Venezuela: class struggle sharpens over emergency measures

President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela is in the grip of a massive showdown. The opposition-controlled national assembly is demanding Venezuela’s expulsion from the Organisation of American States (OAS); opposition leaders are clamouring for a coup whilst launching a recall referendum to topple President Maduro; the threat of foreign intervention escalates as imperialism turns the screw. Sensing an opportunity to overthrow yet another progressive state in South America, the imperialist press is ratcheting up its rhetoric. International headlines scream ‘chaos’ and ‘starvation’, reporting incessantly on queues and shortages, backing this latest destabilisation effort to the hilt. In the face of this imperialist onslaught, President Maduro, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the plethora of grassroots organisations that make up the Bolivarian revolutionary movement are pushing back, organising to take essential steps to tackle the economic and political crisis, mobilising the working class and poor to defend the gains made over the last 17 years.

Counter-revolution mobilises

The opposition is using its victory in last year’s National Assembly elections to launch a multi-faceted campaign, passing laws to destroy Venezuela’s public housing mission, blocking Maduro’s emergency decree to tackle the economic crisis, demanding rapid progress for the recall referendum regardless of constitutional safeguards and calling for violent action on the streets.

Leading opposition legislator Henrique Capriles incited Venezuela’s armed forces to mutiny, urging: ‘Prepare the tanks and war planes, the hour of truth is coming to decide whether you are with the constitution or with Maduro’. This is rank hypocrisy from a man who eagerly participated in ripping up the constitution in the short-lived 2002 coup, and who directed his supporters to ‘drain your rage’ in violent protests against the 2013 Presidential election results. Meanwhile, a US surveillance plane illegally entered Venezuela’s airspace on two separate occasions in May. Luis Almagro, head of the US-dominated OAS, has released an eight-page attack and social media tirade against Maduro, and former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe argued that Colombia should be ‘willing to put its armed forces at the service of the protection of the Venezuelan opposition’.

The opposition has handed in 1.85 million signatures for its recall referendum, exceeding the 1% of the electorate required within 30 days. Once the signatures are verified by the electoral commission (CNE), the next stage is to collect signatures from 20% of registered voters, nearly four million people. If achieved, the recall referendum will be triggered within three months. However the process is already in dispute as the CNE found almost 190,000 of the initial signatures belonged to deceased citizens. In response the opposition took to the streets – readily captured by waiting press cameras – claiming that this was a governmental crackdown against democracy.

Media outlets, including the BBC, gave extensive coverage to Bolivarian Guards firing teargas on 18 May. They neglected to inform readers that this was directed at a small breakaway group of protesters attempting to close a highway in Caracas, while the main opposition protest passed off entirely peacefully. Only TeleSUR covered the much bigger march in support of Maduro’s emergency decree a few blocks away.

The Guardian gives almost daily coverage to food and medical shortages. Headlines like ‘“We are like a bomb”: Food riots show Venezuela crisis has gone beyond politics’ (20 May), and ‘Venezuelans barter for leftover medicine as economic crisis deepens’ (18 May) serve to legitimise opposition appeals for intervention. Whilst shortages are undoubtedly a problem, private sector hoarding, import fraud and speculation are rarely reported: everything is blamed on socialist policies. Venezuela is clearly the target of a concerted media war, backing an imperialist offensive to restore neoliberal governments in the region.

Venezuela’s socialists fight back

In this context PSUV president Maduro is asserting socialist control over the economy, handing over closed factories to communal production.

‘Those who don’t want to work can leave. A factory that stops production is a factory turned over to the people. The moment to do it has come…to radicalise the Revolution…We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right wing that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other... to defend this sacred land.’ (15 May)

Battling against private warehouses filled with hoarded goods, a speculative inflation spiral, severe drought and corresponding electricity shortages, the communal organisations are in the vanguard of the fight for food distribution and economic production.

In recent months over 10,000 committees for supply and production have been set up in local communities to promote production and distribute available goods. This form of community organisation was crucial for food distribution in the 2002-2003 oil lock-out when the business federation Fedecamaras shut down oil production, paralysing the economy.

Each committee is comprised of the National Union of Women, the socialist Francisco de Miranda Front collective, local branches of United Socialist Party militants and communal council activists. The committees work with the Ministry of Food to distribute food and other basic products door-to-door in poor communities, removing the private supermarkets and unofficial street vendors from the supply chain. Directly linked to units of communal production, the committees distribute locally-sourced agricultural goods in addition to producing school uniforms and badly needed cleaning supplies. The creation of the committees is a key political step, responding to the private sector’s manipulation of Venezuela’s economic crisis through direct participatory action, building the kind of working class community organisations necessary in the fight for socialism.

Meanwhile the armed forces have declared their commitment to the continued independence and sovereignty of Venezuela. Half a million soldiers and civilian militia members took to the streets on 20-21 May to participate in military drills across the country. 340,000 civilians are currently operative in militias nationwide, sworn to defend the constitution against imperialist intervention and coup attempts.

Developing comunas, factory occupations, civilian militias and committees for supply and production will be decisive in solving the political and economic crisis. Whether the Bolivarian revolution can face down yet another destabilisation attempt depends on these crucial measures really being taken up, defended and expanded in the face of intense class warfare.

Sam McGill

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 251 June/July 2016

 

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