The Popular Revolutionary Alternative and the current situation
In 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, elections were held in Venezuela for a new National Assembly. These elections were held in particularly difficult material conditions. The criminal coercive measures on Venezuelan international trade affected all areas of national life, generating an unprecedented deterioration in the standard of living of the working class. Meanwhile, the loss of revolutionary quality of public policies openly contrasted with popular demands; wages below five dollars a month, suspension of collective bargaining processes, hyperinflation in more than four digits, mega devaluation of the national currency, explosion of migration for economic reasons, and a significant deterioration of public services, were just some of the elements affecting the lives of workers, public employees and informal workers.
Paradoxically, popular protests declined amid a growing authoritarian drift of the government, supported by a narrative of national unity to confront imperialist aggression. There was a dark chapter in the Bolivarian process with the arrest and prosecution of trade union leaders, many of them with a long history of class struggle. This had a correlation in the relations between the parties of the so-called Gran Polo Patriótico (Great Patriotic Pole - GPP). The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela - PSUV), an organization created by Hugo Chávez, had always maintained a tense relationship with the other political parties of the GPP, which had almost always been resolved with bureaucratic agreements to preserve unity. However, since 2018, relations within the GPP had become especially tense, due to the growing demands of the bases of the political parties of this (alternative) alliance, for a return to the socialist, revolutionary and popular route of the Bolivarian process and, the abandonment of the turn to class conciliation, as well as a brake on the growing dependence on Russian and Chinese imperial policies. The lack of constructive dialogue accelerated the distancing and created the conditions for the emergence of two blocs within the Bolivarian process.
This is not to deny the existence of a social movement that struggles to escape polarization or the ephemeral existence of political options that call for the formation of a third pole. Certainly, there is a new political situation within the Chavista field since 2020.
The new Venezuelan political situation demands a deep discussion by the Latin American and world left, acting as factors of revolutionary unity that promote a return to the constituent path, the anti-capitalist road and distancing from neoliberalism with a progressive discourse. This is not the time for discourses that justify either class surrender or ultra-leftist adventurism.
2. Map of actors
Politics is usually based on subordinate interests, visceral or perfect ideas decontextualized from reality. For this reason, it seems important to us to make an inventory of the tensions in the Bolivarian process in order to understand why the Alternativa Popular Revolucionaria (Popular Revolutionary Alternative - APR) emerged and why it is considered to be the current progressive pole. The correlations of strength and alignments have varied appreciably during the last two years. For this reason, an updated review and assessment of the political actors is urgently needed to see the real possibilities of a meaning shift in of the Bolivarian process or the terrible positioning of new neoliberal variants.
In Venezuela, the political right has gone from being political projects linked to the neoliberal agenda, to becoming either simple operators of the dictates of the North American empire and the European imperialist nations or pragmatic sectors that survive on the beneficence of the Venezuelan government while waiting for a “new political situation” to arise. The right-wing political parties have lost all connection with the mass movement and have a limited mobilization capacity confined to hundreds of highly ideological, sectarian and confrontational militants.
The four blocs on the right are led by Juan Guaido, Capriles Radonski, Henry Ramos Allup and María Corina Machado, and are structurally divided by the dark handling of the financing obtained from the Lima Group and the assault on Venezuelan oil finances abroad. The judicialization and placement of Ad Hoc directives by the Supreme Court of Justice has left the political parties Acción Democrática (Democratic Action), Primero justicia (Justice First) and Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) in a situation of illegality that generates greater dispersion and inability to act in the field of political action.
The emergence of a new right appears dependent on the national executive, with representation in parliament, which contributes to the confusion and discouragement of the rank and file of that sector. The Maduro government has managed to limit to its minimum expression the political right, who, asphyxiated, can only appeal for a resolution of the Venezuelan situation through a foreign imperialist invasion or a lightning military operation. In this sense, the remnants of the Venezuelan right have become a sector that is in the crosshairs of options prone to military adventurism. Of course, this does not rule out any model of political regrouping that reconnects the right wing with some real mobilization capacity, but that is not clearly foreseeable in the immediate future.
The PSUV and the GPP
The PSUV has never been a political party in classical terms. Rather, it has been a political machinery of the government, both in the Chávez and Maduro periods. Although it holds its congresses and elects its authorities by sui generis procedures, in reality the PSUV is an electoral machine for organizing the government's social agenda and controlling the social movement. However, the PSUV is the largest party in Venezuela with a very significant popular social base. It has managed to build a social fabric around the premises of the initial Bolivarian social agenda and of unity against the US intervention. Nonetheless it has developed a culture of postponing criticism of bureaucratization and neoliberal drift as long as the US continues. This has led it to develop the foundations of a multi-class approach that it did not have at its origins.
The PSUV has expressed the internal balances of the government, both in the past and in the present. Chávez’s vision of the characteristics of the civic-military alliance determined its composition for years and, in the new period of Maduro’s civic-military alliance, it has built new balances that left out actors who had no real influence or did not share the turn to class conciliation. The PSUV went from a structuring logic where the centre was Chávez to a model of contingent correlations in the style of Latin American bureaucratic trades unionism.
Many of the political parties of the GPP have their origin in the Bolivarian process, either by previous splits or by organization during the Chavista period. However, others such as the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) have a long tradition, from the first decades of the 20th century, just as the experience of the MRT or the Tupamaros dates back to the 1980s. The Patria para Todos Party (PPT) comes from a break with Causa R precisely around support for Chávez, while parties like Lina Ron's or Nuevo Camino Revolucionario (NCR) were formed in the middle of the Bolivarian process. The logic of operation of these parties, much more organic, although not always more democratic, was far from the operation of the PSUV. Consequently, it was never possible to harmonize the functioning and decision-making mechanisms of the GPP; however, unity was always maintained for ideological reasons and for bureaucratic pragmatism.
While the PSUV is mainly led by public officials, and activists linked to government dynamics, popular pressure from the grassroots for the rectification of the government's course of the last six years is less present than in the PPT, PCV or Tupamaros; some believe that it is silenced through the development of undemocratic methods of debate. The intensity of the contradictions from below with respect to the political turn imposed by the current political leadership of the Bolivarian process puts unequal pressure on the different parties of the GPP.
The dramatic situation in the world of work is the result of the largest hyperinflation on the continent, as well as the historically unprecedented devaluation of the national currency, expressed today in the fact that a dollar costs more than two million bolivars. While this is happening, the monthly wage of a worker is less than ten dollars, throwing millions of people into extreme poverty in just a few years. All of this generates a dynamic of unprecedented questioning and distancing of the popular sectors from the current government administration. This pressure from below was contained by the political leaderships of the PPT, PCV, Tupamaros and others in the 2014-2018 period, but it became unsustainable between 2018-2020. The agreement signed between the PCV and the PSUV in 2018, in which the government promised to halt and reverse the restorative measures that it had implemented, proved impossible to specify due to the restorationist agenda that the executive is advancing.
For this reason, the PCV, PPT, Tupamaros and other organizations inside and outside the patriotic pole came closer to the formation of a social electoral alliance that will express the aspirations of their bases. This has generated judicialization and intervention of the directives and representation of parties such as the PPT, Tupamaros and others, something that could not be done with the PCV. In practice, the GPP has disappeared as a body of unity and consultation; its existence is limited to the formality of the leadership of the PSUV and the ad hoc representations of empty franchises.
The decision to form the APR as a unitary electoral initiative without the PSUV, which went even beyond the parliamentary race, catapulted the crisis of the GPP. Despite the judicialization of many parties, the Popular Revolutionary Alternative continued with candidates from various organizations.
In elections as particular as those of 2020, held in the midst of the pandemic, the rise of international economic sanctions and the terrible material crisis of the working class, the motivation to vote was very low, although the numbers of people who voted were surprising, according to the final announcements made by the National Electoral Council. The results showed how the PSUV alliance prevailed, with more than 70%, while the feeling remains that the APR obtained more votes than those that appeared in the final count.
The official bloc made up of the PSUV, Tupamaros, PPT, Somos Venezuela, Podemos, MEP, Alliance for Change and ORA obtained 68% of the votes, while the old bourgeois parties of AD-COPEI obtained about 20% of the votes. The APR obtained a single seat, about 3% of the votes. The APR’s weak electoral result slowed down the unitary process. Since December 2020 and until the date of writing this article, the APR has not recovered the initiative and what was evident was a relaunch of the PCV, not always with unitary propaganda, but fundamentally referenced in its self-perception of the working class party.
However, spokespersons for the PCV and the PPT such as Oscar Figueras and Negro Rafael Uzcategui respectively, indicated that in April the call for the APR Foundation Congress scheduled for July 2021 will be launched, on a date on which they will prepare for a new local and regional electoral contest.
The call for the founding Congress of the APR has the challenge of deciding whether it is a simple alliance of parties with electoral purposes, or it becomes a broad platform of the social movement, individuals, political parties and political groups with activity beyond the limits of parliamentary democracy. Only in the latter case can it become a dynamic factor of the revolutionary spirit of the Bolivarian process and the different factors of grassroots Chavismo.
The APR is the most progressive factor in the current circumstances of the country, which is why it is essential to participate widely in the debates of its founding congress, the tactical definitions and its strategy focused on the interests of the world of work against capital.
In my opinion, the APR would have to open a debate on the decline of the world oil model and its impact on an alternative national economy, the ecological crisis and its expression in the national reality, the neoliberal offensive on education with very concrete expressions of neo privatization and social stratification that we are experiencing worldwide in 2020, feminist and anti-patriarchal strategy, the migration problem and the necessary return of millions of nationals, which involves the recuperation of the national economy, among other agendas. The APR has to overcome ideological propaganda and enter into anti-capitalist structural definitions contextualized in the reality of the third decade of the 21st century.
The Venezuelan left is aging, with a crisis of rebellious identity and with elements of Alzheimer’s. The convocation to this Founding Congress of the APR should relaunch hope and socialist vision and a retaking of the anti-capitalist path by broad sectors of the social movement. The Bolivarian revolution is not dead, the APR gathers the best of the unfulfilled dreams of February 27, 1989.
The social movement
The tradition of a significant part of the left considers the party as the synthesis of the revolutionary truth and sees the social movement as the mass front. This has materialized in practices of co-option and loss of the autonomy of the labour and social movement in general.
In the case of Venezuela, this tradition has prevented, among other factors, the construction of a powerful and revolutionary coordination of social movements, and a peasant confederation or trade union federation of class-conscious workers. The experience points to the construction of a strong autonomous social movement in permanent dialogue with political representations, but not subordinated to their logic of negotiation and coaptation.
The Central Socialist Bolivariana de Trabajadores (CSBT) has become a huge bureaucratic apparatus for the containment and control of struggles, the opposite of an epicentre of combat and opposition to the logic of capital in the world of work.
However, nothing is just black and white. Just as minority class struggle currents subsist within the CSBT, important insurgency networks are emerging in the street. The communal movement, especially in the state of Lara, is an example of this, as well as the incipient grassroots teachers’ movement. Left-wing feminists are beginning to trace an autonomous path from the anti-patriarchal movement, as well as doing communal work in the big cities.
At present, a movement is surreptitiously brewing that eludes the government’s apparatus of control, developing dynamics of solidarity and resistance that suggest the emergence of a powerful social movement in the medium term.
Only a part of this emerging social movement is currently linked to the APR, which is why its real articulation to this new structure is uncertain. This will surely depend on the breadth and styles of work on which the bridges between one and the other are built. The vast majority of the current social movement is on the left since the right-wing student movement has been hit hard by the migratory dynamics of recent years.
The Bolivarian National Armed Forces today constitutes the hegemonic organized sector of the Bolivarian process. There is no governmental matter in which the military presence is not decisive. This constitutes an undoubted strength in containing and preventing attempts at imperialist military aggression, despite the fact that the Bolivarian military strategy of resistance has not managed to break with the logic of the barracks or entered a constituent decision-making process. The maintenance of the classic hierarchical structure feeds the authoritarian vision on dissent and criticism.
On the other hand, the military discourse that justifies the alliance with China and Russia, as part of the process of containing imperialism, amounts to a loss of sovereignty and halts the radicalization of the process, as the Armed Forces do not develop a resistance strategy based on popular armament and the dissolution of the barracks in the neighbourhoods and communities.
While the middle commanders and military rank and file suffer the ravages of the current material situation, the hierarchical and disciplinary structure are more linked to the benefits of the bureaucracy, which in turn becomes an element to guarantee unity of command.
The growing role of the military and the shift towards the military-civil alliance fuels the corporate vision of politics and becomes an element that seems to be decisive in the coming months and years. The fundamental contradiction in this field is determined by the popular origin of the military commanders and the rapid possibilities of social advancement that derive from the exercise of power, in a state like Venezuela that continues to be bourgeois.
However, the politicization of the Armed Forces is a qualitative leap historically speaking, which forces any political initiative to have a line of dialogue and work with the military sector.
Dissident former officials
The bourgeois press and sectors of the international left have given an exaggerated visibility to the dissidence of former high-ranking officials of the Bolivarian government, given its almost zero impact at the social and the super-structural levels. As is known with the coming to power of Nicolás Maduro, after the death of Hugo Chávez, there was a displacement of a sector of senior officials who had become familiar faces due to the rotations they had had in multiple high-level positions.
Some of them represented the initial unitary spirit of the revolutionary process, while others were on the list of employees who played a conservative role at different times. Some of them joined the voices of questioning and demonization of the debate that took place in 2009 at the Miranda International Centre on the positives and negatives of the Bolivarian process and against hyper-leadership and now they present themselves as champions of critical thinking. Others who were critical of the bureaucratization of the Bolivarian process are part of the dissidence of former government officials clearly committed to the initial Bolivarian project. The vast majority are honest and ethically unquestionable, openly differentiated from those who are now critical because they lost connection with state business, especially in the oil sector.
However, the truth is that these former officials have little or no capacity to connect with the specific social movement. Therefore, their actions have a limited impact on the construction of alternative force correlations, unless there is an approximation with the APR process; in fact, some of them called to vote for the APR in December 2020.
Perhaps the sector that is least valued in analysis and which could be decisive in the turn of events is that of the emigrants, those hundreds of thousands of nationals who have been forced from the country as a result of the economic situation and the deterioration of material living conditions. While the opposition speaks of six million and the government of two million, the truth is that there is hardly a household in the country that does not count among its members several who have left, especially the youth. Venezuela does not have a culture of watching children leave in search of survival, which triggers anguish and anger against the factors that they consider to be the triggers of this situation.
Some return defeated, to plan a new venture, the vast majority survive abroad in conditions worse than those of the working class in those countries. The Latin American left has not developed a broad campaign of solidarity and support for Venezuelan migration, which contributes to its right-wing dynamic. The discourse about traitors for those who leave in search of wage to cover their basic needs has impacted on different levels on the regional left that does not fully understand what is happening in Venezuela.
In a country of approximately 32 million inhabitants and six million households, an average number of four million migrants has a direct impact on the imagination and political consciousness of more than half of the country's families. Since the Bolivarian process, a discourse has not been constructed that accounts for a revolutionary perspective on the phenomenon. Migration can become the breeding ground for the construction of a right-wing discourse and social base for authoritarian projects in the short term. For this reason, it is urgent to open a debate on the matter and develop a permanent campaign of the Latin American left to support respect for the rights and the insertion of Venezuelan migrants in the labour movement in the different countries. These young people need to reach class consciousness from the link with their struggles and not only through discourse.
Depolarized and depoliticized sectors
Depoliticization has grown since the crisis that began in 2014 with the fall in oil prices, the paralysis of the revolutionary perspective of the process and the cycle of restoration. As in the late 1980s and the 1990s, millions of citizens begin to see politics as a problem and not as a solution. The return to anti-politics translates into silent depolarization, something that can emerge at any time, guiding change in any direction.
Anti-politics has several faces, from formally assuming some narrative to survive, to boredom and refuge in new forms of competition from below. De-politicization as in “everybody for themselves” threatens to overshadow the advances of the last two decades in the social fabric of solidarity.
In a country where the social movement is very weak and fragmented, where the left is superstructural and has not managed to merge with the mass movement, depoliticization becomes the prelude to the collective search for new caudillismos, even located in the antipodes of what the current leadership has been.
Breaking with this new depoliticization from the left involves rebuilding as organizations fundamentally from the social movement. It is not about a revamp of moviementismo but developing an offer according to which each activist is part of an ongoing social practice, not as an enclave but as an active part. This implies overcoming old party archetypes and the logic of mass fronts, something that is easier said than done.
The far left
The far left is very much in the minority, super structural and with limited capacity for self-management. The radical left that came from a strong diaspora in the 1980s and 1990s was unable to take advantage of the revolutionary situation opened in 1998 to build organizations, social fabrics, a press and alternative media. The influence of the far left in associations and unions is very weak, practically non-existent in the indigenous and peasant movement and is learning from the ecological and feminist movement.
With the exceptions of aporrea.org (2002-2021), otrosvoceseneducacion.org (2016-2021) and insisto-resisto (2021), there are no web pages with the capacity to generate their own content and express a specific movement. Even these experiences are very limited in their radius of influence. Marea Socialista, PSL and LUCHAS, among other far left factions, are very weak and fragmented. Other lefts of the Guevarista or national popular tradition are in the same condition.
The position of the far left on the APR will be fundamental to escaping its isolation and fragmentation, but it is not yet clear what the position of most of them will be. Only LUCHAS has publicly expressed its intention to be part of the APR
The working class
The situation of the working class is dramatic since it has not managed to build an autonomous pole of reference. Currently the working class is in the worst situation since the struggles of the 1930s, lacking class organizations and with an increasingly closed institutional framework. Authoritarian practices, prosecution and repression of class-conscious trades unionism by the Ministry of Labour hinder the efforts of autonomous organization. Despite the destruction of real wages and the worst imaginable working conditions, the workers’ movement has not yet burst onto the political scene.
However, isolated attempts (oil, health, teachers, iron zone), an underground movement of organization in progress, could reverse this situation. The fight for a minimum wage of 300 dollars a month, the right to autonomous unionization, collective bargaining, jurisdiction and freedom of association can contribute to the activation of the workers’ movement. Still, a combination of fear and resignation to the situation of survival make this task difficult.
3. The political autism of a significant part of the Latin American left
While this is happening there is a big slippage of support for the Bolivarian government. Anti-capitalist left-wing factors that until recently gave support to the Bolivarian revolution are beginning to distance themselves and connect with the new forms of resistance. The important thing is that many of these sympathies find a political working link in the APR, which is why support for the Bolivarian revolutionary process is maintained.
However, an uncritical left persists that has decided to support everything the government does, without taking into account its impact on the world of work. This left, without connection to what is happening in Venezuela, could contribute much more if it maintained support for the positives and criticism of the growing negatives of government action. Even so, it could contribute to the construction of a Latin American revolutionary front to question the coercive measures of US imperialism, European imperialisms and the Lima group, which would follow the path of support for the deepening of the anti-capitalist Venezuelan revolutionary process.
The work of the APR at the international level becomes key in this regard and this demands an APR international policy that accounts for the plurality of the left that supports this initiative. The greater breadth of unity of action will allow the APR to be strengthened nationally and internationally as a dynamic factor in the Bolivarian revolutionary process. The greatest challenge here is the PCV, who must build a broad logic of convergence and defeat the ghosts of sectarianism.
4. The APR in the post-electoral scenario
The APR has a great responsibility and the possibility of becoming a plural, anti-capitalist and revolutionary option of a new type. But given the correlation of forces that we have expressed in the analysis of actors, this cannot be an organization against Madurismo and its capitulations, but rather one which pushes Chavismo as a whole towards revolutionary radicalization. In this sense, it must have the ability to overcome the temptation of visceral politics and recover the strategic horizon. The APR can generate a revolutionary depolarization of the Venezuelan political situation.
However, the PSUV does not want this end to depolarization and will try to put all kinds of obstacles in place. This should not lead the APR to focus on the mere confrontation with Madurismo, neglecting unitary construction in the territories. The central task of the APR is to work for the unity of the Bolivarian camp. Not a romantic unity but a pursuit of a truly anti-capitalist agenda
For this reason, the fight against imperialist sanctions and the economic blockade must be central in the recomposition of unity. However, this does not imply neglecting criticism of bureaucratization, class conciliation and authoritarianism against the popular and revolutionary sectors that the government is currently advancing. Of course, building organizations, mechanisms and logic of class independence.
This is not an easy task, in the current conjuncture of the class struggle.
5. Resume the path of autonomous organization of the social movement and the anti-capitalist left
The central task of the APR is to accumulate forces, in a correlation of forces as complex as the one we describe. You do not accumulate strength with conciliation, but neither with sterile confrontation. Each fight, each scenario must be built with a clear proposal but also with a sustained construction in each territory.
To conclude, it is necessary to insist on the task of converting each anti-capitalist militant into an architect of new experiences of popular, community-based, feminist, and ecological organization of workers. This involves rebuilding the political culture of the Venezuelan left
The APR cannot be a sum of letters, slogans or personalities but rather the organizational convergence of the anti-capitalist resistance in the current situation. If it succeeds, the future of the Bolivarian revolution will be preserved.
A challenge which is only possible to understand and undertake in a 21st century anti-capitalist key.
7 April 2021