From the January-February 2016 issue of News & Letters
by Eugene Walker
The defeat of the ruling Bolivarian United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the December National Assembly elections was stunning. Not merely losing its large parliamentary majority, President Nicolás Maduro’s party was replaced by the Democratic Unity Party (MUD), a coalition of the right wing that captured two-thirds of the legislative seats.
The opposition now has power to block spending for social programs, approve or revoke enabling laws, and remove Supreme Court judges. A two-thirds majority can remove ministers and the Vice-President, revoke or modify organic laws, and convoke a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution. A symbolic moment was the action taken to remove portraits of former President Hugo Chávez from the legislative building.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Where to now for those on the Left, especially the Venezuelan masses, who supported Chavez in power, even in difficult times, but many of whom felt disappointed in the two-and-a-half-year post-Chavez period?
It was an overwhelming defeat. Some 75% of those eligible voted. Much of the so-called Left focused on imperialist maneuvers, such as poisoning public opinion through capitalist propaganda and funding opposition groups to disrupt the economy.
Chavez had a significant relationship to the masses which Maduro never achieved. That support fueled the Bolivarian process in spite of the efforts to isolate Venezuela and disrupt its progressive aspects.
Focusing only on the external enemy and internal effort of the bourgeoisie and its supporters is an incomplete analysis. To downplay the bad economic management, shortages, corruption, and paternalistic decision-making from above, is to fail to confront the real contradictions within what was termed 21st Century Socialism.
The steep fall in oil prices has contributed to the difficult economic situation. Yet the seeds were planted during Chavez’s presidency. His concept of 21st Century Socialism was based on the most crucial capitalist commodity—oil. Thus the focus was on a redistribution of oil wealth, a welcome and necessary act. But there was not a focus on a break with capitalist production.
Chávez’s concept of socialism wasn’t building it from below but with a charismatic leader making the decisions, building the party, and fighting the old bureaucracy, even as a new bureaucracy emerged. Yes, the masses supported him, but were their ideas and talents elicited and acted on while he lived? Where have the proletariat and peasantry been authentically involved in decision-making?
NEEDED ‘RUTHLESS CRITICISM’
Of course there needs to be a concrete, specific anti-imperialism, and a vigorous defense of important social programs in health, education, housing, food, and workers’ and peasants’ rights. But there needs to be as well a ruthless criticism of the idea of constructing socialism from above, of statist solutions that can lead to a form of state-capitalism.
A process of constructing socialism from below, eliciting the talents of women, men, youth, workers, peasants, Indigenous peoples, and urban dwellers is needed. They are the social subjects of revolutionary transformation.
Such socialism needs to be rooted in the philosophy of revolution that Marx created: the unity of theory with practice, and practice with theory. These are challenges not alone for Venezuela, but for the process of social change under the “progressive governments” of Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, and formerly Argentina as well. At stake are the needed Latin American revolutions of the 21st century.