The situation in Venezuela
Class struggle in Venezuela, which has been severe throughout the years of the governments of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, has reached new heights in the current year. The comprador bourgeoisie, heavily backed and financed by US imperialism, has been doing everything in its power to bring down the Chavista government that has redistributed much of the country’s oil wealth for the benefit of the poor, as well as enfranchising them politically with the creation of participatory institutions.
However, although the progressive Chavistas control the government, their counter-revolutionary opponents still have a great deal of financial and political power:
“Today, Venezuela has a revolutionary government led by the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro, but the economy of Venezuela is still run by Venezuela’s rich class. This rich class is represented in government by the opposition coalition MUD (the Democratic Round Table)” (Alison Bodine (blog) ‘A Tale of Two Elections: Democracy & Counter-Democracy in Venezuela’, 18 August 2017).
As a result, the compradors have been in a position to hit back hard in a number of ways, the most effective being economic sabotage, causing shortages of necessities in the shops and rampant price inflation, which they have been able to do because they have not yet been dispossessed of their complete domination of the Venezuelan economy – although factory takeovers have been taking place where owners have sought to close them down. The hardship caused to the masses has also of course been aggravated by the fall in the price of oil that has severely reduced the national income, although the government gives priority to maintaining the public services and house-building programmes that have transformed the lives of the Venezuelan masses over the last two decades. Nevertheless, these setbacks did enable the comprador opponents of the Chavista government to win the majority of seats in 2015 parliamentary elections, on the basis of blaming the government for the country’s economic woes, and making empty promises that they would put the country’s financial system back on its feet. Of course, they would be in a position to put an end to their own economic sabotage, but there is nothing they could have done about the oil price – all that really interests them is slashing what they consider to be the extravagant social expenditure in order to be able to increase the profits and wealth of those who are already rich. And all their US imperialist backers are interested in is to restore their untrammelled cut-price access to Venezuela’s valuable mineral resources.
Having gained control of parliament, the opposition used this control to frustrate the government in every way possible, in particular by refusing to ratify contracts for the sale of oil and gas in order to deprive the government of income.
In addition, the opposition has been mounting violent street protests that have resulted in over 120 deaths over the past 4 months, including the assassination of a Constituent Assembly candidate, Felix Pineda Marcano, the night before the election, and over 20 security personnel. “Over 100 people have been killed and over 1000 injured in the terrorist attacks that have included murders, assassinations, road barricades, fires and attacks on government buildings, among other crimes” (Alison Bodine, op.cit.). Although, as in Ukraine at the time of the Maidan protests, the people involved are only a tiny minority of the population, huge publicity is given to their acts of violence by the imperialist media which at the same time scream outrage at the efforts of the government to restore order on behalf of the majority of the population. What is never mentioned is the fact that:
“ ..out of the 355 municipal areas of the country, there were violent insurrections in only eight of them — the wealthier areas. But these had the full force of the international media blowing up their importance” (Telesur, ‘US, Allies Are Terrified of Venezuela’s Participatory Democracy’, Edu Montesanti interview with sociologist María Páez, 17 August 2017).
The calling of the Constituent Assembly elections
Given this situation, President Maduro and his government decided that clearly the Venezuelan Constitution needed revising, in accordance with an eventuality whose possibility was evidently foreseen at the time it was drawn up. Despite US imperialist claims that the setting up of the National Constituent Assembly was unconstitutional and amounted to Maduro installing his personal dictatorship, the fact is that Venezuela’s constitution Article 348 states:
“The initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers; from the National Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its members; from the Municipal Councils in open session, by a two-thirds vote of their members; and from 15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry.”
Maduro therefore, with a view to putting an end to the stalemate that was harming the country, called an election for a National Constituent Assembly, which took place on 30 July, in which a thumping majority voted for progressive candidates – the opposition having in any event boycotted the election. In the glum opinion of the New York Times, “…on Sunday, President Nicolás Maduro effectively liquidated any political challenge that the opposition might present for him for years to come. Around midnight, officials certified the creation of a new political body, known as the constituent assembly, with the power to rewrite the Constitution to favor Mr. Maduro and empowered in the meantime to dismiss any branch of government viewed as disloyal. (Nicholas Casey, ‘Venezuela’s opposition, battling Nicolás Maduro, suffers a crippling blow, 31 July 2017).
Trump makes threats
Needless to say, US imperialism reacted with dismay to the fact that the Venezuelan popular government had succeeded in thwarting its plans for a Ukraine-style regime change. This was reflected in President Donald Trump shooting his mouth off in the manner to which we are all becoming accustomed:
“The dispute began last Friday when Mr. Trump, speaking with reporters about an escalating standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons, suddenly added Venezuela to countries where he said he was considering military intervention.
“’We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,’ the president said” (Nicholas Casey, ‘Trump’s threat against Maduro unites Latin America, against U.S.’, New York Times, 14 August 2017).
Trump’s ‘justification’ for his threats, and for adding to the sanctions on Venezuela originally imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama (so that Nicolás Maduro now joins the distinguished ranks of Presidents Assad, Mugabe and Kim Jong Un on the US list of state leaders personally under US sanctions), is Maduro’s supposed dictatorial tendencies. In fact, if Maduro can be criticised at all, it would be for not being dictatorial enough and allowing far too much leeway to the enemies of the Venezuelan people. As has been pointed out:
“Maduro did not act in an authoritarian manner. He did not quell the violent protests by declaring a national emergency and resorting to police and military repression. He did not use death squads, or torture, jail and exile the opposition. Instead he called for a Constituent Assembly, and with the mass show of support in the election, the violence has died down, and most of the opposition has returned to the electoral field” (Stansfield Smith, ‘Correcting Eva Golinger on Venezuela’, Dissent Voice, 18 August 18 2017).
Moreover, prior to the Constituent Assembly election, the government sat back and allowed the opposition to hold a referendum of their own, designed to ‘prove’ the unpopularity of the government. This referendum took place on 17 July, and the electorate were asked:
• Do you reject and ignore the realisation of a Constituent Assembly proposed by Nicolás Maduro without the prior approval of the Venezuelan people?
• Do you demand that the National Armed Forces and all public officials obey and defend the Constitution of 1999 and support the decisions of the National Assembly?
• Do you approve the renewal of public powers in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and the holding of free and transparent elections, as well as the formation of a government of national unity to restore constitutional order?
Of course, US imperialism was full of enthusiasm for this plebiscite, but it failed totally in its objectives. 7 million Venezuelans were claimed to have voted, including 693,000 votes cast by Venezuelans living abroad. Unfortunately for the opposition, however, only about 101,000 Venezuelans living abroad have the right to vote (others being under age). And given the number of polling stations and the relatively short hours for which they were open, along with the limited activity observed in them, it was impossible to believe anything like 7 million people had voted. Despite their boasts, therefore, the opposition’s disappointment at the results was tellingly testified to by the fact that they destroyed the ballot papers before their claims could be independently verified.
By contrast, in the Constituent Assembly elections, a record 8.8 million people voted, with the validity of their vote being verified by fingerprinting. At 41.5% of the population, it was the highest turnout in the history of the Bolivarian revolution. “The turnout was more than double the estimates of both the government’s political opponents and independent experts”, confirmed Al Jazeera (‘Maduro hails Constituent Assembly election victory’, 31 July 2017).
The imperialist media have tried to save face by claiming that Venezuela’s electronic voting system had somehow been tampered with, but these claims fly in the face of the hard evidence of queues at the polling stations observed on election day. Furthermore there was a considerable amount of intimidation of voters by the opposition that suggests the turnout would otherwise have been even higher.
The partiality of the imperialist media in favour of the comprador section of the Venezuelan population is obvious:
“The two times that elections in Venezuela were in favour of the opposition, imperialist governments and their capitalist media machine were silent about the results. For the other 18 elections that brought about advancement in the Bolivarian revo-lutionary process, these same governments and the mainstream media were quick with their allegations of fraud, irregularities and rigging. This was no different for the Constituent Assembly elections on July 30” (Alison Bodine, op.cit.).
And furthermore: “…Left with a choice between an election that was constitutionally recognized and verifiable, and a referendum that was neither of these things, the US government and their allies have chosen the latter” (ibid.). What a surprise!
Trump’s threats counterproductive
In any event, Trump’s threats of military intervention in Venezuela have triggered massive opposition throughout Latin America:
“Trump’s outrageous military threats against Venezuela have simply shown the world again what a disreputable and ignorant man he is…. Even his right-wing government allies in Latin America — Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina — reacted swiftly to state their disagreement with any military intervention by the United States against Venezuela.
“So they should, as any one of them could be next in the list of undesirables that the United States could come up with. They also know that any military intervention by the United States on Venezuelan soil would unleash a regional conflict,..
“It is important also to point out that Venezuela’s right to elect an ANC is backed by the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) countries, the Caribbean countries and the Non-Aligned Countries, which are two-thirds of all the countries of the world” (Telesur, ‘US, Allies Are Terrified of Venezuela’s Participatory Democracy’, Edu Montesanti interview with sociologist María Páez, 17 August 2017).
Should it be thought that TeleSur is engaged in fantasies born of partiality towards the Venezuelan government, here are the words of the decidedly hostile New York Times on this issue:
“President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela had become a pariah among fellow Latin American leaders as his beleaguered country staggered toward dictatorship. But a threat by President Trump to use the American military against Mr. Maduro’s government has united those leaders in a different direction: demanding that the United States keep out of the region’s affairs.
“’The possibility of a military intervention shouldn’t even be considered’, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, said on Sunday during a visit by Vice President Mike Pence to the region. ‘America is a continent of peace. It is the land of peace’…
“Peru, which has taken some of the toughest stands in the region against Venezuela, issued a statement on Saturday condemning possible use of force, and Mexico said the crisis could not be resolved with soldiers. Brazil said renouncing violence was the ‘basis of democratic cohabitation.’ And human rights groups in Venezuela rejected Mr. Trump’s threat…
“’An often ugly history of U.S. interventions is vividly remembered in Latin America — even as we in the U.S. have forgotten,’ said Shannon O’Neil, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations specializing in Latin America” (Nicholas Casey, ‘Trump’s threat against Maduro unites Latin America, against U.S.’ 14 August 2017).
The way ahead
The Constituent Assembly will meet with the National Economic Council to devise a strategy for overcoming Venezuela’s current economic difficulties, in particular to discuss what measures can be taken to diversify production away from oil dependency. Venezuela does have a great deal of gold which, of course, will tend to increase in price as the price of oil drops. However, gold dependency would be as dangerous as oil dependency as far as the welfare of the population is concerned, as it encourages imports that undercut local produce, creating the bankruptcy of local producers and the loss of productive employment opportunities.
It is generally recognised that the fact that economic power is still in the hands of the wealthy élite is a problem that urgently requires attention, while at the same time imperialism, which backs the wealthy élite who would otherwise be much easier to dispatch, is the most dangerous enemy. Trump’s threats have made this very clear, and as a result of them, steps are being taken to organise the general population into militias capable of defending the country against invasion.
What also needs to be recognised, however, is that the wild swings in the world price of oil demonstrate as best as anything can that capitalism is an irrational system prone to devastating crises in which it is the poor who suffer most. Venezuela needs not only to nationalise all important means of production and exchange but also to substitute production for the benefit of the people in accordance with conscious economic planning for the present system of production for profit. It needs to abolish wage slavery. To try to control the capitalist system, even when those efforts are directed towards improving the conditions of the working people, is like riding a bucking bronco. Skilled riders can stay on much longer than the unskilled, but sooner or later all will be thrown unceremoniously to the ground. Without the eradication of the capitalist system of production, it is impossible to guarantee full employment to all workers, or to avoid periodic crises that sweep away all gains that may have been made – nor is it possible to prevent imperialism from intervening to advance loans to the state in times of economic difficulty, which then become instruments of subjecting the debtor to the imperialists’ exploitative will.
We wish the Venezuelan people and their government every success in the difficult enterprise on which they are embarked!
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