By Paul Hampton
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has announced that his government’s planned takeover of the Orinoco belt oil fields and the nationalisation of the electricity sector will begin in May, though on terms favourable to capital.
Chávez has been given the power to nationalise by an enabling law, passed by the National Assembly last week. Venezuela’s state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) will become the majority stakeholder in four projects in the Orinoco belt oil fields, with a minimum stake of 60%. The 3-4,000 workers who are currently employed by these companies will become part of PDVSA once the nationalisation scheme is specified.
According to the Venezuelanalysis website, Chávez “expressed his hope that the five foreign firms operating in the Orinoco belt, which include Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Total and Statoil would remain as minority partners”.
Chávez also announced that Electricidad de Caracas (EDC) and its subsidiaries in four states will be nationalised. But he added that only “to strategic areas” would be nationalised, in an attempt to assuage those who fear moves to expropriate private companies.
According to Venezuela economic analysts, re-nationalising the CANTV telecom firm will cost $3.5 billion, EDC another $3.5 billion and the four projects in the oil belt $17 billion.
Chávez made it clear when originally announcing the nationalisations that he was acting for Venezuelan national capital. He said: “A national business class is what we need (‘un empresariado nacional necesitamos’), and we are willing to work together with an indigenous (‘criollo’), national business class, that feels pride in being Venezuelan and that would work to satisfy the needs of the people, of Venezuelan society.”
And at least some sections of business agree. Francisco Natera of Empresarios por Venezuela (businessmen for Venezuela) stated that: “The business class has to work with the government… There will be excellent conditions for financing and the [Venezuelan] nationalist business class must adapt itself to the new policies.”
Some of the Venezuelan left want Chávez to go much further. The PRS socialist party, which includes many of the class struggle trade union leaders in the UNT union federation, said it wanted the nationalisation of all strategic industries, including privatised steel firm Sidor and the Sanitarios Maracay occupied factory. It also wants these firms run by “workers’ administration”. This has been picked by CANTV workers, who have established “Socialist Battalions” to fight for workers’ control.
Others are more critical of the whole project. Milton D’León from the PRS youth group, the JIR has written: “However, for Chávez, his ‘Venezuelan road to socialism’, passes through co- existence with private capital as shown by his appeal to the Venezuelan business class to join his project.”
He argues that “as revolutionary socialists, we fight for expropriation without payment and under workers’ and consumers’ ("usuarios") control of all privatised enterprises, on the road to expropriating all the big enterprises, banking and the strategic hydrocarbon industries, and the establishment of a government of the working class”.
Both the UNT leadership and the pro-Chávez union caucus, the FBT have called demonstrations on 8 February in support of the nationalisations. This is only one sign of a growing fracture in the workers’ movement, between those who are chavistas above all else – and those who want at least some kind of independent working class politics.
For example the pro-Chávez union faction around Marcela Masparo, known as the Colectivo de Trabajadores en Revolución (CTS) is pushing the Ministry of Labour’s proposals for Consejos Bolivarianos de Trabajadores (“Bolivarian Workers’ Councils”) in what appears to be an alternative structure to the UNT. The FBT has also been involved in setting up a new union centre in Carabobo state. Similar attempts have been made in Mérida. And it is still not clear when the UNT will hold elections for its leadership.
Whilst the nationalisations are broadly progressive, without workers’ control they will simply redistribute the surplus pumped out of the workers into the hands of the Venezuelan bourgeois state. More importantly, without a class struggle trade union movement, workers will simply get sucked into the process of “participation” and “co-management” in their own exploitation by Venezuelan capitalism. But for working class politics to grow, a Marxist party is an absolute necessity.