by Heiko Khoo
Despite the ferocious and violent campaign orchestrated by the US backed Venezuelan opposition, the election of a Constituent Assembly was carried through successfully on Sunday 30th July. Delegates were elected from a wide range of organizations representing those sections of the population who have an interest in protecting the social gains of the revolution, by establishing mechanisms to reorganize economic and political power in the interests of the masses.
Venezuela’s popular revolution began in 1998 with the election of Hugo Chavez as the country’s president. Four years after his election in 2002, the opposition, backed by the United States, orchestrated a coup d’état, kidnapped the president, and installed a puppet regime. However, the depth of popular support for the revolutionary movement ensured that this coup d’état was swiftly brought to an end by a mass popular uprising.
Chavez had an extraordinary capacity to express the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the Venezuelan masses. He attempted to use the rules of capitalist democracy to shift the balance of power in favour of the poor and the exploited. Venezuela’s vast oil reserves gave Chavez leeway to secure progress in welfare, education, housing, women’s rights, healthcare and indigenous rights, and to enact hundreds of other progressive social and economic reforms. The living standards of the upper strata of society rose at the same time as the poorest sections of society were elevated out of economic penury.
The elite in Venezuela, as in much of South and Central America, is overwhelmingly composed of the descendants of European settlers. Their opulent lifestyle – shuttling between Miami and Venezuela – was destabilized and threatened by the increasing empowerment of the poor and oppressed, who, like Chavez, are descended from indigenous people or Africans. However, what use is money to the elite, if their cleaners, servants, cooks etc., do not respect the authority of those who believe they were born to rule?
High oil prices, numerous electoral victories, and the symbiotic relationship between Chavez and the aspirations of the masses, ensured that the revolutionary democratic transformation towards socialism made dramatic inroads. This neutralized and divided the opposition movement – paralyzing its ability to mobilize successful revolts against the government.
The opposition has always cried foul. So, whenever Chavez won an election they claimed it was fraud. When policies were introduced that they did not approve of, they orchestrated campaigns of violence and sabotage. The struggle against the revolution has been carried out by any means necessary.
When Hugo Chavez died in 2013, Nicolas Maduro became his successor. It is certainly true, that he lacked the unique qualities of his mentor, who could express and incarnate the mood and spirit of the masses.
At each stage of the revolutionary process, bureaucratic administrators controlled the flow of resources – from oil revenue to society – and accumulated power and wealth. Too often this generated a self-serving elite within the government, who filled their own pockets first. They issued contracts, grants and loans to their own associates, friends and family. Venezuela’s capitalist elite resented this upstart bureaucratic power which was eating away at its own opportunities for accumulation. It is certainly true, that corruption inside the state bureaucracy served to undermine the popular enthusiasm for the revolution.
Maduro therefore faced an increasingly powerful opposition movement, and this led to the defeat of the Socialist Party in the National Assembly elections of December 2015. Sensing blood, the opposition reignited its campaign to overthrow the president – emboldened by the growing popular discontent at corruption and by widespread anger at the economic crisis that followed from falling oil prices. Nevertheless, the revolution retained a strong social reserve of support amongst the masses; although passivity took hold, as a consequence of shortages of basic commodities like foodstuffs, toilet paper, medicines etc., which drained the energy and enthusiasm for the revolution.
Some sections in the ruling Socialist Party and the state, horrified by increasing social polarization, proposed that conflict could be ameliorated by negotiations and deals with opposition leaders. However, an irreconcilable clash of class interests lies at the root of Venezuela’s present crisis. This can only be resolved by the defeat of the capitalist opposition, or the defeat of the workers and the poor.
The Western media is full of wild claims about electoral fraud. In reality, Venezuela probably has the most secure system of voter verification in the world. So there is little doubt that the election of the Constituent Assembly was a legitimate process. Over 100 people have lost their lives this year -most of them government supporters – as riots, terrorism, sabotage and wrecking have become the standard mode of operation of the opposition. In fact, it is the inability of the opposition to galvanize sufficient support to overthrow the government that drives them to engage in acts of terrorism and violence. For example, a recent grenade attack against the Supreme court was organized by a former Venezuelan intelligence officer Oscar Pérez. This was widely praised by opposition politicians and by Western media outlets who treated this as a legitimate form of protest!
An increasingly desperate opposition will resort to increasingly desperate measures. And they have the backing of Donald Trump and the Spanish elite in particular. Governments throughout the Western world will denounce Venezuela as a dictatorship. Nicolas Maduro has warned that the revolution will protect itself by armed force if the opposition launches an armed rebellion.
It is undeniable that Venezuela is a society riven by sharp class contradictions which cannot be pacified by ‘normal’ democratic channels. Both camps recognize that the more decisive their action the more likely they are to succeed. Venezuela is therefore, a society headed towards civil war. This can be rapidly resolved, if the Constituent Assembly empowers the masses to take control of the decisive levers of power and to democratize the state. Then, it may be possible to rekindle the spirit of the revolution, and to create a more prosperous society based on popular organs of democratic control and administration.