[News] The Challenges of 21st Century Socialism in Venezuela

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
structural transformation.

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.

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