those hitherto invisible. It began to give voice to those who had had no public voice. Critical thinking was given importance. Fundamental rights were extended to those who had been excluded. As a result there was an intense process of debate and of politicization of the Bolivarian People. Conferences, meetings and a multitude of international activities found in this country a place to meet and discuss, as well as to express their solidarity the Process. Our people came together in squares and streets, but also in a vast array of halls and meeting spaces that could be used for all the essential debates of the Bolivarian Process, without anyone asking which revolutionary organisation had called the meeting or debate. The different spaces available could be used by all, to strengthen the education, organization and awareness of the revolutionary people. Countless groups formed, a strong and vital movement of popular communication was born and developed in the heat of the moment, driven by highly committed activists and often getting support from the State. Community radios and TVs, alternative newspapers, websites, all defending the Process, were the vehicles for hearing the voices those who previously had been silenced and made invisible. Today that democratic and participatory explosion is in danger: the space for debate is drastically reduced, and only those sectors or groups that toe the official "line" get a hearing. Popular and alternative communication is finding it harder and harder to carry out its mission, the frequencies of community radios are squeezed out, there’s no more support for printing popular newspapers, the alternative media that show the people’s struggles or give space to critical voices are coming under pressure, and many of the leading figures of this democratic expression have been removed from the public media. Critical thinking is demonized by those with institutional power. This lively and creative movement, a true expression of democracy, where important sectors of the Bolivarian People could express themselves in all their diversity, is languishing. This was was the everyday demonstration in practice of the democratic approach of the Process and of the Government, which gave the lie to denunciations made by imperialism and the bourgeoisie that the Revolution was undemocratic and that Chávez was a dictator. The recovery of this spirit of diversity of thought, of respect for different currents with the Process, in an open and frank debate, is essential to save the Revolution. Otherwise this will decay or change its democratic and participatory content for the old formulae of formal democracy, where those who "know" speak, where domesticated academics do the thinking, and a single orthodoxy reigns, ultimately suffocating the rebellious and irreverent creativity of our people. The recovery of this spirit and these spaces is one of the central struggles of the next period. It means putting back into action one of the main drivers of the Process: as Bolivar called it, “Morals and Education” (“Moral y Luces"). And this requires encouraging democratic participation, freedom to express differences and respect for critical thinking.

Defending the Government of President Maduro and the achievements of the Bolivarian process from the attacks that may occur, requires increasing effort in the fight against the economic crisis and the war over who appropriates the Oil Rent. This is the main priority now. But this must not stop us from seeing what is at stake in the coming period. That is why we put forward these proposals to shift the course of the Process. The determination of the Chavista People to defend the Bolivarian Process was demonstrated once again on 8 December. Overcoming a year of painful events and uncertainty, they showed their desire for change remains intact. The working people, who responded to President Maduro’s call for the 8D elections, and proved their strength, now face the coming struggles to defend the gains of the Process. That’s why 2014 will be a year of definitions.

24/12/13

Marea Socialista

Footnotes

[1] Lorenzo Mendoza is President of Empresas Polar. Usually described as the largest private company in Venezuela, and the second largest company after the state oil company, PDVSA, it has a dominant position in the food and drink sector. It has been run by the Mendoza family since it was founded in 1941

[2] One of the most basic Venezuelan commodities, the flour used to make the typical arepas, and produced by Empresas Polar.

[3] It seems that Oswaldo Vera, the adviser referred to, turned down the post. In January’s cabinet reshuffle, Jesus Martinez was named Minister of Labour. He is a labour lawyer linked to the Liga Socialista and the Movement for Workers’ Control. There are important debates and differences here, over just how much “control” the still incipient experiences of workers’ control should have, and over the relation with trade unions. Martinez appears to be of the school that thinks the trade unions, since we already have a socialist government, should not fight for demands over wages and conditions, but concentrate on boosting production. (Translator’s note)

[4] The proposal for a Workers’ Constituent has been mooted in parts of the trade union and Bolivarian movement for several years. The idea would be to bring together all sections of organised labour to discuss and propose a new framework for the full range of issues facing Venezuelan workers, from collective contracts and labour rights to workers’ councils and workers’ control.

[5] Julian Conrado is the nom de guerre of a Colombian revolutionary singer-songwriter, and also an ideologue of the FARC. His detention inside Venezuela, at the request of the Colombian authorities, came as part of the rapprochement between the Hugo Chávez and the new Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos. It caused deep misgivings, or indignation, among many on the left of the Bolivarian movement. Shortly after this text was written, the Venezuelan government announced that Colombia had withdrawn its extradition request and that Julian Conrado had travelled to Havana to join the FARC’s negotiating team in the peace talks underway there.

[6] Asier Guridi is a Basque activist, allegedly part of ETA’s “logistical apparatus”, who went into exile in Venezuela over a decade ago. Venezuelan Intelligence arrested him in September 2013, apparently under pressure from its Spanish and French counterparts.

[7] Sabino Romero was a leader of the Yukpa community in their struggle against landowners and coalmining concessions in the Perija Hills of western Venezuela. He was shot dead by hired gunmen on 3 March 2013.

[8] 19 Venezuelans, including both opposition and Chávez supporters, were shot dead on 11 April 2002, most of them close to the Llaguna Bridge in the centre of Caracas, apparently by Metropolitan Police snipers. The opposition falsely blamed the incident on the Chávez government and used it as a pretext for their failed coup of the following days. Ivan Simonovis was head of security for the Caracas metropolitan government at the time. He was jailed in 2004 for his part in the massacre. The opposition currently run a high-profile campaign for the release of their “political prisoner”. The government has given signs it might consider releasing him on grounds of his poor health.

dsp

As a side issue, I wanted to clear away this question of *what the DSP* (a party that no longer exists) actually said, seeing as Barry raises it. Barry’s comment on the DSP isn't actually accurate. (Even if it was, it doesn’t strike me as especially relevant. Sometimes, the far left is far too self-referential -- what matters most is how what is happening in Venezuela relates back to an assessment made a decade ago by a small left party, which no longer exists, at a meeting in Sydney.

The position that the capitalist state was smashed by the defeat of the 2002 coup was never the position of the DSP. It was the position put by the comrades who formed the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), who are now party of Socialist Alternative.

True, they argued it was the position of the DSP, a fact made possible by the somewhat confusing and imprecise (even a little odd) formulation we can up with, that didn't lend itself to clarity: that there was an “embryonic workers’ and peasants state”. This formulation, first used from memory in a Links article by the late Doug Lorimer, was adopted at a national council meeting of the DSP in November 2004 that I presented.

There is no copy of the report online, but it stressed it was NOT arguing that there was a workers state, rather that the structures of a workers state existed in embryo – that that meant exactly , but it was intended to described a situation where capitalists had lost control of the government and military and embryonic counter-state existed. Of course, that is so vague and confusing it can mean different things to different people, but in the report I gave I stressed the struggle *remained* to “raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy”, as Marx described it in the Communist Manifesto.

I think it was a ridiculous piece of trying to create a theory to deal with a complex reality difficult to capture in cleverly worded formulas and it helped cause confusion . That said, most of what the DSP in those days was doing and trying to do was understand and explain Venezuela, and while that bizarre formula didn’t help, it was not the main way we went about it. We did a pretty good job of trying to understand what was occurring on the ground in Venezuela *despite* the fact we had invented a silly formulation.

Here is how the question was put in a DSP NE report in 2008 that sought to clarify our position: “To summarise: In Venezuela, the dictatorship of capital has been badly weakened by the revolutionary movement, but it has not been overthrown. The November 2004 National Committee report on the Venezuelan revolution stated that the “battle of democracy” between the competing class forces — which class will govern — had not been yet won by working people.

The struggle for power is unfinished. While the revolutionary movement has won the government, and the forces of capital (which, in Venezuela, is first and foremost imperialist capital) have been unable to overthrow it and place government back into the hands of pro-imperialist forces ...”

(2008 DSP NE report http://www.dsp.org.au/node/217)

Referring to the February 2007 DSP NE report (adopted unanimously including by members of the faction that became the RSP), it said: “The best formulation is the one we used in last year’s reports – that of a workers and farmers government. This indicates that capital has lost control of government, but the working people are yet to conquer state power and break capital’s power.” 2007 NE report: http://www.dsp.org.au/site/?q=node/162)

For what is worth, looking back I’d probably put things a bit differently in the two DSP NE reports that are online, but, broadly speaking, the working people’s government as described above is not a bad way to out it. However, it does not, and cannot, fully capture what is happening. And the point of reference for that is not anything a small left group halfway around the world said in reports (that probably had value as educational contributions but should never have been adopted as a “line”) but what is happening in Venezuela itself.

Mike Gonzalez

Thanks Fred
Awesome article. I was trying to find time to respond to that Gonzalez crap. His article in reality is rightwing as you demonstrate. having read some his stuff from years ago it seems he stopped reading anything about Venezuela in 2005 and has made no serious analysis since. At that time, and every turning point since Gonzalez has expected the collapse of the Bolivian revolution. His expectations express his hopes, that nothing could contradict his doctrinair wisdom. Keep up the good work.

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