Hands off Venezuela recently interviewed CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current) activist Yonie Moreno about the current situation in Venezuela. Yonie discusses a range of issues, from the question of the PSUV to the question of workers' control and the struggle at Sanitarios Maracay.
Hands off Venezuela: Chávez's electoral victory on December 3 happened at a time of massive popular mobilisation and opened a new stage, marked by a whole series of measures announced by the president, such as the creation of the PSUV, the nationalisation of strategic companies; all this in an open struggle against state bureaucracy and reaffirming the socialist character that the Venezuelan revolution had to acquire. Since then 3 months have passed. How do you see the practical development of these measures?
Yonie Moreno: The first thing that comes up is Chávez's turn to the left. As we expected, he is faces the sabotage and opposition of the capitalists. At the beginning of the year there was a generalised increase in prices above the government caps for some basic products, which the capitalists did not respect. Inflation went up by 2% in January. This was a consequence of the scarcity of basic products. The index of product scarcity of the BCV (Venezuelan Central Bank) moved from 9.2% in December to 14.3% in January. The problem is that the profit margin for the capitalists was reduced by the government's actions, in its attempt to regulate prices. The capitalists stop producing or begin hoarding their merchandise for better sales in the future. To this you have to add the conscious sabotage instigated by the bosses' confederation and imperialism.
The months of January and February showed some of the contradictions that have been pushing the revolution from the beginning. The measures adopted by Chávez, even if they do not go beyond capitalism, in the current context of the crisis of capitalism in Venezuela and internationally they contradict the interest of the capitalists and hinder the normal functioning of Venezuelan capitalism. Chávez's government is implementing a policy of reforms to benefit the people. However, there is no room for any policy of reforms in the current situation from the point of view of the capitalists. The bankers, the industrialists and the speculators demand more and more attacks on the workers to increase their profits. They demand privatisations and cuts all over the planet. They would like that too in Venezuela and they got it for a certain period of time. When Chávez came to power they believed he was going to be their puppet.
However, at a certain point, they saw that they could not control the situation; that Chávez was not implementing the policy that their interests needed. That is the cause of the coup in 2002, when an enabling law was approved and Chávez passed 49 laws that followed it. These laws did not go beyond capitalism. The mass movement defeated the coup. They lost and now they are facing the problem that the government and the state apparatus (which is still bourgeois) have escaped their direct control. Also, the masses are ready and vigilant. However, the economy, as these last weeks have demonstrated, is still in their hands.
The president is carrying out a policy of redistributing the oil wealth to the poor. Almost 40% of the national budget is destined for social expenses. This is one of the highest levels in the world. It is a whole series of policies that, without going beyond the limits of capitalism, benefit the masses and hurt the capitalists; for example, the price cap on a series of basic products.
This is not a socialist measure. However, in the current context it attacks the profit margin of the capitalists, who respond by not producing, sabotaging the economy, increasing prices and generating scarcity. Another measure is that the currency exchange is regulated and there is a limit to the exchange rate for Bolivars to dollars. This policy was implemented by the government to prevent dollars from being taken out of the country - the flight of capital. Let us remember that it is estimated that in the last 40 years, around 300,000 million dollars have been taken out of Venezuela in that way destined for international banks.
That was the traditional method of looting used by imperialism and local capitalists alike. This measure prevents capital flight and benefits the workers and the people since the wealth remains in the country. However, it is a restriction on the free circulation of capital and hinders the accumulation of profit and the capacity of the capitalists to keep their profits in a secure place. If we add Chávez's language and his proposals for nationalisations then you have the whole picture. All these measures, amongst others, to the benefit of the people have provoked the lack of productive investment on the part of the capitalists.
HOV: What was the reaction of the government to the sabotage and scarcity at the beginning of the year?
YM: On one hand the government passed a law in defence of the Republic that enabled the expropriation of any company hoarding product as well as industries involved in speculation. Chávez threatened to expropriate the slaughterhouses and storage plants, if the scarcity of these basic products continued. In fact, one was expropriated (Fricapeca) in Zulia, where the workers had been demanding its expropriation for some time. This storage plant had been closed for almost 2 years and had at one time been the second largest of its type in the whole of Latin America. At the same time, it imported food and through MERCAL (a State food distribution network that covers 50% of the supply of basic products at a reduced price) supplied imported products, causing a lack of national products. That way the government managed to temporarily stop the sabotage of the capitalists and stabilise prices.
Faced with a situation of sabotage like this the government has several options: it can give in to the pressure of the capitalists, increase the pressure on them or, as the CMR proposes: expropriate the whole of the capitalists, expropriate the commanding heights of the economy, approximately 2/3 of the GDP, to organise the economy on the basis of a democratically planned economy for the benefit of all and according to social need and not the profits to the capitalists. Unless the government takes this action the capitalists will continue sabotaging the economy. What these last months demonstrate is that the Venezuelan economy is controlled by the bourgeoisie and not by the government of President Chávez. In the end, equilibrium was reached through flooding the Venezuelan market with imported products paid for by the oil wealth.
In this situation the government, at the beginning of February, bought CANTV and Electricidad de Caracas. Even though Chávez pointed out at first that the expropriation would take place and that only later the government would look into what price to pay for them, the nationalisation was not carried out in that fashion. The pressure of the economic sabotage and the reformist sectors within the government was felt. The government bought these companies from the multinationals at a reasonable price, to the relief of the markets.
The CMR defends the position that the best option was for expropriation without compensation. The compensation has been more than paid over all these years in which these companies were in the hands of multinational groups enriching themselves at the cost of the Venezuelan people and workers. But the government did not want to go to the end. Up to a certain point, the multinationals were obliged to sell under the threat of expropriation, and that is what they did.
For the CMR, even with compensation, these nationalisations are a progressive measure that we support. But it cannot stop there. First, the control of these nationalised companies must be in the hands of the workers. If the state bureaucracy takes over, all these nationalisations will be a complete disaster. There will be a continuous sabotage on the part of the state apparatus, which is link by a thousand threads, visible and invisible, with the bourgeoisie and imperialism.
There is a small truce at the moment, but the conflict will come up again sooner or later on a larger scale because of the contradiction between the needs of the masses and Chávez's desire to improve the living standards of the Venezuelan people, especially the poorest, and the inability of capitalist production to meet these needs and desires. Chávez reflects the aspirations for a better life of a huge majority. The problem in Venezuela is that capitalism is unable to develop the economy of the country. It is an absolute obstacle to the development of the nation. Chávez calls on the reasonable capitalists who want to take the country forward and encourages them to invest, while at the same time threatens to expropriate them. He expropriates and nationalises some companies and says that it is necessary to produce according to needs and not profit. He continuously speaks against capitalism, says that Venezuela must move towards a socialist revolution, that it is necessary to read Marx, etc. Above all, Chávez stimulates the struggle as well as the organisation of the masses.
Sooner or later the conflict between the capitalists and the government will erupt again. Thus, things will be resolved either by expropriating the capitalist class or by ceding to its pressure. So far, the government has been able to manoeuvre between those two poles because of the oil revenue that fills the holes produced by the economic sabotage of the capitalists. But the use of the oil revenue in this way will not last forever and already huge contradictions are being generated. Any change, even a small one, in the growth of the world economy, with its effects on the price of oil and dollar, will have enormous repercussions on the Venezuelan economy.
HOV: What is the meaning of the launching of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela after the elections?
YM: Chavez's shift to the left has had an effect within the Bolivarian movement. The CMR in its last perspectives document points out that the main contradiction of the revolution is the struggle between the reformists and the revolutionaries, which is an expression of the class struggle, which is taking place at this moment inside the Bolivarian movement, after the successive defeats of the opposition. If this division along class lines has not yet become an open fact it is because of Chávez's huge authority.
However, the proposal for the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has strained the rope too much. Three parties, which in the past formed the "Bloc for change" (the electoral coalition behind Chávez in elections) the PCV (The Communist Party of Venezuela), PPT and PODEMOS have expressed their refusal to dissolve themselves within the PSUV as the MVR, UPV and MEP have already done. This has generated some controversy within these parties as well as between the leaders of these organisations and Chávez.
One of the strongest conflicts took place between the leader of PODEMOS and governor of Aragua, Didalco Bolivar. Chávez made several critical comments about him, saying that he was a social democrat and not a socialist; and that these are two different things. Referring in general to these parties, Chávez pointed out that he considered that they were practically with the opposition. This is political death for these organisations. If they reject entering the PSUV it is because of bureaucratic considerations and their fear of losing their share of power in the ministries, governorships and municipal councils. They also fear that the PSUV will be dominated by the MVR bureaucracy.
There will be titanic struggles within the PSUV between the revolutionary elements and reformists and bureaucrats. The leaderships of PPT, PODEMOS and PCV see the fusion as a danger for their positions instead as an opportunity to create a revolutionary party with a socialist programme in Venezuela. The struggle within the PSUV is not yet decided. It will be a struggle between reform and revolution and in the months to come will be one of the most important battlefields against reformism. Chávez is trying to push the building of the party from below. He wants it be a whip against bureaucratism and to be truly democratic. From April on the PSUV battalions will begin to be formed across Venezuela. These will decide on the programme of the party as well as the leadership of PSUV. From August the congress will begin and will last the rest of the year with a debate on the programme and how to organise the PSUV, all this until the end of the year.
The CMR considers one of its priorities to be the building of the PSUV and that this adopts a socialist programme that would put an end to the anarchy of capitalism on the basis of the nationalisation of the banks, main industries and multinationals in order to carry out the democratic planning of the economy. The PSUV will also be the instrument needed to finish off with the bourgeois state and bureaucratism. For this the working class must put itself at the forefront of the struggle to build the PSUV.
We will see how things end up and if these parties will eventually join the PSUV. If they do not they will face enormous difficulties. This, however, is only the beginning of the internal class division within the Bolivarian movement, which will affect all groups within it.
HOV: Another issue in the spotlight is the situation of the workers at Sanitarios Maracay and their struggle for the nationalisation of the company. Is there any news about this and, more generally, what is the situation with the labour movement - the UNT, FRETECO, etc...?
YM: Recently, the workers from Sanitarios Maracay bought raw material with the revenue made from selling bathroom suites. This will allow us to produce for another 6 months. There was some tension amongst the workers because the revenue was not enough to secure a fair wage, only food rations and 30,000 bolivars a week. In spite of this, the workers have been holding out for four months. Is there any better proof of the high level of consciousness amongst Venezuelan workers?! Everything, however, has its limits. Now, they expect to be able to increase production, the sales and, this way, be able to hand out better wages. All this while they are waiting for the government to decide on the question of expropriation, which is their only way out. The company, under workers' control, cannot compete in the capitalist market. After the march, on February 8, the Ministry of Labour sent a delegation to visit the factory. Since then they have not heard any news.
The reformist bureaucracy is going to put as many obstacles in the way as they can to prevent the nationalisation of the factory. There are huge contradictions between what the Ministries do and what Chávez says and does. An example of this contradiction is the interview that workers at Sanitarios Maracay managed to get with a top civil servant from the Finance Ministry. He told them that the government was not interested in nationalising companies, apart from those that had been privatised, and that its line was the implementation of mixed or joint companies. He pointed out that the workers at Sanitarios might use the method of co-management implemented at Invepal and Inveval. This civil servant said this at the moment that Chávez expropriated Fricapeca and the oncological hospital, Padre Machado. Evidently, this is not the best way to reassure the capitalists and create mixed companies.
At the same time, the bureaucracy's sabotage of workers' control continues. In Inveval the workers have mobilised, demanding valves from PDVSA so that they can work, since the state oil company has refused to supply them with valves for repair. The workers have tried everything. What has failed in co-management is the bureaucracy, inefficiency and the sabotage.
The state bureaucracy and the reformists are enormously weak. The ground crumbles under them. They find strength in the fact that the working class, so far, has not put itself at the forefront of the revolution; in the paralysis of the working class when it comes to carrying out their revolutionary tasks; of leading the oppressed of the country. But that can change at any moment.
The struggle at Sanitarios Maracay shows the potential of the Venezuelan proletariat. The expropriation of Sanitarios Maracay will depend on the spreading of the struggle to occupy and recover factories. 10 or 100 Sanitarios Maracays are needed! In particular all the currents within UNT must spread the struggle, and prevent it from falling into isolation. Sanitarios Maracay must be an example for the rest of the working class. We must carry out the revolutionary expropriation of the capitalists, put the factories to work, co-ordinate the factories and production from below and not wait for the slow and inefficient bureaucracy to do it. The workers must follow the example of Sanitarios and take the initiative and organise the economy on a new basis.
HOV: How can these obstacles be overcome?
YM: The UNT can only be built if it organizes itself as an instrument for the workers to take power and not just as a union concerned with work places demands. The workers' struggle in Venezuela has gone beyond the question of collective bargaining to the question of who possesses control over the companies and the economic activity of the country. The seizure of power is the central task of the working class in this revolution and is the only way to victory. The factory occupations must be extended, and factory committees must be formed in order to fully realise the potential of workers' control. These councils must be coordinated with the communal councils to create soviets.
If this central task is subordinated to the question of elections within the UNT, if these elections become the point of reference around which everything else turns, then the working class will again be paralysed, as it has been over the last few years. Unfortunately, the C-CURA, which groups around Orlando Chirinos the most militant sectors of the working class, is still entrenched on the question of the elections. The majority of the UNT is not going to be won in the ballot boxes, but rather on the streets. The sector within the UNT that positions itself at the forefront of the struggle for socialism in Venezuela, not just paying lip service but actually demonstrating it in their actions, will be the one that wins a majority amongst the working class.
As Leon Trotsky explained in his history of the Russian revolution, "the majority is not counted, but conquered". This is a lesson that the leadership of C-CURA should not forget. If we were to continue on this line the paralysis of and the split within the UNT will be fully realised. This will mean a serious setback for the Venezuelan workers and will cause the bureaucracy and the capitalists to rejoice. This is a serious threat to the workers and the revolution, which to triumph needs the proletariat to be at the forefront. If this course is not resolved it is also possible that the UNT leadership will be overwhelmed by the very movement of the workers themselves.
HOV: How was Chávez's Latin American tour? What have been the most important effects in Venezuela and abroad?YM: Imperialism is very worried about what is happening in Venezuela. If they could, they would redouble their efforts to topple Chávez and crush the revolution. But they are bogged down in Iraq. Their hands are not completely free to intervene in Venezuela. The best defence of the revolution in Venezuela is the international character of the revolution. Bush's visit was a complete failure. While Chávez at the same time toured with mass meetings in Argentina, Bolivia and Haiti, Bush was received with stones in Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala. No remarkable agreement was reached during this tour. Imperialism has attempted a diplomatic counter-attack on the Venezuelan revolution. This was met with a massive popular rejection on the part of the population in every country Bush set foot in