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Opinion and Analysis: Bolivarian Project | Economy

Iturriza vs. the "Young Communists": Political Responsibility and Leftist Critique in Venezuela

Following the heated polemic over Roland Denis’ “Goodbye to Chavismo”, another article has ignited controversy in chavista circles, only this time by Venezuela’s culture minister, Reinaldo Iturriza. Writing on his blog “El Otro Saber y Poder”, Iturriza mounts a critique of certain “young communists” for what he judges to be irresponsible left-wing attacks on the Bolivarian government. The longtime revolutionary militant and ex-minister of communes argues that these “young communists” apply a dogmatic understanding of Marxism that leads them to make radical demands without regard for broader revolutionary strategy. Responding to Iturriza on behalf the “young communists”, Omar Vasquez Heredia accuses the culture minister of engaging in red-baiting in order to silence debate around what he suggests are “reactionary economic adjustments” pursued by the Bolivarian government, which allegedly consist of concessions to domestic and transnational capital to the detriment of Venezuela’s working class.

Reinaldo Iturriza: "We, Communists in the Era of Chávez"

Concerning the hostility of certain, rather underground currents, my friend Eder Peña wrote: “It’s a moment when the chips are down, the worst of what they have contaminated us with is coming out in an offensive against the greatest creativity possible, but the worst has the advantage because it is what comes easiest”. I find myself in total agreement.  

I’ve thought a lot about this issue lately. It’s a moment when the chips are down. This doesn’t mean to say that other difficult moments won’t come– we Chavistas know this: we are used to having to deal with limited situations. But we are living through what is perhaps the most difficult moment in the Bolivarian Revolution.

I won’t refer to the causes of this difficulty here. That isn’t my intention. I will limit myself to emphasising that it is a historic moment that is savagely questioning us, that won’t allow us to look the other way. Our response demonstrates our greatness, but also our shortcomings. The point is that the latter is causing a scandal. Heroism in these times is rather silent.

In some of these scandals, I have begun to notice the influence of generational factors. I don’t at all mean to say that generation is the guiding principle in attitudes that, pointlessly and lamentably, are found among people of all ages. But I am convinced that we have underestimated an issue which determines people’s choices in all times and places.

I belong to a generation of arrogant communists– not because we were communists, but rather because we were immature– who were obliged to begin their militancy in an incomparably hostile environment: the “end of ideologies”. I belong to that generation who bought all of Lenin’s books at a discount rate because the old renegade communists were throwing them in the trash. I still conserve almost all of those treasures, as well as a handful of useless manuals from Progress Publishers.

Then, miracle of miracles, Chavismo arrived. And Chavismo, comrade, knocked us out with a humdinger round of humiliation, and that humiliation turned us into men and women, and we reconnected once again with the people. We learned that we formed part of that people and that we were no better than “the masses”. We were audacious in our reading and in our praxis. We stopped behaving like puritans, and we understood that militancy wasn’t about constantly going around upset or downcast, and we shook ourselves free of that grimace of severity that was etched on our faces, because we finally understood that if you're going to give life a big kiss, then you have be willing to pucker your lips.

However, we communists in the era of Chavismo, were not capable of preventing the return of that same arrogance that we believed to be extinct. There is a generation of young leftist militants, Marxist-Leninists, some of whom even defend Stalin, who didn’t live through the prodigious decade which saw the emergence of Chavismo (the decade of the 1990s, still so unexplored, poorly theorised and misunderstood) and who only saw from afar Chavismo’s first battles in government, and who now, obliged to live through the most difficult moment of the Bolivarian Revolution, respond with an attitude that is the polar opposite of audacity: by seeking refuge in the most base elements of historical materialism, and in anything that allows them to cope with this excess of reality, namely that a revolution will always have to go through adverse circumstances.

It’s painful to see how they waste time “demonstrating” that Chávez had indeed read Marx, as if this somehow swayed the balance in favour of the cause of the just [“young communists”] in the face of “reformism”. It’s painful to see how they spit curse words because Maduro won’t nationalise a bank or because he is preventing the working class from taking definitive control over the means of production. The mere notion of strategic thinking, which was perhaps the aspect in which Chávez was most genuinely Marxist, is totally alien to them. In their judgement, without even a shadow of doubt, such a measure or other must be taken at this immediate moment, because now is the only time for politics and because they know nothing of uncertainty. But all it takes is one complaint over their eagerness to jump to manuals and a request for a rigorous analysis on the current state of class struggle (there is no worse offence) to send them into a fit of accusations over anti-intellectualism.

I have to say that this level of haughtiness makes me anxious. Such befuddlement. At this stage in the revolution, and above all in the current circumstances, anyone who defines themselves as a leftist militant should have overcome such a lack of belief in themselves and the Venezuelan people, which makes them act with such conceit.

We know it well: defeat is not even remotely an option. In the same way, it is not optional whether or not we learn from the political lessons that Chavez gave us on how to construct a politics with a hegemonic purpose.  

Any Chavista militant, but particularly those who define themselves as Marxists, is obliged to profoundly study the theoretical and practical implications of the challenge that Chavez put to us when he spoke about 21st Century Socialism.

The same case applies for many communists of the new generation who put their old school communism on display as if it was some kind of great historic novelty, with an arrogance that makes the rudeness of our teenage years pale in comparison.

Communists in the new generation resort to sarcasm to appear more acute in their analysis, when the truth is that they are trying to hide their sadness because they feel like the best is already behind us. Because they feel that they arrived too late.

Comrades, learn to forgive our failures. We haven’t done enough to communicate just how much Chavismo has meant: how it revolutionised our ways of doing politics, how it opened the way for a new political culture. But don’t use our errors as an excuse: try to learn from Chavismo. Study Chavez. Listen intently to Nicolas [President Maduro]. Be willing to learn from the Venezuelan people.

Omar Vazquez Heredia: "Reinaldo Iturriza and Anti-Communism as Conspiratorial Rhetoric for Reactionary Economic Adjustments"

In his latest opinion article the Minister of Culture, Reinaldo Iturriza, tries to turn the class struggle into a generational dispute, maintaining that “in some of these scandals, I have begun to notice the influence of generational factors,” although later he softens [his posture] and says it’s not the only influential factor, and that currently the following description applies:

“There is a generation of young leftist militants, Marxist-Leninists, some of whom even defend Stalin, who didn’t live through the prodigious decade which saw the emergence of Chavismo (the decade of the 1990s, still so unexplored, poorly theorised and misunderstood) and who only saw from afar Chavismo’s first battles in government, and who now, obliged to live through the most difficult moment of the Bolivarian Revolution, respond with an attitude that is the polar opposite of audacity: by seeking refuge in the most base elements of historical materialism, and in anything that allows them to cope with this excess of reality, namely that a revolution will always have to go through adverse circumstances.”

The Cultural Minister, in this long quotation, mixes the generational problem with the use of Marxist concepts as a guide to understanding current Venezuela reality, of course, trying to stigmatize a group of young people before his readers by saying they “even defend Stalin” and that they’re “Marxist-Leninists” who take cover in “historic materialism”. That is, he doesn’t engage with the arguments of the young communists in the face of the current economic policy of the national government, but rather attempts to characterize them based on their age, stamping them with a label, a sign, a fence that right off the bat prevents any dialogue or debate. Who will dialogue or debate with immature young people who, according to the Cultural Minister, never endured the 90s and were never militants of Chavismo? Who would allow themselves to be influenced by ideas emanating from young Marxist-Leninists who uphold Stalin? The Cultural Minister, in his article, with that absurdly paternal and even ridiculous tone is developing an anti-communist rhetoric typical of the crudest McCarthyism: the problem with those youths is that they don’t understand Chavismo and they’re bad communists. Of course, there are good communists– those who keep a conspiratorial silence, or even deliver a mercenary applause before the reactionary economic measures taken today by the national government of which the Cultural Minister, Mr. Reinaldo Iturriza is a part. At the end of the day the Cultural Minister makes it his objective to stigmatize young communists in order to obstruct their ideas from getting wider attention in the working-class sectors of Venezuela.

We, the young communists, cannot simply say, as Mr. Reinaldo Iturriza does, that he “won’t refer to the causes of the difficulty. That is not my intention…” On the contrary, that is the heart of the matter: from where have these difficulties arisen, what context generated the appearance of a group of young communists questioning the whole of Chavismo and its economic policy in particular. Rene Zavaleta Mercado says that the crisis is a condition of possibility for knowledge and in Venezuela we find that a crisis is once again unveiling itself, namely that of dependent, extractivist and parasitic capitalism, which between 2003 and 2008 was hidden by a reproductive context of the global market conditioned by a vertical rise in petroleum prices. In the current circumstances we can clearly see the limits of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, a historic experience which, while in possession of high oil prices, was able to contingently link processes of capital accumulation and external reserves of money-capital from the dominant classes with the expansion of consumption among the subordinate classes. On one hand, between 1999 and 2012, the bourgeoisie, by means of capital flight, took 134 billion dollars, if we look at the [capital flight] legally registered at the Central Bank (BCV data). On the other hand, poverty measured by income was reduced between 2003 and 2012 from 55.1 percent to 21.2 percent (INE data). Even so, with the change of context in the world market, in 2009 and even worse in 2014 and 2015, when there was a linear contraction of oil prices, the denominated Bolivarian Revolution enters a crossroads in which it prefers to maintain the rhythm of capital accumulation and external hoarding by the dominant classes while paying the external debt by applying reactionary economic adjustments.

[It was] a reactionary economic adjustment summarized by the unilateral reduction of imported consumer goods and capital to free up resources with which they could address local and world financial commitments. The measure considerably increased scarcity of essential goods and directly affects our spending power with working class salaries, deteriorating our quality of life thanks to spiraling inflation that some analysts, in the midst of silence from the Central Bank, have estimated to be at three digits.

Let us look at the statistics that uphold the idea of the young communists. By the third trimester of 2012, USD $45.8 billion dollars were spent on imports, compared to the same lapse in 2014, when only $35.8 billion were spent. This represents a 21.8 percent drop (BCV data). For this reason, there are shortages in the internal market of consumer goods and supplies for agricultural production, as well as personal hygiene products that depend on imported materials for their production. […] But in 2014, with resources liberated from reduced PDVSA imports, they are able to pay 9.6 billion dollars in arrears (data from consolidated financial reports, 2014), while the price of oil averaged 88 dollars a barrel compared to the 98 dollar barrel of 2013.

A reactionary economic measure, clear and undoubtable: they reduce imports, deteriorating salaries, while freeing up resources to pay debts. Even so, its class emphasis becomes evident when in 2014, under the complacent eye of the national government, the bourgeoisie was responsible for the capital flight of 7 billion dollars (BCV data). All of the while, the Bolivarian Revolution and its 21st Century Socialism leaves intact the regressive tax structure of the country in which IVA [consumer taxes] represented 57.5 percent of tributary revenue in 2014 while the ISLR [rent taxes] only 25.3 percent (Seniat data).

In this reality, which has probably gotten worse in 2015, the young communists emerge denouncing that in Venezuela there was never a revolution, that we suffer the current situation due to reactionary economic adjustments, that the majority of imports are being carried out by the bourgeoisie, that we the working class pay more taxes than the dominant classes, that the national government is creating, through Special Economic Zones, privileged fiscal territories for transnational capital, violating the 1999 Constitution, that the national government is developing anti-worker policies by obligating the signing of collective and very poor contracts, that the national government just handed over contracts of the supplying of goods and services of PDVSA to the emerging fraction of organized bourgeoisie within the Industry Federation (Fedeindustria), that the national government has blocked auto-demarcations by indigenous groups and delivered ancestral lands to the mouth of insatiable extraction [of oil, minerals, carbon] in the Perija mountain range and in the denominated Miners’ Ring of the Amazons, that the national government has arbitrarily dismissed public functionaries en masse like those of the Ministry of Eco-Socialism, and that despite the Work Law, subcontracting still goes on in different state institutions, and that some people within the government are negotiating making private bourgeois debt public, among other situations which demonstrate the direction of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. At the same time, we [the young communists] propose a gradual tax reform, the nationalization of foreign commerce under state control, an audit of the external debt which could even mean a refusal to recognize parts of it, organized combat against subcontracting in state and private workplaces, a general raise of wages and salaries, the establishment of a national network for workers’ control of the distribution of essential goods, the termination of non-priority expenses on the part of the state apparatus, and the definition of a national plan for industrialization on a vast economic scale and not through the failure of limited community property.

We, the young communists, are not spoiled or embittered, nor are we isolated and friendless. There’s a reason the Minister of Culture uses his valuable time to combat us. In reality, we live life the same as the rest of the working Venezuelan people, with a smile on our face and struggling against the adversity being imposed by the reactionary economic adjustments applied by the national government. Many of us became communists in the midst of Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric, not as an antagonistic response to popular Chavista nationalism, when he said that socialism was the alternative to capitalism (2005), when he told priests to read Marx and Lenin (2007) and when he included Marxism in the red book of the PSUV (2010) and declared himself a Marxist in the National Assembly (2010). Many of us realized then that it was for real, and we began to study and be active in Venezuelan reality, guided by and translating central categories of the philosophy into practice, which is why today in our activism we are armed with theory which permits us to reveal that at the end of the story, the great beneficiary of the Bolivarian Revolution is the emerging fraction of the local bourgeoisie. And we say to the Minister of Culture, that you too can debate with arguments and without stigmatization, without putting yourself on a paternal pedestal– try it, although it is difficult in your case given that you are a sweetening voice behind the reactionary economic adjustments. 


The original articles by Reinaldo Iturriza and Omar Vasquez Heredia were translated by and can be accessed by clicking the corresponding hyperlinks.