Canadian imperialism has recently joined forces with other imperialist powers, mainly the United States, to overthrow, through a coup d’état, President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela, accusing it of exercising dictatorial power over its people and being responsible for a “humanitarian crisis” at home. The imperialists’ spokespersons blame the president for having suspended the powers of the legislative chamber in favour of a constituent assembly whose election was boycotted by the opposition. They also criticize him for interfering in the judicial power and thus not respecting the liberal dogma of the independence of the three powers (executive, legislative and judicial).
In addition to the fact that Maduro was elected in full respect of bourgeois democratic rules, in addition to the fact that the United States and Canada are not particularly well placed to give lessons in democracy, imperialist interference must be denounced because it is a direct attack on Venezuela’s national sovereignty. It is up to the Venezuelan nation to determine its future and not to foreign powers. However, the American and Canadian imperialists do not understand it in this way and once again claim the right to decide the fate of another country by engaging in the most shameless manipulation and in a criminal adventure aimed at setting up a puppet government serving their interests. Currently, the United States is even preparing for the possibility of direct military intervention if the domestic situation in Venezuela does not evolve in the direction it wishes.
We must not be fooled by the “humanitarian” rhetoric of Justin Trudeau and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. In truth, it is nothing more than the hope of even greater looting of Venezuela that drives the United States and Canada to intervene in this country, which, it should be mentioned, has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. It seems that Russia and China also have in their sights the exploitation of that country’s resources. Nevertheless, in the current international context, the imperialists of these two countries do not yet directly interfere in Venezuela’s internal political life as do the US imperialists and their allies. Obviously, the United States and Canada do not like to see the development of ever closer relations between the Maduro regime and their Russian and Chinese competitors. This partly explains the motivations behind the coup d’état they are currently organizing to overthrow it.
In their 2016 book Blood of extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America, Todd Gordon and Jeffrey Webber provide insights into the expansion of Canadian capital – in particular mining capital – in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1990, Canadian capital in Latin America, in the form of cumulative foreign direct investment (FDI), amounted to C$2.58 billion. In 2000, they amounted to 25.3 billion and in 2013, to 59.4 billion, representing an increase of 2198% since 1990. From 2007 to 2012, Canada was the second largest source of FDI in the Latin American and Caribbean region, after the United States alone.
More than half of Canada’s mining assets held abroad, or some C$72.4 billion, are in Latin America and the Caribbean. While two Canadian mines were operating in the region in 1990, by 2012, this number had risen to eighty. About fifty others are currently in development or prospecting. Operating mines generated combined revenues of C$19.3 billion in 2012 for Canadian companies. In 2014, 62% of all active mines in the region were owned by companies headquartered in Canada.
It is clear that Juan Guaidó, the leader of the “opposition” in Venezuela who proclaimed himself president and who is in reality just a miserable puppet of the United States, would open the country’s borders to Canadian mining and oil companies if he came to power. This alone explains why Canada is currently playing a leading role in the implementation of the coup d’état in Venezuela. Canadian imperialist policy in no way serves the interests of the Venezuelan popular masses. The “humanitarian crisis” that the imperialists use to justify their intervention was not caused by “socialism” or by the negligence of the current leaders of the country, as they claim. In fact, this “crisis”, if it is to be called that, is first and foremost the result of their own actions! Indeed, the current state of the country is largely due to an embargo initiated by the United States and respected by its lackeys in the region, in addition to being the “normal” consequence of the general domination exercised over the country by world imperialism. In fact, the policy of the American and Canadian imperialists, if it goes all the way, will only worsen the situation of the Venezuelan people.
US imperialism has always tried to overthrow the Bolivarian regime since it was established. There was the episode of the attempted coup d’état against Hugo Chávez in 2002 and, subsequently, the barely hidden support for the opposition. Since Chávez’s death, the regime has weakened, partly because of the fall in oil prices on the international market. While the Venezuelan policy of oil independence arouses the wrath of US imperialism and its Canadian and European allies, it is still the policy that has made it possible to offer social assistance to a large fraction of Venezuela’s popular masses and has allowed the emergence of a new bourgeois fraction, particularly within the army’s companies linked to the regime.
Today, even if the support enjoyed by the regime is not comparable to that which it could have counted on at the time of Chávez, Maduro maintains strong support among the population (a significant fraction of the popular masses, most of the armed forces, the business sectors benefiting from the regime, etc.) and sabotage manoeuvres are not sufficient to destabilize it. The “opposition” has called on Venezuelan army officers and soldiers to defection, but this call seems to have had almost no impact so far. While there have been some changes in allegiance, the movement has remained very marginal. If US imperialism embarks on the path of military intervention, this could lead to a civil war from which it is not clear that the opposition would emerge victorious.
Capitalism in dominated nations
In a country dominated by imperialism, pre-capitalist relations of production survive that limit the possibilities of developing a domestic national market. This means that a national bourgeoisie, capable of independent political choices, is unlikely to emerge.
In this context, two types of the big bourgeoisie, both linked to the imperialist world market and which, in some countries, may have merged, are developing: the comprador bourgeoisie and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. What determines which fraction of the big bourgeoisie dominates in a given country is the place of the State in the economy. For the comprador bourgeoisie, a reduction of the State to its regalian functions (police, army, currency) is preferable, while the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, by definition, is linked to greater state interventionism. In a country where the bureaucratic bourgeoisie plays an important role, the army not only has a repressive function, but it also intervenes itself in the economy. In its relations with the imperialist powers, the comprador bourgeoisie maintains simple commercial relations, private bank financing or investments in the form of actions that do not pass through the State. It is therefore in favour of full freedom for foreign direct investment in the country’s territory. The comprador bourgeoisie directly benefits from the despoilment of the country by foreign capital. Politically, it is completely defeatist before the imperialists. For its part, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie is looking for a certain control, a screening at the level of foreign investment and, at the level of trade policy, seeks to mark out exchanges and partnerships. At the internal level, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie aims at the development of a local bourgeoisie, but which remains dependent on the state apparatus given the inadequacy of the national economic market. Despite its “autonomist” aims, it remains dependent on the world market, financing and foreign investment, even if it wishes to make a certain substitution more local.
How can a national bourgeoisie develop with a national market? Historically, this has involved strong agrarian reforms, or even an agrarian revolution in the countryside to give peasants back ownership – individual or collective – of the land, at the expense of large landowners who exploit the land for the international market or who do not exploit it at all. At best, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie can expropriate, nationalize or transfer ownership of uncultivated or poorly cultivated land to peasants. However, given its dependence on the international market, it cannot go beyond a certain threshold. Reactionary ruling classes are thus maintained in the countryside. Even if it enters into strong conflict with certain imperialist powers, with comprador bourgeois sectors and with large semi-feudal landowners, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie never goes beyond a certain threshold of struggle because it remains dependent on the external market and subject to world imperialism.
Specificity of bureaucratic capitalism in Venezuela
Venezuela is a semi-colony, that is, a country dominated and exploited by several imperialist powers. Venezuela’s economy is characterized by bureaucratic capitalism. Currently, the country is dominated by a bureaucratic bourgeoisie linked to state intervention in oil exploitation. It is this fraction of the Venezuelan ruling class that is represented by the ruling Maduro regime and has come into conflict with the comprador bourgeoisie and US imperialism. American capitalists have long had economic interests in Venezuela. However, the Venezuelan bureaucratic bourgeoisie, in its struggle against the comprador fraction, is currently repositioning the country towards competing imperialists of the United States, Russia and China. This is what angers the American imperialists and their Venezuelan lackeys. Ultimately, the repositioning process initiated by the bureaucratic bourgeoisie must lead it to become itself a comprador bourgeoisie representing Russian and Chinese interests, but this is not yet the case. The Maduro regime’s political action is still relatively autonomous, although its opposition to the US imperialists is not totally consistent and although it represents a dead end for the future. As for the “opposition” led by puppet Juan Guaidó, it is entirely subordinate to US imperialism and only acts to immediately subject Venezuela to greater US control. For more details, let us add that there is also a fraction of former bureaucratic bourgeois who have distanced themselves from the Maduro regime within the “opposition”, but who, although they have a negative view of Chavism, are not ready to liquidate all state-owned enterprises – in particular PDVSA, an oil producer. This bourgeois fraction is not necessarily interested in regaining power by being too indebted to US imperialism and having the odious feeling of having won a civil war by proxy, i.e. essentially with the help of foreign military forces. This makes the situation even more complex.
To understand the current situation in Venezuela, it is worth taking a historical look back. The rise of bureaucratic capitalism in this country is the result of the development of the oil industry and the desire to control it nationally. Since the 1920s, this industry has been mainly controlled by foreign multinationals. However, in the 1940s, a bourgeois fraction, represented by the social-democrat Romulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action, militated for the nationalization of the oil industry without harming the interests of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. The latter even joined forces with a fraction of the army to overthrow General Isaías Medina Angarita, who had already committed himself to giving more power to the State to the detriment of multinationals in the oil and gas sector. The military dismissed Betancourt and pursued Medina Angarita’s policies. In 1958, Betancourt was finally elected and undertook to go further in the nationalization of hydrocarbons. At that time, Venezuela was leading a coordination of oil-producing countries that led to the creation of OPEC in 1960.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, the army did not intervene as such in the affairs of state. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a high level of guerrilla activity in the country and the army focused mainly on suppressing it. It is during the same decades that the wage situation of workers improved significantly. In the 1980s, Venezuela experienced a period of high inflation due to a collapse in oil prices. At the end of the 1980s, Carlos Andrés Pérez, still of the Democratic Action, imposed a neoliberal policy on the people that provoked a popular revolt in 1989. Until the end of the 1990s, poverty was increasing. While the average growth rate of PPP (purchasing power parity) GDP in the world between 1990 and 2002 was 57 per cent, Venezuela is one of the few countries where it fell from $6,169 per capita in 1990 to $5,380 in 2002 and $4,740 in 2003. More than 80% of Venezuelans were living in poverty in 1999. The purchasing power of an employee in 1998 was one third of that of an employee in 1978.
The old bureaucratic capitalist fraction at the origin of hydrocarbon nationalizations was clearly in crisis in the 1990s. It indulged too much in its subordination to imperialism and did end up merging with the comprador bourgeois fraction. Some bureaucratic capitalist fractions were suffering from economic collapse and the inability of the state to play a positive role in regulating the economy. At the same time, a grumbling was spreading to the army that no longer had any real military opponents to repress and was dissatisfied with state policy. The place for a new bureaucratic bourgeoisie, a little more independent from imperialism (especially American) and distinct from the comprador fraction, emerged in the 1990s. That’s where Chávez comes in.
The era of Chávez and Maduro
In his early years in power, Chávez has set up social programs with oil revenues to serve the working classes. It also aimed to develop a regional market where participating countries could exchange the goods and services they were able to produce efficiently. Cuba cannot produce oil, but produces doctors. Cuba receives oil at a favourable price and, in exchange, opens missions of Cuban doctors in the popular areas of Venezuela.
The Chávez regime managed to win popular support. Moreover, animated by a form of social Christianity, it opened the door to forms of “local powers” where the masses could organize projects affecting their small communities. It is certain that this semblance of popular power, which was rather localistic, maintained illusions about the role of the bourgeois state and the nature of the Bolivarian regime, which many wrongly identified with socialism. Nevertheless, it also allowed for networking among popular forces.
In 2002, when US imperialism teleguided a coup d’état against Chávez, he relied on the support of large sections of the popular masses to keep him in power. At that moment, there was still a fraction of the Venezuelan army ready to rally frankly to US imperialism, in addition to the business sectors, some of which were linked to the state, that were opposed to Chávez’s orientations. Subsequently, some officers were dismissed and replaced by elements loyal to the regime. A fraction of the army was given the opportunity to invest in the economy. The elements of the bourgeoisie – especially those belonging to public enterprises or having links with the State – who had become too involved in the coup d’état suffered. New bourgeois sectors emerged.
Until 2014, the Venezuelan economy benefited from high world oil prices that allowed money to enter the country. However, the regime failed to implement economic reforms to diversify its economy and be less dependent on global market fluctuations. There was some land reform in the early 2000s, but it was barely different from the one started in the early 1960s. Certainly, in some food areas, a certain degree of self-sufficiency was being developed. However, in the agri-food sector, Venezuela remained dependent.
The defeat in the 2007 constitutional referendum, which referred to “21st century socialism”, took a lot of room for manoeuvre from the Chávez government. In practice, Chávez has succeeded in developing bureaucratic bourgeois sectors that were loyal to him, but not a bourgeoisie capable of concerting itself in a plan of national economic independence calling for the development of a national internal market.
By its very nature, the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, whose existence is linked to imperialist domination of the country in which it emerges and the absence of a real national market, does not have the capacity to develop this economic independence. In addition, the Bolivarian government’s aim was to develop a regional market, or even to revive Bolivar’s project to make Latin America a single nation. Such a perspective does not necessarily mean building a national market and a national bourgeoisie. For example, Brazil, despite being a large country with a large population, has not succeeded in developing a real national bourgeoisie and a real national market.
The bureaucratic capitalist fraction currently in power in Venezuela finds itself in the same situation as the bureaucratic capitalist fraction in power in the 1980s. The economy’s heavy dependence on oil and the sharp fluctuations in oil prices led to a crisis of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie at the time and this is again the case today. Currently, the comprador bourgeoisie, which is subservient to US imperialism, is taking advantage of this crisis to try to regain control of the country and thus redirect towards it – and towards the American capitalists – the share of profits hitherto monopolized by the bureaucratic fraction. If the coup goes all the way, the country will move from being a semi-colony to a direct colony of the United States, which will considerably aggravate the suffering of the Venezuelan popular masses.
In the current context, it is imperative that the international proletariat defend the attacked Venezuelan nation and people and vigorously denounce the plans of the American imperialists to subject the country to even more looting and exploitation. In Venezuela, the contradiction between the nation and imperialism, mainly US imperialism, has become the main contradiction. With the threat of a military invasion looming on the horizon, all efforts to defend the country against imperialist aggression must be supported.
As for the Maduro regime, a victory against the American imperialists can only temporarily save the day. The crisis of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie is likely to continue, as the country remains subject to world imperialism. The regime’s current relative autonomy will increasingly disappear as the regime’s ties with the Russian and Chinese imperialists strengthen and as they continue to penetrate the country. The bureaucratic bourgeoisie will tend to transform itself into a new comprador bourgeoisie, as it did in the 1990s.
In Venezuela, bureaucratic capitalism will eventually have to be overthrown by the popular masses through a real revolution: a revolution of new democracy led by the proletariat and leading to socialism. To date, the Venezuelan proletariat has yet to clarify its objectives and establish an independent and consistent political leadership capable of leading such a revolution!
Down with the intervention of US imperialism in Venezuela!
Let us denounce Canada’s imperialist manoeuvres!
Victory to the nation and people of Venezuela!