Showing posts with label Chavez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chavez. Show all posts

Friday, March 08, 2013

Where now Venezuela?

The eulogies for Chavez keep coming, "one of the greatest revolutionaries in the history of mankind" .

There was certainly a campaign by his many enemies to discredit and distort Chavez, and indeed the misrepresentations of what he stood for come also from his friends.

In his own words Chavez explained that:
  "I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day. Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property or a classless society? I don’t think so. But if I’m told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, the people who have made this country rich through their labour – and never forget that some of it was slave labour – then I say: ‘We part company.’ I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth in society. Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said: ‘You must pay your taxes.’ I believe it’s better to die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very pure banner, and do nothing … That position often strikes me as very convenient, a good excuse … Try and make your revolution, go into combat, advance a little, even if it’s only a millimetre, in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias."

Chavez cannot be called a socialist in the proper sense of the term. He was a populist (and he was indeed popular) nationalist leader who tried to improve the lot of the poor but circumstances meant that he could not go beyond state capitalism and social reforms. Chavism represented a new form of resistance to global capitalism promoting participation from below but faced with a hostile capitalist world.  What happens if a radical leader comes to power before the rest of the world is ready for socialism? Engels answer in his history of the German Peasant Wars was that he would be "irrevocably lost" and that has certainly been the case in every instance since. However, it would be churlish of ourselves to not concede that Chavez has done better than most in this impossible situation. If you can't abolish capitalism what's the least you can do?

His reign saw an improvement for some of Venezuela's poor, even if the right claim it was all squandered petro-dollars. One such critic wrote  :
"Chavez invested Venezuela's oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi." (That's right. Chavez would have been better investing oil revenue in skyscrapers and museums rather than schools and hospitals for the poor!)

While under the Chavez government, the Venezuelan workers movement has flourished with a level of democracy in workplaces rarely seen elsewhere and there now exists a working class with the desire not only to defend but expand this concept.

Nor should it be forgotten how Chavez had learned from his own failed coup attempt the power of elections and legitimacy of the ballot box was stronger than the gun. He put himself and his policies to the vote on no less than a dozen occasions. And in the attempted coup against him the power of the people was once again demonstrated when it was thwarted.

There's still abject poverty in the slums of Caracas, with one of the highest homicide rates of any city in the world, a corrupt prison system and probably plenty more very bad stuff yet there are few social democrats who were more successful than Chavez in ameliorating the conditions of the poor. It will be interesting to see if anything survives him personally, and if a democratic movement without a charismatic head can continue onwards. One thing we know is, though, he wasn't building socialism, just state-run capitalism.