Capitalism and social classes in Venezuela: The historic mission of the working class

By Jesús Germán Faría,  Venezuela’ vice-minister for social security, ministry of popular power for labour and social security translated by Federico Fuentes for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Capitalism is a system based on the private ownership of the means of production. The capitalists, who own these, employ [workers’] labour power in exchange for a salary to be able to carry out their business. Obviously, this hiring of workers does not occur because of altruistic values. The ultimate aim of this decision – like any other under capitalism – is the possibility of obtaining profits. Moreover, the workers, who own no means of production, are left with no other option than to sell their labour power, converting themselves into waged slaves.

This reality can be easily demonstrated within Venezuelan society. There is a capitalist minority who own the means of production, appropriates the largest slice of income generated, has access to high-quality education, wastes fortunes for consumption’s sake and, until recently, has had absolute hegemony within the structures of the state. On the other hand, the immense majority of the population, the proletarianised masses, do not possess means of production, their access to education continues to be limited, they live in humble socioeconomic conditions and, until recently, were excluded from the exercise of political power, but now exercise it in an increasing manner as a result of the revolution. Capitalists and proletarians constitute the fundamental classes within capitalism in Venezuela.

Social classes and petroleum rentism

Despite this unquestionable reality, it is with amazement that we hear others say that petroleum rentism is capable of making this class structure disappear. They affirm that social classes are dissolved into a mass that tries to gain control of a portion of the rent.

Certainly, petroleum activity is the fundamental muscle of our economy, contributing 95% of hard currency and more than 60% of the income of the Venezuelan state. Nevertheless, 75% of the economy is made up of sectors other than that of petroleum and 99% of the labour force is found outside of this industry. In reality there exists a dual economy, a petroleum sector and a non-petroleum one, which stamps its own characteristics on Venezuelan capitalism, but does not dilute its class essence.

An important part of Venezuela’s workers produce surplus value, or work in sectors where the bourgeoisie divides surplus value amongst itself. Workers are objects of exploitation by national and international capital. Without a doubt, their labour is appropriated by the local and imperialist capitalists, or they are utilised by the commercial and financial bourgeoisie to appropriate profits

Evidently, the local (and international) bourgeoisie also divides up the petroleum rent (by the way, not everything that the petroleum industry produces is rent, only a part of it is, which increases as oil prices rise). In turn, part of this rent goes to the people, fundamentally via public spending. In the past, a reduced portion was distributed through concessions to the people in order to guarantee social peace; today an increasing part of this spending goes towards the establishment of a system based on true social justice. In any case, the distribution of this rent within the framework of reformism in the recent past diverted workers’ struggles, but did not make workers disappear as a class, much less convert them into a privileged class.

Class struggle and the transition to socialism

The abolition of capitalism and the construction of socialism can only be the result of a revolution. The necessity for this is clear when we look at the scandalous state in which the world is in today. But beyond the indignation that these perversions cause within us, it is indispensable to identify the fundamental contradictions of the system, the motor forces that drive historic changes.

By affirming the disappearance of classes, the exploitative essence of the system is covered over, the irreconcilable contradictions between the working class and the bourgeoisie (headed by the imperialist financial bourgeoisie) become hidden, and class struggle as the motor of historic changes is obviated.

In this sense, we will not cease to insist on a historic truth: only a united and conscious working class can conclude the construction of socialism in Venezuela. Without a doubt, it is a complete task given the fragmentation of the workers’ movement and its current political and ideological level, but this is no reason for us to avoid our responsibility in uniting workers and elevating their consciousness so that they assume the role of the vanguard in the revolution. The conquest of political power in order to construct a democratic and revolutionary state, the struggle against imperialism and for full sovereignty, the transformation of relations of production etc., will never be achieved without the initiative of the working class. Just think about the task of creating the base for socialism, which is, socialist property over the means of production. Could another class, different to the working class, do this? Definitively not.

Other classes and sectors of society will also participate in the historic tasks of constructing socialism but under the direction and guided by the interests of the working class. Only the working class, liberating itself from capitalist exploitation and imperialist exploitation, will liberate all of society from these scourges.

[This article first appeared in El Trabajador, year 1, no 2, July 31, 2008. El Trabajador is the official fortnightly newspaper of the minister of popular power for labour and social security. Farias is a former member of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV, Partido Comunista de Venezuela), who together with the current minister of labour, Roberto Hernandez, and other PCV national leaders left the party in 2007 to help construct the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, Partido Unido Socialista de Venezuela).]