Quarantine (VIII): Neoliberalism and Popular Classes: The Mutation in Progress

Reinaldo Iturriza López
https://elotrosaberypoder.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/giuliano-salvatore.pngPhoto: Giuliano Salvatore

Reorienting the View

A process of mutation is underway in Venezuelan society, in the system of government, which affects not only our physicality, but also our ways of feeling and thinking. The “humanitarian rationale”, with its trail of de-citizenization and depoliticization, is gaining ground. One part of the political class pretends that it defends “humanitarian victims”, while the other undertakes the “protection” of the people who are victims of the “economic war” and who also suffer the consequences of the coercive measures arbitrarily imposed by the sovereign imperial United States (1).

Only recently, a few years after the pragmatic turn of the government, around 2016, like a turn of the screw, pointing to the relegitimization of neoliberalism by the state (2), some businessmen have become “optimistic”: “We have 15 years of a controlled economy and it turns out that they freed the moorings just a little bit and we are still not used to that, we do not believe what is happening” (3).

Although less optimistic, the popular majorities are not used to it either: the de facto neoliberalization of Venezuelan society (4) has resulted in an increase in inequality. The progressive deterioration of the material conditions of existence does not give much opportunity for disbelief: what predominates, instead, is bewilderment. What prevails is the difficulty to understand how after the “decade won”, which was preceded by the “virtuous decade” of politics, we have reached this point.

As is often the case in contexts of increasing inequality, and advancing de-citizenization and depoliticization, the popular majorities are becoming invisible, their sovereignty expropriated, their voice silenced, their opinions “privatized”, in the sense that “public opinion” is limited to reporting, fundamentally, the stories that conceptualize them as “victims” subject to “aid” or “protection”, and not much more than that.

Far from what might be thought, neither confusion nor incomprehension imply passivity or resignation, in the same way that de-citizenization does not mean the disappearance of the desire for justice, and depoliticization does not mean the abandonment of the broad repertoire of struggles waged during the Bolivarian revolution.

The story of the “optimistic” bourgeois is about “freedom” recovered, about all the opportunities for profit, in the liberal sense of the term, that open up before their eyes once the economy has been “liberated” from its “moorings”. The bourgeois calculates, does the math: the prospects are so encouraging that he cannot believe it. But what do the popular classes report? Where is their freedom? Will it be possible for them to derive any benefit from all this and, if so, what kind of benefit are we talking about? How do the popular classes calculate and what results do they get?

To quote Veronica Gago, it is possible to think of “calculation as the basis of a pragmatic vitalist”, which means “that it is possible to think strategically as a form of affirmation of the sectors that are precisely outside the calculation, both economically and politically: either as assisted or surplus population or as the underclasses… that which Rancière calls “the portion of those without a share”, and which “tends to be exposed only to calculations of survival that, statistically, organize their management as victims of the calculations of others” (5).

This “pragmatic vitalist” is “utilitarian”, but understood as “useful” not as “petty calculations”, but in the Spinozian sense: “All men have an appetite for seeking what is useful” and useful things are “above all, those things that can feed and nourish the body””. (6). For Gago, and following Spinoza, “calculation is conatus”, that is, “the vitalism of a life”, “it is childhood, resistance, habit, sadness, memory, desire, unfolding, common notion, organizing power of encounter, measure for the mixtures of the bodies, discovery of one’s own singular being in the world”, a singularity that is at the same time personal and collective (7).

For Gago, who developed this idea from Foucault’s analysis, what distinguishes neo-liberal rationality is that it recognizes freedom as the basis of its calculation. She points out: “freedom is not neoliberal, what is neoliberal is to put this freedom as the basis of the calculable”, that is, “to include the incalculable [freedom] as a stimulus of a calculating rationality”. Starting from this point, the neoliberal rationality not only conquers the market, but also gives rise to “new modes of government (governmentality) that preserve and guard the strictly capitalist productivity of this freedom, to the point that… people immanentize calculation as a factor that organizes life and, now, animates the conatus”. Therefore, “it is a question then of a historical conatus, of a conatus promoted by a certain social order that is unprecedentedly skillful and permeable” (8).

In this sense, “the calculation can be viewed at the same time from its essentially neoliberal side (i.e., the recognition of the extended tentative freedom of calculation, exposure of the subjective-collective operation in view of exploitation and government as governmentality) and, at the same time, as a moment of a conatus (“vitalism of life”, “health”, “wanting to live”) that produces reality not previously calculated, that gives rise to new modes of organization, of sociability, to new tactics of exchanges, to the creation of language, of points of view, in short, of value in a broad sense”. In other words, “this vitalism of life is not merely coextensive with the field of neoliberal calculation, but is recognized in its signs from the rejection”. It can be “adaptation”, but also “excess” (9).

In political terms, “calculus is conatus” means that one steals, works, establishes neighbourhood ties and migrates to live. Death is not accepted, or seeing life reduced to the bare minimum of its possibilities. The acceptance of the rules of calculation is intimately linked to a movement of production of subjectivity, of “wanting”. They are verbs: “to undertake”, “to get by”, “to save oneself”. (10).

Translated to the Venezuelan context, “calculus is conatus” suggests the need to dispatch the tributary stories of the “humanitarian rationale”, to “analyze the senses, interpretations and practices that circulate around the material reproduction of life from the viewpoint of those who live in popular urban communities” (11). In other words, to reorient the attention to the strategies deployed by the popular classes to “make life better” (12). This is what three young and brilliant researchers have done: Edith Pineda Arvelo, Mariana García-Sojo and Hernán Vargas Pérez.

Making Life Better

In a work entitled Between the Resolution of Day-to-Day Life and the Administration of the Common, published in 2018, Pineda, García-Sojo, and Vargas begin with the principle that it is not possible to understand what is happening in Venezuela if the contradiction between the reproduction of capital and the social reproduction of life is not taken into account, the latter being understood “as the set of practices and relationships that imply the biological, psychological, economic, ecological, and cultural reproduction of life.

In a context of crisis, which has its immediate origin in the severe contraction of oil income from 2014, the “growing difficulty that most of us have to guarantee the concretion of the minimum materiality that daily life requires” has become evident (14). From then on, “Venezuela has been immersed in a permanent vortex marked by skyrocketing inflation; shortages of basic consumer goods (notably food, medicines, medical supplies, among others); the chaos of everyday financial transactions (permanent shortage of cash, difficulty in digital transactions, among others) and institutional crisis, particularly regarding the implementation of the redistributive policies that have characterized the political commitment of the Venezuelan State since 1999” (15).

With regard to the predominant accounts of the crisis, (“economic warfare operated according to international interests and the national bourgeoisie” or “internal exhaustion of the rentier model that has been republished by Chavism from the State”), the researchers point out “that these are not necessarily divergent theses: we are experiencing the exhaustion of a matrix that represents a civilizing model in crisis and which is the target of an imperial offensive with the support of the local bourgeoisie, who have focused their forces on exacerbating the structural weaknesses of the Venezuelan economy: unproductive essential economic sectors, strong dependence on the importation of goods and services through foreign currencies made possible by oil income, the speculative mode of income circulation, historically clientelist political forms and a way of life anchored in exacerbated consumerism” (16).

The place of enunciation is clearly defined: “We start from the idea that any horizon of exit to the crisis must respond to the interests of the people”, understood as the group “of the common people, who are part of a community of oppressed people whose only civilizing option is unity around the need to guarantee the reproduction of what is common to them: life, in all its dimensions”. In this sense, although “the dominant forms of administration of the common are usually what is called public… or private”, the challenge “is to delineate a form of administration of the common, from the commons, which implement their own capacities in order to materially reproduce life”. Then, the commons make politics, understood as “that which has as an objective the production, reproduction and extension of the community’s life”. The exercise of politics would be carried out according to three principles: “the material principle, which fundamentally responds to guarantee the reproduction of life; the democratic principle, which responds to the procedures that guarantee the exercise of obediential power; and the feasibility principle, which determines to act only in the field of the possible” (17).

Having made these conceptual clarifications, and after offering details about the methodological aspects of the study (thirty-seven people interviewed between April and November 2017), the researchers propose the following typology of ways of resolving the material conditions for the social reproduction of life:

1.By income from formal activities
2.By income from informal activities

        • Sale and resale of food and other goods
        • Malandreo (crook)
        • Killing a tiger (executing any kind of work, quickly and easily – an additional activity that people engage in to obtain extra income to cover household expenses)

3.Because they benefit from state social programs, subsidies or state networks
4.Because it is part of family and inter-family solidarity networks, among others
5.Because one is part of or has a relationship with political organization and articulation of various kinds
6. By possessing means or real estate as patrimony
7. By changing consumption habits and lifestyles

The form of resolution for income from formal activities “refers to the entire field of activities that generate salaries with a stable periodicity and contractual relations, with benefits to the workers attached to the labor legislation in force and that contribute to the fiscal income of a country” (18). Remarkably, this was hardly mentioned by the persons interviewed. There has been a significant “displacement of the labour force from the formal to the informal”. The researchers note: “People report that they earn more income from working in the informal sector, usually identified in open codes as ‘bachaqueo’, ‘tigres’ or ‘rebusques’, noting that it is becoming increasingly reasonable to leave formal employment relationships to access higher levels of income (expressed in formal income or otherwise) through legal or illegal dynamics or practices” (19).

The form of resolution for income from informal activities has to do with “the diverse and uncertain field of activities that do not involve salaries or contractual relations. Economic activities, providing goods or services that do not contribute to a country’s tax revenues, do not provide labour benefits in accordance with the legislation in force and in which their workers do not enjoy social security or minimum conditions of safety at work”. It also includes “activities considered illegal, as well as informal labour dynamics within formal labour spaces” (20). It was the most referred to by the people interviewed, together with the form of resolution by modification of consumption habits and way of life, data that illustrates one of the most important mutations produced during the crisis (21). In fact, the researchers suggest that we could be in the presence of “a generational rupture between what currently represents valid and legitimate practices to obtain income and what the same expression represented decades ago” (22). They identify at least two expressions of this phenomenon: “Firstly, the labour force, emerging from the mode of production originating in the neighbourhood: self-construction, seems to be moving from this labour sector towards other emerging forms of resolving the material conditions of life, in the framework of migratory processes in search of work abroad or within the country (such as mining in the Venezuelan south). On the other hand, some collective dynamics – family or community – linked to the self-construction of the neighborhood disappear or diminish in a notable way, such as the ‘cayapa’ to finish building a house; the possible infrastructural improvements with the… end of month salary payment, among others. Even new ones emerge associated with increasingly disaggregated tasks of the same self-construction process, in a sort of ‘community taylorism’: gluing blocks, loading sand, loading rubble, among other tasks that previously were only profitable if assumed together, in its entirety” (23). (23) The same “rupture”, the researchers continue, “is lived as a transition between the preeminence of men who were trained in the obligatory military service and a trade – or several – such as bricklaying, carpentry, electricity, among others, which are now in the daily search for any activity that allows access to income: loading market bags, carrying water bottles, loading gas bottles, among others” (24).

Returning to one of the principles that guide the study, that of the contradiction between capital reproduction and social reproduction of life, the researchers propose that this “generational rupture” is produced in a context characterized by “the decline of the commercial-real estate sector, the boom of the financial-speculative sector and the re-adjustment of the import-commercial sector”, which translates into important “changes in the urban popular communities, almost as reflections of this reconfiguration of the main concentrated circuits” of capital (25).

Among the informal activities, the sale and resale of food and other goods stands out, which “implies various modalities: processed foods are sold, processed by hand and, generally, sold at low costs (pastries, brewed coffee, empanadas, ice, etc.), but also products that are acquired through the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) or at regulated prices in supermarkets or in supplied stores (Punto Polar) are resold at very high costs”. These resale activities are popularly known as “bachaqueo” (26). One of the most significant contributions of the study is that it shows the ambivalence of bachaqueo, as a phenomenon that arouses contradictory feelings:

  • “We all hate the bachaqueros, when reference is made to ‘mafia’ groups that monopolize access to regulated food, moving high volumes of products that they then resell at speculative prices;
  • “We are all bachaqueros, when reference is made to the daily action of so many women – and to a lesser extent men -, going around the city at dawn in search of products with accessible prices”;
  • “There are bachaqueros who do not harm us, when they are close people with deeply felt material needs (or similar to their own) who buy everything they can and dedicate a part for self-consumption and another part for sale to the rest of the community in small quantities, generally in the form of ‘tetas’, in order to earn more money to cover other expenses or buy more to ‘bachaquear’ (read: repeat the process described). This constitutes a kind of small bachaquero, on a subsistence scale’ (27 ).

Stressing this ambivalent character of bachaqueo, the researchers conclude that it is “a notion that groups together different practices, almost antagonistic in some cases, but all named in the same way, which we believe implies a grouping that tends to equalize practices and subjects: it equalizes those who suffer most from the crisis with those who control the circuit and generate high levels of income from the crisis” (28).

Among the activities identified as malandreo are: “the microtrafficking of drugs; the personal vigilance of the ‘pran’; the armed control of capital circuits susceptible to usury (charging for ‘vigilance’ of premises, a practice known as ‘cashing in’; the sale of stalls in supermarket queues, among others); robbery and theft (indicated as a practice that is exercised outside the neighborhood); and ‘linking up with unions outside the neighborhood’, practices almost always associated with young people (29). Malandering transcends criminal violence. In fact, it should be understood as “an economic practice”, rather than as a “set of ethical decisions”. The study reveals “relationships that account for: a) local organizational structures with regional and even national articulation; b) diversification of tasks such as custody of premises, territories and even concrete dynamics (such as the search for access to regulated products, for example); distribution and marketing of various goods and services; communications, among others; c) operates on the basis of hierarchical levels; and d) operates around the control of circuits of economic activities such as money lending, gambling, prostitution, food resale, etc. In sum, Malandreo is linked “to circuits of capital circulation that progressively develop mechanisms to control other circuits and align small enterprises in the territory” (30).

Finally, among the informal activities is the “killing of tigers”, which “have to do with being paid to do specific daily tasks or short or temporary jobs”. Thus, for example, men mention “tasks associated with the labour dynamics of construction: carrying sand, gluing blocks, carrying rubble, among others”, while women mention “jobs such as looking after children, drying hair, doing manicures, cleaning houses, making crafts, selling jewellery, selling make-up, sewing, making clothes, among others” (31).

Three ways of solving material conditions are somewhere in between: they contribute to solving problems, but they are far from sufficient. These include: enjoying State social programs, subsidies or State networks; being part of family and inter-family solidarity networks, among others; and being part of or having a relationship with political organization and networking of various kinds. The first has to do with “all that is resolved thanks to pensions, scholarships or economic aid ( whether with stable periodicity or not), as well as networks of equipment or subsidized public services and the participation in one or several Social Missions” (32). This includes the bags or boxes of food distributed by CLAPs, the monthly contribution through the Gran Misión Hogares de la Patria, the bags of food acquired at subsidized prices in the workplace (public institutions), the feeding of children, young people and adults in public educational institutions, as well as various “aids” that are managed by various public bodies. The second refers to “everything that is solved thanks to solidarity within families, between different family nuclei, networks of friends or even that are founded on the basis of a minimum organization for the exchange of products and services in a given community” (33). Some examples would be scheduled bulk purchases to lower costs, barter, collective savings to buy high-cost medicines, among others. Finally, the third relates to “all those aspects of materiality that are resolved through the work of the community in diverse areas or by coordinating the work among communities. It contemplates the most visible expressions such as community councils, communes, CLAP, among many others, but also all those possible existing forms of organization regardless of the political aspect” (34). An example to highlight within this modality “are the purchases of food (generally vegetables and legumes) programmed by the communal councils or other organizational expressions in the territory”, and that “are usually made through agreements with local producers, avoiding intermediaries and transport costs, to lower the final price to the community” (35).

The form of resolution for possessing immaterial means or goods as patrimony, which refers to “individual or collective properties (family or inter-family) that allow resolving material conditions” (36), was almost never mentioned by the persons interviewed.

The form of resolution for modification of consumption habits and lifestyles was the most mentioned, along with income from informal activities. It is the modality most closely associated with the capacity of popular “creativity” and “inventiveness”. The most frequently cited change in habit is related to food consumption: “In fact, more vegetables, especially tubers, and more grains are now eaten, and less flour, sugars, and animal protein (chicken and beef in particular, but also pork and fish in general) are eaten, with the marked exception of sardines, which are now eaten with surprising frequency because they are very cheap”. It can be said that people eat “better”, but they undoubtedly eat less: most agree that fewer meals are made each day, no more snacks are made, and there are even some people who have nothing to eat (37). The researchers point out: “Positions are divided on whether this modification translates into eating more healthily or whether we are approaching levels of malnutrition and extreme poverty known in Venezuela before the Bolivarian process. From the sample it is clear that the change in the daily diet is suffered much more than it is celebrated; it is suffered by not being able to access food in the same quantities and with the same speed as before, and enormous efforts are made to try” (38).

This extraordinary exercise in mapping the diversity of forms of resolution of the material conditions for the social reproduction of life employed by the popular classes, and which provides very valuable information for understanding the type of mutations that Venezuelan society is undergoing in times of crisis, is complemented by an “analysis of the ways in which the people – who live in the participating communities – are managing the common, life in all its dimensions in relation to the material procure and how it is linked to the State and the market” (39).

Public, private, common

As for the administration of the common by the State, the general perception is that “there is a situation of general crisis where ‘everything is overwhelmed’, the State has no control over what happens, “there are laws, but they are not fulfilled, no action is taken”, among other opinions of the same persuasion. The lack of “adequate follow-up” to “social programs” is questioned, which ultimately “favors corruption and clientelism”. In addition, “there are recurring ideas that associate the public force and other control institutions (especially the police and military) as part of the corruption networks, not being at the service of the common, nor the public, but of their own or private interests”. Among the people interviewed, the most politicized (“typically spokespersons for community councils”) were of the opinion that the functioning of the CLAPs implies “a blurring of their role in the management of the common, as had been proposed in the Bolivarian process. For the average inhabitant, however, “these criticisms had more to do with an apparent tendency towards discretionality”. Nevertheless, “the state continues to be profiled as the option for leveraging the management of the common” (40).

In the case of the market or, more precisely, of the capitalist economic agents that control it, specifically “the large supermarket chains” are described as “accomplices with respect to the situations of queues, the constant remarking of prices, and the establishment of networks for backgammon that are connected from within, also linked to the security forces and to different levels of criminal organization”, a situation that is repeated in “the small grocery stores and warehouses in the heart of the communities, preventing community organization from exercising any type of control” (41).

Finally, the assessment of the community itself, in particular the most politicized people, “is that there are attempts by community organizations for food production, on the one hand, and for the organization of planned food consumption, on the other, but they have not yet been fully configured as completely organic expressions. The tension between the CLAPs and the communal councils is stressed, “although it is recognized that the CLAPs contribute greatly to guaranteeing the food supply of families”. One of the interviewees stated: “I was bothered by the fact that ‘all the power to the CLAPs’, demobilized the community, there is no longer a health committee, a sports committee, a culture committee, or a housing committee. There is nothing. The only thing that exists is the CLAP. Similarly, the idea that “the need to change the productive economic model in Venezuela is the only possibility to get out of the current crisis is widely present. The debate on how the country’s economy is configured and its dependence on oil, circulates permanently in the urban popular communities” (42).

Having said this, the researchers propose the existence of “two concrete scaffolds that intertwine efforts between various forms of administration of the common”, which are organized as “trinities”. The first of these “is the composition between the concentrated circuits of importation and commerce (distributors, intermediaries and shops), corrupt practices by sectors of the State (especially within the public forces and other institutions of control) and organized mafias (bachaqueo networks in the hands of thugs). These three forms acting as one represent the historical form of access to goods in our country”. The second would be the result of “a weak compromise between the State (different sectors of executive power, including the military), community organization (especially the CLAP in recent years, apart from communal councils and communes) and the popular communities. This second trinity “is quite recent and not very stable, and has been a consequence of the crisis in food distribution, even though we could say that since 1999 there have been other partial exercises of this trinity’s work” (43). The question is: which of them will prevail?

Well, if the assessment criterion is the “material principle”, the first trinity “guarantees materiality only insofar as the population has access to speculative commodities on the market, that is, the concentration of capital in the hands of the distribution and marketing circuits is the primary objective”. In the case of the second trinity, it ‘has as its central objective the consumption of the population by eliminating the intermediary market, but it should be noted that it is not exempt from contributing to the concentration of capital in the hands of the import, distribution and marketing circuits’ (44 ).

If it is a matter of the “democratic principle”, it is true that the first trinity “has always operated with considerable legitimacy among the population”. For example, “the largest national oligopoly has managed to position its products as national cultural references, however, this last period has opened important cracks in the role of each of the actors that compose it”. It could be said that the way in which it operates has been exposed, with little or no democracy. The second trinity, on the other hand, “does not have the same history and is presented as a temporary measure in the face of the crisis”, being the case that “the general expectation is to be able to re-establish consumption via the market”. Although it has gained some legitimacy, “the poor articulation with the community organization of greater consolidation these years, which are the communal councils and the Communes, prevails, the parallelism and ignorance generate confrontations, and then there is the little clarity on the mechanisms of policy allocation, as well as the precarious mechanisms of accountability to the community” (45).

Finally, if the criterion is the “principle of feasibility”, the first trinity has in its favor “that it is a matter of reproducing the same scheme of importation, distribution and speculative commercialization”, that is to say, “the historical rentistic form of Venezuela”, while the second trinity faces the challenge of “continuing to subsidize from the State the same scheme of importation, distribution and speculation – in times of decline of oil rent and international commercial siege – or to leverage national production, processing and distribution” (46).

The mutation in progress: A new order, a new rationality

The analysis that Pineda, García-Sojo and Vargas are doing seems to me to be extremely valuable for several reasons:

  • They are based on the recognition of the contradiction between the reproduction of capital and the social reproduction of life, a contradiction which, by the way, not only crosses, strains and determines Venezuelan society, but which is universal in nature. More importantly, they do not naturalize this contradiction, they do not consider it an ahistorical phenomenon, but quite the opposite: unlike many other analyses, they assume from the outset that the reproduction of capital permanently conspires against the social reproduction of life, and they take sides in favor of the latter;
  • They skillfully and intelligently avoid the traps of political rhetoric, avoiding posing false dilemmas and recognizing that, just as an “economic war” is underway, not only is the capitalist rent model in crisis, but a whole civilizing model founded on the reproduction of capital;
  • They expressly define their place of enunciation: the people. They assume that they are part of the popular subject, and state that any solution to the crisis must respond to their interests;
  • They propose that, beyond the dominant forms of administration of the common, the public and the private, it is necessary to take into account the administration of the common by the common, which implies a recognition of the power of the popular;
  • They go to the field, establishing a direct dialogue with the popular subject. This, which may seem obvious, and devoid of any merit, is of great importance at the present time, as unanchored analyses of reality predominate. Even more significant, and this is perhaps the main contribution made by the researchers, is an unprejudiced, demoralized interlocution that does not involve the victimization of the popular classes;
  • They construct a cartography of the forms of resolution of the material conditions for the social reproduction of life, which is a good starting point for future research. When observing this construction exercise, it is when the effort to make an analysis free of moralization is most evident, which avoids victimizing a popular subject that, certainly, suffers the rigors of the crisis, but also “resolves” in multiple ways;
  • They suggest the existence of at least two major forms of grouping the forces that intervene in the administration of the common, which allows us to understand, at least partially, and in a very schematic way, the way in which forces that, in other analyses, tend to appear to act in an isolated way, are interwoven.

In more general lines, what researchers identify as “transformations from the crisis” (47), as well as the diverse forms assumed by the tensions and contradictions between the State, the capitalist economic agents and the popular classes, are an eloquent index of the mutation process of the governmentality regime. The growing loss of state capacity to administer the common, the limitations inherent in the way of trying to manage the crisis (which exposes the tension of inclusion/participation, expressed in the study as CLAP vs. communal councils, for example), the problems arising from the lack of understanding of the nature of the crisis (which is evident in the tendency to leave the metabolic logic of capital reproduction intact), added to the progressive state “withdrawal” from the market, are circumstances that must be analyzed from this perspective.

What several of the people interviewed, and in fact a significant part of the popular classes, perceive as a “generalized crisis”, “overflow”, absence of “control”, failure to comply with laws, inaction, lack of “follow-up”, and the researchers themselves describe somewhere as “caotization”, is equally a sign of the mutation towards a regime of neoliberal government. As Santiago Castro-Gómez points out, “neoliberalism is not the chaos and irrationality that remain after the disappearance of the state, but rather it entails a whole reorganization of political rationality that encompasses not only the governance of economic life, but also… the governance of social and individual life. A rationality that, it must be said, does not eliminate the State, but rather converts it into an instrument for creating market autonomy. If one can speak of something like ‘withdrawal of the state’, this should be seen as the effect of a rational technology of government and not as an irrational phenomenon” (48).

What is underway and, one might add, in dispute, is a whole reorganization of political rationality. Hence I insist on the importance of identifying and combating any vestige of “humanitarian rationale” (49). That which we commonly perceive as chaos and irrationality is really the way in which the configuration of an order founded on a certain rationality is manifested: the neoliberal one. The State, of course, does not “disappear”, however much it may appear to be defenceless, impotent, almost non-existent, and its “withdrawal” must be understood as an effect of the tactics employed by forces acting rationally, whether they are capitalist economic agents (transnational, national and local, with emphasis on monopolistic and oligopolistic powers), factions of power acting within the same State, or factual powers that take the form of “organized mafias”, to continue with the “trinitarian” formula proposed by researchers. What is at stake is the control of the State and, by that means, the control of the market; the capacity to prevail in the dispute for the administration of the common and, therefore, the subordination of the popular majorities to the logic of capital reproduction.

In such context we must also analyze the bacchaqueo, an anomic phenomenon par excellence, which summarizes all the chaos and irrationality of the current crisis. Again, an effort must be made to demoralize the analysis. As an immediate, proximate and daily expression of the crisis, we put all the emphasis on the bachaquaero anomie, which prevents us from understanding that there is no more anomie, in the sense that the previously anomic becomes the center of the social dynamic: in the midst of a process of mutation of the regime of governmentality, of reorganization of political rationality, the anomie becomes a new norm of sociability.

But, in addition, and of course, far from idealizing it, researchers have emphasized the ambivalent nature of the bachaquero phenomenon: bachaqueros can inspire both hatred from the whole community, and understanding and even solidarity. It all depends on who they are: mafias or ordinary people who face the same difficulties as the rest of the community, or even worse. Similarly, the practice of “bachaque” can be condemned, verging on the criminal, or it can be seen as a practice that everyone must eventually resort to in order to obtain food or medicine, for example.

Approaching the bachaquero phenomenon from the perspective of moral condemnation can mean the total invisibility of the significant increase in social inequality as a consequence of the crisis, and of the multiple strategies employed by the popular classes to “deal with life”. As Verónica Gago put it, it can imply the ignorance of the “vitalism of life” that characterizes the popular majorities, which clearly has serious political implications: it is simply impossible to make revolutionary politics out of the enormous popular effort to “solve” everyday life.

On the other hand, this moral condemnation of the bachaqueo, the forms that this “neoliberalism from below” (50) assumes, can conceal class prejudices: they are judged as unacceptable or intolerable, the exact same practices to which the so called “entrepreneurs”, usually people belonging to the middle class: the simple resale of food and drinks, to give only one example. Furthermore, it may mean that the big “winners” of the crisis, the capitalist economic agents, are left out of the equation, beyond popular scrutiny, in some cases going to the extreme of considering them as “victims” and “saviors” at the same time: victims of state controls over the market, and timely and punctual suppliers of goods that become available (even if not accessible) once the state has lifted the controls. Worse still, it may represent the disregard for the hard struggle that organized communities have waged against these same capitalist economic agents, who in fact actively promote bacchanalia, in alliance with criminal mafias, as the most politicized subjects in the popular neighborhoods are very clear.

This moral condemnation of bachaqueo is in itself a clear expression of the reorganization of political rationality underway, the depoliticization inherent in neoliberalism. In this sense, this is a serious obstacle to confronting this process of neoliberalization in Venezuelan society.

In any case, almost three years have passed since Pineda, García-Sojo and Vargas began their study. In that time, the phenomenon of bacchaqueo has all but disappeared. Some may be tempted to claim, victoriously, that it has been “eradicated”. Many questions can be asked: has it really disappeared or has it simply taken on other forms? Do capitalist economic agents practice bachaqueo, only on a large scale? Let us assume that the phenomenon persists, but in a very limited way. In that case, has inequality decreased or has it increased, and to what extent has the withdrawal of the State made the market more democratic? Some of these questions may seem tricky, while others seem obvious, but they are not so obvious: neoliberalism has come a long way in the common consciousness. Among many others that could be asked, perhaps the most important question of all remains: how do popular majorities resolve all of their life problems today?

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(50) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Quarantine (VII): The restless neoliberal dream.

Translation by Internationalist 360º