When, on the night of 8 December 2012, comandante Chavez warned that a situation could arise soon, many people who didn’t want to believe it, had to take into account the seriousness of the situation. The Bolivarian process began to live through its biggest test in 14 years. Along with something undesired, we entered into a time of challenges. The leadership indicated to continue the project, would be tested. The strength of the project itself and above all the willingness to advance at the rhythm of the motor of the process, the Bolivarian people, would be tested.
That’s why this report isn’t just yet another one. It has historical characteristics. Would it be possible to advance in the conquering of definitive independence? Will the bonds with dependent and parasitic Venezuelan capitalism be able to be broken? Will it be possible to advance in the pending tasks of the democratic Bolivarian revolution, transforming them into the transition towards anti-capitalism and socialism? Will the process’s leaders be up to the task? Or the opposite, will they apply counter-reforms that the bourgeoisie are demanding and that these leaders have shown to be sensitive to, in exchange for sustaining a political system that doesn’t belong to the process? These questions, among others, framed the level of uncertainty in 2013 and a large part of the future of the revolution depends on their answers.
The passing of the comandante had a seismic impact. For more than ten days, in a huge march of loyalty, the Bolivarian people cried for their leader. More than seven million participated in the mourning procession and swore to continue fighting. They didn’t obey the order to close the doors of the funeral chapel, and just like on so many other occasions, they imposed their will. They wouldn’t have rescued their president from the April coup and the country from the sabotage strike to then stay at the doors of one of the most painful moments in the last twenty years.
They had to see him and take an oath. And they did it, despite that one month before, on 8 February, the standard of living of these people had received a battering. The devaluation, previously denied by the authorities, was passed one Friday before Carnival vacations in the best neoliberal style, leaving this people poorer.
From then on the most serious economic crisis of these years was in sight. A crisis that, because of passivity, naivety, or complicity of sectors of the government, the rightwing opposition converted into a war against the [political] process with the aim of bringing it down. The figures of this crisis are categorical: over 50% inflation, 30% programmed scarcity of essential products, brutal usury of prices, evaporation of salaries, shameless speculation of the parallel dollar, disproportioned growth of the fiscal deficit, installation of a mafia-like procedure for appropriating dollars for importing, among others. Those are the emerging figures of a structural economic phenomenon: dispute for control and distribution of the petroleum income which without Chavez, the local bourgeoisie and foreign capital associated with high-up state bureaucratic sectors, believed the moment of total recuperation had arrived.
Forty days after the passing of comandante Chavez, the presidential elections made Nicolas Maduro the winner by a minimal margin. The streets of the country were painted with blood, 15 revolutionary cadre (one of them connected with Marea Socialista) were killed at the counterrevolutionary order to “drain rage” given by Capriles, who didn’t want to recognise his new defeat. This crime is still unpunished. The opposition began a national and international campaign to weaken the government even more. And they boosted the existing discontent because of the crisis that their local and international financiers were pushing, until they converted it into an economic war.
For his part, president Maduro and the political team of the government, without convoking the Bolivarian people, sought the support that they supposed hadn’t given him the votes, by putting together an agreement with the main business people and their chambers, baselessly hoping to resolve some economic problems that they themselves were creating. The insolence of Lorenzo Mendoza to ask in a national broadcast that he be handed the state food companies in order to get them producing, was visible. However it’s a fact that today the Pan flour that his companies would have to supply to the market is still hard to get. And like that, while the government sought stability, ceding to the demands of the businesses, the crisis deepened and the situation reached an abyss.
The turning point happened on 6 November. When President Nicolas Madura decided to implement emergency measures against the speculation and usury, measures that the people unequivocally supported. These measures encouraged the Chavista people who were bothered, disorientated, and who, with their bad humour were about to burst, pressured for a change in direction. The pressure generated a strong current of opinion of the left of the process that saw a debate and proposals that the government, paralysed until then, took on. The start of street mobilisations, though weak, showed the importance of popular participation in the creation of policy. That’s why in the streets and companies the change in morale was clearly notable. The agreement of the people with the president’s emergency measures was confirmed. And a collateral but important effect, the disorientation of the opposition, which was left naked defending the usurers and speculators with purely ideological arguments in defence of the private property of the usurers. This change we describe was expressed very clearly in the municipal elections. We won’t go at lengths with the numbers as, in general, we support the analysis made by Javier Biardeu in his document: A cold headed analysis of the electoral gaps between the government and the opposition.
First the emergency measures, then the electoral victory, gave vital oxygen to the government. However, because of the seriousness of the crisis, if this direction isn’t deepened, the recovery won’t last. Further, it’s already starting to show symptoms of tiring. Putting aside the underlying measures such as the creation of a Single Importations Centre and the External Trade Corporation, which the government hasn’t mentioned since, it would seem that the intention is to advance towards a simple ordering of the old scheme of mixed economy. On the other hand, the meeting between president Maduro and the opposition mayors and governors, full of “Christmas spirit”, shows worrying signs regarding the type of political system that is hoped to be agreed on. All of this, in search for “stability” supported by the agreement with a political leadership of a “united” opposition, whose experience is for now, exhausted, and which is starting to be discredited with its own support base.
In 2014, a year without elections on the horizon, all these conflicts will be unleashed. After the measures and the municipal elections which saw the government triumph, we are seeing the image frozen in a photo that will start to move. The hostile forces which, from the government, aim for coexistence in a call for “peace”, which the oligarchy has shown since Chavez came to power in 1999 that it doesn’t respect, are irretrievably opposed, and they will clash, pushed by the depth of the economic crisis. The position that the government takes as it faces these clashes that already began will determine its consolidation or weakening. 2014, free of electoral distortions, is without a doubt a year of definitions.
Tidy up the mixed economy or advance towards a new sovereign and independent model?
The latest economic announcements insinuate that the chosen path is one of ordering and cleaning up the old model of mixed economy, increasing opportunities for private accumulation of capital. That is, for the participation of the bourgeoisie in the distribution of oil income. The structural bases of the highly distorted prices aren’t being touched.
The announced consultation around increasing the internal price of petrol, a consultation which it should be said won’t be real if it’s not done via the referendum referred to in the constitution, is an example of this policy. However other prices that are deeply lagging, such as the salary, aren’t talked about [Translator: this article was written just before Maduro announced the 10% minimum wage increase]. Without time to do a lengthy study and taking just the minimum wage, you can see just by making a comparison with the prices of essential products, that the salary has lost, over the last year, at least half of its purchasing power. But the proposed gradual increase in the price of petrol will be an adjustment with a strong regressive impact if it’s not accompanied by, at least, a similar adjustment in salaries. This said with the warning that such a mechanism only works in an emergency.
The policy of regulating the prices of the national economy through administrative procedures, though necessary in an emergency, has a large arbitrary aspect. It doesn’t take into account that, because of the type of Venezuelan oil dependent capitalism; these prices are created as a result of a dispute between different social sectors for control of the oil income. That is, the wealth obtained overseas by selling petroleum. Hence, if the dependency on the oil income isn’t broken with and a new productive model isn’t put in place, these prices that are currently frozen by the correct emergency measures, won’t be corrected in the medium and long term by simple administrative regulations.
However, it’s not any old productive model that needs to be built. If we want to defend the Bolivarian process and in light of the failure shown in the last ten years of the mixed economy model, we need to be oriented towards taking structurally anti-capitalist measures. In that sense, to be in harmony with the process, there are three economic levers that should be applied to start the plan:
Not one more dollar to the bourgeoisie. Absolute state control of the petroleum income and the dollars derived from it.
Monopoly of foreign trade, with strict social control.
State monopoly of the assignation of credit so that it goes towards financing the new productive model.
Only within this framework, correcting the prices that so fundamentally distort the national economy, such as petrol prices, will the sought objectives be achieved. Otherwise, the inflationary spiral whose consequences are most suffered by the people who live off a salary, will be fed. That’s why the proposed debate of the prise of petrol, or the proposed one about electricity services, should be within the framework of a discussion that includes; a new tax system which, eliminating unpopular taxes such as the IVA [goods tax], advances towards strongly taxing profits, financial speculation, and luxury goods among others. That is, a tax system where those who have the most, pay the most. In the same way, recovering dollars swindled through import manoeuvring detected in the SITME and CADIVI is an essential step to resolving the financing of the Plan [Translator: perhaps referring to the Homeland Plan 2013-2019]. What we’re saying is that the debate needs to be comprehensive, not just about the price of petrol.
The causes of the social clashes that are coming
The sensation of political stability coming out of the Chavista victory in the municipal elections is a superficial expression of a combination of situational factors:
The emergency measures against usury and speculation that had a very positive impact.
Because November and December is the time when end of year bonuses are paid, the people who live off their labour [Translator: those with formal work only] are, on average, currently enjoying two and a half monthly payments.
Once these situational factors are passed, the crisis will once again show its cruellest face. Even maintaining and extending the measures against usury and speculation on basic goods such as food and real estate as the people hope, and even if those prices are brought down to last May, the salary won’t recover its previous level, as then the depreciation of salaries was around 30%.
This is added to counter-reforms being implemented by the private bosses and the managements and those who are responsible in the state who are attacking the economic, social, and socio-economic gains of the workers. It warns of a highly conflictive situation. We’ll provide a few examples of the latter:
The lack of payment to the health insurance clinics, HCM, by the workers, on behalf of the companies and ministries has provoked a severe lack of attention. One example are the teachers; an important part of the 60,000 primary school teachers are without medical attention [translator: through their insurance clinics, they still have access to care through the public hospitals and barrio adentros]. This has added to the collapse of the public system.
The freezing of the discussion about important collective conventions.
The insufficiency and imbalances in signed collective contracts are provoking an extreme delay in salaries, for example health sector workers [Translator: health workers in Merida reported to VA that they have been paid on time and there are few problems in the public system, no doubt the issue varies from region to region]
Unease of auto sector workers because of a decree which is apparently intended to regulate the prices of vehicles but is actually favouring the importers and damaging the contractual rights of the workers, such as the annual quota for buying cars from assembly companies where they work.
Inconformity between cultural workers with the decree to intervene in Teresa Carreno [theatre], made without consulting the workers, and where rights are at risk.
And, the irregularity and lack of functioning of the Mercales Obreros and casa por casa [subsidised food goods taken to work places and to people’s houses] and the PDVALs.
Further, other practices, which for lack of a better name we will keep calling counter-reforms, are being carried out:
The anti-union policies of the Work Ministry that favour the bosses. For example, almost two years without legalising new unions. Barriers and obstacles to normalise the current ones. Undoing the work health and safety system and attacking worker representatives in the sector (health and safety workers). And the CNE impeding the union normalisation laid out in the Organic Work Law.
Lack of awareness by the private bosses of fundamental clauses of the new LOTTT [work law] such as the adjusting of the new work week.
Lastly, we have to point to the function of the new management of the interventions in state companies by the military, which is provoking increasing unease among the workers of these companies and a paralysing of production, which seems to be programmed in many of them.
We won’t go further in this list, which of course is much longer. But it was necessary to describe it because it contains the real causes of unease, which once the Christmas period is passed, will appear publically in their full force and will set off conflicts and struggles.
The political expressions of these social forces
Once the Christmas period is over, the conflicts that will arise will take the form of protest struggles, and will probably be isolated from each other. It’s also likely that they’ll be unjustly attacked for that, but they won’t lose their force and impact. However, despite this appearance of protest, they will express the economic and political dispute through the need to construct a new anti-capitalist productive model as an efficient way, from the point of view of the workers, to overcome the current crisis.
In this period it will be confirmed if the CSBT [union federation], its leadership, will continue fulfilling the role of putting out the fires of the conflicts and totally depending on the government. But if this role doesn’t radically change, the workers won’t wait for some leaders who are removed from their bases, and will continue on their path. The reality will push them along it. If, as the rumour goes, one of the main political advisers of the federation occupies the tarnished position in the work ministry, the pressure of the workers will also demand that this ministry takes on a role that it hasn’t until now. On the other hand, when the process of the upcoming conflicts is profoundly political, similar in content to the struggle that came out of the nationalisation of SIDOR, those who claim to be the political representation of the Bolivarian people will be put to the test.
In this sense, the role that the PSUV and the GPP parties played in the municipal elections shouldn’t confuse their leaders. If the national leadership of the PSUV believes, as is manifested, that it has consolidated its hegemony as the party of the Chavista people, it will clash face on with an emptying of its active membership. In the strict sense, the municipal elections have been the second last chance for the PSUV as a party recognised by the Chavista people as its own, in the electoral terrain. In the last years it has had a dynamic of expulsion of base membership and somewhat critical cadre, or cadre with some political doubts. It has modified its organisational form to the point of making participation of membership that isn’t administrated by one of the power groups within the government almost impossible. It’s become a party of the crème de la crème who negotiate over positions and take over the decision making bodies. It functions as an electoral organisation which has lost all democratic practices. As a current within the party we can affirm that this isn’t just our vision, we know of the existence of prominent leaders, cadre, and members who make much stronger criticisms than ours. Either way, the call for a congress, put off for a long time, becomes indispensable to try to transform the current PSUV.
On the other hand, the parties of the GPP, and we’re talking about the parties that really exist as tendencies of the Bolivarian project, and not the shameful electoral franchises that have appeared lately, should deeply reflect about their role. After a good electoral performance in October 2012, they have faded as alternatives to the vices that the Chavista people criticise the PSUV for. The new time that we are approaching demands, for them as well, recognising a progressive transformation that breaks with clientalist practices and implementing democratic practices that allow for the plural and critical creation of revolutionary policy.
Also in the terrain of political organisation of the forces of the revolution, we enter into a time of definitions. We, for now, aspire to have the chance to propose our positions and be able to feel we are represented in the party congress, to then able to fight for the transformation of this administrative organisation into a living, democratic, and plural movement, where different currents of opinion can feel represented and heard, which help to deepen the Bolivarian process along an anti-capitalist path.
This point would be incomplete if we didn’t point to the profound crisis in the political representation of the rightwing opposition. The municipal elections showed, from a political perspective and going beyond the numbers, the inefficiency of this opposition as an alternative to Chavismo for the people who live off their work. Without this accompaniment, it would be difficult for the opposition to retake the government by electoral means. The defeat that they suffered on 8 December, more than electoral, was political. A project of “unity” in the search for a political alternative to Chavismo was defeated and in that way the project to build a new political regime that occupies the space that the death of Chavez left, also failed. This crisis and its dynamic of internal dispute by the leaders is, for now, a base of support, although an unpredictable one, and a base of political stability for the government, beyond its own contradictions. New phenomena will also develop in this space.
The challenges for 2014 for the people who live off their work
Though continuing to defend the conquests of the process, that is, the revolutionary legacy of Chavez, the Bolivarian people, and beyond them the people who live off their work, will face in 2014, three fundamental challenges. They are also the challenges that we will have to face in order to advance in the transition towards socialism. They are:
Recover the standard of living lost by the crisis. Today, in middle of the Christmas period, there are difficulties to maintain the standard of living. The scarcity hasn’t been halted, but above all, the crisis and the economic war have evaporated the purchasing power of salaries. From every union, federation, workers’ council, and organised workers’ collective, it’s important to elevate the demand for the recovery of the earnings of the working family. This would be, to start off with, a localised struggle, but it also needs to be taken to the national level. That’s why it’s important that every one of these struggles call upon the CSBT to demand the government resolve this serious problem.
Take the government’s proposal to debate the straggling prices, and push for a big national debate of those of us who live off our work to then delineate a new transitional productive model. The task of building a new productive model should be put in the hands of the working people. It can’t be hoped that it will fall from the sky. There are sectors of our working class who have already generated important supplies for this debate, such as for example, the Socialist Guayana Plan. We could start this debate by discussing in each company the national government’s plan to increase the price of petrol. This debate is an opportunity to propose that the out of place prices are incorporated. And it’s also time to ensure that this consultation has the status of referendum. That’s how we will go about building and demanding, from the base,s a constituent of workers and the production that we need in order to define the new productive model that our process needs.
Structure the program and the organic form of the current, movement, or political instrument of the left’s space in the Bolivarian process. 2013 also revealed the political differences in the process. Important debates have developed, mainly how to confront the crisis and the economic war. These debates show that the radical left of the process has important things to offer, and these were seen in the application of the emergency measures. But also there are other aspects where the left of the process is well positioned and can contribute, for example; in the defence of democratic rights of social fighters like Julian Conrado or Vasco Asier. The fight against the impunity of those who carry out or plan murders of indigenous fighters such as Sabino, the rural workers movement and the workers’ movement. Against any aspirations of giving amnesty to those responsible for the Puente Llaguno massacre and other crimes that took place during the coup and sabotage, such as Simonovis. The struggle for the effective application of gender rights or in the area of environmental rights. For the deepening of participatory democracy in the construction of anti-capitalism and our socialism. In the area of worker control and social auditing. In the area of active and concrete international solidarity with the peoples who struggle in the world, such as the heroic Palestinian people against those who are perpetuating the greatest genocide in history on behalf of the Nazi regime of Israel. And in many other aspects where numerous collectives, platforms, and currents we have points where we agree. Coordinating, with a program, this political space of the left of the process is crucial to making these positions visible and breaking the media siege that critical thought is subject to.
One of the most characteristic faces of the Bolivarian process was, from its start, the making visible of those who were previously invisible. That those who didn’t have a public voice could start to express themselves. As part of that there was a huge process of debate and politicisation of the Bolivarian people. Congresses, meetings, and a host of international activities found, in our territory, a place to meeting and debate. Our people were in plazas and streets but also in huge numbers of small buildings and spaces that could be used for all the necessary debates of the Bolivarian process. No one asked which revolutionary organisation called a meeting or debate, the available spaces could be used by everyone to strengthen education, organisation, and the people’s revolutionary consciousness. Heaps of collectives were organised, and a strong and energetic and popular and alternative communication movement was born and developed by an important layer of activists, often with stimulus from the state. Community radios, alternative newspapers, websites, popular television stations in defence of the process were the voice of those invisible and silenced people. Today, this democratic and participatory explosion is in danger: the spaces for debate have been drastically reduced and only those sectors or groups who follow the official line can freely gain admission. Popular and alternative communication is facing more difficult obstacles to fulfil its mission; the support for printing popular newspapers isn’t obtained, alternative media which shows the struggles of our people or critical voices is pressured, many of the most prominent spokespeople of this democratic expression were displaced from the public media. Critical thought is demonised by institutional spaces. This vital and creative movement – a true democracy where important sectors of the Bolivarian people could express themselves in all their diversity – is languishing. It was the practical and daily demonstration of the democratic attitude of the process and the government in the face of which the denunciations of imperialism and the bourgeoisie that the revolution was undemocratic and Chavez a dictator, clashed. The recovery of this spirit of diversity of thought, of respect for different currents in the process in open and frank debate is important for saving the revolution. Otherwise, this media will exchange their democratic and participative content for the old formulas of formal democracy where those who “know” speak, the domestic academics think, and a single thought that ends up killing the irreverent and rebellious creativity of our people, reigns. Recovering this spirit and these spaces is one of the key struggles of the next period. It’s about reactivating the main motor of the process “morals and lights”. For that it’s important to promote participative democracy, freedom to express differences and respect for critical thought.
The defence of the Maduro government and the gains of the Bolivarian process against the attacks it could face demands a doubling of efforts in the fight against the economic crisis and the war for the appropriation of the petroleum income, which today is the number one priority. We can’t stop seeing what is in play in the coming period. That’s why we make these proposals, to reorient the process. The willingness of the Chavista people to defend the Bolivarian process was tested again on 8 December. Overcoming this year of painful events and uncertainty showed that their willingness for transformation is upstanding. This working people, which responded to the call by President Maduro for the 8 December elections, enters, having show its force, the fights that approach in defence of the gains of the process. That’s why 2014 will be a year of definitions.
Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com