Struggle Ahead for Venezuela Grassroots as Right-Wing Sworn In

Facing possible austerity and a return to neoliberalism at the hands of a right wing parliament, will the millions involved in the Bolivarian revolution radicalize further and protect their 15 years of gains, or will this be the blow that finally dampens their revolutionary joy and collective ambition? 


While the Bolivarian revolution will still have the presidency, and the majority of governors and mayors, much of the national decision making and resources will shift to the elites and right-wing Tuesday, when new legislators swear in.

This has already seen some interesting small shifts within the revolution, among the various forces; grassroots organizations, genuine revolutionaries with leadership and institutional positions, and those in Venezuela’s Socialist Party, or PSUV ,whose commitment to the socialist project has been questioned 

After a call from President Nicolas Maduro for example, grassroots street assemblies were held around the country after the disappointing electoral defeat. In Merida state, various PSUV leaders, including the governor of Merida, were nowhere to be seen at these assemblies. It was the persistent, honest, hardworking, largely unpaid grassroots activist organizations such as Tatuy TV, the alternative school, feminist groups, the more progressive PSUV youth, and communal council members who were, and continue to be, leading up these meetings and promoting their decisions.

Jessica Pernia, community television activist with Tatuy TV, told teleSUR English about her concern that decisions of the assemblies would not be taken seriously by some state and government leaders. According to Pernia, the assemblies were a “bit of a show” but she believes that “the people aren’t stupid and maybe they’ll be creative and something new will happen (with this opportunity).”

The media activist and other organizers say that people like the Merida governor – whom they say is socialist in party membership but not in practice – now have less interest in promoting grassroots organizing, if it doesn’t serve them electorally. Rather, some of those with institutional power but opportunist politics are likely to tone down their discourse and disappear somewhat off the radar, or even pander to the right-wing. Others however may continue to make symbolic and tokenistic gestures towards participatory democracy if faced with pressure from their workforce or their electoral base, while the “genuine” socialist leaders will seize the opportunity to radicalize their area of control.

The grassroots will have the important task of protesting the right-wing legislature’s policies – something which is possibly more straight forward for these groups than it was to criticize the internal problems of the revolution. Unfortunately, those organizations will also face more difficult conditions, with the possible elimination of progressive laws (such as legislation facilitating community media), and little-to-no material support from government. The role of the grassroots may also be obscured as the focus centers on everything the right-wing tries and manages to do, as well a possible presidential recall referendum and regional elections for state governors this year.   

Given this situation and the challenges facing the future of the Bolivarian revolution, Maduro and outgoing national assembly president Diosdado Cabello called these street assemblies as well as a “national communal parliament.” Maduro also approved a number of progressive laws and laws meant to preserve numerous social programs.

Nonetheless, the urgency of the situation meant that Cabello called for this parliament with little to no consultation with leaders from Venezuela’s close to 1,200 communes – a key element of the Bolivarian revolution’s move towards “popular power.”

Pernia celebrated new laws passed by the outgoing socialist national assembly, but expressed concern about them being approved at the “last minute.” 

“We spent so much time working on the Popular Communication Law, systematizing our conclusions and applying pressure, and how long ago was that? (Likewise) the seed law, and the Humanized Birthing Law, and these guys come along … and pass it two weeks before the right-wing take power … they say better later than never, but one isn’t stupid.” 

Likewise, on the National Communal Parliament, she said, “We think this will be a very interesting exercise … but it also feels like a bit of theater, ‘you guys play at communal parliament while we make deals.’ What’s at stake, the most important stuff, is being decided between four walls.” 

After 15 years of Chavismo and around a decade of progressive state politics in some countries in Latin America, people are now more politically mature and demanding of their leaders. Many activists in Venezuela say that they need the revolution to be “deepened,” and that the same-old progressive policies – for example wealth distribution measures – are not enough any more.   

Pernia argued that the people should “up the ante” and stop demanding things like “household electronics and less bureaucracy, and instead demand a whole different economic system, the real transition to socialism, and create the communication system and political education system that Chavez dreamed about.”   

“Many people have demanded that imports be nationalized, a budgetary system of financing … socialization of the land and the whole process,” she said. Yet with privatizations on the table, while millions of activists would agree with Pernia, even the smallest demands beyond preserving old social gains are now going to become hard struggles. 

Venezuela’s grassroots have gained the experience to deal with the difficult struggles ahead, but many questions remain. With the key upcoming recall and governor elections this year, will the PSUV continue to consolidate itself as mainly an electoral party, or will the grassroots play a greater role? Will communal councils and communes strengthen themselves as decision making powers in light of the loss of power of the national assembly, and if so, how will the right-wing react to that? How will the PSUV relate to them?