CARACAS, Venezuela – In the wake of the disastrous National Assembly election of December 6th in this South American nation of 30 million people, our delegation from the North American-based Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle met with leaders of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) for an assessment of the results. Alberto Lovera was a Communist militant murdered by government forces 50 years ago in 1965, a revered name in Venezuelan working-class history, whose name has been adopted by a national movement of community groups.
Speaking with us were Oswaldo Ramos, national secretary of the party’s ideological commission, Pedro Eusse, national secretary for the Venezuelan National Workers’ Front, and Carlos Lazo, philosophy professor, director of the Instituto Bolívar-Marx, and former United Nations diplomat.
Our chat took place on Dec. 10 at Canta Claro (“sing out clear”), the name given to the utilitarian PCV headquarters in a scruffy, working-class neighborhood of Caracas, the national capital. The name derives from the slogan “Vota Gallo Rojo” (Vote the red rooster), the pictorial symbol of a red fighting cock that became the symbol of the PCV in the 1940s, a time when a certain percentage of the voting population was illiterate and responded to powerful, identifiable icons on the ballot. The loud, unmistakable voice of the rooster was meant to say to Venezuelan voters, “Time to wake up!”
Despite their best attempts at maintaining a degree of anticipatory optimism, the PCV did quietly recognize the potential for an adverse result in this decisive election. Much has been said about the economic war against the population waged by the private sector in order to deflate popular support of the Bolivarian Revolution instituted by former President Hugo Chávez. But an honest, sober analysis not only of the election itself but of the entire Bolivarian process, reveals dangerous fault lines that also contributed to the electoral defeat.
The government, led by Chávez’ party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), now headed by his successor, President Nicolás Maduro, can be criticized for its strategic mistakes in office, unacceptable levels of corruption that still plague this and many other Latin American countries, and mismanagement. Opportunism, sectarianism, elitism and authoritarianism were familiar problems the left tried to point out. The bottom line is that a society where 70-90 percent of production and distribution of basic goods and services still remained in private hands could hardly be said to be on an open road to socialism.
The Bolivarian Revolution is certainly one of the most notable 20th and 21st century attempts at national liberation – even extending to continental liberation in its aspirations – but it cannot be consolidated under monopoly capital control, especially in an economy where one product, oil, reigns supreme. As is well known, the price of oil, which previously was able to fund the broad social betterment projects of the Bolivarian government, has fallen drastically, to less than half of its former value. To a degree which still invites rigorous study and exposure, this price drop may well have been manipulated by the U.S. (now essentially energy self-sufficient because of fracking) and by U.S. support of the Saudi economy, which continues inefficiently to glut the world market with oil pumped out at these low global prices.
The PSUV itself operated almost entirely as an electoral bloc comprising numerous political parties, including the PCV. As a coalition of Bolivarian forces, its politics ranged from communist and socialist on the left to ranchers, peasants, civil servants, military, reformists and petty bourgeois in the center and even center-right, which had little real motivation for moving toward socialism. Thus, in a climate of low oil prices and declining consumer satisfaction, a chasm grew between the government and the people which could not be bridged in the last months of the National Assembly campaign.
Class conflict sharpens
Inevitably, then, we now see, with the opposition supermajority soon to take office on January 5th, a heightening of class confrontation. The executive, for now held by President Maduro, reflects left-wing interests, and Maduro has promised major shakeups among his ministers and a focused campaign of rectification, criticism and self-criticism. The legislative branch reflects the right wing, broad concession to U.S. demands for austerity and the cessation of Bolivarian advances.
Bolivarian advances have been real, and many of them may be long-lasting. Different models of production have evolved, as well as new forms of social organization such as communes in the large housing projects. Workers have gained a new role, and there are new numbers in the organized labor movement, with rights guaranteed by the new Bolivarian law. Popular participation in the construction of the new vision for society has surged: Statistics on eradication of extreme poverty, the literacy campaign, the many new sites of university education for unprivileged sectors, the tremendous leaps forward in health care, and the million-plus new apartments for the previously homeless or poorly housed, are all subjects of unprecedented national pride. The country has achieved a level of economic and political sovereignty never imagined until now, and has served as a model and organizing force for the underdeveloped world.
Under these new circumstances, the PCV does not speak of hopelessness. To the contrary, they feel, once Venezuelans see for themselves that the change they voted for has not produced they results they expected, the cachet of Bolivarianism may well rise again. It is also true that the opposition, now the legislative majority, is itself divided factionally, and may not all agree either on their leadership nor on the measures to be taken.
Questioning whether it’s entirely wise to subordinate the trade union movement to the government, the party envisions a National Front of the Working Class to carry the Bolivarian spirit forward. The party has an organizational presence in 23 out of 24 states in the country, and enjoys a respectable reputation, being, in fact, Venezuela’s oldest continually operating political party, founded in 1931. More than 114,000 voters in the Dec. 6th election cast their ballots for the PCV list, and the new National Assembly has two PCV members in the PSUV coalition.
In addition, those principled revolutionaries who became disillusioned by the reformism of the PSUV, may be drawn to the PCV and its fighting cock tradition.
Venezuela is a highly desirable fruit for imperialists to get their hands on – all that oil, and the prospect of destroying the Bolivarian Revolution. They are perfectly capable of bringing the country to civil war if their demands are not soon realized. The dramatic class confrontation could lead in any direction, and the PCV is preparing for all possibilities.
Photo: Courtesy of PCV, author Eric A. Gordon on the right wearing black and green T-shirt.