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Politics of the Commons: The Problem with the Representation of the Majority

VA columnist Reinaldo Iturriza looks at the realignment of forces following the Barbados agreement and the lack of representation of the disaffiliated popular masses in Venezuela.

It is not by chance that there is a notable absence of analysis on the most important political phenomenon in Venezuela these days: political disaffiliation. Confronting this phenomenon would mean, for the political class as a whole, coming to terms with its own weaknesses, shortcomings, and hardships. Consequently, it is swept under the rug, as if it were dust, in order to maintain the appearance of cleanliness and good manners.

The immediate political effect of all this is the over-representation of this same political class and the under-representation of the vast majority of the disaffiliated popular masses. Whether the former antagonizes or eventually negotiates and comes to an agreement, the crucial point is that the latter does not feel truly represented.

In the specific case of María Corina Machado, it’s not just that she doesn’t represent an alternative. In reality, she is far from representing anything significant beyond that historically minority portion of the anti-Chavista movement that longs for the complete annihilation of an enemy to whom they attribute all the evils and all the blame. As a phenomenon, there is absolutely nothing new here: she embodies a certain anti-political fervor of elites who have been disoriented and bewildered since the moment Hugo Chávez came to power through democratic and electoral means.

Her prominence in recent times is largely due to the demise of the opposition political class, its persistent defeats, deep internal splits, and its inability to fulfill the promise of displacing the ruling class, despite determined U.S. support. It is a consequence of the resounding failure of the Guaidó experience, marked by its greed and incompetence. In contrast, Machado emerges as a steadfast and consistent figure, uncompromising and loyal to her principles, whatever they may be.

Additionally, by making her the target of constant criticism, the ruling class itself has long been committed to giving her a visibility and prominence that did not correspond to her real political weight. This has been one of its customary practices: construct an opponent tailored to its needs, one that, always according to its calculations, it can defeat with relative ease when the appropriate time comes.

Both circumstances, the demise of the opposition political class and the ruling class tendency to construct opponents tailored to its needs, are at the root of political disaffiliation. In the first case, it seems clear that disaffiliation is the product of defeat; in the second case, on the other hand, disaffiliation comes as the result of what the ruling class has done to secure its victories.

If the Venezuelan experience teaches us anything, it is that a ruling class that has in its political practice made a rule of constructing opponents tailored to its needs will eventually face the serious difficulty in accurately assessing the historical conflict that once led it to antagonize the forces championing a project with an anti-national and anti-popular orientation. Popular support lied in representing the interests of the majority. However, from the moment the goal of remaining in power takes precedence over the interests of the base as a whole—meaning when the interests of the political class itself supersede those of the majority—a political realignment becomes possible, including the coming to an understanding with some of the forces once considered antagonistic. This realignment inevitably involves making programmatic concessions, which ends up jeopardizing not only the content of the national and popular project but fundamentally the base itself. In a very summarized manner, this is what has been happening in Venezuela since 2016.

The October 26th event held at a hotel in Eastern Caracas was an expression of the form that this realignment of forces has ultimately taken. The venue brought together high-level representatives of the Government, including the President of the Republic, with the heads of trade and industrial guilds Fedecámaras, Conindustria, Fedeindustria, churches, media owners, universities, governors, the pro-government workers’ confederation, lawmakers, and more. It was characterized by a consensus around the agreements signed a week earlier in Barbados by representatives of the government and the opposition: one of a partial nature, relating to the “promotion of political rights and electoral guarantees for all,” and another for the defense of assets and resources of the nation illegally seized abroad. Similarly, there was consensus regarding the opportunity that arose with the partial lifting of sanctions by the United States, announced following the signing of the Barbados agreements.

If we can gather anything from what we could call “The Eurobuilding Pact”, it is that this emerging bloc of forces deems a presidential candidacy like that of María Corina Machado inappropriate. Furthermore, as I have previously suggested, she lacks the support of a majority of the opposition political class, including a reluctance by some of those who are still hesitant to join this novel bloc of forces. This would, in turn, explain the actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court against the primaries held on October 22, in which Machado emerged as the overwhelming winner.

In other words, María Corina Machado’s weakness stems from the fact that she does not represent a mass phenomenon. She is not exactly an outsider, as some have tried to portray her, but an improbable candidate from within the system, who reached her peak of popularity at the wrong historical juncture— a time when a new bloc of forces seeks to rejuvenate the same system, isolating the elements that could hinder the political peace and coexistence resulting from the agreement between the forces that make up this bloc.

Nevertheless, this analysis would be incomplete if we failed to observe, in our judgment, the decisive circumstance: this realignment of forces does not mean that the ruling class is anywhere near solving the problem of representing the majority. At best, the working class will play a subordinate role in the new bloc of forces; but the situation is actually more serious: it can hardly be said that it is truly represented.

One of the explicit purposes of the new agreement is to ward off the “useless polarization” -literally, from the text- that prevailed during the early years of Hugo Chávez’s rule. Perhaps this is the most significant inherent flaw in the aforementioned agreement: the incorrect characterization of a time that was marked by the historical conflict between two antagonistic visions for the country; a conflict that had the popular majority as the protagonist well into the second decade of this century. Such a judgment error may allow us to explain the enormous difficulty by the ruling class to understand, on one hand, that there can be no democratic resolution of the political conflict without the prominence of the popular majority, and on the other hand, that in the absence of this element, the political scene will remain polarized: on one side, the ruling class restructuring a bloc of forces with a portion of the economic elite, and on the other, disaffiliated majority who will eventually proceed to resolve the issue of political representation in their own way.

Reinaldo Iturriza López is an activist, writer, and sociologist with a degree from Venezuela’s Central University. He is the author of several books, including 27 de Febrero de 1989: interpretaciones y estrategias and El chavismo salvaje.

Iturriza López, father of Sandra Mikele and Ainhoa Michel and Venezuelan baseball enthusiast, is a former Culture Minister and Communes and Social Movements Minister. He also headed the Audiovisual Production School at Ávila TV. He writes regularly for the blog Saber y Poder.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.