Victory for Chávez. (And Diosdado Cabello.)

Yeah so Uncle Hugo has won in Venezuela. As he put it: Gracias a mi amado Pueblo!!! Viva Venezuela!!!! Viva Bolívar!!!!! Some anarchists in Venezuela reckon it ain’t so great.

El Libertario #67, September-October 2012 – Editorial [stolen from UK Indymedia]

A vote for Chavez is a vote for Diosdado Cabello [1]; a vote for Capriles is a vote for Diosdado Cabello. The truth of this sentence is verified when we compare the main parts of the programs offered by both candidates: the direction the energy industry will take. Energy is the undisputed element in the country’s developmental model since 1914 when the first oil well was dug in Venezuela. The false polarization stands naked when one notes the consensus in doubling the production of fossil fuels with the participation of transnational companies. For anarchists, however, the fundamental discussion is not about who controls the industry, whether the national or the foreign bourgeoisie, but whether this reiteration of the extraction model goes against the promotion of an alternative developmental model that would not feed the internal combustion engines of global capitalism and would not damage the environment or the indigenous and peasant communities. Whoever wins on October 7 will represent a victory for financial speculative capitalism, in tune with a world market that has faithful servants in people such as Diosdado Cabello.

A Hugo Chavez victory will only be possible thanks to a convenient opposition candidate, a representative of Venezuelan oligarchy who took part in the coup d’état of April 2002. By giving Chavez a perfect scenario for revitalizing polarization, Capriles proposes a discourse focused on the middle class and deaf tone to the popular sectors. Despite his pretense of a wide and inclusive program, it was never a secret the campaign decisions were taken by the top of the most conservative and reactionary party in the country: Primero Justicia [Justice First]. Despite the obvious unhappiness with the results of his tenure and the sustained increase in social conflicts, kept in check by the caudillo’s charismatic expectations, in this scenario Capriles did not convince the unhappy Chavistas or wide sectors of the population. With this result the future would be dominated by a strengthening of the authoritarian communal state, increased exclusion from public policy due to party reasons and the domino effect of an October victory resulting in Bolivarian hegemony over governorships and mayoralties in the following regional elections in December.

On the other hand, a Capriles victory would be possible only because of abstention on the part of unhappy Chavistas and a punishment vote by large segments of the voters and not because of the winner’s virtues. Tired of the humiliation, demagogy and the general impoverishment of the standard of living, a vote against Chavez by those who had previously put their faith in him would yield the numbers needed for a second electoral defeat of the Commander-President. This would open up a scenario of conflict and the ratification of the governorships held by the so-called “opposition” in the next round of elections. This result would strengthen the formation of a new bipartisanism among the Chavista and non-Chavista blocks, who would agree on alternating tenure and so tacitly becoming a new “Pact of PuntoFijo”. [2]

Whatever the result there are two more important consequences. The first is the justification of representative comprador democracy that appeared falling in the popular explosion of the “Caracazo” [3], a form of government that could only be fixed by a charismatic and populist figure such as Hugo Chavez. The second, of special interest to anti-authoritarians, is that these elections take place in the midst of the worst roll back in history of the autonomy of the Venezuelan social movements. As shown by the numbers from the Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social [Venezuela’s Observatory of Social Conflict] [4], turning popular initiative into electoral matter yielded what seemed most difficult: to stop the increase in the number of demonstrations staged in the country, which had been on the rise since 2004. The electoral blackmail institutionalized towards electoral channels the energy of the masses in motion, dissipating the autonomy enjoyed by some grass roots conflicts against the established powers.

The attitude consistent with Anarchism can be no other than the denunciation of the electoral farce and blackmail, refusal to participate in the comedy and channeling all our energies towards recuperating and fixing the autonomy of popular social movements. The facts of the last 13 and half years confirm it: Governmental discourse changes nothing. Structural and revolutionary changes come from each and every one of the oppressed and their collective initiatives.

Notes:
[1] Diosdado Cabello is the main representative of the “Bolibourgeoisie” which arouse during the Chavez government.

[2] See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punto_Fijo_Pact

[3] “Caracazo” is the name given the popular revolt of February 27, 1989.

[4] See www.observatoriodeconflictos.org.ve

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El Libertario – [email protected] – @pelibertario

http://periodicoellibertario.blogspot.com

www.nodo50.org/ellibertario (in Spanish, English & other languages)

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2015 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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8 Responses to Victory for Chávez. (And Diosdado Cabello.)

  1. Andrew says:

    The Chavez case is an interesting one for the (anarchist) left. I lived in Venezuela for 8 months last year and saw the outcomes of the Chavez government first hand. And as highlighted in other places, anarchists fall into three categories. Those who give tacit support to Chavez because he allows space for social movements and the chance to push for change which didn’t exist; those who give no support to either candidate; and those who think that Chavez is worse than the opposition because of his authoritarian nature. By far the most libertarian left/anarchists fall into the first two categories and often work with other sections of the Chavez supporting, and tacitly supporting left.

    Overall, I think the Chavez government is better for Venezuela in this way (and not in the Obama is better than Romney way) because there actually is more ‘room’ for the radical left to work in, develop support etc. Obviously his centralized state style is a worrying trend as is the extreme polarization, and I’m not behind Chavez, but recognize the possibility for change within his regime.

    This is a really tricky case, and I’ve changed my mind a little but, and it requires one to think pragmatically as well as theoretically, and I might change my mind again. But from what I observed in Venezuela (and it’s hard not to drink the opposition or pro Chavez Kool Aid), I am reservedly happy that Chavez won.

  2. @ndy says:

    Yeah I dunno: I’ve not been to Venezuela, never studied the country or its history, and my Spanish is muy mal. That said, I look at it this way:

    Yeah, it’s interesting, and for the reasons other such examples of ‘progressive’ governments — especially in the ‘Third World’/global South/et al — are. That is, the situation in Venezuela may be unique in some respects but it’s hardly novel, including in terms of how ‘the left’ responds to it, however one defines that term and whether or not it can include the anarchists on the one hand or the Democrats on the other. In terms of your categorisation of the attitude of anarchists in Venezuela/Venezuelan anarchists, yeah, maybe: for/against/neutral is one way of looking at it. Again, as I’m not very familiar with the situation in that part of the world and as I don’t know Spanish I’m at a disadvantage, but I do tend to view such summaries with some suspicion, just as (for example) I do the suggestion that anarchists have formed or do form a part of the Socialist Alliance in Australia or Antarsya in Greece…

    More generally, it seems to me that, leaving aside questions regarding whether or not anarchists should vote and if so who for, the main political preoccupation, both in Venezuela and elsewhere, would appear to be the development of radical, autonomous social movements. Thus a particular government, such as Chávez’s, may allow (for its own reasons) for relatively more political room in which such movements may develop, but ultimately it’s antagonistic, as are all governments, by nature and by definition. Obviously, then, it makes sense to use whatever opportunities present themselves to encourage the growth of such movements, but to do so in the expectation that, eventually, they will be forced to confront opposition by the state (both as national and imperial force). Regarding Chávez more specifically, I haven’t been following things very closely, and tend to rely on El Libertario as a source of critical news and political engagement; some of the more abstract, theoretical debates have been carried out in other forums, including of course inre Žižek’s fandom and the all-star philosophical debates carried out by folks like Critchley, Graeber et al.

    It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has embarked since 2006 is the exact opposite of the one chosen by the postmodern Left: far from resisting state power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarising the barrios, and organising the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling the economic effects of capital’s ‘resistance’ to his rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidised supermarkets), he has announced plans to consolidate the 24 parties that support him into a single party. Even some of his allies are sceptical about this move: will it come at the expense of the popular movements that have given the Venezuelan revolution its élan? However, this choice, though risky, should be fully endorsed: the task is to make the new party function not as a typical state socialist (or Peronist) party, but as a vehicle for the mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots slum committees). What should we say to someone like Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power, just withdraw, leave the state and the current situation in place’? Chávez is often dismissed as a clown – but wouldn’t such a withdrawal just reduce him to a version of Subcomandante Marcos, whom many Mexican leftists now refer to as ‘Subcomediante Marcos’? Today, it is the great capitalists – Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox hunters – who ‘resist’ the state.

  3. Andrew says:

    Andy,

    That’s a fair response. The anarchists that I met in Venezuela (mostly in Merida, and a few in Caracas) were not working with the specific Chavista groups, but using some of the new avenues (and funding) that had become available under Chavez. In addition, there has been a shift in the consciousness of the Venezuelan people, much due to Chavez (although this is debatable according to guys like George Cicceriello-Maher, who says that the people created Chavez, I find this a problematic argument).

    I think overall we roughly agree. It’s a really tough one for the non-Chavista left to work out where they stand exactly, especially in the larger historical context. Here is another Venezuelan anarchist perspective that is worth a read, handily in English for the gringos:

    http://anarkismo.net/article/23985

    I will also be participating in a round table on this very topic Friday week at La Trobe.

    Cheers.

  4. Sam Davis says:

    Interesting discussion, I’ve been trying to learn more about Chavez’s Venezuela (in light of my Anarchist sympathies). It seems that the two Anarchist groups operating in Venezuela are at odds, the Revolutionary Anarchist Federation of Venezuela just released a strong statement of support for Chavez, denouncing Capriles as a fascist (here, http://anarkismo.net/article/23985), whereas El Libertario stands by their critique of Chavez. One of the activists from El Libertario, Rafael Uzcategui has written a book called “Revolution as Spectacle” (can’t find an English pdf online) that I really recommend. Also, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Democracy, edited by Smilde and Hellinger, is an interesting collection of essays exclusively looking at “everyday life” since Chavez’s victory. The conflicts between the radical Caracas barrio “23 De Enero”, who act as Chavez’s shock troops during protests (but whose radicalism goes far beyond Chavez’s statism and bureaucracy), and the Bolivarian Government are fascinating.

    There appear to be many other examples of these kind of struggles between “top-down” government officials and newly empowered collectives, though of course there isn’t much data to go by.

    Given that anarchist ideas are not widespread in Venezuela, El Libertario seems to have decided its role is to promote the principle of autonomy among activists, community groups and unions, pitted against the strong centralising pull of the executive. That said I agree Chavez’s government is better than what came before him (but then again, what isn’t better than IMF shock therapy?)

  5. @ndy says:

    A coupla things.

    I imagine there’s more than two @ grps in Venezuela; the FARV http://farvespecifistas.blogspot.com appears to have been formed about a yr ago. Its status is kinda questionable…
    Ain’t read either but gotta copy of Uzcategui’s book lying around somewhere…
    Moar later…

  6. Sam Davis says:

    “I imagine there’s more than two @ grps in Venezuela”

    You may be right, I think El Libertario is the longest running at least in Caracas, but I don’t speak Spanish so it’s kinda difficult to delve too deeply. I imagine there are many social movements over there that operate according to vaguely anarchist principles but don’t identify as anarchist. In fact Robin Hahnel (parecon economist) noted that none of the Chavista radicals and intellectuals he talked to while he was travelling around identified with the libertarian tradition, seeing themselves instead as successors to the socialist movements of the 20th century (although they were critical of the governments that were outcomes of said movement).

    :)

  7. LeftInternationalist says:

    I recommend people check out this article from the Zabalaza comrades in South Africa, who have produced the most in-depth analysis of Venezuela from an anarchist perspective http://zabalaza.net/2012/04/24/venezuela-and-the-bolivarian-revolution-beacon-of-hope-or-smoke-and-mirrors/ I imagine Michael Albert and the folks at Znet would disagree with some of this analysis though, who tend to be sympathetic to Chavez and the wider Bolivarian project. I’m very interested to see just how far ‘nationalisation under workers’ control’ is possible, as there are a number of workplaces run on these lines in Venezuela- though, of course, what is most important is workers’ self-activity in maintaining and extending what workers’ control does exist. I do think the rhetoric of commitment to socialism, and a particular kind of socialism (participatory 21st century socialism) we hear from Chavez and others has given space for those on the left in Venezuela to criticise Chavez exactly from the point of view that he is not acting socialist enough, and to emphasise the importance of mass activity, autonomous social movements, etc, and to be seen as legitimate and sincerely committed to the Boliviarian revolution insofar as it guarantees liberty and justice for all. This has given socialists on the ground (who are hardly all just uncritical Chavistas) in Venezuela a chance to communicate to millions upon millions of people that would have never been interested before or seen them as merely dreamers. The fact that there are demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, sometimes even millions, calling for participatory democracy, workers’ control, socialism, etc, represents an enormous leap of consciousness. If a hundred thousand people marched in Melbourne tomorrow calling for participatory democracy, workers’ control, and socialism, that would be a significant leap forward, don’t you think?

  8. Sam Davis says:

    LeftInternationalist – thanks for the link, looks like a really worthwhile read. I agree with your points re the shifting of the debate.
    “If a hundred thousand people marched in Melbourne tomorrow calling for participatory democracy, workers’ control, and socialism, that would be a significant leap forward, don’t you think?”
    Can we, please?

    Cheers
    Sam

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