Taking the side of the Bolivarian Revolution

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30 July: solidarity demo outside the Venezuelan embassy in Kensington

Update, 5 August: Despite street violence and threats of intervention, Venezuela's Constituent Assembly elections saw over 8 million people cast their vote for candidates to rewrite the nation's Constitution. Given that the opposition boycotted the election, the 41% turnout demonstrates a high level of participation from the Chavista grassroots. It surpasses the 7.5 million votes for Maduro in the 2013 Presidential election and nearly totals the 8.1 million votes Chavez received for his final presidential stand. It also must be emphasised that this historic vote has taken place in the midst of ongoing opposition violence terrorising the streets. The night before the election, one of the candidates, Felix Pineda Marcano, a children's rights activist and community organiser, was assassinated. On the day, 200 polling stations were attacked by opposition thugs and nine people lost their lives during violent protests aimed at preventing the election from taking place. Inevitably, some were unable to reach the ballot box, yet socialists crossed rivers and burning barricades to reach polling stations, joining crowds of jubilant red-clad voters turning out to defend their Bolivarian revolutionary process.

537 delegates were elected by popular vote on 30 July. Eight indigenous delegates have subsequently been selected by indigenous assemblies. 364 seats have been allocated by region, 173 seats have been allocated by sector, ensuring representation of workers, farmers, people with disabilities, students, pensioners, business interests and communes. The Constituent Assembly was inaugurated on 4 August, accompanied by a march and celebrations in central Caracas. Right-wing threats to wreck the ceremony dissipated in the face of widening splits in the opposition coalition over strategy. The elected delegates will now get to work discussing the proposals submitted by thousands of popular assemblies, seeking to safeguard the communal systems of popular power and poverty-busting social missions into the constitution, while searching for solutions to the economic and political crisis facing Venezuela.

The capitalist press claims that the Constituent Assembly is a ploy to place more power in the hands of President Maduro, decrying a 'crack down on democracy'. In reality the redrafted Constitution will be put to referendum; Governor elections are scheduled for December and Presidential elections will take place in 2018.There is no democratic deficit in Venezuela, yet the imperialist mouthpieces of the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent shamelessly call for foreign intervention in Venezuela, demanding immediate elections and freedom for 'political prisoners' who are responsible for the death and destruction wreaked on the country over the last four months. The upcoming elections, referendum and a constituent assembly chosen by popular participation are simply not good enough for these vultures.

Predictably, the US State Department has refused to recognise the election alongside Canada, Spain, Britain, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and Panama. Loyal to these interests, the London-based Smartmatic voting system company held a press conference immediately after the election declaring inconsistencies in the numbers. Smartmatic have not specified the basis for this allegation or how the results were obtained. In response, the president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, countered: 'It is an irresponsible assertion based on estimates without any basis in the data that is exclusively managed by the electoral authority. But even more serious, Smartmatic participated in all (pre-election) audits... Smartmatic is responsible for technical services and nothing else.' Nevertheless Maduro himself has ordered a full audit of the results, hardly the mark of a hardened dictator.

Venezuela is renowned for having one of the most robust electoral systems in the world. Voters present their fingerprint on automated machines in order to prevent identity theft or double voting. In addition, voters tally their decision with a printed receipt which they deposit in a ballot box. The automated results are then validated through a manual count of 54% of all ballot boxes. International observers and an electoral commission also monitor the process In the 2013 presidential elections a total of 18 audits were carried out during the entire process with members of all political campaign teams signing off each step. As election after election in Venezuela has shown, the only result that the opposition and their imperialist backers ever respect is one that serves the forces of reaction.

The coming months will be crucial. With the US increasing sanctions on Venezuela and the European Union promising to 'step up' their response, a further escalation of violence is likely.

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On 30 July, millions of Venezuelans went to the polls to vote in a new Constituent Assembly in a direct show of solidarity with President Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution. It follows more than one hundred days of opposition violence which have left over 100 people dead. Coup plans, bombs, helicopter hijackings, socialists lynched and burnt alive. The night before the vote, a candidate for the Constituent Assembly was shot dead in his home and during the vote itself some polling stations were attacked by opposition thugs and the voting machinery was set on fire. Venezuela is on the frontline of international class war.

On one side are the forces of the Bolivarian revolution which, since the 1998 election of socialist leader Hugo Chavez, have launched a new system of participatory democracy and channelled oil wealth into social programmes for the poor. On the other are the oligarchs and politicians who used to rule Venezuela under the dictates of the IMF and World Bank. They are backed to the hilt by imperialism, funded through shady organisations connected to USAID and bolstered by the US military waiting in the wings. Pushed out of political power, they are desperate to claw back control and resume their position as sole purveyors of Venezuela’s oil. They have incessantly plotted to overthrow the Chavistas, with the short-lived 2002 coup and oil lock-out, a failed recall referendum in 2004, constant economic sabotage and frequent violent guarimba protests which have escalated since 2014. As the current death count shows, they will stop at nothing. If the fascist right-wing succeeds in toppling President Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV), the atrocities of Chile in 1973 will be repeated in Venezuela. SAM McGILL reports.

Though the Bolivarian revolution has won 18 out of 20 elections since 1998, Maduro was elected by a narrow margin following the premature death of Chavez in 2013. The ‘Democratic Unity’ (MUD) opposition coalition refused to recognise the results. Instead, it intensified its campaign of destabilisation with hoarding, stoppages and speculation affecting the supply of essential goods. Frustrated, many abstained in the 2015 National Assembly elections, which handed a majority to the MUD. Ever since the National Assembly and PSUV government have been locked in a stalemate, dual bodies of political power with diametrically opposed objectives. Following a clash between the National Assembly and Supreme Court in April this year, the opposition launched the current guarimba protests, pledging to remain in the streets until the PSUV is overthrown. In this context Maduro has called a National Constituent Assembly to review Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, seeking to overcome the violence through grassroots mobilisation.

Beneath this political tug-of-war is a battle for economic independence. The Bolivarian revolution has won massive gains for the working class in education, health care and housing. Communal councils based in working-class barrios have formed participatory systems of self governance and community production known as comunas. Venezuela has shifted the balance of forces in the US’s backyard, promoting south-south trade, mutual development, setting up the anti-imperialist ALBA bloc, the Petrocaribe subsidised oil programme and alternative media channel Telesur. However this struggle to construct socialism has taken place within the framework of an oil-dependent, capitalist country where 70% of the economy remains in private hands.

Venezuela is now gripped by a deadly economic crisis. Oil prices remain less than half of what they were in 2014. Currency controls set the main official exchange rate at 10 Bolivars to the dollar, yet the unofficial rate has tipped 6,000, fuelling triple digit inflation and currency fraud. Venezuela has not been able to diversify its economy away from oil and mineral extraction, non-oil sector production has been strangled by cheap, easy imports in the boom years. The global oil slump has hit hard, decimating the export earnings needed for pay for imports. Problematically, state subsidies have exacerbated the entrenched culture of corruption produced by a century of oil extraction. This has permeated all levels of society, from street vendors selling subsidised food at marked-up prices, mid-level smuggling rackets and border scams, to speculation and embezzlement in the highest posts of government ministries. Then there is the ‘economic war’, a coordinated attempt to ‘make the economy scream’ by opposition aligned monopolies which hoard essential goods and produce luxury items instead of necessities. Nothing else can explain the abundance of paper towels and napkins when there is no toilet paper, or an abundance of cake and yoghurt but scarcity of bread and milk. So far Maduro and the PSUV have not tackled these monopolies head on; repeat offenders like the Polar company still receive preferential dollars and import licences from the government.

These contradictions do not make the class struggle any less sharp. As Lenin argued, ‘Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is’.* Venezuela is in the midst of a slow-burning civil war that will be decisive for the class struggle internationally. As socialists, we cannot sit on the fence or fall off on the wrong side of the barricades, yet this is what many of the US and British left have done.

A prime example is Mike Gonzalez, former committee member of the Socialist Workers Party who has made a comfortable living at the University of Glasgow by consistently attacking and belittling the gains of socialist Cuba and revolutionary Venezuela whilst supporting the racist, war-mongering Labour Party. His article ‘Being honest about Venezuela’, published in Jacobin magazine and dutifully reprinted in Britain’s Socialist Worker, ignores the imperialist threat facing Venezuela, equating the fascist opposition with Maduro and the PSUV.

He argues: ‘The crisis in Venezuela represents a complete rejection of the Bolivarian revolution: the gains made by the poor and working classes have all but disappeared while the capitalist elite have maintained their wealth and power...While Maduro betrays the revolution by courting the bourgeoisie and sliding backwards into neo-liberalism, right-wing forces have brought in violent mercenaries to try and disrupt the country even further. As these two groups struggle for power, ordinary Venezuelans are watching the gains of Chavismo slip away.’

Nothing is said about the 1.7 million homes built since 2011 through the social housing mission, projects sustained and expanded by Maduro after Chavez’s death. Nor about the free education provision which has eliminated illiteracy and tripled university enrolment. Local committees for distribution and production, which serve 50% of the population with subsidised goods, are dismissed as ‘failed’. There is no mention of the recent nationalisation of General Motors or Chavista workers taking over Kimberley Clarke. Neither is there reference to participatory working class democracy expressed through 45,000 communal councils and 1,500 comunas. These gains do not fit his narrow narrative of a ‘revolution in reverse’.

An unofficial opposition referendum against the Constituent Assembly vote which will be held on 30 July garnered only 7m votes. One undercover voter filmed himself casting seven separate ballots using the same ID card. All the documents were incinerated after the results were announced, precluding verification. Meanwhile, millions of ordinary people supported a ‘test-run’ for the Constituent Assembly vote itself; 50,000 Venezuelans registered their candidacy through thousands of popular assemblies, with 6,120 candidates nominated for the final vote.

Gonzalez cynically claims that ‘There will be no debate, no transparency’. In this, Gonzalez resembles Donald Trump and the US state department who argue the Constituent Assembly ‘would undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions’. They have threatened ‘strong and swift economic actions’ if it goes ahead. Mike Gonzalez has long acted as a mouthpiece for US imperialism in Latin America. From Socialist Workers Party platforms he called for the overthrow of the revolutionary government in Cuba, citing the uber-reactionary Cuban-American National Foundation as a source. The CANF is a terrorist organisation which has supported the Contras in Nicaragua and UNITA in Angola. It works to destabilise the government of Cuba and has links to the CIA.

Perpetuating the myth of a nation united against an unpopular, authoritarian president, Gonzalez writes: ‘The initial marches, led by dramatically masked members of the upper class, also attracted many middle-class Venezuelans. Other protesters, however, didn’t belong to any right-wing party: frustrated, angry, and desperate, many who would describe themselves as Chavistas marched behind the nation’s elite’. He accuses the National Guard, the police, the military and the PSUV of trying to prevent the constitutionally-protected right to protest.

Gonzalez ignores the tens of thousands who have marched to support Maduro and face down the opposition. He also sidesteps the fact that violence has been concentrated in wealthy districts run by opposition governors and mayors. Whilst shortages undoubtedly affect the working class, the citizens of uptown Caracas have access to speculative dollars and expensive imports: their protests are not born out of hunger. Underscoring this reality, opposition thugs broke into a government distribution centre in Anzotegui and torched 50 tonnes of food earmarked for poor neighbourhoods. The state-owned milk company ‘Lacteos los Andes’ in Lara was also targeted.

Far from the right to protest being prevented, opposition marches continue on a weekly basis. The ‘protest’ being blocked is the burning barricades and Molotov attacks on government offices, social housing projects and maternity hospitals. At the time of writing 115 people have died. These include 29 directly killed by opposition violence and street barricades and 14 who died in accidents during lootings. 47 deaths remain unaccounted for. Just 13 have been attributed to state officials; most of those responsible have been arrested, charged and jailed.

The savagery of the opposition knows no bounds. In May, black street vendor Orlando Figuera was burned alive during an opposition protest. Since then, three other Chavistas have been set alight by fascists. These atrocities are directed by opposition leaders. In July Carlos Graffe, an organiser for the Popular Will party was found with C4 explosives, nails and a detonator. These are the forces of ‘democracy promotion’ backed by US imperialism to the tune of $49m since 2009. Gonzalez pretends to be concerned about constitutionality, however the opposition has openly launched plans for a coup. Popular Will leader Freddy Guevara, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, released plans for ‘Zero Hour’, calling a (largely unobserved) general strike in July and demanding the creation of a parallel ‘National Unity’ government. With US military and navy exercises circling Venezuela in the Caribbean, Colombia and Brazil, failure to support the Bolivarian revolution is to side with the interests of imperialism.

Gonzalez lectures us: ‘Others on the Left have chosen to say nothing or ignore the complex reality. Whatever their motives, their silence amounts to complicity with a new ruling class that hides behind the language of socialism...As socialists, we are not required to choose the lesser evil. Rather, we should support those in struggle in rebuilding the basis for a genuinely democratic society.’

Gonzalez uses the ‘language of socialism’ to throw Venezuela to the wolves of imperialism, shirking his internationalist duty to defend anti-imperialist movements. Who are those ‘in struggle’ if not the working class and poor, who will lose everything if the right-wing wins? The comunas and social movements will be drowned in blood. The destruction of the Bolivarian revolution may be a done deal for Gonzalez but the battle is far from over.

The role of socialists in Britain must be to promote solidarity between the working class in oppressor nations with anti-imperialist struggles, uniting to fight a common enemy. Not to do so is to side with our own ruling class. Blocking this unity is the labour aristocracy of the oppressor nation, a section of the working class bought off by imperialism. In Britain, this section is represented by the Labour Party. Whilst Gonzalez and his followers make endless concessions to a racist, anti-working class and imperialist Labour Party at home, he refuses to support those actually struggling for socialism in Venezuela.

The RCG is clear: our primary duty is to build internationalist solidarity with Venezuelan revolutionaries under siege. We have confronted media lies, protesting outside The Guardian offices and the BBC for their reactionary coverage. It is shameful that so-called socialists like Gonzalez should echo this vicious attack from the capitalist press. In doing so he places himself firmly against the interests of the Venezuelan working class. He serves no one but the interests of imperialism.

* VI Lenin, ‘The discussion on self-determination summed up’, July 1916

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 259 August/September 2017