Every time the working class and poor of Latin America try to take a step forward and write their own history they confront the power of U.S. imperialism. It uses whatever is in fashion at the time — coups, blockades, manufactured protest movements, referendums or trade sanctions — to turn back the clock.
When longstanding polarization in Venezuela erupted into street protests in February and March, the United States, true to form, played its usual role in the unrest. Using money, tough talk and lobbying among Latin American countries, the U.S. tried to shore up opposition to the elected government of Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chávez’s successor.
With the death of Chávez last year, the sector of the Venezuelan ruling class allied with the U.S. and international capital escalated its attacks on President Maduro. After his forces won 17 out of 18 municipal elections in December, the far right jumped at the opportunity to cash in on February’s spontaneous demonstrations against deteriorating economic conditions. Leopoldo López, a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a well-documented CIA recruiting ground, emerged as one of the movement’s chief spokesmen.
Since the Venezuelan military still supports the president, the U.S. is left with one option: destabilizing his government and forcing it to make concessions in hopes of getting Maduro voted out of office in 2015.
U.S. intervention is not the only problem facing the Venezuelan people. Bolivarianism is suffering an internal crisis arising from its failure to overthrow capitalism and put workers and the poor in the driver’s seat.
Chavismo’s contradictions coming home to roost
The problem with Chavismo, as with other forms of populism, is that it has a divided political base composed of classes with opposing interests.
On one side are the workers, the poor and the oppressed who constitute the vast majority. They are recipients of government aid but do not control the state, industry or foreign trade.
On the other side is a sector of the Venezuelan capitalist class allied with the government. This is what has come to be known as the “boli-bourgeoisie” whose fate is tied to government decisions about the distribution of Venezuela’s oil wealth.
After 15 years, the contradictions between the class interests of this divided political base are beginning to surface in spiraling inflation and capital flight.
The bolívar, Venezuela’s national currency, has lost purchasing power, driving up prices. This is due to a number of factors, including the fact that the Maduro government wildly printed money in 2013 to fulfill its election promise of continued government funding for food and social services. The result was that circulation of bolivars increased by 70 percent, feeding the fires of inflation.
A government devaluation of the national currency to control inflation brought about economic panic and led to an explosion in the value of dollars on the black market. They became scarce due to hoarding and increased capital flight, depriving the Maduro government of the dollars it needed to buy food and meet its international loan obligations.
At the end of last year, the government, in an attempt to address this problem, reorganized the way the state bureaucracy distributed its oil dollars. This was done to counter capital flight through the black market and reign in government corruption, which continues to be an unrelenting problem.
Maduro’s currency reorganization cut the flow of dollars to a significant sector of the middle class and unemployed workers who had developed a number of schemes to survive and/or profit from the economic crisis. For example, better off Venezuelans could travel abroad to purchase goods and then sell them at a hefty profit in informal sector. This became known as “suitcase commerce.” Others purchased dollars abroad with a credit card and returned home to sell them on the black market at a highly inflated price.
Maduro’s currency reforms put the kibosh on these practices which in turn fed the February-March protests.
The road ahead
Today, Venezuela’s oil-based economy is no longer sufficient to simultaneously satisfy Chavismo’s promises to the people, guarantee profits to capitalists allied with the government, and meet the interest payments on Venezuela’s national debt. Something has to give and the capitalists are determined that it should be the workers and the poor who pay.
That means that, to defend the gains of Bolivarianism, it is necessary to go beyond social welfare capitalism to a planned, socialist economy under workers’ control of industry and a state monopoly on foreign trade.
For the Venezuelan people, turning the clock ahead is the only way to keep from being pushed back.
Adapted from an article written by Stephen Durham in June 2014 and found at http://www.socialism.com/drupal-6.8/articles/venezuela-imperialist-threats-and-limits-populism