Venezuela: Maduro says it is time to end cohabitation and coexistence with the bourgeoisie

maduroOn 6 December, legislative assembly elections were held in Venezuela which were disastrous for the ruling progressive Chavista government since they resulted in an opposition coalition (MUD – Movimiento de la Unidad Democrática) gaining a two-thirds majority in the legislative assembly. This critical majority is just enough to enable the opposition to cause serious disruption to the implementation of the policies of the governing executive power in Venezuela controlled by the Chavista PSUV, which is not due for re-election until 2019. In the meantime it will be so crippled by an antagonistic Legislative Assembly to have been correctly labelled a ‘Lame Duck’ government by Kejal Vyas in the Wall Street Journal of 15 December.

The powers of the Legislative Assembly to cause trouble to the Venezuelan government are significant:

A two-thirds majority gives the opposition all of the institutional weapons necessary to reverse many of the key transformations of the Venezuelan state achieved by the Bolivarian Revolution over the last seventeen years.

“They will now be empowered to revoke critical revolutionary legislation such as the Organic Law of Communes, the Organic Work and Workers’ Law (LOTTT), among numerous others, repeal international treaties such as the ALBA-TP and PetroCaribe, as well as pack the Supreme Court with an eye towards impeaching President Nicolas Maduro .” (Lucas Koerner,’Facing Opposition Onslaught, Chavismo Must Return to Roots’,, 9 December 2015).

And furthermore:

The constitution, rewritten and amended under Chávez, gives the opposition means to fight back. After its election win it can reject the government’s budgets and veto the president’s longer foreign trips. With a two-thirds majority of the assembly, the MUD can dismiss and appoint Supreme Court judges and members of the electoral commission. This is not a straightforward process. To unseat a judge, the assembly must charge him with a ‘grave offence’, which must be seconded by one of a trio of government-appointed officials. The assembly can impeach ministers more easily, but the government can then appoint his or her successor.

The constitution allows for more drastic measures. With its ‘supermajority’ the MUD could summon a convention to rewrite the constitution. More likely is a move to initiate a referendum to recall Mr Maduro from office, which would be followed by a new presidential election. This would require the signatures of a fifth of the electorate, and could happen starting in early 2016 (when Mr Maduro will have served half of his six-year term). If he is recalled after the early part of 2017, the vice-president would serve out the rest of Mr Maduro’s term .” (‘Reasons to celebrate’, The Economist, 12 December 2015).

What all this amounts to is the largely comprador bourgeoisie now controlling the legislature, while the working class and oppressed classes generally are now controlling the executive power. The military is believed still to be firmly in the hands of the Chavistas, though there can be little doubt that the bourgeoisie – overwhelmingly made up of white people of Spanish descent – and its imperialist backers will have been working overtime to reverse that situation, and it yet remains to be seen what success they have achieved, if any.

Notwithstanding the powers that the opposition now have to attack the Venezuelan revolution, the progressive classes are not without powers. The most potent constitutional power is the presidential power to make laws without recourse to the legislature at all, a power that could prove really meaningful so long as the government can continue to rely on the support of the Venezuelan army:

Maduro currently holds enabling powers that were granted to him by the National Assembly in March 2015 to shield the country from US aggression, after US president Barack Obama signed an executive order designating Venezuela as an ‘extraordinary threat’ to US national security .” (‘Venezuelan Communist Party & Trade Unions ask President to pass Workers’ Councils Law’, Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, Venezuelanalysis, 15 December 2015).

The Venezuelan Communist Party is advocating that Maduro should pass laws giving ‘workers’ control’ to Workers’ Councils. This might provide the means to enable working-class organisations to seize the reins of economic power, and is something that Hugo Chávez promised but has to date never been implemented. The appropriate legislation has been in draft stage for many years and the draft currently contains 17 different articles which, if passed into law, ” would set the stage for bringing key areas of the economy under workers control; including the planning of national production in conjunction with the government and using workers’ councils to audit the use of resources. The PCV has described the law as transcendental in the ‘transition’ from capitalism to socialism in Venezuela .” (Ibid). We will consider below to what extent this measure would be sufficient.

Should the Chavistas fight back at all when they clearly lack an electoral mandate?

Naturally, if the President were to rely on enabling laws on the pretext that they are necessary as a counter to US imperialist interference, this would be decried as dictatorial and undemocratic in the light of the ‘clearly expressed will of the Venezuelan people to see the back of the revolution’. However, the fact is that, contrary to superficial appearance, the Venezuelan people, far from wanting to see the back of the Bolivarian revolution, in fact want to see it deepened, and quickly.

As Lucas Koerner (op.cit.) points out: “… while the opposition has indeed won a super-majority and the concomitant legal power to pursue these changes, this does not necessarily mean that they have a popular mandate to carry out such a reactionary agenda.

“That is, they have won an election widely viewed as a punishment vote against the ruling PSUV amidst a severe economic crisis, but they have not, however, reconstituted neoliberal hegemony.

“Polls have long shown that the vast majority of the Venezuelan people support the radical social democratic initiatives of the Bolivarian Revolution, including the social missions, as well as measures to defend the working class, such as food price regulations and periodic minimum wage increases. Likewise, over two-thirds of the population oppose neoliberal policies, such as the privatization of the state oil company PDVSA or of the state electric company CORPOLEC.

“Across the continent, neoliberalism remains deeply discredited, forcing the right to hide behind center-left discourse and/or revert to mediatized cultural sound-bites. In 2013, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles sought to market himself as the rightful heir to the late Hugo Chávez, promising to continue the social missions as well as other social democratic policies of the Bolivarian government. Mauricio Macri similarly reversed previous comments regarding the privatization of Argentine state enterprises towards the end of his campaign, presenting himself at times as an efficient administrator of the Kirchner legacy, an image that he spliced with empty signifiers like ‘hope’ and ‘change’.

“Over 62% of Venezuelans consider themselves ‘partisans or followers of the ideals of Hugo Chávez’, which does not necessarily make them all revolutionary socialists, but it does indicate a consensus regarding the legitimacy of popular participation and social democratic state policy.”

Moreover, ” With 40% support, the PSUV still gained the votes of more than five million Venezuelans, even in the midst of excruciating hardship. Five million Venezuelans remain firmly committed to socialism and the Chávez vision. Five million Venezuelans have risen to say no to US imperialism and capitalism in the face of a crushing economic war, in the face of an unmistakable rightward shift in Latin America as the Empire makes its countermove against all the gains the Left has made in the last two decades. Five million Venezuelans remain steadfast in their commitment to the Bolivarian Revolution ” (Eric Draitser, ‘ Assessing Venezuela’s elections: the good, the bad, and the indifferent ‘, Counterpunch, 15 December 2015).

There may also have been some tampering with the polls since there appear to have been an extraordinarily high proportion of null votes which have operated against the government. This is currently being investigated.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that ordinary Venezuelans have of late been suffering grave hardship. Venezuelan socialism has been heavily reliant on oil revenues which the Chavistas, having the support of the bulk of the Venezuelan army, were to a large extent able to divert out of the pockets of US imperialist multinationals into making social provision for Venezuelan people, thereby alleviating poverty to a considerable degree, eliminating illiteracy, providing medical services, initiating community projects to provide employment, etc., etc. However, as we have pointed out in the past, the export of Venezuelan oil has necessarily been accompanied by use of the petrodollars generated to pay for imports, which in turn have undermined the building of competitive local industries to absorb the labour power of Venezuela’s millions of displaced peasants. Although there are jobs in the oil industry and in the distribution of the imports, this simply is not enough. The PSUV has certainly made every effort to create employment through the projects that it funds, but, as was pointed out recently in a meeting to discuss the election result held in London by the Venezuela Solidarity Committee, this is necessarily a slow process when the reins of the economy are in the hands of the bourgeoisie, i.e., when as a result profitability rather than the needs of the people is still the driving force of the economy.

Be that as it may, all the public spending on social provision that depended on the high price of oil in the world market has been totally undermined by the fact that the world price of oil has dropped from $140 a barrel to $40. To maintain social spending the Maduro government had to print money that was not backed up by the prices obtainable for the commodities that Venezuela is producing, and the result has been rampant inflation, felt by the poor in terms of rapidly increasing prices of the basic food and other requirements on which they depend. Attempts by the government to restrict the prices at which staples are sold simply resulted in these items ceasing to be readily available, and making shopping a total nightmare of shortages, high prices and queues.

All this was unceasingly castigated as being the result of ‘incompetence’ on the part of the Venezuelan government, a message whose force was backed up by millions of dollars of US aid to the anti-Chavista, pro-comprador, political groupings, to help ensure that it was blasted out day after day, hour after hour, from every possible medium of communication for months and years on end. It is not, however, a question of ‘incompetence’ but an ideological question of whether or not a government should put the needs of its people before corporate interests in profiteering – which is all the Venezuelan government has done. And in so doing it has demonstrated not its own bankruptcy but the bankruptcy of the capitalist system which it has been attempting to force into delivering a reasonable standard of living to the masses. In other words, the Venezuelan government has proved to the world for once and for all that with the best will in the world this is simply impossible, and that in the long term it can’t be done.

So what happens now?

One thing is certain and that is that were President Maduro to resign along with his government, handing over the government to the opposition, or were the opposition able through forcing the President to stand down somehow to seize executive power in the near future, the opposition is far less able to provide a solution to Venezuela’s economic woes, as even The Economist cannot but admit:

The MUD, an ideologically diverse group of small parties united only in their opposition to chavismo, is not much readier to cope. It promised voters change, but offered no coherent economic plan .” (‘Reason to celebrate’, op.cit.).

There may be craven hopefuls who believe that with the Chavistas out of government, the US imperialist assault through maintenance of low oil prices and the imposition of sanctions will come to an end and as a result the economic situation will improve – but they would certainly be bound to be disappointed since the whole point of US imperialist intervention in Venezuela is to put an end to the situation of US corporations being deprived of their right to milk Venezuelan resources to the limit at the expense of the Venezuelan people.

The Economist tells us:

Reformers will have to devalue the bolívar, whose official level is nearly 150 times its black-market rate, raise the price of petrol, which now costs practically nothing, and reduce the budget deficit, which is roughly 20-30% of GDP. Devaluing the currency and freeing prices will push up inflation, which hits the poor hardest. A reforming government will need help from the IMF to cushion the pain of adjustment .” (‘A democratic counter-revolution’, 12 December 2015). And we all know that ‘help’ from the IMF does not come cheap!

It can hardly be denied that the Venezuelan people will pay a very heavy price were the PSUV government to be unseated.

As it is, the opposition have all kinds of plans to roll back the gains of the Bolivarian revolution, in particular the price controls and the protection of labour rights. However, other plans include de-nationalisation and the sell-off of strategic national enterprises utilities and public services to imperialist bloodsucking concerns:

The fight back

Meanwhile the Maduro government is mounting a rearguard action trying to get legislation protective of people’s rights pushed through parliament before 5 January when the new Legislative Assembly takes over. Maduro is quoted by the Financial Times as saying in a speech addressing the Venezuelan military: “We’re facing a large-scale crisis, a counter-revolutionary crisis, that is going to generate a power struggle“. And the signs are that it is not a struggle from which the Chavistas have any intention of standing down:

Forces loyal to Mr Maduro have responded to defeat in legislative elections this month with defiant words and executive action aimed at clinging on to power. Defeated lawmakers plan to appoint a group of new judges to Venezuela’s Supreme Court who will be able to veto laws passed by the opposition.

“‘This is no time for cohabitation or coexistence with the bourgeoisie,’ Mr Maduro said. Socialist legislators have vowed to pass laws and make appointments to protect their revolution. ‘We will be here until midnight on January 4,’ said outgoing National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello.

“On Tuesday, Mr Cabello swore in Susana Barreiros, the controversial judge who gave a long prison term to opposition leader Leopoldo López, as head public defender. ‘Go ahead with your roles, let the dogs keep barking,’ Mr Cabello told her. He also announced that the appointment of new Supreme Court judges will take place on December 23, setting up a potential institutional stand-off with new opposition legislators who may seek to impeach them.” (Andres Schipan, Financial Times, ‘Venezuela on edge of political crisis’, 16 December 2015).

Furthermore, ” although Maduro has yet to respond to the PCV’s request [for the law on workers’ control to be quickly promulgated], last week he passed a string of laws aimed at protecting citizens and workers from any conservative legislation brought before congress by the incoming rightwing legislators, including bringing the state media channel ANTV under workers’ ownership .” {Venezuelanalysis op cit.}

The key issue, however, was summed up by President Maduro when he said “this is no time for cohabitation or coexistence with the bourgeoisie“. Venezuela’s economic woes are a direct result of that cohabitation and coexistence in the past. The question is now whether the proletariat has on its side the strength and the forces to put that cohabitation and coexistence to an end, since nowhere and at no time has the bourgeoisie ever gone quietly – and the Venezuelan bourgeoisie is, furthermore, backed to the hilt by US imperialism. The Venezuelan revolution has the advantage of a national army that the bourgeoisie does not control, but ultimately all will depend on whether the people are ready to fight to the death to defend their class interests and on whether the leadership of the proletarian revolution is up to the challenge that the next phase, the phase of the dispossession and overthrow of the bourgeoisie, will undoubtedly pose.

The Venezuelan revolution has been lauded to the sky so far in opportunist circles precisely because it apparently gave credence to the theory that it is possible to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish socialism by peaceful, parliamentary means, and, further, to organise a capitalist economy for the benefit of the masses of working class and peasantry. In the special circumstances that arose in Venezuela, where the ruling bourgeoisie had alienated the national army through its white chauvinism, thereby depriving itself of the most essential prop of bourgeois state power, it was indeed for a while possible for a socialist government to take power and implement measures of significant importance for the benefit of the proletarian masses of Venezuela, and quite rightly this opportunity was duly seized. However, the laws of capitalist economics are inexorable. Just as King Canute could stand on the sea shore and order the tide to go back, and find it apparently obedient for a while, inevitably the tide did turn and heartlessly demolish his apparent power, so the Venezuelan revolution has come up against the capitalist economic crisis that has devastated the price of oil, at least for the time being. But Venezuela is a very large country containing a wealth of natural resources. It has everything it needs to build socialism through a carefully and creatively planned economy, mobilising to the full the masses of the Venezuelan people, so long as bourgeois interests are eliminated and prevented from interfering with the process. This will of course require massive reorganisation and upheaval, that will face the deadly opposition of imperialism and all its ideological lackeys both ‘left’ and right, but it is the only real way forward.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.