A revolution cannot be viewed as a block event unless we look at it from afar; if we live through it, it can be compared to a torrent which violently brings out both the best and the worst in society, and necessarily brings forth real counter-revolutionary currents, which it pushes to take up the old weapons of the previous regime, and those weapons are double-edged swords. – Victor Serge
No one can deny the great economic, political, social and cultural benefits Venezuela has received with the Bolivarian revolution.
Former President Hugo Chavez liquidated the “representative democracy” and the rotten bipartisanship [of the pre-1998 era known as the Fourth Republic], brought in a constitution that includes popular protagonism and participation, renationalises strategic sectors of the economy, and united the people and the armed forces. He also declared the country to be anti-imperialist and socialist, a identified his movement with rebels from all ages and revolutionaries from all countries and, in addition, practiced solidarity with nations, movements and citizens of Latin America and the world.
He made healthcare available to everyone, ended illiteracy, encouraged an entire people to study, founded dozens of universities, facilitated creative expression, created teleSUR as a voice for those without a voice that broke the monopoly of transnational media and, for the first time, the state paid attention to social and individual human rights etc. A very long etcetera.
In the economy, Chavez showed the world what can be done with money, except of course making more money. To those who said “The economy, stupid,” he replied “No, education.” More than half of the state budget was, and continues to be, dedicated to social investment.
But the avatars of the global market and the economic war, firstly based here in Venezuela and later elsewhere, placed the country between the sword and capital.
Commercial activity was informalised, and in this chaos, financial interests, entrepreneurs and intermediaries inadvertently became, in consciousness and in practice, a new incarnation of the local bourgeoisie, both in the economic sphere and by law. These sectors were backed by government officials and institutions, whose priority is the full supply of goods and food sovereignty.
This new “positive middle class” is replacing the old decadent bourgeoisie represented by the opposition. A new stratum is born that is said to be patriotic and believed to be Chavista, but inevitably opposes the rights of workers in the age-old dispute over control of the factories and the land. For this new stratum, it is, and always will be, vital to “modify” or “make more flexible” the Labour Law, the Land Law and other Enabling Laws with which the Bolivarian Revolution was born.
In addition, the judiciary, although renovated, has never ceased to be part of the internal enemy. This can be seen in the sentence applied to coup-mongers who are “full of good intentions,” as well as today in the selective impunity applied, in cases against self-managed workplaces, and in the reprivatisation of land.
In many cases, the laws applied continue to be “one for them and another for us.” This harms the people and creates problems for the government to the point that, on January 31, Maduro decided to “propose that the National Constituent Assembly assume and appoint a high commission to make a deep reform of the Venezuelan judiciary and change all the structures of the judiciary.”
Another critical area is in state security agencies and the exercise of legitimate violence.
The excessive increase of criminal gangs, often framed and armed by foreign paramilitaries, caused these agencies to prioritise urgent band-aid measures in place of important longer-term projects. The great police reform project was put on hold. Massacres such as those in Barlovento and Cariaco , although not unpunished like those committed in the Fourth Republic, are an expression of a trend towards the illegitimate violence of the past and police abuse.
The people have squandered creativity and patience dealing with the crisis and the blockade. The Bolivarian government continues to prioritise social investment… but in economic matters, the past –which the revolution took a stand against – is recomposed within the state, and an informal version of Russia’s New Economic Policy of 1921 is born without Lenin or the Soviets.
[Simon] Bolívar, like other Latin American national heroes, resorted to the “blockade-breaking” ships that supplied the areas besieged by the Spanish Navy, high-sea negotiators who provided essential supplies and food for the war in exchange for gold. Necessity has a heretic, or evangelical, face if we study it. But the important thing is not to turn it into a virtue, not to qualitatively yield but to preserve the founding principles of the revolution, inscribed more in the spirit and message of Chávez than in the letter of the law, inscribed in the creative powers of the people who invoke [popular Venezuelan writer, poet and Marxist playwright] Aquiles Nazoa.
For example, there is something called the Productive Workers’ Army in Venezuela (EPO), which is made up of more than 2,000 technicians and skilled workers, able to intervene to restore productive capacity in different factories and public and private companies which have been paralysed, semi-paralysed or which suffer maintenance problems.
They repair machines, equipment and installations, and manufacture the parts that are needed. They don’t charge, they don’t ask for anything except accomodation and food. They are the ones who kick-started the La Gaviota sardine canning plant in Cumaná city [in Sucre state], and solved problems at PDVSA facilities in Falcón state.
But the proposed assistance they offered to the Caracas Metro, the University Hospital of Caracas and other health centres which looked to repair hundreds of air conditioners and mechanical systems was rejected after “a pseudo-study” carried out by a bureaucracy which is in favour of importing and the opportunities which go with the importing business. Free? No thanks. There is no commission in free services…
Let us look at Cuba, which has been bent so much without breaking after more than half a century of illegal and cruel Yankee blockade but which continues to set an example to the world. It is in this way that the struggle against the blockade [in Venezuela] will make us stronger, as long as we dont start resembling the enemy or resort to the old clumsy weapons of the Fourth Republic. This struggle will prevent us from incubating the snake’s egg of a new bourgeoisie.
Solving and controlling this phenomenon is not only vital for us, but is important for all the peoples of the world who, for a century, have seen their revolutions crushed, betrayed, bureaucratised and degenerated because they have not been able to prevent a return to the old system. Popular participation and protagonism is not a concession; it is a guarantee against the return of dominant bourgeois thought.
Amid their criticisms of the government, working people continue to give a tacit vote of confidence to the revolution and reject the offers and threats of the empire and its regional lapdogs. But Bolivarian socialism is like a plane that only flies when it goes forward: if it stops it will get lost.
We can buy and sell in dollars, we can invent and err, we can be kings of tactical alliances with God and the Devil, but there is one thing we cannot do at the risk of losing everything: stop and/or return to the past.
There is one thing we can and should do, however, and that is encourage and support grassroots organisations, the grassroots movement. In this difficult hour,the slogan must be that of Chávez: commune or nothing. In addition to resisting, it is not a question of managing “what we have” but of continuing with the permanent transformation of Venezuela, which belongs to the working people.
 The massacres of Barlovento and Cariaco both occurred in 2016. In the former, twenty youths were arrested by state security forces in Miranda State, of which twelve later appeared dead and the remaining eight released. Fourteen military officials were subsequently arrested. In Cariaco, nine fishermen were killed and four were injured in a drive-by shooting in Sucre State. Five National Guardsmen were later arrested.
Eduardo Rothe is a philosopher and journalist. A former member of the Venezuelan Communist Party, he was an advisor to the minister for information under President Chavez and has since been a prominent columnist in a number of left-wing Venezuelan websites.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.