Venezuela: The Constituent Assembly and Tasks for Revolutionaries
On 1 May, President Nicolas Maduro announced the calling of a Constituent Assembly, “to achieve peace the Republic needs…. to defeat the fascist coup… so that it will be the people and their sovereignty which impose peace, harmony and real national dialogue.”
This declaration comes in the context of a grave economic and social crisis, with inflation at over 700% (3,000% for food prices) and a clear erosion of numerous reforms and social conquests won in previous years, including the sacking of thousands of workers. Poverty, which was reduced under Chavez, is growing spectacularly, leading to increased urban violence, insecurity, marginalisation etc.
The Venezuelan right wing (united in the MUD) uses this situation in an opportunist and hypocritical way, trying to capitalise on it. The bourgeois parasites of the MUD cannot offer any alternative to workers and the people, their programme represents the same nightmare as Temer in Brazil and Macri in Argentina.
However, the triumph of the counter-revolutionary right wing in Venezuela is today a very real possibility. The fundamental reason for this is that the Maduro government is not applying socialist policies, but quite the opposite. He is making one concession after another to the national and international capitalists and carrying out tough cuts against the social base which has propped up the revolutionary process.
The working class and poor have done all within their power to make a socialist revolution, based on workers democracy and defeat the counter-revolutionaries. But the government – despite still speaking about socialism and revolution – is applying capitalist policies which only serve to demoralise and demobilise the masses.
Counter-revolutionary strategy and the contradictions in the state
The international capitalists and the MUD have reacted to the calling of the Constituent Assembly with cries of horror. With their habitual cynicism the same people who organised the coup of 2002, and locked up Hugo Chavez (democratically elected by the people), dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution (ratified by 87% of people in a referendum), now speak of “coup d’état” and “dictatorship”, crying crocodile tears about the threat to “liberties” in Venezuela.
The desperation of the MUD and imperialists in their rejection of the Constituent Assembly is not casual. Their objective is to bring down Maduro as quickly as possible, get into the presidential palace and apply savage plans of privatisation and attacks on workers and the poor, dismantling all the progressive measures applied under Chavez. This would comply with the demands of their overlords – the IMF and imperialist multinationals.
The current parliament (National Assembly), elected in December 2015 and dominated by the MUD is one of the main instruments for carrying these plans out. Accepting the Constituent Assembly means renouncing this fundamental instrument. As well as giving time and room for manoeuvre to the Maduro government, it could also have the effect of demoralising the social base of the counter-revolutionary right wing, as already happened with the tactic which they adopted following October 2016, under pressure from the White House. At that time, imperialism, after the failure of the 12-hour strike called by the MUD, concluded that the MUD lacked the strength necessary to successfully storm the presidential palace. It therefore forced its leaders to delay its plans and try negotiations with the government. The result was to demoralise part of the MUD’s supporters for some months.
The decision of the Supreme Justice Tribunal on 30 March to assume the functions of the National Assembly provoked a new turn in the situation. This measure opened up divisions in the government and tops of the state, which led Maduro to counteract it. The right wing, encouraged by these divisions, threw itself back onto the streets and organised significant demonstrations, especially in the beginning. However, for the moment, it still has the same problem as it did 8 months ago. Despite the economic downturn, together with the growing discontent with many of the economic and political measures of the government during the last year which has undermined its support, the MUD leaders still cannot make a real connection with the masses (especially the poorest). The MUD’s origins and class interests and close links with the capitalists and imperialists makes it difficult for them, so far, to build a level of pressure on the streets sufficient to bring about a complete rupture within the leadership of the state and army.
The stoppages called by the MUD in the last few days have not enjoyed any support in any significant sector of the working class. Not only this, but the attitude of the bosses has not been enthusiastic either. Many bosses are sceptical as to whether a stoppage can really force a change in government. They also fear that participating in the stoppages would endanger them receiving assistance and dollars from the government, especially since it is not applying any measures against them, at the moment.
Many of the measures of Chavez which the bosses attacked – such as expropriations, calls for workers’ control and mobilisation etc – have been abandoned by the government and a significant part of the measures demanded by bosses for years are beginning to be implemented by Maduro. This includes price increases, flexibility of controls, limits to the participation of workers, putting a brake on the attempts of Left sectors to create revolutionary trade unions and struggle for workers’ control, payment of the public debt, and alliances with national and foreign bosses to launch “mixed companies” and “special economic zones” etc.
With limited possibilities of raising the level of street mobilisation, or of successful economic stoppages, the majority of MUD leaders and a sector of imperialism have turned in recent weeks towards a tactic of strengthening the actions of fascist gangs, which the international media present as indignant youths defending democracy.
The gangs are organising attacks on public buildings and clashes with the National Guard which, at the time of writing, have already caused 45 deaths. They want to create the pretext in public opinion that there is a situation of civil conflict in Venezuela which requires strong intervention by international imperialist bodies (like the UN). They hope that diplomatic pressure and sanctions can cause a change in the balance of forces in the military high command which they have not managed until now.
For now, the support of the military leaders for the calling of the Constituent Assembly has seemed unanimous, based on public declarations at least. One of the first and most explicit statements of support was from the Minister of Defence and chief of the army, Vladimir Padrino. However, the situation is very volatile and could change in one way or another quickly, as we saw with the fallout from the Supreme Tribunal and the National Assembly. It is clear that there are splits and divisions within the state apparatus. The state attorney, Luisa Ortega Diaz, who opposed the Tribunal decision has said that the “1999 constitution cannot me improved” has criticised the calling of the Constituent Assembly and has even justified some of the actions of opposition protestors, blaming the government for violence in some cases.
Fort the moment, these divisions within the state apparatus have not stopped the decree calling the Constituent Assembly from being signed and published. But it is not possible to rule out by any means that in a given moment the pressure of the MUD and imperialists can open up new divisions or provoke a crisis in the government and state leadership.
If the government was applying genuinely socialist policies, allowing the working class and poor to really have the initiative and power in its hands, ending corruption and the sabotage of the capitalists and state bureaucracy, it would be relatively easy to defeat the counter-revolutionary plans and save the Bolivarian revolution from defeat and bureaucratic degeneration. Unfortunately the policies being applied are in the other direction.
Combat the counter-revolution with socialist, not capitalist policies
Following the electoral defeat of December 2015, thousands of working class Chavista activists demanded, in spontaneous assemblies, a turn to the left and the development of working class and people power. Not only to fight against the MUD-led National Assembly, but also to end the power of the bureaucratic fifth column which speaks of Chavismo, socialism and revolution but is dismantling the gains of the revolution.
The government has previously formed a ‘Communal parliament’ and ‘Congress of the fatherland’. Both were presented as initiatives to stimulate people power and participation by the rank and file. What took place was the opposite. The Communal parliament was cut across and was never used to threaten the right wing. Its development along the lines which activists hoped for and proposed was not permitted. As far as the ‘Congress of the fatherland’ was concerned, it became a big rally in which people power and the “leadership of the revolution by the working class” was endlessly spoken about but not one single concrete measure to allow either of the two was taken.
When sections of the critical rank and file tried to raise their voices or make their proposals they were labelled as “radicals”, “ultra lefts”, “stone throwers” or even worse, “squalid”. While the official rhetoric spoke of “leadership of companies by the working class”, thousands of revolutionary workers are sacked from RABSA (the ‘Bicentenario supplies network’), other workforces have been reduced and the elections to the SUTISS union (representing SIDOR, the second biggest company in the country) were impeded for fear that left sectors critical with the government’s policies would win. The same happened with the elections to the United Federation of Oil Workers (FUTPV).
These measures go alongside economic policies such as price rises, cuts to salaries, even breaking salary norms established by Chavez. The government has also been tolerant with companies refusing to recognise trade unions.
Other expressions of this shift to the right were the punctual payment of the public debt to the bankers while cutting funds for importing food for the poor, the opening of the Orinoco oil region to mixed companies and the creation of a consortium under the control of the army chief which has the power to reach agreements with private companies for the exploitation of mineral resources. The “mining arc” region policy also opens up 12% of Venezuelan land with mineral resources to exploitation by multinationals including firms like Gold Reserve, which were expelled from Venezuela by Chavez. More recently, we saw the ‘Expo Potencia’ policy, where millions of dollars were handed over to bosses and many of their demands were met.
This search for agreements with the bourgeoisie even goes as far as the attempt to get recognition from US imperialism, or at least of a part of it. Recently the Aporrea website published proof that the CITGO petrol station chain (owned by PDVSA the state oil company) made a donation of $500,000 to Donald Trump’s election campaign – supposedly in order to get better treatment for Venezuela from the new US President. This information has not been challenged by government leaders questioned so far.
All of these policies, contrary to what the revolutionary rank and file hoped for, are not accidental deviations. In practice, the objective of building socialism under the leadership of the workers and people has been totally abandoned and replaced with an attempt to build a model of state capitalism, in alliance with Russian and Chinese imperialism (which are presented as friends of the Venezuelan people) and with sections of the Latin American ruling class.
Does the Constituent Assembly represent a turn to the Left?
Will the calling of the Constituent Assembly mean a change regarding these policies? Among some sections of the rank and file of the PSUV and Bolivarian movement, even some who have been critical with the government in the recent months, there is a certain hope that this could be the case. Another layer of activists and revolutionary militants remain very critical of the measure and even openly no dot trust it.
Maduro and other leaders of the PSTU have spoken of a Constituent Assembly of the working class and the people. “I am calling an Assembly of citizens, not of parties or elites, an assembly of workers, communes, peasants, feminists, youth, students indigenous people but above all, a profoundly working class assembly, decisively working class and deeply communal…”, Maduro said.
According to statements made subsequently, at least 250 of the members of the Assembly will be elected by sectors and guilds. They have spoken of representatives of the social projects, workers, pensioners, communal councils etc, although it is still not clear which sectors or how many delegates each one would have. Paradoxically, some extreme right critics of the revolution have coincided with some of the government’s most uncritical cheerleaders on the Left, who have compared the Constituent Assembly with direct soviet democracy! But does it really have anything to do with the soviets – elected bodies subject to recall which allowed the working class and peasantry to take power in Russia and build a revolutionary socialist state 100 years ago?
If this was the case, it would of course be an enormous step forward. However, unfortunately, the answer is in the negative. The Constituent Assembly proposed has nothing to do with developing organs of workers’ power. Workers’ democracy in the form of soviets – i.e workers’, peasants and soldiers’ councils which are established as revolutionary organs of power in transition to socialism and form the backbone of a workers’ state – can only be the product of strong independent action from below by the workers themselves. Never can this be achieved by measures from above, especially not by a government which at the same time is seeking deals with the ruling class.
The development of power for the working class and poor implies the necessary destruction of the bourgeois state and its privileges, laws and instruments of repression (ministries, mayors, army and police which are separated from the people, etc) and its replacement with the power of the working class, which democratically controls the new socialist state in transition, through democratically elected and recallable councils of delegates, subject to the permanent control of those who elected them. No elected representative or public official could earn more than the wage of a skilled worker. This must go together with the expropriation of the main sources of wealth production (factories, land and banks) which can be democratically managed in a planned economy to solve the needs of the people.
The calling of the Constituent Assembly by the government is not a revolutionary measure. It does not have any of the aforementioned objectives. It is not combined with a plan to put factories, lank or banks under the direct democratic administration of the workers and poor. Quite the contrary. The objective of the new Constituent Assembly and the other measures of the government is to reinforce the state apparatus, which is still bourgeois, and the aforementioned agreements with different sectors of the national and international capitalist class. This must be rejected by all those who fight to end capitalism and make a socialist society a reality.
In the 9 objectives cited by Maduro for the Assembly , socialism is not even mentioned, being replaced by the promise of a so-called “post-oil economic model”. The same applies to people power, workers control and calls to mobilise against the bureaucracy. What is mentioned is the call for an alliance with the bosses to build a “Venezuela for all”. In fact, until now the government has had more meetings with bosses representatives to talk about the new proposal, than with any other sector.
Organise workers and the poor for a revolution within the revolution and kick out the capitalists and bureaucrats
One of the arguments of the defenders of the Constituent Assembly is that, given the counter-revolutionary offensive and International pressure, “nothing else can be done”. But is this correct? No! We can and must do something else. We can and must do what the rank and file have been demanding for some time, which even Chavez put forward before his death: turn to the left and carry out a revolution within the revolution which takes power from those who today exercise it and are dragging the economy to a disaster, the capitalists and bureaucrats, and put it in the hands of the working class and poor. However, only the workers and oppressed can carry this out. How? Establishing a Revolutionary Assembly of elected and recallable delegates, in factories, the countryside and army barracks, and adopting a socialist programme to fight the capitalists and the “Bolivarian” bureaucracy. They claim to be socialist but have multi-million dollar joint business interests with the capitalists and connive in the threatening of revolutionary gains, and they control a considerable part of the state apparatus.
If elections to the Constituent Assembly take place, which seems likely at the moment, and they only serve to paint leaders who have acted against the power of the working class, as “representatives of the people”, then none of the problems which have caused the current situation of demoralisation among the masses and advance of the counter-revolution, will be solved. Those who use socialist rhetoric and the image of Chavez to propel themselves into power and accumulate privileges while the population suffers inflation and scarcity, cannot continue in the leadership.
There is only one way to avoid a victory of the bourgeois counter-revolution, which the MUD and imperialism, as well as the bureaucratic degeneration in the government which liquidates revolutionary gains and ultimately strengthens the power of capitalism, represent. Workers and the poor, who made the revolution advance in the past and defended it against the attacks of imperialism and counter-revolution, must mobilise and organise independently to fight for our rights and demands and defend the revolutionary gains which are today threatened.
On 1 May, various rank and file Chavista organisations, which are critical of the policies of the government, discussed forming a united front and calling on the critical sectors of the PSUV who are opposed to alliances with the bourgeoisie, to struggle together for a revolutionary policy. This is the way forward. Only the people can save the people. Only the unity of the youth, peasants, workers and revolutionary soldiers to struggle for an anti-capitalist, socialist, internationalist anti-bureaucracy programme to put all political and economic power in the hands of the working class, can avoid a tragic defeat of the Venezuelan revolution.