In 1989 Venezuela experienced one of the country’s biggest social uprisings. It was known as “El Caracazo” [which translated means "the big one in Caracas". The name was inspired by the Bogotazo, a massive riot in neighbouring Colombia in 1948. TN].The motivation of this popular revolt was the measures taken by the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, who gave over the Venezuelan economy to the International Monetary Fund implementing a shock policy of an explicit neo-liberal nature. Thus, the country’s existing economic crisis was deepened and the balance of this huge popular protest was 3,000 murdered.
The appearance within the political arena of the nationalist military figure Hugo Chavez, first through a failed coup, then through developing a prominent election campaign and winning elections [in 1999], brought together and channelled all the popular enthusiasm which had been momentarily silenced with gunfire. The utterly corrupt Venezuelan political system did not offer any way out through the two traditional political parties of the country, Acción Democrática (AD) and COPEI. They couldn’t develop any proposal which could be considered valid. The patch-up job that the capitalist system needed in Venezuela would be finally applied, through a complex process, by Chavez.
This popular patch-up job can also be interpreted as the moment several leftist groups, and even ex-guerrilla fighters, surrounded the now President Chavez. His own brother, a former member of the Communist Party, was beside him. Moreover, it was his brother who had a decisive influence so that Chavez joined the army in order to carry out certain political work inside the institution.
So 2002 arrived, and with it came the attempted coup of AD and COPEI, along with Fedecámaras, an entity which gathers together all the business owners of the country. There was also the sabotage engineered by the oil industry. Millions of people descended from the hills to defend Chavez and what they had gained and had been denied for centuries. There was also hope placed in the new government with Hugo Chavez as its leader.
Why was there was so much support from the people? Chavez’s government represented having secure food guarantees, plus some urgent benefits and social rights that poor people really needed. After the failure of the coup, the Chavista government deepens several plans, especially the so-called “Missions” initially “Barrio Adentro” and “Mercal”, putting together by 2010 28 missions which helped to eliminate illiteracy, provide health care as well as fulfilling other basic needs of the poulation. The name “Popular Power” emerges with citizens organized from working-class neighbourhoods, even creating their own militias. There is the emergence of production and consumer cooperatives, communes plus quite a wide regional organization created from below. All of this was instituted with a great autonomy at the social level, since the State – regarding governmental aspects – still had a certain control over the old bureaucracy which had supported the coup.
Of course, the Chavista government had used the slogan of “Popular Power” though orchestrated from on high trying to build new institutions within the capitalist State, but functional to their project and also to their conception of the State. It is true that an important leading role at a popular level emerged, which is impossible to deny, and that for a moment, and at a certain level, a parallel society was organized with organisms of real Popular Power, which initially had little to no intervention from the State. Many radical militants joined this Popular Power activity and, in the heart of the people, they raised the need of independence from the organism of the State struggling for their own objectives.
Clearly however the State only creates bureaucracy and a new bourgeoisie. In the space of a few years, former militants and some upstarts began taking control of different aspects of the State and started to integrate and enrich themselves. This phenomenon is known as “bolirricos” [a play on words between Bolivarian and rich -Translator]. One can say the same about the military caste of senior Army officers, who have won benefits as never before. This process was accompanied by a certain level of corruption.
All of this happened in the middle of nationalizations, with PDVSA as the most important, through which the Venezuelan State takes control of the oil, consolidating Venezuela as one of the main exporters of crude oil as they took advantage of the high prices of the last decade. It is a messy process. There is no social experiment in its pure form. In this context, the popular communes coexist with the army, Chavista communes with a certain level of independence, militant working class sectors with different levels of support to Chavismo representing millions who have enriched themselves at the expense of the people and through corruption. There are always traditional bourgeoisie who have shown some interest in Chavismo adapting to the new situation and taking advantage of it. The majority of them are willing to flip to the other side when their stingy interests tell them to.
Nonetheless, something that cannot be denied is the fact that, however messy the Venezuelan process is, an important part of the people, those from below, participating in the construction of something which is opposed to capitalism and the imperialist penetration of the United States – they build new social relations, self-managing part of production, services and social life by themselves.
In essence, it is against this self-management and forward-motion from the real Popular Power – from below – and against the accomplished conquests, against that general anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist feeling, that the dominant classes of Venezuela have stood along with Yankee imperialism, where the government of Trump, just like Obama’s, has been playing through international pressure and a specific economic blockade. They have taken advantage of a situation in which the Chavista government has to contend with some level of important popular discontent because of its inability to solve essential problems such as food, medicines and a brutal rise in the cost of living. The right wing, the bourgeoisie and active imperialist mechanisms have deepened the crisis in every way and have even created and re-created over and over again this situation. All of this happens in a time when the Venezuelan government has also completely loosened its ties with those from below who supported it.
In 2013 there was a register of 1,150 communes and 31,670 communal councils. Through the Communal Councils, the people solve their issues directly and take part in social infrastructure works using resources from the State reallocated to these councils. They are the groundwork and base of Popular Power.
These communal councils operate based on neighbourhood assemblies, where claims are put forward but are also organized to achieve various tasks and develop socially organised benefits and the infrastructure of neighbourhoods. These communes were created as of 2009 and were developed by Chavez before his death to be the leading agency of revolution, in a self-governed and self-managed way. In his discourse, he talked about independence from the State and political parties, even the Chavista party.
The Communes have come to assume the management of entire neighbourhoods, including the distribution of food and primary health care, housing and infrastructure projects such as bridges, as well as attending to a variety of problems that the population have. They have been a real organ of democracy and direct participation. Nevertheless, in a sustained and ever increasing manner, they have been restrained from above, from the top of the Chavista government, who obstruct the Council’s actions, making sure they depend on state and bureaucratic organisms, delaying the approval of laws to provide resources which protect and benefit the Communes’ actions.
You can find an example of how a Commune works in the case of Ataroa, which gathers together about fifty Commune Councils in the south of Barquisimeto (the fourth biggest city in the country) and some other social groups. In this arena, it was created, among other small businesses, a brick factory which provides materials for works carried out in these neighbourhoods. This Commune has also assumed the management of an urban transport system with eight buses and a television channel, Lara TV. It adds an active element for this Commune through which people solve their issues in a natural way, but: “The experience has not been without internal and external problems, rivalries to seize certain power, bureaucracy, and conflicts with other State institutions.”
We see, therefore, that Popular Power in Venezuela, initially pushed by the charismatic Hugo Chavez, has been in constant tension with the State, the party in the government, the Bolivarian bourgeoisie, Army and all of the caste of bureaucrats that have found a position in the State and grabbed a little piece of power and oil revenue. From above, resources have been cut, and they have hindered, in every possible way, the development of Communes and Popular Power, because the growth of this experience implies, by itself, a strong contradiction with the State and dominant power. This is a conflict that will not be solved peacefully, with no traumas, no ruptures, as many theorists would like. On the contrary, as history shows us, class conflicts and interests when a process emerges from below with popular power, is resolved through violence. Chavismo is not really aligned with this line of rupture with the capitalist system.
The right wing, the crisis, and the role of the United States
Without a doubt, for the putrid Venezuelan right, things had gone too far. After the failed coup of 2002, little by little, the right rebuilt its forces and has agitated for its privileges to be returned after Maduro took office. Strikes, shortages produced by the bosses, among them the owners of Polar – a group which focuses on food – among others. On the heels of the popular discontent, the right gets a majority in the National Assembly. In that assembly, it will experiment with the politics and techniques of destabilization and pressure in order to oust President Maduro. Thus, ultimately, it intends to get rid of the Chavista regime. The “personalities” of this Assembly belonging to the MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática or Democratic Unity Coalition) tour the world and maintain contact with political leaders and coup-supporting organizations from the US and Europe, willing to play as much as is possible the interventionist card in Venezuela.
In consequence, we get the the “guarimbas” [street blockages -Translator] and the strategy of seizing the streets and causing as much destabilization as possible with different methods.
The American support for the destabilization caused by the Venezuelan right has been total. There have been many imperialist organisms which give economic support to the coup-inducing actions carried out by the MUD. The CIA of the United States funds these actions through different organisms such as the National Endowment for Democracy, a secondary agency which diverts CIA funds toward different NGOs and groups promoting boycotts and the isolation of Venezuela. They call for “democracy” but they have no “democratic” component, and with the excuse of demanding “Human Rights,” they try to destabilize the political and social situation of Venezuela. This is a task that these groups carry out systematically in all Latin America and which adapt to the current situation.
Let’s take Provea as an example, which is an NGO linked to the topic of “Human Rights”, and is funded by organizations such as the Open Society Foundation – which belongs to multimillionaire and financier George Soros – Ford Foundation, the United Kingdom Embassy, the European Union, among other embassies and different groups. Probably, the European Union is worried about the Human Rights of the Venezuelan people and other Latin American countries, but not about the millions of immigrants that arrive on their coasts enduring a painful misery, as a product of the wars they have caused in Africa and the Middle East, after having looting such territories for over two centuries.
Everything is documented. It’s not just a notion. There are data, reports, proof of the Yankee funding of the Venezuelan opposition, which only wants to carry out a coup. It is an opposition which is deeply against the people. Their intentions are to install the pure and hard line neo-liberal model such as the one underway in Argentina and Brazil, taking popular conquests away and spreading more poverty.
Also, in the political aspects being developed in Venezuela - and for many years - is in fact nothing less than the same plan carried out in Chile to overthrow the government of Allende in 1973 and to impose the fierce dictatorship of Pinochet, or to defeat the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua during the 1980’s. Of course, it is a plan that needs certain readjustments according to the historical context, but it’s the same model. The resemblance even attracts attention.
Naturally, there were several responses from the Maduro government. Some of the political calculations are not entirely correct and their results are dubious. They did not properly face the serious internal situation in which the people lacked essentials, and the enormous speculation there was around this tragic situation. On the other hand, the government over persisted in its imperialist conspiracy arguments until it almost lost proper impact. It’s a fact that Imperialistic actions with all their camouflaged infiltration devices tried to take advantage of in order to fake innocence.
Finally, an election was called for the National Constituent Assembly. For its composition, several social organizations were called in a timid way to be part of the assembly. In spite of limited participation, the popular organizations revitalized their action in pursuit of this integration. There are indications that these organisations felt once again they were part of the ongoing project, which gave a kind of rebirth to some hopes providing a certain social life to those who felt somehow distant. Even though they had some criticism, they carried out activities in favour of this constituent organization. Maybe thinking that once under its wing they could achieve some favourable social effects and some corrections.
This was a political strategy of the Maduro government under pressure, which was opposed to another one that had taken hold of the streets and deployed actions in different fields, including international matters. It was a political strategy that was briefly submerged in controversy regarding its legal legitimacy. The context in which the topic was solved was not judicial, it was political, and was about who would continue or take control of the government. Neither of the parts involved was really worried about legal authenticity.
Those from below speak
This political and economic crisis, backed by the coup-mongering right-wing and by the US, had another response. It seemed like the Venezuelan people in general were not mobilizing, that they didn’t find the way to restrain this coup-mongering surge, but in the regional elections of last October 15th, the popular majority “spoke” and rejected, in their own way, the right-wing and coup-mongering, which resulted in the victory of the Chavista candidates in 17 out of 23 states. The people spoke in the elections, although not on the streets and resumed Popular Power activities – which is what ultimately matters. Without a doubt, this is an indication that something from below, something in the popular structure was developed, is there and is expressing itself. It’s true; there is subjectivity at a popular level, with confusing and contradictory elements, but indicating that “something” of this Popular Power functions and lives on. “Something” out of all of this experience is there, fresh, alive and demanding, and still without stumbling, finding its space and place in history.
In the elections, the right wing could not prove there was fraud or anything like it. They were left without solid ground, but the truth is that the Venezuelan people chose this peculiar way of making themselves heard and trying to maintain the essence of a process in which they have a voice, although today it seems to be expressed in a contradictory, messy and, at times, faked way. Therefore, “something” of this popular prominence, ideological elements – the production and distribution of goods, the self-defence of communities – are present and it is not mere propaganda. It is clear that these elements should take action in a complex and, for now, hardly favourable framework.
Nevertheless, “something” out of all of this process has a hint of reality. There are people in Latin America that dream and take action in order to build “something” different from the society we live in. That “something” may evolve in one way or another. It depends on the popular support from below and on the people of Latin American to make this “something” transform into a strong popular path to achieve real Popular Power with no tutelage from the State; ever eyeing some distant socialist horizon.
Historical and social processes are not perfect; they’re not a laboratory experiment. They don’t come out of a manual. They are contradictory, messy and highly complex, with each people’s own culture and history. But they belong to the people, the oppressed, those who have been exploited and suffered from looting and the violation of all of their rights, persecutions, death, imprisonment, torture. Those experiences of pain and hope can create a breakthrough, a rupture, and be the source of a new course.
Furthermore, when the right wing comes to take it all, when the most imperialist power in the world intervenes to bury even more what they consider their “backyard”, we can’t hesitate about what side we are on. It is not about the defence of this or that government. For the anarchists of the FAU (Uruguayan Anarchist Federation), the centre of the debate is how the peoples from Latin America can move forward toward our complete emancipation and liberty and how we create strong people and move toward the development of Popular Power.
IN VENEZUELA: NO YANKEES, NO BUREAUCRATS, NO GUSANOS [MAGGOTS -TN]
For the self-determination of the people
POPULAR POWER FROM BELOW!!
Translation by Ricardo Araya.(with a few amendments by Dave Wise)