As international media plays its favorite old game of lambasting the Venezuelan government, long-time observers of the Bolivarian process may be wondering how much truth lies in the prime-time reports panning across empty shelves, long lines and pointing at charts showing catastrophic inflation. How precarious is Venezuela’s current economy and, more importantly, how much are the effects of this felt by the Venezuelan people?
Venezuelanalysis.com has compiled a series of translations offering different Venezuelan perspectives on the source of the nation’s recession and the direction the government seems poised to take. These translations are meant to represent various strains of popular thinking within the Venezuelan revolutionary left-wing, many of whom feel committed to point out any inefficiencies in governmental administration, albeit for reasons very far from those of the opposition.
The Venezuelan government is, without doubt, reeling under the pressure of economic sabotage, as well as flaws in their own administration. But while some newspapers would prefer to group the nation’s people into those who complain bitterly and those who blindly defend, we know there is a significant sector of people who recognize the power and necessity of authentic, revolutionary critique.
Those of us who live in Venezuela and interact with her daily whims understand that we have come to a crossroads. While president Maduro meets with the oligarchical Mendoza family to discuss raising the official price of corn flour from six bolivars to twelve, you’d be lucky to find a bag in the country being sold for less than 80. Whether you’re trying to buy milk or a bus ticket you’ll be told at first that there is none, but a backdoor will always be revealed, an eight-times-the-price solution somewhere around the corner. Though the government urges us to report this kind of activity, it’s already become a parallel economy; one in which middle-men make outrageous profits and those profits lose value overnight. All of it begs the question- where does corruption start, and how does it end?
The Bolivarian government still stands as a pillar for international solidarity and popular self-determination, which means this crossroads of sorts does not stop at Venezuela- the global South’s ongoing struggle for social justice may hang in the balance.
Part I of this series deals with the cause of economic strife and radical responses, while Part II will look at possible state solutions.
The Economy and the People by Ivan Gutierrez
Is it possible to resolve economic problems without damaging peoples’ quality of life? For a sector of the population, the answer is no. They are the ones who think there must be growth to have distribution. This growth is only possible, according to their beliefs, if private initiatives achieve ample development and have the freedom to act as they see fit.
The majority of restructuring processes in the South American region have been conducted under these principles. For example, in Chile, during the dictatorship of Pinochet, what were the first results of [economic] reforms? Hundreds of thousands of companies disappeared, millions of Chileans left their country, basically because they could not find a way to survive, while poverty and inequality soared. After this, the economy grew and eventually stabilized itself, upon which many people returned. Nevertheless those first effects linger in Chilean society. They are visible to the outer world, in spite of the excellent advertising campaign of the country supported by international media.
Another example of economic reconstruction along these lines is Colombia. In this instance the changes were made within a democracy. The results were similar to those in Chile; millions of Colombians left their country to be able to support themselves, hundreds of thousands of companies disappeared, poverty and inequality increased.
The Colombian economy is often given today as an example of what should be done. In their case there was an equally strong publicity campaign meant to sell the country and reverse the poor image that international media created in their attempts to subdue the government of [Ernesto] Samper.
A different current has gained strength, in which economic reform should not only focus on growth but also on just distribution of the wealth produced. In Bolivia’s case, this vision has produced notable success, though a little less in Ecuador and with abysmal results in Venezuela.
Yes, contrary to what one might think, Venezuela has done worse than Bolivia, a country which does not have nearly the same [economic] potential.
What has happened to make this so? In Venezuela we have overestimated the power of the state, which is indeed powerful from an economic standpoint but its been proven that substantial resources aren’t enough to get the job done- adequate ideas are necessary to put those resources to use.
The process initiated by Chavez has made it clear that a structural economic change is possible in a democracy. It’s true that the flaws in the direction of these changes are evident but, in spite of lurking predators, he managed to maintain peace and serve a huge number of people who had been entirely marginalized.
But the state cannot carry all the weight alone, not even with the proper administration (which isn’t our case) could economic growth be sustained solely from the public sector. And in order for
“The process initiated by Chavez has made it clear that a structural economic change is possible in a democracy…. But the state cannot carry all the weight alone.” a concurrent private sector to exist, conditions must be made. It would seem that this is not widely understood in government spheres, which insist on directing regulations toward specific problems without addressing the conditions that cause those problems. Paradoxically, in Cuba they are promoting private investment while the small business owner in Venezuela is hounded by countless public functionaries looking for a bribe, or a bite, as they say in Mexico.
In Bolivia, just like in Ecuador and even Nicaragua, there are signs that it is possible to restructure an economy without the weight of it falling on the people. Lamentably, in Venezuela we have few signs. Here, without a clearly defined economic restructuring, the effects of disorder are affecting the people more and more each day. It’s true that the humblest of people still have ways of getting by and fulfill their essential needs, but each day their money covers less and less of those expenses. The worst is that no true reforms are underway, because we still have a large number of companies that hold on to public money while producing only loss and waste.
Ivan Gutierrez is a militant of Venezuela’s governing socialist party, PSUV, and formed part of the country’s parliament in previous years.
Excerpt of We, the Slaves of the Market by Roland Denis
The most serious concern -- and what a large section of the chavista left recycles as ideology -- is that the [petrol] revenue has been utilized as a mechanism that in the end establishes, like never before, a commodity fetishism and the law of labor value. In the most perverse way, this has created a true embezzlement to the nation, generated principally by big capital, all linked to the State and the rentier model in one way or another. In the end, this currency manipulation of the national income traps the poor and working classes. People speak of free gasoline, food, and an overvalued dollar as mechanisms of a righteous redistribution of this revenue. But ultimately these mechanisms have become exchangeable goods on the global capitalist market, vulnerable to speculative windfall and without any productive benefit, based instead on gangrenous corruption present not only among the constituted powers but among a large part of the popular movement as well.
This commodity fetishism, originating from capitalism, working through deluded monetarists and the macroeconomic policy of the past 10 years, has worked only to alienate the bases of the chavista rebellion from their true intent to challenge capitalism. These challenges consist of understanding capitalism in its essential form, without hiding anything from anyone, without half-in reformists, and at the same time appropriating the necessary elements (political, productive, from the market, from communication) that permit the understanding of how easy it is bring down that curse from solidarity and self-governing, collective production. What we need is full responsibility for what we are taking and creating with our hands and minds, without the imposition of unnecessary and corrupt management installed only to avoid social ownership of the means of production and distribution and the unique, truly communist experience that this generates.
What is certain is that we are reaching a point where all of the guidelines for the "economic war" of capital against labor are being fulfilled in an increasingly violent setting: inflation, shortages, decline, the devaluation of wages, the destruction of systems of public and private production, widespread corruption, inefficiency, demoralization of the political bases, the political disorganization of the people, the multiplication of social violence, the growth of a mafia economy -- and with all this, the emergence of para-states and uncertainty that is sliding toward the political vision of the same proto-fascist monsters. Taking into account the shortages in medicine, this is reaching the edge of widespread institutional crime.
This is no longer working: the damage has been done, precious time has been lost. But as we have said since 1989, the people have not been defeated. The government should know what this may cost them in the short term, but still they do not do what needs to be done at any cost, even if it hurts us, the people fetishized by consumer goods and other bonuses of our rentier state.
What is certain is that the truths of capitalism will emerge: we will hear its laws, as heinous as they are true, and know that the market will be re-appropriated as a standard instrument of collective exchange and individual accumulation. We will not say, as some theorists have said, that "the market does not exist," or that "inflation does not exist." Of course they exist! Capitalism has its laws that only the communist horizon can finish -- not government decrees and this absurd, fetishistic, and corrupt economy that they have created. We do not ask anyone to mask what is an obvious, gigantic power: to defeat it, using what little power we have in this country, we have to unmask it and understand it thoroughly, to expropriate without undermining the common good. The rest amounts to playing with shoddy bureaucratic, clientelistic patrons and subsidies, working not to develop the social communist conscience that we need, but to do the very opposite. The result is that big businesses flourish without fear.
The return of the left in these lands means launching a de-idealization and de-fetishizing act, to begin the fight for a true and direct social justice, in the hands of social control; and, furthermore, to resume the path toward a true popular constituent power as the key goal of the moral and economic reconstruction of this country, by way of its own insurgency and not by those called to meetings at Miraflores. For this to happen, we are going to need the "other parties" to completely shed their atavism and alliance blocks that are only made on the basis of profits within the constituted power.
The revolution is still pending -- and government or no government, beyond the internal cleansing and the overcoming of vomitable impunity, the problem is completely structural. A radical change in a balance of forces, something that can only be done "from below and to the left," follows the basic law of class struggle and true revolutionary science. From here, in this gaunt and dazed process, we have done something for the anticapitalist rebellion, being part of a world communist movement revolting against the law of value. For the sake of idealism, interests from which reformist lies will never surface, we will not end this contribution to the rebellious world and the ideology of the people’s liberation. We will return by any means.
Roland Denis is a Venezuelan writer and renowned political analyst. He served as vice minister of planning from 2002-03, helped foment militant projects such as 13 de Abril and Nuestra America, and is the author of many books including The Manufacturers of Rebellion (2001) and The Three Republics (2012).
Translated by Sascha Bercovitch and Z.C. Dutka for venezuelanalysis.com.
Introduction by Z.C. Dutka.
Original Texts found at the following links:
La Economia y La Gente (I. Gutierrez- Rebelion.org)
Nosotros los Esclavos del Mercado (R. Denis- Aporrea.org)