Introducing El Libertario
ºº The following explains the essence of the activity and points of view of this voice of the Venezuelan anarchist movement. It is based on two recent interviews: the first one published in Solidaridad Obrera of Catalonia in January 2009, the second in June 2009 by the Star Anarchist Group from Madrid.
-- Who are you?
** El Libertario is a journal in print since 1995 (56 issues to June 2009) that attempts to inform about anarchist theory and practice in Latin America and the rest of the world, as well as to support the libertarian aspects of the social movements in our region. We do not receive – nor do we want to receive – any type of financing from the state or any other institution of hierarchical power. Our activity is 100% self managed. This voice is inspired by the anti-authoritarian ideals of anarchism and is propelled by the Editorial Collective of El Libertario, an affinity group open to the participation and collaboration of people who share libertarian attitudes and ideals, in an atmosphere of mutual respect free of dogma. The main criteria of this affinity is the shared anarchist ideal, the construction of a society based on direct democracy, social justice, self-management, mutual support and free agreement without authoritarian enforcement of the law, among other values. Besides being a propaganda group, we try to inform the existence of a libertarian movement in our country, but for that we assume that there must be a series of grass roots social movements, belligerent and autonomous, as a necessary condition for the expansion of anarchist ideas and praxis in our milieu. For this reason we link up with different popular social organizations, joining them in the struggle against hierarchical power and for human rights. Likewise, some of us work on theoretical research and study. We also foster the promotion of self-managed cultural activities, such as audio-visual shows, talks, or the First Anarchist Book and Video Fair, planned for November 2009 in Caracas. Lastly, within our affinities and possibilities, we participate in campaigns such as that of last year commemorating the 20th anniversary of the El Amparo massacre. For more details about us, how we think and act, see www.nodo50.org/ellibertario and our printed issues.
-- What is El Libertario’s position regarding the so called Bolivarian revolution?
** We think that what happened in Venezuela since 1999 has been an unhappy mix of big-mouthed leadership and state capitalism, based on the plentiful oil income. Our analysis shows that the so-called Bolivarian government is the continuation, not the breaking from, the crisis of representative democracy in Venezuela and its economic model based on the exploitation of energy resources. There has been a “revolution” in the sense that our way of life has suffered dislocation in many ways, but what we see under construction clearly shows negative results for the exploited and the oppressed, therefore allowing its consolidation makes things more difficult to change. The transformations that we anarchists want follow a different course than the one this “process” has taken, which after over 10 years at the helm shows itself full of authoritarianism, in a shameful alliance with transnational capital (by means of the mixed enterprises that control the country’s oil reserves), with an inefficient bureaucracy, structurally infected with corruption, with orientations, people and attitudes we can not approve of.
We have investigated, documented and denounced the role assigned to Venezuela within the economic globalization, which is nothing but to provide, in a cheap, secure and trustworthy manner, energy resources to the global market. This government, with its nationalistic and leftist rhetoric has been, as none other in the past, very efficient in teaching society its role as subordinate to the global oil business and to be meekly thankful for the crumbs received while it supports some of the most unjust instances of wealth redistribution in the continent. Thus the questioning of environmental and social issues due to the exploitation of hydrocarbons has become today something taboo and politically incorrect. The Bolivarian regime has developed and impressive propaganda apparatus in order to sell the supposed goodness of its social policies, but the facts and the reality show that although there have been some improvements in some concrete areas and governmental programs – the excuse the state uses to attribute legitimacy to itself anywhere in the world- the collective situation has not improved significantly, in spite of having enjoyed in this decade the highest oil profits in the history of the nation in a similar time frame, which indeed have served well to lift the “bolibourgeoisie” or the Bolivarian bourgeoisie to great heights on the back of official power. In our publication we show a lot of this, citing sources and data from the government, and as an example of the worsening of the crisis at the bottom, let us remember that Venezuela has one of the highest rates of murder in the continent, with 14,000 assassinations in the year 2008. This bespeaks of the extension of a climate of violence that reflects the disintegration of society, a trend that would have decreased, or at least remained the same, if any kind of change really beneficial to the population had taken place.
-- Chavism calls for the unity of progressives in order to confront oligarchic putsches and imperialism. What if for this purpose a strategic alliance is established and later, having defeated its adversaries, attempting to make an anarchist revolution?
** Strategic alliances are a kind of political activity to gain control of the state by those who are part of them, while we anarchists seek to dissolve the state with everybody’s participation. The defeat of what we know as reaction and oligarchy (nicknames with clear propaganda goals) would only serve to consolidate the winner in power, who will necessarily form a new oligarchy because the logic of state power dictates so, as happened in the USSR, China or Cuba. This would make the anarchist revolution more difficult and we have the example of Spain in 1936. It is also a mistake to identify the Chavez project as an opposition to coups, when its original impulse was to stage a military coup, and constantly boasts of its identification with military language and practices. As far as the struggle against imperialism, if we pay attention to the policies they propose and put in practice regarding oil, mining, agriculture, industry, labor relations etc., they seem to act as the squires of the empire, not its enemies (For precise details on the strategic links with transnational capital and imperialist interests, see the various articles published in El Libertario).
-- The Venezuelan government declares it has fostered an explosion of popular power, with the massive implantation and delegation of power to the Communal Councils, communitarian and horizontal organizations of popular participation. Do anarchists support these grass roots structures?
** What has happened with the formation and functioning of these Communal Councils shows that their existence and capacity of action depend upon their loyalty to the government, which is assured by leaving on the President’s hands the judicial faculty to approve or not such organizations, among other mechanisms that guarantee official control and are expressed in the corresponding legislation. We have experienced much of that in Venezuela, where many grass roots organizations (labor unions for instance) have always resembled street cars, receiving their power from above. Certainly there are attempts to form real groups from the bottom up, and this happens in neighborhoods, in labor, among peasants, indigenous peoples, ecologists, students, cultural groups, etc., even though they don’t enjoy official sympathies. We think that the legal, functional and financial submission of the Communal Councils to state power is a serious obstacle for the implementation of an autonomous grass roots movement. This applies also to the Workers Councils in businesses, as a way to nullify possible independent unions.
-- Why do anarchists criticize the Venezuelan Armed Forces –who proclaim their popular and nationalist roots – and their capacity to sustain a revolutionary project?
** In every modern army the majority of the troops are recruited from the popular sector. But despite the social origin of the majority of its members, the reason for the army’s existence is the defense of a power structure and its holders; therefore it can never sustain a revolution in favor of the oppressed. At best, it may change a person by another and maybe some rules in the structure of power, but it can’t eliminate it because command and obedience are its essence. That’s why we do not support any army, or police, or privileged people that could use the armed forces for their benefit and against others. Nationalism is not a position that anarchism approves of, because it implies limiting ourselves to the interests of certain persons, artificially locked in a certain nation-territory by the state, who are considered different and even superior to the rest. We are enemies of all types of privilege due to nationality, race, culture, religion or place of origin. Let us add that, in the experience of those of us who live in Venezuela every day, we see constant examples of how the very ample and privileged place that the military enjoys today in the workings of the official bureaucracy has increased corruption, inefficiency and ignorance, as has been the norm in Venezuela’s state machinery.
-- Is the movement against officialdom as homogeneous as the defenders of the latter pretend? Are there different tendencies that actually struggle against the government? What relationships exist among these tendencies?
**The image of an opposition qualified as a block of the “terrorist right, pawn of imperialism and controlled by the CIA” presented by the chavista propaganda is certainly self serving and false, since although a sector close to that image may exist, the picture is much more heterogeneous. There is the opposition heir to the political model in power before 1999, with the old and feeble political parties AD (social-democrat, close to the Spanish PSOE) and COPEI (Christian democrat, akin to the PP) plus other groups whose ideologies are similar, counting among them former partisans of the current government (such as MAS and PODEMOS) whose break with chavism had more to do with bureaucratic and power aspirations than with appreciable politico-ideological conflicts. That social democrat and rightist opposition pretends –mirror image of what chavism does on its part- to present itself as the only possible option and to reduce the nation’s problems to electoral politics, as their only interest is to take the government to do what they please with the oil profits. Their propaganda strategy has been pretty efficient in attracting citizen’s grass roots initiatives to their leadership, selling themselves as the “lesser evil” vis-à-vis the threat of authoritarian tendencies in the government.
Besides, there is a sector of the population identified as “neither-nor” for not agreeing neither with the government nor the opposition. This group represents the largest minority in the country in the electoral polls, so that all the strategies to capture new members are geared to seducing the “neither-nors” with some offering. Their existence shows that despite what the inter-bourgeoisie confrontation advertises, the country is not automatically divided between chavistas and anti-chavistas. El Libertario has never identified as an anti-chavista initiative, because since 2002 we have denounced the making of a false polarization, with the goal of mortgaging the autonomy of grass-roots movements and reduce their mobilizing dynamics to electoral politics. El Libertario is part of a constellation, for now disperse and with little coordination, of groups and organizations of the anti-capitalist left that equally denounces the government of President Chavez as well as its opponents in the media. But, as can be expected, these expressions are omitted by the forces interested in the perception of the existence of only two sides in conflict. The signs of existence of that other alternative which by means of the struggle for those below tries to break with electoral politics are becoming more noticeable in the last 2 or 3 years, when little by little the manifestation of social conflicts illuminates for the workers, the indigenous people, the peasants, students, the victims of institutional or delinquent violence, the homeless, etc., the fact that the struggle for state power will not be the way to solve their problems, as has not happened during the decade of so-called revolution, nor before during 40 years of cheating by representative democracy.
-- Are Venezuelan anarchists “escuálidos” (“scraggy”, derogatory term used by chavistas for their opponents) and therefore support the social democrat and rightist opposition?
** Scraggy is a purely media term, derogatory in its political official usage as a buzzword, it says nothing about whom it is employed. But if, in any case, by this they want to label those of us who will not give up our freedom and autonomy to submit to an authoritarian personality, party, or ideology, then we are so. And if by this they mean that we uphold those currents identified with economic liberalism, with the quasi-racist disdain of the elite towards the majority, with the con game of representative democracy or the return to socio-political forms of organization already surpassed by history, then we are not. We repudiate the Chavez regime and its electoral opponents; we may agree with some actions by some or others, with some declarations by somebody, but we fundamentally critique the majority of the deeds and speeches of all of them. We reject the repeated frustration of the hopes of those who have supported Chavez, but we refuse to validate the political maneuvers of the bunch of opportunists that make up the institutional opposition. And, above all, we can’t, out of principle, back those who base the search for a better life upon the subjugation of the people under the state hierarchy, as both sides pretend.
-- What activities and demands do Venezuelan anarchists promote?
** The current anarchist movement has as yet had a short life, almost as long as the publication of El Libertario, thus during these years we have had to struggle with the authoritarian government and the opposition parties, as they are both equally foreign to our proposal. We have faced enormous obstacles to establish ourselves as a recognizable option as well as to place ourselves in concrete social struggles; but our tenacity has born fruit and proof of that is found perusing the pages of our issues of El Libertario (many of them available in our website) in particular the most recent where one can appreciate the opening of certain spaces with promising connections between anarchist activism and the most dynamic expressions of social mobilization that exist in Venezuela today, as we seek to establish relations with the most pressing conflicts and demands of the collective, promoting the autonomy of social movements and accompanying them in their development. To that end we have been building affinities and diverse coordination with grass roots movements and initiatives and anti-capitalist groups, among them the Committee of Victims against the Impunity of Lara, the House of Women “Juana la Avanzadora”, the study group “Pueblo y Conciencia” [People and Conscience] of Maracay, the Left Socialist Union and the labor current CCURA, the group Tercer Camino [Third Way] of the ex-guerrilla Douglas Bravo, several labor unions of the public health sector, human rights organizations, youth initiatives and ecological collectives.
-- Which are the currents manifested in the Venezuelan libertarian movement?
** The anarchist scene in Venezuela is still small and of very recent existence to speak of currents in the European meaning of the word. No doubt activists have diverse affinities of action and thought, but this doesn’t allow for differentiating in a way that would separate some from others. Besides, the mere fact of doing libertarian activity where it didn’t recently exist, in the circumstances we have described above, has been rather a stimulus for those few of us who are anarchists to keep united.
Some have wanted to present – particularly to the outside world – a division among local anarchists in which there would be, on the one hand, “anarco-chavistas” or “Bolivarian anarchists” who hold that the current revolutionary process allows for advances to the libertarian cause, while others would be “anarco-liberals” or “anarco-dogmatic” because we don’t recognize such advances, so that by opposing the progressive government we play in favor of the empire and the reactionary right, which is a grotesque and self serving simplification of what we have been proclaiming from El Libertario. It is obvious that such imposition on Venezuela and the situation of the local anarchists can only be sustained from a position of ignorance, stubbornness, bad faith and provocation. There are people who at some point were or considered themselves anarchist who now proclaim the supposed historical exceptionality of the Venezuelan case, repudiating or adulterating the libertarian, anti-authoritarian and self-management essence of the anarchist ideal, so that even though they may continue to call themselves anarchists, it is clear they have ceased being so. On the other hand, coincidentally, the majority of these people is now state bureaucrats, or receives some sort of economic subsidy from the government for their activities, which by itself leaves a lot to be desired about the intensity of their libertarian affiliation. For us who have studied what has happened in similar situations in the continent, what happened in Castro’s Cuba or Peron’s Argentina is repeated with some added eccentricities, where they attempted to co-opt and divide from above the anarchist movement.
In any case, any anarchist in any part of the world who thinks a little, being consequent with the ideal we defend and with a minimum of information about the Venezuelan case, will realize the absolute incongruity of declaring oneself anarco-chavista or anarco-Bolivarian, it being as obvious a contradiction as proclaiming oneself “anarco-statist”. Also, we invite all to get to know the opinions of not only El Libertario but also all other initiatives that, from an anti-capitalist stance, have been denouncing chavism for its authoritarian pretensions and for benefitting the most aggressive sectors of the actual global economy. Of course, it would be best if one visits Venezuela in order to see the reality hidden behind the pseudo-revolutionary Bolivarian spectacle.
-- To attribute to the defenders of the Chavez regime such traits, isn’t that an accusation contrary to anarchism’s anti-dogmatic spirit?
** Anarchy is not a mental state, it’s a way to confront the changing social circumstances as we seek every person’s welfare within the welfare of all, with proposals that come from individual persons and are discussed, adopted or refused by all in certain times and places. Anyone can name themselves anarchist, but only mutual interaction defines us and it is the other anarchists who determine whether we belong in the movement or not, according to our conduct and ideals. Since nobody is perfect, we may assume conduct or defend ideas the collective does not approve of. This does not make anybody more or less, it makes us different, although sometimes the difference is such that they become intolerable to the rest and so they cease to recognize us as comrades.
-- Do you have relations with other anarchists in Latin America and the world?
** We’ve always tried to establish the widest contacts with anarchists abroad, particularly with those in the Iberian peninsula and Latin America. First, because our experience is more recent, we want to feed on what has happened and continues to happen in other places, but also because we want to share our doings, our achievements, our doubts, our certitudes and our failings, who better for this than our comrades! More concretely, this relationship has found its expression in the spreading of our printed voice, of which we’re proud (and gives us incentive!) to say that it has been the Latin American anarchist newspaper with the widest distribution in recent times, its publication of 2000-2500 issues not only reach many places in Venezuela but is also distributed in at least a dozen other countries. Another significant datum is that our website registers more than 160,000 hits, with a daily mean of between 50 and 80 hits. Let us also mention the myriad of personal contacts with libertarian people all over the world. All of this translates to a continuous flow and interchange with the international anarchist movement which for us constitutes a source of challenge and satisfaction.
-- What is the government’s attitude towards groups and individuals it can’t control?
** Even when there isn’t as of yet a specific repression against anarchism, the Venezuelan state advances a policy of control and subjugation towards any inkling of radical dissent that questions and struggles against the basis of the current system of political and economic domination. This is in no way different from what other States of the world do, even though here they try to mask it under a revolutionary discourse of socialism and popular power. Therefore, in the measure that anarchists participate in the social struggles and promote their autonomous development against authoritarian power, we find ourselves under the same wave of repression that looms over any expression of popular mobilization that does not accept that collective salvation is found in the will of Commander Chavez. We want to expand a bit on the criminalization and repression of social protest advanced by the current government. During 2002 and 2004, with the excuse of the coup d’état, several laws were modified, such as the Penal Code and the Organic Law for National Security, penalizing street closures and labor strikes in so-called basic enterprises. What was sold as “repressing the coup” now affects communities that mobilize for their rights. According to data from labor unions, peasant organizations loyal to the government and human rights organizations, there are approximately 1200 persons under regime of presenting themselves to the courts for having taken part of protests. Besides, the government doesn’t have to resort at first to direct repression against demonstrations, for that it uses para-statist organizations, called “popular power” that perform the psychological harassment and the physical containment of the protest under the pretext to “neutralize the sabotageing of the revolution”, which reminds us of similar strategies in other countries. If the protest perseveres and gains notoriety, the State uses the police and military, with the same results known elsewhere: violent repression with a tragic balance of deaths and injuries. Thus this past March 20, 2009, a homeless man, Jose Gregorio Hernandez, was assassinated during an eviction in Anzoategui and on April 30, 2009 a student, Yusban Ortega was also killed in Merida, to cite only the most recent. It is in this context that the government labels any expression of malcontent as “counterrevolutionary, promoted by the CIA and imperialism”, a strategy that although effective in the past, now has lost some effectiveness and regular citizens, overcoming fear, find courage to protest in order to improve the quality of their lives.
-- Recently El Libertario has published several articles denouncing the repression of the labor movement by the government. Can you tell us about it?
** Cases such as that of the two Mitsubishi workers assassinated towards the end of January 2009 by the “socialist and Bolivarian” police under the chavista governor of Anzoategui, or the three labor activists massacred in Aragua November 27, 2008 under suspicious circumstances are presented by the government’s propaganda –same as other instances of repression- as the exception alien to the state’s policy, or as the consequence of provocations and/or infiltration seeking to mar the pristine official image. We have denounce in detail in El Libertario that this is the application of the orientation the current Venezuelan state finds itself committed to – faithful to its military coup origins and the ideological orientation it finds in the Cuban dictatorship of the Castro brothers – that under the masquerade of XXI century socialism wants to impose by the stick or by the carrot a model of authoritarian control over society, with the agreement and the blessing of its partners in transnational capital. Today, as global capitalism is in crisis, the resources for the carrot become scarcer in Venezuela, in spite of the oil wealth, so that “the people’s stick” –predicted by Bakunin as the inevitable recourse of authoritarians that claim to be on the left- falls upon the backs of the oppressed with due diligence.
As to the answer to the previous question, let’s remember the situation of the “14 of Sidor”, a group of workers that besides being under the presentation regime are also being tried for “unlawful qualified appropriation and restriction of the freedom to work” for protesting their working conditions, which could mean a sentence of 5 to 10 [years] in prison. (For more info in Spanish www.nodo50.org/ellibertario/descargas/solidaridad_camila.doc). Here we must denounce that from above they have tried to build, artificially, labor unions controlled by the government’s party, the PSUV. This maneuver has deepened the historic crisis in the sector and reinforced the presence of “sindicaleros”, who live at the expense of selling off workers rights to the bosses. Also, we have arguments among unions for the distribution of jobs, a particular “achievement” of collective contracts in the oil and construction sectors, where the unions control a high percentage of job placements. Although this situation precedes Chavez’s government, the current degradation of syndicalism, fostered by the state, has led to dramatic events, as when in 2007 a total of 48 people, labor activists most of them, were assassinated due to conflicts related to obtaining employment, and 29 in 2008. On the other hand, there are well known presidential proclamations attacking the autonomy of labor organizations, as well as pressure on public employees to join the PSUV and “voluntarily” participate in demonstrations in favor of the government. It is incredible that firing people for not sharing the official political vision finds justification among people that consider themselves “revolutionary”. Remember the publication of the census of opposition electors, the so-called “Tascon’s list” (in honor of the congressman who made it public) used to discriminate systematically those identified as against the government. The official propaganda says that Venezuela has the highest minimum wage in the continent, but omits that 18% of the workers earn less than that, and that 50% receives between 1 and less than 2 times the minimum wage, in a country with the highest inflation in the continent in this decade. In spite of all, today we look with hope at how more and more workers from different sectors have lost their fear of being criminalized and are taking to the streets to win their rights by struggle.
-- Certain critics remark that anarchism only preaches and doesn’t do anything constructive. What is El Libertario’s proposal to positively transform the current Venezuelan reality?
** Ours is not an occasional or circumstantial struggle, it is for a new way to live collectively and individually, where direct action and self-management put our existence in our own hands, sincerely and honestly, becoming educated by study and relations with others, knowing that our freedom extends with the other’s freedom, respecting equality since differences do not create superiority, always keeping in mind that our lives are possible because the lives of others, whose interests we must first attend to so that we can attain ours, which we must not renounce if we want to enjoy a full existence. Each one lives their life and is responsible for it to oneself and to others, but nobody can assume our “salvation”. Therefore, we don’t have a “recipe”, our proposals and revolutionary actions must be the result of a collective effort, conscious and continuous, to which we try to bring our enthusiastic participation, promoting and empowering the recovery of the autonomy of the country’s social movements, where the necessary tension will be possible for the development and importance of the anarchist ideals of freedom, equality and solidarity.
-Something else to add?
**To contact us by email, our addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We also reiterate our invitation to visit our web site www.nodo50.org/ellibertario. We are thankful for the opportunity to spread our voice, as we are committed to the autonomous social action of the oppressed and exploited in Venezuela, as well as to publicize their struggles without conditioning them to the interests of state and capital. We also call upon our readers who want to collaborate with the First Anarchist Book and Video Fair to take place in Caracas to write to us at email@example.com. Good health and anarchy for all!
[More English texts, written by El Libertario or about the paper can be found in the English section of www.nodo50.org/ellibertario]
Translation by Luis Prat