Venezuela, the Decolonial Alternative: A Conversation with Ramón Grosfoguel (Part II)

A distinguished author of the decolonial tradition talks about the crossroads Venezuela is facing.
Ramón Grosfoguel (Venezuelanalysis)

Ramón Grosfoguel is a Puertorican intellectual recognized for his work on the decolonization of knowledge and power. In part one of this interview, Grosfoguel talked about the continuity between the colonial and the neocolonial system in Venezuela. In part two, we discuss Venezuela’s options in terms of an economic model, and about the commune being the only real way for the revolution to survive.

You concluded part one of this interview by reflecting on the failed imperialist attempts to overthrow the Bolivarian government. Nonetheless, it is no secret that the sanctions have led to a liberalization of the Venezuelan economy. Right now, there are three currents within the Bolivarian Process: there is a tendency in favor of liberalizing the economy (some call it neoliberal); there is another that promotes the Chinese model; and there is a third that promotes the communal path to socialism. Can you talk about these three tendencies and their prospects?

The neocolonial elites – which are essentially fascist – want to repress the people and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution. They want to go back to the Fourth Republic, and they’re committed to neoliberalism.

However, within the ranks of the revolution, there are, as you mentioned, three positions or currents. None of them is hegemonic, so there is a struggle inside the process.

There is one sector that wants to subordinate the Bolivarian Revolution to neoliberal policies in the vain hope of appeasing US imperialism. In other words, they aim to maintain control over the state, but the economic policies that they promote are the empire’s. This is a reactionary response to the attack, and it’s also naive. The imperialists are overtly opposed to the revolution, and if you make economic concessions to them, they aren’t going to give in but just the opposite. To illustrate this, let’s look at Gaddafi in Libya. He thought that by making concessions and turning some oil wells over to Western corporations, the siege would end. But what happened to Libya? An outright invasion destroyed the country.

Imperialism isn’t just an economic system; it’s also a geopolitical civilizational system. The imperialists aren’t about to give up just because a country like Libya (or Venezuela for that matter) makes economic concessions to their interests. The imperialist elites want total control: it’s not enough for them if the Bolivarian elites turn neoliberal and are willing to liberalize the oil market. If they can, they will go all the way and destroy everything touched by the Bolivarian Revolution. This includes the Bolivarian elites who are willing to make concessions at the level of the economy in order to survive.

But let’s go back to Gaddafi to see why economic concessions don’t work: he thought that opening up would bring an end to imperialist aggressions, but the empire is never happy with a leadership that is not directly under its command. This means that you are not going to appease imperialism by giving up oil fields, implementing neoliberal policies, and opening up for investments. They’re going to go all the way to destroy you no matter what.

Then there is another consideration about the path of economic liberalization: it represents everything that the Bolivarian Revolution went against since its early days. The revolution emerged as a force opposed to neoliberal policies and in favor of sovereignty, including sovereignty over oil resources. If you give that up, what is left of the Bolivarian Revolution? Giving up those things would be a major betrayal. That’s why I would say that the tendency that promotes economic liberalization is counter-revolutionary.

Then you have the people who believe in the Chinese model. But what, really, is the Chinese model? China has a one-party system with an authoritarian state and a capitalist market economy. In fact, China today is the result of a coup that happened one month after Mao’s death in 1976. The coup was followed by a massive purge and “modernizing” reforms that opened the country to Western capitalist investment on a massive scale. What did they offer to the investors? Cheap labor and tax-free incentives.

China has been through a full transition and is now a capitalist superpower in the world economy. In fact, it has economically displaced the US and other European imperialist powers. However, China does have a different kind of capitalism which is not neoliberal and not imperialist, and that’s why they are allies in the struggle against US imperialism. China is a diplomatic and military ally, and that is very important.

But, once again, going back to the Bolivarian Revolution, what is the right path? Is a restoration like China’s desirable from a Left perspective? Whatmore, is the Chinese model viable in Venezuela?

The Chinese model isn’t applicable to Venezuela. I’ll tell you why. The viability of their model comes from a very particular geopolitical context that dates back to the 1970s, when China and the US came together in an alliance against the Soviet Union. That’s how the transfer of technology and capital resources from the US to China began to happen. China and the US were geopolitical allies, so the West was extremely happy to invest massively in China.

Now, going back to Venezuela, even if new laws favoring foreign investments are promoted by the National Assembly, we are not going to see the China situation repeated there. Venezuela cannot become a little China.

China is an ally, but is the Chinese model viable for Venezuela? Xi Jinping and Nicolás Maduro meet. (Minci)

Not only are the geopolitical conditions different when one compares China in the 1970s with Venezuela now, but Venezuela is under a brutal regime of sanctions that keeps potential investors – whether US investors or not – from investing in the country.

That’s right. Corporations are not going to invest in Venezuela while the risk of being sanctioned by the US is still there. That’s why even Chinese and Russian companies have had second thoughts about investing in the Caribbean nation.

At the end of the day, the debate about whether the Chinese model is good or not is irrelevant. The debate should be whether the application of the Chinese model is viable for Venezuela, and the truth is that it is geopolitically impossible to pursue it. No important corporation is going to invest in Venezuela the way they did in China some fifty years ago. China was an ally but Venezuela is an enemy.

That’s why I argue that the only alternative that is realistic for the revolution is to move beyond capitalism and into a communal economy. Chávez put the commune on the horizon precisely because he understood that it is the only viable model for Venezuela.

Am I saying this because I think the communal model offers a better life for the future? No, I’m actually talking in much more pragmatic terms. It’s only the communal economy that can give Venezuela sovereignty over its food, and that will be fundamental if there is an imperialist escalation. How is Venezuela going to survive if there is direct US aggression in military terms? Will the country survive by importing and exporting out of ports that will be literally blockaded? No, Venezuela’s only chance to survive would be through local production and communal power.

If you think about the Vietnamese Revolution, it resisted the invasion because it had communal production. They defeated the US because they were self-reliant in productive terms. That’s why I say that the commune is a strategic model in a geopolitical sense: it’s the only viable alternative for the security of the country.

For that reason, in addition to the commune being the utopian horizon of the Bolivarian Revolution, it also represents the possibility of survival in the face of an imperialist escalation in the very near future.

A communal assembly at the Chávez and Bolívar Commune in Carache, Trujillo. (Voces Urgentes)

We agree that the commune is the solution, but how can it become the hegemonic model for the Bolivarian Process?

I think there has to be a debate about strategy within the Bolivarian Revolution. In fact, it’s urgent to discuss the issue of security! In the next few years, the situation of US imperialism is going to further decay, and its last redoubt will be Latin America, the continent that they consider to be “their backyard.”

US imperialists lost in the Middle East and Africa and the whole of Asia to China. They recovered the European market with their fabricated war in Ukraine and the sanctions on Russia. But now that they have recovered Europe, what next? They are coming back to Latin America. They are being challenged by China in terms of trade in the region, and they want to regain control.

Let’s look at Chile. Chile has been a neocolony of the US since the CIA orchestrated the coup against Salvador Allende. However, commercially, Chile’s number one partner is China and not the US. So, even in a country where they practically control the political ecosystem, they are losing ground in economic terms.

That’s why regaining control of the region is a necessity for them. That’s also why the aggression against Venezuela is not going to stop. Honestly, I think it’s going to escalate, because the empire’s future is on the line and it depends on Latin America. If they lose the continent, the US empire is over, so they are going to fight for it until their last drop of blood.

Moreover, their interest in Venezuela is multilayered, because they also want its resources. Now, as the imperialist aggression escalates, the only way to resist will be the communal economy.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to survival. Just like the question is not so much whether we like the Chinese model or not, but whether it is viable, the same goes for the communal model. In that case, the question is if it can offer us a lifeline when faced with a US escalation. Clearly, the communal economy is the only lifeline for the revolution and for the people of Venezuela.

For the Bolivarian Revolution to survive the imperialist aggression over the next five or ten years, it must develop and consolidate the communal economy and communal power. Nothing else can hold out against an all-out US aggression. It’s a matter of life or death for the Bolivarian Revolution: either you communalize the economy and communalize power, or nothing will be left.

That’s why Chávez’s “Commune or Nothing!” slogan is more important than ever. In that phrase, “nothing” refers to being a new US colony. Since there is a consensus against this option, then the commune is the path. So, as you see, the debate shouldn’t center on whether we like the communal model or not, but around the very issue of life and survival. When everyone understands this, the communal model will become hegemonic.