Venezuela: Imperialist offensive sharpens following Assembly elections

By Izquierda Revolucionaria Venezuela & Socialismo Revolucionario (sister organisations of the Socialist Party in Venezuela)

On 30 July, elections were held to elect members of the “National Constituent Assembly” (ANC). In the days prior to the election, US imperialism and the MUD (the coalition which unites the right and far-right in Venezuela) backed a campaign of threats and violence to stop them taking place. US and European imperialism and various capitalist governments announced that they would refuse to recognise the results. The White House even threatened to act against Venezuela’s oil revenue from the US (Venezuela’s main oil customer) which would be a big economic blow to the population.

On the day of the elections, the MUD did not only call for a boycott. In the middle and upper class neighbourhoods which they control they threatened those wishing to vote, put up barricades blocking access to voting centres and even organised a terrorist attack in Caracas, setting off a bomb which injured military charged with protecting polling stations.

The fact that in this context, millions of people still went to vote in defiance of imperialism and the MUD shows that there is still the potential to defeat the plans of the counter revolution, if the working class can organise itself at the head of the resistance to it. This is also what the bourgeois and imperialism fear.

They have reacted hysterically in the elections aftermath, and are intensifying the pressure on Maduro and the government and especially very directly on the tops of the military.

Their official aim is only to nullify the results of the elections. However, any step or concession of the government in this direction will only be a first step towards what they have been trying to do for the last few months, through a violent campaign which has already cost 112 lives. Their objective is to bring down the government and replace it with a MUD government which would implement a similar policy to Temer in Brazil or Macri in Argentina.

Government’s capitalist policies

The failure of the 48-hour strike called by the MUD on 26 & 27 July and the mobilisation of a significant section of the masses in the elections despite the threats and blackmail, shows how, as we have said before, these plans could still be beaten. However, the only way this could happen is if the workers and poor are at the head of the state instead of bosses and bureaucrats (as is currently the case) and if socialist policies are implemented.

Unfortunately, the general policy of the government goes in the opposite direction.

In the last 2 years, the world capitalist crisis, especially the crisis of raw material prices, has hit the economy hard as well as high levels of corruption. As a result of maintaining a capitalist state and economy, some investigations have reported that over $300 billion has been taken out of the economy, and foreign reserves are at an extreme low which harms imports, in a heavily net-import economy.

Under pressure from the bourgeoisie and as part and parcel of its policy of seeking alliances with so-called “productive (or patriotic) bosses”, the government has implemented measures against the interests of working class people. For example: ensuring prompt payment of the foreign debt to banks and multinationals at the cost of reducing spending on food and combatting scarcity, accepting price hikes and cuts to workers’ rights demanded by bosses and carrying out mass sackings in state companies . It has also created so-called “special economic zones” of super-exploitation and opened up the mining regions to multinational plunder, undermining working conditions and opening natural and mineral resources to exploitation, in order to seek agreements with national and multinational capitalism.

On top of these factors, price and currency speculation has led to massive scarcity, not only in food but in medicine, building materials and machinery parts. Together with the highest inflation rate on the continent, which was 500% in 2016 and is predicted to reach four figures this year, this has increased discontent among the population, which has been used by the right wing to stir up conflict on the streets resulting in a wave of violence.

Containing this violence was one of the government’s stated aims in establishing the Constituent Assembly. However, many rank and file activists around the Bolivarian movement saw the calling of the ANC as an opportunity not only to confront the mobilisation of the right, but also to fight against the corruption and policies of the bureaucracy which have destroyed many of the gains won by the workers and people under the Chavez government.

However, the calling of elections did not paralyse the fight in the streets, but in fact intensified it. This has led to the deaths of 112 people and to destruction and looting of public and private businesses.

Representatives from various world governments, as well as Senators from Chile and Colombia went to the Hague to denounce Maduro for crimes against humanity, and ex-Spanish President Zapatero came to Venezuela to try to establish negotiations as a last ditch attempt to avoid the ANC elections, but no agreement was reached.

We therefore arrived at election time in an atmosphere of great pressure and tension. Many voting centres had to be moved due to the violence between representatives of the MUD and the police which put lives in danger. In some voting centres, there was destruction of voting materials and armed clashes which saw people dead and injured.

As a result, turnout was very low in some areas, while in other areas big sections of the masses came out to defy the counter revolution with big mobilisations to voting centres. If, as we previously explained, there had been elections to a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, to elect a workers’ government based on elected and recallable representatives of workplaces and neighbourhoods, to fight against the right-wing parliament and the pro-capitalist bureaucracy which threatens the gains of the revolution and disrespects the people, participation would have been much higher.

Government bureaucracy vs critical rank and file

During these elections, sections of the rank and file of the Chavista movement went through a new experience of struggle against the bureaucracy, deepening their criticisms of it. The fact that 54,000 people enlisted as candidates for the ANC, beyond the control of the official lists of the bureaucracy, reflected a mood of rebellion which grew during the campaign.

The leadership of the fight against reaction cannot remain in the hands of the same leaders, increasingly distrusted by the masses, who have implemented capitalist policies and separated themselves from the people. In many areas the ANC campaign was organised not based on initiative from below but through bureaucratic methods, breaking with electoral rules and using the electoral machine of the ruling PSUV against the rank and file to guarantee victory to the bureaucracy’s candidates who were often Ministers, ex-Ministers, Mayors and trade union leaders with little authority or legitimacy, to the detriment of rank and file critical candidates.

The bureaucracy even resorted to such methods as pressuring state employees and beneficiaries of state assistance to vote, and vote for the government’s candidates, instead of convincing people with policies that could solve their problems.

Many critical candidates who fought against the leadership are now reflecting on the situation, and many have protested the results which still over three days after the close of polls have not been fully released.

This approach does not help to fight against the right. On the contrary, it causes discontent among the more weary and doubtful sections of the masses and facilitates the demagogic denunciations of the right wing, risking that those who have been victims of these bureaucratic methods can be won by the right wing.

Izquierda Revolucionaria and Socialismo Revolucionaria defended a vote for those Rank and file candidates who raised criticisms of the government. These candidates put forward a revolutionary programme in defence of the gains won since Chavez’s election. We also stand for fighting for these gains to be added to, satisfying the demands of the workers and poor and ending the power of the capitalists and bureaucrats, to solve the worst problems facing the population.

The electoral results and right-wing offensive

On the night of the elections it was announced that 8,089,320 people had participated in the elections, which represents 41.53% of voters. In the 2015 assembly elections, the PSUV and its allies won 5,622,844 votes and Maduro won the Presidential elections with 7,587,579 votes. While we cannot simply believe the figures the government gives (as there was no transparent scrutiny of votes by independent workers and popular organisations), it is clear that despite the political, media and physical offensive of the right wing, participation was still significant.

These results were denounced as electoral fraud internationally. Many countries, as well as the European Union have refused to recognise the results (though the majority had already said so before the elections happened). Many have called for sanctions against Venezuela. The US State Department decided to freeze Maduro’s US assets (though he has none), call him a dictator and put him on the official black list. As well as threatening to cut off oil revenues, they have said they will block any loans to Venezuela from banks in the region, threatening to impose a criminal economic embargo, as was imposed on Cuba in the 1960s.

Venezuela is at a critical moment. There are various possible perspectives, and a living changing struggle will decide which prevails. US imperialism, backed by EU imperialism has gone further in its offensive than at any time since the 2002 coup. Their objective is to force a division in the military leadership and provoke a coup against Maduro, opening the way for the MUD to take power. They have now accelerated these plans.

On the other hand, we cannot rule out the possibility that in the face of a confrontation and stalemate imperialism could take a step back temporarily and try and return to the negotiating table. However, the margin of manoeuvre of both imperialism and the government has been reduced considerably.

After the elections, Maduro’s first declarations have been in defiance of imperialism: “A spokesperson for Donald Trump says they do not recognise us(…) what do we care what Donald Trump says! We only care what the Venezuelan people say! (…) “the sabotage of the [old] Assembly has ended, we must put order in place (…)”… These are some examples.

Among some Chavistas, these declarations have generated hopes in the possibility of a shift to the Left. However, at the same time, his government continues to call for dialogue and an alliance with part of the capitalist class. On the other hand, in the leadership of the ANC are the same leaders who during recent years have undermined the initiative of the masses, and prevented the development of workers’ control and workers’ power, and led us to the current situation of scepticism and demoralisation among wide sections of the masses which has allowed the right wing to gain.

This road can only lead to defeat. Either via the MUD taking power or via the consolidation of a regime which is dressed up in Chavista, or even socialist rhetoric, but which in practice consolidates state capitalism hand in hand with Russian and Chinese imperialism. This would mean the loss of all gains won and the continuation of poverty and exploitation.

In this situation, revolutionaries should defend a genuinely socialist programme, to stop the victory of the pro-imperialist right wing which only wants power to take ownership of the oil wealth and hand over our resources to imperialism which they did for 40 years. At the same time, we must struggle to build an alternative revolutionary pole to the bureaucracy which does not want to break with capitalism.

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. A state where the power is really in the hands of the workers and poor and where every representative earns only the wage of a skilled worker, and is obliged to constantly justify him/herself to those who elected them.

Has “socialism” failed in Venezuela?

Imperialism, its governments and media around the world accompany their hypocritical rhetoric about the current crisis in Venezuela with demagogic attempts to present the situation as proof of the bankruptcy of “socialism”. They try to turn Venezuela into a stick with which to beat the rising new Left internationally, from Latin America and the USA to Spain and Britain. They try to demonise the idea that there is an alternative to capitalism and austerity.

Marxists have to explain loud and clear: the current crisis in Venezuela is not because of the failure of “socialism” but because of the lack of a real socialist revolution! We have explained many times over the years that many opportunities existed to fully expropriate the capitalists, build a new state based on workers’ democracy and extend socialism throughout the continent. It is the refusal of the government’s leaders to seize these opportunities instead now attempting to build a capitalist regime based on the Chinese and Russian models which ultimately, together with the world capitalist crisis, has laid the basis for the current quagmire.

In this situation, the central task of revolutionaries is to draw the correct lessons from this experience and popularise them among the militants and fighters of the workers and youth movement, which remain the only forces capable of turning the situation around and setting a revolutionary tone. In this way, a new and really revolutionary leadership can be built: rooted, accountable to and with the authority of the working masses and prepared to follow a revolutionary socialist policy to its final consequences. This has been the essential factor missing in the process until now.