Rediscovering the Whys and Wherefores of Democratic Institutionality

Teodoro Petkoff has an enlightening piece on the conflict in Polar, where workers are coming to the defense of their company. Reading it, it occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, Venezuela needed chavismo.

We needed it so workers could rediscover, from lived experience, why they need independent labor unions. So students could learn, first hand, why the right to organize is important, not in the abstract, but to their daily lives. So politicians could feel, in their bones, why freedom of speech is sacred, why justice is a lie if judges are not autonomous, why politicizing the elections’ body is unacceptable. 

Just as it took Pinochet and Galtieri to convince Southern Cone leftists that "human rights" weren’t just some reactionary slogan, that they had a stake in principles that could at times seem like purely airy abstractions, the traumatic experience of the Chávez era is serving to drill into young Venezuelans why the abstractions of democratic theory are vital in their everyday lives.

The kids whose political consciousness is being formed today – the generation that’s going to fight out the presidential election of 2040 and beyond – are going to carry the lessons they’re learning now throughout their lifetimes.

They will know that a government which takes away workers’ rights to organize and defend their interests is a clear and present danger to the rudiments of political freedom for everyone. And they will know that deeply, intimately, in the flesh.

They will know it in the way a child who’s been burned knows to not put her finger on a hot stove again. 

Forty years of corruption in the labor movement under the Puntofijo system had blunted these understandings. It was, in 1998, easy enough to dismiss the labor movement as nothing more than a cesspool of petty corruption and patronage.

That’s not a mistake that our leaders in 2040 are going to make.