More than 100 people attended public forums discussing the crisis in Venezuela and the need for solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution against the threat of violent right-wing opposition in Geelong and Melbourne on July 28 and 29.
The Melbourne meeting was initiated by Socialist Alliance and supported by the Latin American Solidarity Network (LASNET) and the El Salvadoran leftist party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.
Organisers had prepared for disruption by right-wing Venezuelans who had unsuccessfully lobbied the management of the venue, the Multicultural Hub, and its owners, the Melbourne City Council, to cancel the event. Despite a history of right-wing harassment of past solidarity events, the meeting proceeded peacefully.
The Geelong meeting was sponsored by Socialist Alliance, Green Left Weekly, Geelong Trades Hall and Deakin Young Socialists, and supported by the ethnic communities organisation Diversitat.
The Melbourne forum was addressed by Katrina Korazek, a Venezuela-based documentary maker, activist in the National Association of Free and Community Media and journalist for Venezuelanalysis.com. Korazek discussed the roots of the current political crisis in the economic downturn of recent years, as the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro battled a dramatic drop in oil prices and economic sabotage by capitalists.
She also detailed a number of mistakes, such as neglecting efforts to diversify the economy away from a reliance on fossil fuels and not doing enough to combat bureaucratism and corruption in the movement.
Korazek outlined how a campaign of violent right-wing protest has escalated since April — when the opposition-dominated National Assembly was suspended for refusing to stand down three members accused of voter fraud — and which is increasingly taking para-military forms.
She argued however that the Constituent Assembly elections have been an opportunity to remobilise the working class and poor base of the revolution.
A 1998 constituent assembly had launched some of the initial reforms of the Bolivarian Revolution under former president Hugo Chavez, Korazek noted, and the current body presents an opportunity to push forward the struggle to replace the capitalist state with a participatory “communal state”.
LASNET activist Lucho Riquelme told the meeting of a recent solidarity tour to Venezuela. He pointed out that despite the economic crisis and right-wing upsurge, millions of working people continue to organise.
He said various forms of militia are being established to defend poor communities and progressive organisations from the threat of a rightist coup and intervention by the United States.
Federico Fuentes, an activist with the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network and co-author of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty First Century Socialism, spoke at both meetings. He stressed that although we may have valid criticisms of the Maduro government, masses of class conscious working people in Venezuela continued to see it as a key shield to defend their gains, mass organisations and embryonic forms of working peoples’ power in the commune system.
The key task of the left outside Venezuela therefore was to do what we can to defend the government and movement against a violent hard-right movement determined to re-impose the austerity and inequality that characterised pre-Chavez Venezuela.