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Venezuela and the fight for socialism

Commentary by Sean Orr |
December 10, 2017
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Milwaukee, WI - An understanding of Bolivarian Venezuela is critical for revolutionaries in the U.S. Alongside Cuba, it is the strongest enemy of U.S. imperialism in the Western Hemisphere, and is on the short list of countries with which the Trump administration is openly threatening war. This alone is reason enough for Marxist-Leninists in the U.S. to want to understand Venezuela and stand in solidarity with its people. Their ability to defeat the reactionary efforts of the American monopoly capitalists is an inspiration for all of us who wish to see a world without imperialism.

But Venezuela is more than that. In the eyes of the bourgeois press, both political parties, and many leftists, Venezuela is a socialist country. The national government of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) has declared as such, with Hugo Chávez declaring that they will lead the founding of “21st century socialism" in Latin America.

In this situation, it is important for us to look honestly at reality. Venezuela is still a capitalist country, but one where a radical national democratic movement — the Bolivarian Revolution — has seized political power. Much of the Bolivarian rank and file want to see socialism take hold of the country. But, in the words of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) Politburo, the point of unity of the Bolivarian movement is not socialist revolution, but rather “the defense of national sovereignty against the neo-colonial pretensions of U.S. and European imperialism.” It is a national democratic movement, first and foremost, one where many classes participate.

From the moment that Hugo Chávez swept into office at the head of a broad coalition of forces, there has been a debate over the direction of the Bolivarian Revolution. Like with all national movements, there is an internal class struggle within the Bolivarian movement over which class will lead. Whether or not the Venezuelan masses will establish socialism will be decided by this internal dynamic. This struggle happens in fits and bursts, as the movement often must close ranks to defend the national sovereignty from U.S. imperialism and the reactionary bourgeoisie.

Events in recent months have given the Bolivarian movement some space. The bourgeois opposition is in tatters after their failures in several recent elections. As a product of this infighting, most right-wing parties will boycott the municipal elections on Dec. 15. This means that there is little fear within the Bolivarian movement of dividing the votes of their participants. Now the simmering class tension within the movement has room to come to the forefront.

Working-class Bolivarian forces, led by the Communist Party and other organizations, have long been frustrated by the political dominance of the PSUV, which has led the government since its formation in 2008. They are particularly frustrated by the lack of a functioning coalition. For over two years the Simón Bolívar Great Patriotic Pole (GPP-SB), the political leadership of the Bolivarian Revolution, has not done its job of meeting regularly, endorsing candidates, and giving political direction to the government. Instead, the PSUV has put forward its own members for office, and expects the other GPP-SB members to endorse or risk being accused of sectarianism.

Municipal elections

Revolutionary forces are breaking with this norm for the municipal elections. While the vast majority of PSUV candidates have their endorsement (a sign of the absolute importance they place on unity in the face of the enemy), any politician accused of corruption, opportunism or anti-communism is facing a nominee from the Communist Party or another revolutionary group.

One stunning turn of events is happening in the capital of Caracas, where the PSUV candidate is facing a strong challenge from Eduardo Samán on a joint ticket of the Communist Party and Homeland For All party. Samán is no political outsider: having held the positions of trade minister and president of Venezuela’s consumer protection agency, he is a well-known figure in the Bolivarian movement.

Samán gained the love of Venezuelan workers for his efforts to nationalize companies accused of hoarding or working against the national interest. These same actions earned him the hatred of the bourgeoisie, who tried to assassinate Samán with a grenade attack in 2013. Samán’s candidacy has won the endorsement of over a dozen Bolivarian parties and organizations, as well as the support of former Caracas mayor Juan Barreto.

In several regions, the communes - one of the great revolutionary products of the Bolivarian period - are fielding their own candidates for the first time. A fledgling form of socialist political and economic power, communes are units of self-government and worker-owned production. There are currently thousands of communes across the country, and they have begun to centralize their efforts into higher regional bodies. Where they exist, communes are a dual power to the traditional political structure, and are a source of anxiety for many reformist politicians. The Communist Party and others are vocal supporters of the communes, and advocate a ‘communal state’ as the revolutionary replacement to the bourgeois liberal state currently in place.

One of the most famous communes is El Maizal, an agricultural commune in the state of Lara that produces corn and other essential foods. Its leader, Angel Prado, is now running for mayor of Simón Planas on a joint ticket with the Communists and the Tupamaros. However, the election commission is refusing to recognize his candidacy, arguing that Prado cannot run until he is relieved of his duties as a delegate to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) — despite the fact that a number of sitting governors and mayors are delegates. Appeals to the ANC to allow his candidacy were ignored, so over a thousand comuneros marched to the ANC headquarters in Caracas, demanding to be heard.

The leadership of the PSUV is split in how to answer to this revolutionary push. Some, like former Commune Minister Reinaldo Iturriza, support these candidacies as expressions of the desire of the Bolivarian rank and file. Others, like PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello, condemn the Communist Party as sectarian and call on supporters to push out elements that “seek division within the Bolivarian Revolution.”

The National Constituent Assembly

The National Constituent Assembly, elected July 31 to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, has become a historic point of struggle over the direction of the Bolivarian Revolution. It is a forum where the struggle over Venezuela’s future could be decided. As José Novoa, an ANC delegate and member of the Revolutionary Party of Labor, recently said: “At the center of the ANC is a grand debate that has opened in the heart of the people’s movement, to define where the Bolivarian process is going, and not only define it, but to travel towards the real construction of that process which we desire, which is breaking with the bourgeoisie and definitively advancing to the construction of socialism.”

This struggle is taking place in the context of economic crisis. Ever since the escalation of tension between Venezuela and the U.S. over the summer, the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar, has been in free fall. The cost of basic goods has skyrocketed, bringing great harm to working-class families. The question of how to handle the crisis is where the debate over the movement’s future arises.

President Maduro, ANC President Delcy Rodriguez, and the PSUV leadership are clear that their priority is rooting out corruption and economic saboteurs. They have empowered Attorney General Tarek Saab, to carry out the largest anti-corruption campaign in their history, arresting dozens of business and political figures, including the two most recent presidents of PDVSA, on charges of imports fraud, smuggling, embezzlement and economic sabotage. Maduro himself has said that eliminating “bourgeois corruption” in the ranks of the government is the top priority at this moment.

Revolutionary forces, organized into the Anti-Imperialist and Anti-Fascist Popular Front (FPAA) and led by the Communist Party, argue that arresting the corrupt is not enough. The economic depression, while enflamed by corruption, is a product of capitalist crisis, and only by breaking with capitalism will Venezuela be saved. The FPAA, with the support of much of the Bolivarian rank and file, demand the seizure of industries, the nationalization of banks, and the handing of economic power over to the working class.

The way to handle the economic crisis has led to open struggle in the ANC. When the body’s vice president gave a press conference saying not enough was done to tackle the crisis, he was removed and replaced by another leader who said anyone that criticized the government’s response to the crisis was a “traitor to the revolution.” This statement was condemned by the Communist Party, the FPAA, and Elias Jaua, a leading ideologist of the PSUV.

Where will this go

The challenge in Venezuela is how to move forward. For the Bolivarian rank and file and the Venezuelan working class, the path forward is the one that leads to socialism. For the Communist Party and other revolutionaries, this means seizing control of the economy to destroy the power of the bourgeoisie, and purging corrupt elements from within the ranks of the Bolivarian Revolution. The movement is pressuring the government to take on the economic crisis head on, to seize control of major industries, nationalize banks, and hand power over to the working class. The coming period will be critical in determining whether or not such a new and glorious society will come to existence.