[Marxism] Venezuela: oil royalties versus capital flight - reply to Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxx

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Fri Aug 20 07:11:40 MDT 2004

Xxxxxx wrote:

"In neither case is anyone much concerned with what such price spikes
are doing to the poor non oil exporting countries."

But this is like saying that capitalism can be abolished before it is
abolished, that capitalism can be a win-win situation, or that capitalism
can exist without competition in which there are winners and losers. Shit
happens, while we're making other plans. We could turn matters around also,
and recognises that the worldwide impact of Chavez stimulates and inspires
new struggles elsewhere. If Chavez stirs the world with a modest, judicious
socialdemocratic policy, just imagine what effect a still more radical mass
movement would have. Chavez aims to win what he can win, for the Venezuelan
people, given the balance of power which he confronts.

The question then is, how this advances the interests of the working
classes, in Venezuela or elsewhere. But, at least traditionally, it has been
thought in Marxist circles as a base-line that the assertion of any
initiative that, by means of an alternative, effectively challenges the
propensity of imperialist powers to treat the world as if it is "its own
backyard" advances working-class interests, since it promotes the
self-assertion of the working classes (belief in their capacity to act and
have effect), as against the seeming "inevitability" of domination by
foreign or external interests, in a world where seemingly either nothing can
be changed, or change seems to occurs either gradually in a way that it
transcends human control.

This was instinctively grasped by the "anti-globalisation" movement, except
that the anti-globalisation movement did not espouse the working class or a
clear socialist alternative as the agency for social transformation, and
proposed "global resistance" in advance of any organisational means to carry
out that resistance effectively. This became the occasion for all sorts of
cookey and whacky political recipes.

Moreover, the anti-globalisationists, in order to be anti-globalisationists,
depicted "globalisation" as a reality which rendered territorial integrity
and national sovereignity otiose. This is an irresolvable contradiction in
anti-globalist thought, which does not lead to any coherent political
policy, and culminates in reactive lobbying groups, protesting meetings at
which the bourgeois classes strategise about transnational policy.

The opportunists supported anti-globalism, simply because it seemed to be a
mass movement appealing to many people, but in supporting it, they became
mired in its contradictions, disorienting political policy. These
contradictions can be reconciled only ideationally, but not in action.

I think you are quite correct in raising the question of what Chavez really
represents, in highlighting limitations of his project, and in rejecting the
idea that one figure can be the "be all and end all" of a broader movement.
It is of course the natural inclination of bourgeois society to personalise
and individualise an oppositional political movement, in key people and
figureheads, because one individual is easier to focus on defeat, than a
large mass of rebels. This is no advance on infantile leftism focusing just
on Bush or Kerry.

But in supporting Chavez in Venezuela against imperialism, and against his
domestic political opposition, does not imply an anti-workingclass stance,
since, in an overall sense, his regime strengthens the position of the
Venezuelan proletariat and the poor masses long-term - even if it means
particular groups of workers might suffer in the short-term, since there is
no perfect policy. The important thing is that genie has got out of the
bottle in Venezuela, and is unlikely to get back in again.

Insofar as Chavez qua "landlord" (as you say) is unable to sustain his
position in the forcefield of the contest between different class forces,
then this will eventually become clear, and the question then becomes how a
new workingclass advance would become possible. Chavez may be a populist,
but populism - as Michael Lowy noted in one of his writings - is a tradition
in Latin America, in part because of the specific set of social
contradictions which politics must mediate.

By referring to the income from oil royalties, as against capital flight, in
response to your post, I was merely looking at some facts in order to assess
better one of the contradictions in the situation, and of course there are
many. I like to study the facts, if I can, and establish real quantitative
proportions, so that we don't make mountains out of molehills. Following a
Marxian-type analysis, one would argue that the whole situation is propelled
along by a set of real contradictions which define the parameters of
possible outcomes, and one has to specify what they are, and not be content
with cliches until one really knows what they are.

But if Marxists substitute vague rhetoric for making a political analysis
which is as least as good as that of their opponents, they are in no
position to be anything more than a "support group" for any trend that
currently seems to fit the bill for a radical movement. The function of a
Marxian analysis is precisely to transcend the "opinions of the day", in
order to reveal the real underlying trends which predict the possible
variants of future developments. That is precisely enables the making of
interventions in the opinions of the day, which have a real effect and
advance socialist aims. Marx himself carried this to a radical extreme by
surveying the very foundations of capitalist civlisation as such, and raise
the discussion to the level of characterising a whole historical epoch. If
however the "analysis" consists just in a professor saying "there is a
ruling class and a working class" then we are better off just writing
poetry, or devoting ourselves to attending a creche.


As I'm fated for the material world
Get frustrated in the material world
Senses never gratified
Only swelling like a tide
That could drown me in the
Material world
>From the spiritual sky,
Such sweet memories have I
To the spiritual sky
How I pray
Yes I pray
That I won't get lost
Or go astray
While I'm living in the material world
Not much 'giving' in the material world
Got a lot of work to do
Try to get a message through
And get back out of this material world

- George Harrison, "Material world"

More information about the Marxism mailing list