Reply to ‘The Leftist Backlash Against the Democratic Socialists’ Fun Trip to Venezuela’

This is a reply by Venezuelan Workers Solidarity to a piece written by Clifton Ross, published by Caracas Chronicles on July 14th, 2021

The trip by members of the DSA International Committee (DSA-IC) to Venezuela in June stirred up important controversy. Prior to the trip itself, Venezuelan Workers Solidarity (VWS), a group of leftist opposition activists in the diaspora, issued an open letter warning about the implications of endorsing the Maduro regime. Our forecasts were amply confirmed. However, some sectors within DSA also echoed our positions and concerns.

The repercussions of our campaign weren’t limited to the Left. Our position also irritated self-proclaimed liberals like Clifton Ross, who weighed in on the debate, albeit by distorting our position. In an article for Caracas Chronicles, Ross argues that the confrontation between VWS and DSA-IC is about supporting the socialist government or the people it oppresses––ultimately settling the matter in favor of DSA-IC: if both VWS and DSA are anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, the logical conclusion is that they should support Maduro.

Leaving aside Ross’s cynicism, for us, the government of the Bolibourgeoisie doesn’t represent the interests of the Venezuelan working class. Put simply, it isn’t a socialist government, but a capitalist, repressive, kleptocratic one, therefore undeserving of any support from the international left. We believe its duty is to denounce the crimes of the chavista regime and stand in solidarity with the workers, popular sectors, and the Left that resists its myriad policies of exploitation and plunder. Obviously, it’s also our priority to oppose the criminal policies of the U.S. government towards Venezuela, such as economic sanctions that don’t harm the government leadership but common people, or the Venezuelan State’s blatant theft and spending on such miserable enterprises as the construction of a border wall with Mexico.

A sector of DSA supports Maduro. Some have fallen for neo-Stalinist and “campist” conceptions; others, due to their post-modern or reformist inclinations, believe they have found a “new type of socialism” of “communes” in Venezuela that’s compatible with capitalist property. Ross doesn’t only ignore the existence of diverse tendencies within DSA, but also describes the organization as “Leninist”. To equate the Bolibourgeoisie and all of DSA, with Leninism, is laughable at best.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. The aim of  Ross’s efforts is to deny the legitimacy of the leftist opposition as a sector that, by its own right, occupies a space among the workers and popular struggle against the chavista government. It has occupied it long before Ross exchanged chavismo for a more blunt pro-capitalist ideology. This opposition organized the only general regional strikes against the Chávez government in 2007 and 2008, through the Aragua section of the National Union of Workers. Because of their roles in these strikes, leaders like Richard Gallardo, Luis Hernández, Carlos Requena and Jerry Díaz were assassinated. This opposition also made its way into the United Federation of Oil Workers of Venezuela, where a Trotskyist, José Bodas, is secretary general. One of the political organizations, the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSL), achieved national election credentials in 2012, later snatched away by the government as part of its post-2015 anti-democratic reaction. In 2017, they participated in the popular rebellion that was criminally repressed by Maduro’s government. There are also left-leaning feminists and environmental activists confronting the government’s policies.

Though Ross may claim otherwise, this leftist opposition has also been consistent in solidarity with imprisoned workers––not only those with leftist ideas like Rodney Álvarez, but also those like Rubén González, whose freedom we defended when he was imprisoned as a critical chavista and later when he was jailed as a member of a center-right party. We have also paid our share of persecutions, dismissals, and arbitrary detentions in this struggle.

The chavista government evidently benefits from denying or disowning any leftist dissidence, while it’s convenient for right-wing sectors to converge in affirming that chavismo represents the entirety of the Left and socialism in Venezuela. But the opposition to the government is broad, and it includes millions of Venezuelans who don’t identify with the government or with any of the traditional pro-U.S. opposition parties. It includes leftist sectors.

Chavismo is a coalition of all types of opportunists, reformists, nationalists, and Stalinists who consider themselves to be “realists” and “pragmatic”. From their point of view, those who defend the political independence of the working class are dreamers or practitioners of “empty rhetoric”. It’s no coincidence that this is precisely the criticism that Ross directed against us in his article.

Chavismo has done more than any other Venezuelan government to destroy the Left. Moreover, it isn’t a “return to capitalism” that we face in a post-chavista scenario. If one of the infamous slogans of the old Sandinismo was “to build socialism with the dollars of capitalism,” chavismo has operated with the same philosophy of building “socialism” with capitalist production relations and without changing Venezuela’s role within the international division of labor. That’s why Chávez handed over the oil industry to joint ventures with transnationals such as Chevron and subsidized General Motors with almost 6 billion petrodollars through CADIVI. Military men such as the minister of Defense, trained in national security doctrines and repressive techniques in Fort Benning, discovered in the sixth year of Chávez’s government that declaring oneself a “socialist” was a requirement to become part of the Bolibourgeoisie. There’s nothing revolutionary or “utopian” about that; pragmatic, for sure. Ahead of Ross’s recommendations, Maduro has imposed an “Anti-Blockade Law” in order to privatize state assets, under the cover of secrecy and at fire-sale prices. Is this betraying socialism? Obviously not, since chavismo never intended to end capitalist exploitation.

This isn’t the place to refute in detail the theories embraced or fabricated by Ross, who believes that fascism, Marxist socialism, and anarchism are essentially the same; that a capitalist state that carries out nationalizations becomes “socialist” (an argument explicitly ridiculed by Engels); that in capitalism the role of the State in the economy is that of a neutral arbiter; or his defense of a strange version of history in which Venezuela became a rich country thanks to the U.S. The truth is that the most destructive of chavismo’s economic policies, such as using the exchange rate policy as a looting mechanism, don’t have their origin in socialist literature, but in our own national past. CADIVI is an old system like RECADI taken to the extreme: a policy neither socialist, nor Bolivarian, nor Christian, nor any of the other labels that Chávez gave it. The label that corresponds to it is simply chavista.

If the Venezuelan people destroy this nefarious regime, there will be no need to ask the IMF or transnational corporations to come and save us: they will try, for their own interest, to take advantage of the comparative advantages created by chavismo, such as an almost slave-like labor force, generalized misery, and abundant natural resources surrounded by a legal framework that makes them ripe for plunder. When that moment comes, we’ll be where we are now: promoting the self-organization of the working class, defending its rights, and striving to develop its political independence.

Read Clifton Ross’ reaction to this response on his personal website here.