To the workers of Venezuela and the world

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Introduction

The victory of Hugo Chavez in the referendum on his presidency was not a triumphant for the proletariat and poor masses in Venezuela. Rather, as this Appeal to the workers of Venezuela and the world by the ICC's section demonstrates, it represents a powerful blow against the working class. The Appeal, whilst being written on the eve of the referendum, shows that no matter who won the vote the perspective for the working class was one of increasing ideological and economic attacks, along with an acceleration of the profound political crisis rocking the Venezuela bourgeoisie. Chavez's victory will allow him and his henchmen to continue their campaign to mobilise the non-exploiting strata and the working class behind their life and death struggle with the other sections of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie opposing them. Faced with this, the opposition will be forced into ever more desperate efforts to defend itself by overthrowing Chavez. As the Appeal demonstrates parts of the working class are already lining up behind one or other of the fractions. And the prospects for the coming period can only be the very real possibility of the explosion of a barbaric civil war. The proletariat's only response to this chaos is the defence of its autonomy; refusing to line up behind the 'revolutionary' Chavez or the opposition of the 'elite', and instead defending their class interests against both of these faces of the capitalist state in Venezuela.

WR, 20/8/04.


The referendum of the 15th August: the workers must not choose between the executioner Chavez or the executioners of the Opposition

Once again, the Chavista and opposition bourgeois factions are calling upon us to go to the ballot box. They have used all of the media, spent a fortune on a deafening campaign, telling us to be good citizens and vote either for or against revoking President Hugo Chavez. They want us to choose between two bourgeois options, to decide whether it's going to be the Chavista or the opposition fraction that will continue to exploit us. Marxist revolutionaries call on the working class in Venezuela, and all workers, not to have illusion about Chavez remaining in government or his replacement by the opposition, about any let up in the attacks on working class living conditions, or about the worsening of pauperisation that the bourgeoisie dumps on our shoulders in response to the terrible economic and political crisis shaking the national capital.

The 15th August Referendum is not a plebiscite like the other elections called by the ruling class. This referendum, besides being an opportunity for the bourgeoisie to breathe new life into its democratic dictatorship, is the product of the profound political crisis in the ranks of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie that has been developing since Chavez came to power in 1999. It has led to the polarisation of the different cliques that form the national capital into two factions: the official one formed around Chavez and the other, opposition one grouped around the Coordinadora Democratica. The exacerbation of the confrontation between these two has led to an intense campaign that has divided a good part of the population between the "Chavistas" and the "anti-Chavistas". The proletariat, obviously, has not escaped this monstrous campaign, which has divided various sectors of the class, leading to many workers supporting one or other of these options, and has even lead to some being wounded or losing their lives in the violent confrontations, defending causes that only benefit the enemies of our class.

The 15th August Referendum poses a great danger for the working class. There is already a high level of uncertainty about the results and whether the leaders of one or the other gangs will accept them [1]. This could lead to important violent confrontations, where again the blood of the proletariat will be spilt. The Venezuelan and world proletariat must be conscious of the grave danger for the class if its remains trapped in this confrontation. Not only will this led to the loss of proletarian lives, but it will weaken class consciousness. The proletariat must avoid acting as canon fodder for any of the struggling bourgeois gangs.

What is at the root of this confrontation?

The present political confrontation and its fanaticism and polarisation are the direct result of the social decomposition within the ranks of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, itself the expression of the decomposition of the capitalist system at an international level: global society is at an impasse. This is because, on the one hand, the world bourgeoisie has not been able to give its 'answer' to the capitalist crisis that has been developing over the past 30 years: generalised world war (as happened last century with the two world wars); and on the other hand, the proletariat has not been able to raise the perspective of the overthrow of capitalism. This decomposition had its clearest expression at the international level with the falling apart of the system of blocs that existed after World War Two. The collapse of the Russian bloc in 1989 brought in its wake not peace or progress as the bourgeoisie said it would, but the proliferation of localised wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, etc.). It brought starvation, terrorism, the pauperisation of whole sections of society. At the level of each country, decomposition has been expressed at a political level by the implosion of the traditional bourgeois parties, as much on the left as the right, by the increase in tensions between factions of the national bourgeoisie, resulting in convulsions and ungovernable political situations [2]. The newly political forces, needed to control the working class and society so that the bourgeoisie can continue its economic survival, are compelled to operate in a context of major crisis and world chaos.

It is in this context that the leftist and populist government of Chavez arose. Above all upon the ruin of the parties of the "Fixed Point Pact", principally the Social Democratic Accion Demoratica and the Christian Social COPEI, which had been rotted by internal struggles, corruption, political cronyism and their virtual abandonment of the basic necessities of society. The ex-solider, Chavez, one of the leaders of the coup against the Social Democrat Carlos Andres Perez, helped by his charisma and popular origins, was able to use this social discontent and the prevailing poverty to come to power in December 1998. Once in power, surrounded by those in the military that supported his initial coup attempt, and elements of the old left (amongst these the Venezuelan PC), along with leftist organisations and individuals (many of them ex-guerrillas from the 60s and 70s), he defeated the former governing factions and excluded them from the apparatus of power. Taking advantage of his widespread popularity he took on the institutions and powers of the state with the central aim of: developing a "real nationalist bourgeoisie", the old goal of the left of capital and the leftist petty-bourgeoisie.

With this objective in mind, the Chavista project proclaimed that these attacks against the sectors of the bourgeoisie that had benefited from the previous governments amounted to a "Bolivarian revolution". The response and organisation of these sections of the bourgeoisie threatened by Chavism over the last 6years, has led us to the worst political crisis in Venezuela since the beginning of the last century. In fact, the opposition factions (with the clear support of the USA) [3] have carried out a whole serious of attempts to throw Chavez out of power: the business strike of December 2001, the coup in April 2002, which only removed him from power for 48 hours, the oil strike in December 2002-January 2003. With the failure of these attempts, there was a change in strategy, appealing to the idea of presidential revocation as stipulated in the new Constitution adopted in 1999 by Chavism in order to give judicial substance to its 'revolution'.

Despite all the obstacles put in its way by officialdom (given the predominance of the Chavez's officials in all the organs and institutions of power), the opposition gained the necessary number of signatures to call a referendum. As we can see, the so-called "Bolivarian revolution" is nothing more than the cover for a capitalist project promoted by a sector of national capital and has nothing at all to do with the interests of the working class, much less with proletarian revolution, which is only way out of the barbarity which we are living through in Venezuela and the rest of the world.

As we draw close to the culmination of this phase of the political crisis in Venezuela, marxists have to make clear to the Venezuelan and world proletariat: that this political crisis has taken place against a backcloth of the most brutal attacks on the living conditions and class consciousness of the Venezuelan proletariat.

More than any anything else Chavism is a pure product of decomposition. Pressured by the opposition and by the USA, Chavez has made use of the ideological arsenal of the old left and has given a great boost to leftist theories (along with anti-Americanism, he has become the standard bearer of anti-globalisation in Latin America). He has also used all the ideological eclecticism that characterises the present phase of decomposition: fundamentalism (expressed in Bolivarianism), messianism, mysticism etc. He has also had no scruples about using the classic methods of the bourgeoisie since capitalism entered its decadence at the beginning of the last century: state terrorism, pogroms, intimidation, blackmail, etc - against the opposition and even against the working class. In this way, Chavez has learnt very well from the sections of the bourgeoisie that now make up the opposition, from those who pretend to be pristine and without guilt, when in reality the monster that they now want to control is a caricature created in their own image.

How can the Venezuelan working class be in this situation?

The first answer to this question is that it is necessary to look at the horrendous campaign about the 'death of communism' and the "end of marxism' unleashed by the bourgeoisie after the collapse of the Russian bloc in 1989. This campaign argued that the only option for any social movement was the perfecting of democracy, making the class struggle look like an historical anachronism and diluting the working class into the mass of citizens. In this sense, it has been a very important attack against the communist perspective, against the historical identity of the working class, and has applied a tremendous brake on its combativity and consciousness.

This campaign has contributed as much to the opposition as to Chavism. The first proclaims itself radically 'anti-communist', and uses theories about the 'end of history' and the superiority of democracy as the only option for the future of humanity. Chavism, although it says it is not communist, makes use of the ideas of the left of capital in order to argue for a 'humanist capitalism' and a movement towards socialism by successive stages, starting from the present reformism based on 'participatory and better democracy'. In this way, both approaches aim to rub out the consciousness of the proletariat, which is the only means by which capitalist barbarity can really be overcome. The opposition bases its anti-communism on the fact that the government has tried to copy the state capitalist model put forwards by Cuba. But Castro's regime, installed by the so-called Cuban 'revolution', also has nothing to do with the marxist legacy of the proletarian revolution. The new bourgeoisie that took over following the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista has maintained almost 45 years of exploitation, repression and ideological control over the Cuban proletariat and population. Similarly, Chavism tries to develop the mechanisms of social and ideological control of the population and the working class by means of the so-called Missions [4] in order to perpetuate itself in power. Just as Fidel Castro and his henchmen use the economic blockade imposed by the USA (which does not stop millions of Dollars going into the pockets of the Cuban bourgeoisie) to justify the poverty of the population, Chavism justifies itself by blaming the previous governments, when it says that in 5 years it is impossible to correct a situation caused by more than 40 years of "oligarchic government".

The most pernicious effect of this political crisis for the working class has been that many workers have become trapped in the confrontation between bourgeois factions. In fact, within a few months of the beginning of the Chavez government, the sections of the bourgeoisie confronting each other in this life and death struggle for the control of the Venezuelan state launched a strategy initially centred on the petty bourgeoisie of one side or the other. Later on this included sections of the working class, creating divisions within it. The Chavists and the opposition have concentrated their activity on the oil industry, the main source of national income: both of them have brought about a progressive weakening of the unity and solidarity that was expressed in the first months of the Chavez's government, when oil workers in 2000 paralysed production in protest at attacks on their social benefits. The National Guard (the Praetorian Guard of Chavismo) used the opportunity to unleash a powerful repression which led to the death of two workers and several injuries. The unions controlled by the opposition gained a better control, while the government developed a disgusting campaign about the oil workers being a 'workers' aristocracy' on the side of the oil elite. This work of division and erosion of workers' solidarity was taken further with the clearly bourgeois oil stoppage at the end of 2002, when we saw some workers lining up behind the petty-bourgeois oil elites regrouped around the "oil gentlemen", and many others were paralysed by the government's blackmail and repression. With the failure of the stoppage, the government summarily sacked 20,000 oil workers, half of the workers and administrative personal. Although there were solidarity demonstrations with the sacked oil workers, the divisions within the heart of the class stopped this movement gathering enough strength to oppose the jobs massacre.

The media campaigns by sections of the bourgeoisie have led to a situation where many workers are bewildered, confused and trapped in the confrontation between Chavismo and anti-Chavismo. This is a straitjacket that impedes reflection or makes it much more difficult. The few expressions of the workers' struggle that have tried to resist the attacks against their living conditions have been suffocated by the magnitude and virulence of the inter-bourgeois confrontation, or have been trapped in inter-classism. This situation shows, on the one hand the ideological weight of the right and left of capital on the class, and also the weakness of the proletariat in Venezuela. In this situation workers' solidarity is undermined.

Even harder attacks on the workers and population

Pauperisation is the only thing that capitalism has to offer the exploited of the world, and Venezuela is no exception. The capitalist crisis is irreversible, and therefore also the level of pauperisation to which capital subjects the working class: the bourgeoisie has no option but to re-distribute poverty, despite all its talk abut the re-distribution of wealth. Throughout the decades of capitalism's decadence we have seen a growing gap between the poor and the richest minority in society (amongst whom now we have to count the "new rich" of Chavismo) [5]. This tendency has accentuated during the "Bolivarian revolution".

The Chavez capitalist government, that is to say one which maintains the extraction of surplus value from the working class, independently of its 'revolutionary' verbiage, has followed the same road as the Caldera and Carlos Andres Perez governments: the systematic and unrestrained attack on the living conditions of the working class:

·         the great majority of the public employees' collective contracts have been frozen during the period of the Chavist government;

·         the pay rises that have been ordered have not matched the accelerating growth in prices;

·         the level of open unemployment has reached 22-25% of the workforce of around 12 million, of which 57%, i.e., nearly 7 million live by means of semi-employment and in the so-called 'informal economy';

·         the tax on bank debt and VAT (16%);

·         the highest rate of inflation in Latin America (30% for this last year) which is devaluing workers' wages;

·         nearly 85% of the population live in conditions of poverty;

·         the official minimum wage is 321.235 Bolivars (around $160 according to official figures) does not cover the cost of the basic basket of food of about 545.361;

·         the deterioration of public services: health, education, transport etc., cannot be hidden, despite the government's media campaigns;

·         the levels of delinquency are producing weekly figures of more than 100 killings;

·         the pauperisation of society is expressed through the growth in child begging, malnutrition and prostitution.

This is the crude reality that Chavismo, which shamelessly calls it the "beautiful revolution", and the whole of the opposition bourgeoisie in its struggle for power, daily subjects us to.

No matter who wins the perspective is the worsening of conditions for the class. Chavez will continue to do what he has done until now in order to sustain his 'revolution', not only through the ideological attacks against the class, but through attacks on its living conditions; a victory will give carte blanche to a accentuation of the attacks against the workers, principally the public employees [6]. If the opposition wins this will also mean belt tightening, with the attractive excuse that Chavismo has wounded the economy and has robbed the public treasury, when in reality the capitalist crisis was a constant long before Chavez came to power. In this sense, there can be no illusions about the siren calls of the opposition: about employment and conditions of life improving: any growth in the levels of employment will inevitably be based on casualisation, greater attacks on social security and greater taxes on the workers.

It is not a moral problem, of choosing which part of the bourgeoisie is worse than the other, or which government administers the nations resources the best, since one or the other, independently of the form of government that they take, democratic or dictatorial, have to be guided by the laws of capitalism which are based on the exploitation of labour by capital.

The future depends on the workers' struggle

The proletariat is the only social class that can put an end to capitalist barbarism. However, in order to be able to do this it has to recuperate its independence, solidarity and class identity. Therefore, it must prevent itself from being trapped in the inter-classism of 'people's' and 'citizens' struggles.

The working class cannot avoid confrontation with the bourgeois state, whether it is led by Chavez or the opposition. The working class is an exploited class and has a unique mission in the struggle against capitalism, since it plays a central role in the productive process and is capable of developing a consciousness of its historical objectives. When it fights on its class terrain, the proletariat can give a direction to the struggles and demonstrations of the other non-exploiting strata of society.

This is the challenge that is today being posed to the world proletariat and in particular to its detachment in Venezuela, in order to stop itself being pulled in by the siren calls of the bourgeoisie. The present situation also poses a historical challenge to the most politicised minorities of the class: today more than ever it is vital to intervene in order to promote reflection and discussion within the working class, showing the dangers that bourgeois ideology brings in its wake, in particular the leftist ideology which has such poisonous consequences for the working class, as we can see from what is now happening in Venezuela.

 

CHAVISMO AND THE OPPOSITION ARE TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN.

CHAVISMO, THE LEFT OF CAPITAL AND THE LEFTISTS ARE AS MUCH ENEMIES OF THE WORKING CLASS AS THE PARTIES OF THE RIGHT.

NO TO CONFRONTATIONS AND DIVISIONS WITHIN THE PROLETARIAT.

THE ONLY ANSWER TO THE BARBARITY FACING VENEZUELA AND THE WORLD IS THE PROLETARIAN REVOLTUION.

 

Internacialismo,

section of the International Communist Current in Venezuela,

13.8.04

E-mail: venezuela(at)internationalism.org


[1] In recent weeks there has been a real war of the polls: some have placed the No vote (i.e., supporting Chavez) 10 points ahead of the Yes, whilst others have given the Yes vote a similar lead. For the last two weeks the pollsters have talked of a turn of the tide in favour of opposition of more or less 4%, whilst others have talked about a very narrow margin between voting intentions.

[2] The convulsions that took place in Peru with Fujimori, in Ecuador with Bucaram and recently in Haiti, Argentina and Bolivia, are all expressions of this situation of chaos created by the effects of decomposition in Latin America and the Caribbean.

[3] From the beginning the Bush government did not condemn the coup against Chavez in April 2002. For the USA Chavez is a factor of destabilisation in the Caribbean and South American region. The spearhead of its intervention has been the OAE, the Carter Centre and also the Southern Command. The USA's declarations since the beginning of the electoral process are transparent and in recent weeks they have become more frequent: last week, the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate, strongly denounced the government's actions against Sumate, a highly technical NGO that has organised the electoral aspects of the opposition and that receives funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); in the last few days the security advisor Condoleezza Rice has also criticised the government for the same reasons. The Chavez government tried to use the Bush-Kerry confrontation, demonising the first and maintaining hopes that a Democratic government would being about changes. However, declarations by Kerry and his advisors have come out strongly against the Chavez government, showing the continuity of US policy towards the region.

[4] In order to counter-act the actions of the opposition, a year ago the government initiated the so-called Missions: populist campaigns which have been named after leaders and battles in the struggle for independence from Spain, through which the resources of the state (principally from exporting oil) are used to deal with questions of health, education, employment, credits etc. They have really been transformed into an ideological medium for government policy and indoctrination, and to supply funds to the followers of the "Bolivarian project". The means assigned to these Missions, which this year amounts to more than $2000 million more than was assigned in the budget, is one of the principle means for the 'new bourgeoisie' to enrich itself. According to pollsters sympathetic to the opposition these resources only reach 15% of the poor in the country, whilst 80% of population lives in poverty.

[5] We are referring to the new private capitalists who have supported Chavismo, those who are forming the new importing bourgeoisie that has displaced or is trying to displace the old 'importing oligarchy' that has opposed Chavismo. This sector of the bourgeoisie has benefited from the unrestricted importing of the food and goods that are sustaining the government's social plans. Also forming part of this 'new bourgeoisie' are the state functionaries, parliamentarians, military and union bureaucrats who have given their unconditional support to the "Chavist project". All of whom take their share of state income and are paid salaries amounting to more than 20 to 60 times the monthly minimum wage.

[6] The political crisis has accelerated unemployment: the government sacked 20.000 oil workers, and has been laying off public employees opposed to its regime. The channelling of resources into financing the Missions has practically led to the freezing of the wages of public employees, and a major deterioration in public services.