The Crisis of Rentier Capitalism in Venezuela: A Conversation with Oscar Figuera
Oscar Figuera is secretary-general of the Venezuelan Communist Party (henceforth PCV or Communist Party). As a 17-year-old metal worker in Aragua state, he began union organizing with the Venezuelan Worker’s Unitary Central (CUTV, the PCV’s union). In 1986 he became Secretary-General of the PCV union. Figuera was elected to Venezuela's National Assembly for the period 2016 to 2020. In this exclusive interview, Figuera presents his party’s case for how Venezuela should attempt to overcome its economic and social crisis.
How do you analyze the situation of the Venezuelan working class and the pueblo in general? What do you think are the roots of the crisis.
For us, it is important to begin by characterizing Venezuelan society. For the Communist Party, what has entered into a serious crisis in Venezuela is the capitalist, dependent mode of production which is characterized by a rentier model of accumulation: we find the roots of the catastrophic crisis that we are currently facing in that model.
I should add that we are paying the consequences of recent mistakes: the model of accumulation wasn’t transformed during the Bolivarian Process. It wasn’t transformed with President Chavez and much less so now, during the presidency of Nicolas Maduro.
This, in turn, brings us to another question: why does the PCV consider that Venezuela, since Chavez’s arrival to power, is in a process of national liberation? To that, we would say that we considered that Chavez’s program brought forth one of the key elements to breaking with dependency and building a new Latin American and Caribbean system: an organized effort to build a united bloc of our continent’s peoples.
This is a line of work which we historically promoted and which is, from our perspective, fundamental, if we are to advance toward breaking with imperialist domination and the longstanding dependency of our region. We adopted the project put forth by President Chavez from a tactical and strategic perspective.
Actually, we go as far as saying that, from our point of view (and we said this when President Chavez made the proposal), Venezuela’s [economic] development isn’t mature enough to move toward socialism. We understand that when Chavez began to speak of socialism, his call fit with a particular political scenario, but it didn’t correspond with the development of the country’s productive forces (what we generally call the objective conditions), nor with the subjective conditions of the Venezuelan people. So, again, we are where we are because there is a profound crisis of the capitalist and dependent rentier model which wasn’t transformed in the twenty plus years of the Bolivarian Process.
Another key to understanding our support of Hugo Chavez is the issue of oil sovereignty. With Chavez, the Venezuelan state was able to control the nation’s main source of wealth: oil. Before Chavez, ninety percent of the oil profits were expropriated by large transnationals. With Chavez, part of the oil revenues, which has been the backbone of Venezuela’s economy for the past one hundred years, was put at the service of attending to the social, cultural, and political needs of the pueblo.
However, Venezuela didn’t advance in other aspects which are key to building a sovereign nation, such as the development of productive forces. Chavez did initiate a politicization of the pueblo, which became actively engaged. Chavez’s era politicized the Venezuelan people and that is, in part, one of the keys to our people’s resilience today. With Chavez, there was an important leap in understanding that US imperialism, its European allies, and the national oligarchical forces aligned with international capital are our fundamental enemies.
How does the PCV analyze the Bolivarian Government’s direction in recent years? Some celebrate Nicolas Maduro’s leadership – he has defeated coups d'état, won elections, and resisted the onslaught of imperialism – whereas others criticize his pro-capitalist solutions to the crisis: privatizations, cuts in social spending, elimination of workers’ rights, and so on.
Since early 2019, as an outcome of the PCV’s XVII Plenary, our position has been that the policies pushed forth by Maduro’s government are liberal ones, and this means that the weight of the crisis is borne by the poorest. This was ratified in our XIV Plenary just a couple of months ago.
As I mentioned before, at the root of the crisis is the model of accumulation – that, combined with the imperialist aggression. But we believe that liberal [economic] policies are not going to bring us out of the crisis.
Within the party, there is an ongoing debate about the precise characterization of the government’s economic tendency. Is it neoliberal? The answer to that is still pending, but we believe that the measures that have been implemented privilege capitalist investment, national and particularly foreign. In that sense, we have witnessed a deregularization in the sphere of labor, and a spectacular fall in the price of the labor force, large-scale layoffs, reforms, etc.
All this is done, as I mentioned, with one aim: encouraging investment. That, however, is not going to happen for one very simple reason: foreign investment only comes to Venezuela when the price of oil is high, and it comes here with the sole objective of directly profiting from the wealth generated by oil sales. Capitalists have never developed this country, they have never invested a penny. And now that the oil prices are low, all that we can expect them to do is to come here to profit from our gold, coltan, and the other strategic minerals that are found in our territory.
So instead of liberalizing [the economy] and seeking foreign investment, which will not work, Maduro’s government should focus on attending to the needs of the people with social programs, while looking for a revolutionary way out of the crisis of the capitalist rentier model.
We are against the route of class-conciliation, which privileges and gives advantages to foreign investment. All this is particularly problematic when that route is wrapped up in a socialist discourse that has no connection with reality… We believe that that socialist discourse hurts the masses because it distorts our reality. Tragically, many are rejecting socialism because they identify what is happening now with the project, and others take it to mean that socialism demands a great level of sacrifice. Of course, it is true that socialism demands sacrifice. Socialism requires a great deal of sacrifice because it confronts the forces of capital, but socialism is not only that, it’s also about building something new, and that perspective is nowhere to be found in the present.
In addition to addressing the people’s urgent needs, which is something that the government must do, we also argue for the centrality of the working class and the role of the campesinos and the communards in the solution to the crisis. Should we attempt to come out of the current crisis together with transnational capital? Should we let the bureaucratic perspective prevail? Or is the path out of the current crisis in the hands of those who produce with their hands? We cast our lot with the latter.
Now, one could ask, given our conditions, isn’t it necessary to pursue some alliances with sectors of capital? Yes. We are not inflexible. We understand that the state has no resources to jumpstart production, so some concessions must be made. Venezuela has to look for allies, but seeking alliances with transnationals is not the way to go. They will not bring investment and will bring foreign interests along. Instead, Venezuela should seek investment from sectors that accept that we have a process of national liberation and that the construction of an autonomous and independent model is one of our key goals.
In any case, the role of the working class, the role of campesinos, the role of communards must be brought into play, not in merely discursive terms but with real participation in the process of recovery of the productive apparatus. That is why we have to build a broad anti-imperialist alliance, with all sectors, including the government of President Nicolas Maduro. All those committed to social change should be brought on board, including the patriotic capitalist sector.
After all, we are in the midst of an inter-imperialist dispute between world powers. This confrontation is, actually, at the core of the aggression against Venezuela. The world powers don’t want us to establish alliances with China, Russia, and India, because those alliances are key to breaking with our dependent situation. We have to move in the direction of those alliances, and we have to, in parallel, build the union of Latin American and Caribbean countries, which is the only means to weaken imperialism’s chains.
There has recently been dialogue between the government and some sectors of the opposition. These talks took place without the participation of any Chavista organizations, except the PSUV. Additionally, and according to your party’s own statements, the PSUV has broken the PSUV-PCV Unity Agreement to Confront Crisis of Venezuelan Capitalism (February 26, 2018), which was the basis for the PCV’s support of Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 candidacy. Do you consider the PSUV to be capable of listening to the popular movement and Chavista left?
The PSUV is not listening to the diverse voices, which includes other patriotic and revolutionary forces. There is one simple reason for that: for those of us on the left, it is very difficult to separate ourselves from the alliance with the government and the PSUV, because we have one common enemy – our main enemy – which is US imperialism, its European allies, and the internal right-wing.
Given this fact, the government and the PSUV think they do not need to discuss anything with us. They act unilaterally. It is a serious mistake, since construction benefits from collective participation. The working class, the campesinos, and the communards, we all have analyses and proposals that can help bring Venezuela out of the crisis.
It could be that the government or the PSUV don’t share the views or proposals that come from the popular camp. Within the PSUV there are different ideological currents, including social democrats, social Christians, and even liberals. However, the political leadership should understand that we are in a diverse alliance (“unity within diversity”), and this requires spaces of collective construction.
Additionally, the contradictions that arise should not be understood as a problem. Much the opposite, contradiction can be constructive. The problem is not that there may be contradictions inside the movement; the problem is how we deal with them! If contradictions are dealt with badly, that can produce ruptures, and in a moment like ours, fractures weaken our collective project.
Since the PSUV understands that we will not ally ourselves with the right or with imperialism, they close spaces for common construction. They act in an arrogant manner that (even if it doesn’t lead to rupture) produces confrontations. That is what is happening now.
In our most recent Plenary session, we developed the slogan “confront, separate, and accumulate forces to advance towards the construction of the working class, campesino, communal, and popular force” [“confrontar, deslindar y acumular fuerzas para avanzar en la construcción de una fuerza obrera, campesina, comunera y popular”]. The idea is to move toward an ample anti-imperialist alliance to confront and defeat the external aggression while also confronting internal reformist and submissive currents which, with a false revolutionary discourse, are developing alliances that go against the process of national liberation and whose perspective is the opposite of the socialist one.
And what is the PCV’s approach to the recent dialogues?
The most recent dialogues have led to an agreement with one sector of the opposition. We believe that [the idea of dialoguing] was correct, and these dialogues are important because they show the world that the ultra-right opposition is not the only one in our country. However, that agreement was built without the participation of other sectors [of Chavismo]. That has led to a situation that isn’t easy to navigate.
One of the agreements was that representatives of the Patriotic Pole would be incorporated into the National Assembly. However, the Communist Party has decided to not incorporate itself into that organ. [Our reasons are:] first, that an explanation hasn’t been given to us as to what the tactic would be in that space, and, second, that the National Assembly continues to be in contempt [of the law], and it is the key tool of imperialist aggression in our country. The National Assembly is a body that does not recognize other public powers, including Maduro’s presidency, and our participation there would lead to creating more confusion among the people. Our presence would legitimate a tool that is in the service of counterrevolutionary conspiracy.
When faced with this dilemma, we decided to not incorporate ourselves into the National Assembly, although this is an issue still on the table and it will be debated soon in the XV Plenary [session of our party]. Frankly, our understanding is that the National Constitutive Assembly should have taken forceful action when Juan Guaido, who is the president of the National Assembly, proclaimed himself president. The National Assembly is part of a conspiracy and should be dissolved.
Now, if the PSUV were to explain to us that there is a route to overcome the conspirative character of the National Assembly, them we might well reincorporate ourselves to the space, following an internal debate.
There have been new forms of protest in recent years: protests that do not seek regime change, but rather solutions to concrete demands in the face of serious problems. These range from people protesting for gas and water to campesinos demanding justice and protection from landowners. How do you understand this new phenomenon?
Emanating from the popular and patriotic movement and from those sectors committed to transforming Venezuelan society, there is a growing tendency to stage legitimate protests. These protests no longer come from the right, but rather from the popular revolutionary movement, from the force that has come to be known as Chavismo. They put forth demands but also proposals that have to do with labor policies, agrarian, and campesino policies, and so on. These protests share one concern: the course of the Bolivarian Process and the living conditions of the people.
The Communist Party believes that it is important to bring together legitimate grievances, to create a nation-wide front that will stand firm when faced with imperialism but will also confront the government’s promotion of liberal policies.
That is our aim in promoting the National Struggle Front of the Working Class [Frente Nacional de Lucha de la Clase Trabajadora]. This front is not an appendix of the Communist Party. We are just one factor inside it. There are Trotskyist sectors there, and there are sectors from the PSUV’s bases. Actually, they are the majority.
We are also promoting the work of the Nicomedes Abreu Campesino Current [Corriente Campesina Clasista Nicomedes Abreu], trying to work with diverse communal actors, among them El Maizal Commune and other communes that have truly important work but are not under PCV leadership. We believe that we have to come together in a bloc with these communal organizations, because they are instances of self-government that question the bureaucratic conception of power.
Finally, in the face of the imperialist aggressions and the drifting of the government toward “reformist” or even “liberal” position, what is the role of internationalist solidarity with the Bolivarian Process?
The Communist Party has a line of work toward fostering solidarity, and we do this with thorough presentation of what is going on here when we travel abroad. To the forces of the left, to the communist parties and other organizations, we do not hide the contradictions that we are facing – the complexities of the process and the tendencies that confront one another –, but we always make it clear that our main enemy is imperialism. We struggle inside the process, but when faced with imperialism, we are unified and disciplined. Thus, we explain [the complexities of what is going on inside], but we also demand solidarity.
If US imperialism, its European allies, and the continental right put their hands on Venezuela, the situation will resemble the one at the end of the 1980s with the fall of the Soviet Union and the East bloc. That was a very hard blow to revolutionary forces worldwide. Even though the problems we face here are huge, Venezuela continues to be a flagship in the anti-imperialist struggle. We need a Venezuela that can hold its ground, while we struggle within.