National Sections of the L5I:

Venezuela: Hands off, Mr President!

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At the beginning of April, 2015, the US president, Barack Obama, signed a decree establishing a state of emergency with regard to Venezuela, because the country had become a threat to the USA. This measure has to be seen against the background of the dwindling influence of the USA as the world's policeman. Even in its traditional "backyard" of Latin America, there have been increasing tendencies in the last two decades trying to escape the reach of US capital and its institutions. This goes not only for the economic development, albeit fragile, of Brazil in the last 10 years or the resistance of Argentina against the requirements of the IMF but also for the more or less open anti-US stance of left bourgeois governments such as in Bolivia. The new offensive against Venezuela is, in part, intended to reverse this development.

Anti-imperialism

Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the late President Chavez, has characterised several US politicians, including former President George W Bush, Vice-President Cheney and ex-CIA chief Tenet as terrorists and forbidden them entry to his country. In addition, he has announced a visa requirement for all US citizens and opened a public campaign against Obama's attempts at blackmail, which is intended to collect 10 million signatures to be forwarded to the US President.

However, Maduro, like his predecessor Chavez, would not be a populist and bourgeois politician if he had not prepared a second option that goes alongside his vociferous "anti-imperialism". This was presented at the "Summit of the Americas" in Panama which brought together government representatives from 35 countries on April 11 and 12. At it, he expressed the hope that the summit would "open the doors for a respectful dialogue with the United States". Commenting on his meeting with Obama in a TV interview, he said, "I would even say it was a very cordial meeting". "Respectful dialogue" and "warmth" clearly do not sit very easily with the rest of Maduro's anti-imperialist posturing and show that his "struggle" against imperialism ends at the point where compromise appears possible.

Venezuela is a major irritant for US imperialism. After all, under President Chavez some sections of the economy, above all the oil industry, were nationalised and the distribution of oil income was redirected. He also introduced a major social programme for the poorest sections of the population and talked a great deal about anti-imperialism and the "Socialism of the 21st-century".

Crisis

Obama's attack on Venezuela has a contemporary background. Some years ago, enormous oil reserves were discovered there. The country now has the biggest oil reserves in the world, which is obviously of great interest to the USA. However, the main reason for Obama's activities is certainly the increasingly precarious position of the Maduro regime.

The economy is facing an extremely serious situation. Despite its oil wealth, the country has to import petrol because of insufficient refinery capacity. Fuel is subsidised at the cost of billions. In 2012, a litre of water cost as much as 80 litres of petrol, a subsidy that not only benefits the masses but also, of course, the employers. This measure costs the state over $12.5 billion, some 4 percent of GDP. Oil exports account for 96 percent of all export income. The much-publicised social programme costs just 2.3 percent of the oil income. Even more important, however, is the fact that 13 percent of the total income goes to servicing the debt to China, Venezuela's biggest creditor.

Because of the drop in oil prices, Venezuela's foreign currency reserves have declined dramatically. Just in 2013, the dollar reserves dropped by one quarter and currently stand at only US$20 billion. The combination of the decline in oil prices and rising inflation have made clear the inner contradictions of the Chavez economic model.

The social situation of the population, not only the workers and poor peasants but even the greater part of the “middle classes” has clearly declined significantly in recent years. The biggest problem is the absolute scarcity of consumer goods. Food and daily necessities are difficult, sometimes impossible, to come by. Even petrol is scarce. The social improvements made under Chavez are increasingly being eroded by these problems.

On top of that, there is the inflation which lowers the purchasing power of the masses. This is in no way a new problem, on the contrary it plagued Venezuelan capitalism long before Chavez. At one point in the 1990s it reached over 100 percent which, of course, is conveniently forgotten by imperialist propaganda today.

Today, inflation stands at 60 percent. Despite last year's fivefold (!) increase in the minimum wage, on which half of all families are dependent, in the same period average real income has visibly declined. Even the government-loyal National Statistical Institute has recognised an increase in poverty: between 2012 and 2013 it has risen from 21.2 to 27.3 percent.

The bourgeois reactionary opposition makes good use of this misery wherever it can. As in the current mobilisations in Brazil, the most reactionary sections of society, based on the upper and middle classes, often stand behind the protests. Insofar as they raise social demands, their purpose is deception.

A "semi-capitalism"?

All the same, the reason why the Venezuelan economy is in such a deep crisis cannot be fully explained either by falling oil prices or the undoubted sabotage by the bourgeoisie. Rather, it has to be rooted in the strategy of Chavez himself. Far from being the "socialism of the 21st-century" as many on the left see Chavez's project, his politics was nothing more than bourgeois left populism aimed at establishing a reformed, socially responsible capitalism, independent of imperialism. The basis for such a society was to be a strong state sector, above all the oil industry, and a Bonapartist state apparently standing above the classes.

Until now, the regime was successful in bringing the working class and the poor behind it by means of left and anti-imperialist rhetoric as well as some social programmes. Not the least important was the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the "Bolivarian" grassroots organisations, which are closely interwoven with the state apparatus and form quasi popular front organs that unite proletarian and bourgeois forces on the basis of a left bourgeois programme. Although these are partly rank and file organisations, they are not councils, not real organs of the power of the oppressed.

The economic foundation of Venezuela remains capitalist. Privately owned means of production dominate and the relations of the market economy rule, even if they are strongly regulated by the state. Venezuela's dilemma now consists in the fact that capitalism was not abolished or overcome, but only "modified". The normal economic mechanisms of capitalism; competition, striving for profit, price formation and so on, are clearly limited but, nonetheless, they remain intact on the whole. Thus, the dynamics of capitalism have been limited but have not been replaced by the completely different driving forces of socialism; the needs and the direct decision-making administration of producers and consumers over production and distribution.

As a semi-colonial capitalist country, the economic structure of Venezuela is also determined by the imperialist division of labour. It was, and it remains, dependent on oil exports. Relations between the different economic sectors are characterised by the most enormous disproportions. The greater part of all consumer goods have to be imported.

Like all apologists of the "free market economy", the bourgeois opposition insist that it is the subsidies and the "misrepresentation of real prices" which are causing the economic problems. If only the market could develop "freely", the economy would automatically bring itself into "equilibrium".

They conveniently forget that all the "interventions" in the free market about which they complain were necessary even before Chavez and are unavoidable on the basis of semi-colonial Venezuelan capitalism. It was the threatened elimination of oil subsidies in 1989 that led to the uprising, the “Caracazao” which was one of the roots of the Chavez movement. The memory of those attacks and the resistance to them is still very much alive today and is the main reason why Maduro has been reluctant to make any dramatic cuts in subsidies.

The bourgeois character of Chavism

The fact that the greater part of the subsidies for goods does not only go to the poor but also to the employers, to all classes, clearly shows the bourgeois character of Chavism and his cowardice in the face of the bourgeoisie. This corresponds to his programme to encourage the "productive" capitalists in order to bring the country forward "together", in reality this just encourages one section of the capitalist class.

In a semi-colonial capitalism such as Venezuela, the "free market" unavoidably leads to social rejection and impoverishment. "Correcting" this through redistribution, subsidies for food etc cannot lead to any lasting improvement because it not only leaves unchallenged the purpose of production, profit-making, but also the whole economic structure.

At best, market relations have been modified but there is no democratic planned economy based on councils. Even occasional attempts by workers to take over production under their own control, or to take strike action, were obstructed by this "progressive" regime, sometimes violently. On top of that, it is downright ludicrous to believe that a modern economy can be organised more or less under the control of the state bureaucracy, as if the historic collapse of Stalinism had never happened! Thus Chavez' "semi-capitalism" only leads to disaster.

Obama's appetite

The renewed pressure from Obama is intended to stiffen the resolve of the bourgeois, ultra-reactionary, opposition in Venezuela. A further sharpening of the situation in the country could quickly become an opportunity for direct intervention by the USA. Such an outcome would, of course, be exclusively reactionary. The consequence would not be the extension, or even the defence, of social reforms, never mind any further anticapitalist changes, but a neoliberal shock programme with increased dependence and exploitation of Venezuela.

Even though many Leftists and progressive forces in Latin America and internationally have wrongly placed great or even "socialist" hopes in Maduro, a defeat for Venezuela at the hands of US imperialism would also be a defeat for every progressive alternative and all resistance. The alternative is not Obama or the CIA but the socialist revolution! This would, objectively, be more easily achieved if it is only the Chavist regime, and not a US occupation power or a puppet regime, that has to be defeated.

So, down with US gunboat policy! Defend Venezuela and its social achievements against all imperialist attacks!

In order to achieve this objective, and to open the door to a real socialist transformation, it is above all necessary to overcome the illusions in Maduro and the Chavez project. The real developments over recent months and years make it ever clearer that this is leading into a dead-end. The working class and the urban and rural poor must free themselves from the political fetters of Chavism and build their own organs of power (councils, factory committees, militia, distribution committees etc) which are not under the control of the Chavez state or its political agents.

At the same time, there must be a campaign to create a new revolutionary socialist workers' party. In addition, it is also necessary to fight for the full democratic rights of the left and workers' organisations and structures both inside and outside the trade unions and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.