[Marxism] Lebowitz on Chavez's enabling law "Why Aren't You in a Hurry, Comrade?"

Fred Fuentes fred.fuentes at gmail.com
Thu Feb 1 14:58:40 MST 2007

[Very timely and important article tackling some of the left perceptions of
Chavez's enabling laws. It is quite regular now days when im out selling
Green Left Weekly (www.greenleft.org.au) to get people who clearly are
supports of Chavez and the bolivarian revolution, but who due to the
campaign from the corporate press ask "but why is he giving himself special
powers" or "why does he want to become president for life?" (referring to
wanting to change the constiution so that anyone can stand for more than two
terms), something that is totally legal in Australia. The left around the
world must play a role in countering this media disinformation, rather than
dovetailing with in with their rhethoric of counterposing the "socialism
from below" to Chavez's "socialism from above" which will "sell out the
workers mvt". Come on, how much more does this guy have to do before we
start to give him the benefit of the doubt]

 Why Aren't <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/lebowitz010207.html>*You* in a
Hurry, Comrade? <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/lebowitz010207.html>
by Michael A. Lebowitz

"What's the rationale for allowing Chavez to govern by decree?"  Why such a
"precipitous approach"?  As the apparent resident apologist (or, let's just
say, on-site interpreter) for the Bolivarian Revolution, I get questions
like this regularly from friends who don't know much about Venezuela but do
know what they don't like (from reading the always unbiased and objective
capitalist press).  Of course, I'm not alone in this respect: others here
get the same questions from outside: How can Chavez do this?  How can you
justify this?  The implicit question, of course, always is -- how can I (the
enquirer) continue to say (and think) nice things about the Bolivarian
Revolution when HE does this?  How can I (the enquirer) justify the process
to my friends (colleagues)?  A single party, rule by decree -- isn't this
the road to Stalinism and to the gulag?

As some of the dismay over the idea of a unified party of the revolution
dissipates with Chavez's stress upon the need to build it from below and to
make it the most democratic party in Venezuela's history, attention now has
focused upon his request to the National Assembly for an Enabling
would allow him to introduce laws in specific areas directly rather
than taking these through the National Assembly.  Reminded that designation
of such time-limited special powers is nothing new in Venezuelan history,
predating Chavez and also essential in his own introduction of 49 Laws in
2001 (laws on cooperatives, fisheries, hydrocarbon tax, etc), friends ask --
but why *now*?  After all, given the opposition's brilliant manoeuvre in
boycotting the National Assembly elections (once it was apparent they would
be overwhelmed), there is no opposition present to delay matters in that
body. So, what's the hurry?

It's a question not only posed by progressive observers outside but also by
their counterparts among some Venezuelan intellectuals.  Can this be
democratic, they ask?  Doesn't this reflect the verticalism of the military
rather than democracy, authoritarianism and personalism in place of the
deliberations of the National Assembly?  It is the point posed recently by a
well-known Venezuelan academic, Margarita Lopez
when she noted that the tempo for democratic procedures is not at all the
same as that for military operations.  "It's not clear," she indicated (and,
not surprisingly, this was the headline in the opposition newspaper, *El
Nacional*, to which she gave the interview), "if chavista socialism will be

This concern about the tempo is an entirely legitimate question from the
vantage point of a traditional intellectual.  There is no question that
tempo can be the enemy of democratic processes.  But, this is not the only
vantage point worth noting.

I had dinner last night with two friends (one a first-time visitor), who had
spent a full day talking with people active in communal councils in two
Caracas neighbourhoods (one extremely poor).  And, they were telling me
about the frustration and anger of so many with local and ministry officials
who were holding back change -- and about their identification with the
impatience of Chavez, whom they trusted.  Not surprisingly, this led us to a
discussion of the Enabling Law and of Lopez Maya's interview.  No, they
said, the people they saw weren't worried about that *at all* -- they *agree
* with the need for speed.  You mean, I asked, that the people are in a
hurry?  Yes, they readily assented (to my surprise), and one commented that
they are less interested in democracy as process than in democracy in

There should be no surprises there.  After all, in a country with an
enormous social debt, where people have basic needs for sewers, electricity,
water, jobs, housing, etc. and where they are being encouraged to take
things into their hands through communal councils, cooperatives, and other
forms of collective self-activity -- and where everywhere they come up
against the long-standing patterns of bureaucracy, corruption, and
clientelism -- should we be surprised that the people are impatient?  Should
we be surprised at how few people answered the Opposition's call to
demonstrate against the Enabling Law?  Should we be surprised that the
people are in a hurry?

The real question that needs to be posed is one to traditional Venezuelan
intellectuals and their counterparts abroad: why aren't *you* in a hurry,
Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of *Beyond Capital: Marx's
Political Economy of the Working
winner of the Isaac Deutscher memorial prize for 2004, and *Build It Now:
Socialism for the Twenty-First
just published by Monthly Review Press.
URL: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/lebowitz010207.html

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