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The revolution advances in Venezuela

Michael A. Lebowitz

 

I thought people would be interested in a brief update on developments in Venezuela. I marched for several hours in the May Day march with workers from Alcasa, the state aluminium company, and other workers from state companies in the state of Bolivar. Well, 'march' is not quite an accurate way to
describe the stop-start pattern of our progress. In fact, far better to describe it as a street party, which occasionally lurched forward when streams of marchers coming from other streets lessened: infectious dance music blared from the sound truck leading us, and dancing was occurring throughout the crowd - most impressively from two older women and a man (occasionally joined by others) in front, who periodically shared the microphone to lead us in chants. The main chant, which everyone happily shouted, was 'Without co-management, you cannot have a revolution!' (Occasionally, the variant - 'without a revolution, you cannot have co-management'.) And then back to the music.

The theme was echoed everywhere on the banners; one big one banner that I seemed either to be behind or to being hit on the head with was - 'co-management and production: all power to the workers'. This was a happy crowd. And, the slogan was not a demand but an assertion - because the workers in Alcasa have begun a process of co-management (which, to distinguish from the German use of the term, might better be called self-management or worker management); they have begun organising production themselves and electing their shop directors. What the workers in Alcasa have begun now will be a model for the workers in the other state industries (held by the CVG, the development corporation of Guyana) in Bolivar. And, this process is not only occurring in Bolivar - co-management is the model which is being followed in Cadafe and Cadela, two state electricity distribution firms. And, the term is also being used to describe the process in two closed private firms which were recently taken over by the state to be run jointly by the state and worker cooperatives. In fact, the main slogans for the march itself, organised by UNT (the new trade union federation) were 'Co-management is revolution' and 'Venezuelan workers are building Bolivarian socialism.' These were the same themes that came out of the several-day workers' table on co-management that was part of the 3rd international solidarity meeting two weeks ago in the city of Valencia.

None of this could have been predicted six months ago. And, the speed with which the concepts of co-management and socialism have spread here testifies to the life and energy of this revolution. We have moved quite quickly from social programmes (with money circulating but without new production of goods) to a push for endogenous economic development (stressing co-operatives and agriculture but without sectors likely to accumulate) to the creation and expansion of state sectors and the focus on co-management. True, it's not entirely clear what either socialism or co-management mean here yet. But what the crowds out for this May Day march believe (if faces are any indication) is that both are 'good'; and that, you will recognise, means a lot.

After four hours on this march/party, my companera and I recognised that we were several hours away yet from the place where the march was to end. So, we decided to walk home (which was on the way) and use the opportunity to watch the rest on TV. When we got back at about 2:30, we could see the flood of red shirts on TV cheering the speakers and singers. The crowd was immense. (I haven't seen estimates yet but my guess would be a few hundred thousand.) Then Chavez arrived. He listened to a number of speakers from UNT, and then began to speak about the need to create new models, to borrow but not copy, to build co-management and socialism of the 21st Century. These are becoming familiar themes. But, there was a new issue posed -  the question of introduction of co-management in private firms. This is not Chavez's initiative - it is a question being pushed by UNT and forms the basis of a bill which will be debated in the National Assembly. This, too, was part of our discussions in Valencia, and it is something to watch closely because the form it takes (our North American group at the workers table stressed the importance of opening the books of the companies to the workers) is likely to mean an encroachment on capital.

There also was a demonstration by the CTV, the old labour federation that backed the coup and the subsequent bosses lockout. A good indication of what the CTV has come to was revealed the day before when they indicated that they were expecting 40,000 participants and indicated that their main demands would be to free political prisoners (in particular, their former leader Carlos Ortega, a coup leader) and to deal with unemployment (which, they stressed, would need economic growth - something requiring negotiations between government, workers and industrialists). From my window, before we headed for the UNT march, I could see the street where the CTV people were assembled. Didn't look like much more than a thousand but maybe more came (not many more, though, if the careful phrasing on El Universal's website is any indication).


Michael A. Lebowitz is Professor Emeritus in the Economics Department of Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C. Canada. He is currently based in Venezuela.
 

May 2005

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