Nearly 1,000 dead, according to sources in the hospitals (300 according to the government). 3,000 demonstrators gravely wounded, 10,000 arrested, a state of siege, suppression of all ‘freedoms', open season for 10,000 armed men to massacre without discrimination: the ‘left' government of Carlos Alvares Perez, that partisan ‘humanistic socialism which accepts the norms of the capitalist system', has, with unprecedented bloodshed and brutality, repressed the recent wave of hunger riots in Venezuela.. And it was Perez himself who provoked the riots through a series of measures which, overnight, have doubled the price of public transport and tripled that of certain basic goods. Such are the ‘norms of the capitalist system' in crisis. Such is the reality masked by the ‘humanistic' speeches of the ‘left' fractions of capital, which in this domain have nothing to envy in those of the right.
The events of the first week of March 1989 in Venezuela, just like those in Algeria last October, are an illustration of the only future capitalism offers to the exploited classes: poverty and blood. They constitute a new warning to the workers who still have illusions in the so-called ‘Socialist' or ‘Communist' parties which claim to represent them while ‘accepting the norms of the capitalist system.'
At the time of writing, we don't have at our disposal all the necessary information about these events. But here and now it is essential to denounce this new massacre perpetrated by the bourgeoisie in defense of its class interests, and the lies it uses in order to cover up its crimes.
The press, particularly of the ‘Socialist' left, of the European friends of President C.A. Perez, has tried to deny that these are revolts against hunger. Venezuela, one of the world's great oil producers, is supposed to be a ‘rich country'. The government's recent measures have simply aimed to make the population understand that the period of ‘oil manna' is over and that - for the ‘good of your family' - it's a question of adapting to the new conditions of the world economy. In sum, the ‘poor' in Venezuela have picked up bad habits from the rich. It's a question of making them accept reality. The cynicism of the bourgeoisie knows no limits.
Even at the times of the biggest rises in oil prices, in the middle and at the end of the 1970s, the wealth of the ‘petro-dollars' obviously remained essentially in the hands of the local ruling class. In fact, the latter couldn't move quick enough to place this money - as well as the largest slice of what it had received in international loans - into overseas investments, thus assuring itself of more reliable revenues, paid in US dollars. On the other hand, as soon as income from black gold began to decline, in particular after 1986, inflation (officially) went up to 40% in 1988 and is expected to rise to 100% in 1989. Meanwhile wages (for those who still get any - the official unemployment rate being 25% in 1988), have stayed far behind. The deterioration of workers' living conditions and those of the millions of marginal elements in the shanty towns has been quite staggering in the last few years. Never has there been such a crying contrast between the opulence of the rich and the growing deprivation of the poor.
This is why the recent government measures, which included a tripling of the price of powdered milk - basic nourishment for babies could only be felt as the most brutal provocation. The riots which exploded in Caracas and its outskirts (4 million inhabitants), but also in the other main towns of the country, were not a reaction against a so-called ‘loss of standing' as the free-thinking dandies of the left have claimed. They were hunger riots: spontaneous reactions against a level of poverty that is becoming unbearable. "We'd rather get killed than go on dying of hunger," as the demonstrators shouted to the troops.
The working class can impose a balance of forces on the bourgeoisie through strikes and through its political class combat. But the ‘workless' masses, the marginalized population of the underdeveloped countries, by themselves can only respond to the attacks of capital through desperate acts of looting and riots that lead nowhere. The fact that their first act was to loot the food shops (many of which were operating a policy of deliberate shortages to push up prices) and the supermarkets shows clearly that the issue here was hunger.
The riots of early March in Venezuela were above all this: the response of the marginalized masses to the increasingly barbaric attacks of world capitalism in crisis. They are part of the social tremors which more and more are shaking the very foundations of decomposing capitalist society.
The true face of bourgeois democracy
But the barbarism of decadent capitalism does not stop at the economic level. The repression meted out by the bourgeoisie in Venezuela is eloquent proof of this. The scale of the massacre was matched by its savagery: wounded people finished off on the pavement, children murdered in front of their parents, a torture chamber installed in a disused family hotel.
Even though for decades it governed through military regimes, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie has never before unleashed such carnage. In one week reality has shattered the much-vaunted myth of ‘democracy, a bulwark against military dictatorship'. This has been clearly shown by the way the Accion Democratica government (AD being a member party of the Socialist International) and the army gorillas worked hand in hand to protect their property, their money, their laws, their system.
These who are now wailing about ‘the dangers these events pose for the fragile Venezuelan democracy' are the same people who have prepared the repression by putting it around that voting in the recent elections, whether for C.A. Perez or anyone else, would ‘offer protection from the military.'
It's the world bourgeoisie which has carried out this bloodshed in Venezuela
But President C.A. Perez isn't the only representative of the local bourgeoisie. His reaction in defense of the interests of his class is the same as any other bourgeois government facing a similar threat. A whole array of heads of state came to show him what was expected of him, a few weeks before the massacre, at the ceremony marking his inauguration. Fidel Castro even told him: "We need a leader in Latin America, and you're the man." A few months before that, at a conference of the Socialist International, he had met with Swedish and British Socialists, with Willy Brandt of Germany, Mitterand of France, Craxi of Italy, Kreysky of Austria, Gonzales of Spain, Soares of Portugal, Papandreou of Greece, etc. All these ‘humanist' and ‘socialist democrats' warmly recognized him as one of their own - the man who will always be remembered as the butcher of Caracas.
The ‘Democrats' the world over are trying to portray the Venezuelan government as a ‘victim of the IMF'. The latter is presented as a sort of ‘pitiless monster', coming from who knows where to force the bourgeoisie of the most indebted countries to pile on the exploitation, the misery, the oppression ... in short, to be the bourgeoisie. But in demanding the repayment of debts, in repressing those who attack the established order, the IMF and C.A. Perez are simply applying the ‘norms of the capitalist system', the norms of the bourgeoisie everywhere. It's their ‘order' which has been re-established in Venezuela, the same order that reigns in all countries, and to defend it they have never thought twice about using the most barbaric methods.
An ‘order' that is rotting on its feet, an order that only the world proletariat can destroy.
For the working class in Venezuela as in other countries - and in particular the most industrialized ones - these events are a further reminder of its historic responsibilities.