Because public spending is insufficient?
Public spending as a response to exclusion and deteriorated living conditions caused by neoliberalism is obviously justified, but only as an answer to a difficult situation and as part of a transition to something else. It is obviously much better to transfer income to the population than to contribute to capital concentration as occurred before.
But from the perspective of sustainability over time, from the political and cultural point of view this is not possible, because it reinforces the logic of the rentier-state mentality, as mentioned before, the notion that this is a rich country. But it is also not possible because no matter how much oil income were to grow, it would never be sufficient to satisfy the growing expectations of the population.
We still have a long way to go in this terminal crisis of the rentier-state model and the problem is that we don’t know what the necessarily forced landing will look like. This will not be solved via the government losing parliamentary elections or by a revocatory referendum the following year.
Neither in political debates nor in government programmes is there an acknowledgment of where we are. The two party political forces differ in absolutely everything, except for one small detail: both offer (at least when Chávez was last elected) an oil production of six million barrels a day by the end of this constitutional period. They disagree on everything else except the idea of strengthening the oil rentier-state model. But this is precisely what needs to be discussed. The problem is that there is a nation-wide rentier-state consensus.
Polarization reduces everything to the immediate
You say Venezuela is not aware of exactly what is in crisis. What is the cause of this?
There is an element that cannot be omitted in the current situation. Political polarization has significantly impoverished the capacity of reflection. Everything is black or white, with a kind of filter that transforms everything into government or opposition, leading to an inability to see further than the present situation and what is happening to us as a society.
Do you think polarization has stultified us?
I don’t know if I would call it stultification, but certainly impoverishment of intellectual reflection because polarization reduces the debate to the current, immediate situation. There are no spaces, there have been no spaces in Venezuelan society to reflect beyond day-to-day circumstances concerning what is happening to us as a country. Where have we come from and where are we going? Why do current proposals take into consideration some elements and not others?
At the universities, the situation is dramatic. At the Bolivarian University, instead of discussing how to change society and what the challenges are, there is a tendency to dogmatise the discourse; but it happens in the autonomous universities as well, where a ‘common sense’ of the opposition prevails, so where is the debate? The newspapers and TV have an extremely limited content.
The Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) recently made some proposals to the country which was exceptional, but what usually occurs is that all prefer to remain where they feel ideologically comfortable. Isn’t this a tremendously irresponsible attitude?
Dramatically irresponsible, because it’s an issue that doesn’t concern Venezuela alone. We currently face planetary conditions that are remarkably different from those which conformed politics until recently. We must admit that a pattern of civilization that promotes growth destroys the conditions necessary for life on earth and we are dangerously approaching a limit which would undoubtedly produce catastrophic and irreversible changes. Not even the survival of the human species is guaranteed if we persist in this process of destruction, deforestation, greenhouse effect, global warming, depletion of the oceans, etc.
We must acknowledge that we are facing the crisis of a civilization model dominated by capitalism which has become part of our subjectivity. It has been installed as desires, expectations, notions... We understand and live life as material well-being, as increasing abundance. We are living a collective madness, not through ignorance but despite the knowledge and evidence that what we are doing is madness, destructive and unsustainable. Yet we carry on.
The spectre of violence and civil war
The result of the parliamentary elections or a revocatory referendum would not solve the issue of Venezuela’s ‘forced landing’. In 19th century Venezuela, the Montoneras [armed civilian groups] were part of the equation and in the 20th century we witnesed coups. Are we likely to face further violence?
What really worries me is that a state of political violence might be provoked in Venezuela- progressing from the current social violence.Venezuelan society is extremely violent with high homicide statistics. Despite this, from the point of view of political confrontation and apart from episodes such as La Salida (The Exit)3 in 2014, this widespread violence has fortunately not yet escalated into political violence.
But this breakdown could occur. In our society, arms are widely and very ‘democratically’ available, so violent actions and reactions cannot be easily foreseen or controlled. It is a situation beyond the will of the government and opposition leaderships. It is a real threat.
So as at a planetary level we advance in the madness of the destruction of human life, we advance too in our own political madness. Why do we insist in this madness?
I think this has to do again with the short-termism and the polarised way everything is interpreted. All responsibility lies with ‘the others’, the ones on the other side. “We” are peaceful and calm, and the government is repressive and dictatorial or, on the contrary, ‘the others’ are agents of the CIA. The epistemological dimension of polarisation is that knowledge of what is beyond the immediate is blocked. Even things that should be obvious are set aside. This polarised interpretation generates collective blindness. This blindness could cause undesirable acts or situations. I am not saying we are heading towards political violence or a civil war; it should be understood that I do not foresee this. What I am saying is that we are not taking the measures to prevent it.
If the space for electoral confrontation between two contrasting models is no longer there, what should the course of action be? What are the alternatives for the problems facing Venezuelan society?
We must first be aware of the situation we are in. We should think beyond the current context, beyond winning or losing elections; that as a society we are engaged in an extraordinary inertia, which means important issues such as the rentier oil state are not being discussed, only proclaimed. It’s a litany and like all litanies, useless.
In this respect, there are responsibilities, possibilities and options in all areas. I already referred to the need the reclaim the university, for example, the university as the ideal place for collective reflection concerning alternative possibilities for the country. But this in Venezuela has been lost. There is a deep-seated impoverishment of academic production, which is regrettable because mono-ideological intellectual production is futile.
Leninist logic against the social fabric of solidarity
Aren’t universities slaves to free thinking?
They should be. But at the same time there is another field of organisation and search, which is that of the people. The most significant political bet for transformation waged by Chavism was popular power, the commune, communal councils, the mesas técnicas de agua [water boards]. The problem is that this project of popular organization in Venezuela has , since its inception, been embedded with a profound contradiction.
On the one hand, the notion of self-government, the notion of social policies geared to promote the organic social fabric of the popular sectors. The best example is the beginning of Barrio Adentro. If the community does not carry out a census, if it does not identify who the pregnant women are, if it does not establish links to institutions to obtain medicines, what can a single Cuban doctor do? Nothing much.
This role of the community was part of the program from the very beginning. But since the Venezuelan process was declared socialist in 2005, there was the institutionalisation of a more rigid organisation and the notion according to which the state runs and controls everything; in other words, the installation of a Leninist logic of the relations between state and society.
Yes, but I’m talking about the Leninist logic of verticality.
And we know where that leads.
Of course. We are not starting from zero as if history has never existed. In this process of building the social fabric (communes, communal councils, popular power), there is a permanent contradiction between the organisational momentum, which was genuine and had a great impact on a disorganised society subject to the party logic of previous times and generated diverse and rich experiences, yet at the same time dependent on public resources and obeying the Leninist logic, whose caricature are the communal rojo, rojito councils.
If the aim is another democratic model (grassroots, self-organised and plural), popular organisations reflecting the diversity of the people are required.
If this has been the case, participatory democracy doesn’t exist.
Exactly. Participatory democracy is aborted when this logic prevails. What I would like to stress is that in Venezuela this situation has had different consequences throughout the country. There are experiences resulting from genuine popular organisation, which depends on many factors: the specific circumstances of inhabitants, if they have previous political experience, if they observe Chavism from the perspective of a different experience or if, on the contrary, it is their first assembly to discuss collective problems, or the first time a census is carried out to identify priorities and where people might ask “what is autonomy?” or “what is all this about?”
With time, the logic of vertical control became more dominant and a caricature of rojo, rojito communal councils tended to prevail. However, popular experiences have been widespread and are still very active.
Nevertheless, one wonders why the Venezuelan people has reacted as it has to the crisis of the last two years, mainly inflation and scarcity. What happened to the social fabric of solidarity built all these years? The fact is that this social fabric is much more fragile than it seemed to be three years ago, so that the response to the crisis has not been one of solidarity, but of individualism and competitiveness. According to Datanalisis, 70% of the people who queue are bachaqueros [selling products subsidised by the state for profit]
Perhaps those popular experiences could prevent an authoritarian solution. But if the relationship has been that of a Leninist nature and the response to the crisis individualistic and competitive, there may be no political response and people may decide to stay at home.
Who would lead such an authoritarian solution?
Non-governmental political elements or an escalation of the Leninist line, that is, the establishment of a totalitarian state.
I think the possibilities are small. Neither an authoritarian solution resulting from a break with the constitution if the government fears it may lose the elections nor an extra-constitutional solution as was attempted last year – which had nothing to do with the recovery of democracy – are likely.
After periods of extraordinary politicisation, the Venezuelan population is somewhat tired and sceptical. My opinion is that there is no significant support either for the government or any other alternative. I do think that if the polls are correct and the opposition wins the parliamentary elections, there will not be a large popular mobilisation. It will rather be a vote of protest and exhaustion resulting from the difficulties of daily life.
I insist that what really worries me is that beyond of the will of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela and the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, processes leading to violence may occur, with consequences difficult to control. As December approaches, tensions may arise. Yet, I repeat, I do not foresee on either front any intention to create the conditions for a civil war. But the civil wars of the past were never declared either. This is not how things happen.
Corruption is widespread