A year after Guaidó: what's happening in Venezuela?

At the end of January 2019, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself the president of the country as part of a US-led attempt at regime change. We publish here two interviews with members of the Marxist Tendency Lucha de Clases (Class Struggle), which describe the current situation in Venezuela and the perspectives for the Bolivarian Revolution.

Trump has tightened the screws of a brutal sanctions regime by imposing a blockade on Venezuelan oil. Then, at the end of February 2019, there was an attempt to breach the Venezuelan border with Colombia and Brazil under the excuse of “delivering humanitarian aid”. At the end of April, 2019, Guaidó led a botched military coup attempt.

A full year has gone by and Guaidó, despite having the support of US imperialism, Colombia, Brazil, the OAS and the European Union, is not an inch closer to sitting in the Miraflores presidential palace. The reactionary opposition is split down the middle, with one section negotiating with the Maduro government, while Guaidó has been linked to far-right paramilitary Colombian thugs, marred by corruption scandals and abandoned by his own supporters.

Washington continues to impose sanctions (the latest round hitting a subsidiary of the Russian oil company Rosneft), is hinting at a naval blockade and continues to uphold the farce of Guaidó as “president” of Venezuela. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government of Maduro has continued its rightward shift. Peasants are being dispossessed of the land and jailed, workers have seen collective bargaining rights destroyed and their trade union rights under assault, while the purchasing power of wages has been pulverised.

The comrades interviewed below explain what is happening in the country today.

A year after Guaidó, what is happening in Venezuela? Interview with Eliás Chachón from Lucha de Clases

HOV2010 Elias1Eliás Chachón / Image: HOVIt's been a year since the whole episode with Juan Guaidó started in Venezuela. Revolutie (IMT Netherlands) interviewed Elías Chacón, leading member of Venezuelan Marxist organisation Lucha de Clases, about this question, the social crisis and the perspectives for Venezuela.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Elías Chacón, and for the last 10 years I have been active in the Venezuelan section of the IMT. In the past, I was one of the founders of the youth section of the PSUV, the party founded by Hugo Chávez, in which previously we formed the Marxist wing. Nowadays, we focus more on open work among the workers and youth.

It’s been a year since the situation with Juan Guaidó started in Venezuela. The first reaction of most left-wing workers and youth in countries like the Netherlands was to oppose the actions of the US government and its right-wing Latin American allies. We ourselves organised a demonstration at the American consulate. What is your opinion about this?

That was a good and healthy political reaction. Imperialist aggression against Venezuela should always be opposed and condemned. Guaidó's attempted uprising was just the latest manoeuvre in a string of many attempts of coup d'etat, sabotage and uprisings in Venezuela, backed by US imperialism. To oppose this in a country like the Netherlands, whose government supports the US and Guaidó, is the correct thing to do for the left.

What is the situation with Guaidó now? He recently appeared in the international news coverage of a conflict at the National Assembly, with images of him climbing a fence to enter the Assembly building.

Guaidó put up a big show when a few of his deputies, who were suspended and lost their diplomatic status because of participation in two coup d'etat attempts, were refused entrance to the Assembly. He could enter himself, but only wanted to enter when all of them could enter. After he saw that the Assembly session later started without him, he put on a show of climbing the fence before the news media, in order to show the world that “there is a dictatorship in Venezuela.”

It has to be stated that, during the Bolivarian Revolution, we had the most democratic governments in the history of Venezuela, under Chávez. Then there were also attempts to portray the Chávez government as one of a bloodthirsty tyrant. Clearly, this was all built on lies and slander.

The Maduro government has lost part of its support from the masses, as Maduro has abandoned the left-reformist policies of his predecessor and shifted to the right. In order to make up for his reduced mass base, he has made more use of the repressive apparatus of the state to maintain power.

Lucha de Clases has always stood for the defence of the Venezuelan Revolution and has opposed all attacks by US imperialism and its stooges like Juan Guaidó, but as Marxists we should say clearly what is going on.

Nevertheless, we also have to say that, alongside this show by the Venezuelan right-wing opposition and Guaidó, there was another show put on by right-wing MPs who support the government. The government party, PSUV, made a deal with a part of the right-wing opposition, consisting of MPs who are under investigation because of a corruption case around state-subsidised food parcels (CLAP), in order to take back control over the National Assembly from the Guaidó-wing of the opposition.

Some on the Dutch left say that as we should be in solidarity with Venezuela, that people should not be making any criticism of the Maduro government, even when they are in complete opposition to US intervention and meddling. What do you think about this position?

This is clearly wrong. Maduro's government is now implementing so-called neoliberal policies. He did not just put an end to the left-reformist policies of Hugo Chávez, who nationalised companies and called on workers to take control themselves, he went even further. Under pressure of the sabotage by the bourgeoisie, which tried to get around the price and foreign exchange controls implemented by Chávez, he did not go further to the left, but bowed to the bourgeoisie. Since 2013, he has been shifting gradually to the right. He met right-wing capitalists like Mendoza (one of the richest men in Venezuela and Latin America) and gave more and more concessions, which did not stop anything. The capitalists stopped investing, which led to a scarcity of goods. As the government kept printing money, a situation of hyperinflation came into being.

Maduro represents that wing of the Bolivarian state bureaucrats who developed a bourgeois outlook because of their living conditions. He shifted to the right and put his weight behind austerity measures. Collective bargaining has been attacked. Public sector wages have been cut. Price and exchange controls have de facto been abolished. He also made a decree permitting the free circulation of the US Dollar in the Venezuelan economy, leading to a de facto incremental dollarisation of the economy. These are all measures that favour the ruling class, not the working class.

It is clear that the Maduro government has taken counterrevolutionary measures. As Marxists (and socialists in general), we should not defend the Venezuelan government in an uncritical way, but should oppose these reactionary measures and fight for the rights and position of the working class. This does not mean that, by doing this, you then automatically become a supporter of American imperialism. We should always look at the situation from a class point of view.

We hear and read a lot about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The Dutch media present Venezuela as if it is the hell on earth. Many Venezuelans have moved abroad, including to the Dutch Caribbean islands. Because of a history of lies and slander about Venezuela, many people on the left find it difficult to believe everything that they hear. What is the real situation?

There is indeed a deep economic and social crisis going on, a very severe one. However, this crisis is a crisis for the working class, not for the capitalists - let that be clear. It is the workers and poor people who are suffering from low real wages and scarcity of goods, while the capitalists (the old, traditional, right-wing oligarchs and the new ‘Bolivarian’ bourgeoisie) are still living in luxury.

10 years ago, we had the best social indicators in the history of the country. This was thanks to progressive social reforms carried out by the Chávez government. Also back then, the right-wing media described the country as a hell on earth, while the situation was the best in our country’s history for the working class.

In the period before Chávez, they never spoke about how bad things were, while the situation was much worse for the masses. The vast majority of the population lived in poverty for decades, without any hope of improving their lives. We have to explain this, in order to make clear how hypocritical the right-wing media are.

Concerning the money and food spent by USAID to “aid the poor Venezuelans”, much of this money has been spent on corruption, prostitution, gambling, etc., by the right-wing politicians in Venezuela: all members of the Guaidó gang. Actually, they don't care at all about the working class; they just put on a big show in order to attack the Maduro government because they want to have the state apparatus in their hands once again, with the aim of doing profitable businesses.

There is a real social and economic crisis now, the worst in recent history. But let's make it clear, in the first place, this is the result of sabotage from the bourgeoisie, who wanted to bypass the price and currency controls. Secondly, we can blame the reformist policies of the Bolivarian government - now under Maduro, but also under Chávez - whose policies greatly improved the standard of living of the masses, but did not put an end to the private ownership of the means of production.

Instead of solving the crisis of years in a revolutionary way, the Maduro government just kept making concessions to the ruling class, while raising wages. Wages were raised by increasing liquidity, leading to hyperinflation. Now, as the government has aggressively turned to the right by carrying out an austerity programme, cutting liquidity drastically, and functionally abolishing the price and currency controls, the country has entered a process of dollarisation. There are fewer food shortages now, but people haven’t enough money to buy the goods.

Of course, this whole situation is aggravated by sanctions by the US and other countries. This makes it more difficult for the government to trade with other countries, to import food and medicine, etc. While Washington says that these are targeted sanctions that only affect “the regime”, the truth is that sanctions aggravate the economic crisis hitting the working class and the poor.

This is the real story. The right-wing is now shouting about the humanitarian crisis, as they want to overthrow Maduro and get back control, not because they are really interested in improving the living conditions of the masses.

What are the perspectives for Venezuela and the task for revolutionaries?

The perspective is not a positive one. Because of the social crisis, there is a high level of demoralisation and not much political mobilisation. The masses voted for Maduro at the last elections, but they are now quite passive.

Most people are disillusioned and busy with surviving and helping their families. They are not involved in politics. The Maduro government is turning back the achievements of the Chávez governments, while the right-wing opposition is fighting even harder to take back control.

This summer, there will be the National Assembly elections, and it's hard to predict what the outcome will be. There is huge demoralisation among the traditional PSUV base, but on the other hand the right-wing opposition is really stupid and makes many mistakes. If the latter wins, they will try to push the Maduro government even further to the right. The government already made a deal with a part of the right-wing opposition. This, together with anger and demoralisation because of the current situation, could lead to a victory of the 'moderate' oppositionists. Nevertheless, this could encourage the hard-line right wingers to win over a layer of this 'moderate' opposition, in order to keep pushing for a 'transition'.

Some on the revolutionary left have the perspective of a social crisis leading at a certain point to a revolutionary explosion of the masses. We cannot exclude this scenario, but because of the level of demoralisation I do not directly see this happening.

Where should revolutionaries work and orient themselves? There are some interesting developments going on in Patria Para Todos (PPT): a former split of the traditional left-wing party, La Causa R. They are now calling for an independent left-wing list (maybe together with the Communist Party), as an alternative to the right-ward shifting PSUV bureaucracy. We support this initiative and fight for it, as a way to strengthen a genuine socialist left in Venezuela.

Revolutie (IMT Netherlands)

Working-Class Struggle in Venezuela: A Conversation with Leander Perez

Venezuela interview Perez Image VenezuelanalysisLeander Perez / Image: Venezuelanalysis

Leander Perez is a member of the central committee of Lucha de Clases, the Venezuelan chapter of the International Marxist Tendency. He committed to the struggle of the poor at an early age while reading Fyodor Dostoyevski, but what sparked his active political engagement was the violence exercised against Chavistas when Hugo Chavez died in 2013. One year later, in 2014, Perez joined Lucha de Clases.

In this interview, we look at the economic and labor policies of the Venezuelan government while examining the role of the working class in the future of the Bolivarian Revolution. Originally published 21 Feb by Venezuelanalysis.com

Let's start with the Venezuelan government’s labor policies in the last year or so. How do you analyze these measures, particularly since the government implemented the Economic Recovery Plan in August 2018?

The first thing that I should mention is that the Economic Recovery Plan does not mark the beginning of the government's economic shift. It is, nevertheless, a synthesis and a more elaborate plan, bringing together policies that were already being applied either legally or in a de facto manner. This includes lifting price controls, eliminating some import subsidies, flexibilizing employment, replacing income with direct, ad hoc subsidies, and other economic policies.

Let’s, however, focus on the Economic Recovery Plan. One of the first items was monetary reconversion: five zeros were taken from the currency, while the minimum monthly salary of 50 Sovereign Bolivars was raised to 1,800, or around 30 USD. Bear in mind that the minimum wage with Chavez had been around 300 USD. Still, before the reconversion, the salary stood at about USD $2 per month, so the increase was well received. Nonetheless, the Plan included other measures such as the curtailing of workers’ rights and the easing of worker layoffs.

Additionally, the wage hike mentioned earlier was implemented along with a subsidy to employers: the government would pay for three months’ salaries. This policy, which was later extended beyond the three-month period, was intended to prevent employers from raising prices.

As if that weren’t enough, Venezuela’s executive branch, through the Labor Ministry, issued memorandum No. 2792 with precise instructions to protect the interests of capitalists. It was based on a very crude interpretation of Article 148 of the Labor Law – which actually seeks to limit layoffs while establishing mechanisms in this matter. The memorandum establishes that when a company faces a financial crisis, a special bilateral commission with the participation of Ministry of Labor representatives and employers would be formed to assess layoffs and authorize employer non-compliance with collectively-bargained agreements.

What can you tell us about the specifics, about how that memorandum affects workers?

Let’s talk about one particular case: the collective bargaining process between the Unified Union of Graphic Arts Workers [SUTAGSC] and the Association of Graphic Arts Industrialists of Venezuela [AIAG]. In the process, the workers had achieved small collective victories. However, when the two sides presented the agreement to the Labor Inspection Office [Inspectoría del Trabajo, a public office associated with the Labor Ministry], the institutional representatives kept the contract from being signed, because it was considered “burdensome for the employer.” Obviously, after this happened, the capitalists were emboldened and demanded concessions from the workers.

It’s worth mentioning that around the same time, the Planning Ministry issued a circular informing that all public administration salaries would be unified. This meant that collective contracts were eliminated by decree from one day to the next. Decades of struggle to achieve collective benefits were eliminated, and the salaries were unified downward, ignoring things such as qualification and worker experience.

All these policies were applied in the context of a veiled policy of wage containment and an income-bonification process [replacing income with direct subsidies]. To date, the government continues to regularly decree salary increases, but the fact is that the purchasing power (especially of public employees) has been dramatically reduced.

To give you an idea, the 1,800 Bs.S. monthly income increase in August 2018 was equivalent to 30 USD, while January 2020’s 450,000 Bs.S. monthly income amounts to a monthly wage of about 7.2 USD. Together with this – implicitly recognizing that it is impossible to live on a minimum wage – the president issues bonuses (which are often higher than the minimum wage) through the Homeland Card.

Those living on a minimum salary (mostly public administration employees and retired people), do not make enough to cover their most basic needs. To alleviate the situation, the government offers food bags (in addition to the residential CLAP box) to public employees.

In fact, this is the real reason that keeps public employees at work. If we apply the legal precept that “reality must prevail over forms,” then we should acknowledge that today public employees are paid with food. The situation of retired people is even worse, since they receive neither food bags nor food bonuses.

To understand the situation we are facing in Venezuela, it is important to take a look at Venezuela’s productive apparatus. It’s well known that over the course of the oil boom during Hugo Chavez’s presidency, the local productive apparatus shrunk due to policies that favored imports. However, the most dramatic fall in productivity has happened in the past five years: according to public information, the drop is between 30 and 50 percent. In response to this situation, the government has made a plan to attract “foreign investment” that includes offering tax exemptions and an covert process of privatization of public assets. What do you make of all this?

The data that you point to regarding the shrinking of the productive apparatus – data recognized by Venezuela’s Central Bank – demonstrates the parasitic dependence of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie on public subsidies. During the economic boom, private companies in Venezuela were actually “public” companies in private hands. Why? Because they were directly financed by the state’s oil rent.

Let’s turn now to the government’s incentives for capitalists and its thrust towards privatizations. The government, in my opinion, adopted the line of Deng Xiaoping's reforms [in China]. What does this mean? The government is offering a cheap labor force and flexibilized labor regulations, low taxes, while opening up to “Special Economic Zones” [territories where certain laws don’t apply]. Additionally, “strategic alliances” [covert privatizations of public companies] and full protection of bourgeois private property are key to the government’s discourse. In fact, Venezuela hasn’t seen any expropriations since Chavez’s death.

Additionally, the National Constituent Assembly passed a Law for the Promotion and Protection of Foreign Investment which flexibilizes the shareholding of public-private companies and exempts investors in strategic areas (such as the oil industry) from paying taxes. This law was passed during the 2018 Christmas recess.

In Nicolas Maduro’s 2020 address to the nation, he asked for the approval of a new package of laws dealing with fiscal matters. He did not give details, but considering the current state of affairs, the package is likely to offer further “incentives” to the private sector.

There is no doubt that Maduro is trying to prove that he is “the man” capable of steering Venezuela towards a capitalist-model-with-Chinese-characteristics. It is important to note, however, that the adjustments package and the incentives to foreign investors have not produced the desired results. The reasons for this are multiple: first, there is a crisis of world capitalism and many businesses are closing down worldwide. Second, the few capitalists who could invest here still fear the Bolivarian Revolution and its popular manifestations. Finally, and perhaps this is the most important issue, capital’s only longstanding objective in Venezuela has been and is to capture the nation’s oil rent. In other words, international capital will do nothing more than focus on the oil industry and the mining initiatives underway.

Recently there have been mobilizations of some sectors of the working class such as teachers, nurses, subway workers, and also some wider protests. However, the relatively low level of street mobilization is surprising, given that the minimum monthly salary oscillates between USD $5 and $10 and given that the working class’s collective rights are being drastically rolled back. What's going on?

What you say is true. The number of mobilizations does not correspond with the [austerity] package imposed on the working class. It is even more surprising if we take into account the insurrections underway in Haiti, Ecuador, Chile or Colombia.

Since the ‘60s, the oil rent allowed for the construction of what Juan Carlos Rey called a “populist system of reconciling elites,” a “complex system of negotiation and accommodation of heterogeneous interests in which utilitarian mechanisms play a central role in generating support for a regime.” Or, in Gramsci's words, the state builds hegemony through consensus building with, we add, the oil rent revenues.

To give you an example, the oil rent allowed the key trade union movement, the Central de Trabajadores de Venezuela [CTV, Venezuela’s Workers Central], to establish corporate mechanisms for worker representation while surrendering class independence. During Chavez’s government, this model was criticized and there was an attempt to promote an independent and class-based trade union movement. Out of that came the Central Bolivariana Socialista de Trabajadores [CBST, Bolivarian Socialist Workers Central]. The CBST was born out of some honest debates, but it finally degenerated into a government appendage.

We can also point to the lack of class leadership in the labor movement as a factor that limits workers’ organization today. Recent attempts towards building organizations with class independence have gone through divisions due to opportunistic unions that ended up supporting the right. This is the case of the Intersectorial de Trabajadores de Venezuela [ITV, Venezuela’s Workers’ Cross‐Sectorial], which quickly became a referent but was liquidated by those who used it to support Juan Guaido’s coup attempts.

Additionally, there are initiatives such as the Frente Nacional de Lucha de la Clase Trabajadora [FNLCT, National Front for Working-Class Struggle], promoted by Venezuela’s Communist Party, whose strategy is to press for negotiation spaces with Labor Ministry authorities. Yet in these spaces, little or nothing is resolved.

However, since the working class faces the consequences of the economic crisis, what often happens is that workers, unable to find a collective solution to their problems, seek individual solutions such as better paid jobs in precarious conditions or emigration.

As if all this weren’t enough, we must acknowledge that the government has been extremely skilled, applying a combined strategy of carrots and sticks to neutralize possible enemies. The government tries to relieve the pressure through clientelist policies such as bonuses and food bags, but it also openly represses the rebellious expressions of those who have managed to overcome all obstacles. One case of repression is that of the Lacteos Los Andes workers who denounced corruption and the attempt to privatize the company, or more recently the teachers’ protests, both harassed by shock groups that have nothing to do with the spirit of genuinely Chavista organizations. The message is clear: “You either adapt or you leave.” In this context, both overt or covert repression of protests is the order of the day.

To come back full circle, in the context of the multi-crisis and the imperialist siege what is the importance, its apparent passivity notwithstanding, of the working-class struggle?

I think that the government’s policy is extremely dangerous. It’s weakening its popular support. As it is, the current base for the [government’s] defense are the bourgeois institutions and their civil or military bureaucracy, particularly the latter, which receives large concessions from the government.

Chavez was adamant: the socialist project has to be based on the support of workers, community organizers, campesinos and exploited people in general. By contrast, this government interprets the role of workers from a bourgeois perspective by demanding sacrifices: the working class must increase production at all costs to save the only nation known to capitalists: profit.

The working-class struggle is the only path that can offer solutions and recover the socialist project – and socialism is the only solution that can really improve the lives of the majority.

The government's policies to come out of the capitalist crisis only weaken the working class. With this in mind, it’s very important that all left organizations support the struggles that occur as a response to the joint aggression coming from the lines of the bourgeoisie and the government. It is true that some of the working class struggles now have a defensive nature. Some mobilize against the high cost of living, others demand salary increases, others defend collective rights, but as it happened in Ecuador, Chile or Colombia, defensive struggles can (and should) escalate into revolutionary forms!

The struggle is going to be a long one. For this reason, we must draw the greatest number of lessons from each defeat, while each battle won must be projected to inspire the class as a whole.

Let’s take the struggle of the Graficas Ultra workers as an example: the employees sat down with the employers to negotiate a collective contract. The latter, taking advantage of a government provision that favors them, refused to make even the smallest concessions, and it even proposed layoffs as a “solution.” The employers also had in their favor the fact that a number of employees had accepted their “happy little box” [severance package] and left the company, affecting the workers’ mobilization capacity. When faced with the union's refusal to accept cuts, the capitalists closed the negotiations and prevented the union delegates from entering the company premises.

The rest of the workers, in an impressive display of unity and class consciousness, defended the union delegates and refused to work. Following this action, the owners closed the gates of the business to pressure the workers. This provoked the workers to further mobilize and, following the example of Smurfit Kappa [factory currently under workers’ control], began demanding the occupation of the company under workers’ control. Finally, when faced with the risk of the workers taking over, the employers yielded and agreed to reopen negotiations.

This could be seen as a small victory, but if we assess the asymmetry of the forces, the morale boost, the increased consciousness that came out of the struggle, and the example given to other struggling workers, then the victory is huge! These workers pointed the way forward with revolutionary methods, so that the burden of the crisis is lifted from the shoulders of their class.

Cira Pascual Marquina