Communal power versus capitalism in Venezuela
by Stuart Munckton
May 27, 2007, Green Left Weekly
Led by the country’s socialist president, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan revolution is sending shockwaves through the corporate elite both within Venezuela and internationally. The Venezuelan people are waging a struggle to gain sovereignty over the country’s natural resources in order to rebuild the nation along pro-people lines.
From April 30 to May 9, a range of Australian trade unionists, including an official delegation from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), participated in the 2007 May Day solidarity brigade to Venezuela. This was the fifth official solidarity brigade, and the second May Day brigade, organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN). It was the first brigade from Australia to visit Venezuela since Chavez’s announcement of a new phase in the Bolivarian revolution following his re-election on an explicitly socialist platform in December last year with the largest vote in Venezuelan history.
Chavez followed his re-election with the insistence that “now we build socialism”. He has announced a series of moves, including plans to renationalise previously privatised companies, an “explosion of communal power”, and the construction of a new, mass, revolutionary socialist party that would unite all militants across the country to help lead the construction of “socialism of the 21st century”.
While the brigade was going on, the Chavez government carried out the nationalisation of oil ventures worth US$17 billion owned by multinational corporations in the Orinoco Belt. Also, the mass registration drive for the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began on April 29, and they have already signed up hundreds of thousands of people — nearly 30% above the national target.
Green Left Weekly spoke to the brigade’s coordinator, Federico Fuentes, who also served as a GLW correspondent in Caracas in the second half of 2005, about the brigade and the recent developments in Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution.
Fuentes told GLW: “The brigade had either official representation or members participating in a personal capacity from the Electrical Trades Union from three different states, the Community and Public Sector Union, the National Union of Workers, the Australian Services Union, [and] the Rail, Bus and Tram Union, as well as perhaps one or two others. The brigade was an extremely important way to cut through the lies in the corporate media and give Australian unionists a sense of what is really happening in Venezuela.”
The brigade was especially important because “this was the first time the ACTU [has] sent an official delegation to Venezuela, on a fact finding mission to gather information on the UNT [the National Union of Workers, the pro-revolution trade union federation established in 2003 after the right-wing Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) backed attempts by the elite to overthrow the Chavez government], and the battle occurring inside the International Labor Organisation between the UNT and CTV about which federation has the right to represent Venezuela in the organisation, and about whether the Chavez government is pro- or anti-union”.
As well as extensive discussions with a range of unionists, Fuentes said the brigade was able to visit a range of community organisations, as well the popular health-care clinics that provide free care to the poor. The clinics are part of the Barrio Adentro health care program, one of the many government-funded social missions that allow the poor majority to enjoy the benefits of the nation’s oil wealth.
Fuentes explained that the brigade got to witness the elections for one of the communal councils in Barrio 23 de Enero, a large, impoverished neighbourhood in Caracas that is a revolutionary stronghold. The communal councils are currently Venezuela’s most important experiments in popular power. More than 18,000 councils have been established, based on communities of no more than 400 families.
Fuentes explained the depth of the social gains achieved by the revolution, telling GLW that an article published during the brigade revealed that the purchasing power of the poorest wage income category has increased dramatically over the last year (in Venezuela the categories are rated from A, the richest, to E, the poorest). “This is a phenomenal figure, and is on top of figures already showing a significant drop in poverty before this period. This doesn’t even include the gains associated with the mass provision of free health care and education. They are continuing to reach out to more and more communities; there are still some of the social missions that have yet to achieve national coverage. The minimum wage was increased once again on May Day, by 20% — higher than the rate of inflation.”
Fuentes said that returning to Venezuela he had been struck by “a feeling among the people that, post Chavez’s election victory, now was the time for serious inroads into the capitalist system, that now was the time the revolution would significantly deepen. And this has been expressed especially through the real surge of community organising.
“It is a powerful dynamic developing centred on the creation of the communal councils, with the community and workers increasingly organising to take power into their own hands. This is being constructed side-by-side with the process of the formation of the PSUV, built from the grassroots up. This has created a lot of discussions in Venezuelan society — what type of socialism, what type of party, what type of program for the party? These discussions are only just beginning, but this will undoubtedly come more and more to the fore through the year. There was a real sense that this is going to be a decisive year, perhaps one that breaks a bit of the deadlock that has existed.”
Fuentes explained that the discussion on socialism “was much deeper than in 2005”, when socialism was identified mostly with providing for people’s basic needs, such as free education and health care. He said the discussion was “still very open”. “There is a willingness to discuss and debate all different kinds of ideas”, especially what had failed in previous attempts to build socialism.
Fuentes said there are a variety of perspectives on what form socialism should take, however “there is a very strong view that having property formally state-owned doesn’t resolve the key question, which is how do you ensure that people feel the property really belongs to them? How do you not simply reproduce the old relations of production?”
Read the rest here.