Just what is 21st-Century Socialism?

The first thing that needs to be said is that the definition of 21st-Century socialism is not yet completed. When President Chavez first broached the subject, he invited the Venezuelan people to participate in a discussion on the subject.

As a result of President Chávez’s resounding triumph in the recent election, many people have become seriously interested in the proposal he made in his speech of Feb. 25, 2005, at the inauguration of the Fourth Summit of Social Indebtedness.

In it, Chávez expressed his belief that the revolution should be socialist, otherwise it would not be a revolution. Later, when discussing that speech, he explained that it should be a 21st-Century type of socialism, giving a name to a new concept. But exactly what is 21st-Century socialism?

A concept in the making

The first thing that needs to be said is that the definition of 21st-Century socialism is not yet completed. When the president first broached the subject, he invited the Venezuelan people to participate in a discussion on the subject. Many of us have participated in forums and have written articles that permit an in-depth analysis. Nevertheless, it is vital to read Chávez’s speeches to understand with greater clarity where this process leads, all the more so when the president was backed by almost 63 percent of the voters in the recent election.

Socialism was born in Latin America

Lamentably, people who make simplistic analyses of events always confuse the concept of socialism with that of Marxism, whereas Marxist socialism is only one of the models of socialism that have been applied worldwide, although it certainly is the most famous.

When Marx spoke about his vision of socialism, he went back to an older concept that arose in the early 16th Century from the mind of Sir Thomas Moore (a saint, not a politician) in his famous work “Utopia.” Moore was fascinated by Vespuccio’s descriptions of the Archipelago of Fernando de Oroña in Brazil and in his work imagined a perfect society, which he called socialist.

Of course, the first people who applied this model dreamed up by Moore were not the Russians but the Jesuits, in their “reducciones” (communes) of Guaraní Indians in Paraguay. This fact is interesting, because it is not coincidental that the concept of socialism apparently emerged in some Brazilian islands and was later applied in Paraguay. In other words, the first socialists were not the Europeans but the Latin Americans.

21st-Century socialism is not Marxist

I don’t know how many times Chávez has had to repeat it. He has been saying it since 2003. He has said it clearly in several remarks, speeches and television programs: “This is not a Marxist project. I have many Marxist friends, but this is not a Marxist project.” (“Hello President” radio program, Oct. 2, 2005.) He even has told it to journalists in interviews and press conferences.

“I am not a communist. If I were, I would say so without hesitation. Had I had a Marxist project for Venezuela, I would have said so from the first day I stepped into the political arena. So, I am not a Marxist. I feel close to socialist and progressive thinking, but I am not a Marxist.” (Interview with CNN correspondent Lucía Newman, Aug. 18, 2004.)

Just in case, he repeated that statement at the press conference in Miraflores Palace on the day he was confirmed as President-elect. But this was not made public by the media because much of the press operates as agents of the dirty campaign of anti-Chavismo and they need to instill fear in the people. Therefore, anything that may reduce or dissipate that fear is censored or simply omitted.

Bolivarian socialism

Bearing in mind that socialism is not synonymous with Marxism and that Chávez has clarified until exhaustion that he is not a Marxist and has no Marxist project for Venezuela, we should remember that the first time that the president described the Venezuelan revolution as socialist (Feb. 25, 2005) he was delivering an extraordinary speech (one of the best I’ve ever heard him deliver), where, documents in hand, he interpreted — in his capacity as professor of Venezuelan history — the thoughts of Liberator Simón Bolívar on social subjects.

Chávez took the decrees on education, land ownership, health, and the use of common goods that Bolívar issued after independence and, as he read them, he explained what the Founding Father bequeathed to us as the framework for a nation. Clearly, as Chávez concluded at that time, Bolívar was a socialist.
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Therefore, to define 21st-Century socialism one doesn’t have to look into European thinking, but into Latin American thinking, more specifically, into Bolivarian thinking.

Christian socialism

For several years now, a process of personal conversion has taken place in Chávez’s heart. Now he defines himself as profoundly Christian, speaks of Jesus as his savior, and invokes him as “the Commander in Chief of this revolution.”

In this sense, he has posited that 21st-Century socialism must be inspired in Christianity.

It should be said that this is not something he invented. Christian socialism is a political current that has been very important in the world, particularly in Latin America, notwithstanding the fact that some political organizations that have defined themselves as such paid no heed to the ideas of Jesus.

It is important to make clear that, when we say 21st-Century socialism has a Christian inspiration, we don’t say that it must be confessional but that it is based on the social thinking found in the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole. It is the socialism practiced by the early Christian communities after Pentecost.

Obviously from the 21st Century

This definition must include the fact that 21st-Century socialism looks to the future. In other words, it is not anchored to the socialist models that ruled much of the world in the past.

Nor is it a socialism that emerged from — or was framed by — the Cold War in the mid-20th Century. It is a new socialism, inspired on the values the world accepts as fair in this new century: democracy, respect for human rights — not just civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights.

‘Capitalism cannot contain democracy’

This was a statement made by Chávez in a recent press conference. And it is a clear statement. If democracy is the power of the people and for the people, it has no place in a system where individual interests are above the collective interest, and where capital is more important than people.

Socialism is nothing more than placing collective interests above individual interests, as a priority. Only thus can we live in democracy. If an individual and his money are above a community, that relationship will never be a democracy. It will be a dictatorship or, worse yet, a plutocracy. Like the one that exists in the United States, a nation with 45 million poor people.

Venezuelans voted for this project

Ever since democracy began, no president has received a support at the polls as big as Chávez received this time. I think that clears all doubts. Venezuela wants socialism and it wants it to be the 21st-Century version.

Translation found on Progreso Weekly

See also: The Meaning of 21st Century Socialism for Venezuela