Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Recently a quite lengthy (too lengthy to reprint in full on this blog) article has been making the rounds of the 'anarchonet'. The article in question 'Venezuela, The Revolution Delayed: 10 years of Hugo Chavez's Rule' has been reprinted, amongst other places, on the A-Infos website(see HERE and HERE). You can also read it, along with other English translations from the Spanish, in the English language section of the Venezuelan anarchist publication El Libertario. The article, in fact, is an interview with members of the El Libertario collective by a French anarchist 'Charles Reeve'.
Venezuela is, of course, a darling of the present left, and the leftist attitude towards said state is even more uncritical, if that is possible, than their views of the Castroite dictatorship. The latter, of course, is reaching its end soon, and "analyses" of its successes and failings will be soon left to the political autopsy technicians. The regime of Chavez, however, appears, at least on the surface, to still have some wind in its sails- though its longevity is undoubtedly very dependent on the world price of oil.
I encourage readers to take in the full article. To those unfamiliar with previous "autopsies" of failed "socialist" states it may be quite revealing. The Venezuelan comrades provide a guide to the topsy turvy world of state socialism in power, and how such simple concepts as "cooperative" have a meaning that becomes totally different when the rising ruling class of the state bureaucrats lay their hands on them. This, of course, is old news to those of us who are old enough to have seen the Leninist states in full power and to have witnesses the old leftist reaction to them as well.
As I said, the article is far too long to reproduce here, but the following excerpts will hopefully give the flavour of it.
Miguel (M.) – There is a lot of talk nowadays of a left turn in Latin America. There have indeed been several governments elected who belong to traditional left tendencies. For us, there are two main currents. On the one hand are governments brought to power after great social movements,such as is the case in Bolivia and Brazil, countries with a long history of struggle.
Apart from these – and more particularly, in Venezuela - the so-called “left” governments have not come to power off the back of social movements or grassroots struggles. They belong to a cultural set more linked to Latin American populism of the caudillo variety. It is clear in our eyes that all such governments meet the needs of a situation of political crisis. It is impossible to understand the rise of Chavismo without looking back to the caracazo of 1989. These riots in Caracas left thousands dead. The pact which had existed between the various forces in politics was thus broken and society faced a crisis of governability. This concern was most acute within the ruling class itself. All the more so given that these riots opened up a cycle of struggle in Venezuelan society, with the emergence of grassroots organisations independent of the old left political parties. Some people called this “a new civil society”,particularly as regards the student movement and even the movements in the poor barrios. For example, the Human Rights group, with which I work, came about in these years. The same went for environmentalist groups and women’s groups. So people who identified with leftist ideas escaped the control of the parties.
For its part the workers’ movement mostly remained dominated by social democracy (and the Acción Democrática party), with a few fringes controlled by groups of the authoritarian Marxist left. During the 90s there was real turmoil in Venezuelan society, with popular struggles organised in opposition to A. Perez, the social-democrat president responsible for the 1989 massacres. This turmoil led to huge changes in society. Three years later, in 1992, there was an attempted military coup: a recurrent event in the history of this country, where the army has often intervened in political life. Despite their failure, within a few years these putschist army men, in particular Chávez, had managed to recuperate the whole of this popular resistance movement. Chávez’s appeal in part came from the fact that he was able to make himself seem in tune with the popular movements of the 90s.
That is how this powerful resistance movement fell behind this figure and became part of a new institutional arrangement.This was a dialectical integration: well known activists in these movements were also on the look-out for some institutional role: in their eyes, indispensable for carrying out their plans.
This “civil society” was new, having existed for barely a decade and had carved out very little space of its own in society. It had little experience in terms of concrete social engagement and anti-authoritarian organising. So now, rather surprisingly, we find the cadres of this new“civil society” in power with Chávez. The blank cheque they have given in part results from this inexperience and lack of a concrete project. Here we find the imprint of the country’s cultural make-up. Even if revolutions define themselves by breaking with such paradigms, we have to say that Chávez himself is repeating the whole caudillo, statist and militarist tradition long established in Venezuela. He has breathed fresh life into this culture.
'Chavismo” and the neo-liberal model
I. - Chavismo has another characteristic beside its links with the traditional left. The régime’s project is tied into the current international situation, which supports a global drive for capitalist rule. I will explain: nowadays it is easier to implement the plans of neo-liberal capitalism in a country with a left-wing government which uses populist slogans without provoking real mobilisation on the part of workers. For us, that is Chavismo’s principal role. Of course, I am not saying that all the people and groups who support Chávez are conscious of this. I repeat, Chavismo does not have a homogeneous supporter base. There are those who think the régime is doing the best it can to improve the lot of the people... there are even thous who are convinced that today we are experiencing a unique opportunity to “build socialism”. We, for our part, think that this neo-liberal role can be seen in the régime’s policies on oil and trade, and indeed in its whole economic agenda. This manipulative populist rhetoric covers up the real agenda of clearing the way for the implementation of the neo-liberal model, to a greater extent than ever before.
C.R. - Chavismo as the spearhead of neo-liberal policies: quite an original take on things! From this standpoint, can we see the rise - or the creation - of a new private sector emerging from the Chávez years: one based on the new networks of patronage and corruption?
I. - But obviously! In Venezuela such networks have always been integral to the functioning of society. Initially the Chavistas tried to break with this set-up. But in reality there were but minor changes in the structures of bureaucracy, and corruption and patronage continued. There are few studies of this issue. But at an empirical level we can state that it is plain to see in the oil and financial sectors where the government has introduced its plans. In the co-operative sector, for example, cliques have identifiably appropriated projects to build centres of economic power from which they can make personal gains.
M. - Of course, we have a totally different idea of co-operatives. For us,a co-operative is an initiative which comes from below. For the Chavistas, on the contrary, enterprises in what they now call the “social economy sector” must operate in the form of state-aided co-operatives. Every day people start organising co-operatives - people who are totally foreign to the spirit and practice of co-operativism... because it is the quickest way of getting contracts and state credit! In many industries the law obliges the state to give priority of tenders to “co-operatives” above private enterprises. So many malign people have started creating co-operatives in order to win contracts with government bodies. That as the case with the public roads enterprise you mentioned. A private enterprise was thus transformed inter a co-operative to win the tender, and at a stroke the workers lost all their rights and bonuses. They now have three-month renewable contracts, such that the “co-operativist” (in reality, the new name for the boss!) has no duties towards them. Thanks to this lie, after a few months it could be said that there were 200,000 co-operatives... All this in order to make propaganda showing that society has changed. But it is all artificial, created by decree.
I. - I would add that, after the oil workers’ strike, the government learned that it had to control the world of work. First it explained that the state would create a new form of organisation based on solidarity and where all workers would benefit from the same privileges. The co-operatives! At a stroke the government broke the services contracts it had with private companies (particularly for cleaning), which by law had to pay workers ’social bonuses’. The workers were laid off and forced to seek temporary work with these co-operatives now dealing with the state.They lost the bonuses and rights which they had previously (in theory at least) had. Moreover, many of these co-operatives disappeared as soon as they were created. So we are witnessing, as your friend is right to emphasise, the casualisation of work.


Larry Gambone said...

I would not trust El Libertario. For certain, we should not tail any populist or leftist government, and indeed there a lot to criticize Chavez for, but to go to the opposite extreme as they do is counter-productive. If the “Bolivarian Revolution” is neo-liberal, what they hell do we have in Canada ? This is classic sectarianism, by which a left wing opponent is deemed worse than the far right. There are other anarchists in Venezuela other than them, it would be nice to hear what they have to say. For a more balanced approach than El Libertario, though sadly rather old, see

Anonymous said...

One thing too many...
by Kevin S.

Larry ...

Didn't you write that little pamphlet about Che Guevara? If so, this "critical thought" remark is a bit ironic. But more important, and superbly ironic, is an obviously sectarian attitude on your own part: "I would not trust El Libertario" ... or "I would like to add that I find El Libertario's sectarianism a danger to our movement" because ... "if we are identified with the sort of politics that equates a left wing movement with naked reaction, we will not be taken seriously by the people." Your "non-sectarian" preferance? ... "There is a middle path between simply being a cheering section for the left and rejecting them outright as the enemy."

So, apparantly (if I understand you correctly), it is more important to "not reject outright" an authoritarian leftist regime than to "be identified" with what an "extremist" anarchist paper (as though anarchism is not "extremist" in the first place!), for the god-forbidden crime of (supposedly) exaggerating, while it consistently (like any good anarchist should do) demands autonomy of popular organizations and social movements and denounces state repression -- unlike the the "left wing movement," after all, not wanting to be extremist sectarian anarchists!! That is to say, you think it much "safer" to associate with a "left wing" statist regime than with a "dangerous" anarchist paper, since that regime happens to be more "popular" at the moment.

It seems to me your denouncing of El Libertario's "sectarianism" (vis-a-vis the "left wing" State) is coverred all over in sectarianism towards "extreme" anarchists (!) simply for being blunt and, possibly, exaggerating (debatable). It is disappointing to hear you talk about a "middle path" between "dangerous extremes" in the same language that bourgeois liberals and "moderate" socialists have always used to denounce anyone who was not content to take orders from some upstart "popular" authority. I recall a similar sentiment expressed in the Che pamphlet about his observation that, when people talk about "moderation" it means they are about to betray (paraphrasing). Obviously that cannot be overgeneralized, but all the same, the long, rich and troubles history of social struggles and revolutions is full of one case-in-point after another to vindicate this remark, regardless of certain "moderate" types exclaiming otherwise. (Ironically, Cuba had a bit of its own "moderate" betrayal, specifically against the anarcho-syndicalists as "dangerous sectarians." Still, it doesn't invalidate the point -- and it's worth noting too that Chavez is a friend of Castro and devoted fan of Cuba.)

Back on topic though, from the articles I have read from El Libertario it is beyond question they cannot be treated as an anti-social, or even violent grouping and most definitely are not "sectarian" when it comes to "our movement" (since you insist you are a part of it) -- assuming by that you mean the anarchist movement -- so I see little reason to this "danger" they present. I do notice as well, that routine "exaggerations" by Chavistas, "sectarianism" against anarchists (what does "sectarian" even mean in this context?), even "extremism" against the old Accion Democratica (with whom Chavez probably has more in common than with any anarchist) -- that all these things do not provoke the same distrust or fear from you. Why? Without assuming, I will guess that it is probably for the simple reason that the Chavistas happen to be powerful and "popular" right now.

I do apologize sincerely if I am misreading or "exaggerating" your remarks, but I do not have any respect for hypocritical concerns about anarchist "extremism." Maybe it would be better if no one ever challenged "left wing" authorities, or any authorities! To do so, always, always, always is "dangerous," "sectarian" and "extreme" as far the authorities and their mass supporters are concerned. As for these consecutive sentences: "If the “Bolivarian Revolution” is neo-liberal, what they hell do we have in Canada ? This is classic sectarianism, by which a left wing opponent is deemed worse than the far right." .... Canada does indeed have neo-liberalism; but more importantly, neither in this interview nor anywhere else have I have seen El Libertario claim Chavez is "worse than the far right" -- that is plain slander. Besides which, they did not say in the interview that the "Bolivarian Revolution" is neo-liberal; they said it "covered up" a certain neo-liberal agenda (which is probably exaggerated, but not without some real evidence).

To sum it up frankly, I do not sense a serious bit of "critical thought" in your remarks, Larry, but I do smell quite a load of "sectarianism" in your "moderate" denunciations. Maybe it is worth noting too, it is not a friendly little side point, for this sort of writing-off by "non-sectarian" anarchists has served many times in the past to excuse repression and even mass murder by "not-so-bad" leftists of comrades who had a little more integ