The following is an interview with activist and founder of the progressive Venezuelan news website Aporrea.org, Gonzalo Gomez, conducted by the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt. Gomez speaks on Venezuela's current political moment in his capacity as a member of Socialist Tide, a critical left current which organises within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Translation by Venezuelanalysis.com.
María Elena Saludas (CADTM-AYNA): What is your vision of the moment Venezuela is currently going through, both its government and its people?
Gonzalo Gomez: From a political point of view, I speak as a member of Socialist Tide (Marea Socialista), because Aporrea is a popular media outlet, driven by a diverse team within the variety of thought of the Bolivarian revolution. After the passing away of Comandante Chavez, the bourgeoisie and their political expressions have felt that they have arrived at a moment for a counter-revolutionary leap; with the support of the imperialist sectors, of course. In this, they are cooperating with the most reactionary and mafia-esque sectors of the Latin American bourgeoisie, as shown by the close working relationship between the Venezuelan right-wing, [former Colombian President Alvaro] Uribe and Colombian paramilitarism.
They all seek to end the political hegemony that arose with the Bolivarian Revolution, to return the rebel Venezuela to the straight and narrow, and regain control of the oil revenue - the country’s main source of foreign exchange and resources. As a class, the bourgeoisie has this purpose, although different sectors do not necessarily agree on tactics and timing.
Without a doubt, objectively their methods combine, and the contradictions produce a synthesis: the "stick" and "carrot" both fulfil their respective roles. Because both in Venezuela and in Latin America there is another face [of the reactionary forces], that is more conciliatory, devious; which has its advocates who seeks to destroy the Bolivarian Revolution through conciliation in obtaining concessions, the wearing down of the government, or the establishment of a coalition between the bourgeois sectors and members of the bureaucratic caste that has formed throughout the Bolivarian process.
The whip of the “guarimba” (street barricades) - a violent insurgency and paramilitary terrorism - serves the bourgeoisie by [allowing it] to reap the fruits of negotiation with the “carrot” of peace, at the negotiating table with the government of Nicolas Maduro. The “guarimba” and the acts of violence continue, even when they aren’t gaining ground in the poorer layers of the population, and they are fundamentally an expression of the desperation of the small bourgeoisie and mercenary involvement. The only thing that has come out of the Peace Conference and the mesas [talks between the government and business groups], are concessions to business: price increases, facilities for the obtaining of larger amounts of dollars and the enjoyment larger portions of oil revenues. From these spaces they insist on the dismantling of the victories of the working class, of the campesinos [rural workers] and the popular sectors, such as job security and other achievements of the new Labour Law that employers and labour authorities are already ignoring in practice.
At the same time, the political leadership of the bourgeoisie is trying to make the Maduro government pay the political costs of the measures that are to be adopted at the demand of business, to ensure an increasing political attrition against the people. Clearly, the right-wing also has to pay a political price for their clumsy offensive, which has been seen with the majority of the public and their own voters rejecting their repugnant actions, such as assassinations and violent actions against public services, education centres, health centres, public transport and public property.
CADTM: As mentioned at the beginning, there were multiple international campaigns to demonise President Hugo Chavez during the course of his mandate, the coup of 11/04/2002 (when he was very close to being assassinated), the “petroleum strike” and so many attacks that, without doubt, were used by Chavez to radicalise his political project. Do you think something similar is happening right now? And if not, what are the differences presented by the situation?
G.G: Yes indeed. Previous coup attempts during Chavez’s life were defeated by the Venezuelan people, and produced progress in the political project, both from the democratic point of view and with material, economic, social and sovereign victories. This helped Chavez to go on and radicalise the process despite Chavez also opening opportunities for dialogue with the bourgeoisie, but with the people mobilised and setting the agenda of discussion. I see that now the situation is different, because the violent pressure of the right-wing hasn’t ceased, and the talks have given in to the demands of business, with the 12 points of industry of Lorenzo Mendoza. Chavez was the one who used to set the rules of the game, but now I feel this is not so, because there is no discussion of how entrepreneurs engage the government program - the Homeland Plan - and the right-wing abandoning violence, but there is an implied condition that the government gives them benefits that they are claiming, without the direct consultation of the people.
The bourgeoisie used to leech upon the oil revenue, but with Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution we were able to change PDVSA [state oil company] from being a “meritocracy” and establish control over the currency exchange system to get hold of the dollars to invest in government social programs (the missions), large infrastructure projects and endogenous industrial development. However in recent years - and especially since Chavez became ill - the bourgeoisie has found ways to split and resume the looting of income, not without the help of the civil bureaucracy, the corrupt state apparatus and government sectors.
Without these levers that control the oil revenue and dollars, the fundamental supports of the socialist transition and the building of a non-capitalist economy based on social property will fall down.
What predominate the peace talks now are agreements with the capitalist sectors. At this stage we suffer from a [lack of] a real voice and the participation of the revolutionary element in the decision making process: the working class and the Bolivarian people. Chavez left us his legacy and a program that we voted for, and in one of his last messages he proposed a “Golpe de Timon” [Turn of the Wheel] in order to decisively advance towards a socialist transition. But another discourse is now being proposed, which is about the “co-existence of models”. Discussion is no longer about socialism of the 21st century, but of two systems, where in reality there only exists one: the capitalist system, though still with social regulations, political achievements and elements of sovereignty, seized by the revolution.
The government has not relented on important issues, like the amnesty requests for the counter-revolutionaries who have incurred in serious human rights violations and fascist-style actions. However the violent pressure and political pressure, the so-called “economic war”, are a way to put the government against a wall - a trap that can only be escaped by calling upon the Bolivarian people for a broader and more forceful mobilisation and encouragement with measures favourable to their interests and expectations.
CADTM: We know about the important social gains that have been produced in 15 years of the process of the Bolivarian revolution. We also have information about the sharpening economic problems in recent months (inflation, shortages of basic products, currency exchange issues and capital flight). What is your view of this? What’s being done and what should be done? What proposals are being discussed within the left and grassroots movements?
G.G: On one hand there is a “sustained economic war” that shows its effects in hoarding, scandalous speculation, extraction contraband [of goods to Colombia], currency fraud and capital flight, among other manifestations. However corruption and the bureaucratic braking of revolutionary transformation have prevented the advance of the primary [state-run] industries and new projects of rupture with capitalist logic; communal and social property, worker control, and the agrarian revolution. It’s also necessary to recognise the problems for organisation, political education and the participation of social movements and the working class. We have a bureaucracy that appears more interested in benefitting from the transactions of the state captured from the bourgeoisie, and in reaching arrangements with them, than really driving the state to a revolutionary transformation.
Socialist Tide has been proposing that we need to go toward Chavez’s “Turn of the Wheel” [in reference to a critical speech former president Hugo Chavez made following his re-election in October 2012] and not toward the “coexistence of models”. We insist that we base ourselves on what we call the fundamental constituting elements of the Bolivarian revolutionary process, and that we need to rejuvenate the grassroots foundational process that this revolution opened. This is because in reality it seems to us that we’ve not moved past so called “representative democracy”, and that democratic and protagonistic participation, as with popular power, is becoming a myth, because decision-making is concentrated in the hands of a bureaucracy that’s inclined to give greater participation to the bourgeoisie than the working class and the people in the exercise of governance.
In various documents published throughout 2013 and the beginning of 2014 we’ve presented our proposals as a political faction of workers, youths and grassroots activists that in our majority are members of the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela], although we lack [access to] true spaces for debate and decision-making in the party’s heart. We propose various main points such as the following: (1) the recovery of salaries, (2) the full implementation of job security and the entire Labour Law passed by Chavez, (3) to stop the authorisation of price increase of basic goods, (4) to reactivate the social missions, (5) in the framework of the defence of the process , to end persecution and criminalisation of workers that fight for labour rights and conditions, with whom the government is sometimes more severe than with the right-wing, (6) to maintain the control and progressive distribution of the dollars that come from oil sales, because we denounce that the creation of the SICAD II [a new, more flexible currency exchange system] and the modification of the Law of Illegal Currency Exchange open the door to private sector appropriation of our oil wealth.
In the economy we have been saying that not one dollar more should be given to the bourgeoisie and that the state should monopolise all foreign trade below social and anti-corruption control, so that it is the only importer of our people’s essential goods. This social and anti-corruption control is fundamental, because we have the phenomenon of bureaucratisation, and due to this we need the intervention of grassroots power and worker organisations. We propose national centralisation with social control [i.e. administrative accountability] of all the country’s dollars, both those that enter through oil sales and those that are deposited in foreign accounts.
We say that there should be an intervention into the private banking system, with state and social control and the participation of banking workers, as with the centralised control in the same terms of all funds which publically-owned banks manage.
For us the recuperation of state production of food and items of basic consumption, and the reactivation and re-strengthening of the recovered [nationalised or worker run] companies, allowing the genuine exercise of worker control, is urgent. And facing the operation of hoarding, speculation and extraction contraband in which great private companies are involved, we believe that it’s necessary to effect their expropriation below grassroots and worker control. It’s not capitalists who should be called upon to “save” national production, as the government seems to be implicitly doing.
On 14 February 2014, at the beginning of the explosion of the “guarimbas” [militant opposition street blockades], we said in a statement that Socialist Tide decidedly declares its commitment in defence of the Bolivarian process against any coup attempt, even though this may be masked with mobilisations of sympathisers of the right wing in the streets. In this statement, our faction alerted that “to continue on the path of adaptation to the demands of the capitalists we will enter a situation of retreat and irrecoverable lack of control”.
There we affirmed that for Socialist Tide it is an error and a danger to oscillate toward the application of measures demanded by the right-wing instead of sustaining and deepening measures like those applied on 6 November 2013 [forced price reductions and sale of speculatively-priced goods], that were necessary to defend against the “economic war” and pro-coup plans promoted by the bourgeoisie, in the framework of the 8 December municipal elections. These measures gave positive political and economic results, strengthening the government’s and Bolivarian people’s position in that moment.
Due to this we call upon the government of President Maduro to “rectify and implement anti-capitalist measures to guarantee supply, halt the uncontrolled increase in prices, and set in motion a new phase of the Bolivarian process,” together with other measures [designed] for the political and economic emergency.
We aren’t opposed to there being peace talks or dialogue [with the opposition], but these should be conducted with the agenda of the revolution and with the participation and effective consultation of the people, because the Venezuelan people voted in their majority for a government and a program that the opposition cannot continue trying to ignore or sabotage. That’s where the issue of impunity enters that the opposition tries to use in reverse against the government and the people, when they [the opposition] are those responsible for very serious destruction and horrible crimes. That’s why we say that the political leaders and instigators of the guarimbas, of fascist violence, such as Leopoldo Lopez, Maria Corina Machado and the mayor Antonio Ledezma, should be tried and punished with prison. Beyond them, their accomplices and financiers should pay reparations to the country for the damage caused, via the confiscation of their assets and bank accounts, and they should pay compensation to the victims.
The social organisations and political currents of the revolution are debating what to do, and what the course of the government and our revolutionary process should be.
CADTM: The Venezuelan opposition is using violence and disinformation to supplant the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro with a transition government. What are the opposition’s social, economic and political proposals? Do they have a list of demands or a program? What interests do they have and who is behind this project?
G.G: The opposition, when it presented itself for presidential elections with the defeated candidate Capriles Radonski, had a program called the Program of the MUD [the opposition coalition]. This was neoliberal, but they tried to muddy the waters and give sectors of the Bolivarian people the impression that they would conserve some of the more important gains, such as the benefits of the missions [social programs]. However as soon as they rose up and refused to recognise the [April 2013 presidential] election result, the first thing they attacked was the missions, lighting Barrio Adentro modules [health clinics] and Comprehensive Diagnostic Centres on fire, just like how the guarimbas now are capable of burning centres for education or the distribution of subsidised goods to the people.
After the coup of April 2002, the opposition declared the suspension of all constituted public powers, flagrantly violating the constitution, as they have done again with every new destabilisation attempt and with fascist style violence. That, and what they do in everyday economic practice, as with their pro-imperialist conduct, is what indicates to us what their program is and not just what they may write on a piece of paper or what their spokespeople say. Before the explosion of the guarimba offensive a group of prominent bourgeois economists presented their vision of the political economy that should replace the government’s one, and then in the Peace Conference the 12 Mendoza Points were presented [in reference to Lorenzo Mendoza, the executive president of Venezuela’s food giant, the Polar Group], which included counter-labour reforms, elements of labour flexibility and the liberalisation of the economy in favour of capital and to the detriment of labour.
The whole bourgeois opposition would like to get rid of Maduro, with harder or softer methods, as does imperialism. However some understand that chavismo is a state of consciousness of the people and can’t be erased all in one go. They perceive that it’s a historical current with deep roots, linked to our national identity, a sense of independence and the Bolivarian ideology. It is also linked to a set of social and political gains which are very appreciated by the people. It includes the Legacy of Chavez, and his sentimental-symbolic power, that already demonstrated its mobilising strength on 13 April 2002, in the struggle against the oil industry sabotage and strike, and in the presidential election of October 2012 and Chavez’s funeral in 2013. Still today a good part of this force is channelled through Nicolas Maduro and other leaders of chavismo, despite the criticisms and weaknesses of the government. Therefore, there are sectors of the opposition, of the bourgeoisie, that understand that it’s by penetrating and assimilating chavismo itself, or better said, its bureaucratic establishment already turned into bourgeoisie, that they can guarantee counter-reforms and the following liquidation of the Bolivarian revolution. This is the great strategy that’s in motion.
CADTM: The role of Venezuela, with the government of Comandante Hugo Chavez Frias and its continuation with President Nicolas Maduro, has been and is very important in the process of the integration of Our America: the emergence of the ALBA, of Petrocaribe [regional alliances led by Venezuela], of the Bank of the South, of the Sucre [currency]…etc. We believe that it would be a serious setback for the integration of the peoples if the correlation of forces in Venezuela was modified, or if this state coup attempt is intensified. How do you perceive the situation? Furthermore, do you think that the UNASUR [Union of South American Nations] is really contributing to the process of finding a solution to the conflict which has been unleashed? What does the so-called peace conference promoted by the government consist of, and what is your perception of this?
G.G: Of course it would be a terrible setback for the integration of the peoples and for the full independence of Latin America and the Caribbean. But this isn’t only decided within Venezuela. There is a whole global process being played out on the Latin American level, which includes the “institutional” coups in some countries, the changes that are being made in Cuba, the negotiations with the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], the new approach between [Ecuadorian president Rafael] Correa and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and where there are politicians that in the background work in favour of the conciliation of classes, as happens with [former Brazilian president] Lula da Silva.
The UNASUR serves the purpose of containing the impetus of imperialism and the violence of the Venezuelan right, but we shouldn’t forget that the UNASUR brings together the Latin American bourgeois states and their governments, among which there are still governments with anti-imperialist and progressive characteristics, but it’s not an autonomous space of the peoples themselves, nor of the working and rural classes of South America. Therefore, although it can work to diffuse the Venezuela right, it can also work to moderate the Bolivarian revolution and make it innocuous for the dominant bourgeois groups. It’s necessary to try and use the positive aspects implicated in the existence of the UNASUR in favour of the peoples and not the prevailing oligarchies in our countries.
CADTM: Thank you for the interview. We’d like you to finish with some final thoughts.
G.G: We say in the statement I mentioned that we still have time to change the course of the conciliation with the bourgeoisie, of stopping the fascist offensive and of spearheading firm anti-capitalist measures with the democratic participation of the people that live from their labour. For this it is necessary that the Bolivarian government, that’s being pressured by the bourgeoisie and imperialism from the right, feels the counterweight of the pressure of the worker and grassroots struggle to maintain the course toward the left. These sectors, for now, are waiting with expectation, observing what the government of Nicolas Maduro does and with its mobilising capacity intact, although contained.
However, maybe sooner rather than later, they could begin to come out in defence of their threatened gains, and then we’ll see where things incline towards in Venezuela. This is what we’re wagering on so that instead of being trapped in webs of conciliation, bureaucracy, counter-reform and utopian “coexistence” with capitalism, we can recover the Bolivarian revolution, so that it continues its course in the transition to socialism with the full exercise of democracy.
Translated and edited by Ewan Robertson and Ryan Mallet Outtrim for Venezuelanalysis.com