FROM STREET POWER TO STATE POWER – PART THREE: VENEZUELA

Introduction

In Part one we looked at Kenya.  We traced the history of peoples’ resistance against the Empire from the time of the Mau Mau uprising (1952-60) to the renewed poll on 26 October, 2017 (after the Supreme Court had nullified the 8 August, 2017 elections).  On 8 September the opposition – the National Super Alliance (NASA) – had tabled a list of 9 “irreducible minimum” reforms of the electoral process ahead of the revised poll. But none of these were carried out, and so NASA boycotted the 26 October elections.  NASA refused to recognise the outcome to the elections, and Uhuru Kenyatta became the President by default. Following this, NASA launched the Resistance Action Programme; it includes economic boycotts, peaceful processions picketing, and other legitimate protests.

In Part two we looked at Catalonia. Here it is a different kind of struggle – a struggle for “national independence” of the province of Catalonia from the rest of Spain. On 27 October 2017, the Catalan Parliament – in opposition to the Government in Madrid – unilaterally declared independence. Later that day, Spain’s Senate approved new powers for the Madrid Government to impose direct rule on Catalonia. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, described the declaration of independence as “a criminal act”. On 15 November 2017, a pro-independence general strike in Catalonia brought chaos to dozens of the region’s roads as people blocked traffic with sit-down protests. After Catalonia’s failed unilateral independence bid, the former leader, Carles Puigdemont, left for Belgium, where he remains along with four other former members of his cabinet, setting up a potential struggle for their extradition. But on 5 December, 2017, a Spanish judge withdrew an international arrest warrant for Puigdemont, who has shown willingness to return to Catalonia to engage in political dialogue with the Spanish government.

This blog is on Part three – on Venezuela.  At the end, I draw some general conclusions from the three case studies.

Resisting the Empire

From 1999 until his death in 2013, Hugo Chávez presided over the launching of a “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela and in the region. In April 2002, he was ousted from power in a military coup backed by American corporate interests, but he returned to power as a result of mass demonstrations by the working classes and poorer sections of the society. The corporations retaliated through the market. The GDP fell 27% during the first four months of 2003, costing the oil industry $13.3 billion. But Chávez survived … until he died on in 5 March 2013.

After his death, Nicolás Maduro was elected President. The corporations hit back: their counter-action led to hike in inflation (more than 100%) in 2015; a rapid downturn in the economy; street protests against hyperinflation, chronic scarcity of basic goods, and corruption. In the 2015 parliamentary elections the opposition gained a majority. And matters worsened for the poorer sections of the population. In July 2016, President Maduro, using his executive power, declared a state of emergency.  The opposition, who were in control of the National Assembly, brought its supporters (mostly from the middle classes) in street protests. Maduro took the matter to the Supreme Tribunal which took the decision in favour of Maduro.  In March 2017, the Supreme Tribunal more or less took over the functions of the National Assembly. However, under pressure from the propertied classes, the Supreme Court backed down.

In this class war, with the Supreme Court and the National Assembly (NA) under the control of the propertied classed, Maduro was left with few options. He called for Constituent Assembly (CA) elections; these were held on 30 July 2017. About two-thirds of the CA members were elected by municipal citizens, while the remaining one-third  were elected by members of seven social sectors – including trade unions, communal councils, indigenous groups, farmers, students, and pensioners. On August 30, 2017, the CA stripped the NA of its powers. Mauro’s success in overturning the hold of the corporations over the political process was hugely criticised by the United States and the European Union.  However, Raul Capote, an ex-CIA Collaborator – somebody who should know – said that the political upheaval in Venezuela is a continuation of a long standing destabilization US strategy against popular left-leaning governments in Latin America, and that the US will stop at nothing to maintain its imperialist reach around the world.[i]

Maduro’s allies – including Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua – congratulated Maduro and called for foreign non-intervention in Venezuelan politics.

As I write this, the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, escaped to Spain. He had been under house arrest since 2015 for leading the opposition to Maduro.  On 18 November, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy received Ledezma and his wife at Moncloa Palace. On getting news of Ledezma’s escape, Maduro said, laughing: “The vampire, protected, has gone to Spain — to live the great life.” [ii]

It may well be that Catalonia‘s Carles Puigdemont in is laughing too. Rajoy was seeking to arrest Puigdemont, but he is now protecting Ledezma from arrest by Maduro. The chickens have come home to roost. History lays its indelible marks on the present in mysterious ways – Venezuela and Catalonia are accidental allies in our times.

Conclusions:  From street power to state power

What lessons do we draw from the three cases of peoples’ struggles for emancipation from the Empire – Kenya, Catalonia and Venezuela?

1, Laboratories of street resistance

These three cases are laboratories of peoples’ resistance against the power wielded by the state – the Central Authority. In Kenya and Venezuela the state is backed by the Anglo-American Empire; in Catalonia the Centre is backed by the European Union. The people resisting the Centre and the imperial hegemony have moral and solidarity support that cuts across oceans. The three cases are emblematic representations of our times. They are all parts of a struggle that is global. We could have considered practically any country in the world; the broad masses of the people everywhere are under the boots of political and financial ruling oligarchies, and these are parts of a systemic global structure of exploitation and oppression. Following from the above analysis, I believe that the liberation of the peoples everywhere – even in the North – will come from the liberation of the masses in the South from imperial hegemony.

2, Law, authority and legitimacy

It is important to understand the difference between these political-legal concepts. The distinction between them lies at the heart of the issues confronting the above three nations – as indeed between all nations struggling for self-determination. The legal system that provides rules of governance is embodied in the nation’s constitution.  However, for the law to be legitimate, it must comply with certain moral values of the people. In other words, the obligation to obey the law does not follow automatically.  The government has “authority” to rule, yes, but that authority is not absolute. The government expects obedience, but that obedience is conditional on the government conforming to the values and norms of the bigger society. If the government repudiates these norms, then it should not be surprised if the people put up resistance against state authority.

3, Human progress is based on peoples’ resistance against illegitimate state power

The Mau Mau and the National Super Alliance (NASA) in Kenya, Maduro in Venezuela, and Puigdemont in Catalonia are sterling examples of resistance against centralised, undemocratic, uncaring, illegitimate state power. There are other such peoples’ movements – environmental, women’s liberation, Black Lives Matter, war resistance, and scores of others. Especially significant are everyday forms of community resistance. [iii] Resistance is the only road to liberation for people exploited and suppressed by those who have state power and control over wealth and resources.

However, resistance against illegitimate state power does not mean disregard for the law or the constitution.  Nor does it mean resort to violence.

4, Non-violent resistance to illegitimate authority

The state authority can – and in my view should – be challenged by nonviolent active resistance. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, for example, were law-abiding activists, and set a sterling model for civil disobedience of illegitimate authorities. Violence by the ruler does not justify a counter violent response. Ends, I strongly hold, do not justify the means. The means  must be just and peaceful; the desired end might take a long time – a long, long time – but their effects are also long lasting. This is not the same thing as “offering the other cheek” when you are assaulted; you must defend yourself, of course, but – and here we are talking about a political conflict – mass mobilisation for a nonviolent resistance against oppression and exploitation is a more effective and just way of struggle.

@Yash Tandon

12 January, 2018

[i] http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/91212

[ii] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/18/americas/venezuela-caracas-mayor-flees-to-spain

[iii] See: E P Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century“, Past & Present, Volume 50, Issue 1, 1 February 1971.  And, James C. Scott, “Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Volume 13, 1986.

 

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