Written by IWL (FI) – International Secretariat
Hugo Chavez has died and the political impact is global. No wonder, for there is no doubt that Venezuela’s former President has been an important protagonist of the last two decades in and out of Latin America.
These are hours of grief for the millions of Venezuelans who politically trusted Chavez and considered him as a leader who shared their interests and their yearning for a better quality of life.
There are also many social activists and militants who honestly saw in Chavez a leader who was authentically anti-imperialist and even socialist.
In the IWL, we understand this pain and consternation for we are not indifferent to any popular feeling. But even in the midst of all this sorrow, it is necessary to ponder about the meaning of the Chavez administration and the current challenges that Venezuelan toiling masses must face.
What was the Chavez administration?
Chavez’s death compels us to restate the entire debate on the class character of his administration and the political regime that he had set up in Venezuela and the real relations with imperialism.
This debate “divides waters” on the world Left and it becomes even more important in times where there is uncertainty as to the course that Chavismo will follow without Chavez.
In our opinion, the Chavez administration has never been socialist. His government was bourgeoisie: that is, in the service of maintaining and defending the capitalist system and State of Venezuela.
This does not mean that the capitalist Chavez administration was the same as that of Carlos Andrés Perez and all the previous ones that occurred within the framework of the “Fixed Point” (AD and COPEI). Those capitalist governments were totally and overtly submissive to imperialism that, after decades of divestment and corruption, were worn out and challenged by Venezuela’s toiling masses. This was the origin of the “Caracazo”. This process and the coup attempted against Perez, was the beginning of the popularity of Chavez.
Due to this combination of crisis of the traditional bourgeois parties and the proletarian and popular ascent, Chavez’s project and subsequent government acquired a character of bourgeois of the nationalist kind. That is where the need for his “anti-imperialist” and “socialist” rhetoric comes from. That is why his administration had to make some concessions (especially of the handout type through The Missions), only much more limited than those of other bourgeois nationalist governments of previous decades, those like Peron’s in Argentina, Cardenas’ in Mexico or Nasser in Egypt.
What he did share with those other administrations was that, due to his class character, he found it impossible to carry his confrontations with imperialist to the very end and sooner rather than later he would wind up by capitulating.
That is why his entire discourse on “Socialism of XXI Century” and the rhetorical attacks against American imperialism (above all in the days of George Bush) had no correlation with what he did in his political practice, was always in the service of confusing the masses, and were meant to conceal the same old submission and surrender.
His relations with imperialism
Concrete reality proves that during those 14 years of Chavista government and regime, Venezuela is still as dependant on imperialism as ever.
Foreign international creditors have always been dutifully paid by Chavez. In total figures, Venezuelan foreign debt has recently reached the record of $105 000 million, equivalent to the 30% of the country’s GDP.
Chavez’s nationalisations, which were widely broadcasted by his Latin American trend, were negotiated in all the cases and the “affected” bourgeois sectors were given sufficient compensation.
Moreover, in many cases, they proved to be mere purchases of shares of these companies by the State which meant spawning the so-called “joint-ventures” that allow the multinationals to exploit natural resources and energy together with the State. In this way, imperialist companies, such as Chevron and Exxon-Mobil, not only control oil production of the country and benefit from it, but they also have now become the owners of approximately 40% of it.
And yet, in recent years, even the tone of his speeches had been getting softer. The truth is that Bush was one thing and Obama is something altogether different, even with the rhetoric of Chávez. Let it suffice if we just remember one of his statements during the elections: “If I were American, I would vote Obama. And I believe that if Obama were from Barlovento or any other neighbourhood of Caracas, he would vote Chavez. I am sure of that.”
Is it true that in Venezuela we have “socialism of the XXI century”?
Even here, social reality disagrees with the official speeches. Anti-capitalist measures have never been taken nor was there a split with imperialism. Venezuelan people still suffer from the curse of unemployment, supply shortages, high degree of inflation, – it reached 30% in 2012 – and extreme poverty, that in spite of all the welfare measures taken by the government still affect 29.5% of the population. According to official figures of 2010, the richest 30% of the population hoards 45% of national income while the poorest 20% receives only 6%.
And to talk about “socialism of XXI century” in the face of such reality is to help the world campaign against socialism be boosted by imperialism since capitalism had been restored in the USRR and the Eastern Europe states. How can there be socialism when the rate of exploitation of the working class and private economy flourish at the expense of poverty of the toiling masses, and when the bourgeoisie amasses the fattest part of national revenue?
This reality cannot be concealed and the so often mentioned “Missions” have not solved – and could not have solved – the fundamental problems. This is because they never go any further than the compensatory measures, like the World Bank proposes, which are based on a minimum redistribution of oil revenue in order to palliate the desperate situation of sectors of the population living in extreme poverty and so hold back up to a point possible social riots while they create electoral political clientele favorable for the government.
The other side of the coin of the economic policy is the strengthening of new bourgeois sectors, which are completely parasitic of the state’s business. Actually, it was since the creation of the joint ventures and the co-opting of trade union leaders and social leaders, that Bolivarian bourgeoisie, known as the “boli-bourgeoisie”, began to thrive.
Those new rich, who have been amassing fortunes from the State’s business, have as one of its main exponents the former military man and current president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, whose an owner of three banks and several companies under contract with the state .
An authoritative and anti-proletarian regime
While partially leaning on the workers’ movement, Chavez constantly tried to control it and handcuff it. He stimulated and fortified trade union bureaucracy with gangster-like features, completely subordinate to himself.
That is why, the entire official propaganda and discourse on the “defense of the Bolivarian revolution” and the “construction of socialism” against the “enemies of the motherland” has always been (and still is) in the service of disciplining the movement of the toiling masses. That is how the idea was imposed that whoever was not with Chavez is with the “counterrevolution”.
In 2006, Chavez made a leap forwards when he led the formation of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), with the intention of placing a straight jacket of a “sole party” on the Venezuelan labor movement and left.
Due to this regime, all the sectors (many of them of the working class) who rose to fight were victims of brutal repressions, selective murders and political or union persecutions. Among others we can quote the repression against Patrocasa in Carabobo, on workers of Maracay Sanitary Fittings, on workers of Mitsubishi and several indigenous peoples and sectors of peasant occupying lands of large estate owners, whether “Bolivarian” or not.
Without any exceptions, those sectors that fought back against the measures of the government were accused of being “destabilizing” or “counterrevolutionary”- the same as those who refused to join PSUV or to be dissolved in it.
Chavez’s support for genocidal regimes
All these facts should be enough to prove that there is not and has never been any socialism. Instead, that there has been a government that guaranteed fortunes for a sector of the bourgeoisie, paid the foreign debt dutifully, continued giving the country’s wealth to imperialism, and in order to contain the toiling masses, combined welfarism sustained on resources coming from periods of good international prices of oil and also, on the direct repression of fighting sectors of the toiling masses.
And yet, we still have to quote two facts that prove thoroughly their class character. The first one, fully demonstrative of Chavez’s submission to the interests of world imperialism, is the shameful cooperation with the reactionary and lackey-like Juan Manuel Santos administration, successor of the genocidal Alvaro Uribe, to whom he handed over activists linked to the FARC (like in the case of the journalist Joaquin Perez Becerra and other social fighters) to the Colombian government in violation of laws valid in Venezuela, simply because Santos requested this from him. How can we categorize anti-imperialist a person who cooperates with the top lackey of Latin America in imprisoning fighters in Colombian jails.
On the other hand, when the revolutionary process in the Middle East and North Africa broke out, the “socialist” Chavez administration declared unconditional support for bloodthirsty dictators such as Gadafi and Al Assad while the Libyan and Syrian peoples were up in arms against their regimes. And he did so, presenting them as “anti-imperialist fighters”, knowing that for a long time now they have been doing nothing but to bow to imperialism. This has caused great bewilderment among activists of the revolutions in North Africa and Middle East, who due to the weight of the influence of Chavez (and the Castros) identify the left as allies of murderous dictatorships that oppress the peoples. In this way he betrayed these popular revolutions and presented the struggle for democratic liberties and human rights to imperialism on a silver platter.
It is no coincidence that Santos of Colombia and Al Asaad regretted Chavez’s death and expressed their gratitude for him.
After the demise of Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, up till then vice-president and the successor appointed directly by Chavez, has taken over his place. New elections have been summoned for within 30 days. And even though there is no certainty as to the results, most of the political forces believe that the most probable prognosis is that Chavismo will win and Maduro will be elected president. But what is certain is that whoever will win, the new president will have to apply austerity plans that are evidently unpopular and without the figure of Chavez to counterweigh in the clash of classes.
To achieve this goal, Chavismo will have to intensify totalitarian measures to halt the struggles and protests against those new economic and social attacks.
The traditional Venezuelan right, overtly reactionary and with a high coup-making tradition, regards Chavez’s departure as an opportunity to raise their heads and regain power. Capriles and the old Venezuelan bourgeoisie, who wish to get back to power in order to gain the benefits of being direct agents of imperialism, are not a solution for the toiling masses. Capriles stands for another political variant of pro-American capitalism that will go on exploiting workers, which is what they have been doing in the provinces where they have been in the office for years now (Miranda, Zulia, Carabobo, etc.). Their program is to be better suppliers of oil for imperialism and defenders of great national and foreign entrepreneurs. Capriles is just another one of those and he can offer nothing new for the toiling masses.
It is necessary to build a proletarian and socialist alternative
At present, a deep reflection on the balance sheet of the Chavez administration has become unavoidable for all social activists and especially for the revolutionary and socialist left.
This is a strategic debate for all those who really wish to have a really proletarian and socialist solution. The urgent task is to build a third political space, with class independence and in opposition to Chavismo as well as the traditional neo-liberal right wing. In our opinion, the only way of definitely solving the problems of the Venezuelan working class is still connected to independent organization and mobilization of labor forces.
We need a political alternative that will hoist the flag of a government of workers, peasants and of popular movements, that will expropriate the bourgeoisie and imperialism, that will nationalize the banks and foreign trade, and in this way will initiate the construction of a classless society. This means the construction of a real socialist, revolutionary and internationalist leadership.
For this purpose it is necessary for the working class to trust their own force only and exclusively, and to take their destiny into their own hands. This is the only way towards real socialism.