We are publishing here the translation of an article from Internacialismo, our paper in Venezuela
Subjecting the workers of Guayana to a precarious existence, as has already been done to the oil workers, has become a priority for the national bourgeoisie, and especially for the Chavist faction in power. This is because the reduction of costs, especially in the primary industries of the region - iron, steel, aluminium, etc - is an imperative necessity to face up to international competition, which is being sharpened by the deepening economic crisis.
To this end, the workers of the province of Guayana have been the subject of a campaign in which they are being accused of being a ‘labour aristocracy’, earning wages and bonuses which the industry can’t afford to pay and which are threatening to bankrupt it. The oil workers were told exactly the same thing.
However, with the workers of Guayana, the bourgeoisie has a much bigger problem, because of the great concentration of the workers and their traditions of struggle, often against the state. The huge concentration of industrial, service and commercial activities in this area make any workers’ response against attacks on its living conditions all the more powerful.
What strategy is the state using?
The Venezuelan state has come up with a strategy known as the ‘Socialist Guayana Plan’, which is based on the Trotskyist slogan of ‘workers’ control of production’. The state is aiming to convince the workers that they themselves control production, and that therefore the strengthening of industry depends on their efforts and their sacrifices. So they should no longer be coming out on strike because according to official propaganda industry is already in their hands. The defence of this Plan is a step towards ‘21st Century Socialism’, the big fraud dreamed up by Chavez and co.
It’s worth recalling that this Plan was preceded by the failure of another plan aimed at bringing in co-management at ALCASA, the state enterprise for producing aluminium. The objective of this plan, directed by the sociologist Carlos Lanz Rodriguez, is to make the workers believe:
- “That the state run by Chavez is carrying out policies leading to socialism”. In reality, the workers of Guayana have already sensed that such a ‘socialism’ is not very different from control by the capitalist state under previous governments;
- “That co-management means a change in the relations of production”. The only ‘change’ here is that workers are persuaded to exploit themselves to consolidate the management of the capitalist state-boss;
- that “justice will be done” with regard to the industrial relations. In fact we know that the only thing this regime can carry through is making labour power more precarious than ever;
- finally, that “ we can humanise the working day and reduce hours, that we can overcome the division of labour and despotism in the factory”. The reality of this humanisation is a cocktail of jailings, trials, tear gas, live ammunition, injuries and deaths, all carried out by armed bands sent in to terrorise the workers .
This plan has been a failure because in general the workers, given that all this is contrary to their real interests, have not swallowed the fine words which Carlos Lanz has fed them in order to get the workers to renounce their own demands and submit to the needs of the capitalist state. The resistance of the aluminium workers has shattered the shop window carefully installed by the Venezuelan state to prove the magnificence of its ‘21st Century Socialism’ to the workers of other countries.
Is the ‘Socialist Guayana Plan’ the product of the workers?
The new ‘Socialist Guayana Plan’, which basically consists of an attempt to:
- convince the workers, once again, that the enterprises are under their control and that exploitation has disappeared;
- make the whole working class of Guayana pay for the very serious financial situation and the deterioration of the infrastructure in basic industries, which means demanding sacrifices to restore their competitive edge. In other words, accepting a degradation of living conditions
- as a result, get the workers to give up fighting for their own demands
This plan was presented as the result of the particapation of some “600 workers representing the working class in Guayana” at “round tables” led by the existing “worker-directors” of the primary industries, Elio Sayago and Rada Gameluch, among others. This group of workers, chosen from those who had taken part in an indoctrination course on ‘21st Century Socialism’ and ‘endogenous development’, were thus convinced of the fact that they had to combat those who opposed the plan because they were part of the ‘labour aristocracy’.
After that, an attempt was made to mystify the workers by polarising them between those who support the unions, of whatever tendency (even the party of the official Chavist party, the United Socialist party of Venezuela) and those who supported so-called ‘workers control’.
What obstacles are there in the way of the proletariat rediscovering its class identity?
The state will use any means to create divisions among the workers. In the first place by creating a polarisation between the leaders defended by the unions and the representatives of so-called ‘workers’ control’. And also, between the workers who are part of the supposed ‘labour aristocracy’, who are supposedly only defending their ‘egoistic interests’ and who are only looking to preserve or improve their wages, and on the other side, those who encourage the workers to join up with the defenders of the fatherland, those who defend nationalisation as a decisive step towards ‘21st Century Socialism’, who are not egoistic and who are ready to make sacrifices for the ‘land of Bolivar’.
Recently, the state has deployed an armada of armed gangs, mafia and other thugs to sow terror among the workers. This is a consequence of the fact that the judicial pressures exerted against workers put on trial has not been enough to make the workers cease their actions in defence of their interests: rather the opposite. The ineffectiveness of ‘criminalising protest’ was shown when the state was forced to free some of those arrested in order to dampen the workers’ anger, an anger that led the pro-government unions, especially those of the current around Maspero, an ‘official’ union leader, to support the struggle for the liberation of the union leader Ruben Gonzalez who had been in prison for several months. The state wanted to show its ‘workerist’ face and hide its tendency towards totalitarian dictatorship.
This action did have the result of restoring the image of certain unions, who were thus better able to exert their control over the workers, above all by imprisoning them in the confines of corporatism, in a struggle for the defence of this or that collective agreement or the fight against corruption, whose unpleasant stench is making the atmosphere at work unbearable.
There is also the will to trap the workers in an internal battle between union mafia and those who advocate ‘workers’ control’, who are also part of the various power blocs around the governor of the Bolivar province, the mayors, the military and sectors of private capital, who have been doing their own wheeling and dealing, taking their own kick-backs, which has contributed to the growing sickness of the industry of the region.
What can we do to contribute to the development of class consciousness?
For the representatives of the state, whether they call themselves, ministers, mayors, directors or trade unionists, the slogan is: “if you can’t convince them, mystify them”. However, the main result of the intervention of different state organs, whether acting for their own personal interests or the interests of a mafia clique, whether through direct repression or hired killers, has been a bloody chaos which has become, in this phase of capitalist decomposition, a typical expression of the relationship between bosses and workers.
For revolutionary minorities, the question is how to help develop the class consciousness of the workers. In the first place, against the blackmail which claims that when workers fight against wage-cuts or the loss of bonuses they are acting as part of an aristocracy with no class consciousness. We have to insist that, on the contrary, the struggle for immediate demands is part of the process through which class consciousness develops. This is the way the class unifies itself, discovers who its class enemy is, whether it’s a private boss or a state boss, realises its role in society as the only class capable of putting an end to the chaos of capitalism. At the same time, it’s not in fact a question of fighting for a ‘fair wage’ – in reality it’s the state which determines what’s fair. In the final analysis it’s a question of fighting against wage labour, which is the very essence of capitalist exploitation.
If the proletarian powder-keg in Guayana hasn’t exploded yet this is in large part due to the polarisation of proposals put forward by the different union and state ‘representatives’, each one defending its own fief, doing all they can to ensure that the discussions in the assemblies cancel out any action the proletariat might take to fight against the chaos in the region. It is above all necessary to take back the discussions in the assemblies and put forward the need for the unification of struggles.
The working class in Guayana has not stopped struggling. Very often in front of the big enterprises, assemblies are organised to respond to this or that attack against living conditions. Very often these assemblies manage to neutralise the attacks, while the powers that be seek to place the interests of the ‘collectivity’ against those of the workers, as was the case when the ‘communal councils’ were used against the assemblies.
The emergence of minorities within the working class, seeking to renew links with the historic movement of the class, is being strengthened by the breadth and persistence of the struggles. These minorities fight against a deformed vision of socialism, not only the Trotskyist version with its critical support for Chavism, but also the ultra-reactionary version of ‘21st Century Socialism’, really a form of exacerbated nationalism based on anti-Yankee hatred and a semi-religious ‘Bolivarian’ fundamentalism.
The new generations of the working class in Guayana are seeking to make their own experience of struggle and to learn from previous generations of workers who confronted the state with great determination in the 60s and 70s. Despite the obstacles the bourgeoisie has put in the way of the Guayana workers, they are about to show to other sectors of the class that they are no less determined to struggle against Chavist capitalism with its camouflage of ‘socialism’.
See also: ‘Guayana is a powder-keg’, https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2010/05/guayana
"Bolivarian Socialism": Aleftist version of "wild capitalism" https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201111/4575/bolivarian-socialism-leftist-version-wild-capitalism
 The industrial agglomeration of Guayana is in the Bolivar province of Venezuela, on the Orinoco, with a population of nearly a million inhabitants, formed largely by working class families.