By Dan Davison
Recently, the Democratic Socialists of America International Committee (DSA IC) sent a delegation to Caracas, Venezuela. From 21 June to 1 July, they attended the Bicentennial Congress of the Peoples and related events. The Congress was essentially a propaganda tool for the Venezuelan government. It was launched by President Nicolás Maduro himself and one of its explicit objectives was “to express support for the Bolivarian Revolution”.
There is certainly a pressing need for international solidarity with the Venezuelan working class. Economic and political crises have left the country in a dire state. The minimum monthly wage is now 10 million bolívares, which at the current exchange rate is the equivalent of only 3.54 USD. The Covid-19 testing and vaccination rate has been slow, and the government has misreported the death toll: as of 14 June, they registered only 2,764 deaths, but have been routinely omitting patients who were not tested or whose results did not arrive on time.
Widespread malnutrition and a collapsing healthcare system have increased infant mortality and deaths in childbirth. Gang warfare has escalated in Caracas neighbourhoods, with the police and military so miserably failing to reestablish control that they showed false photographs of confiscated weapons that were actually taken in Bolivia. More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled the country since Maduro took office in 2013.
However, the DSA IC’s understanding of “solidarity with the Venezuelan working class” is “support for the Venezuelan government”. Sometimes this is based on the Maduro regime’s ostensible socialism; other times it is purely negative anti-imperialism (i.e., “Maduro is against American imperialism, ergo we should back Maduro”. I have heard at least one person analogise the situation to critically supporting a bureaucratic trade union against the bosses. Perhaps intentionally, this is the exact analogy that certain orthodox Trotskyists used for the Stalinist USSR in the 1940s. The problem with this analogy is its implication that, like a bureaucratic trade union, the Maduro regime is in fact fighting for working-class interests, just in a flawed and conservative manner.
However much the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) positions itself as pro-worker and blames the country’s ills on American imperialism, the Maduro government systematically attacks the working class and is itself backed by imperialist powers like Russia and China. It has introduced austerity measures like the Ministry of Work’s Memorandum 2792, which undermines collective bargaining agreements. It invites transnational corporations to engage in harmful mining operations in Venezuela’s Amazon region. It keeps a Mafia-like grip on the unions and persecutes labour activists like Rodney Álvarez, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Orlando Chirino, an independent socialist and trade union activist with the Venezuelan left-oppositionist Party for Socialism and Liberty, astutely puts it as follows in an open letter to DSA:
“In Venezuela we are fighting against an anti-worker and anti-popular capitalist government, authoritarian, conservative, repressive, that hides the repression and the anti-worker and anti-popular adjustment that it applies, under a ‘socialist’ pseudo-discourse, and as it’s not aligned with the US, it’s perceived by some as ‘Anti-imperialist’, and supported by sectors of the US and European left. This scheme repeats the typical mistakes of the cold war in the 20th century. The true internationalist must always support the struggles of workers and peoples for their liberation, beyond national borders.”
In short, I urge comrades in DSA and elsewhere on the international left to support the Venezuelan working class against the attacks it faces from imperialist powers and the Maduro regime alike. For example, Labour Party and trade union branches should perform actions in solidarity with left-wing political prisoners in Venezuela like Álvarez whilst also pushing back against right-wing calls for intervention. I also recommend following Venezuelan Workers Solidarity, a group of Venezuelan socialists in the US that rejects crude campism, as well the Venezuelan Voices blog, which provides helpful analysis from a critical left perspective.