Monday, November 21, 2005

Venezuela, the unions, and the state

The Alliance for Workers' Liberty is continuing the debate on Venezuela in the latest issue of its paper. Here's a comment from yours truly:

It is all very well to say that the unions should be independent from the state, but what does this very general statement mean in the specific conditions of Venezuela?

Should socialists oppose the integration of the unions into the state, Peron-style? This is an easy question to answer. Even in a healthy workers' state the independence of the unions should be preserved, as Lenin argued against Trotsky.

But what about more difficult questions, like the question of how unions should relate to the Misiones established by the Aliance for Change government as an alternative to the bureaucratic ministries of the old state? The Misiones appear to be attempts to establish new, more horizontal structures for the delivery of social services, by mobilising the grassroots supports of the revolution to take the place of bureaucrats and oversee the spending of revenue piped from the coffers of the state oil company. I think it would be folly for unions not to engage with the Misiones, which can be considered as the embryo of a new, revolutionary state which may be able to replace the old bourgeois state.

Another question relates to the issue of factories placed under co-management. Should unions represented in factories which have been expropriated and slated for co-management keep their members off the committees formed to implement co-management? In many cases, these committees are comprised of state-appointed managers and workers, in roughly equal proportions.

I think it would be wrong for unions to abstain from these committees, and I think it would be wrong for them to counterpose complete self-management to some form of co-management. Isolated self-managing factories can quickly develop a petty bourgeois mentality, as some of the occupied factories in Argentina have shown. There has to be some way of balancing the interests of the workers with the interests of the wider community and with a broad economic plan, or an alternative to capitalism can never be built.

I think the way that co-management and the endogenous development strategy have been applied to Venepal - balancing the interests of the community and the interests of the workers, and buffeting the factory from market forces by incorporating it into a rough economic plan - look good, at least on paper. Whether they are good in practice depends on the strength of the UNT and other parts of the workers' and peasants' movement, which is battling against the bureaucratisation of the revolution. But I don't see how abstaining from the key theatres of battle would do any good.

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