Venezuela: The Constituent Assembly is a strategic decision

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By Carlos Eduardo Morreo, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

1. The Constituent Assembly is strategic

The initiative by the government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro to convene a National Constituent Assembly with ‘originary powers’, disrupts the dynamic of confrontation against the government by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition and those who support this political instrument. After more than a month of street protests and mobilisations by the opposition, the constituent initiative may shift the spaces of confrontation, from the highways and the codes of violence, to texts, political negotiation and discourses regarding the Venezuelan state. It is also important to recognise that the opposition coalition, on the streets of Venezuela and within the National Assembly, and widely supported by the “common sense” of global media and the “international community”, not only opposes “chavismo in government”, but equally disavows a broader and critical chavismo that does not necessarily identify with the government of president Maduro. Nevertheless, president Maduro’s initiative now puts this broad and critical chavismo in a complex situation, in which it faces a strategic decision. It must judge whether the “legacy of Hugo Chávez” is anchored mainly in the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 or if this popular and critical chavismo, the chavismo of communes and community councils, the chavismo of social movements, the chavismo that speaks of anti-capitalism, and of a post-oil society, and the chavismo that often challenges the government and the state apparatus, has broader horizons. The coming to power of an opposition-led government - a likely scenario given the electoral calendar and recent polls - would lead to the affirmation of the apolitical entelechy that Europeans and career politicians in Anglophone countries refer to as “centrist governments”: Governmental forms that are either “economically orthodox and socially progressive” or “economically orthodox and socially conservative”; with forms of political management that are built on a thorough denial of the political and by means of a technical understanding of the economy. All that which we have learnt to commonly denounce as “neoliberalism”. While it is true that this popular and critical chavismo, in recent years, has tried to create political options in Venezuela, it has also been thwarted by sections of governmental chavismo acting from within the state. Thus, the strategic nature of the decision to be taken after president Maduro’s call for a constituent assembly. Whether to lose for now any capacity of shaping the state by having governmental chavismo routed in the overdue state elections and next year’s presidential vote? To facilitate the erasure of the Bolivarian process and the language of socialism through a “centrist” MUD government? Or rather, by means of the constituent initiative, whose radical appropriation would still be necessary, build the political and electoral scenarios for an other chavismo?

2. The political sectors in the Constituent Assembly

As someone on the left who identifies with this broader chavismo, and in particular with what has been termed “critical chavismo” — the orientation of groups such as Socialist Tide (Marea Socalista), the Platform in Defence of the Constitution, and that of other political organisations and radical unions within Venezuela — the positions I take on Maduro's government reflect my valuing of Marxist theory and critique, decolonial thought, and the formidable archive of Latin American emancipatory thought. But beyond these theoretical paths, and the recognition of the oil structure of our political economy and the challenges that this reality poses for the country, is an acknowledgment of the significant errors made by the Chavez government; the state’s inability to address the corruption surrounding foreign exchange controls and the mechanisms for importing medicines and foodstuffs. Problems that have been denounced in numerous occasions by former Chávez-government ministers. Nevertheless, despite the political conjuncture that President Maduro’s call for a constituent assembly represents, there is a real possibility of working for the changes that critical chavismo seeks. For this reason, the constituyente may be an option for political work. President Maduro has proposed a constituent assembly that privileges the political sectors over which the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and governmental chavismo believes it has greater sway. However, it is equally true that these political spaces — communes and workers’ councils, among others — are not merely party spaces. A liberal view of politics would propose a different approach to the constituyente - one that would not enact nor recognise a class distinctions, nor the racial and colonial dynamics of our present. Instead, a liberal view would insist on the abstract equality of individuals and citizens. Not sharing such an ahistorical view of the political, I would be willing to support a sectoral approach to elections for the constituent assembly. However, the political debate has already been raised with president Maduro’s call. Different visions of the political can now be confronted, that of opposition groups close to the MUD, that of President Maduro and governmental chavismo, as well as that of a broader and critical chavismo. A space for political negotiation has now been opened. Carlos Eduardo Morreo is researcher in the School of Politics and International Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra and a convenor with the Institute of Postcolonial Studies in Melbourne. Between 2008 and 2009 he worked in Venezuela’s Ministry of Popular Power for the Environment. This article was originally published in Spanish in the Venezuelan left website on 6 May 2017 Twitter @carlosmorreo /