The challenges ahead in Venezuela

October 22, 2014

Venezuelan revolutionaries are continuing to debate the future of the revolutionary process set in motion during the presidency of Hugo Chávez. Since Chávez's death in 2013, the right-wing demonstrations against the government, now led by President Nicolás Maduro, have continued and escalated. Maduro has made further concessions, including initiating "peace talks" with leading figures of the right-wing opposition.

Gonzalo Gómez is a member of Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), a revolutionary tendency within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which Chávez led until his death. In an interview with Eva María and Wael Elasady, excerpted here, Gómez talked about the revolutionary process and the social conflicts that will shape the country's future. An interview with two members of Marea Socialista Youth will be published tomorrow.

SINCE CHÁVEZ'S death, there appears to be the development of a bureaucracy that is assuming more power and developing stronger relationships with Venezuela's capitalists What can you tell us about this?

ON THE one hand, after Chávez died, the capitalist sector took note that an obstacle in their path to recapturing economic and political power had disappeared.

Venezuela continues to be a capitalist country, but sectors of the personnel in the government come from the popular classes, or from a dissident section of the Armed Forces. The bourgeoisie moved toward the re-conquest of its economic and political power, owing to the fact that there has been an enormous retreat in the construction of a new productive model--one based on social property.

What really exists is a form of state capitalism. By state capitalism, I mean enterprises which are state property, but which are managed under criteria that are very similar to capitalist businesses. The difference being that part of the revenue generated by these enterprises goes to the national budget, and in this manner, is distributed to the population in the form of social services.

Hugo Chávez (in blue and white) joins in a mass rally in Caracas
The direction of Venezuelan society after the death of Hugo Chávez (center, in blue and white) is being hotly contested

We have had the opportunity to experience aspects of workers' control, but these are either incomplete, distorted or thrown off track, or they have been transformed into minor episodes which have no bearing on a real project of workers' control.

At certain points, there have been experiences that took this process further. In the case of SIDOR [the biggest Venezuelan steel company, re-nationalized by Chávez in 2008], for example, there was a president who came from the working class, but there was still no workers' control, really.

But then there's the Socialist Guayana Plan [for the city of Guayana], which was interesting because of the participation of workers of different companies. Chávez ended up participating in that, too. The plan was for the production and development of the companies of Guayana. There were examples of nationalizations and workers' struggles to take over companies, but most of them weren't given enough support from the part of the state to maintain the infrastructure. The government kind of abandoned these projects...

The lack of success in these cases isn't because of a lack of ability of the working class to take over production, but because there were always all these bureaucratic obstacles. Since we are in a capitalist state and there is no real plan to transition to a popular power model, a bureaucratic layer has been consolidating itself, and that layer has been benefiting from capitalist transactions. This has amounted to the creation of a new bourgeoisie.

What does the relationship look like between this new bourgeoisie and the private capital?

THIS PHENOMENON of bureaucratization has led to what we've heard a lot lately--talk about the "coexistence of models" instead of the "transition to socialism" that Chávez talked about. It was during the "peace talks" [between the Maduro government and representatives of the bourgeoisie]...that we've seen an ideological shift.

This is why our main campaign right now as Marea is the demand to implement mechanisms for a "public oversight". If we are moving toward assimilation, then we need to recognize that the original project that Chávez fought for and that motivated the people to come out to the streets to defend him is no longer the one taking place. This ideological shift does not respond to the demands of the Bolivarian revolution.

COULD YOU talk about the Bolivarian revolution's civic-military unity--where the military is seen as playing a central part in the revolutionary process? How do you see this relationship evolving if the revolution continues to deepen?

IN VENEZUELA, during the Fourth Republic, there were several left-wing insurgencies in the military during the period when the guerrillas were still active, so this civic-military union has its antecedents. Sometimes, the military would support the urban guerrillas, and the guerrillas would collaborate with the military.

Plus, in Venezuela, we don't have a military structure like the one in Chile, for example. In our military, there are a lot of people coming from the popular sectors...like Chávez himself. Being in the military is a means to improving your quality of life. So we need to move away from some of the clichés that we have [as socialists] that because someone is in the military, they are bad. That makes sense if you come from the dictatorship in Brazil, for example--or in Chile.

The left had bad relationships with the military before, but that changed after February 4, 1992 [and the uprising against the old government, led by Chávez, then a junior military officer].

It's contradictory though. A military inherited from a bourgeois state has to be in a process of transformation. Chávez helped initiate that process of transformation by assigning officers to participate in social services--to help with the building of new housing, to work in the barrios, etc. Another example was when the military was involved in workers' assemblies to discuss how to better defend the Bolivarian revolution when the oil lockout was happening [in 2002].

IS IT possible that there can be a full transition to socialism in Venezuela without a confrontation with the military?

THERE IS that possibility, yes, but there's also the possibility that all of that progress gets lost or is reversed.

If they are in favor of the revolution, side by side the people, then the military will be given their place. But if there is a strengthening of the bureaucratic elements in this military sector instead, this would then connect them to particular economic interests that could put them in a confrontation with the people.

For now, this is not what seems to be happening...The government has helped the people to trust the military sector. However, there have already been repressive acts against workers and peasants. And this could become state policy if we went the wrong way.

COULD YOU talk about the relationship between the state bureaucracy and the military?

THIS IS a relationship that is currently being developed. There are relationships between the state bureaucracy and the army...and also relationships with the bourgeoisie, both the new one and the traditional one. I'm talking about sections of these groups, not the whole of the bureaucracy and the military.

Everything is possible right now. If the revolution goes forward, if there is struggle, if the popular power is strengthened with the involvement of the military...then we're going the right way. If, on the contrary, we see the strengthening of sections of the bureaucracy, with the involvement of the military...then we're moving backwards.

To give you an example of what is possible, look at Portugal and the Carnation Revolution of 1974 [a revolt against the Portuguese dictatorship that begin with an uprising of military officers organized in the Armed Forces Movement]. What is left now of the military from that revolution? What is left of the Armed Forces Movement?

Those officers were represented in popular assemblies, they participated in unions, they opposed the colonization that they were asked to lead...Of course, the key is that there was a revolution in Portugal--and when the revolution ceased to be, all of those things ceased to be, too. Because those are developments that can only happen in revolution.

We are still in revolution in Venezuela. But the counterrevolution is coming in full force, too.

REGIONALLY, VENEZUELA leads the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA, by its initials in Spanish), a political and economic bloc of 10 Latin American countries. But it is also a part of the Mercosur trade bloc dominated by Brazil and the Petrocaribe oil alliance of Caribbean countries. How does Venezuela reconcile its participation in economic and political formations with such clearly different agendas?

IN THE case of ALBA, tht project is different from the others...It's based on cooperation--on exchanges between countries not based on the accumulation of capital, but on a relationship of solidarity.

The issue is that the countries that participate in ALBA have less developed economies than Venezuela. In Mercosur, it's different--that is based on a capitalist conception. Mercosur was even discussing a free trade agreement with Israel...

We fought against participation in the FTAA [Free Trade Area of the Americas] with Chávez, and we won. But hey, what's the difference? We left one imperialist project to enter another one...It's very similar to talk about the FTAA and a free trade agreement with the European Union, for example.

For Venezuela, it was convenient to develop relationships with other Latin American countries, even if these relationships are based on a capitalist logic. But that is the reality--we can't be isolated from the world...We can be for a social revolution in these countries, but meanwhile, we need to have trade, and if trade with these countries is more favorable for Venezuela than with others, we need to take advantage of those.

But Chávez also ended up saying that we were entering Mercosur with the intention to changing its essence--maybe even getting closer to the ideal of transforming it into a means of economic exchange based on collaboration, with the goal of the liberation of Latin America.

HOW DO you view Venezuela's relationship with countries such as China, Russia, etc.?

AT THE beginning, most of us saw these as something favorable and necessary. It was seen as part of a politics of multipolarity--that is, looking to reduce the dependence on American imperialism through making more political and economic connections with other nations. This allowed for Venezuela and other countries in Latin America to experiment more freely.

But of course, this is only true to a certain point. As China continues to aspire to be the first economic world power, strengthens its capitalist system and allows for transnationals to produce...it makes it so that the economic exchanges with China are also based on a capitalist logic.

IN WHAT ways has the Bolivarian revolution challenged capitalism in Venezuela?

THE BOLIVARIAN revolution has been challenging capitalism from the very beginning. It's done it in different ways. One was take back control of the state oil company and then redistribute those resources among the population in a fair way. That is a challenge to capitalism since the economy here is a rentier economy.

Capitalism in Venezuela is not very productive--it's based more on commerce and oil production. The private sector here generates only 3 percent of the country's currency reserves--the rest is mostly the oil industry. So capitalists get a lot of the profit while being very unproductive in Venezuela.

In this sense, then, taking control of the oil industry was already a big step for the fight against capitalism. But such steps can go forward or they can go backwards. We need to keep this control and solidify it. As of right now, this conquest is not moving forward, but quite the opposite...we're losing control of the oil.

The other way in which Venezuela confronts capitalism is by being consistently against U.S. imperialism. We have been challenging U.S. hegemony in our country and in the rest of Latin America, through claiming our political sovereignty, taking our own decisions and taking control of our military.

There still are foreign-owned businesses and mixed enterprises...but there have been some expropriations of transnational corporations. There have been nationalizations of SIDOR and CANTV [Veneuzela's major telecommunications company], for example.

These conquests have been won in times of crisis, as a reaction of the attacks of the bourgeoisie. Chávez sometimes would talk about them as an example of Trotsky's term "the whip of the revolution": the bourgeoisie attacks, and the government responds by moving to the left.

But these nationalizations also happened because of the pressure from the working class, as we can see with the case of SIDOR, for example. The whip of the working class also forces the government to move to the left, not just the bourgeoisie's attacks. The government doesn't necessary carry out nationalizations because this is written into the program...it needs to be pushed by social forces that want those laws to be implemented.

WHAT CAPACITY do the working and popular classes have at this time to push the revolution forward?

IN VENEZUELA, we haven't had a history of massive working class organizations like the ones in Europe or even in other Latin American countries. Here, what you have is groupings of union leaders and heads of union federations with very little structure and organization. That has been negative for the working class.

But at the same time, the masses of people have been able to participate in spontaneous uprisings with tremendous power. One example was after the coup in April 2002, when the president was kidnapped. In two days, without having any major mass organizations (although we did have vanguards), the people's mobilization was able to defeat this coup and put Chávez back into power.

So you have temporary organizations that come into existence during these intense moments when the people go out to defend themselves. For example, those who then created Aporrea, the alternative media portal, were a group of workers, social justice activists, etc., who met days before the coup, thinking that something big was coming down...This group was dissolved, but then a similar group formed again when the oil lockout took place [later in 2002].

These types of groups don't constitute any stable or permanent form of organization, but when they are needed, they emerge with lots of dynamism and strength.

WHAT ARE the communal councils, and how does Marea see its participation in these?

THE COMMUNAL councils are supposed to join together with other councils and then form communes, which would then come together in larger conglomerations of communes to eventually form a different geometry of power altogether.

But in practice, the topic of popular power has only worked at a very micro level--the councils only comprise a few hundred families and a small section of a neighborhood, which in turn is a subdivision of a municipality, which in turn is a subdivision of a state.

Families meet and discuss their issues with water, roads, housing conditions, etc.--basic needs for the locality. That's important and it's very good, but the problem for us is how the people are going to intervene in public issues at all levels, including at the national level. That's where we think there needs to be improvement.

An expectation has been created that little by little, step by step, we will go from communal council to commune, and from commune to bigger agglomeration of communes and communal cities, and then after all of that is solid, Maduro will decide that popular power is ready to take part in national decision-making. But how would that work? Who taught the current governors who are leading the public administration? It's not the case that they went through all those steps! And most of them also come from popular sectors.

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