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International Socialist Review, Fall 1962


L. David

Venezuela Today


From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.4, Fall 1962, pp.109-112.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Alliance for Progress has jerry-rigged a showcase to push its wares throughout Latin America. Analysis demonstrates that shopworn merchandise is being peddled

This is a condensation of an article from the Venezuelan revolutionary socialist journal Voz Marxista of May, 1962. All money figures have been translated into approximate dollar equivalents. The political parties designated in the article by initials are as follows: URD, Republican Democratic Union; MIR, Movement of the Revolutionary Left; PCV, Communist Party of Venezuela; AD, Democratic Action (Old Guard); AD-ARS, centrist grouping within AD; COPEI, Christian Socialist Party.

* * *

ALTHOUGH the results of the last national census are not yet available, it is commonly understood that the present rural Venezuelan population is 2½ million, of which 800,000 are productive campesinos.

According to the Minister of Agriculture in 1956, 80 per cent of Venezuelan farmers occupied farms of an average size of 3 hectares; the remaining 20 per cent occupied farms 30 times larger. The incomes of the campesino families were estimated in 1958 by a professor of the Central University as follows: 14 per cent did not produce anything for sale but only for family consumption; 20 per cent had an annual gross income of 85 dollars; 13 per cent varied from 88 dollars to 176 dollars. Almost half, therefore, have gross annual incomes of less than 176 dollars. Thirty-three and a half per cent had gross annual incomes from 176 to 1,298 dollars, leaving only 20 per cent of the total with gross annual incomes in excess of 1,320 dollars. As one can see, the situation of the campesino is miserable and he belongs to the only class which, during the economic boom of the 50’s, did not improve its condition.

The above figures refer to the classes which have been termed: “Conuqueros” or small landowners; semi-proletarians of the countryside, who are half serf and half “Conuqueros”; and the average campesino. But co-existing with these three categories is agrarian exploitation of a more strictly capitalist character. According to Domingo Alberto Rangel, General Secretary of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, this exploitation is actually more important than that of the latifundios. Capitalist exploitation signifies on the one hand an agrarian bourgeoisie which has introduced into the countryside modern techniques and machinery, and on the other hand a rural proletariat which does not work on a sharehold basis with the landlord, but receives only a salary.

THE PROLETARIAT in the strict sense, that is to say the working class subject to a salary and the discipline of a boss, comprises a population of 400,000 persons. These include 20,000 petroleum laborers (the other 20,000 petroleum workers are not laborers but employees, i.e. foremen and white collar workers), 8,000 in mining, 200,000 in the manufacturing industries, whose principal branches are food and beverages, cigarettes, textiles and clothing, wood and furniture, paper and cardboard, graphic arts, hides and leather, rubber, chemical products and non-metallic minerals, metal products and vehicle assembly. We must also include the 80,000 construction workers, the transport workers and those in public works. After these, the unemployed, whom Marx called the industrial reserve army, reach the figure of 400,000 and form an integral part of the proletariat.

Strictly speaking, we do not include among the proletariat the immense legion of office workers and supervisors whose work is mainly intellectual. Their numbers should be considerable because we know that they are located predominantly in the branches of activity known as “commerce and services” which uses more than one-third of Venezuelan labor according to information from the Memoria del Banco Central for 1960 (in education alone there are 35,000). From the strictly sociological point of view, they are as proletarian as the workers because their source of income is salary; but classes are not determined exclusively by the relationships of production. The overwhelming majority of those persons belong to what is called the New Middle Class. They feel themselves in solidarity with the petty bourgeoisie, and with it they oscillate to the right and to the left.

We must judge the petty bourgeoisie as a particular class with its own interests, very distinct from those of the upper bourgeoisie. At this stage of the colonial revolution, the Venezuelan petty bourgeoisie feels very uncomfortable and impoverished and has shown the inclination to follow the proletariat as opposed to that of the upper bourgeoisie.

The most numerous and heterogeneous class of the nation is this petty bourgeoisie. Their specific weight is so considerable that in moments of crisis, it has been and will be the determining factor of the course of society. This does not signify that the middle class must lead the revolution or the counterrevolution, but the struggling group that knows how to win this fluctuating petty bourgeoisie to its side will triumph.

The petty bourgeoisie are middlemen and retailers, the liberal professionals and qualified technicians, intellectuals and teachers, students, office workers and those who, besides their work, enjoy the benefits of small properties.

Although the interests of this very complex class are similar all over the country, their political inclination varies according to geographic location. This is a result of the different stages of maladjustment of the traditional relationships (whether in the capital, the large cities or in the provincial towns). In the interior these relationships have not deteriorated as much as in the city.

This social class has been very much affected by the cost of living which has increased some 40 per cent in the last three years, by the decrease in salaries, by the increase of taxes, by the incapable administration of the government, by the persistence of corruption and fraud in public administration, by the surrender of national interests into foreign and oligarchical hands, and by the increase of delinquency; in a word, by social degeneration.

Since the consolidation of the petroleum industry, those in the business of importation have been the most powerful; until 1960, one-third of the circulating capital was channeled into the import business. Today the national bourgeoisie, which is the industrial bourgeoisie, has more money and a more favorable field of action than the comprador bourgeoisie. In 1961 the capital invested in industry was five times greater than the capital employed in commerce. The importers were obliged to invest a good part of their capital in industry, although not in heavy industry. Investment has been in the manufacture of clothing, footwear, food, cigarettes, pharmaceutical products and the assembly of automobiles (we must remember that the parts come manufactured from the outside).

WHILE the general living standards of the population have decreased appreciably, the dividends of the big bourgeoisie have increased. The present crisis has greatly impoverished the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie, but has rendered high profits to the masters of domestic finance.

The bourgeoisie criticizes the administrative insufficiency shown by the government which is an obstacle to business, but it understands that a regime such as this is the only guarantee for its continued growth. Such a regime offers less risks than a military dictatorship. The fickleness of the left phraseology that sometimes flows from the lips of some government officials is a defect that can be corrected while the representatives of the financial oligarchy climb the steps to the ministries, thanks to a well-balanced corruption of the public servants.

From this we can state that the possible contradictions between imperialism and the national bourgeoisie are incomparably inferior to the prevailing identity of their interests. There will be some struggle between imperialist sectors and the national bourgeois strata, but since they are common exploiters and have a common fear of an insur-gence of the masses – they prefer to evade collisions and to divide the market. In that division, the victors will be the imperialists, for only they possess sufficient capital to exploit our mineral resources. This privilege is recognized without discussion by the national oligarchies.

The feudal class is slowly losing power on the national scene. Already under the dictatorship of Perez Jimenez capitalist exploitation in the countryside represented a greater store of wealth than the latifundios. The low productivity of the latter is so notorious that they have had no alternative but to sell their lands privately or to the government, or to introduce modern machinery and wage labor in place of decadent contractual relationships. When confronted with the efficiency of modern farming, the old landowner succumbs.

The division of the land, which began in 1958, has also struck a blow at the latifundio even before the operation was known as the agrarian reform. The leader of the Campesino Federation stated that the parcelling of the land had benefitted 30,000 of the 400,000 campesino families who need land, although only 10,000 were placed in productive conditions. Latifundism, properly speaking, is not a considerable force in Venezuela. The territorial landlords still exercise economic power in so far as they have become capitalist exploiters.

Indubitably, the number of hectares exploited by means of feudal relations, or which are not fully exploited, are much greater than the number exploited by means of capitalist relations; thus there remain immense plains and forests. This is a geographic concept which, at best, gives an idea of the unjust distribution of the Venezuelan lands and of the wilderness which dominates them rather than of the effective power of the latifundistas. The exploitation of the center, east and west of the country, which is directed by the agrarian bourgeoisie, yields much more than the interminable prairies where it is difficult to find a living soul. Thus we can conclude: the bourgeois class possesses incomparably more power than the feudal class.

Economic Perspectives

The economic crisis which began under the dictatorship and which was one of the causes of its downfall, has been aggravated recently. Perez Jimenez left a public debt of 990 million dollars, approximately the amount that Betan-court owes in foreign loans. The annual national budget is the highest in Venezuela’s history, more than 1,320 million dollars. Eighty per cent of this goes to pay the administrative bureaucracy, the police, the army and social expenses.

Solutions to the budget deficit are sought through foreign loans which threaten the solvency of the country and also through increased taxes which weigh heavily on the workers as cost of living increases.

Unemployment exists not only in the cities but also in the rural areas because of the relationships of production there. The extremely low yield on the Venezuelan countryside is evident when we realize that agricultural output is only 7 or 8 per cent of the national product.

The bourgeoisie and the government realize that the present level of unemployment creates an explosive situation; if it has not already exploded it is due to the lack of a capable political leadership. They know that the only possible solution is two-fold: agrarian reform and industrialization. Without the first, the second cannot be realized for there will be no market for industrial products.

The Alliance for Progress

Imperialism is also conscious of the gravity of the situation. It is not surprising then that Washington launched the Alliance for Progress, aimed primarily at the most unstable nations, among them Venezuela.

Mr. Moscoso, the Alliance coordinator, laments bitterly about the incomprehension which the program has encountered in the governing circles of the Latin American countries. He complains that the Latin American oligarchies have refused to take the first steps to change the semi-feudal structure, and that they have refused to follow the example set by Betancourt in Venezuela. He reminds them of the punishment suffered in Cuba. But does the US really wish to rejuvenate the Latin American social structure?

It is not a question of Kennedy having been converted into a revolutionary, of being prepared to implement the agrarian and industrial reform required to convert these dependent countries into independent capitalist nations. By exhibiting the Betancourt regime as a model for Latin America, Washington admits that its efforts are modest. It simply wishes to encourage the building of secondary industries which will not compete with their major interests in the business of exportation; this would give a certain stability to the national bourgeoisie, with whom it looks for a more or less durable compromise, and would lower the high percentage of unemployment. What other explanation is there for Washington, through the Venezuelan Corporation of Promotion, aiding small industry? It is encouraging the elimination of feudal relationships on the land, in order to contain the revolutionary aspirations of the campesinos. However, this does not solve the agrarian problem.

Imperialism, in other words, is striving to add a few more years of life to its system. To what more can it aspire if its condemnation by history is inevitable? The Eisenhower administration had a conservative investment policy and publicly proclaimed the stabilization of the dollar in order to guarantee the general stability of its economy. This policy compromised United States’ influence in other advanced countries and colonies. Kennedy has instituted a policy of vast expenditures which improves the immediate situation, without facing up to the grave crisis that is coming.

VENEZUELA has already received the first benefits of the 20 billion dollars promised by Dillon at Punta del Este. The program furthered the construction of highways and aqueducts and similar works. The US has also promised to send surplus agricultural produce. Undoubtedly these methods lower unemployment somewhat and will permit the national bourgeoisie to maneuver for a certain time between imperialism and the revolution.

Haven’t they succeeded in Bolivia in paralyzing the revolution for ten years by demoralizing its leaders? Isn’t it a notorious fact that the fear which seized the investors after the overthrow of the Venezuelan dictator, Jimenez, has yielded to new confidence, and the complaints of the investors about the lack of “social peace” are not as insistent?

The so-called Venezuelan agrarian reform is an eloquent example of the real results of the Kennedy plan. Economically its fruits are despicable; but with the demagogy of distributing pieces of land and some credit Betancourt and Kennedy have succeeded in maintaining the support of important sectors of the campesinos who, after the distribution, don’t know what to do with their “property.”

Does the Venezuelan revolution then find itself in the critical position of having to wait for the years to pass? Marxism has nothing in common with economic mechanistic determinism. The blind forces of the economy can be conquered by conscious human action because the economy is a product of human action. And in this case with the greatest reason: already we have said that the result of the maneuvers which the Kennedy plan permits the bourgeoisie, is relative; everything depends on the existence of a revolutionary leadership, on the power of the labor movement, on the precise economic situation and on the international context.

Political Panorama

From the preceding considerations we can conclude that the arenas of struggle for the conflicting social classes are precisely determined. The battle must be engaged in the field of the class struggle: on the right, imperialism, in alliance with the national bourgeosie, trying to survive and maintain its privileges, and seeking to do away with feudalism, because it sees in it an inconvenient partner; on the left, the proletariat which has the historic mission of leading the Venezuelan revolution and for this reason should be ready to attract the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie.

There are comrades on the left who are inclined to the supposition that the struggle is going to turn fundamentally against imperialism and feudalism, and that in it they can play the role of temporary ally of some sectors of the native bourgeoisie. When they call for the “anti-imperialist and anti-feudal revolution,” they overlook the fact that native feudalism plays a lesser role than that played by the upper bourgeoisie. They forget that the only possible way to defeat imperialism is to remove the power of the national bourgeoisie. We must assimilate the lessons derived from the proletarian revolutions which have occurred up to the present; we must bring up to date the position which Lenin took against the Mensheviks in 1917; we must analyze the thinking of the Latin American bourgeoisie after the disappointment which they suffered in Cuba. If the industrial cloak of the native bourgeoisie could display an anti-imperialist role, why has it not done so in Venezuela where the industrial bourgeoisie is now more powerful than the comprador bourgeoisie?

OUR way to the revolution is the genuine one of the total class struggle, not exclusively political. When we attack the government we explain to the masses that we are also attacking the economic interest behind the government, explaining what these interests are. As Marxists, we know that Betancourt and Caldera are the grey eminences behind whom hide the perverse interests of foreign monopoly and the Jesuitic ingenuousness of the native exploiter. We do not wish to deceive the Venezuelan masses by telling them that the disease is rooted in the stuffed shirts that today occupy the seats of power; that if the superstructure of the present government were destroyed, abundance and liberty would appear all over Venezuela.

We propose to inform the Venezuelans that the task is more arduous, but also more certain. If we propose a united front, we wish only a united front of the oppressed classes. We are not concerned about the ideological leadership of the various sectors that would go to make up the united front. What is important is the relationship of each sector to the exploited classes. Above all, the workers, campesinos and middle class of all parties ought to unite, not excluding members of the governing Democratic Action.

The error has been made of seeing this struggle in a strictly partisan sense. The impression is left that on the one side will be the URD, AD-ARS, MIR and PCV and on the opposite side will be the AD and COPEI. If the first four were all proletarian or campesino parties and the last two were composed solely of exploiters, no one could take exception to this type of planning. But important sectors of the Venezuelan workers still support AD, above all in the interior of the country; COPEI is still revered by the campesinos of the Andes, and AD-ARS can hardly be characterized as being the representative of the workers.

For our task of the preparation of the revolution, our relations with the base of the URD or AD-ARS will be the same as with the ‘base of the other group of AD, because it is our duty to attract them to the arena of class struggle for socialism and to eliminate the factional differences between them. In this way we can emphasize that which unites them: exploitation, defeatism and poverty.

With respect to the direction of those bourgeois parties, the fact that they find themselves in the opposition does not mean that they have changed their bourgeois orientation for a proletarian orientation. To form an alliance with them is to repeat the mistake committed on the 23rd of January, 1958, when everyone was invited to “unity,” with the result that the wealthy again rose to power. This would have been a unique lesson except that the history of the five continents is full of examples of this type.

IN a developed capitalist country any front with the bourgeois parties is criminal; it is only permissible with some radical petty bourgeois organizations and before a threat like that of imminent fascism. Only in the colonies and semi-colonies can this type of front be admitted for concrete objectives. The differentiation with the program of those parties must always be sharply established, criticism must not be silenced and the line of action must be clearly formulated.

Instead of criticizing our evasive partners, we fear that we are sacrificing our program in order to wrap ourselves all in the same cloak. Why deny that we are radicals, if in reality we are (or we wish to be)? Why say that we aspire to a “democratic and patriotic government,” if what the humble multitudes wish is to throw the privileged ones out of power? Why not say once and for all that if the present rulers are substituted by others which are not of the MIR or of the PCV, we do not guarantee that a different policy will be followed?


Lenin did not concede to parliament any other virtue than that of a rostrum for the dissemination of our ideas. In our House of Deputies, the government finds itself in the minority. The opposition, however, is not united. The leaders of the URD and AD-ARS parties try to capitalize on the presidential elections and outside of the legislative maneuvers, have not shown any desire to become organs of the masses for the conquest of power. In reality, they have manifested everything to the contrary. In the composition of parliament the bourgeois elements have more representation than the workers. For this reason, it is an illusion to imagine that Congress, (or at least the House of Deputies) could become the seat of dual power which would challenge the Executive. At most, Congress could become a propaganda factory against the regime. Only the formation of a body very different from the Venezuelan Congress could suggest the hope of repeating on American soil the glories of the Petrograd Soviet. This would be asking too much of the URD and AD-ARS members of Congress.

The Immediate Past

Some pessimists argue that this is a task of colossal proportions, and that we must seek support from the ranks of all political opponents. The greatest strength will not be realized by grouping together the largest number of different organizations, but in organizing under a Marxist leadership the hundreds of thousands of discontented beings in the cities and in the countryside.

The popular anger against the Betancourt government, when it became obvious that it was defending foreign and national monopolies, was capitalized almost exclusively by a single party which had just been formed; we refer to ourselves, of the MIR, who, on appearing on the scene came up against all the forces of the right and center. What happened, that a small group of inexperienced young men changed over night into a mass party, after which the masses of the principal cities marched, showing terror in the government, and disconcerting even those who in the beginning had extended a hand to us?

In order to be strong, it is necessary to be right. Our line was correct and that was enough to enable us to be heard and followed everywhere. The mistake was committed after, when our inexperience yielded to the provocations of the skillful President of the Republic. The President harassed our paper, jailed many of our leaders, and many of us, confusing our own problems with the problems of others, believed the time had come to call for the popular insurrection. Nevertheless the provocations against us proved costly to Betancourt because the successes of October and November of 1960 made his regime stagger.

Two lessons are obvious from these events: a revolutionary line that rejects class collaboration is enough to unite the majority and it is necessary to know when the decisive moment has arrived and not allow ourselves to be compromised by provocations and impatience.

Provocation and Impatience

The government was encouraged by its trial provocation and has continued the practice; dead bodies in the streets, prisons full of leftist militants, closing of the premises of MIR and PCV, closing down of newspapers, threats, suspension of constitutional guarantees. It is necessary to fight against all of this, but how? One factor that reveals much concerning the stability of any regime is the degree of disorganization of its military forces. We must realize that there are still no symptoms of this. If we assess the phenomenon objectively, we must recognize that the evidence is all to the contrary. The panic that took hold of the Caracas police agents has been overcome.

In the countryside the formation of guerrilla bands has come up against the cold welcome dispensed by the cam-pesinos. The campesinos are still the principal base of the government. If the “agrarian reform” of Betancourt has had any merit, it has been that of prolonging the hopes of the campesinos. For some reason, it is the people of the countryside and not of the cities who come to Caracas to publicly demonstrate support for the regime, as happened on the 13th of February, 1962. Without a sincere support from part of the countryside it is impossible to think of guerrillas. It is irresponsible to play the adventurer with the lives of our most audacious people; it is criminal to abandon ourselves to putschism characteristic of desperados.

If there have been partial failures, it is necessary to rectify the political line. If the government has been able to break relations with Cuba and to attack it at Punta del Este, if Kennedy could visit Venezuela with impunity, if they have struck a blow at the Campesino Federation, if the Confederation of Workers has been divided, if the repressions have been increased, it is because we have been too weak to defend ourselves.

Even though the government has had sufficient capacity for its abuses, this does not contradict the fact that its base of support has been reduced to a part of the provincial petty bourgeoisie, to the bureaucratic union organization and to a portion of the campesinos. To compensate for this it now counts on the unqualified support of imperialism and the upper bourgeoisie and consequently of the army and the church. This, they believe will make the electoral events relatively quiet, because of the resources of propaganda and bribery which their millions permit.

The Venezuelan people do not support the present official trend but, as yet, they have not moved to the left in great numbers. Our primary obligation is to correct our present orientation and move forward to the conquest of the urban and rural masses, who wait for the party that will guide them, not half way (the bourgeois parties can do that) but to the socialist revolution.

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