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.