Even as Venezuela experiences political and economic crisis, the achievements of the Chavez movement- organized into the PSUV- cannot and will not be forgotten. The PSUV led Bolivarian Revolution movement that abolished illiteracy, dramatically reduced poverty, expended access to healthcare and education, and democratized the country by rallying the masses to political life. Yet the Chavez movement did not begin with a clear plan to do these things- even the PSUV as not founded until after Chavez’s electoral victory- rather it into office with a relatively moderate plan of reforms. In trying to implement reforms, it met harsh resistance, even to the point of an attempted coup in 2002, from the ruling class Venezuela and a US managed coalition abroad. This resistance forced the Chavez government to move to the left, drawing on the masses of oppressed and exploited people to sustain itself against its opponents both at home and abroad.
In so doing, Chavismo provided a brilliant confirmation of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which stated that in the modern era a democratic program of national liberation and reform cannot be separated from the struggle against capitalism. Yet this confirmation was unconscious, the PSUV leadership was simply responding to events rather than anticipating them and putting forward a positive program. It was, therefore, driven down the path of least resistance in funding its social programs with the oil wealth of the country- to the detriment of environmental goals- rather than take up a hard line against the Venezuelan oligarchy. Venezuela was left with a half-completed revolution, with contradictory social and political forces straining against each other and stability maintained only by the high price of oil. When oil prices fell, the house of cards began to collapse.
The present PSUV government faces a situation where it’s social programs cannot be maintained without moving against the oligarchy. Yet it has hesitated to make such a move and, through its hesitation, has allowed the situation to reach a crisis point where the government has lost he confidence of many of those who previously defended it but all the right-wing opposition has to offer is s regression to the worst pre-Chavez days. The task of revolutionaries in such a situation is to defend the government against the opposition while, at every step, criticizing the moderate policy of the PSUV leadership. Revolutionaries cannot and should not allow themselves to be excluded from the Chavismo movement, rather they must struggle shoulder to shoulder with the most political advanced layers of the pro-PSUV masses and provided an alternative policy and leadership for the movement.
The possibility that the current crisis will end with the political victory of the present right-wing opposition and the fall of the PSUV from power cannot be discounted. In that case, however, it is a near certainty that the cuts to social programs the opposition advocates would sharply lower living standards for many Venezuelans and provoke a strong resistance movement, perhaps led by a resurgent PSUV. In that scenario, revolutionaries must explain that the moderation of the PSUV leadership and the reliance on the oil economy were the primary reasons for the defeat and the these mistakes cannot be repeated and that the PSUV must decisively move to integrate itself into oppressed communities in order to regain power. Alternatively the PSUV leadership may be able to combine moves to the left with fear of what an opposition victory would mean in order to regain some trust and retain political power. In that case, revolutionaries must offer a friendly criticism of the PSUV government while working in the party’s rank and file to push it the left. In either case, it is the masses of people that the Bolivarian Revolution has mobilized into political activity and organized in local communities that hold the future of Venezuela in their hands.