Venezuela: The Left, Context, Prices and the Market

How shall we put today’s revolutionary left in Venezuela into context? Is the left a movement of transformative action, or is it a simple ideological protocol that presupposes a pre-established discursive contract?

Originally published on February 13, 2014 in

How shall we put today’s revolutionary left in Venezuela into context?

Is the left a movement of transformative action, or is it a simple ideological protocol that presupposes a pre-established discursive contract? Off the bat, we can count 15 years since this country has begun to refer to itself as a revolutionary process in action, with a government that identifies with the emancipatory ideals emanating from that process. However, over the years, the revolutionary purpose seems to be losing more and more steam in face of the facts.

Since last year, having traversed the crossroads of trying out the rentier economy, under the illusion that the State could indefinitely subsidise the material interests of both the poor and the rich, the scheme fell to pieces having reached the limits of the subsidiary income. And with the scheme also came down the centralist and protostatist ideological protocols of the State’s capitalism as the inaugural transition to socialism, so well defended by radicals and reformers. What we’re left with is the Robinsonian premise; right now, “either we invent or we fail.” In the people’s struggle, we ask that the subsidising scheme be completely inverted, beyond any external communist desire, and repositioned at its primary origin; the need to develop the creation of productive activities, rejecting solely private accumulation and emphasising collective need and direct participation in this development.

1. On what present do we act

Reality, in its crudest form, shows:

-Economic Data: This country’s gross domestic product (the development of its productive activities) continues percentage-wise to be land owned by the bourgeoisie (basically importers and bankers, with a small industrial and agricultural portion which is being increasingly consolidated by the Polar foods monopoly and transnational corporations), and the third market (comprised of the service economy, telecommunications and merchants) where the State is heavily involved percentage-wise, exclusively due to the weight of the petroleum corporate economy (the State capitalism), in the hands of the PDVSA (the state oil company).

-The economic data shows that, in summary, not only has the basic structural scheme of the rentier economy not changed, but it remains in the hands of the corporate-petroleum, monopolistic and oligopolistic capital. On the contrary, the perverse and unequal character of this scheme has increased. The model of rentier-consumer development is the same, preserving all forms of agricultural and industrial sovereignty. Maintaining the daily movement of millions of rentier wealth into the hands of capital, whose evolution is in a position that abruptly favours importer parasites and banking capital.

-But the most important and egregious point of all this is the impossibility in this regressive environment, the absence of a definite, progressive process towards a fully socialist economy. Attempts towards that end have been and continue to be made by all, including the most advanced initiatives emanating from the working class, fisherman, small farmers, miners, the indigenous, and self-managed urban communities. But this has ended up in official propaganda games. In reality, what we have is a definite intent on the part of the working class and the people in struggle to socialise the means of production, which have been mostly crushed by the joint action of capitalist agents and established bureaucrats, independent of the good faith and internal struggle of the ethical-political focuses of the public administration. In conclusion, the percentage hidden in the GDP of this economy is practically nothing. And this brings us directly to the political problem.

*Political Data:* The failure to achieve structural transformation with regard to the material bases on which we construct our lives as a society does not exist in and of itself in the economy but in the confrontation of interests and power plays. The Bolivarian Revolution, centered on sovereignty, justice, democratisation and socialisation from the beginning, that Chávez tried to synthesise and radicalise with the 21st century thesis, has collided since the very first years with the political agents who were accumulating political power under the protection of the very same commander. And it converted itself into a sustained petite-bourgeoisie in a massive popular mobilisation supporting the revolution, but totally contrary to the demand for power de-concentration, transparency and the people’s movement’s direct participation in public power.

This created very early on an increasing antagonism between the State and the people in struggle, generating an irreversible contradiction. At the same time – to make the story less desperate – these political agents in high-ranking positions of power and state and political party representation, are ultimately subjecting their power plays to their own interests, which over the years are not only those of the usual arrogant bureaucracy and petite-bourgeoisie, but also of a new bourgeoisie in creation or already created that each day sucks enormous amounts of wealth, thanks to income management, currency exchange and the State’s corporate-bureaucratic scheme which ultimately feeds it.

-The political facts remain synthesized with respect to the people’s movement in its failure to radically transform State-societal relations and conform to a movementism revolving around the commands of a constituted power speaking to those it considers its political base, and by chance remembering the resources it will give and then leave. We won’t find any horizontal relationship with the people’s power there because there isn’t one. This is reflected in the State’s very culture and structure, as in its largest institutions: Armed Forces, Judicial and Legislative Authorities, health systems, education, food, communications, regional and local authorities, basic State enterprises, the Central Bank and public banking system, PDVSA, which have greatly changed the discourse, placing it in an ultimately radical and sovereignist anti-capitalism belonging to the inherited discourse of President Chávez, but continuing to be the same dreadful mess that does nothing to free society from its historical relationships with oppression and exploitation.

-From the political point of view, we can conclude that there has not been a collective vanguard capable of avoiding becoming a new, politically powerful, “briefcase” bourgeoisie, repeatedly using the same rhetoric until it becomes cynical (a Pedro Carreño speaking of country, honesty and socialism, for example). The wider vanguard becomes divided between social movements that are fed politically and economically by being coupled to the scheme, receiving limited or more lucrative favours depending on the case. A people in struggle working in the face of greatly limited resources, frequently tortured and murdered with complete impunity, yet still firmly weaving the fabric of basic revolutionary organisation. Its most subjective powerlessness is really now due to the impossibility of confronting its immediate bureaucratic enemy. And finally what we would call an “unpredictable people,” a conscious and disperse crowd that has internalised revolutionary desire, whose relative silence, doubts, ambiguities, and ignorance may at any moment revert and declare a restart of the rebellion against this reality that repeats its odious history. A people that otherwise has manifested its total rejection of the most active oppositional fascism; recalling the terror and violence against the poor if necessary, using the dysfunction and failure of the bureaucracy as its excuse. It is libertarian subjectivity that keeps us hoping even while that hope is paralysed.

*Socio-cultural Data*- But beyond the economic and political problematics that compose the material and subjective basis for this history, we equally have a social totality related to the lower strata concretely evolving on no less than four situations.

-A middle strata that continues to live on the same scheme depending from the start on “petroleum progress,” small businesses, services and stores, socially stable and culturally very conservative and fearful of any change, complemented by another privileged, salaried layer that has generally seen its income drastically reduced, generating true hatred for its loss of previous privileges. Only those who achieved management positions in corporations and transnationals were saved.  This is a group who first tend to leave the country in search of higher income, taking with them knowledge learned at university and through work experience, generating a transnational network that is effectively accusational and counterrevolutionary. Only a small fragment of these middle class groups has managed to contribute to the construction of a new society and life based on solidarity and the pleasure of collective compromise, having been cases of extraordinary support. However, this process has done practically nothing to rescue and increase this extremely important social group and convince it to work for the common good. On the contrary, many of these few “revolutionaries” end up serving and abetting the strangest and most profitable areas of corruption created by State capitalism’s corporate model, tossing their initial utopian desires in the trash.

-Another part of working society as yet unmobilized but seeing relative improvement in their quality of life through favours received through income redistribution and employment in the general bureaucracy, but stagnant from the productive and cultural point of view; a group without greater spirit, fruit of the petroleum curse.  A large part of this group has of late been working to add to their income through subsidy monetarisation, and in this way satiate a consumerism that culturally envelopes them. That is to say, they convert the few dollars that fall into their hands or the cheap merchandise given to them such as gasoline or mercal, into individual earnings currency, which is then spent in the market and supports retailers and distributers.

Then we have a society in movement, sometimes salaried, working class, other times merchants or producers, culturally active, taking advantage of favours to create in their place new areas of survival that assume new forms of organisation and small scale production, but that feed and enrich the self-managed and culturally creative social fabric. This is the strong and generally “chavista” fabric where we have the noblest and most productive weave of our present social history.

-And finally we find ourselves cursed by the socially marginal that over the years of violence increases paramilitarism, sicario contract killers and drugs, deliberately introduced by both immigrant and native populations. They form a very minority strata but one that is terribly degrading, which down the road sucks up youth who see no future, starting in the poor neighbourhoods and prisons, ultimately becoming a powerful armed mass able to wreak terror and murder upon the very place they come from. This is of course not a mass that can grow without the direct assistance and collaboration of agents of the State and regional sectors that economically dominate everything in the field, prefiguring the same social fascism that has been able to settle in in Colombia, Mexico, and Central America, with the perverse endorsement of the global capitalist order.

*Data from today’s situation:* If we transverse these three economic, political and social elements, what do we essentially encounter? A society that has for the most part effectively changed and evolved from a subjective viewpoint – culturally and politically – materially benefitting from indirect gifts but generally being impoverished in terms of joint productive activities. With this material balance grazing the people’s spirituality, comes the more negative aspects of the Fourth Republic: profiteering, corruption, bureaucracy, private monopolistic parasitism, social violence. This paradox of opposing antagonisms over many years doesn’t want to admit, thanks to the ideological protocol that in the government deprives of course the interests of new and old bourgeoisies marvelling at their earnings and very well installed between their labyrinths of privilege and political decisions.

-But we have already arrived at the cusp of the possibilities to reproduce this contradictory history: petroleum revenues ruin the possibilities for subsidising a terribly unequal society. It is impossible for the revolution to maintain these inherited contradictions. There is no peaceful revolution in this sense, the contradictions must not only be overrode but also destroyed. Inflation, fiscal deficit, devaluation of the bolívar in form and fact, the flight of capital and goods, shortage of consumables, wage depreciation, are inevitable facts, not due  – or only slightly – to a supposed “economic war” by external forces or conspiracies confronted by the natural economic cycle. They are the same contradictions that lead up to peaceful conservation like the tide, and then break within their own economic cycle, but in this case in favour of capital instead of labour. In this case, the absence of a lack of a revolutionary decision “from the bottom up” demanding an end to rent-seeking, paralyzing subsidies and State corporatism, inverts all correlation of forces in favour of self-governance by the people, self-management of resources and collective productivity. A subject that obliges the complete transformation if the termination of State structures and culture, through a people’s process openly constituted from now on to accompany the self-governing and productive insurgency.

*2. Why has it been impossible up to now to invert the profit protocol budgets?*

Something very curious has happened over the last few days at the root of the economic, and particularly exchange rate, measures taken by the government. There are apparently two antagonistic blocs in the debate within the chavista universe and those supporting the government. The “pro-Giordani” bloc (in favour of the Cadivi currency control) supported by a militant left whose criticism is not being more centralised, implying nationalization of banking, foreign trade, etc. And a condensed, unidentified bloc called by its enemy wing as the “column-removers,” that considers more or less everything to the contrary (for which it is accused of being “neoliberal”) and which, in its principal documents (especially ¿Qué Hacer? What to do?) definitively suggests a radical deconcentration of real political and productive power over the organised social fabric and the capacity to self-govern, never forgetting the alternative to State capitalism.

Beyond the economic efficiencies that might suppose one or another model for change, what is incredible in this debate is there are those who, rooted in a method of currency system reform, speak of bands and flexibility but change nothing, just political discussion and the division between reform and revolution like some latter-day Rosa Luxembourg. A lot of state control and a very overvalued currency is very revolutionary (imagine this obviously related to a totally nationalised, albeit hidden, economy), whereas recognising the market as inexorably global when there is no worldwide revolution, totally entrusting the people, organised in their struggle, to defeat it on its sustained ground with collective intelligence and productivity, is the most reactionary.

That we are still considering the problem in these terms supposes a terrible paralysis of revolutionary thought where the most apparently radical continue to stick to a rusted, completely useless vision, totally disinterested in the complexity of the world we live in today and assuming that a splinter group of bureaucrats will know how to resolve what they call a “transition to socialism.” Also trying to give truth to facts that contradict what is “really happening” (a brutal, crude, traitorous transfer of wealth in currencies managed by the State to the briefcase bourgeoisie created in the BCV offices; PDVSA and CADIVI and the diseased traditional and banking oligarchy) that has destroyed the entire productive base of this country (the definitive reason why the exchange rate is being devalued every day). It seems not to be true (then who the hell literally robbed $20 million dollars under the previous scheme from SICAD, as well as so many other times that it’s happening on a daily basis?) It’s incredible to debate which nationalised sector without recognising that in reality, in the end, the value of labour has been destroyed and with it, the productive context necessary to guarantee the socialisation process envisioned by the revolutionary project. And it’s only now that we recognise that a State born out of the petroleum revenues of 1920s can only be a rentier state, monoproductive, horribly corrupt, closed in on itself, where sovereignty is only discussed with the lofty rhetoric of Homeland, Chávez and Bolívar. But the solutions suggested in this universe of debate only go to reaffirm this insanity.

The reason for this paralysis is not easy to find. It has a lot to do naturally with the nature of the corporate bureaucracy born in those years, but above all in a systematic criminalisation of the resistance that has been attacked from all sides, and the birth of the very peculiar class interests of this “briefcase bourgeoisie” that controls the fundamental threads of petroleum revenue distribution, concentrating on social successes that are smaller and smaller and more and more corrupt, and that in the end have created the conditions so that the mobilised and grassroots democracy that we had 10 years ago has been crushed by the party’s electoral functionaries. The paralysis of thought following Marxist determinism is the paralysis of productive forces, the only factor that can put an end to exploitative production.

So what, then, should the debate be? Nobody here is defending market socialism. Here, the mess we’re in is deciding as a people to construct a socialism (or better yet, a radically anticapitalist, libertarian, sovereignist, Our American societal proposition) within a world subsumed by the global capitalist market, that Claudio Katz describes very well in his continental consequences, clarifying that if there is an “economic war,” it is one that leaves us mired in monoproductivism managed by the same local and transnational bourgeoisies.

So is it possible for an effective rebellion from within to include some peace at least? Up to what point have we advanced and what has been completely wrong? Is it still possible to have a socialist government? What does it mean today to transfer the means of production to the working class?

*3. And again, what should we do?*

To answer that, it is fundamental to invert the terms of the transition to socialism premise, leaving completely aside the closed mentality about borders, of a proletariat that produces nothing but the subsidy given to its businesses, and a society that doesn’t eat unless it is gifted its food and employment. In today’s world, where international borders are open to speedy financial capital but brindle at any national circumstance, it is not in the ideological protocol but in transformational and mass action that we must concentrate, creating and recuperating all means of production possible, demanding that the State horizontalise its institutions in the face of the people’s and workers’ power, and a macroeconomic framework that fully favours national productivity, guaranteeing all constitutionally awarded rights.

Even if it is not asked for, in the end it matters little if a “free market” is declared in this context. We can overcome the market with sovereign productivity directed towards the common good, socialising precisely all the common goods that we need, starting with knowledge and the environment, the basic elements of human freedom. The market as a place for excellence in the creation of capitalist gains can be perfectly reinvested in our favour if the people can effectively govern their own destiny, and not the neoliberal way where great capital gains supposedly “trickle down” upon society, or in State capitalism that they say does the same, trickling down gifts but under bureaucratic orders that in turn control the market. False; the libertarian, Our American socialism means free and equal women and men who finally begin to produce what really belongs to the collective demand, creating the conditions to generate technology and the instruments of production that the people truly need to guarantee the process of liberation. Counting, if we still believe in them, totally transformed public institutions dedicated full time to favouring  these possibilities and not as they are now, where on the contrary, the State is armed throughout its territories and corrupt offices, making it more and more impossible to produce necessary goods.

If not a nationalised economy, what is being suggested may seem, even though the bureaucratic imagery of the left’s protocol is going in that direction, to be confused and reducing itself into a mediatised and propagandistic discourse, completely paralysing collective productive forces in favour of parasitic banking capital, then the scenario for class war to excel is the very same market. No, the State that supposedly gives a little more to the poor than to the rich, “represents” thusly the interests of the majorities. A market that only subsidises what is necessary for those in poverty to rise out of it, that guarantees free education and health, regulated by clear laws and courts, with permanent social oversight, avoiding transnational involvement that destroys our collective body firstly with the hell wrought by Monsanto and its seeds, and everything that comes with private monopolisation.

We need a non-State economy, prefiguring a society in permanent resistance that approaches communist and solidary ways of life, that demolishes the exploitation economy and private accumulation on its own ground, and in the face of its violence also knows how to respond to it. What matters in this context is vigilantly freeing the currency and gasoline. If we invert the already corrupt State market into a total market multiplying foodstuffs produced by the people, they can crush the private food monopolies. Only in this way can we favour a radical change of collective conscience so that through greater and greater mass, we realise that we are what we produce for all, that this is the greatest collective pleasure for humanity and the only way to grow spiritually and morally. And this we do know how to defend.

We have come back to what we were just saying, the revenue that subsidises the poor and the rich has ended, and it went bust in favour of the great capital, because in this corporate-bureaucratic model of State capitalism it could not be otherwise. If this demobilising, representative and corrupt scheme is maintained, there will be a right-wing coup and a destabilisation that in the present, politically paralysed context of “functionaries democracy,” the people’s response probably won’t be in their own benefit, but out of confusion and fear. We are living in too much decomposition for the people’s movement not to put itself into a state of political and productive emergency, thusly restoring its history and constructing the society that we truly desire.

Roland Denis is a leading intellectual and revolutionary in Venezuela.