The continuing political and economic crisis in Venezuela sees an offensive of imperialism and domestic reaction against the left-populist Nicolas Maduro government. Violent riots in the run up to the National Constituent Assembly elections cost 112 lives, against a backdrop of food shortages and the potential for four-figure inflation this year.
The chaos now unfolding in Venezuela is being used as an ideological weapon to beat back the rise of the left internationally and undermine growing support for socialist ideas. The crisis in Venezuela, however, is one of capitalism, not socialism.
In reality, the chaos highlights the limitations of a programme of reforms within the framework of capitalism and the vicious lengths to which capitalism will go to wrestle back any gains made by the working class. The economic turmoil is in no small way is caused by the sabotage of the capitalist class, intent on ousting the Maduro government and installing a right-wing government to carry out a massive austerity programme. It’s estimated that as much as $300 billion has left the Venezuelan economy in the last two years and the import of goods is being held back to cause shortages. This strike of capital and imperialist sanctions, such as Trump’s ban on Venezuelan oil bonds, is hurting Venezuela’s working class.
Limitations of reformism
However, blame also lies with the governments of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Since coming to power in 1999, beginning the Bolivarian revolution, the government has used revenue from Venezuelan oil to fund extensive social programmes, benefiting the working class and poor. However, they left the majority of the economy in the hands of the 1%, allowing them to organise their counter-revolution, which has been strengthened by the global collapse in oil prices. Left movements and parties such as the movement around Corbyn must learn this lesson.
Corbyn’s manifesto pledges – axing tuition fees, a £10 minimum wage, nationalisation of some industries and so on – would mean huge benefits to workers and youth. However, they would provoke the wrath of British capitalism who would use all the resources at their disposal to cripple his government. The lesson is that you can’t control what you don’t own.
Venezuela’s ruling party, the PSUV, have failed to draw this conclusion. Maduro’s approach to the crisis has been to use left and anti-imperialist rhetoric while simultaneously making concessions to the right and attempting to cement his alliance with a section of the capitalists. Cuts to social programmes and the extension of “special economic zones”, where super-exploitation of workers is permitted, will only embolden the Venezuelan right and their imperialist allies while also undermining the government’s support among the working class and poor.
Working class must take power
The election of the ANC to tweak the constitution in Maduro’s favour will do nothing to ease the situation. To survive, the Bolivarian revolution must make a decisive break with capitalism. This, unfortunately, will not come from the leadership of the PSUV which has become increasingly bureaucratised and begun to use repressive measures against sections of workers demanding that the revolution moves forward. It is necessary for the working class to independently organise to fight back against the attacks of the right, the concessions granted to capitalism and ultimately for a socialist transformation of society, based on a democratically planned economy.
There is a growing mood among the working class to fight, with sections of the PSUV’s rank-and-file moving into opposition to the bureaucracy. The nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy – the major industries and the banks – under working class control would wrestle power away from the destructive capitalist class. Running the economy on the basis of democratic control through factory committees and workers’ councils would cut across the corruption and strangulation of the economy by a bureaucratic elite. These measures would inspire workers across the world to defend the Bolivarian revolution against the imperialist onslaught and fight for socialism in their respective countries.
Venezuela currently sits at a cross roads. The choice before its people is socialism or the barbarism that would accompany a return to power of the right-wing rulers, representing the interests of a tiny, super-rich elite and their imperialist masters. This is a struggle to which all working class activists must pay attention.
By Oisín McKeown