Venezuela has been an inspiration for many people in Latin America and around the world since the electoral victory of Hugo Chávez in 1998. His Bolivarian Revolution has improved working conditions, rights, and social welfare for working class Venezuelans. However, he also made a stand against US imperialism – in the form of nationalising Venezuelan oil – and refused to follow the destructive neoliberal doctrine pushed by the US government and its sponsors in the IMF and World Bank. As a result, Venezuela has seen many destabilisation campaigns, including a failed coup in 2002. However, the US habit of reminding the world how it favours ‘democracies’ (despite its constant support for dictatorships) rings hollow in the case of Venezuela, where the electoral process, improved since Chávez’s initial victory, has consistently been called one of the best in the world by former US president Jimmy Carter.
Recently, students from private and public universities have taken to the streets to protest, but as a result there have been violent confrontations, resulting in several deaths. Sectors of the opposition – those who controlled Venezuelan industry and, perhaps more importantly, the media for so many years – have orchestrated or financed certain protests. These are the people who call ‘Chavismo’ an ‘illness’, ‘populism’, ‘demagoguery’, or ‘ignorance’ in the media. There exists an argument that the opposition also contains racist elements, and one commentator, Briceño León, affirms that “Venezuelan society is shamefully racist” and that there is a direct relation between wealth and skin colour – with the dominating class almost entirely white. For those familiar with the social structure of many former colonial societies, that will not be surprising. Chávez represented a break from all of the previous ‘European-looking’ Venezuelan presidents and aimed to empower the exploited sectors of society. Whether they mention it or not, there seems to be a racist undercurrent in the assumption that Venezuelans of African or indigenous origin should not be trusted to rule the country. Thus, the democratic will of the Venezuelan People, in their eyes, loses validity.
Many of the protesters come from sectors of society which have never suffered power cuts or lack of water, and which live surrounded by luxury products amidst the immense inequalities prevalent in Venezuela society. They claim that they are protesting for equality (and against insecurity and corruption) but these are the same things the Bolivarian Revolution has worked for. The opposition know this, and have tried to appropriate ideals held by the Revolution – responding to the urgent and real demands of the People. They know that, without doing so, they will not be able to win an election.
The ‘chavista’ leadership does indeed need to deal with issues of security and corruption, whilst ensuring that popular democracy – rather than bureaucracy – is built. However, the Revolution is a step forward for a nation plundered by capitalists for centuries. To stop the opposition protests – often representing the interests of the nation’s former rulers (whether consciously or not), there must be no violent police repression. This has reportedly occurred and, if the government does not ensure that those using violence unnecessarily are brought to justice, it risks seriously discrediting itself. Nonetheless, the protests have been exploited by the Venezuelan far-right, which itself has brought violence to the street and, as the government currently seems to claim, is responsible for the injuries suffered by protesters and other citizens.
In times of economic crisis, when it looks like capitalism is at risk, capitalists support violent, racist, sectors of society who, through ignorance, fight against attempts to put an end to the injustices and exploitation inherent in the capitalist economic system. Fascism is on the rise in today’s world – bolstered by the capitalist-owned right-wing media – and is the vehicle of the imperialist right-wing which fears the end of capitalism is near. Racist murders have taken place in France, Germany and Greece, and fascists and ultra-right-wingers have gained certain electoral success in Italy, Russia, and elsewhere. These events suggest that there is a real danger of returning to the events of the 1930s.
Both fascism and capitalism need masks to cover their disgusting faces. Fascists like Mussolini, for example, copied revolutionary chants and programmes, whilst in reality embarking on campaigns of ethnic cleansing and violent repression. The electoral success of progressive governments throughout Latin America has seen a resurgence of the old anticommunism of the continent’s Dirty War (fuelled by US imperialists and domestic capitalists). The ultra-right hide their real beliefs behind talk of ‘democracy’, ‘stability’, and ‘equality’, but the reality is that they do not believe in ‘the rule of the People’. They fear real democracy, but they act like its champions. They speak of equality, but in the sense of keeping things the same and not changing things for the better.
This is not the time for division on the Left. But at the same time it is always incredibly important, as always, to ensure that human rights have not been infringed. No-one should be immune from criticism. Also, it is necessary to maintain an opposition to bureaucratic control of the State and empower the People to act as the primary agents in the revolutionary process.
However, we need to recognise the growth in support for ultra-right movements in order to organise ourselves to protect the progress made by the world’s Left – whether we completely sympathise with their entire ideology or all of their actions. Fascism doesn’t only take control through coups, but also through elections and through taking advantage of the weaknesses and errors of progressive movements. The supporters of these movements can be disillusioned by unjustified violent repression, for example.
While, of course, remaining independent and critical, we must be alert in our own nations, and stand in solidarity with other nations in their fight for social justice and against the racist, exploitative ideologies of capitalism and fascism.