Speaking on his television program, Hello President on February 27,
Venezuela’s popular pro-poor president, Hugo Chavez, explained: “I am convinced,
at this stage of my life — I am now 50 years old — after six years as a
president, after nearly 30 years of political struggle... after many readings,
debates, discussions and many travels around the world, I am convinced, and I
think that this conviction will be for the rest of my life, that the path to a
new, better and possible world, is not capitalism, the path is socialism.” The
studio audience cheered.
These comments, like Chavez’s
comments to tens of thousands of participants in the World Social Forum (WSF) in
Brazil in January, are part of increasingly overt agitation for socialism by
In his WSF speech, Chavez insisted
that “capitalism could not be transcended from within capitalism itself, but
through socialism”. This message, delivered by a political leader with enormous
respect across the Latin American continent, is among the most radical calls put
to a mass WSF audience.
Chavez, whose government has led a
process known as the Bolivarian revolution aiming to eradicate poverty, made it
clear in the WSF speech that he stood for “democratic socialism”,
differentiating that from the model existing in the Soviet Union. He stated: “We
must reclaim socialism... but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which
puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything.”
On February 25, addressing the 4th
International Conference on Social Debt in Caracas, Chavez re-emphasised the
point. He declared “if not capitalism, then what? I have no doubt, it's
socialism”, according to Pascal Fletcher’s account for Reuters, which Fletcher
titled: “Defying the US, Chavez embraces socialism”.
Then, two days later, came the
Hello President program, where Chavez said: “I am convinced that the way to
build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to
In a March 1 article on the Hands
Off Venezuela website that discussed the television program, Jorge Martin claims
that Chavez has urged the start of an ideological discussion about socialism
amongst those supporting the Bolivarian revolution, including Chavez’s own
Movement for a Fifth Republic.
Chavez’s presidency is based on
popular support and mobilisation. Pro-Chavez forces have won nine national
elections in the last six years, including a referendum on whether or not to
recall Chavez from the presidency.
A key part of the Bolivarian
revolution has been organising the poor majority into institutions of power so
they can directly control their lives. Chavez argued that the “tools for
building socialism” were these popular organisations already constructed as part
of the struggle to create “participatory democracy”.
The uprising in Venezuela is part of
a continent-wide revolt against harsh neoliberal policies pushed upon Latin
America during the 1980s and 1990s by the institutions of imperialism, the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in particular. The resulting
wealth disparity in Venezuela was staggering. While the country is the fifth
largest supplier of oil in the world, 80% of Venezuelans were living in poverty
By then, only 20% of the state-run
oil company’s revenue was getting to the government, the rest remaining in the
hands of a wealthy management clique, while foreign companies extracting
Venezuelan oil paid extremely low royalties.
In 1989, the Venezuelan government,
at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, increased the price of basic
goods and services out of the reach of the poor.
This provoked a spontaneous uprising
known as the Caracazo, which was brutally put down by the military,
with some reports putting the death toll as high as 2000. Inspired by the
bravery of the poor and repulsed by the use of the military to repress the
people, thousands of young officers and soldiers led a rebellion to overthrow
the government in 1992. The rebellion failed, and its leaders were jailed. But
as the central leader, Chavez became a popular hero.
Riding a wave of anti-neoliberal
fury, Chavez swept the 1998 presidential elections on a platform of
redistributing the nation’s wealth. While it immediately encouraged
self-organisation of the people, Chavez’s government didn't break decisively
with the capitalist system. It did, however, introduce some good reforms.
In a series of laws passed in 2001,
the government significantly increased royalties levied on foreign oil
companies, made 100% of oil revenue go to the government and allowed for
expropriation of large land-holdings to be redistributed to landless peasants,
amongst other measures. Also, the rich were taxed for the first time and a
program of building homes and public works for the poor implemented.
These measures provoke bitter
opposition from the capitalist class. In April 2002, the business elite
organised a US-backed military coup that briefly overthrew Chavez and installed
the head of the Chamber of Commerce in power. The coup was overturned by a
working-class uprising. In December 2002, the capitalists again tried to
overthrow Chavez, this time by means of economic sabotage, with bosses shutting
their factory doors and locking out their workers. In the oil industry, which
the government depends on for 30% of its income, the pro-capitalist management
clique locked-out the oil workers and sabotaged the industry — hoping to bring
the country to its knees.
Instead the oil workers mobilised to
take the company over and get it up and running under their control. Chavez
sacked the entire upper management — bringing the company under true government
In the process of defending the
government through these fights, Venezuela’s people have become more organised,
radicalised and confident in their ability to make a better, fairer society
themselves. This means that the government is in a much stronger position to
introduce measures that directly shift wealth to meet the needs of the majority,
and out of the pockets of the capitalist class.
Funded by the oil wealth, the
government launched a series of ‘‘missions’‘ that have: brought free health care
to the poor for the first time, eradicated illiteracy, lowered unemployment,
created popular markets that sell cheap goods among other gains. The government
also introduced a law that banned bosses from sacking workers, and Chavez has
encouraged workers to take over factories if the boss tries to lay them off.
According to Martin, Chavez stated
on Hello President that when first elected he was hoping to create “a
third way, capitalism with a human face, trying to give the monster a mask”. But
he concluded: “this mask has fallen to the floor shattered by reality”.