By Miguel Angel Hernandez (Socialism and Freedom Party, PSL)
An imperialist counter-offensive on Venezuela is underway. The revolutionary socialists call to repudiate any threat of Trump’s military intervention and the coup attempt by Guaido and the pro-Yankee right. We do this from a position independent from the Maduro government, which we do not endorse for its anti-worker and repressive nature. The situation in Venezuela is very unstable and creates doubts and debates among the fighters. The facts may vary after the publication of this article because there is a very serious intensification of the political and social crisis.
Since 23 January, Trump and the Venezuelan right, headed by Juan Guaidó, have launched a counteroffensive to divide the armed forces and provoke a military coup against Maduro. Our current categorically repudiates this imperialist attempt. The situation, at the time of writing this article, is undefined. There is stagnation but also instability. The right could not impose the coup. Although they have said, through Trump himself, that a military option is not ruled out, Trump and the Lima Group have been so far unable to materialise an armed intervention. Imperialism is divided. The European Union and some sectors of the Latin American bourgeoisie would not support it. Maduro continues in power, but amid great instability and uncertainty. The several days without electric power in much of the country show it.
The desperation of the Venezuelan people
The situation of the working class, the popular sectors, women, and the youth of Venezuela is dramatic however you look at it. There are millions suffering from shortages, from wages that are not enough to eat or live, from medicine shortages, from lack of electric power or running water. Families split up. Over three million have left the country to find a way out of their social desperation. The wealthy minority does not experience the same level of suffering, whether they be the “Bolibourgeois” civilians, military men of the regime, or the old Venezuelan business bourgeoisie currently in opposition. The working people, who for years believed that Chávez and Chavismo were a solution, are disappointed. Millions seek a way out of this dramatic situation. There is desperation. This is what the false “Socialism of the 21st Century” of Chávez and Maduro has created.
This has led to a growing popular hatred of Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, and the entire civic-military government. Millions want to get rid of Maduro and in this way see whether their hunger and misery will end.
But all this has led to great confusion. Thousands and thousands in Venezuela, as well as Venezuelans that have gone abroad to help their families, believe, very wrongly, that the old pro-Yankee right, hidden behind the young figure of Juan Guaidó, can be a solution. There are even those who would not see a US military intervention with bad eyes. This is something similar to what happened with the vote for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil after the total failure of the class collaboration government of Lula and the PT.
Daily hardship leads to this great political confusion. We fight against it every day, trying to turn hatred into a mobilisation independent of Maduro and Guaido.
We understand this desperation but we reiterate, once again, imperialism will not give rights or welfare to the working people. Imperialism, with its genocidal invasions in Latin America, the Middle East, and the rest of the world has only contributed to more plunder and misery of the peoples. We only need to recall the cases of Vietnam, Iraq, the support for Israel’s Zionism to subjugate the Palestinian people, repeated bombings anywhere in the world. Neither would a coup and a government of Guaidó and the right bring solutions to the working people. Guaidó’s already announced Plan País (Plan for the Country) shows that they would continue with the economic adjustment and deepen the delivery of oil and payments of the debt. The Partido Socialismo y Libertad (Socialism and Liberty Party, PSL), the section of the IWU–FI (International Workers Unity – Fourth International), will continue acting uniformly against any imperialist military intervention and any coup attempt.
We are committed to the independent emergence of the mass movement to overturn this crisis in favour of the interests of the working class and the people, defeating all attempts to win by the putschist right, and for the workers and the people to replace Maduro and impose an emergency plan to exit this crisis.
The imperialist counter-offensive seeks to prevent Maduro’s revolutionary fall
The surprise self-proclamation of representative Juan Guaidó as the new “president” on January 23rd reached a new milestone on February 23rd, when he meant to employ the entry of “humanitarian aid” to generate a split in the armed forces or some military action. For now, they are failing, but they have advanced with economic sanctions.
Why do they want to promote a coup? Chavismo and sectors of the left try to explain it by saying Maduro is an anti-imperialist or “bourgeois nationalist” government. We reject this definition. Chavismo has long ceased to be a bourgeois nationalist regime. It has always agreed to the existence of joint ventures with multinational oil companies, with the presence of Chevron, Total, and Repsol. Chavismo never advanced the expropriation of the big bourgeoisie or stopped paying Venezuela’s foreign debt promptly. Even now, amid the sanctions by Trump and the European Union (EU), it is not expelling multinationals, nationalising banks, or suspending debt payments. It only expels ambassadors. But, if this is so: why the offensive against Maduro? What are its causes?
There are several explanations. The central one is that Trump and Guaidó want to avoid the outbreak of a popular rebellion and provoke the revolutionary fall of Maduro ––that the mobilization of the masses might dismiss him, repeating what happened in 2011 with the so-called “Arab Spring” in North Africa. There, thousands and thousands took to the streets to overthrow the dictatorial regimes, also called “nationalist”, in quotation marks, of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Trump and Guaidó want to use the popular hatred engendered by Maduro in their favour, to avoid greater political instability and replace him themselves, frustrating independent action from the masses.
Another reason is that Guaidó and the old Venezuelan right are trying to overcome the political crisis they are suffering, which goes back to 2017, when they were overwhelmed by the masses and left them alone, instead sitting down to negotiate with the government and the EU. The so-called Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) was repudiated by its own ranks and broad popular sectors. Now, they want to take advantage of Maduro’s disrepute, the fact that he “won” a fraudulent election, to capitalise on it. Thus, they make controlled and limited mobilisations. They do not want to repeat what happened in 2017 when their first calls were overflowed and the popular masses, including traditional Chavista neighbourhoods and grassroots, mobilised for the fall of Maduro. Faced with this situation, the MUD ceased all calls to the streets. Two years later, they do not want to be near that situation again. For now, there has been no overflow because of false expectations regarding Guaidó.
This is also not a conflict between the United States versus Russia-China, which support Maduro for their economic interests, because Russia and China are two capitalist powers that have economic friction but are strategically united in their agreements with multinationals to continue super-exploiting the workers.
For his part, Trump uses Maduro to talk about the disaster of “socialism” as a political banner, like he does with Cuba or against Democrat Bernie Sanders. Trump is also facing a crisis in his government and is thinking about the 2020 elections. Therefore, he appeals to this colourful antisocialist discourse, waving anti-Communist flags and polarising his ranks within the United States, returning to the discourse of the “axes of evil.”
Chavismo and Maduro are responsible for the confusion of the masses
Regrettably, the confusion in the consciousness of the Venezuelan people, who are mistakenly open to expectations of a possible government of Guaidó and the pro-Yankee right, is the responsibility of Maduro and Chavismo. This is very important. The left should be clear and forceful on this central point: Chavismo and Maduro have dirtied the name of socialism. There was never any socialism in Vnezuela, neither of “the 21st century” nor of any kind. Maduro has taken the salary to US$6 amid galloping hyperinflation, with a total shortage of goods (see note “Salary of US$6” further below). This is not a government that enjoys popular support; it is a repressive and anti-worker civic-military government. Maduro rules for the “Bolibourgeoisie,” composed of military and civilians who have become rich at the expense of the people’s hunger.
Maduro continues sharing the oil with Chevron, Total, Mitsubishi, and other multinationals. Unfortunately, most of the left silences this fact, ignoring or hiding it. And Maduro continues paying the foreign debt. He does not adopt any anti-imperialist measures, nor does he expel oil multinationals, nor does he nationalise banking and foreign trade.
Therefore, while we continue calling to reject all imperialist interference and the attempted coup, we keep promoting the struggle of the working people so that there is a third, independent option of the workers and the people that could impose its own government, a workers’ government, to promote a workers’ and popular emergency plan. This option can expel the multinationals and impose 100% state-owned oil, without joint ventures, and put those billions of dollars at the service of the people; stop paying the foreign debt, make real agrarian reform, increase wages, ensure food and medicines, and end blackouts and ensure the supply of electricity and water.
The problem is the crisis of leadership
In Venezuela, the great weakness of the process is that, faced with the failure of this pseudo-progressive and double-discourse government, there was a vacuum that has so far been occupied by the pro-Yankee old right-wing resurrected with Guaidó and the former MUD. Therefore, from PSL and C-CURA (Autonomous, Revolutionary, and United Class Current), we fight to create a political leadership, an alternative pole allowing us to advance in a solution of class independence.
During 2018, the working class began a very positive process of entry into action, with major strikes by health workers, teachers, and oil workers. Out of this process emerged regional coordinating committees and a national coordinating committee, called the Inter-Sectoral of Venezuelan Workers (ITV), which called for different actions. Unfortunately, early this year, when the attempted coup of the right broke out, this process froze. For the time being, most of the leaders of the unions that hegemonise ITV are with Guaidó. Although C-CURA and its leaders Chirino and Bodas have raised, together with other Critical Chavistas within the ITV, a proposal for independent mobilisation, it has not been possible to achieve it. From the PSL and C-CURA, we continue raising this banner to find an exit for this situation.
The prospect of an independent mass rebellion remains open. Social tension is present. During the long blackout in March, for example, in a demonstration of anger over the situation, massive looting took place in important cities of the country such as Maracaibo, capital of the state of Zulia, the second largest city in the country. Protests also took place in many popular and poor neighbourhoods of Caracas.
With left-wing political and trade union sectors that are part of ITV, we are endorsing a broad grouping to take part in the current situation by promoting a workers’ and popular mobilisation against the government and imperialist threats. We are fighting to build an independent political alternative for the workers and the people of Venezuela, different from Maduro, Guaidó, the military, and imperialism. This is the proposal we have been raising from PSL and C-CURA.
Salary of US$6
There are those who, from the left or from an anti-imperialist position, still defend Maduro even if they criticise him. They say that, despite everything, there are “social gains” to defend, and they echo Maduro’s on-going campaign about a supposed “economic war” by the “empire” that is to blame for the crisis. But all of this is false. In fact, for several years Maduro himself has launched the “economic war” against the workers and the people: large austerity cuts, with devaluations and benefits for the oil multinationals, businesses, and banks. This large adjustment has brought misery to the working people, and it is the reason why over three million people have left the country.
The data is tremendous. Maduro has continued paying the foreign debt while causing chronic devaluations of currency, which has meant a precipitous fall in real wages. In March, the dollar (the official and the parallel) was at 3,300 sovereign bolivars (the new currency without five zeros since 2018). Using the old denomination as a reference, this would mean that one dollar equals 330 million bolivars. This devaluation is only comparable with that of Germany of the 1920s. The minimum wage, by law, is 18,000 bolivars. That is less than US$6. Seventy per cent of the workers earn this wage. What is this wage good for? Almost nothing. This is the drama.
A kilogram of chicken costs around 5,000 bolivars. It means you can buy two chickens of two kilos each in a month. Beef costs around 7,000 bolivars per kilo, enough for a little over two kilos per month. Coffee is at 9,000 a kilo. Cheese, a much-consumed product in Venezuela, ranges between 14,000 and 20,000 bolivars per kilo, in other words, an entire salary. Thus, if you buy a kilo of chicken, one kilo of beef and a half-kilo of cheese, your salary is gone.
A BBC reporter asked Maduro whether it was true that the minimum wage equals a kilo of cheese. Maduro responded evasively that prices vary depending on the region and the type of cheese. It is true that prices vary; in many cases, the price of fresh cheese in cities exceeds the minimum wage. Prices change weekly, so we do not know what the price will be when the reader reads this note.
ATMs only dispense 500 bolivars per day, and public transport costs between 100 and 200 bolivars, depending on the route and the city. A worker who spends 500 bolivars a day on commuting spends almost all of his salary on public transportation.
Gasoline is the only thing that remains almost free. The lowest denomination bill exceeds the cost of filling a tank. Venezuela being an oil country, this has been the case since before Chávez. Last year, the government announced that gasoline would shift to international prices as part of the economic adjustment, but it never had the courage to implement this measure. Let’s recall that the Caracazo uprising of 1989 took place because of an increase in the price of gasoline.
This social and humanitarian debacle that the Venezuelan people suffer results from a savage capitalist adjustment at the service of the bourgeoisie, multinationals, and bankers. Since the time of Chavez’s government, businessmen were allowed to acquire dollars at ridiculous rates that were the basis of the looting: “as of 2003, the government set exchange rates that allowed national and transnational entrepreneurs to buy dollars at prices lower than those of the parallel market. In 2012, the difference between both types of change grew impressively, reaching a ratio of five to one. […] [The government] allowed the growth in insane proportions of over-invoicing of imports, a fraud mechanism to get a cheap foreign exchange from the state. […] The consequences were disastrous.” 
This capitalist plunder, fostered by the Chavista government, led to hunger, chronic shortages, hyperinflation, lack of medicines, mass exodus, and lack of gasoline, gas, electricity, and water. Here are the reasons for the masses’ growing hatred of Maduro.
 from “Venezuela in freefall”, International Correspondence No. 38, May-August 2016, quoted in the book Why did Chavismo fail?, by Simon Rodriguez Porras and Miguel Sorans, Centro de Estudios Humanos y Sociales, Buenos Aires, 2018, page 89.
The causes of the blackout
On top of all the calamities endured by the Venezuelan people, on Thursday March 7th of 2019, a major blackout left the entire country without power for almost four days. It aggravated the drama of millions to incredible extremes. Loss of food, lack of water, deaths in hospitals, and so on.
Maduro denounced that the cause of the blackout was sabotage by the United States; what he called a “cybernetic attack by the empire.” We know about the cruelties of imperialism, but it is more than doubtful that the blackout was the result of sabotage. The technicians and workers clarified that the problem was lack of maintenance. Though there had never been a power outage of this magnitude before, power outages across the country have been normal and repeated for years. Chávez himself declared a power emergency in 2009.
The executive secretary of the Federation of Workers of the Electrical Industry of Venezuela, Ali Briceño, stated that the blackout “was because of the fall of three high voltage transmission lines from the Guri hydroelectric plant — the largest in the country and the second largest of Latin America — to the Malena substation in the Amazonian state of Bolivar.”
“The foliage had grown in such a way that there was a vegetation fire which caused the three lines of 765 kilovolts to fall, two because of overheating and the other because of overload,” Briceño explained. He also explained that out of the 50,000 workers that made up Corpoelec, 24,000 had left Venezuela “seeking better living conditions for themselves and their families”, including “14,700 engineers and technicians.”
Briceño said although Guri produces about 80% of the electric power consumed throughout Venezuela, “neither the transformers nor anything has been maintained,” so the electric system is “adrift and with no guarantees.” (Quotes from http://www.ambito.com, 10 March 2019.)
Winston Cabas, President of the Venezuelan Association of Electrical Energy of the College of Engineers, ratified this and clarified that the system is not digital but analog, which means that it is impossible for it to suffer a cyber-attack.
In July of last year, there was a blackout in Caracas. Back then Angel Navas, president of the Federation of Electrical Workers, “reported that the faults existing in the electrical system of Caracas are because of lack of maintenance. (…) He noted these failures are due to overcurrents because the competent authorities have not performed the corresponding corrective maintenance on the transmission lines” (El Nacional, 31 July 2018).