[News] Chávismo and Its Discontents: International Left Intellectuals Respond to Venezuelan Government’s Legislative Election Setback

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 20 12:25:39 EST 2016

January 20, 2016

  Chávismo and Its Discontents: International Left Intellectuals Respond
  to Venezuelan Government’s Legislative Election Setback

by Roger Harris – Chuck Kaufman 


Five hours after the polls had closed 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-35019111>, the National 
Electoral Council (CNE) announced a landslide victory for the opposition 
in Venezuela’s the National Assembly elections.

Almost immediately after, President Maduro addressed 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-35019111> the nation 
accepting “these adverse results,” the worst defeat for the followers of 
Hugo Chávez in the 20 elections since 1998. Maduro subsequently has 
called <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/11765> for a “deep process of 
revision and self-criticism” in the wake of the December 6^th , 2015, 

The response of international left intellectuals has ranged from 
critical support to outright rejection of the socialist project in 
Venezuela. We argue for the importance of recognizing the overarching 
influence of US imperialism and for the acceptance of using the state as 
an instrument of popular power by the international solidarity movement.

*Report from Venezuela*

Reporting from Venezuela three weeks after the election, Lisa Sullivan 
(pers. com.) comments: “In my experience, I have witnessed a whole 
generation of my neighbors and friends gain access to dignified housing, 
free education, stable jobs with honorable wages, free health care and a 
sense of profound citizenship as full participants in rebuilding their 

Sullivan, from the US, is a long-term solidarity activist who brought up 
her family in Venezuela. She acknowledges that “a lot of this is now 
falling apart,” but adds “to slander everything that took place in the 
past 15 years in order to justify critiques today” renders one 
“irrelevant” at best.

*Need for an Attitude Change*

Chilean sociologist and activist Marta Harnecker continues to be a 
critical supporter of Chávismo. Writing in the January 2016 issue of 
/Monthly Review,/ Harnecker advocates for a union of social movements 
with the left government, as long as each side of the equation learns to 
behave themselves properly.

Critical of the Leninist formulation of state and party, Harnecker calls 
instead for an attitude change where social movements “overcome the 
impulse to oppose everything that comes from the government,” while left 
governments have to “be very flexible and patient in working with social 
movement leaders.”

Harnecker cautions that “the road to socialism (is) difficult but not 
impossible,” due to many constraints including what she characterizes as 
“elites who were previously dominant.” The pivotal presence of US 
imperialism is largely down played from her configuration of the 
wielders of political power.

*Transnational Capitalist Class*

Ignoring, or indeed denying, the phenomenon of US imperialism gets 
further developed by prominent academic leftist William L. Robinson at 
the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author most recently of 
/Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity 
/(2014, Cambridge University Press). Robinson acknowledges that in 
former times Latin America was subject to Spanish, Portuguese, and 
British colonialism. But in the current era a transnational capitalist 
class has arisen, which transcends state boundaries and renders the 
notion of US imperialism moot.

This formulation of an amorphous transnational capitalist class, rather 
than US imperialism, as the primary international antagonist of the 
social movements has gotten considerable currency among international 
left intellectuals, but little traction on the ground in Venezuela where 
it stands in contradiction to the iron heel of the US military’s some 
half dozen bases in Colombia on Venezuela’s western border, the US 
Fourth Fleet patrolling Venezuela’s Caribbean border along with 
additional US military bases a few air minutes away in Aruba and Curaçao.

*US Regime Change Efforts in Venezuela*

Our experience on delegations to Venezuela is that grassroots activists 
to a person will tell you of the interference by US governmental 
agencies such as the CIA and USAID along with quasi-US-governmental 
organs such as the National Endowment for Democracy, International 
Republican Institute, National Democrat Institute for International 
Affairs, etc.

It is not for nothing that the US had an Office of Transition Initiates 
(OTI) – tagline “helping local partners advance peace and democracy” – 
to achieve regime change in Venezuela. The US illegally 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5894> funnels millions of dollars 
annually to the Venezuelan opposition, coordinated by the US embassy. 
These efforts to mobilize and organize the opposition and build its 
capacity – so-called “democracy promotion,” though really the opposite – 
have borne fruit in the most recent Venezuelan election.

*To My Chávista Friends*

The existence of US imperialism is not denied by Berkeley author Clif 
Ross who has written several books about Venezuela and Latin America. He 
is a former faithful Chávista supporter turned apostate. Ross doesn’t 
distinguish US imperialism from, say, a non-existent Cuban imperialism. 
He is on record 
to “defend the Bolivarian process” against both imperialisms.

His /To My Chávista Friends/ 
<http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/12/to-my-chavista-friends/> is a 
critique of Chávismo that provides a left gloss to a view that is 
fundamentally consonant with the US State Department. Ross proclaims: 
“The ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is over. It failed.”

Further, the “20^th century socialism” of the USSR, China, and Cuba is 
dismissed as simply a “nightmare,” without any acknowledgement of the 
social orders that were replaced and the enormous material gains 
attained by those populaces.

Ross gives Chávismo failing grades for not accommodating to neo-liberal 
capitalism, criticizing the Venezuelan government for having “the most 
business unfriendly environment in the world,” referencing the World 
Bank. Adding, “I wouldn’t blame the business sector for fighting back 
against the relentless onslaught of attacks by the government over the 
past 16 years.”

His sympathies are further revealed in his resurrecting hardline 
opposition politician Leopoldo López as some kind of socialist. López, 
scion of one of Venezuela’s wealthiest families, is currently serving 
time for inciting violent protests in February 2014 following opposition 
electoral losses. The economic sabotage in Venezuela by large privately 
held corporations, including proven uncovering of massive hoarding, is 
deemed “some imaginary ‘economic war.’”

We believe that it is not Ross’s intention to promote US imperialism. 
Rather his is a reaction to the deep disillusionment shared by many of 
the failure of Chávismo to overcome in a decade and a half some of the 
challenges of transitioning from capitalism to socialism, including 
transforming the relations of production. Seeing blemishes on both 
sides, he wishes for an untainted, pure third way transcending statist 

*Rats Leaving a Sinking Ship*

We do not believe that the metaphor of rats leaving a sinking ship 
applies to the international left defectors from the Chávista camp. The 
ship has not sunk.

Of the five branches of the Venezuelan government, only the unicameral 
National Assembly is currently controlled by the notoriously fractious 
opposition coalition made up of 20 political parties. The executive is 
still held by Maduro, whose term extends to 2019, although he may have 
to weather a recall referendum. Meanwhile the Venezuelan Defense 
Minister Vladimir Padrino pledged the military’s allegiance 
stating “The president is the highest authority of the state and we 
reiterate our absolute loyalty and unconditional support for him.”

The Chávista’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) remains by far the largest 
in Venezuela with some 6 million giving the party 42% 
of the vote in the December election. A militant Chávista base will 
staunchly resist neoliberalism and defend the advances of the last 15 
years such as a million new housing units and access to medical care and 

The opposition MUD coalition, despite the US government’s best efforts 
to herd these contentious cats, can only agree on their opposition to 
Maduro. Voted in reaction to mounting economic problems, MUD may not 
have a consensus program beyond opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup’s 
6-month plan to oust Maduro.

*Slippery Slope*

One thing is clear: all of Venezuela’s current problems were inherited 
by Maduro when he assumed the presidency in a close election in April 
2013. As one of us had commented 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/02/the-legacy-of-hugo-chavez/> back 
then: “The problems of building 21st century socialism on a capitalist 
foundation include crime, inefficiency/shortages, and 
inflation/devaluation. These are the problems inherited from the 
existing capitalist order and exacerbated by the sabotage of the 
opposition. This is the time bomb that has been handed to Maduro.” And 
that time bomb has been ticking ever since.

 From the moment that the Venezuelan presidential election results were 
announced in 2013, a campaign orchestrated by Washington 
was launched by the Venezuelan opposition to show their rage in order to 
destabilize the country and overthrow 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10580> Maduro, followed by the 
even more violent /guarimbas/ of early 2014. . The opposition launched a 
campaign, costing the lives of 43 Venezuelans, to achieve by 
extra-constitutional means what could not be achieved through the 
democratic election process.

 From the get go, Maduro was on a slippery slope of defending his 
government while postponing the hard decisions required to raise the 
ridiculously low price of oil, the dysfunctional multiple currency 
exchange rates, food shortages, etc. The longer he delayed, the worse 
the problems became while his political capital continued to dissipate.

A flurry of recommendations have been floated to right the economic 
ship, as characterized by James Suggett 
<http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11790>, ranging from right to 
left: neoliberalism, market-based reform, correction and maintenance of 
current policies, socialism with the state, and socialism without the 
state. None are without high risks, and all require a societal consensus 
which presently does not exist in Venezuela’s highly polarized polity.

*Role of International Solidarity*

So what is the role of international solidarity at this historical 
moment in Venezuela? Particularly what is the role of us in the United 
States given our government’s clear intervention on behalf of “regime 

First we need to guard against buying into American exceptionalism, 
which sees our country as having a unique role – some would say 
god-given role – as arbiter of freedom and democracy in the world. 
American exceptionalism is a deep-seated heresy that even infects the 
left in this country. All too often we assume a natural right to 
appropriate and to enter into debates in other countries on an equal 
footing with those who will bear the consequences resulting from those 
debates. This hubris is particularly prevalent among left intellectuals.

In fact, we only bear the consequences in a general sense that set-backs 
in left governments and movements affect our own efforts to build a 
better world through changing our own government. But we are personally 
untouched by the economic and social effects of decisions in countries 
like Venezuela.

We are not stakeholders in Venezuela’s “deep process of revision and 
self-criticism” and therefore need not insert ourselves in their 
process. Rather, we need our own deep process of revision and 
self-criticism to determine why the solidarity movement is not more 
effective in its efforts to modify US behavior. We clearly are 
stakeholders in US imperialism and thus share responsibility for the 
suffering it imposes on the lives of Venezuelans and movements 
throughout the world that dare to chart their own course.

We have to ask ourselves, “Do my statements empower and amplify the 
articulated priorities of the movements and governments I am in 
solidarity with, or do they strengthen the US government narrative and 
create even greater space for it to intervene in the sovereign affairs 
of other countries?” Anyone who does not include the effects of US 
imperialist intervention in their analysis is almost surely doing the 
latter. And, anyone who ignores the expressed priorities of the 
movements and governments that are living the struggle, most certainly 
cannot claim the mantle of “critical support” to validate their commentary.

*/Roger D. Harris/*/is the past president of the Task Force on the 
Americas (//http://taskforceamericas.org///). / /*Chuck Kaufman*/ /is 
national co-coordinator of the Alliance of Global Justice 
(//https://afgj.org///). Both have traveled to Venezuela on a number of 
political delegations, where they met with both Chávista and opposition 
representatives. They may be contacted through the websites of their 
respective organizations./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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