Power to Which People?

Progressives should be less concerned about how people are protesting and more concerned about who is mobilizing and what they’re fighting for.

There is no red Venezuela; there is no blue Venezuela; there is only Venezuela.

Achy Obejas’ “Ending the Pain in Venezuela,” which ran in the April issue of In These Times, made an Obama-esque anguished call for civility in the protest-rocked country. Obejas rightly notes the untenability of the current situation. Inflation, food shortages and rising crime have fostered an opposition movement that is too strong to be vanquished by the narrow pro-government majority, but also too fractured to unseat President Nicolás Maduro’s administration. Her solution to the impasse is dialogue: sitting down both sides to agree to some sort of negotiated settlement.

But this high-mindedness is coming from a problematic place: a centrism unwilling to take sides in a battle between forces starkly polarized along class and ideological lines. Too many progressives reflexively honor any and all protests instead of critically evaluating their content. Today in Latin America, those radicals out of power and seething with resentment are often on the Right.

Among Venezuelan workers, still overwhelmingly supportive of the Bolivarian Revolution, the mood is less Obejas’ “we are all Venezuelans” and more “they will never come back.” They being such scions of privilege as Leopoldo López Mendoza, María Corina Machado, and Henrique Capriles Radonski, whose class had a stranglehold on the nation’s future until the rise of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian movement in the late 1990s, and who have been struggling ever since to regain their advantage.

The years of left-wing activity that followed were hardly without setbacks or failures, but they witnessed the politicization of many who were previously neglected. Though unevenly implemented, assembly councils and worker cooperatives were constructed, representing a depth of democratic participation rarely seen in human history. Materially, poverty fell by well over a third during Chávez’s tenure, and extreme poverty by 58 percent. Quality healthcare and education became accessible to ordinary people.

It should be of little surprise, then, to find that every block in Venezuela is not the scene of anti-state unrest. Even the New York Times headlined a piece, “Slum Dwellers in Caracas Ask, What Protests?” In working-class communities across Venezuela, the grassroots demonstrations thriving elsewhere provoke only fear that the social and economic gains of the last decade will be rolled back and the old neoliberal regime, along with its daily humiliations of poverty and powerlessness, restored.

Yes, grassroots. Among a certain type of progressive, “grassroots” is used to describe a platonic ideal. Some who both hold that view and want to defend the Venezuelan government are keen to portray the right-wing opposition movement’s protests as inauthentic: the work of CIA pawns or a media event manufactured in Miami studios.
Read more at In These Times.