As the forces of U.S imperialism place the Bolivarian Revolution unshakably in its sights, now we found ourselves in the hour. It is very difficult to say what will happen, enumerating all the possible outcomes is an exercise in both list-making and in the basics.
On the balance, some of the oligarchs in Venezuela are simply playing very foolishly and arrogantly, and always have. They are miles apart in their thinking from the military class in the country – something which shifted tremendously under the ‘military coup’ model that Chavez imported from North Africa.
For those in Latin America and in Venezuela in particular, the present crisis is a test of historic proportions. For the rest of the world, the stakes may not be as high personally, but it is certainly a test of another kind – one we have had no shortage of in the last two decades – a litmus test for those who believe themselves to be anti-capitalists or anti-imperialists.
As we have seen in Syria, the creation of dual power organs by the foreign government controlled ‘Non-Governmental Organizations’, was then weaponized against the sovereignty, people, and state of Syria. We should expect similar in Venezuela, where for over a year we have seen a rebirth of 2002 levels of wanton provocations by said NGO’s. These NGO’s have been operating for long in Venezuela, and the protest movement we saw was connected to these.
As an aside, experts on coups and government overthrows noted that in anti-imperialist states following what is known in International Political Economy as the ‘developmental model’, the public sector is large enough that a large contingent – even a majority – of the public finds their work and also social lives revolve around participation in the public square.
Thus, ‘pro-government’ marches were often derided in western media as ‘ordered by the ruling party’ for public shows, for international propaganda purposes. That’s only part of the story – state employees, especially those providing critical social and public services, from telecommunications to healthcare – have both an emotional, personal, and vested professional interest in the success of these services. While the ideology of the state and its creators was important to giving birth to these, once born, they take on a life of their own. They see clearly the relationship between themselves and the state.
So when the state found itself jeopardized, the public and social services employees would ‘order themselves’ out to march in favor of the state.
As the professional coup-stagers from the U.S State Department came to understand, popular revolts in such societies were not likely, given these vested interests.
This is where the double-attack of the IMF and NGO come into play. To qualify for IMF loans – necessary especially after the collapse of the USSR and the encirclement by hostile capital – a country had to engage in structural adjustment and austerity. This left certain critical public and social services under-funded. That opened the door for NGO’s – from the same team as the IMF folks.
So to qualify for the loans, you have to out-source your government services to western financed and politically controlled NGO’s. Then, instead of health-care workers and the like turning out for the state in a crisis, they could be – naturally would be – turned out against the state in a crisis.
But the similarities aren’t tremendous beyond this.
When in some decades the contradictions of capitalism were less severe, the competition between imperial powers produced political conflicts, but rarely massive military ones. Since the beginning of this new century, there have been several market ‘corrections’ which saw whole bubbles burst open, and wars of expansionism that have felt increasingly like the closing years of the 19th century on the road to the Great War.
For two decades, the socialist process underway in Venezuela has no doubt seen the waning and waxing of economic growth – largely a matter of oil revenues, how oil revenues were invested when they were more than adequate, and foreign economic sabotage.
It is foreign economic, and political sabotage and interference on all levels which is the principle factor working against the people of Venezuela, in their struggle for sovereignty and against imperialism. And yet this much always going to be a given, and so instead it is useful not only to examine the particular tactics used in the gambit to stage a coup in Venezuela, but also where the revolution itself has had failures.
Is the Bolivarian Revolution Doomed?
The revolution has had its critics since its beginning, from the left is where we find the best case has been levied. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone holds a view that is tempting to share – Chavez failed to kill off the oligarchs.
As Livingstone explains, Venezuela was ruled by some 200 oligarchic families, and the failure of ’21st Century Socialism’ to eradicate them, to so far marginalize them that they would be financially and politically unable to work against the revolution, set the stage for what we see today.
But what is missed is an understanding of what 21st century socialism is, and was. It is the melding of several left-wing and anti-imperialist models seen in the 20th century with corporatism, but what this consists of is really the question.
The German born, Mexican resident and economic advisor at large, Heinz Dieterich, who coins the term and is its chief advocate, gives us an insight into what in Venezuela is known as 21st Century Socialism, and what briefly a decade ago, swept across Latin America as the so-called ‘Pink Tide’. Pink, and not Red, for reasons we will see.
In Western Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s, the economic model of ‘social democracy’ and the political model of ‘dictatorship’, came to be fused together by the name of fascism. What fascism promised was the rationality of the planned economy, the social-net of the welfare state, but private ownership – through a type of party-state model – of significant productive forces. At least significant enough that rather than being opposed by whole sections of the bourgeoisie, it gave them an opportunity to ‘buy in’. The most significant aspect here was the belief that the class struggle could be ameliorated through the welfare state as the carrot, and the police state as the stick
The social and ideological development in Latin America provided a unique historical example – it was the birth-place of ISI in the 1930’s – Import Substitution Industrialization – something which Latin American economies were forced into by the lack of available imports, largely from the United States.
Nasser and then Gaddafi showed that elements of all these could be brought together – whatever works, works. Interestingly, Chavez in various interviews has called himself for example a Trotskyist, an admirer of Peron, and other times a Nasserist. He has also claimed that he is both a believer in Jesus Christ, and a follower of the pre-Columbian ‘Popol vuh’.
None of these influences upon 21st Century Socialism are accidental or merely inferred by the observer, they are overtly implied and studied by its practitioners.
Leftism in Latin America came in its first wave in the 19th century, in the form of radical liberalism – combined with a romantic new-nationalism for the newly created states carved from the shell of the Spanish Empire in the New World. So there is a definitive anti-imperialism built into it, something not necessary for the U.S or Western European historical experience. In the 20th century, syndicalism, trade-unionism were domestic realities in Latin America and came with analogs if not direct copies of their European counterparts – the ideologies of anarcho-syndicalism and Marxism, then Marxism-Leninism predominated.
The rise of the ‘new left’ in Latin America was unlike that of its Anglophone neighbor to the north. What it shared was its heavy base among radicalized students and the intelligentsia. What was lacking was imperial baggage and a cultural apprehension towards collective action. The Cuban Revolution really set the moral stage, and the tone, for the development of the left in Latin America, and answered a very direct question about how power works.
The Venezuelan model never did away with the oligarchy, it split them away from their traditional positions. Previously, the oligarchs were naturally a comprador bourgeoisie – their inter and intra-familial power struggles were no different than those in old Verona, but expressed in the parliamentary duel for favoritism between center-right conservative and progressive-conservative liberal forces.
21st Century Socialism is brilliant and strong here precisely where it is weak. While contrary to the propaganda, the Venezuelan military and a whole part of the comprador bourgeoisie were transformed. The nationalism and life/death cult palingenesis and antiquinarianism of the Venezuelan elite military forces, death squads, steeped in the occult mysticism of the Popol vuh, an ideological project seen elsewhere in the region as well, as an anti-communist bulwark, was transformed into a popular nationalism of the same – an ideological transformation or more properly ‘culture jamming’ of the ultra-right Venezuelan military forces into ultra-left ‘Bolivarian Circles’.
A whole part of the comprador bourgeoisie was then set to become a national bourgeoisie, nominally private owners, and retaining the lion’s share of the wealth, all of the privilege, in exchange for some control. That’s the military’s deal. The comprador bourgeoisie was split by Chavez, and a national bourgeoisie was created and poised against the compradors.
Maduro isn’t going anywhere
Thus the opposition is also quite fundamentally dishonest in their international propaganda. This isn’t a contest of communism against capitalism per se, but is the ongoing battle between Venezuela’s oligarchs, some of whom have thrown their lot in with the direction of events that they saw unfold – with the ‘right side’ of history. This ties in with ideas of cultural hegemony, winning the battle of democracy, and creating a national-sovereigntist culture within the language of socialism – one that even ‘progressive’ oligarchs could hang their hat on.
As an aside, a specific indicator of the prevalence of this ‘pro-people’ cultural hegemony is precisely the kind of protest movement leaders, tropes, memes, and images being used by the U.S. They have nearly abandoned the old model, of appealing overtly to the race-classism and to the Church. In a very superficial, and cultural way, the Church has moved nominally ‘leftward’ and has a ‘new face’ in much of Latin America – its dirtiest work is still being done in Africa, the West Balkans, and the Ukraine.
In a very superficial and cultural way as well, the political culture has changed in Latin America. The elite universities that the oligarchs send their children to, indoctrinates them in the belief system of progress, democracy, modernization, and human rights. This made 21st Century Socialism possible – its also why, in the U.S, the children of wealthy anti-Castro U.S emigres ‘Gusanos’ from Cuba are no longer voting Republican as their parents did, have long forgotten Kennedy’s ‘betrayal’ (or were born long after) and are now ‘hispanics’ of the Democrat party persuasion.
When these types in the rest of ‘Pink Tide’ Latin America came to fill their parents shoes in the last decade or two, ‘their counter-revolution’ had better also have the look and feel of 1970’s social activism. Hence, we’ve seen a ‘left-washing’ of the counter-revolutionary movements in Venezuela and Cuba. If there was a single name for this new phenomenon, it would be Yoani Maria Sanchez. We’re drowning here in Guernica and Folklorico garb knock-offs, figuratively and literally. Before all this, this ‘vibe’ this ‘feel’ was exclusively of the radical left in Latin America – now its been processed, understood, pasteurized. Weaponized against its origin. Before this, the pro-U.S, reactionary right in Latin America was keen on playing up the Conquistador card, and the anti-popular wing of the church.
But looking at the position of Venezuela and Latin America on the whole, from the perspective of the rational bourgeois – if the goal is strengthening and reinforcing the primitive accumulation of capital, the development of capital intensive centers on a local-regional level, across Latin America, in building stability, this is an historical and economic interest with some trans-class dimensions. It is understandable how an enlightened-but-self-interested bourgeoisie in Latin America would sign up for the ‘party state’ being offered up as the alternative to the stagnant politics of the 20th century.
What appears at first as a weakness – that Venezuela did not ‘expropriate the expropriators’ – may work out as a strength.
That the Chavez-built government of Venezuela has its ‘nationally loyal’ elites among industry and among the moneyed families is significant – that it has the same among most of the military is more so.
This rules out a unified rise of a counter-revolutionary force representing the entire oligarchy, and it rules out a Pinochet emerging. Chavez, and Maduro after him, are no Allendes.
The electoral song and dance in Venezuela is a politically necessary, legitimacy granting magic wand which really comes as an after-thought to the years Chavez spent in the Venezuelan military building Bolivarian circles to become a socialist and anti-imperialist vanguard junta out, using strong elements of the ideology and structure built to keep ‘Bolshevism’ out of Venezuela and the oligarchy in.
Finally, the reality is that while the U.S may believe it does not require EU support for this, it will require EU support for any number of concurrent entanglements and contests, and the EU has been on the whole quite favorable to the Bolivarian project, and was also keen on the whole Pink Tide phenomenon.
A quick look at the primary banks involved in ‘Pink Tide’ Latin American countries, and we see European banks vested in through Spanish banks. What’s missing are American banks. This whole story was about the undoing of the Monroe Doctrine.
Now the U.S is trying to reinsert itself as the middle-man again. This is the Monroe Doctrine 2.0. Latin America doesn’t like this. Europe doesn’t like this. A good share of Venezuelan oligarchs don’t like this. Maduro and the legacy of Chavez stand a very good chance. The rest of Eurasia may have been willing to go for the U.S move if the Americans had played their hand right, or at least coherently, by one person. For this to work in Latin America, China and Russia need more than assurances – and assurances haven’t been given – that the U.S is transforming into a pan-continental land-power, and abandoning its role as sea-power.