Hugo Chavez’s heart may well have been in the right place and he may well have good intentions but his “socialist” agenda amounts to little more than one vast reformist programme that was largely financed by the country’s oil income. The generous profits from oil went into financing policies to improve health, provide cheaper food, extend educational access, and to implement land reform. We don't want to belittle all that progress but it was not socialism. Chavez and his Venezuelan Bolivarian “revolution” long attracted sympathisers from the Left. Much of the attraction was the charisma of Chavez himself, his anti-American rhetoric, plus the numerous reforms he passed.
After the price of oil fell to record lows, the successor to Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, was unable to maintain those reforms and the problems inherent within capitalism began to materialize and manifest themselves to undermine any attempt at sustaining a popular policy of social reforms. He has become just one more in a string of Latin American political leaders, following the role of the macho strongman, where politics are a matter of emergency. Maduro issues top-down decrees for new institutions rather than encouraging real initiatives from the base.
What passes for socialism has nothing to do with real socialism. You cannot divorce commerce from profit. If there is no profit, there is no production, no trade, no goods on the supermarket shelves. Venezuela became bogged down by the logic of capitalism. It's a familiar story to members of the Socialist Party.
Left-wing party pledged to bring in pro-worker reforms gets elected enthusiastically. Puts into practice some of the promised reforms which do actually benefit some workers. Begins to ignore that under capitalism profits and profit-making have to have priority as that's what drives capitalism. So, economic problems (shortages, inflation, unemployment) develop, causing popular discontent. A majority of voters turn against the left-wing government and foreign powers foment political unrest to boot it out. In the case of Venezuela when the price of oil dropped, they were sunk.
The is lesson is clear - you can't make capitalism work in the interest of the workers, even though you can bring in some temporary pro-worker reforms. In the end the economic laws of capitalism assert themselves. Palliatives can improve living conditions in some respects and temporarily create a gentler capitalism but ameliorative reforms cannot end capitalism. The problem is that the left-wing never learn from the history lesson. The current leftist supporters of Maduro put their concerns for the national rights of Venezuela before class solidarity, and in supporting the Maduro government, excusing the repressive parts of Maduro’s regime as mistakes, or excesses due to the American economic sanctions against it, the Maduro apologists excuse his actions as a necessary defence against US imperialist aggression. The shameful actions of Maduro in the suppression of workers’ rights in the name of protecting Venezuelan sovereignty has been to strengthen the hegemony of the ruling party elite.
Venezuela’s government does not and never has represented any kind of military threat to the United States. It has never invaded the United States. It has never attacked the United States. It has never threatened to do either, nor does it seem to be equipped to do so if it desired to. Venezuela is not and never has been either a state or territory of the United States. Nevertheless, the US ruling class will not tolerate any government that opposes its financial and geopolitical interests or transfers its obeisance to a rival nation, like Russia or China, for example. If it chooses to do so it will suffer either punitive economic sanctions which makes normal governance difficult and which harms the general population, or it faces subversion by direct or indirect means. The media is complicit in justifying Washington’s policies and more often than not applaud them. The news outlets are wedded to our masters. Those who questioned the media’s presentation are marginalized, chastised or silenced. But, of course, none of this is new. The world has been here before many times and has witnessed the sycophancy of the media which has turned a blind eye to the plunder and destruction of entire regions by various American governments. Few tears are shed for America’s so-called “enemies” when it comes to “defending US interests.” Of course, other nations including Russia and China, use brutal repression and militarism as well to crush dissent but we should not ignore the effectiveness of the media’s doublespeak dominating the TV news and press, determining public opinion. George Orwell would not have been surprised.
The Socialist Party does not consider that the best way to assist the workers of Venezuela is to support a president that dragoons them into being fodder in a siege warfare with the USA. Instead the better strategy for ourselves is to urge the spread of socialism to rescue our fellow-workers from the unpalatable choices set before them. To do that, the Socialist Party requires to free socialist ideas from the taint of dictatorial methods and stand clearly for the political freedoms of association and speech, and to campaign for a truly state-free, class-free worldwide co-operative commonwealth.