From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters
Venezuela’s social crisis has been marked by record inflation (hitting 800% last December); high unemployment (over 1 million jobs lost in 2015-16); shortages of food and medicine; and high rates of street crime, including homicide, have been met by “iron fist” militarized law enforcement that brutalized the poorest neighborhoods.
The disaffection of segments of Chavismo’s working-class support base explains why the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition won a majority in 2015 National Assembly elections.
As the crisis for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has deepened, it has resorted to open repression, including media censorship and inciting their supporters to physically attack the legally elected National Assembly. Over 100 protesters were killed by attacks from the government, its supporters and the right-wing opposition. PSUV leaders are acting as enforcers of the logic of capital, in the context of the world capitalist crisis.
This latest and most intense round of protests was triggered by the Maduro regime’s move to create a new Constituent Assembly to replace the National Assembly and rewrite Venezuela’s Bolivarian Constitution.
Most Venezuelans know that the MUD has no real answer to this crisis. Neither do those, like actor and policeman Oscar Perez or National Guard captain Juan Carlos Caguaripano, who stage token acts of anti-government rebellion while auditioning for the role of the next Hugo Chávez.
SIGNIFICANCE OF 1999 CONSTITUTION
That the government of Nicolas Maduro and former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello are proposing to rewrite the 1999 Constitution at such a moment is an outrage. The significance of the Bolivarian Constitution, voted for by 80% of Venezuelans, was its guarantees of economic and human rights. At its best, Chavismo as a mass movement attempted to build something new on this basis.
This was, however, accompanied by two steps back. First was the personality cult built around Hugo Chávez, which ultimately signifies a lack of confidence in the masses. Second was the dependence on high oil prices to fund social projects, cement alliances, and assert a regional leadership role. With the collapse of oil prices, most of Chávez’s projects also collapsed.
Obscenely, in the midst of this, Maduro’s government donated $500,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, showing how deeply Venezuela’s social crisis is integrated into a worldwide crisis of bourgeois democracy. It hasn’t stopped Trump from issuing belligerent military threats that are repudiated by all of Latin America.
Thus the overwhelming opposition to Maduro and Cabello’s creation of a new Constituent Assembly. Italo Zapata, director of the Federation of Communal and Commune Councils, stated, “This proposal violates the Constitution because it does not give the people the freedom to choose whether or not to approve the initiative. They intend to impose a second-degree election violating what the Constitution establishes.”
CONTRADICTIONS WITHIN CHAVISMO
Many long-time Chávez supporters have broken with the PSUV. This includes the now-ousted Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who had criticized recent repression and government corruption. She stated, as riot police besieged her office, “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”
Likewise former Planning Minister Jorge Giordani wrote: “The people are repeatedly mentioned as an instrument of political patronage in the search for support that was lost long ago, given the loss of legitimacy of the government.” He accused the Maduro government of wanting to implement “Goebelian socialism” (a reference to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister).
When Chávez was tested by a genuine international revolutionary movement, the Arab Spring, he failed. He had cultivated relationships with Iran, Libya, and Syria, among other oppressive regimes, as a pragmatic policy of forming an “anti-imperialist” alliance. In denying human and economic justice to others, this alliance laid a groundwork for nullifying the Bolivarian Constitution itself.
The contradictions in Chavismo have always been present—and deep contradictions remain in some Chavistas who are rightfully critical of Maduro. Only a serious philosophic rethinking of Venezuela’s recent history will create the conditions for a revolutionary transcendence of the current horror.