Venezuela is a complete disaster. Whatever potential the Chavez revolution had to help the Venezuelan people has been completely destroyed. Maduro’s incompetence combined with his contempt for democratic processes has made the situation even worse. The so-called constituent assemblies he is pushing through are nothing more than an excuse for one-party rule, which might theoretically be justifiable if the party was remotely capable of governance. It is not. For many years, the left actively saw Hugo Chavez as a hero, particularly for Latino and south-facing American leftists. When I was at the University of New Mexico a decade ago, actual elections for the officers of the Latin American Studies graduate student association revolved around the position of candidates on Chavez, to give one minor but very raucous and hard-fought example. It seems to me that the modern left should look at what is happening in Venezuela and figure out both what went wrong and to think a little harder about not simply rushing to embrace anyone who launches a coup in the name of the left. Part of the problem the people of Venezuela face is that the Venezuelan right is also terrible, wanting to reinstitute a plutocracy of old school rulers. They desperately wish for the old days of U.S. military intervention to support their desires, as the failed coup against Chavez was the moment when the real changes in Latin American policy from the U.S. became clear. Even as Bush supported the coup, he didn’t really do much to make it work, whereas three decades earlier, the U.S. Marines would have taken care of Chavez, as happened in the Dominican Republic in 1965 or even Panama in 1989.
At the very least, one would hope the North American left would show some sort of critical analysis as to the Venezuelan disaster. But not always, as this Jacobin piece by George Ciccariello-Maher demonstrates. For him, the answer is always a doubling down on more socialism while proclaiming the media and CIA responsible for not allowing North Americans to see the clear path forward.
There is no coherent understanding of revolution that doesn’t involve defeating our enemies as we build the new society. Corruption, bureaucracy, and the complacency of new elites are all plagues to be fought and defeated — but merely criticizing these does not make a revolution. We cannot defeat such dangers without weapons, the most important of which are the weight of the masses in the streets, popular grassroots struggles for self-determination, and control of territory and production. While the Bolivarian government — from Chávez to Maduro — has helped to sharpen those weapons, it has also relied on them for its own survival.
Revolutions are made by the masses in motion, gripped by revolutionary ideas. No single individual was more effective at helping to set the Venezuelan masses into motion than Hugo Chávez. And yet that motion collides inevitably with obstacles in its path to be struggled with and overcome, from economic realities to the ferocious enemies of change. In that process, and even without it, a certain slow exhaustion is inevitable. This goes by the name desgaste in Venezuela today — a wearing-down of revolutionary fervor, especially when times are tough.
For the Trinidadian revolutionary C.L.R. James, there existed an undeniable gap between the Jacobin leadership of the French Revolution and the grassroots fury of the sansculottes. The former, like Robespierre, were authoritarians; the latter, radical democrats. But they coincided momentarily and strategically toward the goal of defeating a brutal enemy on the field of battle: “Never until 1917 were masses ever to have such powerful influence — for it was no more than influence — upon any government.”
No one would claim that the Venezuelan masses are in power today, but the past twenty years have seen them come closer than ever before. Their enemies and ours are in the streets, burning and looting in the name of their own class superiority, and we know exactly what they will do if they are successful. The only path forward is to deepen and radicalize the Bolivarian process through the expansion of the radically democratic socialism embodied in Venezuela’s grassroots communes, which help to overcome the economic contradictions of the petro-state while expanding participatory political consciousness.
The only way out of the Venezuelan crisis today lies decisively to the Left: not in the neither-nor of “que se vayan todos” (“out with them all”), but in the construction of a real socialist alternative that will emerge alongside the Maduro government if possible, but without it if necessary.
I….I don’t even know what to say here. I guess I am just a bourgeoisie neoliberal writing at a bourgeoisie neoliberal blog instead of the Journal of the One True Revolution, but I think it does Jacobin no credit to continue publishing apologies for the greatest disaster the left has faced since the fall of the Soviet Union. Even granting that Ciccariello-Maher is correct about the horror of the Venezuelan right, nothing good will come of these consitutent assemblies. Maduro has no path forward to improve Venezuela and that’s not only because of the Venezuelan right, even if that is a part of it. Even Chavez was bad at actual governance, forgetting the real core of socialism is not sticking your thumb in the Gringos’ eyes, but rather in making sure the trash is picked up on time. Note as well that this essay almost completely ignores the massive economic disaster that is life under Maduro. Whatever he does is highly unlikely to stabilize his nation or make a better life for his citizens.
Or maybe I am just a counterrevolutionary rightist who deserves to be shot.