The beginning of a crucial week in Venezuela

The Venezuelan opposition, backed by Washington and Madrid, has launched an all out offensive to prevent Sunday's Constituent Assembly elections form going ahead. We stand firmly against this reactionary attempt which can only be defeated by revolutionary means.

The opening salvo of this offensive was fired by US president Donald Trump who promised, in an official statement, to implement “strong and swift” economic sanctions against Venezuela if the Constituent Assembly goes ahead. There is a lot of discussion in the pages of the business papers in the US about the precise meaning of this threat. If the US was to impose sanctions on the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA that would cut the main source of foreign currency the government has. While PDVSA sells oil to a variety of countries, most of its sales to China and Russia are in payment for loans already given, while the US is its main cash customer. However, cutting oil imports from Venezuela would have an impact on the US market. While the US can always use its strategic reserves any disruption of supply from Venezuela would complicate matters for US refineries, which are fine tuned to use extra heavy Venezuelan oil. This disruption might lead to a temporary increase in the price of fuel in the US, something no American president wants to face. It is more likely that any sanctions would be a continuation of the current US policy (introduced by Obama) of targeted sanctions against Venezuelan high officials. However, more serious economic sanctions cannot be ruled out, at a time when US foreign policy in Latin America is driven by the mad-dog gusanos in Miami and their representatives in the Republican party. One way or another, Trump's statement is a serious threat and an intolerable act of imperialist aggression.

Today, an editorial in the Spanish paper El País, the voice of Spanish multinationals with crucial interests in Latin America, denounces Maduro's “assault on the democratic system” and demands that the “international community” makes an effort to “stop this institutional coup”. Of course El País and the Spanish ruling Popular Party know all about coups in Venezuela since they supported the short lived April 2002 coup against president Hugo Chavez. El País further calls on Spain to “lead an effort uniting European and Latin American countries and the US” to send “the chavista regime an unequivocal message of the consequences of the final desctruction of the Venezuelan democratic system” “Maduro and his collaborators should know that their actions will not be left unpunished”. This is the extraordinary language of imperialist intervention in Venezuela, coming from those who have been consistent in defending the interests of multinationals and those of the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The current stage of the reactionary offensive (which has been going on for over three months) started with the so-called “consultation” on July 16 in which the “democratic” opposition asked if people rejected the Constituent Assembly and refused to recognise its legitimacy, if they wanted to Army to intervene and if they approved of the formation of a parallel “government of national unity”. This was an attempt to legitimise their calls for a coup and to prevent the Constituent Assembly elections from going ahead.

As we have already explained elsewhere, the “consultation” saw a sizeable mobilisation of the ranks of the opposition (concentrated in the middle and upper class layers of the population), but also witnessed a significant mobilisation of the Chavista ranks in a simultaneous dry run for the CA elections. The figures of participation given by the opposition are clearly widely exaggerated, but that did not prevent them from going ahead with their plans.

Last Thursday, July 20, they called for a “civic strike”, which in reality was not supported from any section of the workers. All major state-owned companies were working normally as did the majority of private sector ones. What you had was a shut down of commerce and shopping malls, a paralisation of privately owned transport, as well as a large scale campaign of road blockades and barricades. There are many examples of workers arriving at their workplaces only to find themselves locked out by their employers. In Barcelona, Anzoátegui, for instance, workers at the Macusa factory (which makes leather seats for the car industry) were told they had to take a paid day off, something they refused. You will not find a single report of assemblies in the workplaces where workers decided to participate in the “strike”.

The opposition violence on the day reached a new peak. Groups of rioters with molotov cocktails and home made rocket launchers besieged and attempted to set on fire the building of the VTV state TV channel in Los Ruices in Caracas. At least one of the attackers was pictured holding an assault rifle. They were finally repelled by the joint action of the National Guard and VTV workers who came out shouting revolutionary slogans like “Chavez no murió, se multiplicó” (Chavez didn't die, he multiplied). In Cabudare, Lara, workers at the milk processing plant Lacteos Los Andes (nationalised under Chavez), also had to repel a similar attack by violent opposition rioters. These examples are significant and show the beginning of a working class reaction.

VTV attack 3 AVNVTV attack Photo: AVN

Riots and road blockades were more intense in the local councils which have opposition mayors, were the municipal police collaborated and defended the rioters, like in Baruta or in parts of Barinas. Again, the day's protest were mainly concentrated in the middle and upper class areas of the main cities, with little or no following in the working class and poor neighbourhoods.

The opposition has also stepped up their institutional challenge, by having the National Assembly to appoint a new set of Supreme Court judges. This is a clear attempt to create a situation of dual power in the state institutions. However, the opposition stopped short of appointing a new government, something they had promised to do. This is probably a reflection of splits within the opposition ranks between the old parties of the ruling class (mainly Acción Democrática) and the new young and more far right leaders of the opposition (like Maria Corina Machado, Freddy Guevara, Juan Requesens, etc). María Corina Machado in an interviewed explained that her party disagreed with the “governability pact” which the MUD (United Democratic Roundtable) had announced. Freddy Guevara on his part publicly praised the “Resistance”, that is the small groups of armed rioters which have been at the forefront of the clashes with the police and terrorist activities of the last three months.

For this week the opposition has called for two days of “general strike” on Wednesday and Thursday. This means in fact a bosses lock out in some companies, but above all a widespread campaign of road blockades and barricades, probably combined with sabotage of the electricity grid in key cities, in an attempt to bring the country to a standstill. Several opposition leaders have made public appeals for people to stockpile on food and basic products for the whole week and stay home.

One of the main opposition leaders, Henrique Capriles, has issued a call for a “take over of Caracas” on Friday 28, following on from their “48h national strike”, and even hinted that they “do not rule out marching on Miraflores Palace”, which brings ominous memories of the coup in April 2002, which was triggered by an opposition march on the presidential palace.

On Saturday 29, the opposition is calling on its supporters to march on their local election centres and blockade them in order to physically prevent the elections from taking place on Sunday. “Further measures” will be announced for Sunday, have promised the opposition leaders.

The National Electoral Council has already made plans to allow people living in 74 of the country's 1141 parishes, where the opposition violence has concentrated, to vote in other polling stations other than their own.

This week, therefore, will be crucial in the insurrectionary offensive of the opposition and imperialism.

At the same time there is a lot of background noise about negotiations. It is said that the former Spanish president Zapatero has arrived in Caracas. He was part of the failed negotiations between the government and the opposition at the end of last year and also played a role in the release of opposition leader and coup plotter Leopoldo Lopez from jail into house arrest two weeks ago. President Maduro made yet another appeal to the opposition to negotiate in his Sunday TV program. Some leaders of the “moderate” wing of the opposition have been also cautiously using the word “negotiation” in their statements. In an article in El Nacional (the main opposition mouthpiece), a leader of Avanzada Progresista (the party of Lara governor Henri Falcón) called for a negotiation involving concessions on both sides.

This is the voice of those in the ruling class who recognise that while Chavismo has lost a lot of support, they have not been able to win over the masses in the working class and poor neighbourhoods nor to create any significant rifts within the army. They also fear a descent into a civil war which would not be in the interests of the ruling class if it could be avoided. However, these sectors are in conflict with the new breed of opposition leaders who base themselves on the frenzied petty bourgeois masses which make up their base and rely on the violent rioters of the “Resistance”. Both sectors have the same aims, their difference is one of tactics.

If the MUD was to come to power, with the support of imperialism, that would be clearly be a major set back for the Bolivarian revolution and would threaten all its conquests. The oligarchy would launch an all out assault on working people. They would introduce a brutal austerity package making the workers pay for the full price of the capitalist crisis, through cuts in health care and education, pensions, social housing, mass lay offs in the public sector, the privatisation of state-owned companies, the return of expropriated land to its former owners, etc. As well as this they would unleash a campaign of repression and a political motivated purge against revolutionary activists and their organisations.

Faced with this situation we cannot be neutral. It is scandalous that organisations like the misnamed Party of Socialism and Freedom of Orlando Chirino has in effect joined the opposition offensive, calling on people to participate in their “consultation” and giving public support to their “civic strike”. They have joined the camp of the capitalist class.  

We are implacably opposed to the opposition offensive, which represents the interests of the capitalists, bankers and landowners with the full backing of US (and Spanish) imperialism. This is therefore a class struggle and can only be fought with class struggle methods. Faced with armed assaults against state-owned companies, workers should form Popular Defence Brigades (BDP), armed self defence organisations, like the ones peasant organisations have already set up in Zulia, Barinas and Apure. Last week a caravan of the BDP marched from Santa Bárbara de Barinas to Socopó, in a show of strength and made an appeal to others to replicate their example. It is the time to activate the reserve of the army in which many workers are already enlisted.

At the same time the so-called “48h general strike”, which in reality is a bosses lockout, can only be effectively fought with mass workplace meetings, factory occupations and the threat of expropriation. Any capitalist involved in the counter-revolutionary offensive should have its assets expropriated under workers control. As they say in Venezuela, “la culebra se mata por la cabeza” (“you kill the snake by its head”) and the reactionary campaign is organised and financed by big capitalists and landowners.

The opposition wants to prevent the Constituent Assembly from taking place and so maximum participation must be ensured. However, the idea that the Constituent Assembly itself will “bullet-proof” the revolution and guarantee “peace and dialogue” as the government argues is either naïve or foolish. The counter-revolution must be fought with revolutionary means. Also because only by revolutionary means can we start to solve the economic problems which affect millions of working class families. Only by unleashing the revolutionary initiative of the masses can the fighting spirit of the masses be rekindled.

Only the people saves the people!

Hands Off Venezuela!

Expropriate the coup plotters!

Factory closed, factory occupied!

Down with the reactionary and imperialist offensive!

Defend the Venezuelan revolution! 

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