The Bonapartist regime in Venezuela has stabilised its rule for now, but is becoming increasingly authoritarian while still failing to meet the elementary needs of workers. Nicolas Maduro’s regime has managed to quell right-wing opposition protests through a combination of repression and gerrymandering. The government faced down last year’s opposition demonstrations and proceeded to establish a parallel parliament – the National Constituent Assembly, breaking the stalemate in the legislature.
In December’s municipal elections the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) won 308 out of 335 local councils in 23 out 25 state capitals, after the right-wing opposition boycotted the vote. The municipal elections were also notable for the lengths the PSUV went to in order to exclude more radical left and community candidates who stood against the ruling party. This included supposedly independent electoral authorities banning some candidates and leaving others off ballot papers. In the worst cases, when these leftists beat the PSUV, authorities declared their victory void and awarding the election to others.
Maduro announced that the presidential election scheduled for the end of 2018 would be brought forward to this coming April. In January the supreme court ruled that the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, would not be able to run a joint ticket in upcoming presidential election. The judges stated that MUD violated the norm of avoiding “double affiliation” – the act of holding membership of two parties at the same time. Yet MUD has been permitted to stand candidates in previous elections over the last decade. The ruling clears a path for Maduro to win in April – although he may still face a challenge from other business-backed figures.
Meanwhile the economy continues to spiral downwards, with runaway inflation savagely worsening the living standards for most of the population. The government has responded by printing even more money, exacerbating the situation. Conditions will further deteriorate with the disgraceful decision of the UK government to impose trade sanctions against Venezuela, following similar moves by the US government and the European Union. Trump and his coterie have also hinted at support for a military coup against Maduro. All these measures hit workers not the chavista government, giving Maduro licence to ratchet up the nationalist, “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and cut against socialists trying to build an independent labour movement in Venezuela.
Much has been made of the recent workers’ councils law Maduro has just pushed through. However the emphasis is on getting production going from above rather than on genuine workers’ control from below. The real relation of forces was exposed last month when trade union leaders were arrested following peaceful protests. Workers at the Lacteos Los Andes “Hugo Chávez” dairy and fruit plant in Cabudare, Lara state, (ironically nationalised by Chávez in 2008) denounced management at the plant for operating at only 20% capacity, despite the terrible food situation.
PSUV governor Carmen Meléndez refused to meet a delegation of the dairy workers, so they blocked the major highway in protest. That evening, numerous trade unionists were arrested. The leftist trade union confederation, the National Front for the Struggle of the Working Class (FNLCT) published a statement deploring the “arbitrary detention” of these workers. They said that the protests were aimed at “rescuing this firm” and were “legitimate actions”. Venezuela’s largest trade union confederation, the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Centre (CBST), which is under the control of chavistas, has not stood up for the workers.
Solidarity has described the regime as Bonapartist from the beginning. We argued that under Chávez the government and ruling party behaved as a bureaucratic and bourgeois force in politics, resting on reactionary forces (including the military) as well as running populist welfare programmes to oversee capitalism in Venezuela. While recognising the threat from the US-backed right wing opposition, we never shared the illusions much of the left sowed in Chávez as some kind of socialist or revolutionary.
The evolution of chavismo under Maduro confirms our assessment. The political conclusion which follows is that Venezuelan workers need their own party and their own independent labour movement to defeat enemies on all sides