Building a democratic, humanist
by Brian O'Keefe, Seven Oaks magazine
Znet, March 09, 2005
We have to invent the new socialism for
the 21st century. Capitalism is not a sustainable model of development.
Hugo Chavez, March 4, 2005
In recent months, Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez has begun to explicitly advocate for socialism, marking
a significant development for both the Bolivarian Revolution in
that country and for the broader international movement.
There is no doubt that the United States
government understands the significance of the current direction
of the process in Venezuela. An oil-rich country with a radical,
anti-imperialist government which has received repeated, indisputable
democratic mandates and now advocates for socialism, the government
in Caracas poses the gravest 'threat of a good example' since
the Cuban Revolution of 1959. As if taunting Uncle Sam for its
historic failure to destroy and isolate Cuba completely, Chavez
now flaunts his close friendship with Fidel Castro, inviting thousands
of Cuban doctors to Venezuela, and sending oil at preferential
prices to the energy-starved Caribbean island.
Little surprise that, with a newly emboldened
Bolivarian government and an increasingly demoralized opposition,
there have been repeated warnings of plots to assassinate the
Venezuelan president. Chavez addressed the situation with a threat
of his own, announcing on his Alo Presidente radio show that "the
Venezuelan people will stop even one drop of oil from going to
the U.S. if there is any attempt made on my life" (Bloomberg,
March 5, 2005).
While flexing oil muscle in an effort
to dissuade U.S. complicity in efforts to physically eliminate
him, Chavez remained on the ideological offensive:
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. (Alo Presidente, February 27, 2005)
The global movement for social justice
must take seriously the continuing threats against the Bolivarian
process in Venezuela. Much of the Left initially remained aloof
from Chavez, variously denouncing him as a Bonapartist, reformist,
The reversal of the April 2002 coup against
Chavez changed this sectarian approach for the better, but much
work in building links of solidarity remains to be done. More
than just defending Venezuela's right to self-determination, though,
progressives should also take seriously the challenge to 're-invent'
The movement against corporate globalization
has, rather proudly, avoided projecting any specific solutions
to the ills of capitalism, eschewing the classic 'meta-narrative'
of the Left, that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by socialism
and communism on a world scale. Political pluralism became a watchword
for the World Social Forum (WSF) and its leading convenors; certainly
this could be understood as a healthy and understandable reaction
to the evils perpetrated in the name of socialism throughout the
But while Kampuchea's killing fields,
Russia's gulags, and the repugnant bureaucratic privileges and
internecine murders sullied the image of socialism, so too has
social democracy - from the chauvinist betrayal marked by support
for the carnage of World War I right up to Tony Blair's imperial
adventure in Iraq - systematically disappointed and betrayed the
working people and progressives who fought for social change.
This record of failure left the Right
triumphant and, buoyed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and "actually
existing socialism," on the offensive over the past 15 years,
aggressively implementing neo-liberal 'reforms' globally, either
through the WTO and economic blackmail, or through cruise missiles
and 'regime change.' So the Bolivarian Revolution, together with
other vibrant social movements in Latin America and global resistance
to war and occupation in the Middle East, represents a welcome
and overdue challenge to Empire.
Venezuela likely would have been the
last place that the champions of capitalist hegemony expected
to see their perspective begin to be seriously challenged. Through
the 1970s and much of the 80s Venezuela was lauded as a stable
democracy, in a continent marked by guerrilla insurgencies, coup
d'etats and brutal right-wing dictatorships. The ancien regime
in Caracas, in fact, began to shatter in 1989, the same year that
the Berlin Wall came down. While that year's Tiennamen Massacre
is universally remembered, the Caracazo is largely unknown; in
February, 1989, an uprising against neo-liberal austerity measures
was drowned in blood, with hundreds killed by the Venezuelan police
That experience accelerated the plans
of a dissenting group of young army officers, and in 1992 Colonel
Chavez led a failed military-civilian rebellion. Chavez's televised
statement of surrender in 1992 catapulted him to national prominence,
and within six years he was swept to power in an electoral landslide.
As mentioned, Chavez and the Bolivarian
Revolution were initially disparaged by much of the Left, and
some worried about this 'top-down' leader's influence on the World
Social Forum. At this year's gathering in Porto Alegre, though,
Chavez was unquestionably the most popular figure, his presence
revealing deep-going resentment of Lula's moderate approach and
collaboration with IMF dictates.
Chavez, in fact, had to intervene to
quell a packed stadium's chants of "Chavez si, Lula no!"
Before that same crowd, the Venezuelan leader made his most overt
ideological statement to date:
We must reclaim socialism as a thesis,
a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist
one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of
everything. That's the debate we must promote around the world,
and the WSF is a good place to do it.
Let's hope this call is heeded, and that
the debate begins in earnest. Defeating U.S. imperialism and developing
viable alternatives to neo-liberalism depends on us meeting this
key challenge for the 21st century.
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