This is the conclusion of a long and detailed piece on the movement for workers' control of enterprises in Venezuela. Bearing in mind the intensive experiments and debates about this subject internationally in the 1970s, this experience deserves close attention. Indeed, it would be good if some involved with past experiences and debates were to respond to this piece.
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The course of the struggle for worker control in Venezuela has highlighted important characteristics of the Bolivarian revolution, as well as containing important lessons for movements for radical social change globally.
One of these characteristics is the on-going, and perhaps growing, internal contradiction in the Bolivarian revolution between the bureaucracy and politically reformist elements which, both consciously and unconsciously, act to slow continued social, economic and political transformation, and a more radical wing committed to a deeper process of revolutionary change.
On a positive note, the coming together of the Patriotic Committees in Guayana demonstrated the extent to which grassroots organisations in the region are working together and are able to unite to resist attempts to undermine the Plan Socialist Guayana. That said, these groups were unable to prevent the dismissal of Elio Sayago from Alcasa, showing that the bureaucracy have the power to put the PGS in real danger from being realised.
It is important to point out that the worker control movement is one part of a varied and exciting process underway in Venezuela, encompassing community councils, communes, community media, women’s, LGBT, afro-descendent and indigenous groups, and radical government policies domestically and internationally, from social programs to solidarity-based international alliances such as the ALBA (Alliance for the Bolivarian Peoples of our America). The political spaces available to push the worker control movement forward will be partly determined, not only by workers’ ability to organise and struggle, but also by the general direction the revolution takes in the coming months and years.
Author Steve Ellner has observed how the Bolivarian revolution can be characterised by cycles of radicalisation, often driven in response to successfully fighting off attacks from the opposition.[lxiii] Will a strong election victory for Chavez in October mark a move against internal barriers to further radical transformation in Venezuela? In the election campaign on 26 July, Chavez highlighted his awareness of the problems of bureaucracy in state institutions, when he spoke of the importance of self-criticism and the need to correct existing errors in the revolutionary process. He personally addressed the bureaucracy, saying that “the office, the meetings, the analysis, the air conditioning, the chauffeur and the good salary; that’s not worth anything, what matters is the commitment with the people, that’s why we’re here”.
Finally, by what has been achieved so far, Venezuela’s worker control movement demonstrates to the world that workers can indeed collectively self-manage their factories and workplaces, and that capitalist hierarchies and divisions of labour are not the only, nor best, way of organising economic life. By running production in a collectively democratic manner, workers’ alienation from their labour and the unfair distribution of produced resources can be overcome, while leading to the greater education and consciousness of workers. Such a model can also benefit society as a whole, as production is geared toward the needs of society and not profit for capitalists, and lays the basis for deeper economic and social transformation. In the context of austerity being imposed by an elite upon peoples across Europe and North America as a result of the latest crisis of capitalism, worker control in Venezuela is another example of not only how another, better, world is possible, but also what that world could look like.
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