The Deviations of the “Intellectual Left” in Venezuela

William Serafino
https://i2.wp.com/redangostura.org.ve/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/e5y6vtwh-copia-1140x570.jpgThe new coronavirus pandemic in Venezuela has revived in a matter of a month the scenario of acute economic destabilization of previous times.

The stampede of the parallel dollar and, consequently, the high prices on the shelves, have once again become the determining factors of a scenario of enormous economic difficulty for the country in the short and medium term.

Unlike the 2015 and 2016 supply shortages and the systematic hyperinflation of 2017 and 2018, this time the short-circuit of the Venezuelan economy comes from an external and unpredictable event, accompanied by its destructive effects on world oil prices and international trade.

The immediate effect of the pandemic has been to suddenly interrupt the fragile balance of power that the Venezuelan government had built up with private economic actors since the beginning of this year, bringing with it the stabilization of the price of the dollar, the mobility of economic activity (especially trade) based on the flow of foreign exchange from remittances and a certain degree of relief compared to the chaos of previous years.

At the same time, the United States has taken advantage of the pandemic to radicalize its hybrid war against Venezuela (an issue quite well explained by Arantxa Tirado in her latest article), while the Venezuelan government concentrates on stifling the Covid-19 contagion curve.

As the US State Department has been saying since 2018, “the sanctions are working”.

And the reality offers living testimony to that statement: the country has been left with minimal gasoline inventories, the money stolen from the Republic at the hands of the U.S. Treasury Department is being distributed among the management layer of the on-going coup, while the oil imports and revenues on which the country depends are at a record low compared to its recent history.

Through its latest moves, in the context of the “anti-narcotics” military deployment and an overdose of illegal sanctions, the Trump Administration is demonstrating its interest in transforming Covid-19 into an instrument of armed confrontation against Venezuela.

The intention is to lead the country into a climate of extreme social and political tension that will create the conditions for a new coup attempt, as the tightening of the blockade does its job by complicating the health and economic management of the pandemic.

Since the success of this new macabre calculation by the White House is not guaranteed, they have meanwhile instrumentalized the Venezuelan issue in order to distract attention, as much as possible, from the social and health chaos that the pandemic is causing within US territory. This is confirmed by none other than the gringo magazine Newsweek.

For the first time in the short wave of the conflict for the (geo)political control of Venezuela, Washington has intensified its efforts to overthrow Chavism while it is adrift as a nation-state and world power.

The rumblings of secession, the stirrings of civil war and social upheaval in the face of chronic unemployment, the mounting death toll and the critical inequality that the pandemic is leaving behind have begun. This picture of systemic collapse has resulted in the erosion of US leadership in the international arena, generating conditions of instability, chaos and uncertainty that have accompanied the great geopolitical transitions of the past five centuries.

In addition to the country’s material difficulties in the midst of these unprecedented and uncontrollable conditions, there are ideological difficulties in understanding the framework of the current situation. There is a feeling of emptiness and loss of the ideological coordinates that used to explain our reality in a coherent way, especially from the left. But it goes beyond that.

There is a certain idea that no approach can fully explain the social and political situation in which we move. Among the diverse historical and social causes that provoke this sensation, the fragmented thought that was globalized after the collapse of the socialist experience in 1989-1991 stands out. The neoliberal paradigm was victorious.

And no current of modern thought escapes that legacy.

This catastrophic clash with reality, in concrete terms, has generated a mosaic of erroneous perceptions around the various themes and public debates that articulate our political reality. An example of this, by scale of importance, is to be found in the idealistic filter when analyzing the performance of Chavism in the State and in the economy.

Historically, the right wing has assumed that the government maintains a failed model. There is nothing new in this. However, the dominant current of the self-described Venezuelan “left” insists on adding a nuance: it would no longer be a matter of bad economic management, but rather a conspiracy between Maduro and private capital to intentionally provoke the hunger of millions of people on a salary of 4 dollars.

According to his proposals, Maduro would enjoy this situation as part of his systematic policy of delivering Chavez’ legacy, while being an active accomplice of the capitalist currents that are intentionally destroying the country.

For them, the government has opted for a neoliberal approach in order to take political and economic advantage without regard for the rest of society.

The main problem with this approach is that it is based on assumptions that do not apply to the material conditions of the country.

Venezuelan oil is priced at $9 (being produced at a loss), and historically the country imports what it needs with that income, but right now the Republic’s billion dollar resources are being hijacked by the Washington-Guaidó mafia. In summary: the country is financially in a situation that borders on bankruptcy as the oil crisis combines with the U.S. blockade and the pandemic.

However, these distorting factors and evident crisis are not taken into account when analyzing the economic problem, since it is a matter of forcing the idea that the economy is numbers and figures and not power relations.

Because in their heads the playbook rules, they are eager for “revolutionary” proclamations and oedipts of expropriation and other “radical” measures that will change the situation completely, as if reality works that way, in principle. They claim that the situation can be turned upside down if “revolutionary” measures are taken, sidestepping something as important and elementary as the fact that the country has no money.

While they believe that everything is reduced to proclamations and effective measures, Maduro must overcome the contradictions of being at the head of a historically inefficient state like Venezuela’s, incapable of mobilizing financial resources, holding a devalued currency and coexisting with a private sector that developed in the light of dwindling oil revenues. In conditions like this, it is difficult to project a winning scenario.

Ideological purism (governing with “the people”, “cutting down on bureaucracy”, “distributing wealth”, etc.) is imposed on a reality that imposes concrete political limits. The false idea that it is possible to make a revolution in the Venezuelan way, to confront the dominant powers, and at the same time, to have a lifestyle and a political reality that survives the existential tensions that generate processes of these characteristics, becomes the starting point. It is fragmented thinking.

For them, Maduro should “defend” – truly, not falsely as he usually does – the “working class”. It doesn’t matter that, instead of forming a working class in the country, a proletariat was historically formed, dependent on the State and the tertiary sector, stimulated by the consumption of a diminished and minimal oil income. But that’s the least of it; knowing how the society you live in works is always a secondary element.

Maduro is also supposed to destroy the capitalists, to declare all-out war on them, regardless of whether these measures create shortages or exacerbate difficulties in the midst of the pandemic. It does not matter. The important thing is to take a radical, “revolutionary” stand, to look good in the eyes of the people.

Finally, the communes should be implemented and all power given to “people’s power,” as if a cultural change would be made official by decree.

But politics doesn’t work like that. Maduro has had to manage a state that is becoming unviable, a destroyed economy and an international war that has now put a price on his head. In a scenario like this, where each movement defines strategic issues, he has had to build consensus with sectors that are committed to his downfall. This means governing.

It is very easy to ask for the heads of the businessmen, but not to assume the costs of the country being left without the few basic supplies it has left or of Washington stepping up its onslaught.

It is tremendously simple to demand structural changes in the economy, in the state, but not to have to manage the country’s growing needs with the public coffers drained.

This intellectual deviation goes far beyond the economic. And its view on this is based on a fundamental error in the understanding of the Venezuelan political process in its origins and formation.

They tend to believe, and take for granted, that Chavismo is an organized and consistent popular movement that then crystallizes in an election. But no, the opposite is true: Chavismo was born as a military movement that became hegemonic in Venezuelan society when it came to the state because it knew how to interpret it.

They fall into the error of thinking that Chavismo is a kind of autonomous entity, trying to dramatize a confrontation between “the people” and “the bureaucrats” and “the military”. And this is also a mistaken reading: Chavism took shape because it was forged in a logic of power management, and not because it has fought in an organized way against the neoliberal governments that preceded Chávez.

The problem with this perception is that everything related to the state, from the CLAPs to community management of different issues in public institutions, is seen as non-revolutionary or non-transformative forms of organization. What is “revolutionary” is that which is purest, that which cries out loudest, that which makes the best claims of the working class.

These intellectual distortions encompass all other areas, including the terrible failure to analyze the Venezuelan process from an economistic perspective, where political success is measured by GDP or inflation. The coup in Bolivia has debunked the myth that economics precedes politics.

The political and social dynamics, the organizational instruments that Chavism has created, in the midst of circumstances where eating and having public services is a daily challenge, escapes analysis. Fragmented thinking once again overshadows the common effort of thousands of Venezuelans facing an unprecedented situation, organizing themselves according to Chavez’ instinct and lessons.

The self-styled “leftist” currents have been led astray by their own myths. According to their corollary, the military (and even less the police) are not revolutionary by essence, the commune must replace all forms of “bureaucracy”, the state is always bad, the businessmen must always be corralled.

From this magical thinking emanates the thesis that politics is a matter of principle and not a contingency of ever-changing historical and social factors. This results in an extremely childish theory of power and politics, even though it is based on Marxism. As long as politics are principles and essences, the field of action will always be limited: everything that is not “revolutionary”, and ideologically pure, must be discarded.

Having a political strategy that embraces various sectors of society seems to be synonymous with betrayal.

If Chávez had based his political strategy on these schemes, we would not have arrived here. Those who call themselves “leftist” continue to demand this.

We must continue to learn from what he has taught us so that we do not go astray.