The Militant (logo) 
   Vol.64/No.48            December 18, 2000 
What is nature of regime in Venezuela?
Reply to a Reader column
In this week's letters column, reader Pablo Fernández disagrees with the Militant's description of the Venezuelan government headed by Hugo Chávez. He suggests that, given enough time, the regime will introduce "radical changes" similar to those enacted by the revolutionary government of Cuba, and that "leaders like Chávez" will not allow the nation's wealth to be plundered.

The facts show otherwise. To grasp the character of this government, it is necessary to review the class forces involved in Venezuela and the political context in which it has arisen.

Chávez's emergence as a political figure in this South American nation is a result of acute social crisis. Over the past two decades, the effects of the world capitalist economic crisis on Venezuela have wreaked havoc on the lives of working people and middle classes. Today, half the workforce is unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 70 percent of the population lives below the official poverty line in this oil-rich nation, while U.S. and other foreign capitalists continue to siphon the nation's wealth. Successive regimes have implemented austerity policies to meet the demands of imperialist creditors and pay on the $32 billion debt. These conditions have provoked continuous social protests.

Despite cracking down on resistance by workers and peasants, Venezuela's capitalist rulers have been too weak to deal decisive blows to the toilers. At the same time, the working class, despite its resistance, lacks effective political leadership to point a way forward. The traditional capitalist parties have become discredited and hated, as has the official leadership of the workers movement. This situation has led to prolonged instability and uncertainty among millions.

This political impasse has produced a figure--Chávez--who presents himself as a strong and uncorrupted leader, someone outside the establishment, who will take decisive action to "get things done" in the interests of "the little man." Chávez has gained popular support for denouncing the two parties that alternated rule over Venezuela for the previous four decades. He takes a nationalist stand, evoking the figure of anticolonial hero Simón Bolívar, as a defender of the country's patrimony. His government's role is to protect the interests of Venezuela's capitalist class. In doing so, the regime will sometimes run into conflicts with imperialism, such as over its role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. Working people in the United States should defend the Venezuelan government against attacks by Washington, and should oppose any reactionary calls by U.S. trade union officials for trade sanctions against Venezuela.

The kind of regime described above is historically known as Bonapartist: one that, originating in periods of deep social crisis, relies on a centralized executive power and presents itself as standing above conflicting class interests in order to maintain the power of the dominant social layer. Bonapartist methods of rule have been a common feature of regimes in many semicolonial countries, where the bourgeois class is relatively weak. Over the years, this has been the case throughout Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina.

Communist leader Leon Trotsky describes this phenomenon in an article that appears in the Pathfinder book Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay. Each such regime, he notes, has its own characteristics--some seek "support among workers and peasants, while others install a form close to military-police dictatorship." Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, who also initially enjoyed a degree of popular support, headed a Bonapartist regime marked by its repressive "antiterrorist" campaign.

Chavez's "left" image is aimed at channeling popular discontent away from independent working-class mobilizations and into relying on his regime. He wins support for denouncing the corruption of the discredited union bureaucracy. The government's move, through a referendum, to suspend the existing union leadership and tie the labor movement more directly to the state is a blow to the working class.

Only working people themselves, through their actions in struggle, can develop the kind of leadership they need. No one can step in and do the job for them. The main difference between Cuba and Venezuela is that there has been a revolution in Cuba, not just a change of administration. It was millions of workers and peasants in Cuba, with a revolutionary leadership, who carried out the social transformation of the country--from a broad literacy campaign to a deep-going land reform and the expropriation of the capitalist minority. This is how the Cuban people won true national sovereignty from imperialist domination. This is the road that is needed in Venezuela too. It will take time and experience for working people there to forge the leadership they need.
Related articles:
Venezuela regime moves to bring unions to heel
Leon Trotsky on trade unions and the state
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home