Friday, 21 September 2007

21st Century Socialism

Many people have been extremely critical of Hugo Chavez, especially in the Western world. He is often depicted as a dictator or, worse, as a totally crazy guy.

I had decided to keep an open mind from the very beginning. I was aware of the bias that still seems to persist in many parts of the world; that of smearing any individual who praises socialism as a totalitarian person with no respect for human rights.

A few months ago, a great deal of attention was given to the Venezuelan government's decision to avoid renewing the license of a famous TV station. This was described by various reporters as an attempt to curb the freedom of speech in Venezuela. Although this was the version propagated by numerous organisations that oppose Chavez, another reporter who had been living in the country for 8 years presented another view about this controversial matter. Mr Bart Jones, the author, has also published a book about Chavez fairly recently and it seems destined to correct the record about many misconceptions that have been spread about the Venezuelan President over the last few years.

Chavez has often talked about 21st Century Socialism. For all those who keep on insisting that Chavez is a dictator and that 21st Century Socialism is anti-democratic, I would like to quote the following excerpts from a speech made by one of his former Ministers:

"When I say that we find ourselves in an unprecedented transition, the political and social order that our nation is experiencing, among other things, I am referring to the process of construction of a new political, economic, and social order that we have denominated 21st Century Socialism. The term socialism, unfortunately, does not have a homogenous and fixed meaning for everyone who uses the term and from there comes, perhaps, the uncertainty and uneasiness that is created in some sectors of the country when it is only mentioned. The call from President Hugo Chavez to construct 21st Century Socialism implies the urgent necessity to formalize our own theoretical model of socialism that is adapted to our historical, social, cultural, and political context.

We have to admit that this theoretical model, for the time being, does not exist, nor has it been formulated and I am guessing that as long as it remains so, there will remain uncertainties in some social groups. As I have said, on the other hand, we must invent 21st Century Socialism, yes, but not in an unorganized and chaotic way, but rather taking advantage of the tools and the framework of references that science gives us...

We have listened in recent times to some theorists who want to contribute to the construction of a specifically Venezuelan socialist model, about how inconvenient it would be to repeat the errors made in countries known as socialist, among them the emblematic example of the extinct Soviet Union. However, I think that the errors that these theorists point to belong exclusively to the failures of the political order of the Soviet model, for example, with respect to the relationship between the revolutionary party and the government, and between the party and the population, or in the danger in making the same errors of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which became n organization that substituted and displaced the society, and ended up being controlled by the Central Committee of the Party.

In the political order, our model of socialism must be profoundly democratic. It must explain once and for all that a system of socialist production is not incompatible with profoundly democratic political system and division of power. In this aspect, I think that indeed we should separate ourselves from the Marxist orthodoxy that considers that democracy with a division of powers is only an instrument of bourgeois domination. As our President pointed out in an interview with Manuel Cabieses, the director of the magazine Punto Final, I quote, “In the political line, one of the determining factors of 21st Century Socialism must be participatory democracy, popular power, everything has to be centered in the people. The party must be subordinated to the people, not the other way around.”

However, the errors of the political order are not the only errors that we should consider. We must not forget something fundamental. Socialism is, in a strict sense, a system of economic production, just like the capitalist system that it must replace is also a system of economic production but in subjugating terms against the human condition, and therefore, with an abysmally different focus...

And our President’s call to construct and invent 21st Century Socialism has also been accompanied by some guidelines and directives such as that our model must and has to be profoundly Christian, based in the ideas of social justice, of Christ our savior."

The full speech is available here:

It is hoped that by educating themselves about socialism, many people can overcome their destructive biases and help to build a better world for everyone.


Andre said...

Chavez has done some good things; cheaper oil, better services, and he has reduced the gap between the rich and poor in Venezuela.

But, he's also restricted the opposition, he's manipulated the constitution to give him as many terms in office as he likes, and he's praised time and time again one of the last heinous dictators of our times; Castro - not to mention his dubious visits to China and Vietnam (which are Capitalist nations hiding behind the red banner).

Having said that, I don't think Chavez represents what 21st century socialism should be like. Personally, I admire people like Gordon Brown and Michael Foot (especially Michael Foot who I believe was ahead of his time and if circumstances were different he would have made an excellent prime minister).

David Cuschieri said...

Thanks for the interesting comments!

I still have to learn more about Gordon Brown, but I believe that the British Labour Party needs to pull up its socks if it still wants to present itself as a truly socialist organisation! The UK seems to be turning into a copy of the US and, economically-speaking, that does not bode well for the lives of many British individuals. I am not talking about the wealth aspect here; I am talking about the values that are promoted - gross individualism and lack of care towards one's neighbour! Individualism tends to breed greed, which often leads to aggression.

Anyway, in answer to the comment about Chavez manipulating the Constitution, I do not think that this is correct. Bart Jones, a reporter who spent 8 years in Venezuela and has recently published a book about Chavez, reacted to a similar comment; I am copying the question and the most important parts of the answer below:

"Seattle, Wash: Could we not accurately describe Chavez as a democratically elected president on his way to becoming a virtual dictator, through is efforts to undermine the Venezuelan Constitution and Legislature?

Bart Jones: Well, this is an interesting question and a point that has certainly raised concerns among his supporters -- especially his calls for eliminating limits on re-election to the presidency. For many people that is raising some red flags. At a minimum, it underscores one of the fundamental weaknesses of the Bolivarian Revolution - the over-dependence on Chavez as the central figure, the one-man show aspect. Some think that if he were to leave the scene tomorrow, the whole project might collapse.

On the other hand, the United States elected FDR four times to the presidency, and other countries such as France have no limits on the number of times they can elect their leaders.

Chavez is also not decreeing or ordering this. The Venezuelan people will have to approve it in a referendum, and then vote him back into office. Then they could boot him out at any time halfway into his term through a recall referendum."

As far as Castro is concerned, no person is totally black or white. He might have gone overboard with respect to many things, but he was, at least, capable of offering resistance to the various multinational companies that are mainly interested in stuffing their pockets with huge amounts of cash by exploiting thousands of human beings.

Andre said...

he was, at least, capable of offering resistance to the various multinational companies that are mainly interested in stuffing their pockets with huge amounts of cash by exploiting thousands of human beings.

Yes but at the same time I believe Castro confiscated all private property; and if he was not willing to take certain measures following the collapse of the Soviet Union, then Cuba would have definately had more trouble. Apart from that he's persecuted many Cubans, his human rights record is appauling and it's only in recent years that some liberalism is taking place; now that the old man himself can't control everything (due to age).

David Cuschieri said...

I would like to point out that I never said that Castro was/is a saint! There are many things about his leadership style with which one could disagree. Having said that, my point is that no person is totally good or evil; one should adopt the good and discard the evil aspects!

Andre said...

I just found this rather long article by Michael Foot -

Foot was leader of the British Labour Party when it was at it's most Socialist... It had just suffered a huge break up and Thatcher had won the Falklands war so there still was that "feel good" factor which meant she won the election.

He however remains one of the best and most inspirational people ever; and I think he's the right model for 21st century socialism.