While I was in Venezuela a number of comrades asked me about some manifesto against “Chavez's attacks on trade union rights” and also about the controversy over a letter Noam Chomsky had signed which the bourgeois media had used in their campaign in defence of “human rights” in Venezuela.
The constant campaigns of the bourgeois media in Venezuela and internationally against the Bolivarian revolution are already known and their main arguments have already been answered. These two campaigns however merit a specific answer because they are aimed particularly at left-wing supporters of the revolution, attacking it precisely for not being left wing. The idea that is being presented is that president Chavez is orchestrating a campaign to smash trade unions and attack trade union rights, but in reality this is far from the truth.
The first appeal was launched by a small ultra-left organisation in Venezuela, whose most prominent member is Orlando Chirino (original Spanish). Now, some irrelevant ultra-left groups internationally have taken it upon themselves to translate the appeal into French and English.
At one point, Chirino was one of the most popular trade union leaders in Venezuela and became a member of the national coordination of the newly formed National Workers' Union (UNT). However, his sectarianism played a key role in the break up of the 2nd Congress of the UNT and he has since abandoned the camp of the Bolivarian revolution and joined the counter-revolutionary opposition.
In the 2010 national assembly elections, Chirino's tiny organisation stood some candidates in the list of the Patria Para Todos party (PPT) with ridiculous results. The PPT is a small social-democratic party, which was part of the Bolivarian movement for a number of years but broke with the PSUV in 2010 and attempted to present itself as a “third way” between the chavista camp and the reactionary opposition. In reality, everyone could see that this was just a trick and as could be predicted, by early 2011, the PPT had already joined the main organisation of the counter-revolutionary opposition, the MUD. It is a complete scandal that Chirino's organisation, which claims to be Trotskyist, stood in the PPT lists in September 2010, and it shows clearly how their ultraleftism has taken them right into the arms of the ruling class.
They have now organised a “national and international” campaign denouncing Chavez's alleged “policy of the criminalisation of struggles, the violation of trade union autonomy, the intimidation of journalists who are acting on the democratic right to inform society, and put a halt to the impunity with which armed gangs affiliated with the government to act against workers and trade union leaders who are fighting for their rights." In a previous article I already dealt with the issue of the conflicts in the trade union movement in Bolivar and the violence they have unleashed.
Trade union activists and revolutionaries all over the world should certainly support and defend workers' struggles in Venezuela, as we have done in every single case (Invepal, Inveval, Sanitarios Maracay, Mitsubishi, Inaf, Gotcha, the Aragua UNT leaders killed, to name just a few). In some cases workers in struggle in Venezuela are under the attack of the bosses and reactionary elements within the state apparatus (judges, police, etc). In some of these struggles the state bureaucracy (ministers, managers, directors, etc) act against the workers and in support of the capitalists.
However, the overwhelming majority of workers in struggle consider themselves as part of the Bolivarian movement and are active members of the PSUV. They do not see Chavez as their enemy and on a number of occasions Chavez has responded favourably to workers in struggle, by expropriating occupied factories, encouraging workers to take other factories over, appealing for the formation of workers' councils, introducing workers' control, renationalising privatised companies, putting an end to outsourcing, etc.
Most workers in Venezuela, if they have a criticism of Chavez is not that he is dictatorial, but rather that he has been too soft and lenient with the reactionary coup plotting opposition that have now become Chirino's new friends.
To say that Chavez has a policy of criminalisation of struggles and violation of trade union autonomy is at best a gross misrepresentation of the truth. But what is really scandalous and reveals the real nature of this particular campaign run by Chirino's small ultra-left sect is the kind of people whom they have had signing the original appeal.
They include Victor Maldonado, who is a prominent capitalist and a right-wing opponent of the revolution. Maldonado is the executive director of the Caracas Chamber of Commerce, a well-known reactionary, the basis of whose attack on Chavez is because “Chavez is against private property”!!! (see for instance: here and here). Not exactly a friend of workers' rights!
Also signing the appeal prominently is Froilan Barrios, a disgusting turncoat, who is a member of the EC of the reactionary and bureaucratic CTV trade union. Also a former “Trotskyist” like Chirino, Barrios was a member of the leadership of the CTV when this organisation played a crucial role in the capitalist coup in April 2002 and when it organised support for the bosses' lock out in December 2002. The list is completed with some opposition “civil society organisations” funded by US imperialism.
By all means, let's support Venezuelan workers in struggle, against the capitalists, imperialism and also against the “Bolivarian” bureaucracy at all levels. But let's not unite with the reactionary pro-imperialist opposition under the hypocritical banner of “trade union autonomy” and “human rights”.
Chomsky and “human rights”
Rory Carroll has a long history of opposing the Venezuelan revolution publicly and he makes no apologies about it (for a detailed criticism of Carroll's misreporting on Venezuela see Derek Wall's Carroll in Wonderland). This time Chomsky complained bitterly that his words had been twisted, taken out of context, important parts of the interview left out, all to create the wrong impression that he had broken with his previous support for the Venezuelan revolution. The scandal was such that the Guardian was forced to publish a full transcript of the interview.
But this is not just a case of the bourgeois media manipulating what Chomsky said. Let's first look at the details of the case surrounding the arrest of judge Afiuni (for a full account of the case see: A Few Facts about the Case of Judge A?uni, by Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Francisco Vegas Torrealba).
In 2009, judge Maria Lourdes Afiune was judging a ?nancier named Eligio Cedeño who was involved in several corruption cases. He was charged with embezzlement of millions of dollars from bank customers and of collaborating with corrupt officials in the foreign exchange agency CADIVI by getting permission to import millions of dollars' worth of computers, but then bringing in only empty containers and keeping the preferential price import in dollars to himself. His accomplice in some of these dealings was arrested in Panama and after being handed over to the Venezuelan authorities confessed to the whole affair, thus incriminating Cedeño. Cedeño's attorneys used all sorts of delaying tactics to prevent the trial from coming to a conclusion.
Then, in December 2010, judge Afiuni herself “walked Mr. Cedeño out of the courtroom and escorted him with two other employees of her court to the internal parking lot for judges, where Cedeño boarded a motorcycle that was let into the lot under A?uni’s instruction.” She then, after having set him free and given him the means to escape, went back to the courtroom to write up the ruling to set him free. The prosecutors were not present during any of these proceedings, contrary to law. Cedeño then fled to Miami.
Judge Afiuni was then suspended pending further investigation. The case was a public scandal and people were enraged by the callous way in which she had acted. President Chavez made some very strongly worded statements to the effect that corrupt judges should not be allowed to escape free from their actions. Surprisingly, because the judicial system in Venezuela is notoriously reactionary and corrupt, judge Afiuni was arrested and put in jail pending trial for bribery. While in jail she became ill and as a result she was moved from prison to house arrest.
The Venezuelan opposition, always so vocal in complaining about corruption, has turned her into a cause celebre, presenting her case as one which allegedly proves the lack of independence of the judiciary in Venezuela and how independent-minded judges are under threat and get arrested for their political views.
This is a clear-cut case of a judge accepting money from a known swindler in exchange for allowing him to flee justice. It reveals the extreme corruption throughout the judicial system.
Workers, peasants and ordinary people in Venezuela would clearly understand this case because they suffer the abuse of the justice system on a daily basis. As in any other capitalist country, but perhaps in a more extreme way in Venezuela, the poor get caught in the web of “justice” while the rich pay their way out to freedom. Most of those who were involved in the April 2002 coup walk the streets of Venezuela free and are currently the main leaders of the opposition. When state prosecutor Danilo Anderson attempted to bring them to trial he was killed by a bomb under his car.
The murderers of scores of peasant and worker activists killed for political reasons by hired guns of the bosses and the landlords have never been brought to justice. Those who are responsible for the killing of Mitsubishi workers have never been put on trial, while the judge has now accepted a case against leaders of the Mitsubishi workers which may see them land in jail for a crime they never committed.
Impunity is what Venezuelan workers and peasants, the revolutionary people are concerned about, not some abstract “independence of the judiciary” which at the end of the day only means independence from the interests of working people and complete subservience to the interests of the ruling class.
Did Chomsky familiarise himself with the details of the case before making an appeal for judge Afiuni to be set free (without being put on trial, we presume)? Why did he choose to believe the version of the story offered by the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at the JF Kennedy School for Government of Harvard University? This is a completely bourgeois institution. The former director of the Carr Centre, Michael Ignatieff (who went on to become leader of the Liberal Party in Canada) developed the idea of “benign imperialism” and said that the US had the responsibility of “a global hegemony whose grace notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known”. This is the idea of “human rights” that permeates the thinking of the ruling class. What they really mean is the protection of the right of private property and the right of multinationals to have free access to markets and sources of raw materials without any hindrance, and if their rights are being threatened, then military intervention to enforce them is justified.
Why did Chomsky choose to collaborate with the Carr Centre? Why did he agree to give an interview to Rory Carroll, who is well known for twisting the truth in order to attack the Bolivarian revolution? He has written extensively about the role of the media in “manufacturing consent”.
The only answer we can find is that he is so mesmerised by concepts which are apparently “neutral” and “universal”, like “human rights”, “separation of powers”, the “independence of the judiciary”, that he chooses to completely ignore the class character of these and falls right into the trap of the ruling class.
The reason why they chose Chomsky for this latest attack on the Venezuelan revolution is clear from the article in the New York Times when it says: “Mr. Chomsky’s willingness to press for Judge Afiuni’s release shows how the president’s aggressive policies toward the judiciary have stirred unease among some who are generally sympathetic to Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired political movement.” The image they want to present is that even those who support Chavez's socialism, are put off by his smashing of the sacrosanct independence of the justice system.
Chomsky argues that “a move toward clemency with Judge Afiuni would be a step towards the importance of maintaining a properly functioning justice system.” As a matter of fact, if judge Afiuni were to be left free without a trial it would only reaffirm the known fact that a judge can let go a corrupt banker friend of his or hers and nothing happens. Impunity rather than justice would be strengthened.
Chomsky was at best naïve and at worst reckless. One expected more from him, but perhaps it is his “libertarian” ideas that pushed him into the camp of the ruling class and counter-revolution in this case.
If he wanted to raise his worries about the justice system in Venezuela, he could have asked for a full investigation into the death of Danilo Anderson, or the three assassinated leaders of the UNT trade union in Aragua, the bringing to justice of those responsible for the killing of dozens of peasant activists in the struggle for land reform, or perhaps he could campaign on behalf of Julian Conrado arrested by the Venezuelan authorities nearly two months ago at the request of Colombia and who has not yet been charged with anything, allowed visits or access to a lawyer and who is being held in an unknown location. He suffers from a serious prostate illness.
Judge Afiuni is awaiting trial under house arrest for accepting bribery to help a corrupt banker escape justice and we do not see any reason why the labour movement or progressive people around the world should worry too much about her fate, other than to make sure that she is actually brought to trial.