|Venezuela a yin-yang in motion and it's not so obvious what's white and what's black as forces transform and realign.|
Nine years ago PM Press, to their credit, put out my film under their label, even though Ramsey Kanaan—how should I put this?—was less than enthusiastic about the point of view. I have to admit now, in retrospect, that his skepticism was warranted and only years later did I understand that by supporting the Bolivarian Revolution I had bought into what I would now call the scam of this new millennium.
It was an honest mistake, and one many, many of us made on the left. I made Venezuela: Revolution from the Inside Out with the best of intentions, to offer solidarity to a process that I thought was going the right direction, but I was seeing, and presenting, it at a half-way point. In 2005-2007 the Bolivarian Revolution was about as good as it was going to get. After all, in that moment Chávez was still talking about “participatory protagonistic democracy,” and funding cooperatives, health clinics, education, food, social and cultural programs with all the oil money that was flooding in. It was easy for a gringo to overlook many of the problems that were already apparent: a tendency toward authoritarianism, polarizing politics, cult of personality, rampant corruption, an intolerance of criticism and so on. After all, Chávez was bringing the formerly marginalized and excluded into the political process even if only with the mesas de agua (community-based projects to bring in water to those deprived of it), or community councils or any number of other “Missions” as they were called.
I went on to work on another project for PM, Until the Rulers Obey, and I wasn’t able to get back to Venezuela until early 2011. So much had changed by then. Things weren’t working at all well. Then I was invited to Monagas, Venezuela for a couple of days to present at a book festival, but what can you see in two days when you’re on a government trip, staying in a multi-star hotel and being driven around by government people? And in those conditions, what are you willing to ignore? I had doubts, but I felt, like a good solidarity activist, that I should keep them to myself, or at least confine myself to talking about them with my inner circle of friends. Still, both there, and on my return to the US, I lost the first couple of “friends” just from expressing my doubts.
Then in 2013, after Chávez died, I decided to go back for the presidential election in April, especially since I was in the middle of writing the introduction to Venezuela for Marcy Rein’s and my book. And that’s when I realized where everything was going under Maduro. It became clear to me as I humbly began interviewing critics I’d previously written off as “counter-revolutionaries” that the Bolivarians were raping and pillaging the country—and that that violent description was no exaggeration. I came back and wrote an article denouncing the Venezuelan government for Counterpunch, and that was the beginning of the end of my relationship with them—and with other left publishers.
PM Press stuck with me through the controversy, even if they directed me elsewhere to publish my memoir of that, and earlier times. They still have my first movie for sale and I’m happy to announce that an “enantiadromic” sequel to that movie is forthcoming, premiering online as “In the Shadow of the Revolution.” It’s free to watch and I hope viewers will pass the link along to folks who are still trying to figure out what’s happening in Venezuela. This doesn’t tell the whole story—and, after all, what book or film could possibly grasp the nuanced subtleties of any aspect of reality? Nevertheless, I hope the Venezuelans in the movie who speak their minds from their hearts will help those watching the drama unfold in that country understand just a bit more of what’s going on beyond the polarizing discourse and politics that emerged with Hugo Chávez’s project.
I could end it there, but let me offer a hint of my own perspective on what’s happening in Venezuela right now, and for this I owe a lot to Margarita López Maya, the historian and sociologist who appears in the film, for how I see things today. But I also see things through a perspective influenced in great part by Carl Jung who more fully developed the idea of “enantiadromia” (literally, “backwards running course”) in psychology, identifying it as a function of compensation and completion, a synonym for the Chinese concept of “yin-yang.” Naturally, there’s a strong correlation with dialectics, although dialectical processes are not often taken to the extreme in which contradicting theses transform into their opposites, but rather are ordinarily “synthesized.” Jung would argue, however, that since “no path leads beyond perfection into the future, there is only a turning back, a collapse of the ideal…” (Answer to Job). So, for instance, Jung believed that the Christ who enters history necessarily gives rise to the Anti-Christ since everything, on completion of its process, becomes it opposite.
In Maya’s excellent history of the Bolivarian process, El Ocaso del Chavismo, she details how Chávez started out promoting a process of extending and deepening democracy. He promoted “participatory protagonistic democracy,” and direct democracy as complements to representative democracy, and this was the basis for the Bolivarian Constitution he was responsible for initiating in 1999. He was immediately confronted by an opposition that was comprised of sectors of the privileged elite of the former regime: the unions, the Roman Church hierarchy, military officers, the business class, and the wealthy political class that had grown up under the forty years of democracy under the Pact of Punto Fijo.
But even there was the implacable enantiadromia operant, exaggerated by Chávez’s extreme temperament which was met by an equally extreme, outraged elite that hoped to cling to its privilege and power and was willing to go to any lengths to achieve that end. They represented the enantiodromic realization of representative democracy since, as Maya pointed out to me in an interview, “representative democracy, when left to itself, becomes elitist.” So Chávez pitted his project proposing direct and “participatory-protagonistic” democracy against representative democracy.
With the pulverization of the opposition in a series of battles that ranged from strikes, coups and a referendum, the Bolivarian Revolution of Chávez emerged as the clear victor by 2005, winning nearly every seat of the National Assembly when the opposition withdrew from the political contest. This could have been a moment of gestation and synthesis for Chávez, but he was ambitious and suddenly conceived of a project to build “21st Century Socialism.” By 2007 he was pushing for a referendum that would be a complete departure from his previous revolution to extend democracy and rewrite the constitution in the process. That failed and it marked the beginning of the recession, the “backward turn” of the Bolivarian process. Economically, this represented his turn from a “bourgeois-entrepreneurial” project, consistent with “capitalist” or representative democracy, of building the economy up with worker cooperatives (that was detailed in my film) to nationalizing industries and working with “co-gestion” or co-management more in keeping with an anti-liberal socialist or communist project. Similarly, on a political level he turned away from the liberal representative democratic complements of direct and “protagonistic” (i.e., comprised of protagonists, or individual actors) to “popular power” along the lines of the collectivist “democracy” of 20th century “Real Socialism” or communism.
Meanwhile, the opposition was undergoing its transformation after its utter annihilation in battle with “El Comandante” President Chávez. An entirely different opposition emerged in 2008, formed from new political parties which replaced the “sectoral” elites of the opposition that preceded it. This new opposition was mostly young and very diverse. As opposition National Assemblyperson, Tamara Adrian (the first transgender assemblyperson of Venezuela and member of political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez’s party, Voluntad Popular or People’s Will) says in our movie, “the opposition is very young… most are under thirty-five.” Political positions in this opposition ranged from center-right politicians like those making up the major party, Justice First (Primero Justicia) to the revolutionary left, represented by the Bandera Roja (Red Flag). Most, however, are social democrats or democratic socialists, but they united around a common commitment to democratic change and the protection of democracy and democratic institutions in Venezuela.
The opposition began to gain ground, especially as Chávez advanced his project. The community councils and communes, which supposedly represented the “deep” direct democratic process, had no constitutional standing nor institutional funding. Rather, they were fed from the hand of the Comandante himself and to receive those funds they were obliged, by law, to support 21st century socialism. The top-down “command” structure of Chávez’s party (now reformed as the United Socialist Party of Venezuela) might have made sense in 2002-2004 when the opposition was organizing against the Bolivarian movement which found it necessary to take protective, military-like forms of organization by which it would engage the enemy, but now in relative peace with only electoral contests before it, such a form of organization no longer made any sense or had any justification.
Nevertheless, the “Comandante” ruled with, if not an iron hand, at least a strong hand in a velvet glove. Rather than marking a new direction for democratic socialism, Chavismo began to resemble more and more those corporativist, populist and, ultimately authoritarian, projects of the 20th century in Latin America—the “Institutional Revolution” of the PRI in Mexico, Juan Peron’s “Revolución Libertadora” and, of course, Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in Cuba. The common features became distinguishable in the “Bolivarian Revolution” in the strong leader (caudillo) with a polarizing discourse who operates through networks of patronage to supporters while marginalizing opponents with instruments of exclusion and, when necessary, selective repression.
The authoritarian nature of the project became dramatically apparent when Chávez died, leaving his rule to a hand-picked (by dedazo, as it’s called in Latin America) successor, Nicolas Maduro. Ham-handed, inarticulate except when repeating tired cliches, but brilliant at managing the mafias that had emerged to suck the wealth of the country like leeches from various parts of the national body, Maduro immediately faced a whole series of problems he resolved with the only tools at his disposal: the Carrot and the Stick.
To his supporters Maduro divided up what was now becoming the spoils of a country after having half the wealth from the historic decade-long oil boom (2004-2014) robbed by Chávez and his underlings. The military was given the most productive industries under the auspices of the corporation CAMIMEG, including oil exploration, mining, and various other sorts of extraction. Additionally, General Carlos Osorio was ceded charge over food imports, which made up 90% of what Venezuelans now ate since national agriculture was destroyed under Chávez. Other generals (and members of the first family, the Flores brothers) apparently took over drug trafficking and other illicit activities… All this was the Carrot.
The Stick, of course, was reserved for anyone who defied Maduro which, since he won by a margin of just over one percent, represented half of the country. It wouldn’t be long before he weilded that stick in his first confrontation with students not even a year into his presidency in February 2014. But that nearly six-month-long battle was only the beginning, where, as it were, he sharpened his skills at the bat. As the opposition grew and developed, he would begin to use every repressive measure available to stay in power.
The opposition, meanwhile, had had a good showing in the April 2013 election, nearly taking the presidency. If conditions had been equal (in terms of funding, access to media, access to the public, etc.) they would likely have won. But conditions weren’t equal. Maduro used the billions of dollars pouring in from oil sales (and oil was still at over $100/barrel at that point) to fund his campaign; he used PDVSA trucks, state printing presses, state media and state employees, and every other resource of the state, to promote his campaign, not to mention state buses to bus state employees to the polls to ensure they voted for him.
Nevertheless, the good showing of the Opposition in the election emboldened them and when the price of oil dropped in late 2014, their ranks soon began to swell as food shortages became common. By December 2015 when the National Assembly elections were held, the opposition won 2/3 of the seats.
And here we see the Great Shift. The opposition undertook a new democratic project to gather all the forces of the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) to a common end in the restoration of democratic institutionality. At that point the MUD had only been together as a coalition for seven years, and engaged in its first electoral contest five years earlier. The fact that they were able to maintain unity across such vast ideological divides that separate Primero Justicia from Bandera Roja was only the first miracle. The second miracle is that they were able to break through the crowds of Chavistas to actually take the National Assembly and begin working there in January 2016.
Since that time Maduro has done everything he could conceive of to block the opposition from carrying out its constitutional obligations. He has withheld their salaries (the National Assembly members have not been paid since taking office); taken over the Supreme Court (TSJ) and had it block every initiative of the National Assembly; refused to render accounts to the National Assembly as required by the law and the Constitution, and so forth. Moreover, Maduro’s disdain for democratic process reached such levels that he managed to push another branch of government he controlled, the National Electoral Council, to block a referendum on his presidency and cancel all elections until further notice, including the gubenatorial elections scheduled for December 2016. In late March the invisible hand of Maduro moved once again to push the Supreme Court to rule to take over functions of the National Assembly, and that was the fuse that lit the current social explosion in Venezuela that, at the time of this writing, has been going on for two months.
I could talk about the 82% poverty in Venezuela, the three-quarters of the population that lost 20 pounds of weight over the past year, the scarcity of medicines, the destruction of the medical system, the collapse of the educational system, the slow genocide of native populations as they starve to death, but I’d just be repeating what the readers can find by doing a little reading or research of their own. What I think is important to point out here is that the Bolivarians no longer represent any force for change in Venezuela. They now represent a reincarnation of that old sectoral elite that they fought in 2002-2004, but arguably an even more virulent and voracious elite. Meanwhile, the Opposition… has become the new majority. According to polls earlier this year, some 70-90% (depending on the pollsters) of Venezuelans want a new government while, on the other hand, less than 20% support Maduro. The Venezuelan enantiadromia is complete.
Who is this new opposition? What are the new forces in Venezuela? Tune in to the sequel, In the Shadow of the Revolution, premiering Sunday May 28 at www.caracaschronicles.com. Free admission, and the public is welcomed.