[News] Why Can’t the U.S. Left Get Venezuela Right?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 13 11:43:33 EDT 2017


  Why Can’t the U.S. Left Get Venezuela Right?

by Shamus Cooke <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/shamus-cooke/> - 
July 13, 2017


As Venezuela’s fascist-minded oligarchy conspires with U.S. imperialism 
to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro, 
few in the U.S. seem to care.

Instead of denouncing _rightwing violence_ that aims at regime change, 
many on the U.S. left have stayed silent, or opted to give an evenhanded 
analysis that supports neither the Maduro government nor the oligarchy 
trying to violently overthrow it. Rather, the left prioritizes its 
energy on lecturing on Maduro’s “authoritarianism” and the failures of 

This approach allows leftists a cool emotional detachment to the fate of 
the poor in Venezuela, and clean hands that would otherwise be soiled by 
engaging with the messy, real life class struggle that is the Venezuelan 

A “pox on both houses” analysis omits the U.S. government’s role in 
collaborating with Venezuela’s oligarchs. The decades-long crimes of 
imperialism against Venezuela is aided and abetted by the silence of the 
left, or by its murky analysis that minimizes the perpetrator’s actions, 
focusing negative attention on the victim precisely at the moment of attack.

Any analysis of a former colonial country that doesn’t begin with the 
struggle of self-determination against imperialism is a dead letter, 
since the x-factor of imperialism has always been a dominant variable in 
the Venezuelan equation, as _books by Eva Gollinger_ and others have 
thoroughly explained, and further demonstrated by the ongoing 
intervention in Latin America by an endless succession of U.S. presidents.

The Venezuelan-initiated anti-imperialist movement was strong enough 
that a new gravitational center was created, that pushed most of Latin 
America out of the grasp of U.S. domination for the first time in nearly 
a hundred years. This historic achievement remains minimized for much of 
the U.S. left, who remain indifferent or uneducated about the 
revolutionary significance of self-determination for oppressed nations 
abroad, as well as oppressed peoples inside of the U.S.

A thousand valid criticisms can be made of Chavez, but he chose sides in 
the class fault lines and took bold action at critical junctures. 
Posters of Chavez remain in the homes of Venezuela’s poorest barrios 
because he proved in action that he was a champion for the poor, while 
fighting and winning many pitched battles against the oligarchy who 
wildly celebrated his death

And while it’s necessary to deeply critique the Maduro government, the 
present situation requires the political clarity to take a bold, 
unqualified stance against the U.S.-backed opposition, rather than a 
rambling “nonpartisan” analysis that pretends a life or death struggle 
isn’t currently taking place.

Yes, a growing number of Venezuelans are incredibly frustrated by 
Maduro, and yes, his policies have exacerbated the current crisis, but 
while an active counter-revolutionary offensive continues the political 
priority needs to be aimed squarely against the oligarchy, not Maduro. 
There remains a _mass movement_ of revolutionaries in Venezuela 
dedicated to Chavismo and to defending Maduro’s government against the 
violent anti-regime tactics, but it’s these labor and community groups 
that the U.S. left never mentions, as it would pollute their analysis.

The U.S. left seems blissfully unaware of the consequences of the 
oligarchy stepping into the power vacuum if Maduro was successfully 
ousted. Such a shoddy analysis can be found in Jacobin’s recent article, 
_Being Honest About Venezuela_, which focuses on the problems of 
Maduro’s government while ignoring the honest reality of the terror the 
oligarchy would unleash if it returned to power.

How did the U.S. left get it so wrong?

They’ve allowed themselves to get distracted by the zig-zags at the 
political surface, rather than the rupturing fault lines of class 
struggle below. They see only leaders and are blinded to how the masses 
have engaged with them.

Regardless of Maduro’s many stumbles, it’s the rich who are revolting in 
Venezuela, and if they’re successful it will be the workers and poor who 
suffer a terrible fate. An analysis of Venezuela that ignores this basic 
fact belongs either in the trash bin or in the newspapers of the 
oligarchy. Confusing class interests, or mistaking counter-revolution 
for revolution in politics is as disorienting as mistaking up for down, 
night for day.

The overarching issue remains the same since the Venezuelan revolution 
erupted in 1989’s Caracazo uprising, which initiated a revolutionary 
movement of working and poor people spurred to action by IMF austerity 
measures. How did Venezuela’s oligarchy respond to the 1989 protests? By 
killing hundreds _if not thousands_ of people. Their return to power 
would unleash similar if not bloodier statistics.

In Venezuela the revolutionary flame has burned longer than most 
revolutions, its energy funneled into various channels; from rioting, 
street demonstrations, land and factory occupations, new political 
parties and radicalized labor-union federations and into the backbone of 
support for Hugo Chavez’s project, which, to varying degrees supported 
and even spearheaded many of these initiatives, encouraging the masses 
to participate directly in politics.

Chavez’s electoral victory meant — and still means — that the oligarchy 
lost control of the government and much of the state apparatus, a rare 
event in the life of a nation under capitalism. This contradiction is 
central to the confusion of the U.S. left: the ruling class lost control 
of the state, but the oligarchy retained control of key sectors of the 
economy, including the media.

But who has control of the state if not the oligarchy? It’s too 
simplistic to say the “working class” has power, because Maduro has not 
acted as a consistent leader of the working class, seeming more 
interested in trying to mediate between classes by making concessions to 
the oligarchy. Maduro’s overly-bureaucratic government also limits the 
amount of direct democracy the working class needs before the term 
“worker state” can be applied.

But Maduro’s power base remains the same as it was under Chavez: the 
working and poor people, and to that extent Maduro can be compared to a 
trade union president who ignores his members in order to seek a deal 
with the boss.

A trade union, no matter how bureaucratic, is still rooted in the 
workplace, its power dependent on dues money and collective action of 
working people. And even a weak union is better than no union, since 
removing the protection of the union opens the door to sweeping attacks 
from the boss that inevitably lower wages, destroy benefits and result 
in layoffs of the most “outspoken” workers. This is why union members 
defend their union from corporate attack, even if the leader of the 
union is in bed with the boss.

History is replete with governments brought forth by revolutionary 
movements but which failed to take the actions necessary to complete the 
revolution, resulting in a successful counter-revolution. These 
revolutionary governments often succeed in breaking the chains of 
neo-colonialism and allowed for an epoch of social reforms and working 
class initiative, depending on how long they lasted. Their downfall 
always results in a counter-revolutionary wave of violence, and 
sometimes a sea of blood.

This has happened dozens of times across Africa, Asia, and Latin 
America, where the class divisions are sharper, where imperialism plays 
a larger role, and where the class dynamics are more variegated: the 
poor are poorer, there is a larger informal labor force, a larger 
section of small shopkeepers, larger rural population, etc.

Winning significant reforms under capitalism is incredibly difficult, 
even in rich countries; it is twice as difficult in former colonial 
countries, due to the death grip the oligarchy has on the economy plus 
the collaboration of imperialism, which intervenes in financial markets 
— or with bullets — to prevent the smallest reforms.

The example of Allende’s Chile could be compared to Maduro’s situation 
in Venezuela. Allende was far from perfect, but can anybody claim that 
Pinochet’s coup wasn’t a catastrophe for the Chilean working class? In 
Venezuela the counter-revolution would likely be more devastating, as 
the oligarchy would have to push back against decades of progress versus 
Allende’s short-lived government. If it came to power the street 
violence of the oligarchy would be given the resources of the state, 
aimed squarely at the working class and poor.

Maduro is no Chavez, it’s true, but he has kept most of Chavez’s 
victories intact, maintaining social programs in a time of crashing oil 
prices while the oligarchy demands “pro-market reforms.” He’s 
essentially kept the barking dogs of the oligarchy at bay, who, if 
unleashed, would ravage the working class.

The oligarchy has not accepted the balance of power that Chavez-Maduro 
have tilted in favor of the working class. A new social contract has not 
been cemented; it is being actively fought for in the streets. Maduro 
has made some concessions to the oligarchy it’s true, but they have not 
been fundamental concessions, while he’s left the fundamental victories 
of the revolution in tact.

The social contract we call Social Democracy in Europe wasn’t finalized 
until a wave of revolution struck after WWII. Although Maduro would 
likely be happy with such a social democratic agreement in Venezuela, 
such agreements have proven impossible in developing countries, 
especially at a time while global capitalism is attacking the social 
democratic reforms in the advanced countries.

The Venezuelan ruling class has no intention of accepting the reforms of 
Chavez, and why would they so long as U.S. imperialism invests heavily 
in regime change? A ruling class does not accept power-sharing until 
they face the prospect of losing everything. And nor should Venezuela’s 
working class accept a “social contract” under current conditions: they 
have unmet demands that require revolutionary action against the 
oligarchy. These contradictory pressures are at the heart of Venezuela’s 
still-unresolved class war, which inevitably leads either to 
revolutionary action from the left or a successful counter-revolution 
from the right.

Thus, for a U.S. leftist to declare that either side is equally bad is 
either bad politics or class treachery. Many leftists went bonkers over 
Syriza in Greece, and they were right to be hopeful. But after radical 
rhetoric Syriza succumbed to the demands of the IMF that included 
devastating neoliberal reforms of austerity cuts, privatizations and 
deregulation. Maduro has steadfastly refused such a path out of 
Venezuela’s economic crisis.

This is why Maduro is despised by the rich while the poor generally 
continue to support the government, although passively but occasionally 
in giant bursts, such as the _hundreds thousands strong_ May Day 
mobilization in support of the government’s fight against the violent 
coup attempts, which was all but ignored by most western media outlets, 
since it spoiled the regime-change narrative of “everybody hates Maduro.”

The essential difference between Maduro and Chavez will make or break 
the revolution: while Chavez took action to constantly shift the balance 
of power in favor of the poor, Maduro simply attempts to maintain the 
balance of forces handed down to him by Chavez, hoping for some kind of 
“agreement” from an opposition that has consistently refused all 
compromise. His ridiculous naivety is a powerful motivating factor for 
the opposition, who see a stalled revolution in the way a lion views an 
injured zebra.

Venezuelan expert Jorge Martin explains in_ an excellent article_, how 
the oligarchy would respond if it succeeded in removing Maduro.

1) they would massively cut public spending

2) implement mass layoffs of the public sector

3) destroy the key social programs of the revolution (health care, 
education, pension, housing, etc.)

4) there would be a privatization frenzy of public resources, though 
especially the crown jewel PDVSA, the oil company

5) massive deregulation, including turning back rights for labor and 
ethnic-minority groups

6) they would attack the organizations of the working class that came 
into existence or grew under the protection of the Chavez-Maduro governments

This is “Telling the Truth” about Venezuela. The U.S. left should know 
better, since the ruling class exposed what it would do during the 
Caracazo Uprising, and later when they briefly came to power in their 
2002 coup: they aim to reverse everything, using any means necessary. 
The documentary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is still 
_required watching_ about the 2002 coup.

Maduro may have finally learned his lesson: Venezuela’s crisis has 
forced him to double down on promoting the interests of the poor. When 
oil prices collapsed it was inevitable the government would enter a deep 
crisis, it had only two choices: deep neoliberal reforms or the 
deepening of the revolution. This will be the litmus test for Maduro, 
since the middle ground he sought disappeared.

Rather than begging for money from the International Monetary Fund 
—which would have demanded such Syriza-like reforms — Maduro instead 
encouraged workers to takeover idle factories while a General Motors 
factory was nationalized. A new neighborhood-based organization, CLAP, 
was created that distributes basic foodstuffs at subsidized prices that 
benefits millions of people.

On May Day this year, in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters, 
Maduro announced a Constituent Assembly, an attempt to re-engage the 
masses in the hopes of pushing forward the revolution by creating a new, 
more progressive constitution.

It’s true that Maduro is using the Constituent Assembly to overcome the 
obstruction of the oligarchy-dominated National Assembly — whose stated 
intention is to topple the government — but the U.S. left seems 
indifferent that Maduro is using the mobilization of the working class 
(the Constituent Assembly) to overcome the barriers of ruling class.

This distinction is critical: if the Constituent Assembly succeeds in 
pushing forward the revolution by directly engaging the masses, it will 
come at the expense of the oligarchy. The Constituent Assembly is being 
organized to promote more direct democracy, but sections of the U.S. 
left have been taken in by the U.S. media’s allegations of 

If working and poor people actively engage in the process of creating a 
new, more progressive constitution and this constitution is approved via 
referendum by a large majority, it will constitute an essential step 
forward for the revolution. If the masses are unengaged or the 
referendum fails, it may signify the death knell of Chavismo and the 
return of the oligarchy.

And while Maduro is right to use the state as a repressive agent against 
the oligarchy, an over reliance on the state repression only leads to 
more contradictions, rather than relying on the self-activity of the 
workers and poor. Revolutions cannot be won by administrative tinkering, 
but rather by revolutionary measures consciously implemented by the vast 
majority. At bottom it’s the actions of ordinary working people that 
make or break a revolution; if the masses are lulled to sleep the 
revolution is lost. They must be unleashed not ignored.

It’s clear that Maduro’s politics have not been capable of leading the 
revolution to success, and therefore his government requires deep 
criticism combined with organized protest. But there are two kinds of 
protest: legitimate protest that arises from the needs of working and 
poor people, and the counter-revolutionary protest based in the 
neighborhoods of the rich that aim to restore the power of the oligarchy.

Confusing these two kinds of protests are dangerous, but the U.S. left 
has done precisely this. Maduro is accused of being authoritarian for 
using police to stop the far-right’s violent “student protests” that 
seek to restore the oligarchy. Of the many reasons to criticize Maduro 
this isn’t one of them.

If a rightwing coup succeeds in Venezuela tomorrow, the U.S. left will 
weep by the carnage that ensues, while not recognizing that their 
inaction contributed to the bloodshed. By living in the heart of 
imperialism the U.S. left has a duty to go beyond critiques from afar to 
direct action at home.

Protesting the Vietnam war helped save the lives of Vietnamese, while 
the organizing in the 1980’s against the “dirty wars” in Central America 
limited the destruction levied by the U.S.-backed governments. In both 
cases the left fell short of what was needed, but at least they 
understood what was at stake and took action. Now consider the U.S. left 
of 2017, who can’t lift a finger to re-start the antiwar movement and 
who supported Bernie Sanders regardless of his longstanding _affection 
for imperialism_.

The “pink tide” that blasted imperialism out of much of Latin America is 
being reversed, but Venezuela has always been the motor-force of the 
leftward shift, and the bloodshed required to reverse the revolution 
will be remembered forever, if it’s allowed to happen. Their lives 
matter too.

/*Shamus Cooke* is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer 
for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at 
shamuscooke at gmail.com /

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