Saturday, January 01, 2005

History and Class, 4


In 1899, "General" Cipriano Castro marched his private army into Caracas from the Andean state of Tachira, becoming the first of the four tachirense caudillos to govern Venezuela.

Castro was overthrown nine years later by his chief aide, Juan Vicente Gomez. Gomez ruled for 27 years, from 1908-1935. Gomez became known as "The Tyrant of the Andes," and Venezuelan oil reserves were opened to foreign exploitation and development. That development began in earnest in 1918.

Royalties from the foreign concessions were sufficient to retire all of Venezuela's foreign debt and finance a rudimentary public works program. Income from oil production also generated commercial and service enterprises around the petroleum industry.

Gomez ruled until his death at age 79. While his death was from natural causes, those of his family and collaborators were not as uprisings in Caracas and Maracaibo imposed that combination of rough justice and revenge so appropriate for the heirs of tyrants.

The development of the "capital-intensive" (equipment intensive) petroleum industry within the matrix of Venezuela's weak relations between city and countryside exacerbated the conditions of both rural and urban poverty. Inflation increased and real wages declined. Unemployment increased as traditional small scale business collapsed in the shift of services and investment to oil production.

Domestic agriculture also deteriorated. The twin dead weights of Venezuelan rural production, latifundios and minifundios, with subsistence production on both the grand and miserable scale, doomed expanded output.

These dislocations, however, were not the result of some unequal exchange between Venezuela and the foreign petroleum companies, but were the contradictions of capital itself. In every expansion of petroleum production in Venezuela, there was the voice of all capitals past and present, whispering "access to free, detached, labor," which is to say, access to its appropriation through expulsion. At the same time, the technical component of production demanding ever declining shares of labor power to animate itself, reduced the voice to a whisper, a choked whisper. Expanded reproduction, the necessity for capital's existence, was the threat to the surrounding "undeveloped" property relations, and thus to capital's own property relation, its command of labor through the private property of production.

Capital always speaks out of both sides of its mouth, and both sides at once. The voice Gomez heard sounded just like his own; the voice that demanded "order," "property," and "cash." That voice wasn't a whisper

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