Hugo Chavez is No Working Class Hero, and Venezuela is in For Big Change Next October
There is a myth in current international affairs. The myth is that Venezuela Hugo Chavez's regime has empowered the working class and the poor against a neoliberal oligarchy. The myth goes that his has been a social revolution.
Now, all myths have a background traced to some truth more or less forgotten. It is true that Chavez has decimated the Venezuelan private industry, and the indigenous bourgeoisie with it. It is true that he has scared off foreign capital and over the years he has managed to kick out most of it. For left-wing socialists this is rather good news, proof that there is actually a working class revolution taking place. But here is where truth turns into myth; whereas the former is sustained by critical analysis, the latter is based on ideology.
On Monday, Chavez was broadcasting live on all terrestrial channels, something that in Venezuela is called cadena ("chain," because it’s a mandatory broadcast by the government). The event was a campaign trail public meeting of state steel workers in the Guayana region, the biggest Venezuelan heavy industrial park.
Naturally, the regime took care in selecting the correct audience in order to create the impression that the working class massively backed the revolutionary leader. This is not only done by tyrannies; it is also practiced in democracies.
But we would expect that the one who claims to be a socialist, the paladin of the poor, be celebrated by such audience. However that did not happen. The workers soon became enraged by his speech to the point where he had to simulate that the background noise was a malfunction, so to obfuscate the truth to the wider television and radio audience. But the rebuff was so loud that the broadcast was suddenly cut. For a man who speaks live for hours, this is a rare event.
As usual, Chavez spoke of all the plans his government has for the Venezuelan heavy industry and the solutions for the electric scarcity (caused by his negligence and bad policy). In his address he forgot to mention almost a dozen state companies (Ferrominera, Venalum, Alcasa, Bauxilum, Carbonorca, Minerven, Edelca, etc.) where workers are begrudged at his government for breaking collective bargaining and all labor rights in general.
His regime has also neglected investment to keep these companies alive (they are state run, after all). Instead, they are generating losses, reducing its productive capacities and ultimately firing workers. Take Tavsa, a manufacturer of tubes, for instance: it was a productive company before it was nationalized in 2009. Afterwards, Chavez ordered it shut down to benefit tubes imports from — guess who — China. He has promised to build up a new tube manufacturing company and for four years it has remained like a ruined monument to incompetence and corruption. So much for the working class paladin.
Almost like a logical deduction, left-wing commentators assume that only because a head of government proclaims himself a "socialist," the working class should back him. For example, Sean Penn (who personally joined Chavez on the campaign trail a few weeks ago). Or, even worse, former president of Brazil Lula Da Silva — who publicly endorsed Chavez's campaign in a video at the Ministerial Forum for Development in Brasilia earlier this year, saying, “With Chavez's leadership, the people have made truly extraordinary achievements ... these must be preserved … Chavez, count on me ... count on the solidarity and support of every leftist militant, every democrat and every Latin American. Your victory will be our victory.”
The comments from Brazil's former president are a gruesome and irresponsible interference in the affairs of another country. Every democrat? Shame on you Lula Da Silva. Clearly he is not speaking of Venezuelan democracy, toward which he is completely unconcerned. But the lucrative business with Venezuelan oil and Brazilian exports is something Lula’s Brazil strives for and wants to keep. The prospect of a Capriles’ victory next October might turn all those businesses favoring Brazil upside down. So it is not about leftist militants.
People outside the Venezuelan context might be easily tricked by the rhetoric. But the marvelous Monday showdown where Chavez’ broadcast had to be cut because the noise of enraged workers did not allow him to speak is a good example of what is taking place in Venezuela.
Chavez is running for a third six-year period, and his regime has only exhausted the industry and exports — turning Venezuela into a rentierist-imports-dependent economy (the form of economy that only hurts the quality of life of its citizens — mostly workers who will lose their jobs and labor benefits).
Chavez’ rebuff of the workers' indignation come in the form of obnoxious claims such as “you only want to live like the rich!” I wonder what’s the problem with that? But no, they only want to have a job and make an honest living. For Chavez, who can’t stand criticism, he expects everyone to lower his or her heads and submissively admit him for another six-year term. But as things stand right now, his dream of ruling for life might not be fulfilled.