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We have to be clear from the start about the leading rightwing opposition
force the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) – a cabal headed by Venezuela’s
old ruling families like the Capriles that are currently lynching Chavistas
in the streets and making veiled appeals for a military coup. But it is not
enough to oppose these reactionaries; we have to figure out the best way to
defeat them. Therefore, this is a preliminary attempt to define what a more
successful socialist political movement requires in Latin America.

Elected in 1998, Chavez was a left populist figure. For instance, his first
major social program – the Plan Bolivar

*The immense popularity of Chavez was due to his redistribution of the oil
wealth through programs such as this government subsidized food store
(photo: 2005). A reported 9 million turned out for Chavez’s funeral.*

2000 – mobilized the military to provide food aid, vaccinations, and basic
upgrades in sanitation in many working-class neighborhoods. Chavez’s
policies answered some of the material needs of a population that at that
time had a poverty rate of over 55%, but he did not directly challenge
capitalism as a political economy, nor did he completely cashier them out
of government, despite crafting a new Constitution. However, his programs
and he, himself, were hugely popular, and for good reason.

*Oil Nationalized*In 2001, Chavez began to nationalize the oil industry to
fund everything from public housing to adult literacy programs. It was then
that a concerted effort began on the part of Venezuela’s oil and mining
families, as well as the U.S. state department, to oust him from power.
They failed to remove him in a botched coup in 2002, and open economic
sabotage. It was these events that pushed Chavez to the left. In 2006
formed a new party, the PSUV to help build what he called “21st century
socialism”. By this time, he had already reduced poverty in the country by
at least 25%, and increased the number of doctors in Venezuela to 20,000,
up from just 1600 in 1999.

But the PSUV has not overthrown capitalism. While they have nationalized
the oil industry, and intermittently supported workers co-ops, they have
never moved toward a planned economy and the prerequisite public control of
the commanding heights of the economy and public control of investment. In
effect, the PSUV has been engaged in an 18-year New Deal. They are the
stewards of a messy, ad-hoc subsidization of the Venezuelan working-class
rather than a working-class party in-itself running the economy.

The oil dependency could only have been eliminated through a systematic
plan for the economy, one that was democratically managed and controlled by
the working class itself. But this would have required the complete
overthrow of the “free” market, meaning of capitalism itself. Nothing less,
no half-measures would do. Failing to do this, the regime’s social measures
were dependent on high oil prices.

*Oil Dependency*Chavismo has in fact been entirely dependent on oil revenue
to provide welfare, and here we come to the crux of the current economic
and political crisis. The PSUV is entirely dependent on a healthy global
oil market, including American consumption. Thus, while they present
themselves as a socialist bulwark against American imperialism, the
Chavistas actually pushed Venezuela toward even greater dependence on
global capital. Since world oil prices collapsed in 2013 – and have yet to
recover – the government has had to slash social spending and layoff
thousands of public employees, and reopen the country to greater foreign
investment through Special Economic Zones and prioritizing the repayment of
foreign debt.

It is a powerful example of the impossibility of socialism in a single

There is also the question of whether, because of climate change, workers
themselves won’t be paying back what oil revenues gave them.

There is a related failure of Chavista economic policy that proves, to
quote a recent article
Jacobin, “the situation that prevails is not the result of too much
socialism, but too little.” For years the PSUV has maintained a complex
currency exchange system, that in effect allows people to purchase U.S.
dollars from the government below market value. The basic hope was that
through this exchange rate the government could indirectly control prices.
In fact, however, just the opposite has happened: the exchange rate has
allowed massive black markets to develop for nearly every conceivable good,
including food and medicine. In other words, by simply trying to subsidize
workers’ buying power rather than directly overthrow capital, the Chavistas
have actually enlarged the scale and depravity of the free market in the

*Economic Crisis*Venezuela is now dealing with 700% inflation. 90% of the
population is not receiving enough to eat every day.


"No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them."
Asata Shakur
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