[Marxism] Chavez Steps Up Call for Socialism
M. Junaid Alam
mjunaidalam at msalam.net
Mon Mar 14 23:57:02 MST 2005
*Chavez steps up calls for socialism
**by Stuart Munckton ; Green Left Weekly <http://www.greenleft.org.au/>;
March 13, 2005*
Speaking on his television program, Hello President on February 27,
Venezuela’s popular pro-poor president, Hugo Chavez, explained: “I am
convinced, at this stage of my life — I am now 50 years old — after six
years as a president, after nearly 30 years of political struggle...
after many readings, debates, discussions and many travels around the
world, I am convinced, and I think that this conviction will be for the
rest of my life, that the path to a new, better and possible world, is
not capitalism, the path is socialism.” The studio audience cheered.
These comments, like Chavez’s comments to tens of thousands of
participants in the World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil in January, are
part of increasingly overt agitation for socialism.
In his WSF speech, Chavez insisted that “capitalism could not be
transcended from within capitalism itself, but through socialism”. This
message, delivered by a political leader with enormous respect across
the Latin American continent, is among the most radical calls put to a
mass WSF audience.
Chavez, whose government has led a process known as the Bolivarian
revolution aiming to eradicate poverty, made it clear in the WSF speech
that he stood for “democratic socialism”, differentiating that from the
model existing in the Soviet Union. He stated: “We must reclaim
socialism... but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts
humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything.”
On February 25, addressing the 4th International Conference on Social
Debt in Caracas, Chavez re-emphasised the point. He declared “if not
capitalism, then what? I have no doubt, it's socialism”, according to
Pascal Fletcher’s account for Reuters, which Fletcher titled: “Defying
the US, Chavez embraces socialism”.
Then, two days later, came the Hello President program, where Chavez
said: “I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is
not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell”.
In a March 1 article or the Hands Off Venezuela website that discussed
the television program, Jorge Martin claims that Chavez has urged the
start of an ideological discussion about socialism amongst those
supporting the Bolivarian revolution, including Chavez’s own Movement
for a Fifth Republic.
Chavez’s presidency is based on popular support and mobilisation.
Pro-Chavez forces have won nine national elections in the last six
years, including a referendum on whether or not to recall Chavez from
A key part of the Bolivarian revolution has been organising the poor
majority into institutions of power so they can directly control their
lives. Chavez argued that the “tools for building socialism” were these
popular organisations already constructed as part of the struggle to
create “participatory democracy”.
The uprising in Venezuela is part of a continent-wide revolt against
harsh neoliberal policies pushed upon Latin America during the 1980s and
1990s by the institutions of imperialism, the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) in particular. The resulting wealth
disparity in Venezuela was staggering. While the country is the fifth
largest supplier of oil in the world, 80% of Venezuelans were living in
poverty by 1998.
By then, only 20% of the state-run oil company’s revenue was getting to
the government, the rest remaining in the hands of a wealthy management
clique, while foreign companies extracting Venezuelan oil paid extremely
In 1989, the Venezuelan government, at the behest of the International
Monetary Fund, increased the price of basic goods and services out of
the reach of the poor.
This provoked a spontaneous uprising known as the Caracazo, which was
brutally put down by the military, with some reports putting the death
toll as high as 2000. Inspired by the bravery of the poor and repulsed
by the use of the military to repress the people, thousands of young
officers and soldiers led a rebellion to overthrow the government in
1992. The rebellion failed, and its leaders were jailed. But as the
central leader, Chavez became a popular hero.
Riding a wave of anti-neoliberal fury, Chavez swept the 1998
presidential elections on a platform of redistributing the nation’s
wealth. While it immediately encouraged self-organisation of the people,
Chavez’s government didn't break decisively with the capitalist system.
It did, however, introduce some good reforms.
In a series of laws passed in 2001, the government significantly
increased royalties levied on foreign oil companies, made 100% of oil
revenue go to the government and allowed for expropriation of large
land-holdings to be redistributed to landless peasants, amongst other
measures. Also, the rich were taxed for the first time and a program of
building homes and public works for the poor implemented.
These measures provoke bitter opposition from those who had done well
under the old Venezuela - the business elite. In April 2002, the
business eliteoligarchy organised a US-backed military coup that briefly
overthrew Chavez and installed the head of the Chamber of Commerce in
power. The coup was overturned by a working-class uprising. In December
2002, the capitalists again tried to overthrow Chavez, this time by
means of economic sabotage, with bosses shutting their factory doors and
locking out their workers. In the oil industry, which the government
depends on for 30% of its income, the pro-capitalist management clique
locked-out the oil workers and sabotaged the industry — hoping to bring
the country to its knees.
Instead the oil workers mobilised to take the company over and get it up
and running under their control. Chavez sacked the entire upper
management — bringing the company under true government control.
In the process of defending the government through these fights,
Venezuela’s people have become more organised and confident to make a
better, fairer society themselves. This means that the government is in
a much stronger position to introduce measures that directly shift
wealth to meet the needs of the majority, and out of the pockets of the
Funded by the oil wealth, the government launched a series of "missions"
that have: brought free health care to the poor for the first time,
eradicated illiteracy, lowered unemployment, created popular markets
that sell cheap goods among other gains. The government also introduced
a law that banned bosses from sacking workers, and Chavez has encouraged
workers to take over factories if the boss tries to lay them off.
According to Martin, Chavez stated on Hello President that when first
elected he was hoping to create “a third way, capitalism with a human
face, trying to give the monster a mask”. But he concluded: “this mask
has fallen to the floor shattered by reality”.
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