The Venezuelan Revolution and the struggle for socialism - Part Three: The political situation, the labour movement and the popular movement

Economic growth in Venezuela is stimulating class struggle and the level of organisation and mobilisation of the Venezuelan working class is rising, but it has not yet reached the point where the labour movement has placed itself at the head of all the exploited layers of society. What is lacking is a political leadership of the working class, with a programme and method capable of pushing the revolution to a final and irreversible conclusion.

Political Effects

From a political point of view, this economic growth - with all its contradictions analysed in Part Two - is having various effects. The first has been to intensify support for the revolutionary process and especially for Chavez. Oil revenues have provided the government with an economic reserve greater than that of Allende in Chile or of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua when these were confronted with an economic boycott on the part of the bourgeois and imperialism. All of this obviously combines with the turn to the left in the speeches of Chavez and in his social policy since 2003 with the Missions and other measures. According to a survey carried out by Datanálisis, a pollster belonging to the oligarchy, support for Chavez was for several months at one of its highest points (70%). Other surveys indicate similar levels of support among the people for the social plans of the government.

Nevertheless, this level of support can turn into its opposite if economic growth does not begin to rapidly and profoundly improve the living conditions of the masses. And this improvement is impossible without expropriating the large banks and businesses, the multinational monopolies and the large landholdings. The bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy, in an unproductive manner, consume a growing and intolerable share of the national income. The conflict between the expectations of the masses and the limits of capitalism on the one hand, and the bureaucracy, corruption and inefficiency (and at times open sabotage) that exist within the state apparatus on the other, are now leading to growing impatience within sectors of the vanguard and creating uneasiness among the masses.

From the standpoint of a revolutionary struggle, economic growth with the features we have previously described (combined also with a political situation characterized by victories such as the 15th August, which have increased both the self-confidence of the masses and their perception that the revolution is moving forwards) far from having a moderating or paralysing effect on the struggle of the working class, is leading to a recovery and mobilisation of the workers. Economic growth is helping to reduce the fear of layoffs and joblessness.

At the present time we do not yet see a massive, unified movement on the streets, a widespread explosion and struggle of the working class, but there are indications that the level of organisation and mobilisation of the working class is growing. If the present level of economic growth is maintained for some time, with the same characteristics we have analysed, this can strengthen the working class and lead to more massive and general mobilisations. This growing level of militancy of the workers is expressed in the formation of trade unions. This in many cases involves the workers openly challenging the bosses for the first time. It is expressed through the ongoing debate over "cogestion" (workers' co-management) where the demands of the advanced workers are becoming bolder and moving towards workers' control. We can also see this in a series of long and bitter disputes. There is a high degree of radicalisation which can be seen in the conclusions the workers have been drawing and in the rapid growth of consciousness. We see traditionally weak and even marginal sectors of the working class, the unorganised layers without traditions of struggle, taking part in the mobilisations.

All these features reveal a working class with growing confidence in itself. It is quite probable that the current rate of economic growth may continue at least for a period, but with the enormous contradictions outlined above. This means that the most likely effect would be that of stimulating still further the mobilisation of the masses and that the present reawakening of the working class may continue and even intensify in the short term.

The Debate over Co-management

The bourgeoisie understands the risks that this situation presents for them better than many ultra-lefts. The latter are in reality profoundly pessimistic. They tiptoe round the question of co-management; they minimize the importance of the factory expropriations such as those of Venepal, CNV and others that have taken place since, expropriations that express the potential and real possibilities that the working class has of influencing the revolutionary process. They speak with irony and disdain about the war on landlordism without understanding the most important aspect of all this. Beyond the concrete contradictions that exist within these individual processes ‑ and we are the first to underline these - are the more important mobilisations and expectations that they generate among the exploited layers of society. The big dilemma for the capitalists (and also for the reformists, who in the last analysis merely express the pressures of the bourgeois class within the revolutionary movement) is that none of the hopes generated among the masses by co-management or the war on landlordism can be satisfied within the realms of capitalism. This pushes them again and again to move forward in their search for an alternative outside the system.

In the concrete conditions of the class struggle in Venezuela, with a rising mood of militancy among the working class, the bourgeoisie understands that what is now defined as co-management, could evolve into workers' control and they are trying to stop this from happening. Our task should be that of effectively pushing co-management in the direction of workers' control and from there toward the building of a workers' state. With this aim in mind at every moment we should base ourselves on slogans and demands that can mobilise the masses, push them forward and make those demands as concrete and advanced as possible in the direction of socialism. At the Guayana co-management meeting a proposal was made to set up a Front in defence of co-management to bring together all the occupied factories. This front should in fact be extended to all the state owned companies and institutions.

In many traditional hospitals and other state owned companies and institutions, including various ministries, the advanced workers who identify with the revolutionary process, are waging this same battle against the attempts of the bureaucracy to slow down (and even completely eliminate) the participation of the rank and carry out anti-working class and anti-union policies. One example is what happened at the Caricuao People's Clinic, where eight revolutionary compatriots were fired for forming a Bolivarian union and demanding decent working conditions, in spite of the fact that they had four different types of permanent tenure status. These measures are typically capitalist and have nothing to do with a project such as the People's Clinics which were set up as a banner of the revolutionary process. In response to this, revolutionaries must demand that the workers have a majority on the management committees of these clinics with all the represented being elected with the right of recall.

This growth in the workers' struggles is very important for the immediate future of the revolutionary process because it coincides with a growing questioning of the policy of the reformists and the bureaucracy among ever-wider layers of the exploited masses. As Trotsky used to say, the masses can sacrifice their today for their tomorrow only up to a certain point. After a certain period of time they need to see that all the sacrifices that they have made are worth the effort and that these are beginning to solve their problems.

Clearly one of the main weaknesses of the revolutionary movement up until now has been the fact that that the labour movement has not been at the forefront of the struggle, gathering behind its banner all the exploited layers of society. As Marx explained, the working class, because of its key role in the capitalist mode of production, is the only class that can develop a permanent organization that is capable of unifying the struggle of all the exploited layers and build a new revolutionary state. It is the only class that can develop collective and socialist methods of struggle and consciousness that allow it to begin the construction of a new classless society.

The proletariat is concentrated in workplaces, subject to the same conditions (wages, hours, common discipline) and facing the same enemy, the boss, who is exploits them. Furthermore, they become conscience of their own strength through the struggle to better their living conditions. Through their experiences they come to understand that if they bring production to a halt they can checkmate the individual capitalist and even the entire capitalist class. They also discover that if the workers are organised they can take control of production and organize it. The methods of struggle that working class develops naturally are strike action, organized and collective mobilisations, and in particular the mass meeting, given that each worker is conscious of the fact that he or she cannot struggle alone. His destiny is tied to that of all his other comrades. The workers need to organize their struggle collectively, to decide collectively if they are going to launch a struggle or not, and then they need to meet regularly to share out tasks, review all aspects of the struggle and also to decide collectively how to continue.

The popular movement can play a profoundly revolutionary role, as was demonstrated on 12th and 13th April 2002 when it defeated the coup with a massive mobilization. This also included the working class, because it did not play an independent role with its own working class methods and objectives, but only intervened as part of the explosive, spontaneous and disorganized movement of the masses. This gives us an idea of the immense capacity for struggle of the popular movement. But, because of its class nature, a movement based in these sectors always tends to be explosive, primordial and disorganized. Such a movement finds it very difficult to form stable structures that can meet regularly, that can develop a worked out programme, provide the movement with a clear leadership and generate organs of dual power that can serve as an embryo of a new revolutionary state capable of replacing the old bourgeois state.

When the UBE's [Electoral Battle Units] were created or when they tried to organize permanent revolutionary assemblies, these weaknesses emerged very clearly. The movement in the working class neighbourhoods, has within it sections of the working class, but it also made up of housewives, the unemployed, and street vendors. In some cases the latter predominate. The participation of these sectors is decisive for the victory of the revolution. However, although they are terribly exploited and are very radicalised and mobilised, the unemployed, the street vendors and even other layers that work in the informal sectors (such as taxi-drivers, chauffeurs, etc.), are not organized, brought together and disciplined by capitalist production as is the case with the proletariat. Many of them do not even have a regular daily work routine, or stable working and living conditions. The most common forms of struggle adopted by these layers are sudden explosive outbursts or rioting, but they find it very difficult to build stable organisational structures. The poorest layers of the popular movement can even be manipulated relatively easily through the concession of subsidies, or by this or that bureaucrat involving them in some mission or social programme.

In our previous perspectives document we predicted that the class contradictions within the Bolivarian movement would inevitably be transmitted to the UNT. Although this has not crystallised clearly in the form of a clearly defined stable left wing and a right wing, within each union affiliated to the UNT, we can already see the outlines of two wings in many unions, and even within the national coordinating committee of the UNT itself. The supporters of the CMR within the UNT should participate in the left putting forward our socialist transitional programme and using the methods and tactics that we have developed ever since the foundation of the organisation. We have suggested these methods and they have been adopted (at least in part) in struggles such as those at Venepal and CNV, and we have shown in practice that they can serve to unite the ranks of the Bolivarian movement with the advanced workers and to offset the plans of the capitalists and the bureaucracy.

One of the fundamental reasons why this rise in the workers' struggles is not stronger and more widespread than it could be - an aspect that we analysed above ‑ continues to be the lack of a political leadership of the working class, with a programme and method capable of carrying out this objective. We analysed this in detail in our previous perspectives document. In the last analysis these weaknesses flow primarily from a lack of dialectical understanding of the relationship between Chavez and the masses on the one hand and between the rank and file of the Bolivarian movement and the advanced layers of the working class on the other.

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