History Class, Part 5 Convergence and Conjunction: Closing In by S. Artesian
Upon Gomez’s natural death in 1935, minister of war Eleazar Lopez Contreras assumed power. In1936, the ghost of Gomez, embodied in the Congress, appointed Lopez to his own five year term.
The unnatural deaths of the Gomez family and collaborators convinced Lopez that his own future natural death depended upon allowing some manifestations of political dissent and democratic rights. The leaders of the 1928 demonstrations ( “Generation of ‘28"), who had not succumbed to unnatural deaths were allowed to return from exile and prison. Political parties were established; Bentancourt’s populist Organizacion Venezolano, Jovito Villalba’s Marxist Federacion Estudiantil de Venezuela to name two. Legislation was enacted that recognized the formation of labor unions. The Partido Comunisto Venezolano remained a banned organization.
A little liberty proved to be a dangerous thing as a general strike in June 1936 was followed in July by a strike of oil workers. In true caudillo fashion, the strike was brutally suppressed, labor unions were outlawed, and political opposition was driven underground.
And in true caudillo fashion, “first deliver the sword, then promise the cake,” Lopez announced the program of sembrar el petroleo (sowing the oil); using oil revenues to finance agricultural and industrial development banks, infrastructure expansion, and social programs.
In 1941, Lopez was replaced by the fourth tachirense, another minister of war, Isaias Medina Angarita. World War 2 brought large increases in oil revenues to the government.
World War 2 precipitated profound changes in Venezuelan society. The changes were not in the relations of production, but were in the forces of production. This change in the mass and mechanisms of the means of production severely disturbed the existing relations between city and countryside, sweeping the rural population off the land and into the urban areas. Census figures from 1941 indicate that only 1/3 of the population lived in urban areas. 1950 census figures show urban areas holding 53 percent of the population.
Urbanization, the construction, commercial, and service activities inherent in urbanization meant the end, sooner/later, to rule by caudillo. That end came in 1945. But the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, having proved themselves so inadequate to the historic tasks of the bourgeois order, so obsolete at birth, could bring forth only a military coup, a democratic junta, and not a social revolution.
The means and relations of production were in conflict. The needs of the producers required the emancipation of production from the restrictions of the caudillo, the landed estates, the subsistence agriculture. The property of the owners required the preservation of those estates, that subsistence agriculture.
In 1948 the military overthrew the elected government.
The 1945 democratic junta, and the radical-reformist governments of Accion Democratica, had the distinction of being both ahead of and behind their time; behind the time in that the moment for a popular, radical, bourgeois order had more than passed, it had existed only in the moment of social revolution, in that moment of the Convention, the left Jacobins, the Cordeliers; the moment of the Radical Republicans and the Reconstruction governments; in a moment exterminated by the consolidation of the bourgeois order itself.
The governments of 1946-48 were ahead of their time in that rule by caudillo had not yet so exhausted the economy as to make the prospects of suffrage, labor unions, protective legislation, less terrifying to the bourgeoisie than the looming bankruptcy of the national treasury. It took another six years of rule by neo-caudillo to do that.
S. Artesian 010305
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