Venezuela's process of struggle

Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network solidarity brigade in Caracas, May 1, 2008.

Jason Netek looks at the political situation in Venezuela -- and why international solidarity is key to furthering the process of workers' power.

July 22, 2010 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the focal point of a political shift to the left that has affected most of the Latin American continent for just over a decade. For years now, we have heard denunciations of the nation and its president, Hugo Chávez, from TV personalities like Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson to establishment figures like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all of whom liken the nation to a military dictatorship.

It's no good pointing out to these types that the US actually has propped up real military dictators in efforts to stave off leftist movements all across the continent. They are fully aware. They are hypocrites.

In contrast, from the left, we have often heard that Hugo Chavez himself is forging a "people's revolution". The science of social transformation is not nearly so precise. There is no such thing as emancipation by decree. Revolution is far more complex and interesting than that.

Never in history did a great leader alter the conditions of society with a wave of a hand. What makes revolution so beautiful and so difficult is that they are festivals of the oppressed. Nothing changes until the masses decide to change things themselves. The "Bolivarian process" in Venezuela is no exception.

In late April, I had the opportunity to travel with the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network on its May Day Brigade to Venezuela. While we were only there for two weeks -- just long enough to scratch at the surface -- we had an intense program of constant activity and interaction with many activists in the heart of the struggle for their nation's future. Nothing was hidden from us.

Far from operating in a tourist-friendly bubble from some fancy hotel, the Solidarity Brigade endured the energy crisis and water shortages in the capital along with the citizens; one brigadista was robbed; and all of us engaged in the deepest political conversations our Spanish skills would allow. The brigadistas experienced Venezuela with all its contradictions laid bare.

Change `at the expense of the elite'

All major social questions have yet to be answered by the Bolivarian process. The significant developments in social spending have not come at the expense of the elite. At every turn, the government, dominated by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), has attempted to go around, rather than through, the capitalist class.

Where food is too expensive, the state opens subsidised food centres. In response to the energy crisis, government buildings operate with fewer light bulbs, while the shopping malls pump the air conditioning to such a degree that the lobbies could double as refrigerators. When the government raises the minimum wage, retailers raise their prices.

Everywhere, there exists a duality of a movement and government that proclaim the necessity of socialism on one hand, and a powerful capitalist class gripping tightly to most of the economy and the culture of the nation on the other.

In some places, the Bolivarian revolutionary process is yielding positive results. The brigade was treated to a tour of the Fabricio Ojeda Endogenous Development Zone, which is home to several cooperative enterprises, and Barrio Adentro, which serves to provide cradle-to-grave health care for all citizens.

The cooperatives are all run on a similar basis: elected management, equal pay across the board, profit-sharing, and free ongoing education programs to assist all employees to develop management skills. There are 108 endogenous zones across the nation. Fabricio Ojeda provides work for 2000 people.

Government-initiated programs get a lot of attention in the international press, but at the grassroots, there are even more inspiring developments. At the newly christened Socialist Ceremaics Cooperative, where the workers recently won control after chasing management away and preventing a closure, brigadistas were told: "The real revolution is about taking control of production."

At the Reserve of Guayana, where residents from a nearby barrio occupied vacant land and built a community of their own, the elected representatives are now working with the state to obtain durable building materials and access to potable water. "The old owner showed up and demanded rent, but he was tossed out", said a beaming woman who sits in the community assembly. Here truly is an example of popular power on display.

Perhaps the most outstanding example of where the process is moving forward is at the gigantic steelworks of Sidor, the site of one of the brigade's most politically valuable experiences.

Sidor was started as a public entity in 1953, but was privatised in 1997. The plant has recently been renationalised after an arduous struggle led from inside the plant. The 13,000 workers at Sidor have taken the call for "21st century socialism" seriously, and nationalisation is only the first step on a longer road to self-management. The workers said: "We are not interested in state-capitalism but in socialism in the way that Karl Marx meant it."

Since our brigade has been back, the first elected managers of Sidor have been sworn in alongside those of 14 other primary industries in the region as part of the government's "Plan Socialist Guayana." For all the talk from some radicals about the "labour aristocracy" and its lack of political consciousness, the industrial workers at Sidor are in the lead on the most significant political issue in history: building socialism means building workers' power.

The struggle at the plant is not over. The old bosses sacked 8000 employees, and there is a whole layer of contractors who are not fully employed at the plant. Anyone who wishes to see the direction of the Bolivarian process should watch for developments at Sidor.

In glaring contrast to this rather inspiring manifestation of revolutionary spirit is the facility at Puerto De Palau on the Orinoco River. This major facility is in the process of being nationalised, but is not yet even organised by a union. The managers there see no reason for a union or any reason why someone would want to come and talk to the employees. One can only imagine how they might feel about the spectre of workers' control.

The existence of a state firm without even the most elementary form of labour organisation in a society that is officially "building socialism" should serve as a reminder that the Bolivarian process is uneven and the amount of work for the Venezuelan left is staggering in spite of its achievements.

Solidarity required

Venezuela is at the beginning of an era in which massive social transformations are taking place and the prospects for building a truly revolutionary movement are wide open. They will not be open forever.

What is taking place in Venezuela shows that revolutionary ideas are more relevant now than ever before. The people demonstrate over and over again that they are willing to mobilise and struggle, but the movement needs results. As of July 2010 (five years after the first call for "21st century socialism"), the state and its armed forces are still institutions of a capitalist ruling class.

The main obstacles for social change are openly hostile ruling classes and bureaucrats who cloak themselves in progressive disguises to benefit from, and tamp down, the spirit of the social movements. This is a widely recognised phenomenon. Chavez himself regularly speaks about the need to combat the bureaucracy, but does not have a solution to the problem.

Two years after the movement suffered a setback by losing a major constitutional referendum, the challenge for the revolutionary left is still, as Lee Sustar described in, "to reinvigorate activism and build organizations that can confront both the employers and bureaucratic and corrupt elements in the government that weaken the struggle".

With the elections to the National Assembly looming in September, the movement will be faced with hard choices about the direction of the process. It can be in the hands of administrators or in the hands of the masses.

The AVSN Solidarity Brigade that will be in action during the September elections will be visiting the country during what may very well be a turning point. The decisive factor will be an independent working class armed with organisation and political clarity.

Nothing takes places within a vacuum; this is especially true in politics. Developments in the process are being closely monitored by the big imperialist nations and by the manipulators of finance capital around the world. The people of Venezuela have already defeated several destabilisation attempts, including the world-famous coup and bosses lockout of 2002, but there will be more.

International solidarity is essential for the peaceful development of the movement to set right the many historic injustices dealt out by foreign imperialism and domestic capitalism in Venezuela. The comrades of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network are at the forefront of this effort and deserve to be applauded.

[Want to join the next solidarity brigade to Venezuela? Click here for details. This article first appeared in Socialist Worker, newspaper of the US International Socialist Organization.]


Submitted by admin on Wed, 06/09/2010 - 17:02

We can't keep going the way we are going. It is tearing up too much life. We must have peace, the earth needs love. Where do we look to find another way? What would a different society look like? How can we construct a society of cooperation, purpose, wholeness, and peace?

The Australia/Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) provided an opportunity to see such a society in construction...Venezuela up close and unedited. It was a great opportunity to be guided through the streets of Caracas and into the dialogs of Venezuela's community councils and socialist and labor organizations. We saw first hand the building of an alternative to capitalistic imperialism. They call it 21st century socialism.

We were a brigade, put together by the AVSN to get up close, under the barrage of anti-chavez propaganda. The brigade was provided with an opportunity to look into the structure and see the motivation of a 21 century socialist society. We were guided by leaders of the highest quality, and we were introduced to the people who make this history, and the reporters who tell it. It is the history of the mass of people opposed by the interests of private ownership of social wealth. The government of Venezuela has declared itself a socialist state and an ally of the people. In return the people are supporting the government, and their president, Hugo Chavez. It is nothing short of a revolutionary transformation of Venezuelan society.

Venezuela is doing this by putting the responsibility of governance into the hands of the governed. Chavez has declared his trust to be entirely with the people. It is his belief that the answers to social progress lie within the people. Venezuela's workers are being asked to self-motivate for socialist production in a structure not yet clearly defined. It is for the workers to show how this can be done, and for the people with their elected government to build an environment that will protect and facilitate this. According to Chavez, "There is no socialism without workers."

We were introduced at various places of work such as large nationalized factories, worker cooperative plants health and education, and local governing councils. We received talks and discussion with leading activists and journalists, that told the history of the process and the many political viewpoints within it. The discussion among us brigadistas was fun and often spirited, but honestly seeking the way forward on the "rumbo hacia socialismo."

One workplace we visited was an industrial firebrick plant. At this plant the ownership had decided to dismantle the factory and sell the equipment rather than continue doing business in Venezuela. The workers claim the bricks are needed and there is no jusitification for closing and dismantling the plant. Venezuela needs its own productive industry. The workers set up a protest to the closure and blocked the owners inside the plant, and appealed to Chavez for a resolution. The result was a buyout of the plant, with the workers left in charge of production. This is a huge challenge for the workers, but they guided us through their plant with pride and purpose. The plant was given a loan by the government that the workers must repay under terms and conditions. For the moment, the workers are organizing the project, considering various forms of management, engineering, contract arrangement and so forth. Classes and discussion groups go during the day to educate and inform and decide.

Similarly, but on a much grander scale was the nationalization of the SIDOR steel mill in the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz. Thousands of plant employees were in conflict regarding contract talks with the Argentinian owners and directors. The plant argued it was unable to operate under Venezuelan law. Once again Venezuela bought out the ownership. This time, for the first year and a half the existing management had the major hand in decision. However, once again a conflict arose when the owners opposed and became uncooperative toward workers' demands of management. Chavez intervened again declaring to the workers that if classical management was unable to function then let the workers decide how to proceed, and he fired the balky managers based on their opposition to socialist management. The state owned petroleum industry, the largest industry in Venezuela was asked to provide managers to operate and teach management proceedures to the workforce. The workers also receive schooling during worktime including classes on theories of govenrment and the socialist state. As recently as one month ago, Chavez visited this plant and turned over the works to the people themselves, with the blessing, protection and encouragement of the Venezuelan state. One outstanding request is to work immediately to reduce the number of outsourcing contracts that totaled nearly 480 billion Bolivars in 2007. The contract out agreements often go to domestic and foreign firms who are dedicated opponents to the Venezuela revolution. It is felt this leak of money to the opposition is a dangerous weakness.

In these two cases one can get a sense of how the economic-industrial revolution proceeds in much the same manner as the social-political revolution. Where there is an impediment to socialist progress that arises from the old oligarchic structure, then the state provides the means and protection necessary for the people themselves to organize and meet their needs.

The process is still young and the course is uncharted, and its significant achievements have been gained against a headwind of imperialist misinformation and distortion. Our world is struggling, bound in a cocoon of imperialist hegemony. Venezuela has chosen to emerge and advance the human project. They have chosen to help build a society to promote the development of human kind, a humanity conscious of itself and its relation to the whole of creation. Venezuela moves toward 21st century socialism. There is hope. It is connected to human social organization. The purpose of this modern social organization, beyond meeting the needs of people, is to promote the development of humanity beyond the limitations of fear, competition and lack of necessity.

During the grand era of capitalism, we developed the extraordinary tools necessary to take us as planetary beings to a higher level of social organization. It is a level described as 21st century socialism. It is structured according to cultural possibilities. Each interpretation will be characteristic of those who construct it. It is based in the promotion of life, and the peaceful, cultural development of humanity.

What greater thing can said of a society's purpose?

Venezuela constructs this new society along side the existing oligarchic state apparatus. They do it without violence and with pure creativity. There is no blueprint. The AVSN brigades take you inside the process to see the possibilities, the problems, the progress and the achievements of a new socialist structure. In particular the Venezuelan process involves the decentralization of state power, devolving it into the hands of the people. This is a magnificent extension of democracy, and at the same time a great challenge to the people who have undertaken the task to build a new society, based on different principles.

The AVSN made possible a fantastic visit among the builders of Venezuelan society. Hats off to the brave people of Venezuela and their visionary leader, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias.

!Viva la revolucion! !Venceremos!

Clayton Rafael Bagwell
Vilcabamba, Ecuador
June 5, 2010