by Fred Magdoff
These are some brief impressions and reflections in the midst of a short visit to Venezuela. For 10 days I traveled with a wonderful group of 23, mainly from the New York City area (with delegates from Washington, DC, Washington State, and myself from Vermont). It was led by William Camacaro and Christina Schiavoni, with the Bolivarian Circle Alberto Lovera, a group in New York City that supports the Venezuelan revolution. The costs were kept as low as possible to allow an amazingly diverse group of activists, young and not so young and including two Monthly Review subscribers, to see the transformation in Venezuela for themselves. We traveled mainly to the west and Falcon State, but did go east of Caracas to a cacao farming cooperative. (Later this morning, I will be traveling to stay for a few days in a village in a rural area in Lara State and on Friday will be giving a talk on the world food crisis to faculty and students of the Bolivarian University in Caracas.) Anyone in the New York area that would like to learn more about the Bolivarian Circle Alberto Lovera, send me an email:
It is next to impossible to capture the complexities of what is happening here after such a short visit. However, I hope that some impressions of what we have seen and heard will provide a glimpse into this dynamic and exciting country that is attempting to build "21st Century Socialism."
Something is being attempted in Venezuela that has no precedent in human history -- building socialism from the bottom up in the midst of a capitalist society in a manner that is profoundly democratic (as well as chaotic). When you ask people what they mean by socialism, they speak of taking care of the poorest of the poor, building a society of equality, and establishing democracy where the people really and truly have power -- the power to decide the development and life in their individual communities. And where the purpose of the economy is to serve the people. Many of the new factories and processing plants are really more than cooperatives, where workers share "profits." Here many (but not all) of the cooperatives are in essence socialist units of production, community-owned because any profits are used to promote community needs.
The forces arrayed against the effort of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan people are certainly formidable. We may think of U.S. imperialism first of all, but lucky for the Venezuelans (though not so for people in the Middle East), the U.S. is presently overcommitted to fighting the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. This, of course, does not mean that the U.S. is not interfering in the internal affairs of this country, only that it has not given it its full attention. We heard a discussion by a member of the National Assembly about the situation with Columbia. It seems clear that the U.S. is doing its best to foment a war with the Columbian forces as a proxy army. However, the internal forces antagonistic to the transformation to socialism are also strong. This is, after all, still a capitalist country with many small shops, with the transnational and large national firms still operating. Additionally, much of the media is antagonistic to Chavez. (Nevertheless, the press and TV seem amazingly free to criticize the government -- some justified but much in the way of venomous attacks. The criticism from the U.S. over the shutting down of a TV station RCTV is almost laughable -- it is currently transmitting by satellite and cable. The only thing that happened is that its right to transmit over the airwaves -- which belong to the people -- was not renewed because of failure to live up to its public service commitments.) Thus there's lots of local money and other resources available to influence and corrupt the process and a most powerful incentive to do so. One of the many real challenges to the revolution is to somehow incorporate at least some of these anti-Chavez forces in the middle class into the revolution -- which is much easier said than done. To date, things have not been bad for the middle class and upper middle class. The economy appears to be thriving -- with all its troubles and contradictions. And with the use of oil revenue to fund so much of the revolutionary projects, there has been no need to requisition resources from the wealthy. In this way, Venezuela is in a very favorable position to effect real change. On the other hand, much of the middle class and very wealthy recognize a long-term threat to their interests in the Bolivarian Revolution that is attempting to bring socialism to Venezuela.