An open letter on the situation in Venezuela, to the comrades of the FEL and El Libertario - Nosotros los Pobres

Rioting in Caracas

An open letter to anarchists in Chile and Venezuela, taking a nuanced look at the wave of protests against the Maduro government.

Two weeks ago, Nosotros los Pobres had the good fortune to host a presentation by two members of the Federacion de Estudiantes Libertarias of Chile, with whom we had a very productive exchange of ideas. Soon after that, I saw a statement published by the FEL, commenting on the situation in Venezuela, in which they expressed sympathy for the “Venezuelan people” in their resistance against a coup d’etat. As a member of Nosotros los Pobres, I wanted to share some thoughts about Venezuela and what’s going on there, both now and for the last 15 years, and I hope they will be useful for especifista comrades as well as for concerned and informed people generally.

The first observation, in response to the assertions of my Chilean comrades, is that there isn’t going to be a coup de etat en Venezuela. With what army? The Venezuelan army, part of which was always a stronghold for Chavez, has been thoroughly purged and ideologized—this isn’t the same kind of army as in any other Latin American country. Possibly a sector of the Chavistas themselves would move against Maduro’s faction, but they wouldn’t be doing it in league with Lopez and Machado or the MUD.

Second, the “Bolivarian Revolution” isn’t socialism, even by the standards of Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia. Private property and enthusiastic engagement with world capitalism, even dependence on it, are the hallmarks of the Bolivarian state in practice, whatever its rhetoric. It’s not that Chavismo hasn’t improved the lot of the Venezuelan working class, as it certainly has, according to statistics of poverty, employment, etc. Chavez and his party have even practiced some degree of solidarity with genuinely autonomous movements—grants to the worker owned Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires, for example. But in the final analysis, Chavismo in practice is a populist capitalism (populism having been updated to include alliances with autonomia), akin to, say, Peronismo–which also improved the lives of Argentine workers in its time. Like Peronismo, Chavismo has facilitated the creation of a new elite (la Boliburguesia) and instituted repression and clientelism in labor and other social movements—particularly troublesome is the repression against indigenous peoples whose development plans don’t coincide with the government’s.

All that said, the protests that are going on in Venezuela are made up basically of the radical right and whatever popular sectors they’ve been able to get to follow them—not without the support of US imperialism, which has poured money into student organizations in Venezuela. I can’t cite sources, but it seems entirely plausible that the grave shortages of basic necessities have been created by capitalists who oppose the regime; certainly the comrades from Chile would recognize the historical precedents. Even more important, and I point this out to the comrades from El Libertario, it is certain that the working class is not out in the street. This is a mobilization of the middle classes; proponents of workers’ self organization have no place there.

On the other hand, to say, with the FEL, that we support the “legitimately elected government” of Nicolas Maduro, is an abdication of our responsibility to bear witness to what the state and capitalism are. It’s sad, comrades, but can’t we foretell with near certainty what the fate of the Bolivarian state will be? We’ve seen enough of populist movements with anti-imperialist rhetoric in Latin America that we have an idea of where they’re headed—whether Argentina after Peron, the Mexico of the PRI, Peru after Velasco; or to be more contemporary, Dilma Rousseff in Brasil. Even Leonel Fernandez and company are basically of the same ilk, only Juan Bosch didn’t have enough time in power to leave a lasting impression in the consciousness of the working class. In spite all the differences of ideology and historical conditions, all of those movements left a common legacy in their respective societies—the legacy of oligarchy.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that Hugo Chavez was deeply concerned with social justice and equality (a contention that we by no means take as granted); with Chavez dead, his movement will drift further and further from those ideals, and the “pragmatic” (read, ambitious and opportunistic) elements will gradually rise to the top. Why? Because change isn’t made by well intentioned individuals, change is made by class struggle—and no one with full use of their faculties can claim that the working class is in power in Venezuela. Chavez followed the old path of populist change from above, and that’s why he died leaving an entrenched military, bourgeois and intellectual class firmly in control of Venezuelan society.

All this is not to say that the Venezuelan people won’t attempt to defend the real gains that they’ve made in the last 15 years. As that happens, we will be able to identify trends and currents that we can wholeheartedly support, so that instead of proclaiming our abstract solidarity with the “People of Venezuela” (all the while meaning the chavista movement), we can work materially toward changes in their lives. Opportunities will come for us as the chavistas move to the right, and we will see currents like those we’ve seen in Bolivia, where the movement that put Evo Morales in power has repeatedly resisted being coopted by him (ex. Gasolinazo 2011). Those are the elements we have to identify and ally ourselves with—not that we can expect to find, ready made, a mass movement that identifies with our values. We can, however, in a situation like the one in Venezuela, expect to find sectors of mass movements that can have a significant impact on events, and that are committed in varying degrees to objectives like decisions made democratically at a local level and an economy run by working people.

That’s very different from taking the streets alongside the rightist opposition, as some comrades have suggested doing; and different, as well, from defending the Venezuelan government from a phantom coup de etat. The right are the ones who are on the streets today. But the protests began because of an incident of sexual harassment at a university in Tachira; surely we don’t want to be in the position of having to accept sexual harassment because to protest would be to “materially support imperialism”? Comrades, to be complicit in the support of another populist government that will eventually leave the working class cynical, and disillusioned with all self-activity, isn’t that materially supporting imperialism as well? If a real coup were likely, it might be that we would have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Maduro against something worse; but at the moment, it seems more appropriate to stand to one side, watch and wait to see if a genuine autonomous current begins to develop, one that we can support to defend Venezuela both from imperialism and from oligarchy. If we remain in the shadows of an imperialist movement that despises us, tailing an authoritarian movement that doesn’t share our values, if we fail to offer working people an alternative to the well worn paths that have already failed us, we shouldn’t be surprised when what we get looks very much like what we’ve always gotten.

From http://nosotroslospobres.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/an-open-letter-on-the-situation-in-venezuela-to-the-comrades-of-the-fel-and-el-libertario/

Comments

bakuninja
Feb 27 2014 18:06

interesting perspective

gomes l
Feb 26 2014 13:43

very interesting analysis. But who wrote it? No information on the web, the blog seems to have been created for this single post.

S. Artesian
Feb 26 2014 14:46

Good analysis, but "standing aside" isn't an option. Mobilization, independent of and without endorsing the government is necessary.

Steven.
Feb 26 2014 15:33
gomes l wrote:
very interesting analysis. But who wrote it? No information on the web, the blog seems to have been created for this single post.

yeah, we would like more information about this as well

Caiman del Barrio
Feb 26 2014 18:40

Nosotros Los Pobres are - I think? - a bilingual activist group based in NYC.

Caiman del Barrio
Feb 26 2014 19:14
Steven. wrote:
All that said, the protests that are going on in Venezuela are made up basically of the radical right and whatever popular sectors they’ve been able to get to follow them—not without the support of US imperialism, which has poured money into student organizations in Venezuela.

I think this is contentious, and needs both qualifying (ie how significant this actually is) and supporting (with references). I've read a number of first hand accounts from students who are anything but 'radical right' (in and of itself a terminology borrowed from the conspiratorial rhetoric of chavismo - actually, the notion that Venezuela should become a standard Latin American clientelist state without the lipservice to protectionism is centrist/centre-right across the continent as a whole), and I was in Venezuela during the last bout of student demos in 2010, and I found the relationship between them and the opposition (then far weaker than today) to be ambiguous and over-stated: http://libcom.org/blog/no-light-no-water-now-not-very-much-moneywhat-next-venezuela-31012010

Quote:
I can’t cite sources, but it seems entirely plausible that the grave shortages of basic necessities have been created by capitalists who oppose the regime;

Absence of actual evidence makes this a conspiracy theory. I'm not sure who would put this in a serious critical piece taking on first hand sources based outside the country. Not in good faith anyway. After all, this has been the constant refrain of chavismo since the outset and it's a useful mechanism for explaining away the huge economic problems in the country.

Besides, who are these antichavista capitalists? Certainly Cisneros has just indicated his support for Maduro, and Fedecamaras have refused to get involved, while Chevron have signed off a new deal during the demonstrations.

Quote:
Even more important, and I point this out to the comrades from El Libertario, it is certain that the working class is not out in the street. This is a mobilization of the middle classes

More speculation, this time mixed with essentialist three class analysis. It is of course significant to note the demographics of demonstrators, but it risks nosediving into a basically ignorant series of class stereotypes. Could the author possibly define what a Venezuelan middle class person looks like, believes, owns, desires? Could the author do that in their own country?

FWIW 95% of 'political' demonstrations I've ever attended (ie city centre, as opposed to picket lines/occupations etc) have been dominated by the sociological middle class and I would suggest that the international anarchist community is also dominated by the middle class. Posting critiques of minor, moribund protest movements in other countries is a pretty middle class endeavour by my book.

Quote:
That’s very different from taking the streets alongside the rightist opposition, as some comrades have suggested doing;

Actually, Uzcátegui has repeatedly stated that the revolutionary left in Venezuela is a 'spectator' to events.

Quote:
The right are the ones who are on the streets today.

Sorry, but repeating this doesn't make it necessarily a fact. There have been demonstrations across the country, not just the ones led by López in Caracas. Indeed, even dirt poor, working class Caracas barrios like Petare have seen barricades erected (unlike 2010, where the barrios were quiet...and 2002 when they largely mobilised against the coup).

Quote:
But the protests began because of an incident of sexual harassment at a university in Tachira; surely we don’t want to be in the position of having to accept sexual harassment because to protest would be to “materially support imperialism”?

Quite! Sorry this has taken more twists than Twin Peaks, I'm getting lost here. The author seems to want their cake and eat it.

Quote:
Comrades, to be complicit in the support of another populist government that will eventually leave the working class cynical, and disillusioned with all self-activity, isn’t that materially supporting imperialism as well? If a real coup were likely, it might be that we would have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Maduro against something worse; but at the moment, it seems more appropriate to stand to one side, watch and wait to see if a genuine autonomous current begins to develop, one that we can support to defend Venezuela both from imperialism and from oligarchy. If we remain in the shadows of an imperialist movement that despises us, tailing an authoritarian movement that doesn’t share our values, if we fail to offer working people an alternative to the well worn paths that have already failed us, we shouldn’t be surprised when what we get looks very much like what we’ve always gotten.

OK a number of problems here:

#1 Uzcátegui - and other commentators like the (antichavista Trot) PSL have described themselves as interested observers who aren't directly participating. I've stopped checking my emails but I think some El Libertario members may have done paper sales at some of the early demos, which makes sense if your main activity is producing a newspaper. I would personally advocate a more intelligent, proactive praxis but I understand that it's totally unfair to dictate to folk from across an ocean, especially when they're in a place with such a dangerous, criminal and homicidal ruling class/security apparatus like Venezuela. However, largely, your argument against activity is pointless cos all of your fellow travellers have already decided on that course.

#2 If you believe that real revolutionary movements come out of class struggle, and you're sufficiently confident in your praxis to offer (unsolicited) advice to folk in a different continent, then how does merely sitting on your thumbs encourage a real, autonomous working class movement? Why would you write (and translate) an article to say that? I have to say, that unless someone interjects with some context, this seems shockingly arrogant and self-centred, kinda like the people in activist meetings who have to dominate every agenda point and discussion. What is your concrete objective with a call to (in)action? What specialised and exclusive information do you have that you don't believe El Libertario have?

To comment on the article as a whole, I have to say it seems quite confused and contradictory. They seem to have imbibed equal parts of chavista rhetoric and El Libertario analysis and are attempting to merge the two. I'm surprised to see it posted around today, considering how there are better English language articles to help understand the situation.

tl;dr don't bother reading this, it makes no sense and has a totally bizarre conclusion.

radicalgraffiti
Feb 26 2014 20:08

they have a page on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/nosotroslos.pobres

syndicalist
Feb 27 2014 00:08

I've alerted the comrades of the resposting. I don't believe they are on here. They are a small bi-lingual upper Manhattan/Bronx group. Their politics are self described as "anarcho-syndicalist and especifist".

Pennoid
Feb 26 2014 22:00

It's been nuts to see a lot of the "left" and even "anarchists" fall all over themselves to decry the US imperialism at play but it seems, consistently, that others who read spanish or have translated articles, or in general are familiar with Venezeula, point to the complexity of the situation which makes a lot more sense.

That chavismo is a brutal psuedo-social-democracy/populism is clear, and for so many leftists to fawn over it is quite bizarre. These cats would have no qualms about assassinating a Luxemburg, if you will. Or apparently repressing student protests.

My spanish is really poor, so I've been waiting on translations. Thanks for offering these discussions, and thanks Caiman for the input!

syndicalist
Feb 27 2014 00:10
Quote:
Nosotros Los Pobres Great I was trying to figure out how to do that because our acct isn't working
jonthom
Feb 27 2014 13:13

obviously the situation is "complex". all politics is complex, and nothing is ever as two-dimensional as it's made out. no social movement is monolithic, and most are spurred at least in part by material class complaints around things like wages, unemployment, austerity etc.

I have to wonder tho - what do these complexities mean in practice? unless I'm missing something massive, the only likely outcomes in Venezuela still seem to be either the continuation of the Maduro government, or the installation of the neoliberal, US-backed opposition (or a rival faction of one or the other).. calls for an independent working class struggle "against both sides" are nice for leftists (and anarchists, for those who make that distinction) to salivate over, and ones which I largely share, but to be honest don't seem to hold much relationship with reality outside of tiny pockets.

I also feel that in the absence of an "independent" working class movement (which I'm not aware of ever having existed, anywhere), any action is inevitably going to fuel one bourgeois faction or another (and yes, I do think that in immediate terms these things do matter, even if it's all bourgeois in the long run).

if nothing else, I think the standard "a plague on both your houses" response to situations (tho I do agree with it; in a globally capitalist society all states have to be capitalist) where a reactionary and/or state capitalist government is faced with a reactionary opposition doesn't really seem to say that much, nor offer any practical input beyond either a: tacitly supporting "the opposition" whoever they might be; b: saying nothing; or c: hiding behind vacuous calls to support "the workers" - without much knowledge of which workers, who they are, what they want or how "we" go about doing so.

anarchist responses to and involvement in events around the Arab Spring and the subsequent revolutionary (and counter-revolutionary) wave seem very noticeable by their absence.

ocelot
Feb 27 2014 14:13
jonthom wrote:
I have to wonder tho - what do these complexities mean in practice? unless I'm missing something massive, the only likely outcomes in Venezuela still seem to be either the continuation of the Maduro government, or the installation of the neoliberal, US-backed opposition (or a rival faction of one or the other)..

Would you really accept such an argument in the country you actually live in, though? "The only likely outcomes in the UK is either the continuation of the current Tory government, or the installation of a neo-liberal Labour government". So pack up your pickets, give up activism, forget about the class struggle and stick to writing about bird-watching and nice cups of tea... (whatever happened to that dude?). Or what?

I get frustrated by people apparently applying completely different politics to how the perceive and react to international events, as to the ones they apply at home. My housemate is a (vaguely) libertarian leftie, but being a big Chomsky fan, his evaluation on Ukraine is basically "because NATO". A demo by Venezuelans in Smithfield in Dublin last Saturday (several hundreds strong - we never knew there were that many here) resulted in disbelief amongst a lot of my fairly retro-left drinking buddies - they just presumed that they were motivated by a putative middle class hatred for the barrios and in the pay of the CIA and Venezuelan fascism.

This politics of reducing everything to a geopolitical determination that overrides any need to look at the actual immanent dynamics, is really tedious. And depressingly reactionary when people think its the radical left position. I'm seriously thinking of getting that passage from Fabbri's "Bourgeois influences on Anarchism" where he talks about the polluting effect of people simply assuming that anything the bourgeois press say is bad must be good and vice versa, done as a tattoo.

Felix Frost
Feb 27 2014 14:53
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
#2 If you believe that real revolutionary movements come out of class struggle, and you're sufficiently confident in your praxis to offer (unsolicited) advice to folk in a different continent, then how does merely sitting on your thumbs encourage a real, autonomous working class movement? Why would you write (and translate) an article to say that? I have to say, that unless someone interjects with some context, this seems shockingly arrogant and self-centred, kinda like the people in activist meetings who have to dominate every agenda point and discussion. What is your concrete objective with a call to (in)action? What specialised and exclusive information do you have that you don't believe El Libertario have?

I think you are being too harsh here. I'm suspecting that this isn't aimed at telling El Libertario what to do, but is mostly written as a response to the pro-Chavista position of the Chilean FEL. With that in mind, I think the article is quite good, even if it is a bit too speculative about the right wing / CIA conspiracy stuff.

Pennoid
Feb 27 2014 19:35

For the record, cats commenting on Roarmag and elsewhere have basically insinuated that PROVEA is on the payroll of the CIA along with Uzcategui, who is then "influencing" El Libertario. A more likely critique is that they are "petit-bourgoies" anarchists who are merely posturing. Again, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Seems pretty whacky to me.

jonthom
Feb 27 2014 21:28
ocelot wrote:
jonthom wrote:
I have to wonder tho - what do these complexities mean in practice? unless I'm missing something massive, the only likely outcomes in Venezuela still seem to be either the continuation of the Maduro government, or the installation of the neoliberal, US-backed opposition (or a rival faction of one or the other)..

Would you really accept such an argument in the country you actually live in, though? "The only likely outcomes in the UK is either the continuation of the current Tory government, or the installation of a neo-liberal Labour government". So pack up your pickets, give up activism, forget about the class struggle and stick to writing about bird-watching and nice cups of tea... (whatever happened to that dude?). Or what?

I'm going to with "or what?". I'm not suggesting folks should just pack up and become labourites/chavistas/stalinists/whatevers, but I also don't really see much value in a "plague on both your houses" approach that largely seems to result in supporting the opposition simply because they're the opposition. it's the kind of logic that leads to anarchos in Ukraine forming truces with fascists to focus on the "real enemy" (tm), or that fuckwit Bone to support the bombing of Libya for that matter - we're against the state, therefore "we" should support whatever groups are opposing the current government because of reasons.

any social movement is made up of a host of grievances and motivations, from those who were already politically engaged to those who become radicalised in the process etc., many of whose politics or motivations I'd share. I'm just not sure how relevant those complexities are to the "big picture", the likely outcome of the conflict, etc.

what exactly does "opposing both sides" - ie both the left and right wings of capital - mean in practice? when has it been done and what was the outcome?

as far as a british context - yes, I do apply that same logic here. and I have the same questions.

bastarx
Feb 27 2014 23:23
jonthom wrote:
I also feel that in the absence of an "independent" working class movement (which I'm not aware of ever having existed, anywhere), any action is inevitably going to fuel one bourgeois faction or another (and yes, I do think that in immediate terms these things do matter, even if it's all bourgeois in the long run).

If you really believe that an independent working class movement has never existed anywhere why bother posting here?

jonthom
Feb 28 2014 01:07
bastarx wrote:
jonthom wrote:
I also feel that in the absence of an "independent" working class movement (which I'm not aware of ever having existed, anywhere), any action is inevitably going to fuel one bourgeois faction or another (and yes, I do think that in immediate terms these things do matter, even if it's all bourgeois in the long run).

If you really believe that an independent working class movement has never existed anywhere why bother posting here?

I over-exaggerated my point and for that I apologise. in my defence, I was coming off the end of four lengthy overnight shifts in a row with precious little sleep between and so not thinking or communicating very clearly.

I guess as much as anything I'm not sure what "independence" means in practice. a rejection of affiliation or support for any political party is valuable, but that doesn't really address the underlying issue - a group or movement's actions can and usually will empower one bourgeois faction or another whether or not there is any sort of formal affiliation, and regardless of whether they declare themselves opposed to all sides.

the aim is to forge a working class movement which is capable of fighting for itself - not an instrument (intentionally or otherwise) of one or other bourgeois faction, nor simply as a third actor alongside the left and right bourgeoise, but as one in opposition to capitalism as a whole. but we are not there yet - instead, we are in a situation where attacks on one bourgeois faction tend to empower the other just by default, and where tacit if not formal co-operation is commonplace (compare to anarchists in the UK taking part in anti-austerity rallies alongside Labourites, Greens and such.)

obviously there are and always have been currents within the working class movement pushing in a more independent direction, with varying degrees of success. and my comment above was hyperbolic and wrong. my frustration is that simply declaring a movement independent and refusing to align to any political faction doesn't really address the issue IMO, while I feel it often becomes a conversation-stopper in practice.

with regard to venezuela, it does seem to me that however diverse and complex the movements might be, the primary beneficiaries remain the "official opposition" (or, at a push, some new bourgeois opposition party). the question then is whether there is genuinely little to no difference whatsoever between the government and the opposition - in which case this simply doesn't matter - or whether, at the very least, it warrants a more strategic approach.

as far as why I post here, I'd have thought that was obvious - because I want libertarian communism and believe I can learn a lot from both historical and contemporary movements pushing in that direction.