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Lessons We Can Learn from the Electoral Setback in Venezuela

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The most important lesson for solidarity activists and opponents of the US Empire is the crucial role of our international solidarity in defending Third World countries under threat. The constant corporate media disinformation war on target countries such as Venezuela is as much a weapon of aggression and a tool for regime change as missiles and bombers. This disinformation propaganda against the Chavistas – e.g., dictatorship, drug running, political prisoners, police violence – is not simply widely echoed and often believed inside Venezuela. This media war is also directed at us, the US people, against our broad anti-war sentiment. Some of us may mistakenly feel like we are ants up against the elephant of the US Empire, but the corporate rulers understand its media must confuse us about Venezuela. It must sow disenchantment with Venezuela, make us question our support for the Bolivarian government and process.

If the Empire can make us feel that Venezuela, or any other US target, is not worth our active defense, then they have already won much of the war. The Empire is aware it faces major obstacles if it cannot neutralize domestic opposition to its interventionist plans. It learned this lesson in Vietnam, then again in the 1980s Central American interventions, and again in the 2003 war on Iraq.

A second lesson is that socialism cannot be built using the state inherited in an election, seeking to grow it over into a socialist state. Socialism was built in Russia, China, Cuba, for instance, after the old state was destroyed and a new one constructed, representing the working people. And then, socialist nationalizations of large capitalist enterprises and large landholdings occurred only in response to sabotage and counterrevolutionary actions by their foreign and domestic owners.

Chavez did recognize that to fulfill the goals of the Bolivarian process the old constitution must be scrapped and a new one created, which more fully represented the people. He sought to build local community councils and regional communes to replace the old state structures still in place. He also saw the need to build peoples cooperatives to produce goods and to take control of distributing essential products in order to counter the oligarchy’s economic control. Similarly Chavez recognized the need to build a new people’s police force to replace the one they inherited. However, all these projects remained only partially realized. These new cooperative-communal economic and governmental powers the Chavistas initiated can only be realized through an active and continuous struggle of the people to replace the inherited economic and government system run in the interests of the ruling capitalist elite.

The old bourgeois state’s continued existence, along with all the old personnel, is no foundation to build a new socialist society on, but an obstacle that must be removed to advance.

A third lesson is that 21st century socialism cannot be counterposed to what those like Michael Lebowitz and Marta Harnecker call the “state socialism” of the 20th century. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador are not socialist countries, but anti-neoliberal capitalist countries with anti-imperialist governments. They cannot be pointed to as new, more democratic models of socialism. It is no democracy, no socialism, when the native oligarchy retains decisive power to disrupt the nation’s economic life. It is no democracy when the US and Venezuela oligarchies can manipulate the election through an economic and media war and so pressure the people to vote in a pro-US, neo-colonial, neoliberal National Assembly that does not represent their interests. It is no democracy when the Venezuelan rightwing is allowed the legal space to organize to overthrow the democratic and humanitarian gains made by the Venezuelan people, and return the country to complete oligarchic control, by use of brutal force, death squads and torture if need be.

21st century Venezuela socialism, claimed by Harnecker, Lebowitz and others to be superior to the 20th century version, ironically suffers from some of the same problems that plagued the Soviet Union: a government disconnected from the people, inattention to moral-political-socialist education, a bureaucracy administering the state that provides few solutions to increasing economic war. These problems were generated in part by relying on the old state structures and personnel to move the country towards socialism.

The Venezuela’s elections, 20 in just 17 years, are both an example of democracy and its opposite. They can serve to undermine popular control. The PSUV has felt the need to postpone necessary economic measures in order to win the next election. These bourgeois elections offer a tool for US interference, and on December 6 the US effectively played the electorate and seized a victory for the right wing. Cuba’s electoral system, where no parties participate, and where the people not only vote on candidates to represent them, but actually nominate them from their own neighborhoods and workplaces, and where expensive campaign marketing is not permitted, leaves the US scant room for manipulation.

In spite of the recent setback, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela remains the largest party in the country, the people remain loyal to the goals of Hugo Chavez. The Bolivarian process has brought countless benefits to the people of Venezuela. The people are not defeated or demoralized, and remain organized in their popular structures, ready to fight to defend their gains won during the Chavista era.

We, US opponents of the Empire, have not made good use of Bolivarian Venezuela’s example. For instance, Venezuela has been in the vanguard banning the use of GMOs. Venezuela has sent several shipments of aid to the Palestinian victims of the US-Israeli war and has provided homes and scholarships to those bearing the brunt of this brutality.

While enduring the US economic war, Venezuela has still provided a million homes to people in need in that country, while we in the US face the outrageous situation of having 6 vacant homes for every homeless person.

Extreme poverty in Venezuela fell from 16.6% of the population in 1998 to 5.4% by 2015.

In the US, since Bill Clinton’s welfare cuts, those living on less than $2 a day has doubled, to 1.5 million.

Venezuela provides free health care, adult and university education to all, unlike in the richest country in the world, where the US government prefers to spend over half the budget on its war machine.

Venezuela is an example, like Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia, that we can use in our own social movements to explain that a new world is possible, and is already being built. To defend Venezuela is to defend our own struggles, and to defend Venezuela is to oppose the same enemy we face at home.

Stansfield Smith, Chicago ALBA Solidarity Committee, recently returned from a SOA Watch, Task Force on the Americas delegation to Venezuela.

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