It’s not only the hierarchy of the Venezuelan state that lamented Chávez’s demise, but also in many Latin American governments and others around the world, who have said their ‘last farewells’ to the leader of the “Bolivarian revolution”. Several of those attending the funeral did so because of commercial and political agreements, such as the members of ALBA1, along with those benefiting from oil agreements. But they were all united in their grief at the loss of the state boss in whose name a ‘struggle against poverty’ and for ‘social justice’ took place, who, over the course of 14 years, carried out a project in the interests of a good part of the bourgeoisie, aimed at attacking the proletariat's living conditions and consciousness. They, along with the leading representatives of the national capital, whether officials or ‘opposition’, recognised that this was an excellent opportunity to make propaganda about ‘the world's solidarity with the Venezuelan people’ and to puff themselves up by exalting the international significance of their ‘great leader’.
The proletariat has its own historical experience to draw on in order to reject and unmask this torrent of bourgeois and petty bourgeois sentimentality and hypocrisy. Chávez is a myth created by capitalism, nurtured and strengthened by the national and international bourgeoisie, a figure who came to their rescue with the bourgeois hoax called “21st Socialism”. The international bourgeoisie, principally its left tendencies, want to keep this myth alive. The proletariat however needs to develop its means of struggle against Chávist ideology in order to show the most impoverished layers of society the real road to socialism.
The emergence of Chávismo: a project of the nationalist bourgeois left
Chávez first came to public notice when he led the attempted military coup against the Social Democrat Carlos Andrés Péres in 1992. From then on his popularity underwent a spectacular growth until he was elected President of the Republic in 1999. During this period he capitalised on the discontent and lack of trust across broad sectors of the population towards the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic Parties who had alternated power between themselves since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1958. This discontent was particularly marked amongst the most impoverished masses affected by the economic crisis of the 80s, who were the main protagonists of the 1989 revolt. The two main political parties were undergoing a process of disintegration, characterised by corruption at the highest levels and the neglect of government tasks. This was an expression of the decomposition that had engulfed the whole of society, principally the ruling class, which had reached such levels that it was impossible to cohere its forces in order to guarantee reliable governance and ‘social peace’.
Chávez's charisma and his ascendancy amongst the most impoverished masses, his ability to convince them that the state was there to help them, enabled him to strengthen his hold on various sectors of the national capitalism: the armed forces and above all the parties of the left and the extreme left. The latter in particular changed their political programme from one based on 60's ‘national liberation’ struggles against ‘Yanqui imperialism’, to one in favour of the creation of a real national bourgeoisie, ideologically supported by the Bolivarian myth of the ‘great South American fatherland’, and materially sustaining its aims with the important income from the export of oil. To this end various leaders and theoreticians of the Venezuelan left and extreme left (amongst them ex-guerrilla fighters and members of the Venezuelan Communist Party) set about the task of visiting various ‘Socialist’ and ‘progressive’ countries in order to understand which model to implement in Venezuela when Chávez came to power: China, North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Cuba etc...There is no doubt that from the very beginning the Chávist project was understood as a bourgeois project by the nationalists of the left, based on civil-military unity, taking as its reference points the most despotic regimes in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, many of them allies from the old imperialist Russian bloc.
Throughout his 14 years in government, Chávez was developing his government project that came to be known as “21st century Socialism”, based on the exclusion of and confrontation with those sectors of national capital that had held power until 1998, and sectors of private capital who opposed him; this went together with an aggressive regional and world geopolitics based on radical anti-Americanism. His great secret, recognised by a good part of the world bourgeoisie, was that he was able to renew the hopes of the immense masses of the abandoned poor in Venezuela, bring them in from the cold, making them believe that one day they would be able to get away from their poverty. In reality, what has happened is that the whole population has become impoverished, the workers above all, through the application of the left's principal of ‘levelling from below’. In this way Chávismo managed to contain the social unrest of the mass of the poor, a social layer produced by the course of decadent capitalism throughout the 20th century, when it has been increasingly impossible to incorporate them into productive work. But he also achieved an aim that was the envy of other bourgeoisies: he gained the support of an electoral mass which allowed the new civil and military elites of the ruling class to perpetuate themselves in power. It is not by accident that during 14 years in power the Chávists won 13 of the 15 national elections that took place.
Chávismo is a product of the decomposition of capitalist society
Chavismo's rise was not due to the failures of the preceding governments, nor to Chávez's charisma (an idea typical of the bourgeoisie which sees personalities as the motor force of history). Rather it was the expression of the decomposition of the whole capitalist system. The collapse of the Russian bloc at the end of the 80s marked capitalism's entry into this new phase in its decline, the phase of decomposition2. The events which broke up the imperialist blocs that had been in existence until then had two main consequences: the progressive weakening of US imperialism at a world level and an attack on the proletariat's class consciousness, around the campaign developed by the international bourgeoisie identifying the collapse of the Stalinist bloc with the ‘death of communism’. The left wing of capital, in order to be able to carry on their task of containing the working class and the impoverished masses, had to generate ‘new’ ideologies. This led to the emergence in the 90s of the “third way” in Europe, and left wing movements in the countries of the periphery. It was from this seedbed, the product of the decomposition of the capitalist system, that Chávez and his project emerged, along with other leaders and left movements in different Latin American countries. There was Lula with the support of the Workers' Party, the MST and the Social Forums in Brazil; Evo Morales in Bolivia with the indigenous movement; the Zapatistas in Mexico with the support of indigenous and peasants movements, etc.
The significance of Chávez from the beginning was that his project was seen as a movement for Latin American integration (sustained by Bolivarian thinking) founded upon radical anti-Americanism. From this point of view, he was seen as a second Fidel Castro, but who substituted the ‘social movements’ of the workers and socially excluded masses of the region for the 60s ideology of ‘national liberation’. Chávez's Venezuela of the 2000s was transformed into the shop window for the benefits of ‘real Socialism’ that Cuba had been in the previous century. With the importance difference that Chávism was able to finance the franchise of “21st century Socialism” through the large incomes from oil exports.
The Chávez regime however could not stop the overwhelming advance of social decomposition in Venezuela; rather it was turned into an accelerating factor at the internal and regional level. It replaced the old business and state bureaucrats with a new civil and military bureaucracy who have amassed great fortunes and properties inside and outside the country, who have superseded their predecessors in government in the levels of corruption. Chávism has bought loyalty for its ‘revolutionary project’ by sharing out the oil incomes. This method was used to replace the old military High Command and to buy the necessary loyalty of the Armed Forces, principally after the 2002 coup which removed Chávez from power for a few hours. In fact the Armed Forces have been transformed into the regime's ‘Praetorian Guard’, and it carries a lot of weight in the regime.
The hegemony of the Chávista bourgeoisie is based on the reinforcing of the state at all its levels and through a permanent confrontation with the sections of the national capital that are opposed to the regime, principally against the emblematic representatives of private capital, who have been subject to expropriations and controls. A form of government justified to its followers as a struggle against the ‘bourgeoisie’, when in reality many of the Chávistas used to be ‘leading members’ of private capital. Thus the confrontation between fractions of the national capital has dominated national politics throughout Chávez’s time in power. In this struggle each fraction tries to impose its own interests, thus dragging down the whole of society and affecting every level of society. At the economic level, the general crisis of the system has inevitably evolved and a high price has been paid for making Venezuela a ‘regional economic power’. This can be seen in the abandoning of the industrial infrastructure of the country (even affecting the ‘the goose that lays the golden egg’, the oil industry); the roads infrastructure and power services (one of the best in Latin America only two decades ago) are practically on their last legs; at the level of telecommunications Venezuela is technologically lagging behind the rest of the countries in the region. The main drama has been at the social level: the deterioration of public health and education services (which Chávez has sold as one of the great ‘gains’ of the revolution) is much worse than a decade ago; public safety has been practically abandoned (although this has not stopped the police repression of protests by workers and the population); in the 14 years of ‘Socialist’ government more than 150,000 people have been murdered, which has given Venezuela (above all Caracas, the capital) one of the highest crime rates in the world per 100.000 inhabitants, surpassing Mexico and Colombia3.
At the time of the death of the great leader of the “Bolivarian revolution”, the homeland of “21st century Socialism” found itself in a serious economic crisis. In 2012 all the indices showed that the economy was as ill as the President: high fiscal deficit (18% of GDP, the highest in the region), the result of public spending reaching 51% of GDP; imports were the highest in 16 years, at $56 billion, equal to 59% of exports; 22% inflation, the highest in the region. State spending which up until now has been covered by internal and external debt, which have grown steeply in the last years, has reached 50% of GDP; the printing of money has led to the highest inflation rates in the region, seriously undermining workers' wages, pensions and the crumbs distributed by the state. The economic crisis can no longer be hidden and cheated by the state's control of the economy: 2012 began with the devaluation of the Bolivar by 46%in order to try and cover part of the immense public spending and shortage of products (of the order of 22% according to the Central Bank of Venezuela), mainly food items; inflation is estimated to be going to increase to 30%. China, an important lender to the Venezuelan state in recent years, is now making matters worse by refusing to give more resources to an economy that looks like a bottomless pit. Doubts about the health of the economy have made the issuing and realisation of shares more difficult, and the activity that does take place is done at a high price, a premium of 13.6%.
The Chávist project of “21st century Socialism” is another bourgeois failure: a version of state capitalism in the 21st century that engulfs workers and society in poverty whilst enriching the bourgeoisie, which includes the Chávist elites. It shows that neither right nor left, nor the leftists represent a way out of the poverty and barbarity that capitalism subjects us to.
The myth of reducing poverty
One of the things that the top representatives of organisations such as the UN or the World Bank have stressed since Chávez’s death has been his concern for the cause of the poor, which according to them allowed the reduction of levels of poverty in Venezuela. The representatives of the left parties, the leftist groups and social movements, have acted as the mouthpieces for the manipulation of statistics and the well-thought out propaganda of Chávism in order to show the world the great gains made through a ‘redistribution of riches’ by orientating the state’s food, health, and education resources towards the parts of the population most in need. According to the figures of the INE, the organisation charged with collecting the statistics to show the ‘gains of the revolution’, the number of households living in poverty in Venezuela was reduced from 47% to 27.4% between 1998 and 2011 (about 4 million people). This in turn is part of the 37 million people who have been lifted out of poverty over the past decade in Latin America, according to the World Bank. The international bourgeoisie need to exalt any countries under the capitalist regime that have been able to ‘overcome poverty’ and are near to achieving the “Millennium Goals” proclaimed by the UN.
The reality is that the Chávez regime widened poverty, maintaining the poor in poverty, worsening the living conditions of employed workers and the lower layers of the middle class. Chávism carried out a programme of social engineering, taking part of the mass of surplus value produced by the workers to provide social benefits and directing it towards the most desperate sections of society. What this did was to worsen the precariousness of work that already existed before Chávez came to power: non-official studies from 2011 show that 82% of the employed population are in precarious jobs4. The government claims to have increased employment (an increase of 1 million jobs in the public sector) while the official propaganda show how unemployment has grown in the US and Europe. Employment has certainly grown in Venezuela, along with other countries in the region; but it is a question of precarious work, without fixed contracts or only part time, violating the state’s own employment laws and depriving workers of basic social benefits (health, help with education for workers and their children, etc). The state has created parallel health, education and other services, whilst worsening workers’ living conditions in these sectors and throughout the public sector, to the point where they accumulated vast debts, to the sum of thousands of millions of dollars. This social engineering has been a real bloodletting for workers in the productive sectors, driving down wages to around the minimum wage ($300 if the official amount is applied or $100 in the informal sector).
Chávism has rejected workers' demands, saying that they will worsen the ‘people’s’ living conditions. But this is the great lie: through states social plans (which to a greater or lesser extent each national bourgeoisie tries to implement in order to maintain ‘social peace’) the bourgeoisie has tried to redistribute some of the crumbs from oil profits to a limited part of the poor, whilst the majority are left to hope that one day that they too will also benefit from this or that plan for social assistance. The reality of this can be seen with the distribution of price-regulated food, which can only be obtained after long queuing and only in limited quantities; or the limited amount of housing built by the state (constructed in high visibility areas in order to show off the ‘gains of the revolution’), which are given to a few government supporters and without any deeds. Others receive money benefits, pensions, scholarships etc from the state but this money does not cover the cost of food. On the other hand, inflation (the highest in the region) generated by the incessant costs of the state, make these hand-outs worthless overnight, whilst further undermining workers’ wages. According to official figures over the last 14 years of the Chávez government there has been an accumulated inflation of 1500%, which has meant a real cut in wages over this period.
The franchise of “21st century Socialism” which is sold by the left, the leftists and leaders of ‘social movements’ in the region, has fed the illusions of the weakest parts of the proletariat about the creation of a model of the capitalist state – one that in reality is just as savage as the state in other countries.
Strengthening the state
Chávez gave a new life to the democratic mystification with the idea of ‘participatory democracy’. This has allowed the state to penetrate and place under its control the poorest sections of the population and their social movements, through the use of such organisations as the Bolivarian Circles and more recently the Communal Councils. In this way Chávism appeared to carry out the egalitarianism promoted by the left as ‘levelling from below’, which means the spreading of poverty to the whole population, above all the working class.
Chávez's government has also brought about a major strengthening of the state against society, which corresponds to the left's vision that ‘Socialism’ means more state. The state has not only been reinforced at the economic level through the expropriation of businesses and land from sections of private capital opposed to the regime, but it has also fortified the totalitarian state: making it all pervasive in society. Chávez has militarised society and expanded the political character of the state in order to control and repress the population, principally the working class.
At the internal and external level, Chávism, like the Cuban and other bourgeoisies in the region, has used the scapegoat of ‘North American imperialism’ to justify its own imperialist policies. Historically the Venezuelan bourgeoisie has not hidden its intention to be a great regional power, an orientation intensified by Chávism with the weakening of the USA in the world and in its own backyard. With the excuse of the ‘threat of the Empire’ Chávism has justified increased arms spending, to such a point that according to the Report on the Tendencies in the Arms Sales 2012 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Venezuela is the main importer of conventional arms in South America, despite its constant talk about peace and unity. This swelling of the arms sector is part of the growth of militarisation of the bourgeoisies in the region and contributes to regional destabilisation. This arms spending represents greater indebtedness and directs of society's riches against society itself. It is more likely to be used for controlling social discontent than for confronting the ‘Empire’.
The Chávez regime has carried out a more aggressive geo-political policy than any of its predecessors. With the end of the construction of ‘Bolivar's great fatherland’ and using oil incomes as the means of penetration, it has become a factor of destablisation due to its competition with the other aspiring regional ‘little’ imperialists, principally Brazil and Colombia. With Cuba it has formed the ALBA, which brings together countries who have bought into the “21st century Socialism” franchise; it has set up “Petrocaribe” in order to penetrate the Caribbean and made agreements with the countries of Mercosur, principally with Argentina. These countries receive benefits in the form of oil exports and ‘aid’ from the Venezuelan state. In this manner Chávism has bought loyalty at a regional level through investing a good part of oil profits – and this policy has further worsened the living conditions of the proletariat in Venezuela.
The trivialisation of socialism and the attack on class identity
For over two decades the international bourgeoisie has proclaimed the ‘death of Communism’ following the collapse of the Stalinist bloc in 1989, with the aim of trying to weaken class consciousness and the proletariat's struggle for a new society. Chávism has reinforced this campaign by trivialising and undermining of the idea of socialism, with the aim of destroying its real proletarian essence. The sections of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie who are opposed to the regime have also have contributed to this, calling the regime ‘Communist’ or ‘CastroCommunist’. This is one of the major contributions of the Chávist bourgeoisie and its counter parts in the rest of the bourgeoisie, since it represents a direct attack on the proletariat's class consciousness, not only in Venezuela but at the regional and international level.
This was not the development of a ‘revolution’, but the implementation of ‘Socialism in one country’ by a handful of military and leftist adventurers taking control of the capitalist state and strengthening it. The ‘overcoming of poverty’ was by achieved through state hand-outs, which has been presented as being against capitalism and imperialism because of the regime’s diatribes against the US. To present it as a ‘revolution’ is to repeat in the 21st century the tragedy that was the so-called ‘Cuban revolution’ and its impact upon the development of class consciousness amongst the proletariat in Cuba, Latin America and the world. Thus it is no surprise that Chávism has close links with the Castro brothers and their clique. The Chávist regime has been maintaining them in their 50 year rule through paying for their ‘advice’ in oil.
The so-called “Bolivarian revolution” has nothing to do with socialism. The Communist Manifesto, the first political programme of the proletariat, in 1848 proclaimed “the proletariat has no homeland or national interests to defend”, whereas Chávism is a patriotic and nationalist movement. The Chávist ‘revolution’ dreams of going back to pre-Colombian society and is based on the thinking of Bolivar, which was already reactionary at the time since his struggle against Spanish rule could only replace it with a creole oligarchy. It is a bourgeoisie project that has nothing to do with the workers' struggles, but everything to do with sections of the leftist, civil, military and petty bourgeoisie, who are full of social resentment for having been excluded from power following the fall of the dictatorship in 1958. It has also been sustained by the impoverished masses and the weakest sections of the proletariat who the Venezuelan bourgeoisie have manipulated for decades through a policy of hand-outs and cronyism, since they are vulnerable to the crumbs thrown to them by the state and the illusions that go along with this. The organisation of the Bolivarian Circles and the Communal Councils, which can be mobilised against the employed working class worse (whom they accuse of being the ‘aristocracy of labour’), and even confront them with armed gangs, are the continuation of this policy. The Chávist project is an integral partof the ‘social movements’ promoted by the left and leftism which use the most impoverished masses, those who are accustomed to living in poverty and precariousness, and who are not united with the struggles of the proletariat – a class which produces in an associated way, which uses strikes as the means for confronting capital, which can become conscious of the social force it represents and which is capable of struggling to overcome the poverty that capitalism subjects it to.
Chávism has used the full strength of the state in order to confront the workers' struggles, which have been obscured by the intense political polarisation introduced by the bourgeoisie. It has had recourse to the most barbaric means to attack the proletariat: in 2003, following the strike in the oil industry promoted by bourgeois fractions opposed to Chávez, a veritable pogrom was unleashed against the workers, using unemployed workers and supporters of the government. Not content with laying off 20,000 oil workers, the government made it impossible for them to find work inside or outside the state enterprises and subjected them to permanent harassment. This has been an important attack on class solidarity amongst the proletariat in Venezuela, which has accentuated divisions and polarised politics within the working class. Chávism has weakened class solidarity and consciousness.
Chávist ideology seeks to trivialise the class struggle, presenting it as a struggle of the ‘poor against the rich’. In his frequent speeches on TV and radio Chávez constantly repeated that “to be rich is bad”, with the intention that workers should passively accept a precarious life, whilst at the same time the hierarchy and the state bureaucrats, along with their families, disport themselves as the new rich . Chávez constantly went on about how he was struggling against ‘the bourgeoisie’, presenting his government as being the government of the poor, because he came from a poor background. In this way he tried to hide from the workers that the capitalist system is based on antagonistic social relations between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, and that those who govern the state are part of the bourgeois class.
The response of the proletariat
Chávez's death does not mean the end of Chávism. Chávez has not been nor will he be the only populist leader in Latin America. The 20th century gave birth to various leaders with a similar profile, which were thought to now be an extinct species. The bourgeoisie needed Chávez in order to maintain control of and spread illusions amongst the most impoverished masses, including the weakest and most atomised sectors of the proletariat, sectors which will inevitably continue to grow as long as the capitalist system sinks into decadence and decomposition.
This drama poses a historic challenge to the proletariat, to develop its struggles and transform them into a reference point for the masses that have placed their hopes in the state and the Messiah Chávez. The proletariat in Venezuela has struggled, despite the weight of ideological poison and state repression, and the political polarisation created by the different factions of capital. Workers in the industrial and public sectors have used the strike weapon and protests in order to confront the state; despite many of them being sympathetic to Chávism, they have thus shown a lack of trust in the State-boss. The constant attacks by the ‘Socialist’ state have obliged them to resist, and they have had no other road5. This has also happened in sections of the most impoverished where the proletariat is weakest, although to a much more limited extend due to their atomisation and not being integrated into the productive apparatus.
Faced with the Leftist ideology of Chavism and the other ideologies that are generated and will be generated in order to preserve the system, the proletariat in Venezuela and internationally need to develop their struggle against capital, going beyond immediate demands, developing their consciousness and organisation as an autonomous class, which also means a development on the theoretical level, based on historical materialism. This task places a great weight on the most politicised minorities of the class – those who have already recognised that our struggle is for communism on a world wide scale.
Internacionalismo (Venezuela) 24/03/2013
1 Alternativa Bolivariana para las América, which is formed by Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba and other countries
2 See Theses on Decomposition. https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_decomposition.
3 See the article. Incremento de la violencia delictiva en Venezuela: Expresión del drama de la descomposición del capitalismo