FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Three Years of Maduro: Venezuelan Power Plays or Popular Power?

Many people think that Nicolás Maduro has done very little in his three years as president of Venezuela. But that is false. In fact, he has moved mountains. The first mountain that Maduro pushed aside was Rafael Ramírez. Who would have thought that Ramírez, the eternal Petroleum Minister, could be displaced? But Maduro did that a year and half ago, sending him to a golden exile in New York, where he now heads up Venezuela’s UN delegation.

Maduro also set about playing cat and mouse with Elías Jaua, the most left-leaning of the major figures who survived Chávez. Maduro took Jaua down and raised him up several times in succession, leaving his one-time rival with a clear message about who was in charge. Maduro also weathered Jorge Giordani’s harsh criticism and resignation, positioning himself sometimes to the left and sometimes to the right of the ex-Minister of Finance and personal friend of Chávez. Finally, the most recent of these impressive power plays is Maduro’s neutralizing of his one-time best ally, Diosdado Cabello, said to be the most powerful man in the country.

“Look at what Maduro does and not at what he says,” should be the mantra of people who fall into the trap of listing the president’s verbal proposals and then proving – since so few have come to life – that he is an incompetent leader. Now, it is an entirely different question whether all this jockeying is actually good for something, and more specifically if it is useful to the Venezuelan people and the revolution.

One answer is that, beyond considerations of mere utility, centralizing power is simply necessary in this context. Venezuela is a country with a precarious command structure and weak institutions. For that reason, the president must establish his control by defeating other power fractions, if he is to undertake any activity, revolutionary or otherwise. Hugo Chávez had this sort of control, in part because he had achieved moral authority through actions such as the failed 4F uprising in 1992 and his courageous stance following it. Yet Chávez also used methods similar to Maduro’s to displace figure such as Alberto Müller Rojas and Raúl Baduel.

Venezuela’s political dilemma today has much to do with the immense difference between authority that has popular backing such as Chávez once enjoyed due to a trajectory based on action, versus the authority that comes from simply eliminating opponents and does not involve participation of the masses. Maduro’s almost exclusive use of the second kind of tactic is both a consequence and a cause of his government’s increasingly abstract character, its lack of organic links to the masses.

It should be remembered that Mao Zedong showed that opponents could be struggled against (not simply eliminated as Stalin preferred to do) using mass participation. The most obvious example of this is his struggle against Deng Xiaoping. Mao did not eliminate Deng but rather sought to mobilize people against the “capitalist-roader” tendency he represented. This way of acting, when it is successful, puts the victorious leader in power at the head of mass mobilizations and not just as the visible head of state.

The latter is precisely Maduro’s problem. This former transportation worker is now the unquestioned chief of state and the unrivaled leader of at least the civilian sector of Chavism.* However, the Chavist masses are increasingly demobilized (though fortunately the opposition is likewise in a state of semiparalysis). As a consequence national politics now takes place on a level of discourse and image but rarely touches down in lived reality. Meanwhile, what does affect people are the real problems of scarcity – most grievously the lack of food and medicine – and access to water and electricity.

Hence, if Maduro would turn to the masses to solve problems and open to democratic participation over such issues as the newly-announced “Arco Minero,” that might provide a renovated basis for his power, ratifying it on a popular level, and thus open the way to a more revolutionary modus operandi. This opportunity is enhanced by the recent “reproletarization” of the bases of Chavism, since these latter – having ridden high during the continent’s economic boom and adopted middle-class consumption habits and ideology – are now returning to the fold of the working class.

At the beginning of this year, Maduro began to work toward a Congreso de la Patria, which many believe to be the last chance for the United Socialist Party (PSUV) to renew itself. The president himself has called for a new unity (“un nuevo bloque histórico”). He should build this unity with the bases (with a full consciousness of the extreme situation that Venezuelans are now living) and attempt to translate their needs into a political struggle against the alternative tendencies that are emerging in the Chavist bloc. Otherwise, the Bolivarian Process’s politics will continue to be a politics of abstract power play and lose its revolutionary perspective.

*There seems to be a real danger that General Miguel Rodriguez Torres, ex-Minister of the Interior, will try to divide Chavism by forming an alternative party or bloc – a sort of Chavism-without-socialism-and-without-antiimperialism – in an upcoming electoral scenario. Among other personalities possibly linked to this project are the pollster Óscar Schemel, jurist Hermann Escarrá, and corrupt former banker Alejandro Andrade.

More articles by:

Chris Gilbert is professor of political science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.

Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
Lawrence Davidson
Covid Madness
Brian Cloughley
Britain’s Disorder and Decline
Ellen Taylor
The US Military Has Its Knee on the Throat of the World
David Rosen
White Nationalists on the Attack
Jeff Cohen
Politicians of Color Should Not be Immune From Criticism
Joseph Natoli
Drawn Away from Reality in Plain View
Frank Joyce
Give Me Liberty,  Give You Death
Jonah Raskin
My Adventures in the Matriarchy
Paul Street
The Racist Counter-Revolution of 1776
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Corruption of the Democratic Party: Talking to Ted Rall about his new book
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises
Paul Edwards
A Bridge Too Far
Jennifer Joan Thompson
How to Do Things With Theses: Chile’s National Police Force Sues the Feminist Artistic Collective, Las Tesis
Shawn Fremstad
Vacations for All!
Thomas Knapp
A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases
Vijay Prashad, Eduardo Viloria Daboín, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Venezuela’s Borderlands Have Been Assaulted by COVID-19
Thom Hartmann
COVID Masks: The Latest Faux Conservative Outrage
Jesse Jackson
Mandatory College Football Practices in Time of Pandemic are Nuts
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web
Ted Rall
The Data is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden
Theresa Church
In Reconsidering ‘Normalcy’ Genetically Engineered Trees Do Not Belong
Chelsea Carrick
Let’s Not Lose Momentum
Adam Rissien
Sorry Secretary Perdue, Our National Forests are Not Crops
Arshad Khan
India and China Tussle on the Roof of the World
Paul Gilk
A Few Theoretical Percentages
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”:  A Phrase That’s Tells us Very Little, if Anything,  About the Actual Levels of Danger We  Face
Claire Chadwick
I Got COVID-19 at Work. I Won’t be the Last
George Wuerthner
The Upper Green River Should be a National Park, Not a Feedlot
Julian Vigo
Profiteering in the Era of COVID-19
Ravi Mangla
Policing is Not a Public Good
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail