Venezuela: The fraud of Chavist 'socialism'

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We are publishing here an article from Internacionalismo (the ICC's publication in Venezuela) from October 2005 on the situation in Venezuela. The article shows well the reality of the ‘socialism’ of Chavez, who has been in power for seven years, after years of division of power between the right (Christian democracy) and left (AD, social democratic), years during which the leaders of both parties filled their own pockets so arrogantly and brazenly that they couldn’t help preparing the ground for a demagogue like Chavez, who is himself accused of being a dictator by his adversaries.

In fact the authoritarianism of Chavez is not directed against the old political parties which are corrupt to the core, and which tried to organise a farcical coup d’etat against Chavez. Rather, beyond Chavez’s empty rhetoric against “capitalists”, the entirety of his politics has but a single aim: to control the population, to subdue the working class. Chavez has created around himself a following of protégés, just as corrupt as his predecessors’, by dispensing money from oil sales when the living conditions of the population go from bad to worse. Such is the new hero of the ‘alternative-worldists’ and leftists of all persuasions.

At the beginning of December, elections were held in Venezuela. Abstention reached 80%. This level of abstention cannot be understood solely from the fact that only Chavist candidates were presented; more than anything it shows that the population, and especially the workers, have had their fill of Chavist ‘socialism’; and not only of Chavism but of the whole of the bourgeoisie and all its tricks.

The continual violent confrontation between the Chavist bourgeois factions in power and the bourgeois factions in opposition have hidden a basic reality: there is a division of labour between them faced with the need to attack the living conditions of the proletariat. In other articles in Internacionalismo we have analysed the emergence of Chavism as a necessity for the national capital given the collapse of the bourgeois parties which had been in power until the end of the 90s. In this sense the Chavez government is in perfect continuity with previous bourgeois regimes when it comes to taking measures against the proletariat to face up to the economic crisis and survive on the world market.

This division of labour takes place on two levels, which are interlinked and dependent on each other: the permanent ideological offensive to weaken the consciousness and militancy of the working class; and the unstinting attack on its conditions of existence. 

 A relentless attack on the consciousness of the proletariat….

To preserve its utterly decadent social system, the bourgeoisie must breathe fresh air into its ideological apparatus and so prevent the proletariat, the “gravedigger” of capitalism (as Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto), from becoming conscious of the fact that the only way to put an end to the misery and barbarism inherent in the capitalist system is the proletarian revolution.

Even before Chavez’s triumph in 1998, the Chavists and the current opposition were competing over what is the best form of democracy, the first defending ‘participatory democracy’ and the second ‘representative democracy’. Seven years went by in this tango which corresponded to the electoral rhythm of the bourgeoisie: on the one hand, Chavism trying to build a foundation for its ‘Bolivarian revolution’; on the other, his opponents trying to weaken it by calling Chavez a dictator. With the incessant electoral campaigns, the bourgeoisie has managed to create a polarisation, a net in which the working class has become trapped, cultivating divisions in the class which have resulted in a loss of class solidarity and a significant decrease in struggles against both private capitalists and the state. 

Moreover, the Chavist bourgeoisie, in order to establish a social basis for its ‘Bolivarian revolution’, has developed a whole network of organs of social control (the Bolivarian circles, commissions, militias, etc), which allows it to dilute the workers in the mass of the ‘people’. The opposition is trying to do the same thing with its ‘citizens’ assemblies’. In this way, the autonomy required by the proletariat is dissolved into the petty bourgeois strata and other oppressed sectors of the population. And among the workers themselves, Chavism has introduced its own version of co-operativism, the various forms of co-management and self-management directly promoted by the parties and organs of the state and aimed at conferring a ‘proletarian’ character on the new government. In fact these co-operatives are a means of ideologically controlling the workers and to subject them to increasingly precarious working conditions.

The biggest ideological attack on the consciousness of the proletariat has been the way that the Chavist bourgeoisie identifies its statist project with ‘socialism’. Of course, this is not the first time that the bourgeoisie has disguised its state capitalist policies with ‘marxist’ and ‘revolutionary’ verbiage: the Stalinist bourgeoisie, following the defeat of the Russian revolution, imposed the most ferocious exploitation on the Russian proletariat for nearly 60 years in the name of ‘Soviet socialism’, as did all the ruling classes of what was called the ‘socialist bloc’; and today the bourgeoisies of Cuba, China and North Korea are doing the same thing against the proletariat of their respective countries. However, this monstrous lie of identifying Stalinist state capitalism with socialism could never have had the ideological impact it had on the world working class without the participation of the bourgeoisies of the opposing American bloc: while the Russian bureaucrats subjected the proletariat to the most savage exploitation and repression in the name of the ‘socialist fatherland’, the western bourgeoisies, with the USA at their head, bombarded the proletariat of their countries with campaigns about the shortages and evils of ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’, presenting democracy as the best of all possible worlds. 

It’s the same division of labour which we are now seeing in Venezuela: while the Chavist bourgeoisie exploits the Venezuelan proletariat in the name of the ‘Bolivarian revolution’, the preamble to the ‘socialism of the 21st century’, the opposition gets on with attacking the ‘Castroite communism’ of the Chavists and lauding the marvels of democracy. In sum, these two bourgeois factions form a pair in order to maintain confusion and weaken class consciousness.

This ideology of the ‘socialism of the 21st century’ is complemented by that of ‘anti-imperialism’, which uses popular hostility to the imperialist intrigues of the US bourgeoisie to line the proletariat up behind the Chavist bourgeoisie, just as numerous other bourgeoisies around the world are trying to profit from all the difficulties of the American bourgeoisie in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East by attempting to make everyone believe that the only imperialism in the world is that of the USA. This allows them all to camouflage their own imperialist appetites. The division of labour between the Chavist and oppositional bourgeois factions also comes into play in this ideology: the Chavists voice a virulent anti-Americanism, using the provision of oil as a weapon of blackmail, while the opposition is pro-American. But in the final analysis, they agree on defending and consolidating the interests of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie in its zones of influence: the Caribbean, Central America and the Andean countries (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador). 

… order to subject it to even greater exploitation

This sinister division of labour has allowed the national bourgeoisie as a whole to increase the attacks on the living conditions of the proletariat without provoking a major response from the latter.

The biggest and most significant attack has been the one directed against the oil workers. Through the coordinated action of the Chavist and oppositional factions, the Chavist government has succeeded not only in reducing the number of workers, but also in passing a law that has long been wanted by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, namely the elimination of the staff co-operative which, since the time of the multinational oil companies, had allowed workers and their families to obtain foodstuffs at reduced prices. This was done with the argument that “the situation is very hard for everyone” and that the oil workers are privileged, a “workers’ aristocracy”.

After this unprecedented attack on the oil workers, in which all the parties and unions were complicit, those in power as much as those in opposition, the Chavist government has had its hands free to inflict even stronger attacks on the living conditions of the employed workers: freezing of collective agreements, ridiculous increases in the minimum wage that are well below the current price increases in consumer goods. The threat of massive redundancies has been used to intimidate workers who try to strike for their demands. This is what has been done in response to protests by health and education workers throughout the period of the Chavist government, and likewise with workers in the legal sector and state television, that Chavez himself threatened to “crush” as he had done with the oil workers. 

The living conditions of the workers, above all in the public sector, have also been attacked by means of the commissions, co-operatives and co- and self-managed enterprises created by the government in order to exert its political and social control. With these organs, the Chavez government has succeeded in making the workforce ‘flexible’, because they are hired only temporarily by these organs, without any social wage and for the most part on wages even lower than the official minimum wage. Thus the Chavist bourgeoisie is doing the same thing as the bourgeoisies of the other governments of the right and the left in the region that are applying the typical measures of “brutal neo-liberalism”: making employment even more precarious and exploitation even more intense. This is the true face of ‘socialism of the 21st century’! These organs, however, are also instruments of blackmail against the conventionally employed workers: the government has progressively covered the public services with commissions and co-operatives, with the explicit aim of weakening and blackmailing the workers who provide these services. If they mobilise to put their demands forward, they are threatened with dismissal and replacement with workers organised in co-operatives. This is how Chavism pits workers against each other.

Behind all these attacks against workers in the public sector you can see an old necessity of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, that of drastically reducing employment in the public sector. During the Caldera government, the left-wing minister for economic planning at that time, Teodoro Petkoff, said that employment in the public sector had to be cut by half a million. The repeated declarations by Chavez and his acolytes against the “bureaucratic counter-revolution” have just one objective: to denigrate workers in the public sector in order to justify the ever stronger attacks on their conditions and the redundancies. 

However, the bourgeoisie’s attacks on the proletariat don’t stop there. Chavism, thanks to the coordinated work of the government and the opposition, has succeeded in imposing a series of measures that, in other circumstances, would inevitably have provoked protests among workers and the general population. This concerns the brutal increase in taxes and, above all, of VAT (which adds 14% to the prices of most products and services) thanks to which the state raised more than half of the 2005 budget (more than £9000 billion); taxes on some consumer products reached 30% during 2005. Finally, the laws passed by parliament envisage the creation of further taxes, such as that foreseen for health costs of 4% for all active, unemployed  and retired workers and those in the ‘black economy’.

The attacks on wages and decreases in the social wages of workers, supplemented by new state taxes, have led to an economic and fiscal policy that has given rise a level of inflation that is the highest in the region (23% on average for 2003 and 2004), which erodes wages month after month, all of which is in the process of forcing millions of workers and their families into an alarming degree of pauperisation: according to unofficial statistics, 83% of workers (of a total workforce of 12 million) are paid the minimum wage of 405,000 bolivars (about £105) whilst the basic ‘basket’ of foodstuffs, according to the government itself , now costs 380,000 and about 600,000 bolivars according to other authorities. This is without speaking of the levels of malnutrition, epidemics etc which can only increase. The government does everything possible to doctor the figures on poverty in order to be able to be coherent with its lie about the ‘struggle against poverty’, but it is impossible to conceal the evidence. 

Furthermore, in addition to the alarming level of unemployment, the poverty and misery which weigh on the workers’ districts are causing ever more social decomposition that official propaganda tries to hide, but which is clearly visible everywhere: beggars from the towns and countryside, children living in the street, prostitution of children etc. One of the scourges which has worsened during Chavez administration is that of criminality: each week there are about 100 murders in the country, above all in the poorest districts, where a large percentage of the working class lives. The Chavist government, using its brains in media manipulation, has found a name for its project: the “nice revolution”, but what the working class experiences in its everyday life is the wretchedness of capitalism in decomposition; and that is the only reality that the bourgeoisie, whether of the right or of the left, can offer us.

The working class threatens to respond

Despite the blackmail and intimidation, the workers have no choice other than to struggle against the ceaseless deterioration of their living conditions.

The indignation in the workers’ ranks manifests itself ever more frequently: protests of the unemployed seeking work, of pensioners for fulfilment of their demands that have been conceded but not implemented (as has been the case with the pensioners of SIDOR and the CVG in the metallurgical sector). Of doctors, tube workers etc; and threats of struggle among public-sector employees in education, health, the courts etc are constantly present.

Conscious of the fact that the workers’ struggle is the real menace hanging over it, the government is preparing its forces of dissuasion: the reservists and militia of the Territorial Guard, which take orders directly from the presidency of the republic and whose task consists in intervening, in the final instance, to quell “social convulsions”. In the same way, in the hospitals and other public establishments, the state has introduced the so-called “service for social control”, in other words groups paid by the government to police the workers.

However, knowing that it is not always by repression that it can put an end to a class movement, the bourgeoisie as a whole is playing a more effective card against the workers: the renewal of trade unionism and trade unionist dissidence inside Chavism itself. This is what explains the attempts of the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), with Froilan Barrios and Alfredo Ramos at its head, to rehabilitate the CTG with a “new model of trade unionism”. Above all there is the rise to prominence of Machuca, Chavist union leader, who presents himself as a ‘workers’ leader’ not only in the industrial zone of Matanzas but on the national level. He promotes workers’ mobilisations even against Chavez, like that which took place last September. In the same way as the CTV controlled by AD (social democracy) kept at the time some ‘distance’ and carried out a certain amount of ‘opposition’ in relation to the AD governments, so today an individual like Machuca does the same thing, knowing very well how to do his work controlling social discontent since, and this is not by chance, he is congratulated both by Chavism in government and by the opposition.

To put an end to the bourgeoisie (Chavist and opposition), the proletariat must channel its indignation to reinforce its class identity, solidarity among proletarians and its consciousness of the fact that it is the only class which can and must lead the struggle of the exploited to put an end to the barbarism to which capital subjects us.

 From Internacionalismo 55