FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Radical Chavismo Growls a Challenge

by GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER

On Thursday April 3, a group of approximately 500 armed combatants representing the most vociferously revolutionary sectors of the Venezuelan Revolution engaged in a display of force in the historically revolutionary parroquia of 23 de Enero (January 23) in western Caracas, making evident the volatile divisions that threaten the unity of the governing coalition.

The current crisis originates in an incident in February, when an improvised pipe-bomb exploded outside the offices of the national chamber of commerce, Fedecámaras, notorious for its central role in the 2002 coup that ousted Chávez. The only victim was Héctor Serrano, alias “Caimán” (“Alligator”), a police officer who was alleged to have been setting the bomb when it accidentally detonated. According to a statement reportedly found at the scene, the action was claimed by a little-known Venceremos Guerrilla Front, supposedly located in 23 de Enero.

Various Venezuelan police agencies, from Metropolitan Police to the Intelligence Services (DISIP), responded by searching several locations in the neighborhood, sparking protests by residents and representatives of the many local revolutionary organizations peppered throughout the area. Public figures like Lina Ron and Pedro Lander participated in a public protest against the searches, likening them to the repression experienced in the aftermath of the 1989 Caracazo riots, when thousands were slaughtered in these same barrios.

The response from Chávez has been ambiguous at best: he denounced Ron and Lander for playing into the hands of the opposition, launching into a lengthy explication on the evening program La Hojilla (The Razor) of the alleged harm that the Chilean ultra-left caused to the government of Salvador Allende. Despite his long-standing affection for 23 de Enero, Chávez continued, violent attacks against the opposition, no matter how reactionary the target, could not be permitted in this “peaceful but armed” revolution.

Chávez’s stinging response has done little to lower tensions. Amid continued DISIP incursions into radical territory–the agency has confirmed having as many as 50 agents engaged in “intelligence and identification” in the area on Thursday, a number of revolutionary collectives normally devoted to the armed self-defense of 23 de Enero joined in a collective show of force. 23 de Enero was shut down completely, all roads blocked and only foot traffic permitted. Hundreds of armed militants, hooded with black ski masks and wearing a variety of clothing from military fatigues to denim jackets, stood in formation and addressed the media.

Participants in the “popular civic strike” issued a communiqué signed by more than a dozen revolutionary collectives, from Militia Zero to the Carapaica Movement to Lina Ron’s recently-relaunched Venezuelan Popular Unity (UPV) denouncing the DISIP incursions. “It seems contradictory to us,” the statement reads, “that while the coup-plotters of the right are rewarded with an Amnesty Law, community leaders and popular revolutionary movements are attacked, stigmatized, and persecuted in an effort to destroy them.”

One participant was further quoted as threatening that the shutdown would be expanded to other zones of the city if the searches continued. Ominously, he added, “next time it won’t be so peaceful.”

Accusations of “Disobedience”

The day following this peaceful but armed show of force, the mayor of western Caracas, Freddy Bernal, traveled to the militant Block 7 of 23 de Enero, home to an organization known as Militia Zero, to negotiate. He was disappointed, as no one showed up to talk, and according to Últimas Noticias, he dismissed the groups in question as “disobedient.” This is certainly a title that many of the groups here in 23 de Enero would embrace, and it clearly marks the chasm that separates some members of the Chavista coalition.

Chávez himself did little to close the gap. In a speech today commemorating the sixth anniversary of his return to power following the April 2002 coup, the Venezuelan president denounced those who carried out the symbolic stoppage. These are people, according to Chávez, who “call themselves revolutionaries,” but behind whom “the hand of the Empire” is clearly visible. While often in the past Chávez has been content to publicly rebuke such revolutionaries while tacitly turning a blind eye to their actions, such recent statements could suggest a dangerous change of course.

As though this tension between the government and radical Chavistas were not complicated enough, rumors continue to swirl about Chavista hegemony in the police forces. There are, I am told, “two DISIPs,” one resolutely Chavista and one which still opposes and works to undermine the process. This is not surprising: establishment of institutional control is a slow and uneven business. Few recall that Chávez’s 1998 election notwithstanding, it was not until 2005 that the notorious Metropolitan Police of Caracas came under control of a Chavista Mayor. (This force participated directly in the 2002 coup against Chávez.) Further, even when such forces come under formal control of a revolutionary government, their transformation is difficult. Hundreds of officers have been removed as a part of the process of “purging” police forces.

Partly as a result of this slow transformation of traditionally repressive police forces, the perspective most residents of 23 de Enero have on the police has also been transformed. Many make clear that, purges notwithstanding, they still remain skeptical of the individuals that comprise the various police forces, especially the notorious PM and DISIP. However, they are quick to point out that the threat of effective disciplinary action, including removal, has had an undeniable effect on police behavior. Anecdotes abound in which police say things like, “You’re lucky this isn’t the Fourth Republic anymore.”

As a result, residents’ reactions to the shutdown carried out by radical groups are equally nuanced. Despite a tangible dislike for the police, most local residents of 23 de Enero who I have spoken with feel that the action was unproductive at best. Some insist on the need to find those responsible for the bombing, while others merely emphasize the difficult position such actions put Chávez in.

But such positions occasionally come dangerously close to those of more liberal sectors. These are perhaps best represented by Margarita López Maya, who used her weekly column in today’s Últimas Noticias to rail against both the masked gunmen and the government. Armed protest, López argues, violates the constitution, and moreover represents a threat to the state’s “monopoly of legitimate violence.” It goes without saying that this view is unlikely to be shared by those revolutionary movements who found themselves on the losing end of that monopoly for five decades.

Vanguardism vs. Mass Action

But not all of 23 de Enero’s revolutionary collectives signed on to the action, and their reasons are revealing. Conspicuously absent were some of the larger groups active in the area: namely, the Tupamaros and the Coordinadora Simón Bolivar. And while some pamphlets distributed at the event also named the Alexis Vive Collective, a militant group generally associated with many participants in the action, wthe group promptly issued a communiqué to clarify their position, one which reflects in many ways the predominant opinion in the parroquia. While not attacking the action and while showing the utmost respect for their comrade organizations in 23 de Enero, Alexis Vive nevertheless declared that

We believe that it is not the moment for vanguardist or foco-type actions, which on the basis of our Bolivarian Marxist spirit are not admissible as a political norm for the current transformative juncture that our homeland is experiencing, since it is instead the moment for the great majority to take part in decision making.

Current conditions, in short, demand a more sustained effort toward the mass action of the Venezuelan people as a whole. Hence Alexis Vive members turn their organizational efforts not toward confrontational attacks, but rather toward the current proposals for the construction of socialist communes. Such a view would see the “strategy of tension” that bombings would provoke as doing the work of the opposition, although without the unnecessary and unfounded claims by Chávez and others that vanguardist tendencies are puppets of the CIA.

GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER is a Ph.D. candidate in political theory at U.C. Berkeley. He is currently writing a people’s history of the Bolivarian Revolution, and can be reached at gjcm(at)berkeley.edu.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

George Ciccariello-Maher is Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies at Drexel University and the author of We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, also published by Duke University Press.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 28, 2017
Diana Johnstone
Macron’s Mission: Save the European Union From Itself
Jordon Kraemer
The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class
Vijay Prashad
Modi and Trump: When the Titans of Hate Politics Meet
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Efforts to Hide Palestinians From View No Longer Fools Young American Jews
Ron Jacobs
Gonna’ Have to Face It, You’re Addicted to War
Jim Lobe – Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio
Is Trump Blundering Into the Next Middle East War?
Radical Washtenaw
David Ware, Killed By Police: a Vindication
John W. Whitehead
The Age of No Privacy: the Surveillance State Shifts into High Gear
Robert Mejia, Kay Beckermann and Curtis Sullivan
The Racial Politics of the Left’s Political Nostalgia
Tom H. Hastings
Courting Each Other
Winslow Myers
“A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind”
Leonard Peltier
The Struggle is Never for Nothing
Jonathan Latham
Illegal GE Bacteria Detected in an Animal Feed Supplement
Deborah James
State of Play in the WTO: Toward the 11th Ministerial in Argentina
Andrew Stewart
Health Care for All: Why I Occupied Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Office
Binoy Kampmark
The European Commission, Google and Anti-Competition
Jesse Jackson
A Savage Health Care Bill
Jimmy Centeno
Cats and Meows in L.A.
June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail