Hugo Chavez asserted that Venezuela has decidedly entered the stage of “building socialism”. Together with some outstanding intellectuals who accompany him, they call it “of the XXI century” o indicate that it would have some features unlike those posed in a more general proposal by Marx in the XIX century and the experiences carried out in the XX century in different countries. Does Venezuela really march in that direction?

 A change in the Latin American reality

Before we tackle this debate fully, we believe it important to point out that the very fact that it is actually taking place shows how far Latin American situation and the awareness of the masses on this continent have changed since the 1990s. In those years, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the states known as “of real socialism”, imperialism launched a strong ideological campaign about the “death of socialism” and the “triumph of capitalism” together with a generalised offensive of privatisation of state-owned companies and an all-out attack on workers’ social and labour achievements obtained in the previous years both, in the countries of Eastern Europe and in Latin America.

This policy was presented as the path towards economic development and “way to the First World”. Because of the failure of what was known as “the real socialism”, a part of the Latin American masses believed these ideas and consequently such characters as Fernando Enrique Cardoso in Brazil or Carlos Menem in Argentina dominated the scenery.

But lies are short-lived and it took the masses just a few years to find out that the result of what they were being offered was an increase in poverty stemming out of a greater imperialist colonisation of Latin American countries and that it was necessary to fight against these plans and against the administration who applied them. In the early XXI century this was expressed in constant outburst of revolutionary processes in several countries (Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela).

These struggles, with their anti imperialist demands and rejecting colonisation (no to dollarisation of economy, nationalisation with no indemnity of natural resources, no payment of foreign debt, split with IMF, and so on) once more place socialism as a necessary perspective for the masses. Paraphrasing Marx, socialism is a “ghost” that refuses to die.

Two alternatives

Chavez’s speeches and statements take place within the framework of this new continental reality and we have tow alternatives as to the way to interpret them. The first one is that Chavez is really leading a process towards socialism. That would mean that IWL-FI and some other sectors have simply missed that fact and because of that our policy is sectarian and wrong.

The other alternative is that Chavez does not want to advance towards building socialism, but he is compelled to say so in his speeches because of the situation we have just analysed, as a mechanism for deceiving the toiling masses, i.e.: he speaks of socialism in order to conceal his real project, that is that Venezuela is to continue being capitalist. We believe that this second alternative is reflects the truth.

How to tackle the debate?

We could begin the debate with a summary of the analysis and ideas written by Marx, the first one to formulate the perspective of socialist revolution based on scientific analysis of capitalism and the economic and social processes that were developing inside it (ideas that later on, Lenin and Trotsky deepened and tried to put into practice in the 1917 Russian Revolution), We believe, however, that this would be the wrong approach and would lead the debate into a cul-de-sac, not only because there were other experiences that followed different courses (Yugoslavia, China, Cuba) but also because the Chavists assert that their proposal is different from that of Marx because it responds to a different reality.

That is why we opted to approach the topic, in a way, from the negative angle, that is to say, analyse the central policies and measures put into practise by Chavez and verify if they represent a breach with the capitalist-imperialist system.

Chavist policy

·                            Foreign debt: Venezuela is one of the best Latin American payers. During his first eight years in the office, the Chavez administration paid a total 24 835 million dollar (figure higher than the inherited amount). In 2006 alone he paid 6 500 million, pioneering in the fashion of “anticipated payment). Moreover, Chavism also complies with the policy encouraged by imperialism of changing a part of the foreign debt (Brady bonuses) for new bonuses now accounted for as “public internal debt” (between 1998 and 2004, it grew from $5 489 to 15 193 million). How does this policy differ from what all the other capitalist administrations do in all the capitalist countries on this continent?)

·                            Oil policy: This is a key sector because it is the fundamental element of Venezuela economy. In this issue of International Courier we shall the Chavist policy for oil. What emerges from this analysis is that PDVSA is today in a very similar situation to Petrobrás, Petroecuador, YPFB and other Latin American companies i.e.: state monopoly has been broken and, in different ways, headway was made towards privatisation favouring foreign companies.

·                            Foreign investments: Regardless any circumstantial sways back and forth, Chavist policy has been to offer the best conditions to imperialist investors. For example, article 6 of the Promotion and Protection Bill of Investments defines: “international investments are entitled to a just and fair-minded treatment in accordance with the norms and criteria of international law and will not be submitted to arbitrary and discriminatory measures that may jeopardise their development, administration, utilisation, enjoyment, extension or liquidation”. That is why Ricardo Sanguino, Chavist Member of Parliament, vice-president of the Finance Commission of the National Assembly, declares that, thanks to the policy implemented by the government, Venezuela is in the best of conditions for foreign investment”. Something that, as we have already pointed out, can be clearly seen in the car industry.

·                            Salaries and working conditions: At present the minimum salary (which is what most workers collect) is $250 while a relatively complete family basket (what is needed for the upkeep of a family – TN) is estimated at $650. The government updates it periodically according to the inflation, but there has been no real improvement in spite of the important oil revenue. Working conditions are, as a rule, very bad, in obsolete factories that received no major investments in these years. We may add, finally, that about 50% of the active population is self-employed and living off informal economy and the Chavez administration did nothing to modify this aspect of the reality.

In what way is this any different from what the governments of the semi-colonial capitalist countries – the Lula, Kirchner or Tabaré Vázquez administrations – do?

Steps towards socialism?

There are two important aspects of his policy that Chavez presents as steps towards socialism.

·                            Nationalisation of foreign companies, something we have already analysed, and the “joint ventures”. And yet, both are perfectly normal for capitalist system where, as often as not, there is the need to associate the bourgeois state and a private company, or for the state to become in charge of some sector of economy because at a determined moment, this is found advisable for a better development of business. Were we to follow the Chavist criterion to the end, we would have to say that all the Latin American countries have “Socialist elements” because they possess state-owned companies. Some of those can even be found in the imperialist countries: In France we have the railways and Citroen and Renault that are state-owned companies.

·                            Neither can Misiones, whereby a small part of the oil revenue is reverted in the way of benefits for the masses, be regarded as expression of headway towards socialism. Capitalism has often used this mechanism of “compensatory policies” in order to cushion class struggles and so maintain the system as a whole. From this point of view the Misones are similar to the doles paid to the unemployed in many European countries, the grants paid to the unemployed in Argentina, Lula’s “family bag”, etc

Two indispensable measures

So far we have seen that Chavez’s measure do not break away from the capitalist framework. Now we shall refer to two issues that are central if we are really to advance towards socialism, regardless the “model” we wish to apply.     

The first one is that economy that marches towards socialism must suppress the crux round which capitalism hinges: the quest for profit for the bourgeois- This is to be replaced by a state centralised and planned economy organised so as to satisfy the needs of the workers and the masses. So that this plan can function, it is necessary for the state to expropriate the main branches of economy and take of control of them, otherwise bourgeoisie and imperialism will fight against it and will permanently boycott all the steps of planned economy. The possibility of integrating imperialist companies and great national groups to the “construction of socialism” as Chavism proposes it to be done is – in the best of the cases – a Utopian illusion. No class or sector of class will let others take their privileges away. The contrary is true: they will fight to defend them and this is what history teach us every time that – in good or bad faith – attempts were made to get integration to work.

This leads us to the second central question: there is no way of marching towards socialism unless the armed forces of the bourgeoisie have previously been defeated and annihilated. They are the fundamental pillar of the capitalist state and system, the last reserve in charge of the defence of that state and of capitalist property even when all other mechanisms have failed. It would take a long time to enumerate all the experiences to prove this statement both the positive way and the negative way. That is why, without destroying the armed forces and building some kind of military defence of the toiling masses, there is no chance of liquidating capitalism and beginning the construction of a state of a new type. This leads us to a major problem: can we expect Chavez, first a top officer of the bourgeois armed forces and now their commander in chief, to lead the destruction of those forces? Of course not. To the contrary, what we have seen is his policy to recompose them and build them up after the deep crisis they had been through after the 1989 Caracazo, deepened after the failure of the 2002 coup to defeat him. That is why he forgave the officers who led that coup, granted a significant salary increase to all the military men (placing them out of reach of the standard of living of most Venezuelans) provides weapons and technical resources for them, etc.

A programme for socialism

We cannot go into a comprehensive explanation of a programme of measure that we regard as necessary for a real advance towards socialism. That is why we shall only refer to those that we regard as central: stop paying the foreign debt and split away from IMF, annul contracts signed by PDVSA with imperialist companies, expropriate without compensation imperialist companies and banks and the great Venezuelan economic groups (such as Cisneros and Mendoza). At the same time we insist that the entire process should be under the control of workers and the people so that, in their own organisation (soviets, councils or popular assemblies, etc), they can discuss democratically how to put those resources into use and how to use the wealth produced. We also insist on the need to destroy the bourgeois armed forces and form a workers’ military body.

At present Hugo Chavez shows his close friendship with Fidel Castro. However, both seem to have forgotten the 1959-61 Cuban experience.  The Rebel Army defeated and destroyed Fulgencio Batista’s armed forces and then expropriated the companies belonging to imperialism and Cuban bourgeoisie. This was the first step that allowed Cuba, at that time one of the poorest countries on the continent, to overcome promptly some of the worst curse of capitalism, such as hunger, squalor, analphabetism and mortality among children. Unfortunately, it was the very same Castro-led Cuban leadership that has restored capitalism and some of these old curses have begun to reappear.

The truth is that Chavez follows the policy of the new Fidel, the Restorer and not that of Fidel the Revolutionary. That is why not only will he not carry out any such measures but he will be against them as well. The conclusion is that the only real way to advancing towards socialism in Venezuela will be through the organisation and independent revolutionary mobilisation of the toiling masses against Chavez and his policy.