[News] The Challenges of 21st Century Socialism in Venezuela
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 1 10:51:43 EST 2010
The Challenges of 21st Century Socialism in The Challenges of 21st
Century Socialism in Venezuela
February 01, 2010 By William I. Robinson
Interview with William I. Robinson,
Professor of Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara
By Chronis Polychroniou
Editor, Greek daily newspaper Eleftherotypia
* There are scare stories coming from Venezuela. The border is
heating up, infiltration is taking place, a new Colombian military
base near the border, US access to several new bases on Colombia and
constant subversion. Is the regime concerned about a possible
invasion? If yes, who is going to intervene?
The Venezuelan government is concerned about a possible US invasion
and certainly an outright invasion cannot be ruled out. However I
think the US is pursuing a more sophisticated strategy of
intervention that we could call a war of attrition. We have seen this
strategy in other countries, such as in Nicaragua in the 1980s, or
even Chile under Allende. It is what in CIA lexicon is known as
destabilization, and in the Pentagon's language is called political
warfare - which does not mean there is not a military component. This
is a counterrevolutionary strategy that combines military threats and
hostilities with psychological operations, disinformation campaigns,
black propaganda, economic sabotage, diplomatic pressures, the
mobilization of political opposition forces inside the country,
carrying out provocations and sparking violent confrontations in the
cities, manipulation of disaffected sectors and the exploitation of
legitimate grievances among the population. The strategy is deft at
taking advantage of the revolution's own mistakes and limitations,
such as corruption, clientalism, and opportunism, which we must
acknowledge are serious problems in Venezuela. It is also deft at
aggravating and manipulating material problems, such as shortages,
price inflation, and so forth.
The goal is to destroy the revolution by making it unworkable, by
exhausting the population's will to continue to struggle to forge a
new society, and in this way to undermine the revolution's mass
social base. According to the US strategy the revolution must be
destroyed by having it collapse it in on itself, by undermining the
remarkable hegemony that Chavismo and Bolivarianismo has been able to
achieve within Venezuelan civil society over the past decade. US
strategists hope to provoke Chavez into a crackdown that transforms
the democratic socialist process into an authoritarian one. In the
view of these strategists, Chavez will eventually be removed from
power through any number of scenarios brought about by constant war
of attribution - whether through elections, a military putsch from
within, an uprising, mass defections from the revolutionary camp, or
a combination of factors that can not be foretold.
In this context the military bases in Colombia provide a crucial
platform for intelligence and reconnaissance operations against
Venezuela and also for the infiltration of counterrevolutionary
military, economic sabotage, and terrorist groups. These infiltrating
groups are meant to harass, but more specifically, to provoke
reactions from the revolutionary government and to synchronize armed
provocation with the whole gamut of political, diplomatic,
psychological, economic, and ideological aggressions that are part of
the war of attrition.
Moreover, the mere threat of US military aggression that the bases
represent in itself constitutes a powerful US psychological operation
intended to heighten tensions inside Venezuela, force the government
into extremist positions or into "crying wolf," and to embolden
internal anti-Chavista and counterrevolutionary forces.
However, it is important to see that the military bases are part of
the larger U.S. strategy towards all of Latin America. The US and the
Right in Latin America have launched a counteroffensive to reverse
the turn to the Left or the so-called "Pink Tide." Venezuela is the
epicenter of an emergent counter-hegemonic bloc in Latin America. But
Bolivia and Ecuador, and more generally, the region's burgeoning
social movements and left political forces are as much targets of
this counteroffensive as is Venezuela. The coup in Honduras has
provided impetus to this counteroffensive and emboldened the Right
and counterrevolutionary forces. Colombia has become the epicenter
regional counterrevolution - really a bastion of 21st century fascism.
* Chavez's "Bolivian revolution" has been very popular with the
poor. Could you lay out how the Venezuelan society has changed since
Chavez came to power?
First of all, let us acknowledge that the Bolivarian revolution has
placed democratic socialism back on the worldwide agenda after we
went through a period in the 1990s were most were scared to even talk
of socialism, when it seemed that global capitalism had reached the
apex of its hegemony and when some on the left even bought into the
"end of history" thesis.
The Bolivarian revolution has given the poor and largely
Afro-Caribbean masses their voice for the first time since the war of
independence from Spanish colonialism. The Chavez government has
reoriented priorities to the poor majority. It has been able to use
oil revenues, in particular, to develop health, education, and other
social programs that have had dramatic results in reducing poverty,
virtually eliminating illiteracy, and improving the health of the
population. International organizations and data collecting agencies
have recognized these remarkable social achievements.
However, as someone who visits Venezuela regularly, I would say that
the more fundamental change since Chavez came to power is not these
social indicators but the political and socio-psychological awakening
of the poor majority - a broad process of popular, grassroots
mobilization, cultural expression, political participation and
empowerment. The old elite and the bourgeoisie have been partially
replaced from the state and from formal political power - although
not entirely. But the real fear and resentment of the old dominant
groups, the panic and their hatred for Chavez, is because they have
felt slip from their grip the facile ability to exercise cultural and
socio-psychological domination over the popular classes as they have
for decades, nay centuries. Of course, there other still plenty of
mechanisms through which the bourgeoisie and the political agents of
the ancien regime are able to wield their influence, particularly
through the mass media that is still largely in their hands...and
this is why the "media battles" in Venezuela play such a prominent role.
That said, there are all kinds of problems and contradictions
internal to the Bolivarian revolution.
* How widespread are nationalization plans under Chavez and is
there any evidence so far that they bring the desired results?
The obvious major economic change has been the recovery of the
country's oil for a popular project - and even at that there is still
a PDVSA bureaucratic oligarchy. Other key enterprises, such as steel,
have been nationalized. And the cooperative sector - with all its
problems - has spread. Nonetheless, let's be clear: economic power is
still largely in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
Let us recall that the Venezuelan revolution is unique in that the
old reactionary state was not "smashed" as it was in other
revolutions. The strategy of the revolution has been to set up new
parallel institutions and to also try to "colonize" the old state.
But the Venezuelan state is still largely a capitalist state. The key
question is how can a transformative project move forward while
operating through a corrupt, clientalist, bureaucratic, and often
inert state bequeathed by the ancient regime? If revolutionary and
socialist forces come to power within a capitalist political process
how do you confront the capitalist state and the brakes it places on
transformative processes? In fact, in Venezuela, and also in Bolivia
and elsewhere, prevailing state institutions often act to constrain,
dilute, and coopt mass struggles from below.
In my view, in Venezuela the biggest threat from the revolution does
not come from the right-wing political opposition but from the
so-called "endogenous" or "Chavista" Right, and that chunks of the
revolutionary bloc, including state elites and party officials, will
develop a deeper stake in defending global capitalism over socialist
* The revolution has been going on for over a decade now. Is it
maturing or is it reaching a stage of decline and deformation?
I would not say, in answer to your question, that the revolution is
in "decline" or "deformation". Rather, we need to be more expansive
in our historical analysis and even theoretical reflection on what is
going on at this historical juncture of 21st century global
capitalism and its crisis. The turn to the left in Latin America
started out as a rebellion against neo-liberalism. The
post-neo-liberal regimes undertook mild redistributive reform and
limited nationalizations, particularly of energy resources and public
services that had previously been privatized. They were able to
reactive accumulation. But post-neo-liberalism that does not now move
towards a deeper socialist transformation runs up against limits.
The Bolivarian process faces contradictions, problems, and
limitations, as do all historic projects! I would say that both the
Venezuelan revolution and also the Bolivian and Ecuadoran processes,
may be coming up against the limits of redistributive reform within
the logic of global capitalism, especially given the crisis of global
capitalism. Anti-neo-liberalism that does not challenge more
fundamentally the very logic of capitalism runs up against
limitations that may now have been reached.
It may be that the best or the only defense of the revolution is to
radicalize and deepen the revolutionary process, to push forward
structural transformations that go beyond redistribution. The fact is
that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie may have been displaced in part from
political power but it is still very much in economic control.
Breaking that economic control implies a more significant change in
property and class relations. This in turn means breaking the
domination of capital, of global capital and its local agents.
Naturally this is a Herculian task. There is no clear way forward and
each step generates complex new contradictions and Gordian knots. Of
course these are matters the whole Global Left must contemplate.
Let us recall the lessons of the Nicaraguan and other revolutions.
Multiclass alliances generate contradictions once the honeymoon stage
of easy redistributive reform and social programs reach their limit.
Then multiclass alliances begin to collapse because there are
fundamental contradictions between distinct class projects and
interests. At that point a revolution must more clearly define its
class project; not just in discourse or in politics but in actual
At a more technical level, we could say that the contradictions
generated by trying to break the domination of global capital are not
the fault of the revolution. Venezuela is still a capitalist country
in which the law of value, of capital accumulation, is operative.
Efforts to establish a contrary logic - a logic of social need and
social distribution - run up against the law of value. But in a
capitalist society violating the law of value throws everything into
haywire, generating many problems and new disequilibria that the
counterrevolution is able to take advantage of. This is the challenge
for any socialist-oriented revolution within global capitalism.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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