[Marxism] Fwd: The Constituent Assembly: Venezuelan Thermidor?

Gary MacLennan gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Wed Aug 16 04:44:21 MDT 2017

I hope sincerely Comrade Joaquin will not mind me sending this to the
list.  It is truly meant in the best spirit of dialog between comrades.  I
sent his post to my good friend  and comrade Jim McIlroy who is the joint
author of a book on Chavez Voices from Venezuela : behind the Bolivarian
Revolution . <http://nla.gov.au/anbd.bib-an43957179>

Jim sent me the post below and agreed that I could send it to the list.



Hi Gary,
  I haven't got time at present to give a detailed commentary on this
[Joaquin's] article, but the general point is that we on the left have to
decide which side we are on in the final instance.

  (This year is the centenary of the Russian Revolution. No doubt there
were similar commentaries by Western leftists about the "undemocratic"
nature of the October Revolution. Maduro is definitely not Lenin, by the
  Whatever the, very real, mistakes of the Maduro government, and their
political weaknesses, the stakes are clear in Venezuela: No volvaran! (No
return to the past!)
  The article is full of errors...eg, contrary to the coverage, the
majority of deaths in the violence have come directly or in-directly from
the right-wing opposition.
  His stuff on the Constituent Assembly is pure sophistry. The analogy with
Thermidor/Bonapartism is ridiculous. The CA may be a turning point in the
crisis, if the masses can successfully move to the centre of Venezuelan
politics again.
  The best source of information on Venezuela is Telesur English,
venezuelanalysis.com, and dare I say Green Left Weekly (a couple of good
articles in there this week).
  I will send you some more material on all this when I get time,


  Jim Mc.

On Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 7:02 PM, Gary MacLennan <gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com>

> Hi Jim
> What do you think of this?
> ae
> Gary
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Joaquin Bustelo via Marxism <marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu>
> Date: Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 5:51 PM
> Subject: [Marxism] The Constituent Assembly: Venezuelan Thermidor?
> To: gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
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> At the outset, I should explain that for many years I did not try to
> follow the Venezuelan Revolution closely, but in the last couple of years I
> have been increasingly forced to do so.
> That because I am the producer and co-host of the program "Hablemos con
> Teodoro." It is a daily 2-hour Spanish-language news, analysis and call-in
> show. Our station is Radio Información, a progressive and now internet-only
> service organized by people from the immigrant rights movement (see the
> footnote for too much information about us).
> For some time I have been disturbed by the seeming direction of the
> Venezuelan process under President Nicolás Maduro. Obviously Venezuela
> faces imperialist hostility and subversion as well as the revanchism of
> traditional ruling class figures and families (Capriles, etc.) who dominate
> the "opposition" and quite obviously look to imperialist backing to fulfill
> their dreams of a return to yesterday's Venezuela.
> After becoming president in 2013, Maduro had at least formally abided by
> Chavez's Bolivarian Constitution for a couple of years, but since last
> year, after losing (and very badly) the National Assembly elections at the
> end of 2005, his government has defied constitutional provisions by
> refusing to accept the authority of the resulting legislature, refusing to
> hold a recall referendum on his mandate, packing the national Electoral
> Commission, etc.
> (But note that the opposition and its National Assembly majority are also
> partly to blame. It was quick to abandon the ground of defending the
> Chavista constitution --especially the recall referendum--, turning instead
> to will of the wisp nostrums like that Maduro by his actions had abandoned
> the presidency.)
> This spring, the Maduro administration adopted an all-but-explicit
> anti-constitutional course, with the Supreme Court proclaiming itself,
> formally, on its own initiative, the national legislature. It was quickly
> forced to abandon the usurpation by very widespread denunciations including
> from within the government, given voice above all by the Attorney General.
> However this was quickly followed by Maduro calling a Constituent Assembly.
> Contrary to what the constitution seems to require, and the precedent set
> by Chávez, the people did not have a chance to vote on whether or not to
> establish this body. The election rules set by the government departed from
> tradition and normal representative, bourgeois-democratic norms, especially
> one person, one vote.
> Government candidates ran without opposition. Even so, the company that
> operated the voting machines announced a discrepancy of at least one
> million votes between machine readings and official results claiming a
> turnout of seven million, close to or a little more than 50% of those
> registered.
> Once elected, in its first sessions last week, the Assembly proclaimed
> itself the Supreme governmental  body and decreed the extra-constitutional
> removal of the Attorney General and the lone opposition member of the
> electoral council. It announced that all bodies and officials were subject
> to its decisions on functions and composition. And to underline its
> authority, Maduro formally placed his position as president in the hands of
> the Assembly, which then in what it called a legitimate exercise of its
> paramount authority, ratified him in his post.
> This is clearly a dictatorship, using that word not as a vulgar insult
> against a government one doesn't like, but a *regime* where the authorities
> are not restrained or bound by any previously existing norms. And *regime*
> is used here not in the common "objective" journalist sense of "a
> government we don't like but won't honestly and simply say so" but a form
> of government beyond any one administration. (So, for example, there was no
> change in regime between Bush and Obama or Obama and Trump.)
> Why do I use these terms? Because what happened in Venezuela last week
> registers a formal, qualitative change in the country's governmental
> regime: from the one established under the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution to
> a dictatorship of the Constituent Assembly.
> In my view, this is unquestionable even if you consider the assembly to
> have been quite properly established in a democratic or revolutionary way.
> In other words, there can be such a thing as a "revolutionary" or
> "democratic" dictatorship. Although I do not see where that is the case
> here.
> The fact that Maduro surrendered his authority to the assembly as a
> president elected by a popular vote and is now president thanks to
> authority newly invested in him by the assembly (even if phrased as
> "ratification" in the office) could not make the change in regime more
> blatant.
> Which raises the question, what is the significance of this change?
> I am finding myself increasingly pushed to consider that this might mark a
> Thermidor resulting from an increasingly deteriorating situation.
> *    *    *
> The left wing and pro-revolution web site aporrea.org has had a series of
> articles raising questions and even sounding the alarm, including this
> interview analyzing the protest movement and government repression
> published a couple of days ago: https://www.aporrea.org/ddhh/n312836.html.
> Among other things the interviewee presents detailed figures on the deaths
> in connection with the demonstrations since the beginning of April, saying
> the majority of them where events are documented those responsible were
> government forces and allegedly pro-government motorcycle-mounted flying
> squads. He takes into account reports of demonstrators attacking and
> burning Chavistas alive, pointing to two documented cases. But including
> other incidents of attacks on Chavistas, he concludes that the big majority
> of killings where the attacker is clearly documented were done by
> government forces. He also documents that the majority of the known victims
> were students or young workers, not scions of the oligarchy.
> This did not really surprise me, as from the coverage and talking to
> people who had been there I had come to the conclusion that this is largely
> a student and younger millennial movement of the relatively better-off
> layers of the working people who grew up and came of age under Chavez, and
> not mostly of the upper crust. But also not of the poorest marginalized
> layers.
> It seems pretty clear that there have been several, perhaps many instances
> of actions staged in such a way as to be deliberately provocative or even
> leading inevitably to violent clashes, such as surrounding and blockading a
> military barracks. A minority of demonstrators often come prepared for
> battle, and some are armed with Molotov cocktails and even tear gas
> canisters: there are some video clips showing this pretty clearly.
> But also I have been especially struck by the evidence suggesting that the
> oligarchic opposition set this into motion and periodically throws gasoline
> on the fire, but does not take responsibility for the movement nor offer it
> leadership despite its semi-insurrectionary character. Thus it is very rare
> to see in the press interviews with opposition leaders at the protests or
> with them giving eyewitness accounts.
> I've very much gotten the impression that the oligarchic opposition of the
> MUD is perfectly happy to have maximum turbulence and violence for
> international propaganda purposes but that they are absolutely unwilling to
> stick out their own necks in doing the next logical thing: launch a
> more-or-less coordinated uprising seeking to gain the support of the poorer
> layers of the population that are suffering terribly from the economic
> crisis and split the army and perhaps the police.
> Although they do not say this in so many big words, the impression one
> gets is that they are definitely hoping for a deus ex machina from abroad
> to put them in power, and in the meantime are constantly jockeying among
> themselves to be in the best position to come out on top in such an
> eventuality.
> And as part of that, now they've undermined the protest movement by
> deciding to take part in regional elections, despite having boycotted the
> national voting for Constituent Assembly candidates. It's all about
> preserving "political spaces" and "the small elements of democracy that
> still exist," in other words, opposition governors and mayors want to stay
> in office to have the best opportunity to jump into higher positions when
> salvation from abroad arrives.
> In other words, their "intransigent" and "to the ultimate consequences"
> resistance is a cowardly sham. The press projects them as freedom fighters,
> but they are definitely not "give me liberty or give me death" types.
> Not all of this is reflected in the interview I referred to but what it
> says is consistent with the picture I have.
> *  *  *
> The part of the interview that truly shocked me was  the homicide figures
> for 2016, which the interviewee claimed came from the attorney general. It
> said the intentional homicide rate was 70 (per 100,000 population), which
> is well into what I would generally consider failed state territory, and
> which he said was the second highest in the world (for a country not
> formally at war).
> But even more astounding to me was that more than 20% of the homicides had
> been carried out by government agents and they have primarily taken as
> victims young people in the poorest communities.
> I was so surprised by the figures that I had a hard time believing them,
> but an internet search quickly revealed that the attorney general really
> had released these figures. This is an AFP story on the revelation:
> elfaro.net/es/201703/internacionales/20196/Venezuela-cerr%C3
> %B3-con-70-homicidios-por-cada-100000-.
> There were 21,752 homicides, of which 4,667 were committed by members of
> police or other government security bodies. In the United States there are
> about 1,000 police killings compiled on the crowd-sourced
> killedbypolice.net.  But a comparable figure to the Venezuelan one in the
> United States would be around 45,000. This suggests a radical divorce
> between the state's repressive forces and the popular, mobilized masses
> which they are supposed to be based on and defend in a popular revolution.
> And the interview presents a broader picture presented of Maduro playing
> the "law and order" card as do bourgeois politicians when they, too, have
> no program to confront grave problems facing society.
> Other very negative signs include government concessions to imperialist
> firms for extractive industries; the growing mortgaging of future oil
> exports to pay for current loans; a total decline by the end of this year
> in the Gross Domestic Product since 2013 of 32% (one third! or as close to
> as makes no difference); a huge jump in unemployment; a hyper-inflation of
> more than 200% a month and a catastrophic collapse in the standard of
> living in the population.
> A lot of this was prompted by the decline in the price of oil but it had
> tremendous impact due to unsustainable economic policies of price controls
> and subsidies, compounded by the inevitable corruption such policies
> engender.
> They are proving untenable without the oil bonanza, which I believe also
> shows this use of the surplus oil income was not the best. And at least the
> point that much more oil income should have been invested in developing the
> country's productive machinery is very widely accepted by Chavistas.
> The government constantly blames an imperialist-oligarchic economic war
> and I do not doubt it is taking place. But even if it were not, the economy
> would still be displaying the same tendencies. You cannot sell gasoline for
> a few cents a gallon and NOT expect it to go across the street where it can
> be sold for a few dollars a gallon.
> And you cannot expect to have an "official" exchange rate of something
> like 10 Bolivars to the dollar, a "parallel" rate of about 3,000, and a
> Black market rate of 12,000 and NOT have people taking official and
> parallel rate dollars and merchandise to the black market.
> You can have --for a time-- successful price and currency controls,
> especially if, for example, you are a small island nation like Cuba
> surrounded by oceans and completely cut off from any interchange with
> anyone within a few thousand miles. And it is well-nigh essential that you
> have overwhelming and mobilized, active support to enforce the price
> control regime. But apart from exceptional circumstances, generalized
> policies that try to control a market economy against its natural
> tendencies are bound to fail.
> These kinds of attempts to control a market economy by diktat also take
> place in the United States. Today, you have severe restrictions and
> repression to keep out certain commodities from the market: labor power
> from unauthorized workers. With all the laws against it, why are hundreds
> of millions of hours of "illegal" labor power bought and sold each and
> every week in the United States? Why don't all of Congress's laws work?
> Because the economy obeys a higher law-- the law of supply and demand.
> You see the same thing with Marijuana and prostitution today, alcohol
> prohibition in the last century, etc.
> The failure of a generalized policy of diktats as the long term basis for
> economic policies is well-known. In Venezuela, the problem has been evident
> for several years. So why doesn't it change?
> In general, it is often because there are sectors that benefit from these
> policies whose support the government needs, perhaps even to such a degree
> that it could be said the government is (at least) partly based on and
> represents those interests. In given sectors and properly designed, they
> can work, for example American and European agricultural subsidies.
> In the case of Venezuela, corruption has become legendary. And it must be
> frankly admitted that a number of policies that contributed to this have in
> fact been demagogic and never benefited first and foremost the least
> advantaged layers of working people that supposedly they are aimed at
> protecting.
> Take, for example, gasoline prices. The stuff is practically free. This
> encourages waste, promotes smuggling, creates pressure for the importation
> of vehicles and especially gas-guzzling American monstrosities, leads to
> lower exports costing the country a lot of hard currency and yields
> practically no benefit to the millions of people that have no cars and are
> mostly the least favored sector of the population.
> You might object that it keeps public transit costs down for the
> population and reduces the cost of transporting goods inside the country.
> But keeping public transport costs low can more easily and sustainably be
> achieved through direct subsidies and cheapening transportation of goods is
> not necessarily a good thing, as it encourages arbitrage, especially when
> you have the government distributing subsidized goods through official
> channels and a portion of them are being diverted.
> *  *  *
> Is what amounts to what Latin Americans call an "autogolpe" --a
> self-coup-- in Venezuela a turning point, or a confirmation of one that had
> already passed? I do not know. But I do know that fort a couple of years,
> I've found it increasingly difficult to defend the actions of the Maduro
> government.
> I almost breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday when Trump threatened
> Venezuela by saying he had not ruled out the military option, and even more
> when the oligarchic opposition on Sunday, after days of silence, came out
> with a statement denouncing foreign interference, for example ... Cuba!!!
> And Trump should not be dismissed lightly. He raised this quite
> consciously, obviously having planned it, as Pence was leaving on a junket
> to Latin America. In his first stop in Colombia, Pence proclaimed at a
> press conference that the U.S. considered a dictatorship in Venezuela
> intolerable. Meanwhile back in the USA, the head of the CIA went on Fox
> News to explain how Venezuela represented a potential threat to the
> national security of the United States: Cubans! Russians!! Iranians!!! And
> --worse of all-- Hezbollah!!!!
> Thus for the moment defense of Venezuela and its established government,
> no matter who it is-- has an obvious precedence, and it also offers an
> opportunity to expose the oligarchic opposition.
> But this does not solve the underlying problem: we need to understand
> Venezuela and what has happened. I don't feel I am in a position to do more
> than raise one possible explanation.
> The way I tend to view this is very heavily influenced by the Nicaraguan
> experience of three decades ago. I lived for several years in Nicaragua at
> that time and eventually came to a very definite view, about how the
> revolution had been bled to death and strangled economically by the United
> States through the contra war.
> Part of that analysis is that I came to view a revolution as first and
> foremost the mass, organized movement of the working people, and that it
> was the atomization of this movement, its being destroyed by the war and a
> grinding, day to day struggle for individual survival that led to the
> unraveling. This then had many and very negative consequences that
> eventually destroyed the FSLN as a revolutionary organization (today's FSLN
> is a very different animal even though directly descended from the former).
> It was many years ago that I posted on this list a recounting of that
> experience. Thinking of Venezuela, I reposted it on my blog a few months
> ago. (hatueysashes.blogspot.com/2017/01/from-archives-how-1980s-s
> andinista.html)
> Reading it again, I realize that I could not possibly have come to this
> understanding without having lived there for several years. And that I
> could not possibly write anything like this about Venezuela ever, not
> having been there.
> But reading what i wrote about Nicaragua and thinking about what I think I
> can piece together about Venezuela fills me with dread. I hope I am wrong,
> Joaquín
> -----
> Radio Información was started at the end of 2011 and is led by Teodoro
> Maus, who was Mexican consul-general here for more than a decade when the
> community was growing explosively from essentially nothing and was central
> to founding many community institutions, from the Mexican-American Chamber
> of Commerce to the main immigrant rights organization, now called the
> Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (glahr.org). He is like the
> Patriarch of the community, very well known.
> I've been with the station since the beginning. Originally we were on a
> fairly low-power AM station, and two years ago we went Internet-only. We
> are non-profit but not non-commercial. We do accept advertising and
> sponsored programs (although selectively). Find us at :
> - www.radioinformacion.org
> - www.facebook.com/RadioInformacion, and
> - www.youtube.com/channel/UCeukuq-dJIGM-vOnz6IRNFQ.
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