Venezuela and left-wing adventurism
As the Venezuelan government moves to secure its position of power in a political struggle where from the beginning the Venezuelan working class has assumed the role of an extra rather than the lead, the revolutionary left around the world has been trapped in a theoretical discussion where the question of class has been absent from the start.
The failure to provide a theoretical defence against the forces of populism that emerged with Hugo Chavez’s Movement For the Fifth Republic (MVR) and its electoral victory in 1998, followed by the branding of that election as a revolution instantly turned those sections of the revolutionary left to stooges and apologists of populism, becoming in the process enslaved both organisationally and theoretically. Foolishly, they thought they could exert influence if they could preserve their organisational independence, only to become the vessels through which populism would reach and pollute politically sections of the working class previously the bureaucracy could not reach. A process that concluded with the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) after the 2006 electoral victory that Chavez initiated to achieve further consolidation of power. Through that the road for political influence to sections of the working class organised in minor left parties, left organisations or unions, was open. And the bureaucratic organisational characteristics of the federation meant that political influence had one and only direction. From the top to the bottom, and out to the streets . It Is for this reason as Marxists we oppose outright the calls for the formations of workers’ parties in the form of federations. Those that do, driven by adventurism and opportunism, engulfed by the need of political and organisational self-preservation, are oblivious to the dangers such political manifestations pose towards the ability of the working class to achieve political unity and class consciousness. For that they are historically responsible, leading as a result the Venezuelan working class into the hands of reaction and making it vulnerable to political exploitation. A mistake that has been repeated around the world with catastrophic results. An indication of theoretical bankruptcy in this period of populism and pseudo working class movements. For the role of Marxism is not to participate in the political misdirections the deficiency of bourgeois democracy and capitalism produce, but expose them.
As things stand, Venezuelan society finds itself to have concluded another economic circle, during which period a government has seen the realisation of social reforms only to be ripped away and discarded later on from the same government as capitalism moves into another period of crisis. Prior to Chavez’s election nineteen year ago about 80% of Venezuela’s population lived near the poverty line and about 80% do so today. And so in the superficial manner the act of revolution, the act of profound social and political transformation, has been treated by those that branded Chavez’s movement as one, such an act is therefor advocated as possible whenever global capitalism can afford to finance one; in doing so placing socialism as possible to exist within the parameters of global capitalism reinventing the disastrous notion of socialism in one state. In the period covering the previous fall of oil prices that threw Venezuelan society in turmoil and this one, international capital continued uninterrupted to enjoy a ‘business as usual’ relationship with the Venezuelan state and what it has to offer to global capitalism; either that be in the form of natural resources, cheap labor, financial speculation or national debt. All that stood as secondary to the illusion of a grant path towards socialism through various social reforms the government had instigated paid by the revenues of the oil sector and the economic tolerance of global capital.
Many on the left state that, regardless of their origin those reforms must be defended. Yet such a notion is a leap away from Marxism and a descent into pure economism; because it is precisely the political framework through which any reform takes place and its social derivation that defines the ability of the working class to defend it. Is it a product of class struggle and the advancement of the working class as it moves to challenge bourgeois democracy and the state itself in establishing duality of power? Or perhaps a product of reformism that takes place in the form of concessions and in order to halt such advancement from moving forward? Or as it has been in the case of Venezuela a political bribe, an attempt to buy the political consciousness of Venezuelan society, an effort to enlist the working class to promote a petty bourgeois movement in its attempt to replace the ruling class from state power. In the first two instances the working class has achieved class unity and class consciousness and through its institutions it can defend the gains of its struggle. With the organisational structure of the PSUV preventing mass class presence and unity, and the subsequent bureaucratic infiltration to every union and community based organisation, the Venezuelan working class and as consequence society itself has been placed in a condition of complete dependency to the state thus existing as a hostage of global capital. Certain Marxist economists have failed to take into consideration the class character of a movement as a means that defines the nature of economic reforms. They themselves fall in the trap of economism and left reformism (and in this case of populism), by promoting the notion that it is in fact economic reforms that define a movement from a class perspective. Once again reinventing the idea of socialism in one state. To this effect Michael Roberts stated in his blog on the 3rd of August the following:
“What went wrong with the laudable aims of Chavismo? Could this tragedy been avoided? Well, yes, if the Chavista revolution had not stopped at less than halfway, leaving the economy still predominantly in the control of capital. Instead, the Chavista and Maduro governments relied on high oil prices and huge oil reserves to reduce poverty, while failing to transform the economy through productive investment, state ownership and planning.”
(The tragedy of Venezuela)
Apparently socialism can be achieved through bourgeois democracy and the ability of a government to implement ‘productive investment’ and ‘state ownership’. The inadequacy of Venezuelan capitalism had forced the state to extend its ownership to various sectors of the economy even before the 1998 elections, with the majority of the banking sector coming under state control in 1995. After the election Chavez under the cover of ideology, nationalisation became a tool for replacing the inadequacy of private capital to sustain an industry in order to continue its service to global capital, or a means to replace a section of the ruling class from its financial position of power rather than emancipate the working class from it. The productive forces are in that way placed directly in the hands of global capital cutting off the mediacy of the domestic bourgeoisie, with the state becoming the direct facilitators of that relationship. Yet even in a process of complete state ownership of the economy the working class in not freed from its economic relationship to production; its condition is simply transferred to the global stage through its political relationship with the state and it is placed as a whole in direct antagonism with the rest of the world’s productive forces. This is the legacy of the Bolivarian revolution. Nothing more than becoming the pimps of international capital; with the working class pushed out into the streets in a state of beggary and thuggery ready to be enlisted to the services of the next reactionary political power that will promise economic reforms to tackle its impoverishment.
It is the impoverishment of the political soul however that prevents society to achieve true democracy, and the impoverishment of the political consciousness of the working class that is at the forefront of this development that allows the bourgeois state to take full control of political life. In July the 25th, on his personal page, the secretary of Hands off Venezuela campaign posted the following:
“In this letter to the CC, Lenin explains what should be the attitude of the Bolsheviks towards Kornilov’s reactionary uprising against Kerensky and how this influences their attitude towards Kerensky’s government. Very relevant for the current situation in Venezuela.”
(To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.)
One has to be blind not to see the correlation between the unconditional support of the Manduro government that is proposed by these revolutionaries and the unconditional support of the SR’s towards Kerensky’s government that Lenin criticises in that letter. But blind they are; for, the heroic march against the reactionary forces of Kornilov did not take place in defence of bourgeois democracy but to defend the true gain of the February revolution; the establishment of the soviets as a true political and administrational power challenging the existence of the state itself; the duality of power that was achieved and must exist, even in the form of potential development, if a movement is to be named revolutionary. Never in the period of this ‘Bolivarian revolution’ has the Venezuelan working class found itself in a position to challenge the state through its own revolutionary institutions. On the contrary, the shedding of class politics and the surrendering to populism, has allowed the bourgeois state to strengthen; with the government on the one hand using its political connections to influence class awareness in the neighborhoods and on the other using the machinery of the state (judicial, police, army, etc.) to consolidate its position against any potential political threats. And so after assisting, in the Venezuelan working class finding itself in a position where it is struggling to maintain basic democratic rights let alone the illusion of a socialist society, an illusion these revolutionaries helped create, the same people now propose the following:
“The alternative is the organisation and mobilisation of workers and the poor themselves to defend the gains of the revolution and extend them, taking up the demands of every section of the working class, uniting all the oppressed in a struggle to expropriate the capitalists and build a revolutionary socialist state to replace the current state which remains capitalist. Fight to develop a state based on workers and neighbourhood councils, on a local, regional and national level, elected and recallable at any time.”
(Venezuela: Imperialist offensive sharpens following Assembly elections)
These are empty words that exist far away from the daily reality Venezuela society finds itself; an attempt to conceal their theoretical bankruptcy and the embarrassment of being enslaved theoretically and organisationally to a populist movement.
Others, for the same reasons, have continued their theoretical existence as apologists to populism preserving the illusion of revolution. Again from the secretary of ‘Hands off Venezuela’ campaign and Marxism.com:
“The Constituent Assembly would only make sense if it was to be used in order to take decisive action to solve the current crisis, which has its roots in the deep economic recession. Only with a clear revolutionary programme is it possible to go forward. Left wing Constituent Assembly members should propose the following measures:
• For the Constituent Assembly to assume all powers”
(Venezuela after the Constituent Assembly elections, conciliation or revolution?)
All powers to a bourgeois institution whose role is to cement the efforts of a petty bourgeois movement to control the state and society. This is their revolutionary call. A call for the Venezuelan working class to take sides in a fight between two political forces that neither represent its interests and both use rhetoric to enlist its presence in the streets and in the polling stations. A call for aimless loss of life and the continuation of political insanity and deadlock that is the choice between the government and the opposition. A call that further weakens the working class’ ability to defend itself and society as a whole when in the future a more repressive regime will effortlessly take control of the state machinery. Effortlessly because the fragmentation of the organised forces of the working class, its division in the streets and the immense concentration of power would have opened the gates for a coup wide open. If the army moves to assume control as the situation further deteriorates, it will not be an act of imperialism or of reaction from the opposition but the consequences of populism supported by the opportunist forces of the left. For that they will historically have blood on their hands; and history will judge their marriage to populist movements around the world accordingly.