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Date Wed, 18 Jan 2006 14:03:50 +0200

When Venezuela is mentioned in North America these days, it is
almost always in reference to President Hugo Chavez, who is vilified
by the mainstream press and adored by much of what passes for the
left. Not surprisingly, the reality is much more complicated, as
Michael Staudenmaier and Anne Carlson explain in their recent
analysis of the situation on the ground, “Of Chavistas and
Anarquistas: Brief Sketch of a Visit to Venezuela.” However
useful the information presented by Staudenmaier and Carlson,
however, their piece deliberately limits its criticisms of the various
political tendencies they encountered. Nonetheless, the complexity
of Venezuela’s social, political, and economic situation is
precisely what makes the country a potential microcosm of the
three-way fight.

The Venezuelan anarchists (especially those clustered around the
Comisión de Relaciones Anarquistas or CRA) see themselves as
participants in a tri-polar struggle of their own, and have long
positioned themselves in opposition to both the Chavez regime and
to the US-backed opposition, borrowing the phrase popularized in
Argentina in recent years: “¡Que se vayan todos!,” which
translates roughly as “Get rid of all of them!” But both
Chavez and the opposition represent wings of global capital, as the
Venezuelan anarchists are quick to point out to less critical leftists
both inside and outside their country.

Nonetheless, Venezuela is one of the most rapidly changing
countries in a rapidly changing continent, and the future of
Venezuelan society is up for grabs. Scenarios abound that include
elements of fascism and anti-fascism. For example, the Chavista
movement is a rough synthesis of several formerly competing left
tendencies, but it projects some strikingly conservative perspectives
on social affairs, and it clearly includes a strong authoritarian streak.
It’s not difficult to imagine a version of Venezuela, perhaps ten
years from now, where these aspects of Chavismo have purged the
humanistic and decentralized tendencies. A South American Night
of the Long Knives is hardly impossible, and there’s not even a
guarantee that Chavez himself would survive such a shake-up.

Another scenario is less top-down but no less frightening: when oil
prices begin to fall, limits will be placed on the social welfare
programs that have fueled the popularity of the Chavez regime. Over
time, the realities of the cozy relationship between Chavez and global
(especially European-based and resource-extraction focused) capital
will become more stark. This could easily foment a major schism
between the grassroots of the Chavista movement and the
leadership, with the former committed to fundamental social and
economic change and the latter more loyal to Chavez and the
regime. Many of the Venezuelan anarchists actually encourage this
sort of split, but there is no way to be certain that the grassroots
would be responsive to anarchist politics. Instead, we could witness
a popular revolutionary movement toward the far right, which retains
the cultural conservatism and authoritarian machismo of the
Chavista movement.

Amidst these potential futures, the anarchists around the CRA
provide a potential rallying point for the struggle against fascism,
capital and the state. Their propaganda is widely distributed across
the county (largely in the form of their newspaper, “El
Libertario”), but they have only the most marginal presence in
many key sectors of social struggle: there is almost no visible
anarchist presence in any workplace struggle, nor is there much
organizing being done in fast-growing newly industrialized cities like
Ciudad Guayana. Further, while some of the best anarchist
organizers in Venezuela are women, there isn’t much
specifically feminist work being done.

The anarchists around the CRA have not weighed in on the question
of “especifismo” that has occupied the anarchists of the
southern cone for the last decade. This reflects both the differences
between the two regions of South America, and the less precise or
dogmatic ideological approach of Venezuelans across the spectrum,
be they Chavistas or anarchists. This can be both a blessing and a
curse, and it will be important to watch for new developments in the
politics of the Venezuelan anarchists.

Of course, stepped-up US intervention in Venezuela could change
everything about these scenarios, but then again it might not change
anything. We don’t need to look far to find anti-US sentiment
taking on fascist forms in oil-rich regions of the developing world.
And again, all this is speculation, but it raises an important question
left unanswered by Staudenmaier and Carlson: how prepared are the
Venezuelan anarchists for a new and different sort of three-way
ces and peoples were safe in the hands of these progressive leaders,
record levels of deforestation, mining and oil exploitation have
occurred-still in the name of Westernized progress, but now with the
added rhetoric of revolutionary change.

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