If Venezuelan workers aren’t seizing the means of production, the PSUV isn’t fulfilling its function as a socialist party.
People are talking about how Venezuelan socialism is failing. The socialist party in the national government may be thrown out by the opposition-controlled parliament and mass opposition protesters shortly. Maduro is trying to call a Constituent Assembly but it’s a last-ditch effort and the opposition isn’t going for it; whether Maduro will meet their refusal with surrender, or military repression and an attempt to remain in power essentially undemocratically, remains to be seen.
The idea that socialism is failing in Venezuela, however, is impossible because Venezuela was never socialist.
Venezuela so far has been welfare capitalist with a socialist party in government.
This is similar to a lot of European countries, just in a Latin American context, with a perhaps somewhat more authoritarian flavor, and in the context of a petro-state.
The working class of Venezuela never seized the means of production.
Not even the bureaucrats of Venezuela ever seized the entire means of production by nationalizing it Stalinism-style.
The fact that 3/4 of the Venezuelan economy remains in private hands is precisely why the private sector was able to sabotage the economy, create shortages, and spur the political crisis that brought the opposition to power in parliament.
They did seize parts of it, using both methods, of workers’ self-management and bureaucracy. But even in the USA parts of the means of production belong to the government. It’s called the public sector. That’s not socialism. And even then, are those sectors controlled by workers, or bureaucrats?
Is this all the Chavista leadership’s fault? All Chavez’s fault? All Maduro’s fault, that the means of production was never seized? The economy never socialized, or at least nationalized?
Well, it’s at least partially their fault.
They could have just declared it, dictator-style.
They could have built toward it incrementally, and then gone all the way. This is the closest to what it seems they were, in fact, actually doing.
What they actually should have been doing, though, is building the United Socialist Party of Venezuela into a force where workers developed a culture of waging class struggle and taking initiative for themselves, and where they gained the belief and the confidence to seize the means of production for themselves.
But it’s also the fault of everyone in the PSUV, and everyone in the Venezuelan working class, for failing to cohere a force big enough capable of leading action independently of the leadership.
There will always be self-appointed shepherds in our movements, and they will always lead us astray. It is always our job to chart an independent course. Every single one of us, it’s our personal responsibility, to not just go along with things, but to determine the direction.
However this is not easy. The Chavistas are very harsh to any Left forces who dare chart a course independent of the Chavista party line.
On 18 March 2007, Chávez declared on his programme Aló Presidente that he had “opened the doors for Podemos, Patria Para Todos, and the Communist Party of Venezuela if they want to go away from Chávez´s alliance, they may do so and leave us in peace”. In his opinion, those parties were near to be on the opposition and they should choose wisely, between going “in silence, hugging us or throwing stones”
While on the surface this seems amicable, what it’s really saying is, my way or the highway, insisting that the main socialist party be a Chavista party, attacking a culture of internal critical support, dissent, or pluralism.
But back to the real question: the point of having democracy in a socialist party is to ensure that the party will stay true to its purpose of standing for workers’ seizure of the means of production.
The PSUV is the party in power, the PSUV has a majority, and socialist parties should stand for workers seizing the means of production. And yet even with the PSUV having a majority and being in government for an extended period of time, the workers have not seized the means of production.
This simply means the PSUV is not living up to its function as a socialist party.
Maduro is now calling a Constituent Assembly, to rewrite the constitution, possibly to nationalize the economy — we will see.
However the PSUV had legitimacy in that it came to power legitimately, democratically, through a genuine elected majority.
It’s losing that.
Convoking this Constituent Assembly now is a last-ditch effort to hold the regime in place. How can a government call a Constituent Assembly when the constituents of the country are voting that government out? It’s not legitimate.
So Maduro is going back to the old Stalinist path of relying on illegitimate dictatorial power based on force, delegitimizing the socialist project further than it already has been delegitimized.
This isn’t what we need.
It’s possible that something good could come out of the Constituent Assembly. I’ll be glad if it does.
But I’ve stopped hoping.
We are back to square one. It’s just as likely that this will be another cycle of defeat, derailment, corruption, bureaucratization, disappointment, and disaster, with a proletariat left completely devastated or disoriented. Which will put the Venezuelan working class in roughly the same position as the working class of the rest of the world. Which is where I’m focused. We could make the same bitter analysis of the setbacks of Labour in the UK. We could make the same analysis of the defeat of Melenchon in France. We could shake our heads in dismay at the spinning wheels of the rudderless US Left, helpless for direction at the mercy of Trump.
The PSUV attempted a lot of shortcuts. It went for unity without clarity. It glorified a full-of-itself, top-down, figurehead-glorifying, bureaucratic model of a party, and governed according to assumptions that socialism and the movement for socialism could mean something other than the initiative of the working class organizing itself.
Workers’ self-organization matters. Skepticism of bureaucracy matters. Party democracy matters. Insisting on going all the way, beyond a welfare state, to seizing the means of production, matters. This is why in-depth radical education matters, and at the end of the day, it’s why picking the right side in the debates between various Left tendencies still matters too.