Venezuela’s Path

Venezuela looks to me like Uncle Sam's worst nightmare. I was humbled by Bolivarian ingenuity and steadfastness and by my own continued citizenship in the world's most rogue and brutal nation, against which I and other radicals have had such limited organizing success. Hopefully my country can follow Venezuela's lead rather than crushing its aspirations.

Going to Venezuela? There are beautiful waterfalls and mountains. There is rich surf, sand, and sun. But nowadays the biggest attraction is revolution.

This October I spent a week in Caracas. That's not much information to work with but for what it's worth, here's what I found and felt.

Toward a New Political System

My first and arguably most personally surprising encounter with the Bolivarian Revolution was at the Ministry for Popular Participation, which was created in accord, I was told, with Chavez's desire "that the people should take power."

I asked the officials we interviewed, "What does that mean, that the people should take power?" After noting thousands of years of "empires obstructing people from participating in politics," all culminating in "the North American empire," the official said the "U.S. has had 200 years of representative government, but in your system people turn over control to others." Instead, in Venezuela, "we humbly are proposing a system where people hold power in a participatory and protagonist democracy. We want a new kind of democracy to attain a new kind of society."

On the wall was a diagram of their aims. It had lots of little circles, then other larger ones in another layer, and so on. The idea, they said, "was to establish numerous local grassroots assemblies or councils of citizens where people could directly express themselves." These local councils would be the foundational components of "a new system of participatory democracy."

The bottom layer of the vision focuses on communities with "common habits and customs," the officials said. "We define them as comprising 200 to 400 families, or 1000 to 2000 people each." One could of course imagine sub units within each local unit, as well, but that wasn't immediately on their agenda, nor was it in their diagram. The local units would in turn send "elected spokespersons" to units another layer up. Units in this second layer would "encompass a broader geographic region," and then from there, "spokespeople would be elected to another layer, and so on," creating a network covering "parishes, municipalities, states, and the whole society."

The participation officials, explaining their diagram and their goal, said the smallest units were meant to become "the decision-making core of the new Venezuelan polity." Chavez and this ministry hoped to have, they said, "3,000 local assemblies in place by the new year." Their goal was to have "enough in place, throughout the country, in 4 or 5 years, to account for 26 million Venezuelans."

They didn't want "a dictatorship of the proletariat or of any other kind," they said. Strikingly, they also said they didn't want "what Che died for, though they wanted to learn from that." They wanted to build something new, from the bottom.

I asked, "What happens if the local assemblies want some new policy, and the ministers, legislature, or Chavez don't want it?" "No matter," they said, "the assemblies, once they are in place and operating, rule."

But, I said, "you don't want an assembly of 100 families making a decision for the whole country, surely." "Correct," came the answer, "the local assemblies can only make final decisions bearing just on their own area."

"Suppose one assembly decides it wants some change bearing on crime that has to do with federal courts or police or whatever, extending beyond that community?" I asked. "What happens? When does the law or policy change?"

"On every level there should be a response" came the reply. "On the lowest level assemblies would do whatever they can within their community. But crime goes beyond a community, and requires going to the next higher levels where the issues would have to be confronted, too. On the municipal level they might change ordinances, etc., to also respond. And it could go higher, then."

Okay, I asked, "Suppose one local assembly wants a younger voting age. They bring it to the next higher level and members there are excited about it too. Does it go up to a legislature and does the legislature have any choice?"

I was told the local unit would – through its spokespeople – send the proposal to the next layer of the popular democratic structures. "Had they decided something bearing only on their local neighborhood, which is all that is happening now, such as the age required for local votes, it would simply be enacted, under their supervision, for them, without having to be discussed more widely." But if their desire stretched wider, as a general new voting law for national elections would, "their proposal would go up, as far as is relevant. Then the proposal would go back to the base of all assemblies for all to consider."

These Bolivarians, entrusted by Chavez's administration with building a new, parallel polity, didn't want any more representative decision making than absolutely necessary. They wanted the proposal from one assembly to go up not so that it could be decided by representatives, but so that it could be discussed by spokespeople and then be brought back to other local assemblies by their spokespeople, eventually to all of them, to be decided at large. "If support came," I was told, "then the goal is that it would yield a new voting age, whether Chavez or mayors or the legislature or anyone else wanted the change or not."

I said surely there must be many elected or just appointed mayors, governors, or bureaucrats who would obstruct this vision, not wanting their power reduced or that of the populace increased. Yes, I was told, "many bureaucrats have held positions for twenty or thirty years and about sixty percent of them are putting breaks on the proposal."

"Even among ministers in the Chavez administration," I asked, "do some resent that they would go from having power to just obeying the public? Cuba's poder popular began with many of the ideals you express," I noted, "but never got to the point where the national power was participatory. Do you believe that the Chavez government will help the assembly system reach its full development, or that after awhile the assembly system will have to push against the government to get full power?"

The answer was "only the organized population can decide. We are on a path to invent a new democracy. We have gone forward from what we had before. There are no guarantees, but we are trying to go further." There was no need, however, the officials said, to remove or otherwise forcefully conflict with the old structures. Rather, the new system would be built alongside what now exists and would prove its worth over time, in parallel. Many in the old would come around, others wouldn't. But either way, in time the old forms would be replaced by the impressive reality of the new forms' success, not by fiat or by force.

"How will Chavez's initiative encourage people to create these local assemblies?" I wondered. The whole assembly structure was a project in development, the officials said, and there were diverse ideas about how to make it happen. Here was the most striking and instructive one I heard. "We Bolivarians have a program for citizens in barrios to gain ownership of their current dwellings. They need only petition to do so, but they have to do that in groups of 200 families or more for the petition to be accepted." In that case, the dwellers get their homes and the community of families hopefully becomes a grassroots assembly.

I asked, "Do you find that the government has to prod the people to participate?" The officials replied, "The people are taking initiative, but it is very important that the government supports them." People taking power involves "a new way of thinking and a new culture," the officials said. "The president and we are working hard to make participatory democracy happen, but we all have limitations in our heads to overcome, as well as old structures." This was a recurring theme. In Venezuela, while there have been coups and thus struggle against capital and also external imperialism, at the moment the struggle seems to be more against the imprint of the past on even poor people's habits and beliefs.

"How many people," I asked, "already support this program?" "The full picture of assemblies is very new, just about to be announced," they said, "but the general goal of people's power maybe about a quarter understand and strongly support, with more soon." They emphasized they didn't want a system "that gives power to another person." They didn't "want representative democracy." The people elect, in the Venezuelan model, "spokespeople, not representatives." What will be proposed in one unit will get to the other units by going up via elected spokespeople, and then back down to the base, through other spokespeople, for further discussion and decision. What will be decided at lowest levels will be binding. "The country has 335 municipalities," they noted. About 255 are with the president."

Discussions about police and courts are also proceeding, I was told, but I didn't get to talk with people working on that dimension of change and apparently it was, as yet, not nearly as far along. These officials told me that the "socialism we are trying to construct incorporates understanding the history of past efforts in Russia, Cuba, etc., but it is not about state run enterprises or a dictatorship. We have to create our own model to reduce the work week, to defend nature, and to create social justice for both the collective and the individual. If it continues, capitalism will put an end to the planet. We have to find a way for everybody to have a better standard of living but also preserve the planet. A virtuous individual thinks about the community. That is what we are looking for."

Additional Examples

Regarding health, though I didn't get to talk to any government officials directly involved with the program, or to any doctors dispensing medicine, it was clear that again the government hadn't simply taken over the old structures and as yet had no inclination to do so. Instead, in cooperation with Cuba, which sent 20,000 doctors, the government had set up new clinics all over the country, dispensing health care locally in barrios, bringing to the poor their first local health care. We were told these clinics serve people's needs, operate pretty democratically, and have doctors who earn typical workers pay and often less. The people love the clinics and the Chavista health officials, I would bet, look for the old structures to bend and break under the competitive pressure of the new ones, but without having been directly coerced.

We visited barrios, which were gigantic stretches of hillside covered with small shack-like homes, and we saw intermittently the newly constructed small but clean medical clinics the Cuban doctors worked from. Compared to nothing, which was the correct comparison, it was a huge improvement and helps explain Chavez's support from the barrio communities. We also heard about a plan for eye care, even offering free eye operations of diverse kinds, 500,000 operations over ten years, to poor U.S. citizens. The Venezuelans would provide the transportation. The Cubans would do the surgery. Having eye problems myself, I listened closely, smiling at the thought.

The same general pattern was true of a project aimed at raising literacy throughout Venezuela. With the same logic and methodology, this project also proceeded by not fighting with the old, but instead existing alongside it. In under two years, Chavez reports and apparently UNESCO verifies, Venezuela has eliminated illiteracy.

Indeed, this same pattern is being employed, we saw, even for higher education. The government didn't take over the national universities, private or public. Instead, after the oil industry strike failed during the last coup attempt, when almost a third of the industry's managers and other technical workers were fired for having participated in trying to bring down the government, many of the prior oil administration buildings were no longer needed. Obviously the bureaucratic waste and fraud had been enormous. A group of these liberated buildings were transformed into the new Bolivarian University.

Workers councils ruled the new university. The government minister of education became its Rector. In time, he overrode the council, determining instead that there would be only meetings of smaller groups, and that he would only interact with representatives from those. This characteristic pattern of a central planner interacting with a workplace and demanding a chain of command in it and in that way interfering with direct self management was disturbing. The Bolivarian revolution is juggling many tendencies with roots in many aspects of social life. But the pedagogy of the new university is, I learned by interviewing a professor there, very innovative, emphasizing serving diverse communities by students having to do projects at the grassroots, having to relate their studies to social conditions and needs, and having grading being a shared task for students, faculty, and community residents.

In an interview with Justin Podur the then University Rector put it this way, "We will prove that you can have quality and equity in education. We will form holistic professionals who are citizens. They will learn ethics, social responsibility, respect for a Latin American and Caribbean identity, solidarity, respect. The professional produced by this institution will work for the transformation of society. She will be a critical thinker who can stimulate others and generate questions. Our curriculum is based on 'axes' of education. Any plan or program of study – say an engineering or teaching professional program – is your 'professional axis'. But you also have a cultural axis, a political axis, ethical axis, aesthetics axis, a social-community interaction axis where you work directly with sectors of society outside of the university from the start."

Bolivarian University has about 7,000 students, we were told, and about 700 staff of whom 250 are non-faculty but only 120 are full-time professors. Some faculty resist the new pedagogy as too flexible. Some see it as too community oriented. In meetings there are radicals and reactionaries. Some faculty resist the trend toward providing classes for non-teaching staff. Some resist having steadily more equitable pay relations among all employees. Some resist the drive to bring the school's resources out into the country, setting up missions beyond Caracas, promoting higher education while reaching out educationally to Venezuela's rural areas for the first time.

Looked at in the large, Bolivarian University competes with the rest of the system of higher education by offering an evolving, but already dramatically different experience. The minister heading Bolivarian University might not be optimal in terms of workers self management, but we were told he does talk frequently and forcefully about proving that the new approaches are better and replacing the old ways via having people see the benefits of change. The students at Bolivarian University, not surprisingly, are mostly poor, which is the opposite of the old system. Ties between the school and local co-ops, which are in turn constructed with uniform wages and council self management, are continually extended, building a kind of parallel world to what has gone before.

Considering still another key domain of social life, media, the emerging pattern continued. A look at the daily newspapers showed that of the first 25 articles, reading from the first page forward, fully 20 were broad attacks on or highly critical of Chavez. The rest were on entirely other topics. And this was typical, day after day, I was told. The papers are privately held corporations, not surprisingly hostile toward Chavez's inclinations. Chavez doesn't restrict them, however, much less nationalize or otherwise take them over. The same situation holds for key TV stations. Regarding the TV stations, however, and I bet something like this will also happen with print before too long, the government has a strategy.

VIVE TV is a new station created, like Bolivarian University, by the Chavez government. We visited and enjoyed touring its facilities. The widest salary difference, from the head of the company to people who cleaned up, was three to one, but the new payment policy, being steadily if slowly enforced, was to attain equal hourly pay for all by periodically raising wages of those at the bottom until they reached parity.

VIVE has roughly 300 employees. Their equipment wasn't like CBS, but it was certainly excellent and far reaching in its potential. The new VIVE website presents their shows, archived, for the world to see. The station's governing body is, of course, a worker's assembly. Workers at VIVE lacking skills are encouraged to take courses, including in film production and other topics, given right on the premises, and those facilities are also used to teach citizens from Caracas and more widely how to film in their own locales.

Indeed, the station's mandate was to provide a voice for the people. Its shows, we were told, routinely present citizens speaking their mind, including voices from well outside Caracas, which was a first for Venezuela. To that end, VIVE undertakes lots of community training, distributing cameras to local citizens as well, so people around the country can send in footage and even finished edited material, for national display.

In some respects VIVE is like a local community cable station in the U.S., except that it is national and the élan is far, far higher, and the desire to incorporate the seeds of the future in the present structure is far, far more explicit and radical, with the employees seeing themselves as presenting to the country and the world a new kind of media that, they hope, will be a model picked up elsewhere as well.

VIVE takes no ads, "to avoid being controlled." There is actually, on the shows, much criticism of the government, since the shows convey grass-roots opinions. But this criticism, unlike that on mainstream private stations, is honest and heartfelt, not manufactured. Rather than trying to create dissension, it is constructive.

Along with VIVE and a national public station directly under government control, there is also a new federal law which imposes on private stations that 25% of their shows must be produced by independent producers, not by the stations themselves. This is a kind of service requirement, but, interestingly, it is VIVE who trains many of these contracting producers. Here again is evidence of a kind of multi-pronged, legal, almost stealth-like incursion on old ways, both within the new institutions which are creating new approaches even against recalcitrant attitudes and habits, and also via the new institutions challenging the old ones, by a contrast effect or by outright competition, and injecting ideas into them through the independent producers as well. Venezuela has also embarked on a continental station, to broadcast news and the voices of the poor throughout Latin America, but we didn't have a chance to visit so as to comment on that.

Regarding the economy, Venezuela starts out with huge advantages compared to other third world countries. The oil industry is nationalized and is the centerpiece of the society's economy. Moreover the oil industry provides a gigantic flow of revenues, unlike what any other dissident country has ever enjoyed while trying to chart a new path for itself. Likewise, oil not only provokes great U.S. interest, it also provides considerable defense against U.S. intervention.

We were told by an oil industry official, however, that there are still many transnational firms who contract for various aspects of oil business in Venezuela. The government's reaction, he said, was not to challenge them, much less expropriate them, but to form new co-ops doing the same functions, intended to out compete the transnationals. These new co-ops are worker self managed. They usually are seeking equal wages and even in the least egalitarian ones the ratio is at most three to one. In addition, a minimum social wage is guaranteed. An idea slowly being implemented is to federate the coops, facilitating their interacting and exchanging via social rather than market norms. The vision, it seemed to me, is that in time contracts will go almost exclusively to the co-ops so that the transnationals will simply leave, of their own accord, no confrontation needed.

I asked if officials thought using competing on the market as the strategy to drive out transnationals risked entrenching market mentalities, but the question wasn't really understood. Similarly, my asking whether officials were worried that utilizing as a key strategy market competition would impose on self management old style aims and means, greatly reducing its latitude for change and perhaps even causing it to give way to new hierarchies, also didn't resonate. There is immense opposition to capitalism and its private ownership. There is major opposition to large disparities in income. There is considerable opposition to gaps in job types yielding passivity versus domination. But only a few people seem to be hostile to markets per se.

One of the few who seem to reject markets, however, is Chavez himself. How else can we explain his approach to international economics which not only predictably rejects the IMF, WTO, World Bank, and particularly the FTAA, but is beginning to hammer out an alternative based on mutual aid and, in effect, violating market exchange rates to instead undertake transactions in light of true and full social costs and benefits, and with a commitment to sharing gains from exchanges not just equally, but more advantageously for the poorer participants. This certainly seems to be the logic of the wide array of agreements into which Venezuela is entering with not only Cuba but many neighboring countries, as well as specific occupied factories throughout Latin America, for example providing oil at amazingly low rates and beneficial terms, often in exchange for goods, not payments. This is quite like Cuba's historic sending of aid and items to poorer countries at cut rates, but the scale is tremendously increased, and where Cuba primarily offered people, as in doctors, Venezuela is doing this with resources and economic products, more directly subverting specifically market logic.

Returning to my exchange with the oil official, when I asked about CITGO – the oil industry owned by Venezuela operating in the U.S. – moving toward having a workers council to self manage it, moving toward equal wages, and changing its division of labor, not only on behalf of those working at CITGO but as a demonstration inside the U.S. for other U.S. workers of the potential of self management and equity, the official was very excited, even wanting to immediately call others to talk about this idea. Later discussion of the related possibility of Venezuela making inroads, via CITGO or otherwise, into media and information dispersal in the U.S., instead of information incursions always occurring only in the reverse direction, caused still more excitement.

We were told by the oil ministry officials and also by trade unionists and others how in Venezuela, like in Argentina, there was a movement, just getting up to speed, to "recuperate" failing or failed workplaces. The difference was that while in Argentina this occurs against the inclinations of government, in Venezuela the government welcomes and even propels it. Indeed, the government has now assembled a list of 700 such plants and is urging workers to occupy and operate them on their own. Another difference, however, is that in Venezuela the method of decision-making adopted for the recuperated plants is called co-management and involves both a workers council and government representatives. The upside of this is that the government is often to the left of the local workforce in the affected workplace helping educate and prod it. The downside is that the centralizing inclination of the government and the participatory inclination of real self management are in opposition. We saw both these tendencies in the Bolivarian University, with the government minister pushing radical pedagogy on sometimes contrary faculty, but also reducing the influence of the workers council. In fact, however, it seemed for the moment, in any case, the government was so over stretched that if there are widespread recuperations, government involvement will be slight and workers will in practice be left to self manage.

Beyond a factory recuperation movement in Venezuela the government also creates new co-ops from scratch. These are also co-managed, at least in theory, and also tend to seek equitable remuneration, etc. These co-ops have often been small and local, everything from little dress shops to small construction projects, but plans exist for creating new firms to produce computers, mine resources, run an airline, etc.

As I understood what I heard, the co-ops are expected to out-compete old capitalist firms – a very reasonable expectation given that the co-ops have lower overhead (due to reduced management pay rates, reduced numbers of managers, and altered job roles), and that co-op workers have an inclination to produce more consistently and energetically under the new social relations. The danger of the co-op strategy, however, is that operating via market norms and methods and specifically trying to out-compete old firms in market-defined contests may entrench in them a managerial bureaucracy and a competitive rather than social orientation, leading more toward what is called market socialism, which in my view is a system that still has a ruling managerial or coordinator class and that operates in light of competitive prices and surplus-seeking, instead of the approach pushing them toward what the most radical Venezuelans clearly desire, which is a classless, participatory, and self managing economy, in which people are socially motivated and are well off and efficient, operating in light of full social implications seeking both personal and collective well being.

In capitalist firms, still dominant in economic sectors other than oil, there is a change in mood as well. Workers identify more with the state and feel it is an ally, providing by its initiatives, in the words of a trade union leader, "a more promising moment for change." This has led to workers in capitalist firms "challenging old union norms and methods" and feeling uncomfortable being "stuck in old relations while others are building new co-ops." This trade union leader estimated that "80% of Venezuela's workers firmly support Chavez." She also said this is why the better unions are thinking about pushing for self management even against capitalist owners. She said "while at first occupying failing firms was just self defense" seeking to protect "jobs and union freedoms," more recently more radical unions are seeking "more consistent strategies to win co-management or self management."

She told us that "five or six years ago the typical Venezuelan worker would not exhibit any class consciousness, but now the Bolivarian revolution was awakening class consciousness not only in workers, but in all people." I asked what would happen if "workers in a successful capitalist firm, knowing friends in coops or recuperated firms who enjoyed controlling their conditions and having equitable incomes, struck against their owners and petitioned the government to take over the firm and make it self managed." She talked about how arrangements would likely be made providing the private owners "credits and investments if they would undertake co-management with the workers." I wondered why businesspeople "would make such a stupid deal when it was clearly just a first step toward their disappearing. Why would they do it, even with short term benefits?" I also asked again about "workers wanting to take over a really successful firm, not giving the owners anything, but just taking over? Why weren't workers all over Venezuela seeking that? And what would happen if they did?"

The trade union leader replied that "of course the businesspeople are not stupid, but they believe we are." She talked about unions spreading "the revolutionary virus into the workers" and I asked again, how come it didn't spread quickly, all on its own? She blamed "old union leaders, afraid of taking new steps." But she also said that "just two years ago no one would have believed a worker managed factory was possible but now there are over 20, with over 700 under study for occupation to get them back to work." She pointed out the need to do all this "along with raising consciousness of people." She said, "going too fast, without people wanting it, wouldn't work." And she noted that the businesspeople are "still trying to manipulate and buy off the workers, and especially the leaders."

I also asked this trade union leader, who was explicitly responsible for international relations, about links with movements and unions in the U.S. She reported Venezuelan Chavista unions having links to the "AFL-CIO in California, some grass-roots unions, and the antiwar movement," but not with the national AFL-CIO because they are still giving money to those imposing old bureaucracy and fomenting coups."

I asked her what proportion of the paid workforce was female and she replied, "about 50%." I asked about women's salaries compared to men's and she said there was no difference for the same jobs, but "women didn't get as good jobs as men." I asked if things were better in the occupied factories, and she said "As far as I can tell things are somewhat better, yes, but not ideal." She said "The double duty of women is the biggest obstacle to their deeper involvement in union work." I asked if the Bolivarian movement was trying to address this and she said "The new constitution says domestic work has to be acknowledged as work for social security purposes," but I asked about men and women doing it more equally and she said that that "was progressing very very slowly. At the grassroots level lots of women participate, despite double or even triple work, but our men are very macho, and regrettably many women spoil them by doing all household work." She said her situation was unusual because she got lots of help at home.


From my trip it seemed to me that…

(1) The Bolivarian movement, and in particular President Hugo Chavez, is pushing the population leftward. Even more, the Bolivarian movement, and particularly President Hugo Chavez, is seeking to replace old capitalist forms with new forms that they call anti-capitalist, participatory, socialist, and Bolivarian, among other labels. They are not directly and forcefully challenging and taking over or removing old structures. They are operating legally in the interstices of society to nurture new forms into existence and to then show by contrast and via socially acceptable competition that Venezuela's old forms are inferior, expecting that in time the new forms will legally win out over the old. But as to what these new forms are, there is far more clarity concerning political norms and structures than economic ones. One would like to see a national exploration, debate, and consciousness-raising campaign aimed at clarifying and advocating the ultimate goals of the revolution, and at making knowledge of its goals and continuous critique and enrichment of them a national possession, not a possession only of some leaders.

(2) The Bolivarians' unusual transitional approach has as its vanguard aspect that the Bolivarian leadership is ideologically and programmatically far ahead of its populace and trying to get that populace to move further and faster than it is alone inclined to. It has as its anarchist aspect, however, that the movement is being nourished, even if by a national president, mostly from the bottom up. It seeks to exist in parallel and to become prevalent without violence and even without confrontation. It seeks to embody the seeds of the future in the present to avoid generating a new domination. It is trying to win adherents by evidence, not force.

(3) The centrality of a single leader, at least that it is Hugo Chavez, seems to be a highly unexpected benefit. Chavez, so far, has not just been congenial and inspiring, audacious and courageous, willing to step outside every box and implement program after program, experimenting and learning, but has also shown remarkable restraint in utilizing the accoutrements of central power and has even been a key source of anti-authoritarian influence. At the same time, it is also true that the centrality of a single leader, Hugo Chavez, though perhaps unavoidable, is also a debit. The leader could turn bad, or could disappear, and at this point either turn of events would be calamitous. A related problem is the lack of a serious opposition on the left. Revolution benefits from disagreement, debate, and diversity, but those attributes have trouble arising amidst a siege mentality. One wonders who will succeed Chavez, and how the people will succeed the leaders, unless there is massive popular education in leadership and the revolution's aims.

(4) Finally, the idea of out-competing the old system with a new one created in parallel is very cleverly beneficial in that it avoids undue premature conflict that might bring down holy hell on the Bolivarian project even as it also draws on strengths and sidesteps weaknesses. But the idea of out-competing the old system with a new one created in parallel is also at least in one respect detrimental because it risks ingraining competitive qualities and methods and buttressing bureaucratic and classist structures, and because it may ignore some recalcitrant features from the past that need early dramatic attention lest they later drag down the whole project.

My overall impression was that the Bolivarian revolution is still vague. It doesn't have clearly enunciated feminist politics, anti-racist politics, or even anti-capitalist politics, though in all three cases the inclinations are incredibly humane and radical and are moving rapidly forward toward enunciating full aims and proposing immediate program in that light. Chavez appears to be a remarkable detonator of insights, himself moving leftward at a great pace. The Bolivarian revolution is most ideologically clear, which is ironic and a powerful testimony on his behalf, given Chavez's military background, regarding political democracy and political participation where it seems to be already committed to a well conceived, compelling and innovative institutional vision that outstrips what any other revolutionary project since the Spanish anarchists has held forth.

The future is not certain. The Bolivarian revolution could still stall in social democracy. Co-management and not self management could lead that way. It could still stumble or even rush into typical old style "socialist" channels. Its market strategies and lack of clarity about class divisions based on divisions of labor, not property, push that way. There is always a danger of authoritarianism when a government is prodding a populace, of course. But the Bolivarian revolution could also, however, provide a remarkable model, both of a better world and of a very original way to arrive at that better world. Which of these results, or of others, happens, is largely going to be up to Chavez, the Bolivarian movements, and the Venezuelan people, though mass external support, not least to restrain U.S. aggressive inclinations before they can corrupt or destroy the experiment, are also profoundly needed.

I left Venezuela inspired and very hopeful. Venezuela looks to me like Uncle Sam's worst nightmare. I was humbled by Bolivarian ingenuity and steadfastness and by my own continued citizenship in the world's most rogue and brutal nation, against which I and other radicals have had such limited organizing success. Hopefully my country can follow Venezuela's lead rather than crushing its aspirations. Hopefully, citizens in the U.S. can make that happen. Officials won't, of course.

Michael albert is founder of ZNet, one of the largest progressive websites in the U.S., and is author of Parecon: Life After Capitalism.

Source: ZNet