Venezuela: Constituent assembly poses challenge to opposition, critical chavismo

A campesino holds a banner that reads "We want the Constituent Assembly'.
Saturday, May 13, 2017

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced at an International Workers’ Day rally on May 1 that he would convene a National Constituent Assembly in an attempt to resolve the country’s current political crisis.

The constituent assembly, which will be made up of delegates elected on a territorial basis and from among the country’s different social sectors, seeks to prove an electoral route out of the current impasse premised on national dialogue.

Below, Carlos Eduardo Morreo, a Venezuelan citizen and researcher in the School of Politics and International Studies at the Australian National University, argues that Maduro’s proposal poses a strategic challenge not only to the opposition, but to those grassroots sectors that identify as part of a “critical Chavismo”.

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The initiative by the Maduro government to convene a constituent assembly has disrupted the dynamic of confrontation pushed by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition and those who support it.

After more than a month of street protests, the constituent initiative may shift the spaces of confrontation from the highways and codes of violence, to political negotiation and discourses regarding the Venezuelan state.

It is important to recognise that the opposition coalition, which is widely supported by the global media and the “international community”, not only opposes “Chavismo in government”, but equally rejects a broader and critical Chavismo that does not necessarily identify with the Maduro government.

At the same time, Maduro’s initiative now leaves this broad and critical Chavismo facing a strategic decision.

It must judge whether the “legacy of Hugo Chavez” is anchored mainly in the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 or if this popular and critical Chavismo, the Chavismo of the communes and community councils, the Chavismo of the social movements, the Chavismo that speaks of anti-capitalism and of a post-oil society, and the Chavismo that often challenges the government and the state apparatus, has broader horizons.

While it is true that this popular and critical Chavismo has tried to create political options in Venezuela, in recent years it has also been thwarted by sections of governmental Chavismo acting from within the state.

Thus, the strategic nature of the decision to be taken after Maduro’s call for a constituent assembly: Whether to lose for now any capacity of shaping the state by having governmental chavismo routed in the overdue state elections and next year’s presidential vote? To facilitate the erasure of the Bolivarian process and the language of socialism through a MUD government?

Or rather, by means of the constituent initiative, whose radical appropriation would still be necessary, to build the political and electoral scenarios for an other Chavismo?

As someone on the left who identifies with this broader Chavismo, and in particular with what has been termed “critical Chavismo”, the positions I take on Maduro's government reflect my valuing of Marxist theory and critique, decolonial thought and the formidable archive of Latin American emancipatory thought.

But beyond these theoretical paths is an acknowledgment of the significant errors made by the Chavez government, such as the state’s inability to address the corruption surrounding foreign exchange controls and the mechanisms for importing medicines and foodstuffs; problems that have been denounced on numerous occasions by former Chavez-government ministers.

Nevertheless, despite the political conjuncture that Maduro’s call for a constituent assembly represents, there is a real possibility of working for the changes that critical Chavismo seeks.

For this reason, the constituent assembly may be an option for political work. Maduro has proposed a constituent assembly that privileges sectors over which the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and governmental Chavismo believes it has greater sway.

However, it is equally true that these spaces – communes and workers’ councils, among others – are not merely party spaces.

A liberal view of politics would insist on the abstract equality of individuals and citizens. Not sharing such an ahistorical view of the political, I would be willing to support a sectoral approach to elections for the constituent assembly.

The level of political debate has already been raised with Maduro’s call. Different visions of the political can now be confronted, that of opposition groups close to the MUD, that of Maduro and governmental Chavismo, as well as that of a broader and critical Chavismo.

A space for political negotiation has now been opened.

[Abridged and edited from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]

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