Combating the US Economic War on Venezuela – Differences in the Chavista Ranks

Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity

Roger Harris, Task Force on the Americas

Jesus Rodriguez-Espinosa, editor, Orinoco Tribune; former Consul General of the Consulate of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Chicago

Combating the US Economic War on Venezuela – Differences in the Chavista Ranks

The Popular Revolutionary Alternative, a new coalition within the Chavista movement in Venezuela, stresses the importance of fortifying the communes, popular organizations, peasant movements, and production cooperatives to further advance the Bolivarian struggle. Indeed, these are necessary tasks to develop a self-sustaining economic system. 

Yet, success in these fields alone will not resolve the overwhelming economic obstacle Venezuela faces: the US-European Union (EU) imperial blockade, combined with their outright looting of Venezuelan wealth and resources. That is a boot on Venezuela’s neck; day in, day out, changing only by becoming more severe the more Venezuela valiantly stands up for itself.

Alfred de Zayas, the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur on Venezuela, called the sanctions on Venezuela “economic asphyxiation.” CEPR reported in 2018 that the sanctions killed about 40,000 Venezuelans in little more than a year. The cumulative number of sanction-caused deaths is now much higher. To place the blame elsewhere than on the blockade is letting the imperial powers off the hook. It is capitulating to the anti-Venezuela propaganda by Washington and the rightwing opposition in Venezuela.

Formation of a new Chavista coalition independent of the ruling party

It is in this context that the new Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR) coalition was recently formed to run their own candidates independently of the dominant Chavista party, the PSUV, in the December 6 election for the National Assembly. The leading members of the APR are the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) and Patria Para Todos (PPT). They are minor parties, holding 10 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly, currently stripped of its powers.

The APR advocates issues important to the workers and peasants and, in this respect, plays and important and positive role. As Venezuelanalysis has noted when the APR was formed: “the parties have converged in criticising a range of government measures, including the privatisation of public assets, impunity for escalating rural violence, policies marginalizing communal empowerment and an economic agenda dubbed ‘anti-worker’.”

The APR proposes cutting national funding to the capitalists while increasing funding for the people to more fairly distribute national wealth. Luis Britto Garcia, a leading Chavista intellectual close to the VCP, takes issue with government handouts to big companies and to the present tax system that benefits the 5% who are business owners at the expense of the remaining workforce. 

The APR calls for “the construction of a political reference for the revolutionary overcoming of the crisis of capitalism.” PCV leader Oscar Figuera states, “The objective of the APR and its precursors is bringing together the working-class, campesino, and communard forces in a revolutionary way.”

Risks for the Chavista movement

The US is actively engaged in interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela by calling for a boycott of the National Assembly elections as part of its larger campaign to delegitimize and overthrow the elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The demand for an election boycott has been echoed by the Venezuelan puppet president Juan Guaidó, recognized by the US and its allies, and the far-right opposition.

The National Assembly is now controlled by the opposition. The recent pardoning of many opposition members imprisoned for criminal actions served to benefit the anti-imperialist struggle by furthering divisions among the opposition over participation in the December election.

But it remains to be seen if two separate Chavista slates in the National Assembly elections allows the opposition to win more seats than otherwise. Many rank-and-file Chavistas, sympathetic to the PCV, consider themselves more Chavistas than Communists (i.e., PCV). Many of these Chavistas sympathetic with the PCV believe that voting for the APR coalition might endanger the Chavista project by subtracting votes from the PSUV, which would put control of the National Assembly in jeopardy.

While having the APR alternative within the Chavista movement may engender healthy debate and airing of issues, it also comes with risks. For instance, given the dire economic condition in Venezuela caused by the US-EU blockade, the Maduro government has been forced to make certain compromises with major capitalist corporations to ensure vital necessities reach the populace. However, the APR/PCV criticisms of the government’s tactical moves to avoid further economic collapse, while not inappropriate, could be misinterpreted as abandonment of the Maduro administration.

Tensions exist within the broad Chavista movement over the ruling government party sometimes acting as if they were under siege and acting arrogantly towards the PCV and PTT – and they are under siege. The danger is this creates an impression for international leftists to form a misunderstanding of the struggle in Venezuela. Some may tend to consider as valid any criticisms against President Maduro and the PSUV made by the VCP. This is further compounded by ultra-left Trotskyist elements in Venezuela such as Marea Socialista, which use left rhetoric to unite with the right against the Chavista government.

It is certainly true abuses have occurred under Maduro’s administration as well as his predecessor Chávez. But no head of state or ruling group can be held solely responsible for all actions of all officials in the country. We should not fall for the double standard that the US and its corporate media sell: when a cop abuses someone here, he is called a bad apple; when a cop in a country the US seeks to overthrow abuses someone, it is an indictment of the alleged totalitarian dictatorial regime.

We must also emphasize that unlike the US, Venezuela seriously prosecutes police abuse, with vastly more police convicted and sent to prison. A total of 540 had been charged since August 5, 2017, with 426 actually imprisoned. In contrast, in the US, where police shoot an average of 1000 people a year, for the whole 15-year period 2005-2017, 28 police have been convicted for murder or manslaughter.

No solution to the crisis in Venezuela without ending the blockade

Although PCV leader Figuera allows, “we see imperialism as the main enemy of the Venezuelan people,” his APR coalition does not present measures how it would fight imperialism more effectively. As Venezuelan economist Pasqualina Curcio points out, there is no solution to the crisis Venezuela faces outside of ending the US-EU blockade and looting of Venezuela’s resources. Economist Mark Weisbrot with CEPR observes that the US sanctions are deliberately and explicitly designed to prevent economic recovery in Venezuela.

Curcio compares Venezuela’s situation today with what the US inflicted on Allende’s Chile, to “make the economy scream”: 

“The attacks of imperialism against our economy and therefore against the Venezuelan people have been accurate. They are attacking us at strategic points: 1) the price of the bolivar and 2) our main source of income, oil…. But it is important to understand that the productive engines [of the economy] will not be turned on, neither for domestic consumption nor for export, until the attack on the bolivar is strategically stopped and oil production recovers in the short term.”

Venezuela is a country long dependent economically on its oil industry, which made up 95% of its export earnings. This dependence on one or a few exports is hardly unique to Venezuela. Economies in the Global South have generally been distorted upon imperial conquest and redirected to suit the needs of the “mother” countries. Overcoming the enforced dependency trap is a nearly insurmountable task. Struggling internally to rebuild an economy that is self-sustaining and developed also requires the even greater task of confronting the roadblocks externally imposed by the imperial powers: sanctions, blockade, and even the possibility of invasion, all to achieve regime change.

The APR calls for “a revolutionary way out of the crisis of the capitalist rentier model” without specifying concretely what this revolutionary way is. This requires the country to take on the might of the world imperialist system seeking to maintain neo-colonial dependency. Historically, the only countries in the world that effectively broke with that economic dependency have been the Soviet Union and China. Small countries such as Cuba, North Korea, and Libya, have established some economic independence but have been unable to overcome crushing blockades and/or US-backed coups to create developed economies.

A small country like Venezuela, under a major years-long economic attack and counter-revolution by the imperialist powers, is going to experience economic deterioration regardless of the revolutionary fiber of its leadership. Unlike Cuba, after its 1959 revolution, there is no Soviet Union to rely on to protect the country politically, economically, and militarily. Venezuela remains mainly on its own.  Focusing economic blame on the Venezuelan government miseducates others, lets Western criminality off the hook, and sows illusions about an easy fix.

Building socialism in an imperialist world

Those who did not criticize Chávez for “building” socialism sooner, yet do criticize Maduro for the same, are applying a double standard. For example, VCP leader Oscar Figuera criticizes the Maduro government for not building socialism. But then he still says, “from our point of view (and we said this when President Chávez made the proposal), Venezuela’s [economic] development isn’t mature enough to move toward socialism.”

Figuera adds:

“Chávez, despite socialism not being built, was convinced that socialism was the path. Today, Chavista politicians talk about socialism in a rote way, but they are not committed to it. Government officials disassociate discourse and practice: they talk about socialism and national liberation, but in real terms the political and economic policies have a liberal bourgeois character.”

(It is a gross mischaracterization to label the country’s massive food programs, housing programs, and health care programs for millions of the working poor, let alone the Chavista people’s political mobilizations, as “liberal bourgeois.”)

With some legitimacy, Figuera’s comment could be said of all currents and tendencies around the world, which over the last several decades, have advocated socialism.

No socialist revolution has occurred in the world since shortly after 1975 with the victories in Vietnam and Laos.  In contrast, in the 40-year period between 1917 and 1959, socialist revolutions occurred in Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam, across Eastern Europe, and Cuba. But shortly after 1975, a drought has persisted for a remarkably long period of 45 years. Some may claim US imperialism is declining, but it is socialist revolution that has shown the real and dramatic decline. In the last 30 years, the struggle for socialist revolution has even gone sharply in reverse, with US imperialism and its allies being able to overturn socialism in the whole Soviet bloc. We should put Venezuela in context; the struggle for socialism has stalled worldwide for several decades. 

Figuera goes on to say, “Venezuela is a capitalist country and, as a consequence, the state has a bourgeois character.” However, there are exceptions to this general observation. For instance, Nicaragua today remains a capitalist country, but it is false to characterize the Sandinista government as bourgeois. The same could be said of Maurice Bishop’s Grenada, Thomas Sankara’s Burkina Faso, Ben Bella’s Algeria, even Lenin’s Russia when he characterized it as state capitalist. 

Nevertheless, if Figuera states the Venezuelan state has a bourgeois character, then it follows that this same class character has continued throughout the Chávez and Maduro administrations. Both under Chávez and Maduro, Venezuela has never had a government of workers and peasants. It has a nationalist and anti-imperialist multi-class government that represents the Venezuelan people as a whole. And both administrations have provided the world with outstanding models of how to defend national dignity in face of imperialist assaults, how to mobilize the people to defend themselves, and how to take advantage of divisions in the opposition and among the imperial powers. 

Not the APR, nor the other advocates of comuna o nada, present an actual program to lead a socialist revolution. Nor do they offer a program for after they are in power; where the means of production and distribution, the land and the banking system are nationalized and in the hands of the representatives of the workers and peasants, where the state apparatus is reconstructed in their interests.

To speak of “building” socialism in Venezuela, as an immediate action rather than a goal, causes confusion. It ignores the most important prior step, which is a victorious socialist revolution. Socialism cannot be built independent of a working-class revolution, something that is not even discussed, let alone organized by the parties comprising the APR.

Unity in a time of crisis

The Venezuelan people are living in a crisis. So long as that blockade continues, the crisis continues, which is the intent of the US to make it impossible for the Venezuelans to solve the problems imposed on them. For a country the size of Venezuela, no leadership – however revolutionary – can lead it out of this crisis alone. Vastly greater US and international solidarity must play an essential role for the revolution to advance.

The APR recognizes the overriding importance of opposing imperialism and remains part of the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP), the umbrella group for Venezuela’s national anti-imperialist and anti-rightwing alliance. Figuera correctly points out, “there is the need to build a revolutionary unity on the basis of the class interests of the working class, of campesinos, communards, and other popular sectors.” The GPP presents an ideal Chavista front where revolutionaries can engage in constructive internal debate to build this anti-imperialist unity and advance the revolution. In the absence of greater worldwide solidarity with Venezuela, as we experienced generations ago with Vietnam, a national organization or national alliance of these sectors can only help solidify Venezuela against imperialism and its local agents.

Some leftists, such as Michael Lebowitz, have distanced themselves from defending the Chavista revolution from the US blockade of Venezuela in part because Venezuela’s government has not resolved problems, particularly economic ones, in a manner these leftists think they should. These leftists in the imperialist countries have criticized the administrations of Hugo Chávez and especially President Maduro for not “building socialism.” 

However, any issue of “socialism” in Venezuela should have little bearing on the issues of defending national sovereignty of nations and opposing US interventions, sanctions, and blockades. Even if Venezuela were guilty as charged by the imperialists, it would not justify their actions.

In a former time, aid would come from a socialist country like the Soviet Union. Today, mobilization of the peoples in the imperial countries to compel the ending of the blockade is a necessity. The ongoing survival of Bolivarian Venezuela in the increasingly difficult world situation is a tremendous victory for oppressed peoples worldwide and continues to show a new world is possible.

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