Bread, blood and circuses - The Red Menace

Article drawing parallels between the March 1989 riots against austerity measures in Venezuela, and food riots in Burma.

Submitted by Spassmaschine on August 10, 2009

For four days at the beginning of March, the Venezuelan poor staged what amounted to a nationwide uprising against the government’s austerity programme, recently agreed with the International Monetary Fund.

After months of food shortages, the final straw was a 90% rise in petrol prices and a 30% increase in bus fares. Riots started after school children were refused their usual half-price bus fare concessions. They took to the streets, tearing down lamp-posts to build barricades in Caracas, the capital. Rioting spread to 17 towns and cities, including Los Teques, Guarenas and Ciudad Guayana. Men women and children looted supermarkets and slumdwellers exchanged gunfire with police and troops.

The uprising did not come out of nowhere. In January 1,000 housewives looted supermarkets in Maracay, 75 miles west of Caracas. Last October 14 fishermen were killed by security forces on the Colombian border near to the town of El Amparo. After the massacre, believed to be organised by "DISIP" paramilitary police (Department of Intelligence and Prevention Services), weapons were planted on the bodies to make it appear that they were Colombian guerrillas. In response to the killings there was a general strike in El Amparo and rioting (apparently initiated by students) in Merida, Valencia, Maracay and Caracas.

Round up the usual suspects
In Venezuela, as in Britain, riots have been blamed on ‘agitators and ‘foreigners’. The government has talked of "minority groups maddened by revolutionay ideas" and ‘illegal immigrants who are used to acting like vandals in their own country". The roots of the uprising are of course not to be found in manipulation by any ‘outsiders’, but in the global economic crisis and the austerity measures that all our rulers are introducing in an attempt to solve this crisis. In Venezuela the crisis has hit particularly hard because revenues from oil - the back bone of the economy - have fallen by nearly 50% in the last five years.

All around the world
In every country in the world capital is imposing a general deterioration in our living standards. In Britain so far, the bourgeoisie has managed to isolate resistance by attacking our class section by section (first the steel workers, then the miners and so on). Elsewhere however, the depths of the crisis has limited our bosses room for manoeuvre, and they have been forced to simultaneously attack the working class as a whole, provoking mass resistance.

In Burma last August the increasing price of rice sparked off an armed revolt, with strikes, looting and attacks on police stations. There were similar scenes in Algeria in response to austerity measures, and in December a 500% rise in the price of sugar led to a general strike in Sudan. In some cases of course mass struggles have exploded because of a general feeling that "life" cannot go on like this anymore, rather than simply in response to economic attacks. This seems to be the case with the Palestinian Intifada.

"Democratic" or "military", "Islamic" or "socialist", the response of the state to such movements has been brutal and bloody repression. In Venezuela, President Carlos Andros Perez introduced a state of emergency announcing "we must first safeguard the right to life, the right to peace and the property of our nation". 10,000 troops were flown into Caracas to suppress the rioting. The state claimed that 270 died, but over 500 bodies were counted in the morgues and hospitals of Caracas alone. 7,000 people were arrested. In Burma up to 10,000 people have been massacred by the military junta. In Algeria hundreds were killed as tanks were sent in against rioters.

At the same time as they shoot down proletarians in the streets, our rulers mount a political circus of reforms to convince us that they are cleaning up their act. In Burma the junta talks of holding an election in the future; in Algeria a referendum on a new constitution has been held, while in Sudan a new government has been formed. The Venezuelan ruling class has had plenty of practice at this sort of thing. It was after riots and strikes against the Perez Jumenez dictatorship in 1958 that elections were held which brought the ruling Acciön Democrática party to power for the first time.

Although such reforms give the bosses some breathing space, in the end they run the risk of exposing the fact that whatever the form of government, exploitation and repression are all this system has to offer.

The increasing similarity in the living conditions of our class across the world, and the eruption of struggles at the same time in different places, is opening up the possibility of an extension of the class struggle beyond national frontiers.

The Red Menace, number three, June 1989. Taken from the Practical History website.