Revolution today, capitalism, crisis and resistance in Venezuela

The following is a transcript from a talk given by Venezuelan trade unionist Ricardo Galindez at the East Anglia Social Forum during his recent tour of Britain.

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I will start from the very beginnings of 2003 and what happened then. The events that took place at the end of 2002 and 2003 were preceded by the coup that took place at the beginning of 2002. The political factions and the bosses that had been removed from power with the election of Hugo Chavez did not stop their attempts to plot the overthrow of Chavez. Even shortly after the victory of the masses against the coup d'état, the bosses and the oligarchy started plotting against the democratic government and promoted some marches against the government. At the end of 2002 the imperialists and the local oligarchy tried to carry out sabotage in the oil industry in order to block the economy and try to push the people against the Venezuelan government itself.

The ruling class in Venezuela did not understand that the defeat that they suffered on the 11th of April 2002 was just a show of strength of the working classes in Venezuela, because the masses identified themselves with the ongoing revolutionary process. Maybe it’s not what everyone expected, but it is the very beginning of something bigger.

While on the 11th April people came out onto the streets to defend their democratic civil rights, in December of the same year we could see how the people as well as the working class tried to defend the revolution.

We could see how the bosses were paying workers to stay at home in order to carry out sabotage against the Venezuelan economy, we could see the answer of the working class in various cities and towns around Venezuela that continued to carry out their working activity in order to defeat this sabotage that was being carried out by the oligarchy and the imperialists.

We could see how in the countryside on the massive land estates and in some sectors of industry and also in the oil industry the workers were producing under workers’ control. There were no bosses at all. In a wide range of industry, such as the sugar producing industry and also the most important of all, the oil industry, we could see how the workers were producing under their own control. There was the example of the oil refinery in Puerto la Cruz where the workers took it over and were carrying out economic activity themselves. In El Palito there was also workers’ control and in the other refinery the workers maintained production for two months with no bosses and strict discipline in the company.

Once the lock out was defeated in the oil industry, the bosses decided to extend the lockout to education. As soon as the parents and the pupils saw that the schools had been closed, they decided to reopen them, sometimes occupying the schools, asking the government to send teachers to the schools and sometimes when they didn’t have teachers the parents provided lessons to the pupils.

Meanwhile the imperialists and the local oligarchy did not give up their attempt to create chaos. They called demonstrations and marches which were answered by the Bolivarian movement with bigger marches, bigger demonstrations.

Let’s say that if the opposition were taking out on the streets ten thousand, the Bolivarians were taking out one hundred thousand, and if they took out onto the streets one hundred thousand we took out three hundred thousand – always outnumbering them.

Then the local and the mainstream media, all the newspapers, all the TV channels started a campaign to call for a presidential recall referendum. This referendum was defeated. What happened was that, when they saw that by illegal means they could not force the government out, they decided to take the legal road. They decided to start again their campaign for a recall referendum. What happened was that the electoral commission of Venezuela gave up and said okay you can have the referendum.

The point is that it is true that this referendum was not well received among the masses and people were quite angry. When President Chavez said now is the time to unite forces and defeat the referendum, well, we did it and defeated this process.

Even if they were not happy with that, they decided that they had to do it because that was a historical moment for the Venezuelan masses. For the first time in history the Venezuelan people were going to organise an electoral process under their control and through popular organisations like the Electoral Battle Units and other popular organisations

1,200,000 people organised themselves. Students and workers organised in these UBEs, Electoral Battle Units. Well, of course, the workers and students in the neighbourhoods organised themselves. They set up the structures to canvass in order to win this recall referendum.

The victory in this recall referendum for the ‘NO’ option against the recall of Hugo Chavez was the beginning of a new period in the Venezuelan revolution. Let’s say that the oligarchy could not cope with a defeat and they did lose lots of support from the middle classes. They suffered the disbandment of their own forces and suddenly their own leaders no longer appeared on TV and in the newspapers, and did not show up in public life.

After the success of the recall referendum the regional council elections took place and the Opposition, the oligarchy, was limited to holding on to just two states. Now the struggle of the Opposition is based in the state of Zulia, a region on the border with Colombia, an area very rich in oil. Even the governor of this state, once he saw the results, started to shift his position towards President Chavez!

Defeat was terrible for them. The umbrella group, that they had organised all the opposition parties under, has been disbanded. After the defeat, Mendoza, the governor of the state of Carabobo, disappeared from public life after the defeat.

The more astute sections of the bourgeoisie started to approach President Chavez in order to appear more polite towards him. They began to moderate their opposition to Chavez. As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them until you have enough forces to defeat them. This is the policy of imperialism and the local bourgeoisie in Venezuela today.

After the great defeat suffered in the eighties the labour movement had started to recover in the nineties. At the beginning of the nineties the workers decided to set up a new trade union federation outside of the CTV. It was in 2002 that they finally decided to abandon the CTV and set up a new Venezuelan trade union federation. It is true that in the beginning they had many problems to overcome, however they are overcoming these and now they are back at the same level of organisation as before.

Due to the lockout that took place at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, there were many companies that were closed down. What is true is that most of these companies closed down due to imperialist sabotage of the economy, and after the defeat of the lockout these companies remained closed.

At that time many workers decided to reopen the factories, occupy them and run them by themselves and they demanded that the government nationalise these factories under workers’ controls as well as many other factories.

This movement was the beginning of the victory that was to take place at Venepal. With regards to Venepal this company was closed down in 2003, then the government helped the bosses to reopen it. Later on they closed down the factory again, and the second victory of the Venepal workers was when the government decided to nationalise the company under workers’ control.

It is not clear what form of workers’ control this company is going to adopt. Whether it is going to be a co-op, direct control of the workers or a shared control of the company by workers and the state. However, what is true is that the plan the government is going to undertake is the plan elaborated by the workers in the company. The decision of the government to take this company over is a massive victory.

It is true that the government has not expressed a will to nationalise all companies. They say that this is not going to be the main trend, but they also say that the Venepal example is going to be the model for other companies that have closed down and have not reopened yet. The Venepal experience also boosts the confidence of the workers in Venezuela because they can see the possibility of working for a company where the boss is not a coup plotter.

All these measures, the nationalisation, the war against the big landed estates, the latifundia, the process of land reform and also the deepening of the revolution, the “Into the neighbourhoods” social programme, on health care in the poorest neighbourhoods, are all having an effect. For instance, they have announced the building of six hundred hospitals across the country. All of this is a major victory, a step forward for the movement.

These are the questions that concern imperialism, that concern the Venezuelan opposition. We should remember that the US has been suffering from the Cuba syndrome since 1961. At that time, in 1961, the revolution that initially was based on many democratic demands was later forced to go beyond the confines of capitalism. It was forced to take socialist measures.

This is what the imperialists are worried about. And this brings us to the latest Rodrigo Granda [FARC Foreign minister] case. He is a Colombian citizen who came to Venezuela and naturalised himself as Venezuelan. He had both nationalities, Colombian and Venezuelan.

He was not living in underground conditions; he was living with his family under his own name. He was recently kidnapped by Venezuelan police that had been bribed beforehand by the Colombian authorities. The imperialists have thus staged a stunt “against terrorism” and so forth.

The Venezuelan opposition recently tried to gather its forces once again and launched another march that took place on January 23. The aim was to heat things up but they were not successful. The march was a complete failure. As if this were not bad enough for the opposition, the government called another march where hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the streets.

The government gave only four or five days’ notice to call this demonstration. This shows that, as opposed to the forces of reaction, of the opposition, that are completely demoralised and demobilises, the Venezuelan people support the process of strengthening democracy and deepening the revolution. They are very active and have the ability to mobilise themselves.

It’s true that the opposition has been defeated more than once and is demoralise. However, the imperialists have not given up. They are staging more actions against the Venezuelan revolution. The imperialists are active and are looking for the easiest way to create trouble. Yes, the imperialists are active, but we are also active! We are pushing for things like nationalisation, land reform, the deepening of the social programmes and trying to sort out all the problems we have and to carry on.

I believe that from the point of view of all the people who are involved in the trade unions, the only way to achieve victory for the Venezuelan revolution is to go beyond the confines of capitalism and to install socialism in Venezuela.

Questions and answers

Question: “I was just wondering, it was very interesting to hear about the occupied factories. Are the occupied factories in Venezuela in much contact with the occupied factories in Argentina? I didn’t realise it had been happening in other countries as well.”

Answer: Today there is no such communication between factories occupied in Argentina and those occupied in Venezuela. However, two years ago when the process was alive and the workers started to occupy the factories, a delegation of Argentinean workers was invited by the secretary of labour in Venezuela to come over to visit the occupied factories.

At that time, when we had some activities, they exchanged experiences, and at the end of this visit the ministry of labour drafted a plan based on the Argentinean experience and now they are going to use this to carry out all the necessary action for the reopening of Venezuelan factories. Even now that we have achieved the nationalisation of Venepal, we should invite workers from Argentinean factories to go over to Venezuela to share more experiences.

Q: How does the organisation operate at grass roots level, because there are so many people involved? I’m interested in how they communicate. I’m not entirely clear how much the policy such as land reform is driven by the government and how much by the mass movement making the government do it.

A: Right now it is true that the government is leading the process, however we can see that from below there is a force. There is a mass of people that is pushing to have its demands heard, the demands of the community on the government. There are also land committees, grass roots organisations, that try to implement land reform not only in the countryside but also in the cities. There are also community labour groups that have managed to get works approved for new socially useful buildings and things of this kind, that are going to be controlled by the community.

Q: You mentioned workers’ control. I’m interested in this. We read it in the papers that the paper industry is coming under workers’ control. It is clear that this is far deeper than the nationalisation we have seen here in Britain. But it does not involve the whole economy. So how does it actually work? If you work in a factory that is run under workers’ control what would that mean for me in terms of how I influence what goes on?

A: Right now in Venezuela they already have experience of workers’ control in the sugar refineries. The company that the government nationalised was handed over to the workers and also to the cane sugar workers, the ones who carry the cane sugar. The company has been working well. The workers elect their own representatives to the board of administration of the company. But at the same time they also organise their own trade union. Now, this company, in spite of all the problems, is the most productive company in Venezuela. Then, there is the example of the workers in the old state owned oil company in 2002-2003. Those workers through meetings in the factories decided what to produce, how to produce it and when to produce it.

The oil workers had the support of the armed forces and the community was also there offering them support. They had the power to decide on production, distribution, supply and so forth. How could they go back to a so-called ‘normal situation’ where the workers are given orders?

The Venepal workers elaborated a project, in the form of a book with 200 to 300 pages. In this book the workers explain every little detail concerning production, from the machines, to the sheets, everything is in there, even the tea machine. And that was when the company was first closed, when the government pumped some money into the company the first time in 2001.

At that time they won a right, it was a kind of shared control of the company. There was a machine that was needed to produce power, to produce electricity. This machine broke down, so they called a technician from Germany where the machine had been originally produced. Well the workers decided to fix the machine without asking the management and now this machine is still there producing more power than before. It shows the enormous potential of the workers.

The following is a transcript from a talk given by Venezuelan trade unionist Ricardo Galindez at the East Anglia Social Forum during his recent tour of Britain.

---

I will start from the very beginnings of 2003 and what happened then. The events that took place at the end of 2002 and 2003 were preceded by the coup that took place at the beginning of 2002. The political factions and the bosses that had been removed from power with the election of Hugo Chavez did not stop their attempts to plot the overthrow of Chavez. Even shortly after the victory of the masses against the coup d'├ętat, the bosses and the oligarchy started plotting against the democratic government and promoted some marches against the government. At the end of 2002 the imperialists and the local oligarchy tried to carry out sabotage in the oil industry in order to block the economy and try to push the people against the Venezuelan government itself.

The ruling class in Venezuela did not understand that the defeat that they suffered on the 11th of April 2002 was just a show of strength of the working classes in Venezuela, because the masses identified themselves with the ongoing revolutionary process. Maybe it’s not what everyone expected, but it is the very beginning of something bigger.

While on the 11th April people came out onto the streets to defend their democratic civil rights, in December of the same year we could see how the people as well as the working class tried to defend the revolution.

We could see how the bosses were paying workers to stay at home in order to carry out sabotage against the Venezuelan economy, we could see the answer of the working class in various cities and towns around Venezuela that continued to carry out their working activity in order to defeat this sabotage that was being carried out by the oligarchy and the imperialists.

We could see how in the countryside on the massive land estates and in some sectors of industry and also in the oil industry the workers were producing under workers’ control. There were no bosses at all. In a wide range of industry, such as the sugar producing industry and also the most important of all, the oil industry, we could see how the workers were producing under their own control. There was the example of the oil refinery in Puerto la Cruz where the workers took it over and were carrying out economic activity themselves. In El Palito there was also workers’ control and in the other refinery the workers maintained production for two months with no bosses and strict discipline in the company.

Once the lock out was defeated in the oil industry, the bosses decided to extend the lockout to education. As soon as the parents and the pupils saw that the schools had been closed, they decided to reopen them, sometimes occupying the schools, asking the government to send teachers to the schools and sometimes when they didn’t have teachers the parents provided lessons to the pupils.

Meanwhile the imperialists and the local oligarchy did not give up their attempt to create chaos. They called demonstrations and marches which were answered by the Bolivarian movement with bigger marches, bigger demonstrations.

Let’s say that if the opposition were taking out on the streets ten thousand, the Bolivarians were taking out one hundred thousand, and if they took out onto the streets one hundred thousand we took out three hundred thousand – always outnumbering them.

Then the local and the mainstream media, all the newspapers, all the TV channels started a campaign to call for a presidential recall referendum. This referendum was defeated. What happened was that, when they saw that by illegal means they could not force the government out, they decided to take the legal road. They decided to start again their campaign for a recall referendum. What happened was that the electoral commission of Venezuela gave up and said okay you can have the referendum.

The point is that it is true that this referendum was not well received among the masses and people were quite angry. When President Chavez said now is the time to unite forces and defeat the referendum, well, we did it and defeated this process.

Even if they were not happy with that, they decided that they had to do it because that was a historical moment for the Venezuelan masses. For the first time in history the Venezuelan people were going to organise an electoral process under their control and through popular organisations like the Electoral Battle Units and other popular organisations

1,200,000 people organised themselves. Students and workers organised in these UBEs, Electoral Battle Units. Well, of course, the workers and students in the neighbourhoods organised themselves. They set up the structures to canvass in order to win this recall referendum.

The victory in this recall referendum for the ‘NO’ option against the recall of Hugo Chavez was the beginning of a new period in the Venezuelan revolution. Let’s say that the oligarchy could not cope with a defeat and they did lose lots of support from the middle classes. They suffered the disbandment of their own forces and suddenly their own leaders no longer appeared on TV and in the newspapers, and did not show up in public life.

After the success of the recall referendum the regional council elections took place and the Opposition, the oligarchy, was limited to holding on to just two states. Now the struggle of the Opposition is based in the state of Zulia, a region on the border with Colombia, an area very rich in oil. Even the governor of this state, once he saw the results, started to shift his position towards President Chavez!

Defeat was terrible for them. The umbrella group, that they had organised all the opposition parties under, has been disbanded. After the defeat, Mendoza, the governor of the state of Carabobo, disappeared from public life after the defeat.

The more astute sections of the bourgeoisie started to approach President Chavez in order to appear more polite towards him. They began to moderate their opposition to Chavez. As the saying goes, if you cannot beat them, join them until you have enough forces to defeat them. This is the policy of imperialism and the local bourgeoisie in Venezuela today.

After the great defeat suffered in the eighties the labour movement had started to recover in the nineties. At the beginning of the nineties the workers decided to set up a new trade union federation outside of the CTV. It was in 2002 that they finally decided to abandon the CTV and set up a new Venezuelan trade union federation. It is true that in the beginning they had many problems to overcome, however they are overcoming these and now they are back at the same level of organisation as before.

Due to the lockout that took place at the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, there were many companies that were closed down. What is true is that most of these companies closed down due to imperialist sabotage of the economy, and after the defeat of the lockout these companies remained closed.

At that time many workers decided to reopen the factories, occupy them and run them by themselves and they demanded that the government nationalise these factories under workers’ controls as well as many other factories.

This movement was the beginning of the victory that was to take place at Venepal. With regards to Venepal this company was closed down in 2003, then the government helped the bosses to reopen it. Later on they closed down the factory again, and the second victory of the Venepal workers was when the government decided to nationalise the company under workers’ control.

It is not clear what form of workers’ control this company is going to adopt. Whether it is going to be a co-op, direct control of the workers or a shared control of the company by workers and the state. However, what is true is that the plan the government is going to undertake is the plan elaborated by the workers in the company. The decision of the government to take this company over is a massive victory.

It is true that the government has not expressed a will to nationalise all companies. They say that this is not going to be the main trend, but they also say that the Venepal example is going to be the model for other companies that have closed down and have not reopened yet. The Venepal experience also boosts the confidence of the workers in Venezuela because they can see the possibility of working for a company where the boss is not a coup plotter.

All these measures, the nationalisation, the war against the big landed estates, the latifundia, the process of land reform and also the deepening of the revolution, the “Into the neighbourhoods” social programme, on health care in the poorest neighbourhoods, are all having an effect. For instance, they have announced the building of six hundred hospitals across the country. All of this is a major victory, a step forward for the movement.

These are the questions that concern imperialism, that concern the Venezuelan opposition. We should remember that the US has been suffering from the Cuba syndrome since 1961. At that time, in 1961, the revolution that initially was based on many democratic demands was later forced to go beyond the confines of capitalism. It was forced to take socialist measures.

This is what the imperialists are worried about. And this brings us to the latest Rodrigo Granda [FARC Foreign minister] case. He is a Colombian citizen who came to Venezuela and naturalised himself as Venezuelan. He had both nationalities, Colombian and Venezuelan.

He was not living in underground conditions; he was living with his family under his own name. He was recently kidnapped by Venezuelan police that had been bribed beforehand by the Colombian authorities. The imperialists have thus staged a stunt “against terrorism” and so forth.

The Venezuelan opposition recently tried to gather its forces once again and launched another march that took place on January 23. The aim was to heat things up but they were not successful. The march was a complete failure. As if this were not bad enough for the opposition, the government called another march where hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the streets.

The government gave only four or five days’ notice to call this demonstration. This shows that, as opposed to the forces of reaction, of the opposition, that are completely demoralised and demobilises, the Venezuelan people support the process of strengthening democracy and deepening the revolution. They are very active and have the ability to mobilise themselves.

It’s true that the opposition has been defeated more than once and is demoralise. However, the imperialists have not given up. They are staging more actions against the Venezuelan revolution. The imperialists are active and are looking for the easiest way to create trouble. Yes, the imperialists are active, but we are also active! We are pushing for things like nationalisation, land reform, the deepening of the social programmes and trying to sort out all the problems we have and to carry on.

I believe that from the point of view of all the people who are involved in the trade unions, the only way to achieve victory for the Venezuelan revolution is to go beyond the confines of capitalism and to install socialism in Venezuela.

Questions and answers

Question: “I was just wondering, it was very interesting to hear about the occupied factories. Are the occupied factories in Venezuela in much contact with the occupied factories in Argentina? I didn’t realise it had been happening in other countries as well.”

Answer: Today there is no such communication between factories occupied in Argentina and those occupied in Venezuela. However, two years ago when the process was alive and the workers started to occupy the factories, a delegation of Argentinean workers was invited by the secretary of labour in Venezuela to come over to visit the occupied factories.

At that time, when we had some activities, they exchanged experiences, and at the end of this visit the ministry of labour drafted a plan based on the Argentinean experience and now they are going to use this to carry out all the necessary action for the reopening of Venezuelan factories. Even now that we have achieved the nationalisation of Venepal, we should invite workers from Argentinean factories to go over to Venezuela to share more experiences.

Q: How does the organisation operate at grass roots level, because there are so many people involved? I’m interested in how they communicate. I’m not entirely clear how much the policy such as land reform is driven by the government and how much by the mass movement making the government do it.

A: Right now it is true that the government is leading the process, however we can see that from below there is a force. There is a mass of people that is pushing to have its demands heard, the demands of the community on the government. There are also land committees, grass roots organisations, that try to implement land reform not only in the countryside but also in the cities. There are also community labour groups that have managed to get works approved for new socially useful buildings and things of this kind, that are going to be controlled by the community.

Q: You mentioned workers’ control. I’m interested in this. We read it in the papers that the paper industry is coming under workers’ control. It is clear that this is far deeper than the nationalisation we have seen here in Britain. But it does not involve the whole economy. So how does it actually work? If you work in a factory that is run under workers’ control what would that mean for me in terms of how I influence what goes on?

A: Right now in Venezuela they already have experience of workers’ control in the sugar refineries. The company that the government nationalised was handed over to the workers and also to the cane sugar workers, the ones who carry the cane sugar. The company has been working well. The workers elect their own representatives to the board of administration of the company. But at the same time they also organise their own trade union. Now, this company, in spite of all the problems, is the most productive company in Venezuela. Then, there is the example of the workers in the old state owned oil company in 2002-2003. Those workers through meetings in the factories decided what to produce, how to produce it and when to produce it.

The oil workers had the support of the armed forces and the community was also there offering them support. They had the power to decide on production, distribution, supply and so forth. How could they go back to a so-called ‘normal situation’ where the workers are given orders?

The Venepal workers elaborated a project, in the form of a book with 200 to 300 pages. In this book the workers explain every little detail concerning production, from the machines, to the sheets, everything is in there, even the tea machine. And that was when the company was first closed, when the government pumped some money into the company the first time in 2001.

At that time they won a right, it was a kind of shared control of the company. There was a machine that was needed to produce power, to produce electricity. This machine broke down, so they called a technician from Germany where the machine had been originally produced. Well the workers decided to fix the machine without asking the management and now this machine is still there producing more power than before. It shows the enormous potential of the workers.