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A Reply to Clifton Ross

Venezuela: Supporting A Once and Future Revolution

by ROGER D. HARRIS

Venezuela is at a critical moment in its Bolivarian revolution, dealing with serious economic issues due to its transitional economy that is under siege by local oligarchs. At the same time, President Nicolás Maduro’s decision to welcome Edward Snowden, if he opts for political asylum in Venezuela, means that the Obama administration is escalating its hostility towards his government.

Venezuela faces a situation analogous to that of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende from 1970 to 1973 when, as is well documented, the CIA and the local business class conspired to destabilize the economy, overthrow the democratically elected socialist government, and impose the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

It is in this context that we find it ill timed at best that Clif Ross has assailed the Venezuelan government with one-sided and flimsy arguments (e.g., criticizing Chávez for choosing to divert electrical power from basic industry to the populace when natural droughts curtailed hydroelectric production). Nor does the Task Force on the Americas feel that it was indecent to circulate Greg Wilpert’s excellent critique of Ross’s break with the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela without also mailing out Ross’s article. A citation was enough.

A former Chávista, Ross now takes what he describes as an “agnostic” view of the Bolivarian movement. His agnosticism extends to the US-backed opposition, which Ross argued in his talk in Berkeley could be even better for Venezuela if it were to come to power.

As solidarity activists, the Task Force on the Americas is not afflicted with agnostic angst; we support the social justice movements against imperialist intervention. Our responsibility is to allow the Venezuelans to resolve the contradictions within their movement without the interference of the US government.

A class analysis is needed of what is happening in Venezuela. The many problems with the Bolivarian revolution are inherent in trying to create socialism on the foundations of capitalism. Within Chávismo there is an acute awareness of problems, and President Maduro is working on them. We support the overall Bolivarian struggle against outside interference, because the alternative of the opposition in power would mean no opportunity for a people’s agenda.

Ross is concerned about the contagion of state power. None of the 21st century socialist governments in Latin America pass his muster. All are corrupt, authoritarian, and going in the wrong direction in his view.

But it was through state power that the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela distributed land to 300,000 families, halved the poverty rate, reduced extreme poverty by two-thirds, went from being among one of the most economically unequal nations in the Latin America to being the among the most equal, reduced child malnutrition by 40%, increased social expenditures by 60%, built 700,000 homes, and returned 1 million hectares to Indigenous communities.

This same government has promoted community councils and other instruments of participatory democracy. Not surprisingly, according to the annual World Happiness poll, Venezuela is the second happiest country in Latin America.

A mere decade and a half ago, most analysts would have ranked Venezuela as least likely to stand up on its own two feet to challenge the Empire, to be recognized as sovereign and equal. It was arguably the most sycophantically Americanized nation in South America. In a mere 14 years of the Bolivarian revolution, there has been a blossoming of home grown culture. A sense of national identity and pride has become universal, even among the Miami jet-setting opposition elements.

Today, 32-year old musical wunderkind and avowed Chavista Gustavo Dudamel is not only the music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar in Caracas but of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles. Culture is still being imported, but the shipping lanes are going both ways now.

The Bolivarian revolution is considered a major threat by the US empire. The US has a stated policy of regime change for Venezuela, spending millions of dollars on “democracy promotion” to demonize and destabilize the Bolivarian movement. With the US as the sole super power having an uncontested military superiority, the Bolivarian revolution is all the more of a threat because it is a “threat of a good example.”

In 2008, when the US financial crisis precipitated a world recession, the capitalist solution was to impose austerity measures on working people with increased unemployment and economic insecurity. In contrast, the Venezuelan government reduced the gap between rich and poor by elevating the poor.

As James Petras has pointed out, US policy toward Venezuela has taken many tactical turns. But the enduring objective has been the same: oust the Chavistas, reverse the nationalization of big businesses, abolish the mass community and worker based councils, and revert the country into a client-state. These are the salient issues the solidarity movement needs to address.

Roger D. Harris is the President, Task Force on the Americas.