Bolívar City and Venezuela in Ruins

Bolívar City and Venezuela in Ruins

Venezuela is breaking into pieces, and the violence in Bolívar City may be just the beginning.

The first victims of a riot are the rioters. That’s what the people of Bolivar City in Venezuela are learning right after the riots that took out 90% of its grocery stores in a matter of hours the weekend of December 16-18. Since 80% of the work force is dependent upon commerce, in addition to hunger, the population now faces a horrifying level of unemployment.

The reason for the riots? Look to the government of Comrade President Nicolas Maduro, “son of Chávez” and leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, who has ruled by decree for most of this year. The direct cause of the riots, however, began the weekend before.

In a country suffering the highest inflation rate in the world (estimated to come in at over 700% this year), with controlled currency dramatically overvalued, an economy utterly dependent on oil so that with slumping oil prices the imports (80% of what Venezuelans consume) imports have been cut to roughly a quarter of what they were two years ago, Maduro decided to deal with these problems by removing the highest value currency note from circulation. The 100 bolívar note (commonly referred to as “bolo” or “bolos”) is worth between 2 and 15 US cents, and the notes have lost so much value that most merchants have taken to weighing, rather than counting them.

The problem was not so much that he removed a bill from circulation, but how he did it. Without having a replacement currency (the bill is going to become a coin), on Sunday, December 11th Maduro gave Venezuela 72 hours to turn in their bills to the banks. The decree, however, was published two days later, on Tuesday the 13th, since Monday was a holiday, so Maduro changed his decree to begin 72 hours starting Tuesday. At last, or so Venezuelan’s believed, they had until Friday, December 16, 2016, to turn in their 100-bolo notes. In exchange they got 50, 20, 10 or even 2 bolo notes.

There were so many problems with this that they couldn’t all be enumerated here, but let’s start with the obvious. If a person brought in a box of 100-bolo notes (at two-cents value each, that might be a few of dollars worth) he would leave with two, five, ten, or more boxes of lower denomination bills. The logistics of getting those boxes home would be one problem fraught with even greater problems, especially given scarcity and cost of transport, crime, etc.

But often the banks haven’t got enough lower denomination notes to pay out, so they give “promissory notes,” but these aren’t currency, and they can’t be used to buy food. And if anyone was foolish enough to go to the ATM to get money, it would simply spit out 100 bolo notes…

There was also the problem of the lines to turn in the 100 bolo notes, some of them winding for blocks down the streets. So all of a sudden Venezuelans, who for two years have been cueing up to buy groceries, often spending up to ten hours in line for food, had to add into that another cue: this time to get rid of money before it became worthless.

You get the picture and it looks like chaos, right? But that’s not enough. The day after the deadline, in the midst of protests, riots, looting, a generalized uprising in various parts of the country, Maduro decided to continue the use of the note until January 2, 2017. He announced that the arrival of the new currency had been “sabotaged” and had “not arrived as I’d wanted.” Once again, or I should say, "as always," responsibility for the SNAFU was "imperialism" and the "oligarchy," not his own irresponsibility, incompetence, lack of planning, and improvisational approach to policy. And once again, he said he had proof, which, once again, he never produced.

Here we leave Nicolas, the boy crying wolf again, and turn to Bolívar City where gangs led by “prans” or prison gang leaders were calling people out into the streets to loot stores. While national guard and police looked on with crossed arms (not daring to go up against the well-armed “prans” and their followers) a wave of destruction swept over the city. It was perhaps no coincidence that the stores belonging to Chinese merchants were the main victims, as Venezuelans, hungry and desperate, grabbed whatever they could find of value, and destroyed the rest. As often happens, minorities take the brunt of the outrage that should be directed at governments.

Given the dire situation of the country, it didn’t take much to get people out into the streets to take what they needed or thought they could trade for what they needed. The desperation is growing in Venezuela where it now takes 17 minimum wage salaries to feed a family, and even professionals (like my friend, a college professor) only manage to eat for less than a week on their wage.

Certainly the tanking of the price of oil is one reason for the problems battering Venezuela today, but it’s not the only, or even the major, reason. Even in 2013, when the price of oil was hovering around US $100/barrel, this writer said that “the so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is bankrupt: morally, ideologically and economically.” But the socialist Left didn’t want to hear that, and further denunciations of the socialist wrecking-ball known as Chavismo (after founder Hugo Chávez) or the “Bolivarian Revolution” found no place in that or other left websites. So today the ineptitude, incompetence and irresponsibility of the “Son of Chávez”—who, indeed, replicates his “father” Hugo Chávez’s policies with stunning consistency—go unnoticed in most international left media.

Ironically, the riots that destroyed Bolívar City began on the anniversary of Bolívar’s death, December 17th (1830), in a city named after him, and one of historic significance in his struggle for independence. Bolívar City was formerly known as “Angostura,” and it was the site of the Second Congress of Venezuela in 1819 where “the Liberator” gave his great speech to the Congress, a speech laced with Enlightenment ideas.

Today that city where Enlightenment ideals were expressed in one of the most significant independence struggles of the Americas is now falling into darkness and chaos. The destruction of Bolívar City threatens to drag along with it the country where the project of “21st Century Socialism” promised a different outcome in Latin America to that of the socialism of the previous century in the USSR.

In the wake of the collapse of this project, the worldwide Left needs to open honest discussions about why these projects failed. Anarchists, libertarian socialists, democrats and others who always suspected Leninism—and the populism of the “caudillo” or strongman Chávez—will have important contributions to make to that discussion. That is, if the socialist left will allow our voices to be heard.


Dec 21 2016 22:47

Really interesting post, thanks for writing it up, I hadn't heard about this. Just one small thing, the sentence "on Sunday, December 11th Maduro gave Venezuela to turn in their bills to the banks" looks like it has a period of time missing between "Venezuelan" and "to turn in"

Dec 22 2016 04:51

I heard the story of the "prans" from a friend in Ciudad Bolivar and thought he was exaggerating. Now I see you confirming it. Kudos for reporting this nitty-gritty of the scene in Bolivar State, where the prison gangs are running the state.

Dec 22 2016 17:49

Yes, I corrected that (and made a few other changes) when I posted this at my website but don't have access to the "backend" here. It should read, "on Sunday, December 11th Maduro gave Venezuela 72 hours to turn in their bills to the banks." Thanks for pointing that out.

Dec 22 2016 22:06

Thanks for this write-up Crossly. I still can't believe that there are lefties that defend the so-called Bolivarian revolution.

Dec 22 2016 23:26
Crossly wrote:
Yes, I corrected that (and made a few other changes) when I posted this at my website but don't have access to the "backend" here. It should read, "on Sunday, December 11th Maduro gave Venezuela 72 hours to turn in their bills to the banks." Thanks for pointing that out.

hey, you should be able to edit articles. Let me know if you can't

Dec 23 2016 14:24

Always welcome here - hopefully this one will also be picked up on the libcom Facebook page.

Dec 26 2016 01:18

I always remember Chavez had the nerve to read Kropotkin's letter to Lenin, calling him only a 'socialist'. Look at what a farce he is.

Jan 4 2017 18:15

The International Communist Party (Il Partito Comunista) recently published some articles by their comrades in Venezuela:

In Venezuela, most of the reformist parties and groups active on the left, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, along with those who describe themselves as center-left and as the “left” wings of the conservative and right-wing parties, have accepted the notion that the country has lived through a genuine “Bolivarian revolution”, which raised the flag of “21st Century Socialism”, in the words of its ‘great leader’. Outside the country numerous groups, movements and parties have rushed to support “the march of change” which, beginning in Venezuela, will supposedly spread to Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, and thus link up with the old Stalinists in Cuba.

Due to the diplomatic pressure exerted by the United States and in the wake of the devastation wrought by the capitalist crisis, the reformist currents in Argentina, Paraguay, Honduras and (we think) in Brazil, after having benefited in recent years from the accumulation of capital mainly from China but also from Russia and elsewhere, have now lost control of the government in these countries.

The fact is, more so even than in Cuba, China and Russia, the “Bolivarian revolution” is a total farce and its program has nothing at all to do with socialism, even if we are fed the idea, day in day out, about how opposed it is to the “right wing”.

In Venezuela there is just State capitalism. Even before Chavismo got into government Venezuela was based on State capitalism, dependent on oil revenue. But Chavismo talks about using this revenue in the people’s favour. In fact the only new thing about it is its capacity to drug the masses with the democratic credo, with fame-seeking and popular participation and with the illusion that the government represents the interests of the poor. Chavismo was the political solution to the economic crisis in the 80s and 90s, which allowed the national bourgeoisie and foreign imperialism to maintain capitalist exploitation against a background of social peace.

Learning from the experience of those who rule Cuba, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie spread the same lie: that the economic crisis is just the product of the economic war conducted by a few “anti-patriotic” entrepreneurs, by “right-wing” parties, and by imperialism. It’s exactly what they want people in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia to believe as well.

A path to socialism?

No. It isn’t. The course of the Venezuelan economy is capitalist in every sense. Businesses, whether private or state-owned, produce commodities on the basis of the exploitation of wage labor. The possibility of accessing services and obtaining products is linked to monetary exchange, even when the State is directly involved in their distribution.

A Struggle against the bourgeoisie?

No, it isn’t. Despite the demagogic, high-flown speeches of the Chavista leaders against “the bourgeoisie”, the government has always managed to ensure that conditions are such that bankers, industrialists and merchants can continue to appropriate high profit margins. By imposing a cocktail of Keynes, Rooseveltian New Deal, liberalism, corporativism and fascism, Chavismo has transferred the oil revenue to the bourgeoisie.

State purchases, dubbed “social” or “socialist”, have allowed national and multi-national firms (Cuban, Argentine, Uruguayan, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, American, etc,) to access Consumers previously beyond their reach. To Venezuela’s badly paid population big business is now flogging food, medicine, mobile phones, white goods, utility vehicles, health care, public housing units, etc, etc.

But this major market is today menaced by the drop in oil prices.

This explains the launch of the “Great Mission” for “Food Self-sufficiency” [“sovranita’ alimentare”] advertised under the aberrant brand name “socialist commerce”, put into effect by organizing the inhabitants of the various districts into Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP) charged with distributing, at administered prices, food and personal hygiene products, which are in short supply, from various firms. This demagogic mobilization, as well allowing the government to scrape something together to compensate for the reduced oil revenue, and the capitalist impresario to empty his warehouse, serves to placate the masses, who are increasingly unhappy about food prices and the high cost of living in general.

In fact the local elections, the referendum (if it actually happens) and the presidential elections are all coming up soon. The unique ability of these opportunists lies in combining populist petty political wheeler-dealing, by manipulating the means of information, with the guarantee that the population will continue to receive a basic minimum of staple goods, at the same time as it guarantees the profit margins of the national capitalist production and the multinationals.

And yet despite presenting the CLAPs as the “alternative to capitalism” long queues form in front of the shops and stuff is sold on at speculative prices. Large-scale rioting and looting has also taken place.

Not even the CLAPs can avoid getting caught in the web of corruption as faction fights inside the Chavist movement and the government party continue, which are minimized by the media and transformed into an argument for an electoral contest between the Chavistas and the opposition.

Every time that a national or multinational company hits a crisis, closes down or threatens to close down, the government steps in with funding, or acquires the bankrupt firms, “expropriations”, which allow the capitalists to firms from the marketplace which are no longer competitive whilst obtaining a corresponding compensation. Sometimes a demagogic “workers control” is declared. While the bourgeois government dons a socialist mask, in fact it is providing financial assistance and perpetuating capitalist exploitation, taking the burden of failed companies off the bourgeoisie.

Meanwhile there is an increased military presence in almost every area of government administration, although it hasn’t prevented a new mafia of corrupt officials from replacing those of the 4th Republic: soldiers and civilians enrich themselves from dawn to dusk, despite the sharpening of the economic crisis.


No, it isn’t. The whole of Chavista economic policy is geared towards attracting foreign investment, with exploitation facilitated on easy terms, and guaranteed profits to the multi-nationals. And although they may define China and Russia as “socialist” and “progressive”, their fight against the North American government is only in words, and the oil trade continues unabated.

Do they govern in the workers’ interests?

No, they don’t. The Chavista bourgeois government has been anxious to “modernize” existing laws by redefining workers’ protests of all types as common crimes, regulated by the penal code. What is more the government has placed a ban on demonstrations and protests in a number of urban and industrial areas referred to as “security zones”. Although the regime unions, which disorganize the workers by collaborating with the bosses, undoubtedly predominate, the list of trade unionists arrested and charged is getting longer. Instead of the reduction in working hours promised by the government the working day has actually been intensified and lengthened. Already under the legal framework all-out strikes have been rendered impossible by insisting that minimum services be maintained. In addition there is a range of activities which have been classified as “essential” and therefore subject to strike bans. The Chavistas, constantly using as pretext the imperialist “menace” and the threat of a military coup, have both threatened the use of force against the workers’ struggles and actually used it, dependent as ever on the co-operation of the trade union bosses and federations.

The aim of the government’s wages policy, which sets rises by presidential decree, which run in parallel with the delay in signing collective contracts, and with the complicity of the trade unions, isn’t to improve the living standards of workers, but rather to set a minimum standard of living to head off working-class mobilization. The bourgeois government increases the nominal minimum wage each year, but the underlying tendency is that of a constant reduction in real wages.

Under capitalism a “workers’ government” is not possible; it is just a trap invented by the opportunists. The only workers’ government possible is the dictatorship of the proletariat which can only arise from the violent insurrection of the working class under the leadership of its communist party. Its task will be to bring the insurrection to a close by establishing the domination of the proletarian class and to lead the socialist transformation towards a society without classes, without private property, without commodities, without money, without states, without bosses.

A struggle between capitalism and socialism?

No. it isn’t. The struggle between the Chavistas in government and the right opposition is not between capitalism and socialism, despite all the waffle being put out in the propaganda campaigns of these two bands of political speculators. They are just fighting for control of the government in order to administer the interests of the bourgeoisie, reflecting inter-bourgeois and inter-imperialist contradictions over the control of the country and its oil revenue.

Nothing new under the sun.

By declaring the bourgeois republic to be communist, by maintaining the relations of capitalist production, by seeking to hide behind a revolutionary phraseology which includes counter-revolutionary terms: “socialist fatherland”, “socialist market”, “socialist form”, etc, the so-called “Venezuelan revolution” offers nothing to the working masses which opportunists in other parts of the world haven’t offered it already.

The international capitalist crisis takes its course, increasing the contradictions between proletariat and bourgeoisie. The working class will necessarily have to resume class struggle by lining up with its party, the international communist party, by breaking with the regime unions, by resisting appeals to defend the country, and by rejecting all the false socialisms which try to breath life back into the bourgeoisie and its capitalist regime.

Jan 4 2017 18:45

Apart from the nonsense about the Party that's a pretty good article. Informative about the anti-strike laws anyway, I hadn't heard about that