[Marxism] Venezuela & the Int'l Left -- Jonah Gindin
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Sat Aug 21 11:27:59 MDT 2004
ZNet | Venezuela (How bout that! Z Pope still publishes lotsa good stuff:)
Beyond Populism: Venezuela and the International Left
by Jonah Gindin; August 21, 2004
All over the world, the international Left -- including the global social
justice movement -- is peering sceptically at Venezuela, unsure of what to
make of President Hugo Chavez' alleged democratic revolution.
Is Chavez the next Allende? Is the 'Bolivarian revolution' really
revolutionary? Is it anti-capitalist? Or does he merely represent another
chimera in a long line of populists who rile up the masses with rousing
condemnations of US Imperialism, only to quietly cut deals with
Hesitation, wariness, doubts -- these feelings are understandable; the Left
has been taken in before by Latin America's infamous, ephemeral caudillo.
But it is wrong to merely lump Chavez in with that sordid history of
pseudo-revolutionaries. Yet placing him in Allende's lineage is not entirely
accurate either. Chavez is, after all, not exactly socialist. He hasn't even
nationalized anything (yet). But the relevance of the Venezuelan experience
to the Left is fundamental.
Something is happening in Venezuela that should inspire progressives
everywhere, and it is the responsibility of the Left to learn from this
experience -- and more than that -- to ensure that it is not extinguished
before it has a chance to catch.
At this key and contested juncture in Latin American history, the Bolivarian
revolution has been leading the regional struggle against neoliberalism,
including the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA); it has been fomenting
regional cooperation; and developing elements of a hopeful model of
Venezuela's leadership has been based on a serious alternative model of
democratic development, backed by a politicized and well-organized alliance
between grassroots organizations and the executive of the state.
Since Venezuela's 'democracy' was born in 1958 the political system has been
dominated by Accion Democratica (AD-social-democratic) and Copei
(social-christian)-essentially a two-party polyarchy that kept oil-rents
circulating in elite circles. But by the 1990s corruption and unpopular
structural adjustment programs led to a nationwide rejection of traditional
politics and opened a space for an alternative political movement. Hugo
Chavez, a former paratrooper, filled the void with a radical critique of the
old politics, and a new constitution aimed at profoundly transforming the
economic, political, and social organization of Venezuelan society. Chavez
won the presidential elections in 1998 and again in 2000 with over 50 per
cent of the vote, and his movement has since won a series of elections,
plebiscites and referenda.
Anti-Neoliberal Article 73 of the Constitution obliges the state to keep its
citizens informed about the implications of issues under negotiation in the
It states that, "International treaties, conventions, and agreements that
could compromise national sovereignty or transfer power to supranational
entities shall be submitted to referendum." This position on the FTAA is
more than xenophobia, more than casual resistance to US influence, more,
anti-neoliberal: it is democratic. In attempting to foster a viable
challenge to US-led neoliberalism, the Bolivarian revolution has developed a
broad, participatory democratic model that includes economic and social
rights as well as the goal of a complete redefinition of political rights.
Venezuela's unusual combination of oil wealth and the considerable support
for the revolution within the military has allowed it to limit the degree of
its dependence on international financial institutions and the US.
The Revolution on the Ground Unlike the populist caudillos who promised, and
occasionally actually did things for the working poor, Chavez' emphasis and
commitment have been to providing support and resources for developing their
One of the most interesting examples of this revolutionary redefinition of
democracy is the funding of community organizations such as the
Organizaciones Comunitario Viviendo (OCVs-Community Living
Organizations) -- the most local level of a network of community, district,
and municipal organizations at the centre of the Bolivarian revolution's
project of decentralization. These OCVs are made up of one member from a
maximum of 30 families who allocate funding received from the municipality
(and ultimately from the state oil company PDVSA) according to their needs.
Autonomous decision-making at the community level and the broader movement
towards decentralization have combined with access to free education,
childcare and health-care to politicize many Venezuelan communities,
providing them with the impetus and the ability to lay the foundation for a
more profound, long-term revolutionary transformation.
Free educational projects now provide education from basic literacy to
university-level in classrooms located in poor areas all over the country.
Free childcare facilities are coming to more and more communities, extending
the right to education to overwhelmed parents. A similar project known as
'Barrio Adentro' (Inside the Neighbourhood) uses Cuban doctors to provide
primary health-care in some of Venezuela's poorest and most inaccessible
Yet it is difficult to completely transform political, economic and social
relations overnight -- especially in a country with so much wealth at stake.
Many elements of the old state remain, and a forty-year tradition of
bureaucratic corruption will not disappear quietly. At root is the fact that
Venezuela remains a capitalist state and state structures remain oriented
towards the global economy, rather than towards extending and applying
Venezuelan democracy to the economy.
Compounding these internal limitations is the Venezuelan opposition, at core
the old elite, who remain in control of production and of the media.
Internal and External Opposition Domestic opposition to Chavez comes for the
most part from the old ruling elite, and their reach is considerable: many
white collar workers in the state oil company (PDVSA); media magnates
controlling all mainstream private television and most print media; and
big-business interests in oil, finance, and industry. But a key element of
the opposition also comes from the middle class-the journalists, lawyers,
doctors, and other professionals who have been turned off the Bolivarian
revolution mostly due to economic policies that have benefited the 80 per
cent of the population living in poverty, at the expense of the middle- and
The same disenchantment with traditional politics that brought Chavez to
power in 1998 dealt such a blow to AD and Copei that they did not even field
candidates. Six years later they have begun to recover and represent the
foundation of the Coordinadora Democratica-a political body lumping together
the fractious, chaotic mish-mash of 'anti-chavists' who form a large part of
'the opposition'. The political campaign to topple Chavez is being waged on
extra-legal/violent, legal/political, and the all-important realm of public
opinion. The most striking example of the extra-legal/violent strategy was
the briefly successful coup of April 11, 2002, reversed 48 hours later by
the alliance of loyal elements in the Military and the determined support of
millions of Venezuelans who gathered outside the Presidential palace to
demand Chavez's return.
The legal/political route has only been considered recently, and in the face
of the failure of violent, extra-legal means. It centres around a recall
referendum scheduled for August 15, 2004. Arguably the most important, and
certainly the most international, aspect of opposition to Chavez is the
battle is being waged predominantly in the mainstream media -- joined
regularly by certain human rights groups -- often outweighing their
commitment to objective-reporting.
These news organizations, while pretending to objectivity, actually held
meetings of the coup conspirators in news stations and private residences of
reporters and station owners prior to the coup.
International print and television media are also guilty of employing active
members of the Venezuelan opposition as correspondents. It is on this last
front that many believe the battle for Venezuela will be lost; for, even
many on the Left appear to have been dissuaded from taking much interest in
Venezuela by the constant barrage of misreportage.
A Space for the Left Whatever the limitations and flaws of Venezuela's
revolutionary process, activists in the 'North' have a responsibility to
participate, criticize, advise, and agitate. Two main areas demand the
Left's attention: international policies towards
(against) Venezuela; and contributions to the movement itself.
The Canadian government's differences with the U.S. on Iraq did not signal a
fundamental break in their relationship. In fact, since the tensions over
Iraq, the Canadian government has been bending over backwards to confirm its
place within the American empire. This was evident in Haiti, and it
continues to be so as the Canadian government toes the OAS line on
Venezuela. The OAS being what it is -- a cosmetic front for U.S.
meddling -- Canada is partly responsible for the reactionary role the OAS
has played to date in Venezuela. It is for the Canadian Left to make this an
issue in Canada, to force the government to defend its position and the
hardly objective role of the OAS to the Canadian public.
However, in the final analysis what is missing most in Venezuela is the kind
of international solidarity that those fighting from below deserve. More
than anything, it is up to the Left to realize that there is a uniquely
significant social, political, economic-humanist revolution at stake in
Venezuela. And it is up to us to commit to participating, criticizing, and
supporting the Venezuelan revolution in order to ensure that it is not
extinguished by the machinations of the U.S., that it does not disappear
from Left consciousness before it has even arrived.
Jonah Gindin is a Canadian journalist living and working in Caracas,
Venezuela. He writes regularly for www.venezuelanalysis.com
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