Gabriela Sanchez — Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Venezuela)
On 12F, three people (two right wing supporters and one government supporter) were killed in Caracas and dozens injured and arrested in the protests and demonstrations that took place around Venezuela to commemorate the annual ’Youth Day’.
Many images have emerged in the last few days seemingly depicting SEBIN agents (the Bolivarian Intelligence Service) as being responsible for the murder of the three. Rumours about agent provocateurs and infiltrators abound.
In the days following 12F there continue to be both large and small demonstrations and protests on a daily basis from the right wing and the government. While distinct marches from government supporters and the right wing opposition are normal, the violence generated mainly from the reactionary right wing of the opposition mark yet another crucial phase for the working class and poor in the Bolivarian process.
Maduro has called the protests a ’coup in progress’ and many on the left have likened it to the events leading up to the 2002 coup against Chavez. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez (a right reactionary leader involved in the 2002 coup). The right wing on the other hand have tried to sell it as a struggle for ’liberation’ from a ’dictatorship’ that brings with it all the evils of the world including inflation, crime and corruption.
Some right wing leaders have stated it is a ’popular’ protest, which represents the majority of Venezuelans. A few left groups have even said that these protests are representative of the general and warranted ’discontent’ that exists in all sectors of society. One has even gone a step further and called for a united front of the sectors concerned to join together to fight for a workers government, seemingly without consideration that what both classes are fighting for is completely different.
There have been hundreds of protests in the last year about housing, crime, for collective contracts to name a few. Additionally there have been occupations of factories and calls by workers for the government to nationalise the factories and give the workers control and management. We have reported on many of these. But these protests and the aim of those protesting stands apart from the aim of these recent protests.
There have also been different views expressed from the left within Venezuela and internationally regarding the position revolutionaries should take and what is to be done to combat yet another right wing threat.
During a national address to the nation on the 16th of February Maduro said that although there are two sectors of the right wing at the moment one side is hiding its support for the recent destabilising protests and trying to present itself as democratic while the other is openly supporting a coup, backed by the US.
While there can be little doubt about the role of US imperialism, there are significant differences between what is happening now and what happened in 2002, particularly in relation to the right wing and its supporters as well as the military.
After years of defeat following the failed right wing tactics of coup and economic sabotage, it took the right years to regroup. In 2012 they were for the first time able to ’unite’ to elect a common candidate, Capriles Radonski, to stand against Chavez in his final presidential election. The right wing leaders rejected the mistakes of the coup and bosses lock out and started tapping in to the issues affecting the working class and poor that weren’t being addressed by the government, such as housing, crime and the worsening economic situation.
While they lost the election, they won over 6 million votes and stated they would continue fighting for all Venezuelans ’democratically’. The next presidential elections in April 2013 led to a difference of just over 200, 000 votes between Capriles and Maduro. The result was contested by the right wing at the time and the tactics they employed started to mark the differences within their ’unity’. On one hand was the ’democratic’ Capriles and on the other side the more reactionary Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Carolina Machado.
This difference has become clearer in the last few months and weeks and Lopez and Machado have called for a participation in different demonstrations culminating in 12F. They dubbed the march ’the Exit’ (from the ’regime’ that is). Even right wing supporters were writing opinion pieces in the papers stating that their plans would result in the end of the right wing again and that lessons must be learned from 2002.
In the last few days the moderate rights have sought to distance themselves from the protests that have been carried out by a small group of students where government offices, buildings and public property have been targeted. Ironically they have chosen to carry this out in their own area, annoying their own class more than anyone else. Many have stated they are the work of infiltrators, but given that the same protests have occurred for 5 evenings consecutively you would be quite naive to believe ’infiltrators’ could continue to organise repeatedly at such a level.
But even the daily protests of hundreds of students in the main plaza of the middle-upper-middle class suburb of Altamira in Caracas, have not been supported by the majority of people in the surrounding areas. While students block the main intersection, also one of the major roads in the city, people walk around the protest, go to work, eat lunch and go about their daily business. While Sunday’s march for ’peace’ and the release of detained students organised by the right wing attracted thousands, support for the more reactionary sector is limited. This is in complete distinction to the massive demonstrations and marches organised by the right wing in the lead up to the 2002 coup. In these days a demonstration in Altamira’s plaza meant mass participation.
Of course events can change a situation rapidly and we must be aware of this, the arrest of Lopez for example or ongoing repression of the small student protests taking place nightly, may lead to more sectors of the right wing supporting more reactionary measures. More widespread action and protests are possible, but are likely to remain within the same neighbourhoods of the protestors. These neighbourhoods incidentally are governed locally and on a state level by the right wing.
The other important distinction to the 2002 coup is the role of the military. In 2002 the right wing had support from a sector of the military but since this date, Chavism has been able to consolidate its support through various means. At the moment they overwhelmingly support the government and any defection within the forces is unlikely to be tolerated.
Protests, Discontent and Class
It is no secret that there is significant and wide- ranging discontent in society over a number of issues such as the economy, crime and housing to name but a few. We agree with this, but the difference between how it is felt by the classes in society and their subsequent demands couldn’t be more marked. The impact of the economic crisis the country is experiencing, for example, is having a huge impact on the working class and the poor, much more of an impact than on the upper middle class and bourgeoisie.
As in all times of capitalist crisis it is the working class and the poor who are hardest hit. The majority of Venezuelans today struggle to make ends meet. The monthly minimum wage, while increasing on a yearly basis, by 45% in 2013 alone, still does not meet the rate of inflation- officially at 56% in 2013. This inflation effects everything from toilet paper to school uniforms and is much higher in reality on goods, and foods not regulated by the state which is just about everything but the basics.
While the reforms pushed forward from below under Chavez have been progressive and led to a huge drop in extreme poverty in the country, Chavism, for many reasons which we have explained in previously published articles and analysis, failed to break with capitalism. As a result the reforms are left highly vulnerable, particularly in a country that relies almost solely on the exportation of petroleum for its GDP and expenditure.
The effects of a global downturn were sharply seen in 2009 when the global financial crisis saw a 50% drop in the price of petroleum and subsequent cut back in the provision of hard won reforms. This also hit the poorest the hardest in terms cutbacks to social and health missions.
Today it is the poor who queue from the early hours of the morning, often day after day, to seek free medical care, while in the rich areas of Caracas people queue with their pets at a free mobile vet service provided by their right wing local government.
It is the working class and poor students in public education where often there aren’t enough teachers for every subject and it is these students who still can’t find a place in a public university. It is teenage girls from the barrios and rural areas who are more likely to become pregnant and drop out of school as a result: Venezuela has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America. They are also likely to live in unstable, unsafe or precarious housing and be waiting for a house through the housing mission.
The working class and the poor are the majority of Venezuelans and despite a significant waning of support for the government this majority know that a return to the right wing will not improve their situation.
The Bolivarian Process has left the working class with a consciousness that to return to the past, that is the right, would not help. The slogans ’No Volveran’ and ’Chavez Vive, la Revolucion Sigue’ heard on demonstrations and protests are a testament to the fact that for many the right wing will never offer a solution and that what is needed is revolution. Although the definition of what socialism and revolution is remains confused amongst the masses the demands remain. What is missing is an organisation to take these demands forward.
The more advanced sections of the working class that correctly protest against the bureaucracy, corruption, counter-revolutionary elements within the government as well as the repression of strikes and worker’s rights and the inherent contradictions of Chavism put forward working class demands. While the specific demands depending on the workplace and stage of struggle vary, most do and would agree with the demand of worker’s control and management, for true working class representation and the rights of trade unions to organise and strike.
The minority protesting in the last week clearly do not have the same demands or interests and are not facing the same day-to-day problems as the majority of Venezuelans. Pictures of the students protesting and many of their actions could be easily confused with young people in Greece, Spain and many other countries who are fighting against savage capitalist cuts.
Except that these students in Venezuela are not facing an unemployment rate of 60%, enormous cutbacks in education or a life of poverty. These students are among the most privileged in Venezuelan society. They go to the best private schools, private universities, drive new model cars and motorbikes and not always but often have the capacity to go overseas for holidays.
There have been various ’documentaries’ circulating in the last few weeks on social media about how to fight a dictatorship, giving historical examples about the actions against Pinochet and other brutal dictators. Many of the slogans state that they are fighting for ’Freedom’, however what is this ’freedom’ they hope to achieve under the right wing? These protesters reject socialism as a way forward and believe that a ’democracy’ will liberate them.
Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world and calls by the right wing for action is just. These are also the same calls from the working class. However in order to really address the issue of crime the issues the inherent inequalities of capitalism must also be addressed. Crime will not be resolved under a right wing government, just as it will be not be seriously tackled under a government who continues to not attack the root causes.
The fanciful idea that the working class and the poor in Venezuela today and those fighting against what they believe is ’socialism’ and for capitalism have the same problems, demands or will unite is absurd and clearly shows a complete ignorance of a Marxist analysis of a class society.
Any form of coup will not be supported by the majority of Venezuelans and will not be tolerated by them for the reasons mentioned. In the face of a right wing threat consciousness will bring the poor and the working class into the streets to support the government if no other alternative exists. The key questions as revolutionaries is how intervene in this to put forward a fighting program of socialism and not leave the movement fighting for Chavism or the empty demand of peace which will never exist between the two classes.
Rallies for Peace
Both the right and the government held demonstrations over the weekend calling for ’peace’. Maduro publically invited Capriles to meet with him to talk about the protests and find a way forward. This reconciliatory approach is not something new to Chavism.
Following the tumultuous events of 2002, Chavez, in a national address, called on people to go home. Rather than call for or allow the formation of committees made up of workers and other sectors in society to investigate the coup, he stated that all Venezuelans needed to work together and forget. The events following the coup and pressure from below have pushed Chavism to radicalize at different times steps have always been taken to seek alliances with sectors of the bourgeoisie.
Following Maduro’s election in April, he did not call for mass meetings of workers and poor to discuss how to organise to change society. He called a meeting with the head of the Mendoza family. The Mendoza’s remain one of the most powerful families in Venezuela today and own Polar, which produces and imports food among other things. In short, he did a deal Polar would be left alone by the government and continue to get rich while Polar would increase food production and importation with the governments help and even be given some of the large factories previously expropriated from other companies.
The rallies for peace are means for the Government to seek support from all sectors of society and in doing so, not be pushed into more radical action that it doesn’t really want to implement. At times, as we have seen in this process, the government will react to pressure from below. However this pressure has still not seen the nationalisation of the economy as a whole, in the banking sector for example and even less the implementation of a planned economy.
At the moment the perspectives in relation to events in Venezuela next week or even tomorrow remain open. The current situation is in motion and how it will play out depends on many factors. Continued state repression of protests could, as mentioned, lead to more support from the right wing for radical action.
The day after 12F Maduro stated that any protest that did not have a permit was illegal and would be dealt with by the State. We should be opposed to any measures the government may take to curtail the right to protest as they can, have and may be used against workers and the poor.
What is needed to stop the right wing is a mass movement of the working class and poor united under a program to fight for socialism. Such a movement can win over sections of the middle class who also play a historically important role in revolution.
The call for a united front of the left as the first step towards this could not be more relevant today. A left front would not only link and unite the demands of workers and the poor, but through democratic discussion and debate on a nationwide level would put forward a program for revolutionary change.
Such a program should include the steps necessary to end capitalism and implement a planned economy, including full nationalisation of the banking sector and the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers control and management, all power to the community councils and communes organised by the people in those communities with democratic elections of elected leaders. All elected representatives to receive no more than the wage of an average skilled worker and subject to the right of automatic recall. For free and quality education and health care for all.
The return of the right wing would be a defeat for socialists worldwide. Workers and the poor will respond to calls to support the government, the task of revolutionaries will be to fight and struggle for more than this on a class basis.