‘Witch Hunt’ of Communists brings new elements to Venezuela’s class struggle

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In the context of the Communist Party of Britain’s and Young Communist League’s “Defend the Workers! Material Aid for Venezuela’s Class Struggle” financial appeal, journalist Paul Dobson reflects on a worrying new repressive trend in the country.

When a tragic event happens once, it could be assumed to be a one-off, somebody in the wrong place at the wrong time maybe, hard cheese even.

When the same type of event happens time and again over a relatively short historical period in similar circumstances, localities, and with comparable characteristics, one is left without any choice but to draw conclusions of a tendency, a correlation. This then leads to scientific investigation over why this is happening: its class-based causes, actors and structural dynamics; as well as moves to prevent it from happening again.

This is precisely what the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) is doing after six leading cadres were devastatingly gunned down, and another forcibly disappeared. In the words of PCV General Secretary Oscar Figuera, a “witch hunt” against communists is taking place.

Juana Tovar (PCV community leader) was killed in January 2015. Luis Fajardo (Central Committee) and Javier Aldana (peasant activist) were assassinated in October 2018. Oscar Rangel (Local Committee) was killed in May 2021, while his partymate Dikson Vergara mysteriously disappeared in August 2017. José Urbina and Juan de Dios Hernández (Party members of the same branch) were also killed in January and March this year, respectively. This article looks to pay tribute to them, their legacy, their struggle and their commitment to scientific socialism.

While these crimes happened over a period of nearly seven years (with a significant yet worrying uptick in recent months), a chronological retelling would not bear justice to the common elements tying them together. A stronger analysis would look at them as proof of a new, more sinister relation (or maybe a return to a previous sinister relation?) between communists and the governing social democracy, as part of Venezuela’s wider class struggle.

The first common factor tying these crimes together is that the selective murders were all of class-conscious communists bravely leading popular struggles against localised power structures (mafias) connected to a government apparatus currently rolling back progressive gains and/or committing abuses against normal people.

Tovar was killed after denouncing corruption in her local Community Council, while Fajardo and Aldana were killed because they led over 300 peasant families in a legal land occupation. This struggle was in direct confrontation with the power base of the local landlord and his revolving door of PSUV councilors and National Guardsmen accomplices, who all bet on returning the ranch to its previous owner in continuity with current government policy (but in clear contradiction to standing legislation). Urbina and Hernández were massacred after denouncing the National Guard for planting false flags to persecute innocent citizens’ human rights. Both lived in a zone on the Colombian border where competition for the control of local domains and paralegal trafficking routes, as well as an increasingly complex and overflowing situation in Colombia, has led to confrontations and militarisation. For their part, Rangel and Vergara were persecuted after voicing popular discontent over institutionalised smuggling, kidnapping and extortion from border officers and the Armed Forces further up the same border.

These struggles occurred in the wider context of concrete struggles and strong criticisms which the PCV has been landing against the government’s labour, economic, agrarian and anti-corruption policies since 2015, culminating in a break between the PCV and the PSUV governing circles in August 2020 after increasingly blatant and inexcusable evidence of the latter’s rightward shift was deemed incompatible with the fight for national and social liberation. These divergences and subsequent break sparked a top-down wave of anticommunism, with leading spokespersons from the still-bourgeois and increasingly reactionary state structure blasting communists of being imperialist agents and a whole range of other farcical doubletalk insults straight out of Orwell’s 1984.

The second common characteristic of these seven crimes has been the reaction of the authorities  – or lack of. Calls for investigation have been met with embarrassing replies including “it’s too dangerous for them [investigators and policemen] to do anything.” Despite multiple protests for justice, Figuera explains that “All these crimes against communists have gone with complete impunity so far.”

While guesses as to why authorities have failed to act vary, the most likely is that the involvement of government-connected civic or military actors has led to closed-door power plays putting the dampers on any investigation. Or as Figuera puts it: “There are a number of denouncements which indicate the building of alliances between these irregular groups [localised mafias] with the government.”

Another element linking the seven cases is the profile of the communists. All are young, active, and dynamic, mostly male, and with mid-range Party responsibilities (except Fajardo who had higher-range responsibilities). They are not national figures (hence avoiding a wider scandal) but they were certainly doing the legwork in the local arena.

Importantly, all the crimes (except that against Tovar) happened in rural areas close to the Colombian border (Mérida, Táchira and Apure states). They come in addition to the murder of Colombian communist Wilmer Hernández just across the border from where Urbina and Hernández were killed in Araure in April, one of many Colombian communists assassinated on the border also. These are sectors where localised power bases are much more advanced and the reach of law and order weaker. They are also sectors which respond to specific class dynamics, with actors including swathes of over-exploited landless peasants, the military, guerrillas and paramilitaries, as well as a strong influence from the Colombian state’s anti-communist ‘crusade.’ “Alternative” commercial activities are also common, helping to create the material conditions which allow local “lords” to rule their “plot” and pocket the “bounty” without too much interference.

Apart from these fallen communists, it is also important to mention the regrettably similar and equally unprosecuted killing of more than 300 peasant leaders in recent years, and the forced disappearances of a number of revolutionaries, most notably critical PSUV intellectual Carlos Lanz.

These crimes show the increasing unwillingness of the (bourgeois) state to permit criticism from a leftist perspective, as well as its breakdown into local and often contradictory fiefdoms. They show that the once-clear separation of state powers has all but been eroded, with the subjugation of due process, a state of law and other norms to economic and political interests.

Finally, they show that the once convergence of class interests that brought together social-democratic forces and the PCV has expired, and that reactionary elements are now calling the shots in Caracas. This reaffirms the anti-worker nature of recent pro-capitalist policy reversals from the Maduro government, and the increasing predominance of domestic antagonisms (work-capital contradiction) over more-unifying international themes (nation-imperialism contradiction) in Venezuelan consciousness.

As the Venezuelan class struggle enters a new and more dangerous phase, it is time for the International Communist Movement to up its solidarity with Venezuelan workers and the PCV. As such, we call on you to honour our martyr’s memory and support the CPB and YCL’s Defend the Workers! Material Aid for Venezuela’s Class Struggle Campaign by donating what you can through bank transfer or cheque to the Communist Party of Britain (Acc. No. 50725694, sort code 608301) putting reference Viva 2022 (important!). Contact 07521464927 or info@communistparty.org.uk for more information.