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What Policy for the Socialist Left in Venezuela?

The Venezuelan political crisis deepens as July 30 approaches. That is the date for the election of representatives to a fraudulent Constituent Assembly convened by the government. This call has been widely rejected, not only by the right, but also by sectors of chavismo itself as well as the left.

Eduardo Molina

July 22, 2017
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The Venezuelan political crisis deepens as July 30 approaches. That is the date for the election of representatives to a fraudulent Constituent Assembly convened by the government. This call has been widely rejected, not only by the right, but also by sectors of Chavismo itself as well as the left. In the Venezuelan edition of La Izquierda Diario, edited by our comrades of the Workers’ League for Socialism (LTS), you can follow the changing situation day by day.

Nicolás Maduro governs by decree on the basis of a permanent “state of emergency”. This government is increasingly repressive – not only against actions of the right, but also against protests by the masses, militarizing poor neighborhoods, preventing union elections or prohibiting sectors of the left. This is in order to impose his Inflationary economic line, made of structural adjustment and strict payment of the external debt. With the farce of a “democratic” and “sovereign” Constituent Assembly, manipulated to ensure in advance the majority will be controlled by the PSUV, Maduro aims to legitimize his Bonapartist course to maintain himself in power.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of rancid pro-imperialist and pro-coup groups, opposes Maduro with an even more reactionary program, enveloped in leafy “democratic” demagoguery. It calls for new demonstrations – like the call of July 16 for the simulacrum of a referendum against the government’s call for an Assembly.

The MUD raises the demand for “restitution of the constitutional order”, but at the same time knocks on the barracks’ doors asking the armed forces (FANB) to abandon Maduro, in order to discuss “a government of national unity and the holding of elections.”

At the same time, some fissures are appearing in the ruling party, such as the break of Attorney General Luisa Ortega (whom Maduro is seeking to displace) with the government, and rumors of malaise among the military could indicate that moderate sectors of chavismo will resist a course they consider adventurous. These sectors would prefer to open negotiations with the right. In the midst of the struggle for the Constituent Assembly, a military intervention cannot be ruled out. The FANB is preserved as an arbiter in the last resort. But for the moment it is not attempting some kind of new “dialogue” to break the political impasse and, in some way, repair the institutional fracture between the Chavista executive power and the opposition-dominated legislature. Meanwhile, the acute political crisis continues with an “open end”.

The backdrop is the very serious general – economic, social and political – crisis of the Chavista project of “national development” and “socialism of the 21st century” with entrepreneurs, within a dependent capitalist economy, after oil revenues collapsed. The old struggle between the “Boli-Bourgeoisie” Chavista cliques and the traditional bourgeoisie for control of the now-diminished oil revenue is turning into a struggle for political power, since the control and distribution of oil are in the hands of the state. The long confrontation between the Chavista government (which can not contain its decay, yet maintains the support of the FANB, which has great weight in national life and the management of the state) and the MUD (held up by the big bourgeoisie and the middle classes, with imperialist support) continues without resolving the “catastrophic draw” in the relationship of forces. In the mean time, hardships grow for workers and the poor masses, the hardest hit by the brutal economic crisis.

In this scenario, of the decomposition of the objective conditions without an eruption by the workers and masses, the crisis is extended, preparing the ground for a reactionary solution. This is being prepared in collaboration, despite all the differences and disputes, between Chavista Bonapartism and the pro-imperialist “republican” opposition, who share the fear of a “social outburst”. In other words, they are both opposed to the masses intervening independently.

Venezuela remains, together with Brazil, one of the hot spots in the Latin American panorama. A good part of the continent’ conjuncture is defined in a context of economic uncertainty and unresolved social and political contradictions, after the exhaustion of the “progressive cycle” and the return of the right to power in Brazil and Argentina. This is one more reason to debate the process in Venezuela and the policy the left needs to advance.

Positions of the left

Maduro’s course has provoked more crisis and divisions within Latin America’s “progressive” camp, already hit by the retreat of Lulism in Brazil and Kirchnerism in Argentina. A “national and popular” sector supports the indefensible government of Caracas in its Bonapartist and repressive turn, and with “heterodox” structural adjustments. Another sector, more center-left, has started to criticize it in the name of “dialogue”, in line with the “transition to democracy” sought by sectors of imperialism, the Vatican and the bourgeoisies of the region.

The Venezuelan crisis also puts the positions of the socialist left to the test. It is a very difficult situation, given the extreme social and political polarization and the lack of autonomous activity by the working class. But this only reinforces the need for a revolutionary policy that rises to the tasks of the situation. However, this is not what characterizes the politics of multiple left-wing currents.

During the ascent of chavismo, with partial nationalizations and concessions to the poor masses, it absorbed leftist groups who believed it would be possible to change the bourgeois-nationalist content of the movement, integrating themselves as “advisers” to the Comandante. This is the case of the self-styled “Marxist Current” of the PSUV, which supports Maduro in a disciplined way, imploring him from time to time to change direction.

Other international tendencies, adherents to the Chavista process, are critical of Maduro but they support his call for an Assembly, spreading the illusion that this is a space of democratic participation in which it is possible to influence the course of the government and “deepen” the Bolivarian process. This includes sectors of the Brazilian PSOL, the Frente Popular Darío Santillán in Argentina, fringes of the European anti-capitalist left (such as Vientosur magazine) and others. They provide window dressing for the “communal” fraud the government is preparing. The fact is that this Assembly is being manipulated to ensure in advance that the ruling party has a majority, based on a capricious territorial representation and the organizations regimented by the state and the PSUV. This is in the interest of the Bonapartist and increasingly reactionary project of Maduro.

Sectors of the left who claim to be “independent” and anti-capitalist, but who “critically” aligned themselves with Chavez’s Bolivarian project, are only carrying out a new capitulation to the decadent Bonapartism of Maduro. They are thus demonstrating their lack of political and strategic independence, incapable of proposing a real alternative to the working population. The “eco-socialist”, feminist and anti-imperialist slogans that adorn their propaganda do not constitute a program to mobilize the masses in the face of the catastrophic situation they are facing – which would inevitably lead to a clash with Maduro’s government and its entire economic and political plan – but rather a list of wishes and suggestions to the government. Based on this logic, they support the Assembly to contribute to “radical democratic projects and alternatives to capitalist society” – in the hands of the Bonapartist executive in full swing towards big national and foreign capital. They play the role of the “anti-capitalist” tail of Chavista Bonapartism in its stage of maximum “Madurista” degradation.

Unfortunately, other socialist tendencies, with whom we share many criticisms of chavismo, succumb to a nefarious adaptation to the bourgeois opposition camp and its “democratic” demagoguery.

MST-Marea Socialista, for dialogue between the government and the MUD, and for elections

The Socialist Workers’ Movement (MST) of Argentina and its sister group in Venezuela, Marea Socialista (MS), which positions itself as “critical chavismo”, hold this position from the left.

In agreement with former Chavista ministers and “moderate” members of the opposition, Marea Socialista is calling for “a democratic solution to the current political crisis, before the crescendo of violence reaches a point of no return, of even more widespread fratricidal confrontation.” They demand a reinstatement of the ” electoral timetable” and tell us at the same time that “these announcements need to be accompanied by the opening of Another Dialogue, which is comprehensive and inclusive, not limited to the party leaders of the opposition and the government. ” (declaration of Marea Socialista, 04/22/17). As “Venezuelan society and working people are trapped between two irrational and ambitious leaderships. Both violate the Constitution,” insists Gonzalo Gémez Freire, leader of MS. The solution he proposes is to “1) Establish a democratic, constitutional path to solve the country’s conflicts. 2) To install Another Dialogue, not exclusive and not just for the leaderships, but inclusive of the people, open and public, with access for all means of communication .

In response to the call for a rigged Constituent Assembly, Marea demanded that the National Electoral Council (CNE) “restore the functioning of the Constitution of ’99, assume its historic responsibility and activate the suspended regional elections for governors and mayors, and create certainty about the realization of the presidential election of next year, proclaiming a timetable for these now”. As we can see, the Constitution of ’99, dialogue and elections are the pillars of Marea’s policy.

It is not an optical illusion that these positions so closely resemble those of the right-wing opposition.

Marea Socialista is frightened by the levels of violence the political crisis has reached and recommends a conservative and legalistic solution of redirecting the confrontation between the MUD and chavismo into the constitutional framework. This is a logic that, in addition to betting on the eventual reconciliation of the two bourgeois blocs in conflict, subjects the workers to the narrow legality of the Bonapartist regime, which is itself based on the Constitution of 99 – instead of helping workers to overcome constitutionalist prejudices.

This may be a line sensitive to the fears of the middle classes terrorized by “violence”, but it is not a policy for the independent mobilization of workers with their own methods. Workers are facing state, parastatal and right-wing repression, in a crisis that does not admit a “progressive” solution without a true eruption.

However, the political crisis has long since demolished the country’s constitutional framework. In fact, the general crisis in Venezuela has led to the complete erosion of the Bolivarian Project and the crisis of its institutional order, codified by the Constitution of 1999, which both the opposition and the government claim to defend. In addition to providing certain democratic concessions, this constitution established the legal framework of the plebiscitary Bonapartism practiced by Chávez, and which his successor, Maduro, is attempting to shore up in its phase of decline.

An appeal to the Constitution of 1999 is an ineffective means of confronting the Constituent Assembly proposed by Maduro – and it is a complete capitulation to the program of elections demanded by the MUD. It would only be useful in orchestrating a political solution within the regime, since the full reinstatement of the Constitution, including an electoral schedule, would depend on a pact between the chavistas and the bourgeois opposition, under the control of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), with the approval of Washington and the blessing of the Pope, in order to advance in the transition towards an openly reactionary regime.

Marea does not alert against the real danger posed by the Armed Forces with their enormous influence as an arbitrator, on which both the government and the opposition rely. Nor does it question the proposal of a return to the electoral schedule which would probably lead to a victory of the right based on the most anti-democratic program. It merely proposes a “reasonable” constitutional solution within the regime, to which it would provide a leftist cover.

Marea’s entire political project is aimed at participating in elections along with disaffected chavistas. In fact, it defends “critical chavismo” in its hopes for “a new political phenomenon that would emerge from within the Bolivarian process itself and position itself as a left-wing opposition to the government,” a position it defends along with former ministers and other chavista leaders that have distanced themselves or were expelled from the “official chavista movement.” Even so, Marea’s framework is excessively narrow and “sectarian” for some of its members, including its main representative, Nicmer Evans, who has just distanced himself from the movement in order to contribute to the creation of “broader spaces.”

This “critical chavismo,” which includes socialists, center-leftists and Bolivarians, is characterized by the opportunist “openness” that Marea shares with the Argentine MST.
The latter had no qualms about marching behind “progressives” like Luis Juez or “Pino” Solanas. Now, after the failure of its attempts at a united front, it seeks to reposition itself in the electoral scene as the new MAS. But, as shown by its support for Marea’s “neo-Chavist” project, it does not propose class independence or seek to build an independent movement with workers and youth, but to establish a political space with no defined politics or strategy along with neo-reformist groups or, even worse, to become part of them.

IS-PSL and its “popular rebellion” in the rearguard of the MUD

The Socialism and Liberty Party (PSL, a sister group of the Socialist Left (IS) of Argentina, which is part of the FIT) raises the slogan “Down with Maduro!” as the task of the hour. Although they are formally against the MUD, by focusing on the overthrow of the president, based on the logic of “everyone against the government,” they objectively capitulate to the right-wing opposition, the mortal enemy of the working masses.

In order to justify their politics, they are obliged to provide a contrived analysis, lumping together genuine workers’ struggles (which are still a minority) and the desperate actions of poor sectors (lootings) with the protests called by the right – all as part of the same “democratic people’s rebellion.” It is true that the government is not only repudiated by the upper middle class but also by working-class and poor sectors, but the political confrontation continues to be polarized between the government and the MUD. The only social and political force that can currently capitalize on this scenario, and which plays a leadership role among the opposition on the streets, is the reactionary MUD, supported by imperialism and the Latin American right.

Although most of the decisive actions on the streets in the past three months have been organized and led by the right under its reactionary program, the PSL refuses to admit this fact, absurdly arguing that acknowledging this obvious circumstance is repeating the government’s rhetoric, and that characterizing the protests called by the right as right-wing protests is to “perpetrate a Manichaean and polarizing perspective.” They thus support the “popular rebellion demanding Maduro’s resignation,” stating; “We do not support the old right-wing and pro-imperialist bourgeois opposition grouped together in the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which is trying to capitalize on the genuine discontent of the masses.” “The MUD does not fight against the austerity measures or question the foreign debt payments. On the contrary, it seeks to gain power in order to expand this program. As a result, the marches exceed its organization and are increasingly led by inhabitants of poor districts that traditionally support chavismo. Therefore, in addition to the protests, we must continue to promote the construction of an alternative political movement of the left and working people that is independent of the PSUV and the MUD.”

According to the PSL, the right is the inconsistent leadership of that “popular rebellion” and they insist on calling on “the people and the workers to continue to protest until the government is overthrown, and to reject Maduro’s fake Constituent Assembly,” stating: “it is essential for the poor sectors and workers to continue to participate in the people’s protests” and “we must discuss the organization and establishment of brigades of defense against the repression by the GNB (Bolivarian National Guard), PNB (Bolivarian National Police) and paramilitary groups.” None of its three central slogans (“Down with Maduro! No more starvation from austerity! No fraudulent Constituent Assembly!”) is aimed at the right, perhaps because the PSL conceives itself as part of a “unity in action” within a broad “anti-Bonapartist front.” But nothing can be more damaging than a policy that merely demands Maduro’s resignation, when the real opposition force determined to govern is the right, instead of focusing all of its efforts on organizing and fighting for an independent working-class politics.

The Brazilian United Socialist Workers’ Party (PSTU), which leads the LIT-CI, excitedly declares that “a popular rebellion is developing in Venezuela. The country is the site of enormous mobilizations against President Nicolás Maduro, who is responsible for the social catastrophe.” (Opinião Socialista, n. 536, May, 2017). It also criticizes the right for its alleged inconsistency, since “while the people, who are on the streets, risking their lives, are increasingly willing to protest until the government is overthrown, the MUD and its parties insist on their electoral schedule’ and the restitution of the National Assembly’s powers, among other similar demands, shifting its focus by omitting the slogan ‘Down with Maduro,’ which is the driving force behind the people’s protests.”

The PSTU takes the PSL and IS’s errors of analysis and politics to the extreme. They are encouraged by the fact that “some protests are starting to exceed the control of the MUD and its parties. The masses want to overthrow the government, but there is still no independent leadership to achieve this. But it is increasingly likely that a true ‘rebellion of the people’ will take place and impose the rallying cry being heard all over the country: ‘Down with Maduro now!’”

According to this strange view of reality, the leaders and parties of the MUD do not intend to overthrow Maduro, but are being forced to “lead the protests” of the “democratic people’s rebellion” because this is what is being imposed by “the population,” which has actually begun to surpass this inconsistent leadership in its struggle against the government, in spite of the fact that they have even called for the intervention of the military to force the government to give in or to mediate a transition.

Unfortunately, with disastrous “anti-Madurist” policies that fail to confront the right, these socialist groups end up tail ending the “democratic” opposition camp that is hegemonized by the MUD parties.

Neither the government nor the MUD! For an alternative of the workers and people!

Some of these forces criticize our refusal to join the chavista or opposition camps as “political abstentionism.” Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, we believe there is no other realistic alternative, from the point of view of the working class, than to promote an alternative of the workers and the poor masses. The lack of an independent policy of the working class is the biggest weakness in the historical cycle of chavismo in power. The workers’ energy and willingness to fight was channeled and diverted by the chavistas and now the right is capitalizing on their decline as the visible political alternative. The failure of these socialist groups to promote independent politics for class independence makes this essential problem worse. All the efforts made by the revolutionary left must be aimed at expressing the voice of the working class, in an alliance with the poor masses, fighting both against the government and its austerity measures, corruption and repression, as well as the neoliberal right that is preparing to govern again.

It is from this perspective that our comrades of the Workers’ League for Socialism (LTS) of Venezuela are intervening with their still modest forces in progressive spaces and actions, along with other left-wing organizations or trade unions that are independent of union bureaucracies, seeking to promote the development of a left alternative that is truly independent of the right and the government.

In Argentina, we share many elements of our critique of the Venezuelan government and the MUD with the Workers’ Party (PO). Jorge Altamira of the PO wrote that “The working class of Venezuela needs left-wing politics in this scenario. The crisis will have to go through numerous phases and new challenges for the left. The opportunity for a congress of the workers and the left in order to find a comprehensive solution and establish a plan of action against the economic catastrophe is now in sight. Against the government, its simulated coups and negotiated coups, we must demand a free and sovereign constituent assembly called by a workers’ government, to group together working-class and left forces with the aim of developing a workers’ and socialist alternative to the crisis.” (05/07/17). However, this policy does not clearly define the struggle for class independence, which is at the core of a workers’ strategy. This is what separates consistent workers’ and socialist politics from a vague “left-wing politics” such as “critical chavismo.”

We believe that the demand for a “congress of the workers and the left” is abstract (who would convene such a congress today?), since it proposes the establishment of a Constituent Assembly after the seizure of power by a workers’ government, when in reality the struggle for a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly should be used today to confront the bourgeois political solutions to the political impasse, and offers the best foothold for the development of the protest movement.

Our comrades of the LTS believe that it is necessary to oppose both the government’s ploy of a “Constituent Assembly” and the “democratic” demagoguery of the right, which are solutions within the regime. Instead, we need a political solution that would involve breaking with the current regime. To this end, we need politics that combine a workers and people’s program to deal with the economic emergency and the struggle for a genuinely free and sovereign Constituent Assembly. This demand is aimed at generating a debate about the entire existing social order, from its property relations to its forms of government, and on the steps to be taken to solve the country’s structural problems, in the heat of the mobilizations, to advance the demands of the workers and poor masses. This should be a path towards the appearance on the national scene of the demands, banners and methods of the working class, against the different ploys implemented by both sides of this social and political order.

The inclusion within a workers’ program of the struggle for a truly free and sovereign Constituent Assembly, understood as a radical democratic slogan, is aimed at implementing a transitional course of action against the catastrophe that is intensifying the hardships of the working people and threatens to lead to a reactionary outcome. It is based on the expectation that on the basis of the masses’ organizations that emerge from their struggles, the masses can become convinced that it is necessary to advance towards a government of the workers and the poor masses. Only a revolutionary development of class struggle, with the working class leading an alliance with the poor population, can guarantee a progressive solution to the general crisis in Venezuela.

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Eduardo Molina

Eduardo (1955-2019) was a lifelong revolutionary militant in Argentina, Bolivia, and other countries. An obituary in English: Forever Until Socialism!

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