Ricardo Adrian is a writer who works in educational and organizational projects in the industrial state of Carabobo. He is a founder of the Corriente del Poder Popular [Popular Power Current] and part of the Plataforma Trabajadores Unios [Workers Unite Platform], a national network of organizations that strives to build working class unity.
In this interview, we ask Adrian to reflect on Chavez’s legacy and what he understands to be a “liberal restoration” in Venezuela.
There are two opposed interpretations of the Bolivarian Process. In the first interpretation, Hugo Chavez is taken to be the motor, vanguard, and leader, while the pueblo is seen as just passively following him. The second interpretation locates the epicenter in the pueblo, understanding Chavez as someone who was able to channel a popular force. What is your reading?
The root of the problem in deciphering the opposition between these positions is that history cannot be explained through the will and action of individuals: class struggle, production relations, and power relations all come into the picture. However, as Plekhanov wrote, the role of the individual “can influence the destinies of society, but the influence is determined by the organization of society and the correlation of forces within.”
Hugo Chavez was an extraordinary leader who interpreted the contradictions of an era, joining forces with the working pueblo.
In his “Alternative Bolivarian Agenda” , Chavez proclaimed a struggle against misery and exclusion, against corruption and privatizations, and against foreign debt and denationalization. These objectives brought together the aspirations of the exploited, oppressed, and marginalized people of Venezuela. Chavez mobilized the pueblo behind this agenda.
However, the pueblo isn’t passive. Years later, during the April coup , the oil strike , the guarimbas, and the 2004 referendum, the popular response demonstrated the will to struggle against the oligarchic elites. However, in each of these moments, the masses also relied on Chavez. Conversely, the policies and reforms adopted by him relied on the working people.
Chavez also concerned himself with the future of the reforms: he thought about how to sustain them in the broad capitalist context. With this concern in mind, he publically mobilized the people towards what he called “a point of no return.” After all, this was a revolution of the working pueblo against the bourgeois state, as manifested in the 2013-2019 Homeland Plan and the “Strike at the Helm”  speech.
Unfortunately life, finite as it is, cut short the life of this great man. However, the contradictions that he was able to bring to a head remain active as a live volcano. This revolution is still to be done, and the current crisis puts class struggle in the foreground.
Let’s talk about the triggers that lead to what you have called the “liberal restoration,” and the evidence there is for it.
When we speak about a “liberal restoration,” we refer to Chavez’s warning to the revolutionaries on December 8 , when he said, “There will be those that, in the light of the difficult situations to come, will seek to restore neoliberal capitalism.” It is obvious that what he warned us about came to pass: a liberal current took control of the government and made itself “indispensable” in the face of the great economic challenges.
In the absence of other initiatives, this liberal current took charge of the process, and it is promoting its economic program. By the way, the program is very close to the opposition’s 2015 program [called “La última cola” or “The last queue”]. In other words, in 2015 we were against that program, and now we are carrying it out.
There were two conditions that favored the restoration. First was the imperialist financial oligarchies’ reorganization when their profits began to fall which, in turn, pushed commodities prices to plummet, particularly oil. Since oil revenues make for up to 97% of Venezuela’s exports, our nation was hit in a particularly harsh manner. After that came the sanctions and the financial and trade embargo. No dependent economy could ride this wave without hitting a crisis!
The second matter is the defeat of government controls of the economy by the internal bourgeoisie [price controls, currency controls, etc]. When that happened, the government adopted an economic recovery plan with incentives to the capitalists and harsh adjustments for the working class. These policies come out of a particular interpretation of the situation: the executive power has been persuaded that there is a “revolutionary bourgeoisie” that can increase production, reduce inflation, and progressively increase the consumption capacity of working people. Instead, the opposite has happened: these policies have widened the inequality of our society.
To assess the limits of these counter-reforms, we should inquire into the class basis for the liberal restoration.
The liberal restoration in Venezuela does not come with an independent bourgeoisie that invests in the country’s industrialization or opens the way to agricultural mechanization. No, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie depends on big transnational monopolies: it imports, it is involved in the plantation-type exploitation of the land, and in finance capital… But for any of this to work, they rely on corruption and privileged access to the oil rent, while promoting capital flight.
The end result is the following: liberal policies in peripheral economies lead to an increase in neocolonial domination that will stunt the economy and make it dependent on the world market and its monopolies.
In the Bolivarian Process, private ownership of the means of production coexisted with state enterprises. However, in recent years, we have seen the rapid growth of joint ventures, strategic alliances, and privatizations of public property. Could you talk about this process?
The coexistence between state and private property, its degeneration and bankruptcy, and the shift towards the privatization of state company shares, assets, and infrastructure are elements of the same phenomenon.
If a process of expropriation [of private means of production] does not advance under working-class leadership, then the state properties will be co-opted by private investors whose only objective is to transfer surplus value from public to private companies. Chavez explained this in his “Strike at the Helm” speech: “If a public or communal enterprise is surrounded, like an island, by a sea of capitalism, then it will be swallowed up by the metabolism of capitalism.”
Let’s take Invepal as a case study. Invepal was the first state company taken over by workers. It cut paper and produced notebooks. But as it turns out, Invepal was dependent on the capitalist market to get the pulp and other raw materials. Attending to this situation, state resources were invested to build a pulp making factory that would be called Pulpaca. However, Pulpaca never opened its doors and eventually Invepal came to a halt.
Around the same time, workers recovered Inveval, a plant that made valves and seamless pipes for the oil industry. Inveval was also capable of both repairing used pipes and maintaining and repairing oil valves. Interestingly, PDVSA did not work with Inveval – by then under worker control – and continued to import pipes and other inputs.
These two cases are exemplary. They show how import-based petro-capitalism goes against national production in several ways. First, it instrumentalizes the recovered companies for private benefit. Second, it brings them to the brink of bankruptcy by means of asphyxiation. Third and finally, it moves towards privatizing them. However, it should be understood that this didn’t happen spontaneously: in both cases, the corrupt bureaucracy conspired with privatizing currents.
Another interesting case is Cacique Maracay, the company formed through the expropriation of Kimberly Clark. Cacique Maracay had to share facilities with a private company called Lucianos. Of course, in the so-called “mixed companies” with shared services, the dominant logic is the market logic: the only aim of production is to guarantee profits to the capitalists, while the state absorbs the losses and turns against the workers.
Gas distribution companies have shifted their operations to “shared” administration as well. In the process, the private sector will, for instance, provide the truck fleet. From there, capitalists are able to control the whole gas distribution service. In other words, the gas produced and subsidized by the state generates a direct transfer of value to the private company, which ends up imposing its conditions: dollarization of profits and constant price increases.
What are your reflections about working-class conditions in Venezuela today?
At present, the Venezuelan working class is facing the pandemic managed by the state and the capitalists.
The situation is rather complex. Let’s summarize it as follows: the effects of the imperialist adjustments in the face of the world crisis brought the fall of oil prices, sanctions against Venezuela, and the liberal restoration with its economic adjustments. All this makes for a rather difficult situation for the working class.
Worker’s salaries range from 2 to 15 dollars a month, massive layoffs under the cover of [temporary work and salary] “suspensions” are common due to a biased interpretation of article 148 of the Organic Labor Law, and collective labor agreements have been suspended by decree. In the meantime, there is a collapse in production, lines are being closed, and employers threaten with a lockout.
All this has led millions of Venezuelan workers to migrate to other labor markets. Skilled workers have left the country only to find themselves criminalized in many neighboring countries.
However, this situation is also preparing the working class to lead a new process of struggle against imperialism and against liberal restoration. Struggle will be the sign of these times. These will be times that place the working class in the vanguard of social indignation with a revolutionary program to overcome the crisis.
Caught between imperialist siege and the new political project promoted by sectors of the government, what do you see as the role of the working class, of campesinos and communards? How should we reactivate the struggles without playing into the hands of the external enemy?
The first step would be one of reflection. The working class must understand its situation and establish a defense mechanism based on association, making visible that which is unjust and struggling against the order that oppresses them.
This process will no doubt lead to confrontations and threats from the state. Overcoming the reformist ideology that deceives the people is one of the great challenges for Venezuelan workers.
A united working class that has consciousness, a strategy for power, and political independence is a powerful thing. It cannot be deceived by reformism nor manipulated by imperialism.
In the face of the disintegration of Venezuela’s economy, a new working class will have to emerge through an intense political struggle. Revolutionary Chavistas together with the socialist and communist sectors will be obliged to accompany and educate people while becoming a vanguard at the risk of being criminalized.
Recent events show us, in a pedagogical way, that we must develop a national liberation program based on Chavez’s 2013-2019 Homeland Plan. Developing basic industries and processing capacity subordinated to a policy of agricultural development is key. A great challenge will be to break with plantation logic and the pressure imposed by the importing bourgeoisie with the corrupt bureaucracy. We must also bring together study and work, developing technical and scientific knowledge.