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Opinion and Analysis: Bolivarian Project | Participation | Social Movements

Venezuela’s 21st Century Socialism and the Difficult Journey from ‘Me’ to ‘Us’

The Venezuela of today is a nation mobilized in defense of a new ideal – a proposal for the future referred to simply as Socialismo del Siglo 21, or 21st Century Socialism. In short, the Venezuelan people’s permanent struggle for peace and justice has today converged with humanity’s historical pursuit of equality; giving birth to a present day plan of action for human liberation. Thanks to the Venezuelan people, their decision to elect and defend President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, and their shared interpretation – and permanent reinterpretation – of socialism as a future worth fighting for, humanity has a new opportunity to consolidate a social, economic, and cultural system that serves to overcome many of the pervasive social relations promoted and reproduced under capitalism. This Venezuelan possibility, however, is dependent on both the Venezuelan people’s ability to overcome their nation’s own internal contradictions, and the people-of-the-world’s ability to control capital’s assault on the Bolivarian Revolution.

Born of a critical view towards the devastating impact capital has on human health, human relations, and on the ecosystems that sustain human life – whether as a result of underconsumption [See: Poverty, Global Majority] or its’ interconnected opposite, overconsumption [See: Obesity, U.S. and Europe] – this analysis seeks to contextualize a few of the guiding principles being used by the Venezuelan people in their struggle to consolidate a socialist society, and takes a brief glimpse at the challenge faced by 21st Century Socialism in the fight against capital’s culture of consumption that remains quite present in the Venezuela of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Defining Socialism of the 21st Century, or Bolivarian Socialism –

Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), also known as “The Liberator” in most of Latin America, once said that “the most perfect system of government is that which produces the greatest possible sum of happiness” for the majority of any nation’s citizens – a notion Bolívar is said to have been exposed to while studying under mentor Simón Rodríguez (1769-1854); influenced strongly, no doubt, by Rousseau (1712-1778).

In Bolívar’s view, “nature makes human beings that are unequal in nature, temperament, force and character.” Because of this innate difference in human beings, Bolívar believed that the social systems developed by the human collective must serve to “correct these differences, placing individuals into a society in which they have equal access to education, economic development, the arts, services and virtues.” Equal access, affirmed Bolívar, was the first and necessary step towards social equality, without which, “all freedoms, all rights, perish.” The Bolivarian equation, made simple, understands equal access (to resources, to culture) as a fundamental condition for social equality, and understands social equality as the only guarantor of peace, justice, and prosperity.   

According to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez the Venezuelan people’s historical pursuit of social equality has always been guided – “warmed” as he puts it – by deep-rooted sentiments of social solidarity, cooperation, and an entrenched anti-imperialism seeded during the anti-colonial independence period of roughly 200 years ago (1806-1825). In order to flourish, asserts Chávez, the Bolivarian Revolution needs these ‘sentiments’ transformed into daily actions by the thousands upon thousands of organized communities that currently make up the Venezuelan landscape. These aforementioned ‘sentiments,’ affirms Chávez, are the basis for an “ethical fight against capitalism’s vices,” including individualism, egoism, privilege and the exploitative consumption model that are destroying Venezuela’s today and Venezuela’s tomorrow.

Borrowing from a speech by Chávez (Aló Presidente 19/02/2006): “the construction of socialism is our reason for being, but this alone is not the entire picture. It is no longer a simple question of a political, moral, ethical or ideological impulse. No, it is much greater than that. It is now about saving the earth, because the capitalist model, the model of development, the consumerist model imposed on the world by those in the Global North; that model is bringing an end to life on the planet.” 

The “ethical fight” against capitalism, and the path towards Socialism of the 21st Century,  are detailed in Venezuela’s first set of guidelines for socialism’s advance; the Simón Bolívar National Plan 2007 – 2013 (PPSN). In it, Chávez writes of an “ethical and moral refounding” of Venezuelan society, “rooted in the fusion of principles and values born of socialism’s most advanced humanist currents and the historical inheritance of Simón Bolívar’s political program.” Socialism of the 21st Century, according to the PPSN, prioritizes the “supreme happiness of each citizen” within a societal context of social justice, social equality, and social solidarity.

The PPSN singles out capitalism as social equality’s “enemy number one,” pointing to the alienating, anti-social values it promotes as cause for great concern. The plan calls on the Venezuelan people to wage “a dialectical struggle for the material transformation of society and for the spiritual development” of themselves, their families, and their communities. Spiritual development, it argues, involves the birth of an “ethical, socialist humanism that is guided by solidarity, the collective realization of individualities, and the rational satisfaction of men and women’s fundamental needs.”

Socialism of the 21st Century, it seems, is both a concrete proposal to meet the Venezuelan people’s material needs [See: Bolívar, Equal Access & Social Equality] and a battle of ideas that seeks to overcome capital’s alienating effects on the human being.

“The only way to construct a world of social justice, equality, and brotherhood,” says Chávez, is through socialism, precisely because socialism, according to the Venezuelan president, is “a profoundly humanist current.”

Revolutionary Humanism and People’s Power –

Argentine author, politician, and historian Jorge Abelardo Ramos (1921-2004) [See: Bolivarismo y Marxismo (1969)], once wrote that those who struggle for social and economic justice in Latin América, “are obliged to join the works [thought/action] of both Marx and Bolívar.” In his attempt to link the region’s anti-colonial struggles with present-day anti-capitalist movements, Ramos concludes quite correctly that Bolívar’s “unfinished tasks remain for Marx’s disciples.”

Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967), one of the most dedicated of both Bolívar and Marx’s disciples, affirmed that socialism is no more humane a social system than capitalism just because “a new dominant and illuminated class distributes, in a more just and paternalistic manner, the wealth produced [by society].” Instead, Guevara argued, socialism is more humane precisely “because it is a genuine system grounded in poder popular (People’s Power).” Guevara’s permanent concern for humanity, for the consolidation of a society that attends to humanity’s historical pursuit of equality and freedom, is one of the principal reasons his thoughts and actions are widely promoted in Venezuela today, especially by the socialist currents most closely tied to the Venezuelan president [See: Schools of Ideological and Political Education of Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV)].

Socialism as People’s Power, held Guevara, becomes reality when a society’s majority has “the total possibility of determining their collective destiny, deciding how much [of society’s wealth] goes to accumulation and how much goes to consumption. Economic strategies/developments are then put into place based on these figures/ allotments, and the people’s consciousness secures their successful completion.” This consciousness, as will be addressed below, is where the battle of ideas has a great terrain to cover.

In Venezuela today, one of the grassroots organizations most dedicated to the consolidation of People’s Power is the Bolívar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ) – an active political current within Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) comprised of the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ), the Simón Bolívar National Communal Front (FNCSB), the Bolivarian Popular Workers’ Movement (MPBO) and the Simón Rodríguez Center for Political Education and Social Studies (CEFES). The CRBZ is largely responsible for establishing Venezuela’s first communal city – the Ciudad Comunal Simón Bolívar (CCCS-SB) – made up of 39 community councils, organized first into 10 communes, and later into the country’s pioneering communal city. Located in Apure state, the CCCS-SB encompasses roughly 115,000 hectares of land, or 46,500 acres, and is considered the country’s most concrete example of People’s Power. 

 According to the CRBZ:

 The building of People’s Power is a complex effort, less easy than taking the sky by storm or taking power – understanding power as an object. It’s about weaving consciousnesses, going about configuring new relations of power in a laborious and slow organizing effort – it’s about sowing the seeds of socialism in each individual and in each political space and territory that belong to the people. It’s about cementing, little by little, revolutionary hegemony. It’s also about destroying the backbone of the capitalist model, its anti-values and its individualist culture. This requires a great deal of patience and conviction because it responds to a different logic, to another perspective on power, distinct from those known to date on both the left and the right. We take on, with the passion of lovers, People’s Power and the daily efforts to go about germinating and cultivating it in the heart of the People.  

 We understand People’s Power as the transversal axis of the Revolutionary Project, as the alpha and omega of all transformations, as the primary source for the construction of the new Socialist State that substitutes the still alive Bourgeois State.”

While both the CRBZ and Ernesto Che Guevara’s proposal for a radically democratic People’s Power might seem a difficult proposal to achieve, leftist sociologist Jose Ingenieros reminds us that “opposing an imagined version of the future [in this case, true People’s Power] with the experience of the present [capitalism and its perverse human relations] is like turning out the lights on a walking path so as to not lose sight of the destination.” 

 It is precisely Venezuela’s attempt to consolidate People’s Power, a proposal based on the ideals of revolutionaries like Che Guevara, which make 21st Century Socialism such an important historical process to observe, understand, support and defend.

 Without a revolutionary humanism to guide those who are building People’s Power, without the insistence that each person partake in the decision-making that will develop 21st Century Socialism, without a great love for and trust of humanity, the struggle for socialism will have lost its point of reference, its light on the walking path. In the words of Che Guevara, “the development of a socialist society makes sense only if it serves to transform people, if it multiplies their creative capacity, if it takes them beyond egoism. The transition towards liberty’s realm is a voyage from the ‘me’ to the ‘us’.”  

The Venezuelan Voyage from ‘Me’ to ‘Us’

The voyage beyond egoism in any society is a difficult road to travel, and this is especially true in the case of Venezuela; a nation entrenched in a consumerist model perpetuated by the ability to export millions of barrels of oil and import boatloads of cheap consumer goods on a daily basis. Confronting a ‘culture of consumption’ that goes far beyond the just struggle to secure people access to their basic human needs (food, water, housing, health, education and culture), the Venezuelan people face an ideology that permeates their day-to-day lives and struggles.

Cuba’s José Ramón Fabelo explains how the egocentrism so common in societies dominated by capital is nothing more than the result of a logic perpetuated by society’s elite – an elite, according to Fabelo, that finds itself in a “permanent pursuit of the maximization of profits at the cost of everyone and everything, and which forces others, including the poor, to act in an egocentric way, because for the poor this egocentrism is often the only way to achieve their own survival.” Struggling to survive, Venezuela’s majority has for centuries been forced to fight against itself in an illogical pursuit of a portion of Venezuela’s abundant resources – resources that for centuries had been siphoned off by the upper-crust of Venezuelan society.

And while capitalism’s value system is quite deeply engrained in the collective consciousness of Venezuelan society, renowned eco-socialist Michael Löwy explains how it is far from permanent. Löwy argues, instead, that socialism is a future “founded on a reasonable assumption, already supported by Marx: the predominance of ‘being’ over ‘having’ in a society without social classes or capitalist alienation, i.e. the primacy of free time over the desire to have innumerable objects: personal fulfillment by means of real activities - cultural, sporting, playful, scientific, erotic, artistic and political. Commodity fetishism encourages compulsive buying through the ideology and the advertising that are proper to the capitalist system. Nothing proves that this is part of “eternal human nature”.

Venezuela’s CRBZ, the principal reference of People’s Power in Venezuela, is an organization with a great deal of clarity as it relates to the challenge posed by capital’s dominant ideology. In their ‘Declaration of Principles,’ the CRBZ explains that the Venezuelan people “have a long and complex conflict in this area, and to win, should develop an effective counter-hegemonic strategy that from a popular and revolutionary perspective contributes to the transformation of the social consciousness – a consciousness that today is profoundly permeated by capitalism’s ideas and value systems.”

To overcome said ‘culture of consumption,’ the CRBZ dedicates a number of its grassroots efforts to “the ideological literacy of the masses, the cultural work, the consolidation of ethical governments, the construction of systems of popular information – all from the communes and communal cities” and considers this ideological battle against individualism, egocentrism, and the pervasive ‘me,’, as “the most decisive of all battles of the Revolution.”  

As president Chávez affirmed in 2005, “Without a cultural process, there cannot be a revolution. A revolution that is not accompanied by a cultural impulse designed to empower our roots, propels ideas, rescues costumes…a revolution that does not include that is not a revolution.”

Conclusion

To secure that social equality enshrined deep within the Bolívarian Ideal, both Bolívar and Chávez have insisted on the need for individuals to “make sacrifices” for the collective good. In the era of Bolívar, this sacrifice could have very well meant one giving his or her life in the fight against Spanish colonial rule. Today, in the heart of the Chávez era, this sacrifice is “simply” a question of the permanent participation in a revolutionary humanist project, and the not-so-simple struggle (ideological) to break from a model of consumption that promotes the personal pursuit of the ‘me’ over the well-being of the ‘us.’

In this very difficult journey from the ‘me’ to the ‘us,’ the Venezuelan people have an overwhelming historical reference in Bolívar, the leader of a popular independence movement that helped liberate half a continent (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) and in their current president, Hugo Chávez, a living example of what it means to give oneself entirely to humanity’s liberation.

Both references, Bolívar and Chávez, merit a great deal of study, admiration and emulation by the people of Venezuela, and the people of the world.