US Hands Off Venezuela! For a Leap Forward to Socialism!
26-05-2017 – The images are as disturbing as they are frightening. Right-wing Venezuelans, knowing they have the direct and indirect backing of the US Empire, are literally burning down Venezuela. The most recent egregious example was the setting fire to a Venezuelan government supporter, on the grounds that he was a “Chavista”. Right-wing opponents of the government led by President Nicolas Maduro also recently took a public bus driver hostage, and then set his bus on fire. Hispan TV reported the bus driver as saying “Honestly, if they had known that I support the Revolution….if I had said Homeland, Socialism or Death…. they would have killed me.”
There is extensive evidence of US government funding for these ultra-violent hoodlums, as well as the conservative political parties themselves. In 2015, the US government delivered $4.26 million for Venezuela through the notorious US Agency for International Development (USAID), with most of this going to numerous anti-government organisations. For years, the US government has not even attempted to hide their backing of the Venezuelan opposition to the Bolivarian Revolution. In 2014, the US federal budget allowed $5 million for funding opposition activities in Venezuela as a line item. If there has been anything like this amount pouring in to these groups annually, one can only imagine the cumulative total over the 19 odd years of “Chavismo” (the movement led by former President Hugo Chavez).
The right-wing opposition to the Hugo Chavez led “Bolivarian Revolution” which swept to electoral power in 1998, has often been fragmented. In recent years, however, it has coalesced around the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) – a coalition of around 50 political parties and organisations, whose main point of unity does not extend much beyond anti-Chavismo. Its main leader is Henrique Capriles Radonski – a staunchly conservative anti-socialist, who seemingly does not baulk at either receiving aid from the US state, nor being seen to organise and lead violent anti-government actions, regardless of whether or not there are casualties. Radonski has Jewish ancestry, which may explain the MUD’s links to the Israeli state, which former President Chavez claimed in 2010, was also involved in funding the right-wing opposition.
Gains for workers and the oppressed
Make no mistake, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela did win impressive gains for the Venezuelan workers and impoverished sectors. For example, Venezuelan Chavismo ensured that illiteracy had been eradicated by 2005. A National Public System was established to provide free access to health care for all Venezuelans. From 1999 to 2010, the number of doctors increased by 400%. The infant mortality rate was reduced by 49%. Since 1999, child malnutrition was reduced by 40%. Since 1998, the minimum wage was increased by over 2000%. GDP per capita increased from $4,100 in 1999 to $10,810 in 2011. And this is to name but a few. Internationally, bodies such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and Petrocaribe were established for Latin American and Caribbean countries to forge ties for trade and energy supplies not purely on the basis of buy and sell, but on mutual benefit. It also began to lay the groundwork for Latin American and Caribbean countries to break from the suffocating imperialist domination of Wall Street and the US deep state.
Nonetheless, all of these gains and more are imperilled by the political developments in Venezuela of the last few years, which are currently reaching a crisis point. We are entitled to ask how is it that all such gains can be reversed, given that they had the mandate of numerous election victories for 15 years? Some try to explain the misfortunes of the current Venezuelan government in terms of the falling oil revenues. Venezuela is a major oil exporter and it is the case that the Chavez led Bolivarian government used oil income to fund health, education and other social spending. It is also the case that until mid-2014, a barrel of crude oil would sell for around $110, whereas in 2015 they fell below $50 a barrel and have hovered around that mark since. On its own, however, this doesn’t explain the economic malaise, which is severe. For example, inflation reportedly reached 800% in 2016, while the economy shrunk by 18.6%.
“Socialism of the 21st Century”
President Maduro blames anti-Chavismo capitalists for hoarding, creating artificial scarcity, in order to deliberately create these economic problems, in an effort to bring down the elected government. No doubt, there is a lot of truth to this. Yet this just points to the question of why such capitalists have such free reign to do their worst, to almost entirely bring down the Venezuelan economy with the government seemingly powerless to prevent it. To answer this, we have to examine the political motivation of the Bolivarian Revolution, and its leader’s adherence to what they term “Socialism of the 21st Century”. Soon after winning governmental power in 1998, and witnessing the immediate hostility of the US government and elements of the Venezuelan ruling class to any sense of redistributing wealth, former President Chavez embarked on what he believed to be “socialism”. Later, he proclaimed to be building “Socialism of the 21st Century”. Analysing this slogan, we can see that the leading Chavistas, and many of their international supporters, wanted to distance themselves from “20th Century Socialism” – by which they mainly referred to the former Soviet Union.
To learn from the mistakes the workers of Russia endured at the hands of the leaders of the Soviet Union is necessary, however the Chavistas pushed themselves away from association with “20th Century Socialism” in the wrong direction. Rather than seeking more means to expand workers’ political decision making ability while maintaining the workers’ state, the Chavistas ended up rejecting the need for a workers state altogether. Put simply, they wanted to change the world without the seizure of state power, and the establishment of a workers republic. They explicitly rejected the key Marxist tenet of aiming for the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as the first step towards the beginning of the implementation of socialism. Consequently, they also dumped the Leninist conception of the need for a workers vanguard party to lead this historic struggle.
This is not simply a debate over which set of rhetoric is best able to build socialism. Whether one refers to it as a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or workers democracy, the effect is the same. Working people are in need of a state of their own, not to reproduce the rule of a minority over a majority, as in all previous historic states, but to hold down their capitalist adversaries, whose resistance to the rule of the poor will be furious. A workers state, led by a vanguard party or parties, is also necessary to guide workers, born and raised under capitalism, towards the new values of socialist society – cooperation, mutual benefit, solidarity and internationalism. The politically class conscious workers are needed to lead the less class conscious towards these goals. The most politically class conscious elements are usually located within the leading party or parties.
For all of their declarations of socialism, in fact the Chavistas junked the most basic part of socialism. Socialism begins with the overthrow of the capitalist state, and the forging of a workers state which will, in Marx’s words, make “despotic inroads” into the ownership of capital. Capital enables capitalists to profit from the exploitation of the labour of others. At the least, a socialist government would aim to take control of the banks and the major means of production, such as ports, railways, roads, and telecommunications and so on. It would have to mobilise working people for this vital task. In Venezuela, however, the creed of “Socialism of the 21st Century” prevented ANY of these crucial tasks from being attempted. Consequently, the Maduro government is not able to prevent major economic sabotage by some capitalists, the shortage of goods, high unemployment, runaway inflation, and more.
The right-wing is very adept at capitalising on these difficulties, especially given the links of the right-wing opposition to the dark forces of the US deep state. Shortages of consumer goods, electricity blackouts, falling production – the right-wing elements, now led by MUD, can easily point the finger at what they claim is “socialism” and draw a whole swathe of workers and underemployed poor over to the agenda of the far-right. The intense irony of the situation is that it is precisely because the Maduro government is NOT socialist, that the right wing are able to gather thousands to their side – despite thousands still remaining loyal to the “Bolivarian Revolution”.
“Government of the Left”
It is a lesson which has been learnt before, but will now have to be learned all over again. It is the age-old question of reform versus revolution. No matter how radical the wording, it is a fatal illusion to believe that capitalism can be reformed into socialism, or even into a system which doles out a few larger crumbs to the masses. For all of their efforts, many of which can be applauded, in the end the Chavistas are attempting to reform capitalism. The belief that electing a “government of the left”, or someone or some party who is more “left-wing”, to administer the existing capitalist state has come undone repeatedly throughout history, often with tragic consequences. Salvador Allende in Chile in the early 1970s paid for this illusion with his own life, and the people of Chile went on to endure 17 years of US backed military dictatorship. In 2015, the people of Greece elected the SYRIZA party to head the government there, with huge hopes. It took just a few hours for the “left-wing” SYRIZA to form a coalition with the far-right ANEL party. It went on to abandon any pretence of resisting the crushing austerity measures demanded by the bankers of the European Union (EU), and rapidly agreed to measures which were even more harsh than that the previous conservatives dared to impose. The suffering of the working people of Greece is almost indescribable, with employment opportunities, health care, pensions, education and so on being decimated. The suicide rate remains at unprecedented levels. It may be the last time Greek workers will trust a “government of the left”.
The right-wing in Venezuela know exactly what they want, and they are prepared to use mass violence to achieve it. They do not have to topple the capitalist state, as they aim simply to replace the leading personnel of the capitalist state with some of their own, with the financial and political support of Wall Street. They have demonstrated a willingness to set fire to people themselves to get their way.
The left in Venezuela, and internationally, has to once again learn the lesson that it is not possible to vote for socialism. Socialism can only come about through the organisation of the workers into a class, and the organisation of the most class conscious workers into a party which is firm with its allegiance to Marxism. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is in no way a vehicle for this task. We have no illusions about how difficult it is to raise millions of workers to the political level needed for the seizure of state power, let alone how to maintain the rule of the poor once achieved. There are no guarantees in class struggle. Yet this task cannot be begun until this is the perspective and outlook of the leading parties and organisations of working people in Venezuela.
US imperialism has specialised in regime change operations in the first years of this century. Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras, Libya, Syria, Ukraine – all have either been overthrown or violent attempts have been made working with the most reactionary elements on the ground, up to and including fascists. To prevent yet another case, working people in Venezuela, and internationally, need to demand that the US cease all political and financial interference in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. This struggle against wars of regime change is also a struggle to form a workers party fit to lead the struggle for socialism, and no less in Australia. US HANDS OFF VENEZUELA!
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