Chavez steps up calls for socialism
by Stuart Munckton
Green Left Weekly (ZNet, March
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
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 the presidency.
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
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 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 low royalties.
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 wealthy.
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".
Index of Website