By Stuart Munckton
May 27, 2008 -- The two Venezuelanalysis.com articles below, by Kiraz Janicke (a member of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau and Venezuelanalysis.com journalist),
give a feel for the increasingly
intense struggle that is taking place within
the Chavista camp.
``Venezuela gets ready to choose candidates for regional elections''
``Controversy erupts over nominations for PSUV candidacies in Venezuela''
-- http://www.venezuelanalysis. com/news/3494
In fact, as articles from
the GLW Caracas bureau among a fair
few others have pointed out in recent times, the key struggles in Venezuela are
occurring within the Chavista camp — and the outcome of this struggle will play a major role in determining the fate of the Venezuelan revolution.
This can be seen by the
way that serious internal problems in 2007 undermined the ability of the revolution to mobilise in favour of the
constitutional reforms in the December 2 referendum (which was narrowly
defeated, mostly as a result of widespread abstention from people who had voted
for Chavez for president one year earlier). This resulted in the first electoral
victory for the imperialist-backed counter-revolutionary opposition. This
victory put some wind back in the contras' sails after repeated demoralising defeats.
A certain amount of this analysis
is my speculation based on following the situation, including informal
discussions with the comrades in the GLW
Caracas bureau (although responsibility for the analysis, excluding points that have already been
raised in GLW articles by the bureau
comrades — that is currently Janicke plus Federico Fuentes — is entirely my
I think this
struggle is still developing, and the exact nature of different events and the
role of different forces is not entirely clear. Nonetheless, this is my attempt
to providing a framework to help explain the situation.
It is critical to note,
as has the commentary from the GLW Caracas bureau, that this
internal struggle is a reflection of the class struggle. On one side, capitalist
elements within Chavismo (in some cases — such as Diosdado Cabello,
governor of Miranda and a capitalist who is widely seen as a figurehead of the
"endogenous", or internal, right wing — the capitalist interests are
direct). On the other, there are
the interests of the "grassroots" Chavistas — the great mass of
urban poor, the working class, campesinos and other oppressed sectors such as
the indigenous minority (which can collectively be termed the "popular
This struggle is still
unfolding and the division is far from complete — for instance, often sections
of the latter are tied to the former through a "clientalist"
relationship based on access to wealth and power, and lent on for support.
Not only are the differences and alignments still fluid and far from finalised, but it would be wrong to imply that there is any kind of homogenous bloc on either side. Rather than the endogenous right being a united bloc, it appears to be much more of a series of often competing cliques and power blocs. For instance, the mayor of Greater Caracas, Juan Barreto, and the mayor of Libertador (a popular sector of Caracas), Freddy Bernal, are both right-wing Chavista bureaucrats who are also at war with each other. Both sides mobilise supporters to control organisations in their areas and seek to keep out the other side.
The popular sector, too, is dispersed into a wide range of organisations and sectoral struggles. This is a key weakness that helps the endogenous right maintain its institutional dominance. As well as this organisational weakness, there is also the unevenness of political consciousness and lack of political experience among the popular sector. A generalised distrust and even hatred of the bureaucratic elements sabotaging the revolutionary process doesn't equal a clear understanding of what is the cause of the problem or what to do about it.
Weaknesses in political consciousness make the popular sector more vulnerable to being coopted by one section of the bureaucracy or another. When the frustration with the right-wing bureaucrats becomes a rejection of ``politics'' altogether, some grassroots activists get seduced by a sort of soft corruption, whereby they able to secure funding for their communal council or other grassroots projects to solve the needs of their community in return for voting the right way in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). A perfectly genuine community activist can get sucked into this process if their attitude is ``the politicians are all fucked anyway''.
Through the framework of the PSUV, both of these weaknesses (organisation and consciousness) could potentially be overcome, although not without significant struggle.
All of this is playing
out through the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which unites the majority of the various and often
competing sectors and interests in the Chavista camp. A defining aspect of this
is the role of President Hugo Chavez himself, who has repeatedly sought to
radicalise the Chavista movement and encourage the increasing organisation and
mobilisation of the popular sectors.
However, Chavez himself
can't make "popular power" a reality through speeches or decrees. It
requires the self-activity of the oppressed. This is something the right wing
of the Chavista camp are opposed to (openly or otherwise) and seek to
undermine, as it represents a direct threat to their institutional control.
In a country in which the
economy is so twisted around a state-owned oil industry, institutional
positions are particular important to ensure access to the oil rent, which in
turn can be used, through its selective distribution, to build up political
This is a continuation within the Chavista camp of
the corrupt, anti-democratic practices that marked the period from the fall of
the dictatorship in 1958 until Chavez's election as president in 1998 (on the
back of a rejection of these practices) within the Chavista camp.
However, the Chavista
right are not the same as the openly counter-revolutionary right-wing
opposition, which is are directly tied to Washington.
The Chavista right are tied to gains made so far by the revolution, such as
bringing the oil industry under full state control. This move affected the
interests of Washington and the Venezuela elite
— which used the oil industry as an essentially private company and were preparing
its full privatisation. Returning the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA,
to the hands of a pro-imperialist elite (which would quickly privatise it if it
could) would undermine the interests of the Chavista right wing, which depend
on access to the oil wealth.
Having wrested control of
the oil industry from the pro-imperialist forces that had already partially,
and wanted to fully, handed it to the oil multinationals, the battle withinthe Chavista camp moved on to "what
Is it the first step on
a much deeper and profound transformation of Venezuelan society, as part of a
Latin American revolution? This is what Chavez and the left argue for. This aims to
increasingly subordinate the economy to the needs of the Venezuelan people —
which, to become a reality, requires increasing the control of the Venezuelan
people over the economy as part of controlling society. In other words, towards
Or, will the new control
over oil and other sectors of the national economy (seeking to be developed
through investing the oil rent as opposed to seeing that wealth flow to US bank
accounts as in past) be the basis for a new elite, whose positions depend both
on as much independence from imperialism as possible, on the one hand, and the
subordination of the popular sectors on the other.
This can be seen with the
battles with the bureaucracy and sections of the Chavista camp over the
question of workers' participation in state industries. The movement for
"co-management" was been almost totally defeated, besides a
couple of pockets.
This indicates, as is
widely recognised in Venezuela,
that battles are not resolved by simply having a company owned by the state. A
state-owned company poses the question of on behalf of who is it being controlled and run?
Much of the existing state is corrupt and rotten, and it is understandable see
"co-management" as a threat to vested interests.
In the chapter on
Venezuela in his book Build it Now, Michael Lebowitz pointed
to another, more genuine, argument for not supporting co-management in
"strategic sectors" of the economy — the mixed consciousness of
relatively privileged workers in these areas. However, he argued the only way
to overcome backward consciousness among relatively privileged workers is to
directly involveme them in broader issues posed by participating in running a
Here we can say that
these competing projects were inherent within the Bolivarian movement from its
begninnings. I think it would be an error to just see the Chavista right as
"infiltrators" of the revolutiomary camp, although no doubt there
are plenty of bureaucrats who, seeing which way the wind was blowing, have
simply jumped to be where the power is.
Nor is it a simple case
of decent revolutionaries degenerating when tempted with the spoils of power,
though again no doubt this is a factor. The project of the Chavista right
has been there from the beginning.
In fact, if anything, you
could argue that it is the Chavista right who have been betrayed! The initial
program of the revolution was much more moderate, based on a pro-capitalist
development of the Venezuelan economy by breaking the most oppressive
imperialist chains. The program of the revolution has radicalised through the
struggle, with Chavez consciously leading this process.
While plenty have taken
the path of radicalisation, what of the forces who don't agree? Some have
broken with Chavismo and joined the opposition, but it would be naive in the
extreme to assume a lot haven't stayed where the power is, tailing the
radicalisation and accumulating wealth and privileges through institutional
Former Chavista defence
minister Raul Baduel jumped ship last year and joined the opposition. It would
seem to me wrong to put this down simply to the outright treachery — of
Baduel succumbing to temptation and selling out. Baduel was central
to the counter-coup that restored Chavez
to power in 2002 and he has said he was offered large amounts of money to turn against Chavez in the subsequent period. Yet he didn't.
Then why jump ship in
late 2007? The most obvious answer would seem to be that Baduel was willing to
go with the revolution for a certain way, but not as far as Chavez was insisting it
go — towards a revolutionary democracy
The process of more
right-wing forces breaking off has been occurring since the beginning of
Chavez's presidency. Assuming the drive to deepen the revolution continues, it
would be a big mistake to assume these struggles have finished.
The "sowing of the
oil" into the social missions and programs to develop the economy is an
open-ended project. It could, ultimately, be made to serve the more moderate
project of the Chavista right or the deepening of the revolution to genuinely
meet the needs of the popular sector.
Regardless, it certainly upsets
imperialism — the last thing imperialist capital wants is the wealth it thought
was its own being spent on pointless (from its perspective) projects teaching
the Venezuelan urban poor to read and write.
However, that doesn't
make the political projects (those of both the Chavista right and the popular sectors) equal
in terms of their likelihood for success or the degree to which they challenge
imperialism. The process of change is being driven forward by the popular masses — who have
fought to defend it on the streets, who are making it a reality in barrios with
the missions, through taking over unused land and forming cooperatives, taking
over closed factories etc.
This defence of the Chavez government against the counter-revolution has protected the positions and interests of the Chavista right from their pro-imperialist opponents. As much as the right-wing
might seek to ride this movement and control it so it can be bent to the right wing's interests, they also depend on it.
Every time the Chavista
right seeks to squash the independent self-activity of the popular sector
because it is a threat to their own interests, they undermine the mass movement
that underpins the anti-imperialist government and thus open up space for
imperialism through the local counter-revolutionary opposition. Whether the
Chavista right likes it or not, in this way they threaten their own positions.
This just proves a key point
that Che Guevara argued: It is the alliance of workers and peasants that is
capable of carrying out a consistently anti-imperialist revolution. The local
elites (old or new) cannot be considered a consistent ally. (See ``Cuba: Exceptional case of vanguard in the struggle against colonialism?'', http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1961/04/09.htm.)
This is also a big
factor currently playing out in the PSUV primaries, whereby the right-wing moves
that undermine democracy and frustrate the will of the grassroots threatens to
hand electoral victories to the opposition.
This (at least formally) democratic process of having the ranks select candidates is a big step forward and a first in Venezuela. However, like every other aspect of society, it has rapidly become a new battlefield for the unfinished struggle between competing class interests over Venezuela's direction.
institutional control, including in the PSUV, the Chavista right seeks to
undermine moves that increase the self-activity of the oppressed, which is a
direct threat to their interests.
Despite an official
government position of promoting the greatest amount of popular power, the
interests of the Chavista right wing are protected in large part by
the fact that the popular forces are too weak to defeat them — a situation that
could be altered through increased organisation and involvement of the popular
forces in controlling their own affairs.
The relationship of
forces sees an official "forward to socialism" discourse while,
behind that discourse, all sorts of vested interests work to try and sabotage
this very project. The other side of this (intersecting into it) is the
mass movement and the various grassroots struggles attempting to advance on various
The vested interests have a large amount of
institutional weight within the state and the Chavista camp (but far from
total). The vested interest is often the ability to control these very
positions. However, for all their institutional
weight, these right-wing forces don't have the political initiative. The
discourse, in large part driven by Chavez, is radicalised. The right-wing bureaucrats, who owe their
positions to an association with Chavez, are forced to trail along behind, giving
lip service to socialism and deepening of the revolution, popular power etc.,
even while they seek to undermine these very goals to protect their positions
This combines with the struggle from below to solve the problems facing the
popular sector — around land reform,
problems in the barrios, workers' struggle etc. These problems demand increasingly
radical action, with struggle around them bringing about a series of partial
gains. In none of these areas are the gains anything more than partial.
This class struggle within the revolution sets the stage for the sort of battles
occurring now for pre-selecting PSUV candidates for the November regional
elections. This is a big question because the right-wing forces depend on
controlling as many of these official positions as possible on the one hand. On
the other the grassroots are pushing to get rid of hated Chavista bureaucrats
that sabotage the process and ensure elected officials respond to the grassroots interests.
This is no small question for the
revolution — unless the candidates reflect the popular will and generate popular
enthusiasm, it can be expected the opposition will make significant gains in
However, the Chavista right don't seem to care. Their own ability to determine
the candidates and take the positions is more important to them than the needs
of the revolution overall and they seem determined, where possible, to enforce
hated and discredited bureaucrats as the candidates. (The Bolivar state
governor Francisco Rangel Gomez, who is despised and would probably fail to be
re-elected governor, mentioned in both articles being a classic example.)
The first article gives an indication of the initial push by the right wing to
force some thoroughly undemocratic things through. An example was the exclusion
of the popular and respected Chavista mayor Julio Chavez from the list of
pre-candidates for governor of Lara. It was announced that he had withdrawn from the
race, which was a lie. In fact, he had resisted pressure to withdraw, and then
found that the announced list of candidates didn't include his name.
Julio Chavez is popular because he has democraticised his administration in the
Pedro Leon Torres
Municipality in the state
of Lara and created a genuine model of popular power (see http://www.greenleft.org.au/2007/710/36850).
Instead, the candidate of the right is Henri Falcon — a man who, after breaking
the rules by pre-announcing his candidature, was said to have been expelled. He
then suggested that he would run for Podemos (the social-democratic party that
split from the Chavista camp to joint he opposition)! Then it was announced he
wasn't expelled and he was back in the running as a potential PSUV candidate.
According to the Chavista right, we can't
have a tested revolutionary respect for commitment to the program and values
of the revolution, we should have a bureaucrat who expressed his willingness to
run under the banner of the traitors!
We see attempts to impose Rangel Gomez in Bolivar, infamous for being
anti-union and whose role in the brutal repression of the Sidor steel workers
during their industrial dispute points strongly to his direct involvement. And we see other disturbing decisions such
as allowing candidates to organise their own transport for supporters to come
and vote (i.e. candidates are free to pay for the bussing in of masses of people
on the grounds they will vote for them).
However, the second article indicates the counter-push from the ranks. Public
protests were held against exclusion of Julio Chavez (which explicitely
targeted Falcon as a key figure of the Chavista right).The bureaucrats backed down (after an intervention
by President Hugo Chavez on the side of his namesake). Plus there is the push against Rangel Gomez
in Bolivar, with moves to bring him to account for corruption as well as launch
an investigation over his role in the brutal repression by state police and the
National Guard against the steel workers.
The rank and file chant reported in the first article, at the entry of Julio
Chavez to the stage in Lara, of ``If the people don’t stand firm, the Right will
screw it up'', indicates the mood.
Like at the PSUV founding congress, which finished in March, given the
relationship of forces, it would seem unlikely that one side or the other will
be able to score a decisive victory in the primary elections (especially as the
nature of the battle is still unclear for many people, as the process is still playing
However, it will be a question of how
relatively good or bad it will end up being. The congress ended up relative good
— a revolutionary program was adopted, and the right was punished to a certain
degree in elections for the PSUV leadership.
The initial moves by the right in the primaries shows that this victory was
only relative and they still hold much weight. But the response also shows
there is momentum for the rank and file too. Hugo Chavez's early intervention
in defence of democracy is a good sign. Like with the steel workers' dispute,
his intervention backed the popular sectors.
The victory of the Sidor steel workers,
with the nationalisation of the company followed by the signing of a contract
that met many of the workers' demands, is very important in this context — as
was the subsequent sacking of the right-wing labour minister who had backed
Sidor management over the workers. It comes as part of an offensive by the
government against the sabotage of the capitalist class that has seen a series
of takeovers of land and plants. It indicates the willingness of the government
to back the popular sectors and gave much needed momentum to the weak and
divided workers' movement.
However it was only one victory in one
sector. It hasn't by itself displaced the power of the right in general, even
if it was a victory for, and has given confidence to, the popular sectors.
Now there will be new battles within
the nationalised steel company over the question of workers' control or
co-management (with the workers pushing for involvement in its running). That
is, who will actually exercise control over the newly nationalised company and
in whose interests will it be run?
Hopefully, the momentum will be there
for the a victory for the grassroots in the primaries, although this will only occur through a big struggle. Recent
victories give cause for optimism.
While this still internal struggle is still
developing, and much remains to be made clear about where various forces and
individuals stand, the outcome will go a long way to determining the fate of
the first revolution of the 21st Century.
[Stuart Munckton is co-editor of Green Left Weekly and a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency within the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]