The << national-Stalinist >> retreat

National-Stalinism is kind of a populism of minorities, governing as if it were resisting the opposition. Español

Pablo Stefanoni
20 September 2017

Agugust 2nd, 2017 (Xinhua) – The Minister of Defence, Vladimir Padrino (C-Front), participates in a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, August 1st, 2017. Photo: Stringer/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

This article is a product of the alliance between the Nueva Sociedad and DemocraciaAbierta. Click here to read the original content

After a trip in 1920 to the revolutionary Russia, together with a group of labour unionists, the British thinker Bertrand Russell wrote a small book – The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism - that embodied his impressions of the recent Bolshevik revolution. There he raised with simplicity and anticipatory vision problems of the accumulation of power and the risks of constructing a new State religion. In a text strongly empathetic towards the daunting task, carried out by the Bolsheviks, he argued that the price of his methods was very high and that, even paying that price, the result was uncertain. In this simple reasoning lie many of the difficulties of Soviet socialism and its later evolution during the 20th century.

After a hundred years of this libertarian epic, its not bad to return to these problems. Mostly because the tension between democracy and revolution remains in force, although, in general, the force manifests itself more often as a farce than as a tragedy, at least if we read some analysis on the current situation in Latin America. The Venezuelan case is the most dramatic, because it's the first triumphant Socialist self-proclaimed experience after the Sandinista revolution of 1979.

Only for this reason, it's already worth paying attention to it. But it also might have consequences similar or worse than the sandinista election defeat of 1990. However, analyses are scarce and are usually replaced by pamphleteers speeches that are just an inverted mirror of those of the regional right

It is absurd to attribute everything to the 'economic war

The call to an uncertain Constituent Assembly seems a leak ahead of a Government, of Nicolas Maduro, who was losing support both in the polls and in the streets. It is true that the protests have more intensity in some territories than in others, but the claim that it is only the rich of Altamira or the East of Caracas who oppose the Government is contradicted by the crushing defeat of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the parliamentary election in 2015.

So that is why there wasn´t regional elections (or unions in the case of the strategic oil company PDVSA). And that is why the Constituent Assembly was designed so that citizen voting is combined with the territorial and the corporate, in a creole resiliency coated with principlism revolutionary. That this Sunday more people went to vote (which means to vote for the ruling party) than in the best moments of the Bolivarian Revolution, would have been a <<miracle>>, said Nicolás Maduro, even considering the enormous state pressure on the public employees and those who receive different social assets through the meat of the nation and public.  

It is about a left that we could call «national-Stalinist». 

If populism has an irreducible core of democracy despite the fact that it tends to tighten the institutions, this means a plebiscite support of the electorate.

Without that, the power depends more and more on the military apparatus, like it happens today in Venezuela (if Maduro had the majority, he could organize a recall, win it and close it, at least temporarily, the political crisis, just like the time Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales did). In Venezuela, the aggravating circumstance of the militarized power is that the military are part of the institutionalized corruption schemes that include access to dollars at the official exchange rate (to then change them on the parallel market with huge profits) or the smuggling of gasoline or other possibly illicit and licit goods. And, what it is worse, is the management of the State became a chaotic authoritarianism, with shortages, power cuts, uncontrolled urban violence and moral degradation of the Bolivarian process. It is absurd to attribute everything to the 'economic war'. You can never explain why Bolivia or Ecuador have been able to manage their economies reasonably well. 

However, a part of the regional left defends the madurismo on behalf of the revolution and class struggle. The empirical analysis disappeared and is replaced by generic appeals to the people, anti-imperialism and the coup right. Going back to Russell: Let's say that we are willing to pay the price of the repressive methods of Maduro, what result do we expect? What do they expect, those from high-sounding positions, announcing that on July 30th was a historic day in which the people triumphed against the counter-revolution? What Heaven do we want to take by assault? It is symptomatic that the Constituent Assembly is not accompanied by a minimum horizon of reforms and that is justified only in the name of peace, leaving in evidence that it is a move, not a need for "revolution". 

It is difficult to believe that, after the failure or the marginalization of the different 'anti-capitalist' experiences tested since 2004 (when Chavez embraced the socialism of the 21st century), some kind of new horizon of social change can be undertaken today. It is not the first, nor will be the last, that in the name of overcoming the "liberal democracy" stops democracy along with liberalism. It is no coincidence either that much of the left coming to celebrate the Venezuelan "mother of all battles" is fan of Gaddafi and his Green Book. In Libya, the "spiritual leader" took to the extreme the replacement of liberal democracy for a State of the masses (Jamahiriya) based on personal power - although he had no formal responsibilities - and an effective secret police that solved the problem of dissention.

It's a left that we could call «national-Stalinism». An ideal type that allows you to capture a more or less diffuse space that brings together a bit of Latin American populism and the Stalinist nostalgia (things that in the past did not mix well). From that mix comes a kind of "structure of feeling" that combines inflated rhetoric, little political and social analysis, an impoverishing identical attributed binary system, and a kind of neorealism against the Empire (more than an imperialism Marxist analysis, there are often certain fake moral that leads to get excited with the benefits of new powers such as China or the return of Russia, not to mention sympathies with Bashar al-Assad and other heroes of the anti-imperialism). 

As the Latin American pink tide is withdrawn, the democratic populism that explained the wave of left in the region loses strength and this national-Stalinism sensitivity, which has some intellectuals on their side - several of which found shelter in the Red de Intellectuals and Artists in Defence of Humanity - gains visibility and influence in the governments in withdrawal or the debilitated left-wings. National-Stalinism is a kind of populism of minorities, governing as if they were resisting in opposition. That is why it governs badly.

The price to be paid in Venezuela, would be to have a kind of Orteguism with oil?

Today it is common to compare the Venezuela of 2017 with the Chile of 1973. The democratic-popular Governments face antidemocratic reactions by the conservative rights often supported by the United States and it’s necessary to confront them, which may include specific States of emergency. But the comparison ignores some «details». First, Salvador Allende faced armed forces supposedly institutional but hostile, that brought Augusto Pinochet into the picture. In Venezuela, despite the existence of anti-democratic sectors in opposition (we must remember the failed coup in 2002), the security forces are still on the side of the Government. And its ability to fire is still intact.

On the other hand, the Chilean Government was not going through the inefficiency and internal corruption in the levels of the current Chavism, where today there are structural. Perhaps the comparison with Nicaragua can be more enriching: over there there was an imperial interference that was bloody and criminal, and eroded very strongly the Sandinista power. 

Is comparable to this criminal offensive an economic sanction to Maduro, who, we suspect, has no accounts in the United States, or the strategy of the “fourth generation «hits»”, which consist of the implementation of a book of the almost nonagenarian Gene Sharp, that can be downloaded from the internet? The Empire conspires everywhere, but in other ALBA countries more or less well-managed, there are no shortage of food in the markets and, for example, in the case of Bolivia, the macroeconomic statistics are praised by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. While the Governments have the majority, the democratic populism keeps the national-Stalinists because they maintain the hegemonic responses and democratic assets and resists the authoritarian retrenchment.

What enables to build bridges between the late Sandinism movement and the current neochavism is the corruption as a mechanism of internal erosion and moral degradation, that in the case of Nicaragua ended first in defeat and then with a comeback– against the majority of the old Sandinist guard– from the Ortega-Murillo couple, today still in power after his conversion to Catholicism pro-life and a new bizarre State religion, combined with a surprising pragmatism to make public and private businesses, increasingly Interwoven in Nicaragua-. The price to be paid in Venezuela would be to have a kind of Orteguismo with oil? In favour of that some intellectuals demand Maduro heavy-handed approach against the opposition?

Unfortunately, without a left more active and creative in Venezuela, the regional initiative is in the hands of the right.

It is clear that for the Left is important to differentiate themselves from the anti-populism – with their anti-popular, revanchist, classist and also authoritarian characteristics-, but despise the views of the democratic radicalization, accusing Liberals who observe effective democratic deficits and operate in favour of forms of decadent neo-authoritarianism, only supports new regional Rights. Rather than having a dispute about the meaning of democracy against the visions that reduce it to free market, the post-politics, or a conservative Republicanism, the national-Stalinists leave and entrench themselves in a «resistance» unable to regenerate the hegemony that the Left conquered during the 'won decade’. What was argued on behalf of a "socialism of the 21st century" ends up in a seventies parody.

To articulate socialism and democracy remains a pending agenda for the Left: the opposite risk, which we already live with, is the defence of democracy without equal contents or reformist projects capable of eroding the current processes of de-democratization. So regarding Venezuela, part of the Latin American social democracy cannot say something that goes beyond its support to the nucleated opposition at the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). An agreed exit in Venezuela cannot be based only on the normalization of political democracy: it must also include a defence of the popular economic rights (an agenda of economic democracy) against those who, from the opposition, are looking for a way out like Temer in Brazil.

But against the dangers of «Temerization» of Venezuela, the national-Stalinists may be counterproductive: the growing discredit of socialism, thanks to the misruling of Maduro, shortages and lines, makes that the pro- market outputs gain social support.

However, the temptation to build socialism with sticks-"if it is not with the votes, it will be with weapons," Maduro said, or «con el mazo dando», as Diosdado Cabello named its television program, on behalf of an abstract population or against a manipulated population, is still capturing the imagination and the enthusiasm of the continental militant Left. To make matters worse, there is no socialism. But social networks «bubble filters» confirm convictions and post-truths, in a manner quite similar to how anti-populist’s sociability spaces (violent) operate.

Unfortunately, without a more active and creative Left in Venezuela, the regional initiative is in the hands of the Rights. Let us analyse these processes with a critical sense and do everything possible so that Caracas is not our 21st century Berlin wall.


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