The Role of the Working Class in Venezuela’s Crisis: An Interview with Pedro Eusse

A key cadre of the Communist Party looks at how workers can help overcome the economic crisis in the face of threats by US imperialism.

By Pedro Eusse and Cira Pascual Marquina – Venezuelanalysis
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Pedro Eusse, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Venezuela, is also General Coordinator of the “Cruz Villegas” Class Conscious Current of Workers and of the National Front of Struggle of the Working Class. (Archive)
Pedro Eusse, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Venezuela, is also General Coordinator of the “Cruz Villegas” Class Conscious Current of Workers and of the National Front of Struggle of the Working Class. (Archive)

Pedro Eusse began his militancy in the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) in 1979 at the age of 17, when he was working in a chicken factory. Currently, he is a member of the political bureau of the party, where he coordinates worker and trade union issues. Eusse is also the General Coordinator of the “Cruz Villegas” Class-conscious Current of Workers and of the independent trade union confederation the National Front of Struggle of the Working Class (FNLCT).

In this interview with Venezuelanalysis, we asked him about the situation of the working class in Venezuela, how it might contribute to overcoming the current crisis, and the PCV’s expectations concerning the economic measures recently announced by President Maduro.

In Venezuela today – with the economic crisis and its many dimensions, including inflation and emigration – what is the importance of the workers' struggle? Beyond the standard discourse about producing more, what solutions can the working class offer? How can workers help us with a situation in which the socialist project seems to be falling out of view?

For the PCV, the working class’s most important task now is to defend the country against the heightening aggression of the international Right led by US imperialism, with its economic, political, communicational and diplomatic blockade, and the threat of a military attack against our people. If the plans of imperialism and its lackeys against our country were to be carried out, the consequences would be catastrophic for our people and for Latin Americans in general.

The interests of US monopolies would be imposed, with great loss of life. National sovereignty, territorial integrity, peace, the achievements of the Venezuelan people – although precarious at present – would all be at risk, even the very existence of Venezuela as a nation state is at stake. Workers' struggles that are focused on particular economic and social demands would basically make no sense, if the US and its puppet governments were to wage war against Venezuela and impose a neoliberal, pro‐imperialist government.

From our perspective, the most important contribution the working class can make is to accumulate forces – and do so with independence and class autonomy – with the aim of leading a broad patriotic and anti‐imperialist front. We cannot talk about “the socialist horizon falling out of view,” because up until now there has not yet been a “socialist horizon” in Venezuela. It’s one thing if the reformist petty bourgeoisie talks about socialism and another thing altogether if the conditions are there to build it.

For us, the first step towards socialism is achieving a favorable correlation of forces so that the working class and working people can come to power in Venezuela, and that does not yet exist. We must create such a correlation of forces, but first we have to defeat the pretensions of imperialism and its extreme‐right lackeys. Of course, we should recognize that it’s not because Venezuela has a socialist revolution that the US and its satellite governments attack us. No, a socialist revolution isn’t in process here. What we have is dependent rentier capitalism. The real reason they attack us is because the US needs to regain full control of the strategic resources of this country and consolidate its dominance in Latin America, in the context of a dispute over world hegemony that is taking place between US and European imperialism and the bloc of emerging powers, led by China and Russia.

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The banner reads “Working Class to Power! Against imperialism and for all the rights of the working people.” (Tribuna Popular)
The banner reads “Working Class to Power! Against imperialism and for all the rights of the working people.” (Tribuna Popular)

What do you think will be the short‐term and long‐term impact of the new economic measures (including the monetary reconversion, the anchoring of the Sovereign Bolivar to the Petro, and the new minimum wage) on purchasing power of the Venezuelans?

As far as the Venezuelan government’s recent economic measures are concerned, we are not deluding ourselves: they are fiscal, monetary and currency exchange measures that do not impact the structural causes of the crisis. In other words, they are reformist measures. Of course, some of these reforms, such as the minimum wage hike, are positive but very insufficient. The PCV and the National Front of Struggle of the Working Class (FNLCT)[1] have said the following: “Adopting the new minimum wage and transforming workers’ income into salary[2] – permanent demands of the PCV and the class conscious trade unions – are positive but insufficient steps in the face of the high cost of living due to inflation. Moreover, the prices set by agreement between the government and bourgeois groups (even monopolistic ones) without the participation of the workforce or the people, turn out to be very high for Venezuelans.

For this reason, we continue to propose a policy of raising the force of labor’s value and establishing, on the basis of the new minimum wage, a sliding scale of salaries that would reference the consumer price index of goods and services that constitute Venezuela’s basic goods basket[3], in compliance with the Constitution’s article 91. This, in turn, would oblige Venezuela’s Central Bank to fulfill its constitutional mandate to regularly publish the consumer price indexes. At the same time, we need to establish an institutional and social system for controlling costs, prices and profits, in which workers, organized communities, and the people in general would participate in a binding way.

A new form of social protest has emerged in recent months. Instead of the violent protests against the government (like the 2014 and 2017 guarimbas[4]) now there are often popular mobilizations that aim at pushing the government toward positions that would favor workers and campesinos over employers and landlords. Most notable are the electrical worker’s strike, the nurses’ strike, the pensioners’ protest, and the Admirable Campesino March. Interestingly, however, it seems to be the struggles of peasant and rural communities that are most successful in going beyond mere grievances to present a political vision and form spaces of resistance. How do you explain this? Why does the epicenter of the revolution now seem to be in the rural areas?

The first thing is that the violent actions of the Right in 2014 and 2017, which were identified as “guarimbas,” should not be confused or compared with the legitimate struggles and mobilizations of the workers, peasants and the popular movement. Additionally, it is very important that the working people mobilize in defense of their rights and that they also transcend immediate economic objectives. Of course, there are sectors of the peasantry and some rural communes that are carrying out interesting struggles against landlords (old and new members of that class) and against the bureaucrats who are in league with them.

The campesino struggle, which is on the rise, is defending the progressive achievements made by what is known as the Bolivarian Revolution, particularly those made during the administration of President Chavez. It has also raised some even bigger goals in terms of overcoming agribusiness and obtaining sovereignty in the face of the transnationals that control agricultural inputs. That is what was proposed by the “Nicomedes Abreu” Class Conscious Peasant Current (under PCV leadership), which, together with the Peasants Struggle Platform, organized the Admirable March.

But this kind of struggle that develops and takes shape on a path of national and social liberation needs to unite with the struggles of the working class, where there are forces that fight not only for immediate economic and social objectives. We are really enthusiastic about the campesino struggle’s advances, because in a country where agricultural production has fallen, exacerbating our dependence on imports (and now with a lack of foreign currency and also blockaded by imperialism), what genuine rural producers can achieve is of strategic importance.

The PCV signed a document with President Maduro as a preliminary to supporting his candidacy in the May 20 elections. Briefly, what is the nature of that document and, more importantly, what is the current status of the agreement?

The Unitary Framework Agreement signed between the national leaderships of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) and the PCV, at the suggestion of our party [PCV], expresses programmatic aspects of an alliance between the communists and those who are socialists. It took shape in the context of a need to confront the crisis of capitalism and (locally) the collapse of our dependent and rentier system. Unfortunately, the dominant tendencies in the government and in the leadership of the PSUV have opted for a reformism that is conciliatory with capital and are moving away from revolutionary and progressive positions.

Thus, we need to recognize that the government has not adhered to the Unitary Framework Agreement’s content. For example, it has not reinstated workers illegally dismissed from the public and private sector, which was a commitment publically taken on by President Maduro himself. Likewise, the government has allowed many state companies to deteriorate, and everything points to this being a strategy to privatize many of those companies. All this goes against what was set up in the document: recovering state enterprises with a new management model that would incorporate workers.

It is no secret that the government has attempted to coopt workers' struggles by creating organizations such as the Bolivarian Socialist Workers Confederation (CBST), which doesn't have autonomy or vocation for struggle. Simultaneously, we have seen some cases of the state’s apparatus repressing workers and peasants. However, despite these contradictions, the revolutionary working class and peasants continue to consider themselves Chavistas and, in electoral conjunctures, wholeheartedly support the government. In a process of change like Venezuela’s, how should one strike a balance between the necessary autonomy of the workers' movement on the one hand, and a commitment to a process of national emancipation on the other?

From our point of view (the PCV and the FNLCT), the workers' struggle has not been coopted by the government. Rather the government seeks to overcome or domesticate it through the CBST. This trade union confederation and, more specifically, its leadership, is an instrument of official and bureaucratic trade union reformism. The CBST exists so that there is a hegemonic trade unionism that is subordinated to the government and led by the reformist petty bourgeoisie.

If in the Puntofijista period the governments of Accion Democratica and Copei – at the service of US imperialism – had the CTV, now, whatever the differences, the current government has the CBST to legitimate and rubberstamp all its decisions. All this is very problematic, because it does not help to develop class consciousness among the workers and does not help create a working class capable of confronting the owners, the bourgeois state and the capitalist system – thereby pushing for the revolutionary transformation of society.

Thus, the “Cruz Villegas” Class Conscious Current of Workers and the FNLCT propose to strengthen the labor movement and class conscious trade union movement, and do so with independence and autonomy in the face of capital, state, and the bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties. However, we are conscious that, when facing the serious imperialist threat that looms now over all of Venezuela, unity of action is needed, as is the participation of all the diverse workers’ sectors in a broad patriotic anti‐imperialist alliance.

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A May Day Communist Youth march in Caracas, 2018. (Tribuna Popular)
A May Day Communist Youth march in Caracas, 2018. (Tribuna Popular)

NOTES

[1] The Cruz Villegas Class Conscious Current of Workers is the organization of trade unionists and workers leaders within the Communist Party of Venezuela. The National Front of Struggle of the Working Class is an independent trade union confederation that takes a position close to that of the Communist Party of Venezuela.

[2] Recent policies of the government have increasingly converted an important part of the salary into bonuses, thereby reducing the nominal salary and, consequently, the size of pensions. This has been an ongoing tendency in Venezuela – opposed by the Communist Party – which the recent economic measures have addressed.

[3] Venezuela’s Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 indicates that a minimum salary should be equal or higher than the basic market basket, which represents the sum of the prices of the basic goods needed by a family of four.

[4] Guarimbas are a form of violent street protest employed by the Venezuelan opposition. They frequently involve burning tires and the use of barricades to block roads.