Which Way Venezuela?

Published on Zcommunications.org, by Michael Albert, July 24, 2008.

(The diverse factual reports and other data included are are culled from 
documents made available by the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S.)

Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution is exciting and exemplary, yet few people know much about where Venezuela is headed.

Misrepresentations abound. Data is limited and people interpret it in quite contrary ways. Information deficit plus skewed interpretations cause many people who ought to support the Bolivarian Revolution to instead doubt or even reject it. Useful lessons from Venezuela go largely unreported and thus have less than their widest possible effect …

… 21st Century Socialism?

Hugo Chavez tells us he wants to build twenty first century socialism. He often decries market relations. He regularly excoriates capitalism. His innovative approaches to popular political and economic decision making via councils and his prioritization of radicalized health, education, and other human services via innovative public missions, inspire great hope. But beyond Bolivarian claims and short term policies, where is the Bolivarian Revolution structurally going? What are its main institutional goals and timetables? What are the methods it is employing and will employ to attain its ends? These are questions I think a lot of people need answers to if they are to have solid attitudes about Venezuela.

By self description Hugo Chavez is aggressively anti-capitalist, but what does that mean?

Regarding economics, for example, does the Bolivarian revolution reject private ownership of the means of production? Verbally it says it does, and likewise in many innovative structures – but what about the bulk of the economy?

Does the Bolivarian revolution reject markets? Again, verbally, yes, I think it does. More, internationally, it seems to already often conduct trade and international aid by cooperative negotiation that ignores competitive market dictates. This is wildly hopeful, not just for solidarity in Latin America, but as a challenge to the entire system of market exchange. But is there a path for transcending market relations writ large?

Does the Bolivarian revolution, as an aim, to be attained when able in light of growing consciousness and means, reject capitalistic remuneration such as people getting profit on property, or getting wages for bargaining power or even for output?

Similarly, does the Bolivarian revolution reject capitalism’s typical division of labor in which about 20 percent of the workforce monopolizes all the empowering tasks while the other 80 percent does only rote, repetitive, and obedient labor?

Is the gigantic spurt of Bolivarian attention to innovative education – including not just literacy campaigns but also the Bolivarian University, etc. – meant to catch up to typical educational achievements of developed countries? Or is it meant to create a population able to control its own destiny rather than being ruled from above?

Given that Chavez is against particular capitalist institutions, does he have a feeling for what would replace them in a better economy? Do the other ministers of the government have visionary aims? Do the grassroots activists in the missions and coops? What about the broad public? How are aims to be generated? How are they to become widely advocated? How are they do won? Is there a path of innovation that can bring these features into play?

Put differently, if the Bolivarian Revolution is for twenty first century socialism, I wonder what that means? What is it about the old twentieth century socialism, for example, that Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution rejects? Is it central planning such as we saw in the Soviet Union? Is it markets such as we saw in Yugoslavia? Is it the typical 20th century socialist division of labor as we have seen it in Russia, Yugoslavia, and China, which is essentially the same as the division of labor we see in capitalism? Is it the norms of remuneration these socialisms have employed, which while they have jettisoned profit for property have retained payment for power and output? I hope and suspect it is all those things that are being dumped, but I don’t know. And if it is, saying so would not only help people get excited about supporting the project, but would also inspire people to engage in similar movements elsewhere.

Similarly, in whatever ways Chavez disagrees with “twentieth century socialism,” what does he propose to construct in Venezuela instead?  And more, beyond the President, to what extent do other Venezuelans have similar aspirations? To what extent will other Venezuelans, especially at the grassroots, help define outcomes and attain them?

A New Participatory Society? … (full long text).

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