What is Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform Really About?

Only an understanding of the political project that Chavez plans to develop in the country, and the specific political, economic, and social structure that it entails, allows us to fit the constitutional reform into the larger context and understand the real role it plays in laying the groundwork for the future plans of the Chavez government.

Much controversy surrounds the
recent proposal to reform 69 articles of Venezuela's national constitution.
Both national and international media have focused their attention on the reform
proposal and the opposition protests against it. But, as usual, mainstream
media have failed to provide the context and analysis necessary to actually
understand the meaning and purpose of the reform, instead focusing mostly on
some of the smaller and less significant parts, such as the elimination of
presidential term limits.

The central focus of Venezuela's
constitutional reform and how it fits into the larger picture of the political
process being carried out in the country has been entirely absent from
mainstream accounts. By leaving out the larger context in which this reform
lies and how it plays an essential part of the political program of the Chavez
government, the major media have created the image that the central purpose of
the reform is to concentrate power in the hands of the presidency. Once again, Venezuela's
Hugo Chavez appears as a power-hungry autocrat, a tin-pot dictator sitting on
massive oil wealth, this time reforming the constitution as a means to install
himself as president for life.

But what is Venezuelan's
proposed constitutional reform really about? Is it simply an ill-conceived
power grab on the part of Venezuela's popular president? Or is there something
deeper and more important to this wide range of constitutional changes? Only an
understanding of the political project that Chavez plans to develop in the
country, and the specific political, economic, and social structure that it
entails, allows us to fit the constitutional reform into the larger context and
understand the real role it plays in laying the groundwork for the future plans
of the Chavez government.

Setting the Stage for 21st Century Socialism

Long before his reelection in
December of 2006, President Chavez had announced his intentions to lead Venezuela towards
socialism. Convinced that the problems that plague Venezuela and much of the
world could not be resolved within capitalism, Chavez proposed a new kind of
socialism: Socialism for the 21st Century. This new form of
socialism, which emphasizes not repeating the same errors of previous socialist
states, was never explained in detail and is still a project in design. But
Chavez made it clear before last year's elections that those who voted for him
were voting for the socialist path and Venezuela overwhelmingly gave
Chavez the go-ahead on his 21st century project.

In January of 2007, during his
inaugural speech before the National Assembly and the nation, Chavez explained
the future changes that would need to take place in order to implement the new
socialist system. These changes were laid out in five steps, the five "motors"
of the revolution, as Chavez called them. These "motors" would set the
framework for a new social, economic, and political organization of the

And although the Chavez government
has put forth many plans for economic development, before these could be put in
place it would have to be established how the economy would be organized and
under what form of control. This is the key way in which the five motors of the
revolution would set the stage in which 21st Century Socialism could
be built.

"The first of the five motors
that I am referring to is the mother of all laws: the Enabling Law," announced
Chavez at his inaugural speech in January.

The Enabling Law was the first
motor to be put in place, and consisted of giving the president the power to
decree laws in certain areas for a period of 18 months. The law was passed in
early 2007, and was used to nationalize some strategic sectors of the economy,
such as telecommunications, electricity, and oil operations in the Orinoco
River Delta.

Chavez explained that certain
adjustments to the nation's laws, as well as articles of the national
constitution, would not only be necessary, but would need to happen all
together at the same time. For that reason, the first motor would have to work
in conjunction with the second motor, the Constitutional Reform, in order for
all the new laws to be put in place.

"The Enabling Law and the
Constitutional Reform are like two sister motors, two motors of the same
machine," explained Chavez. "It is required that we coordinate the two quickly
because there are laws that we have in mind that will only be possible when the
reform is done, when part of the constitution is reformed, because [the constitution]
is the law of all laws, we can't pass over it, it's impossible."[2]

The remaining motors of the
revolution would depend upon the legal changes in the Enabling Law and the
Constitutional Reform. Motor number three is a national educational campaign
known as "Lights and Morals."  Number
four is "The New Geometry of Power," and consists of a reorganization of the
nation's political structure. And the last of the five motors is "the Explosion
of Communal Power."

Each of these motors plays a
specific role in setting the country on the path towards a new model of
economic development under a new structure of social and political
organization. But what exactly is this new model, and how will these changes
play a role? Although 21st Century Socialism is still a project in
development and has not been clearly defined, fortunately there are some
indicators that give us an idea as to what this new model might look like.

A New Model of Development

There are several possible
models of economic development that any given country could choose to adopt
upon building national productive capacity. The most common model is, of
course, the development of industry under the ownership of private capital,
creating the fundamental problems of the concentration of wealth and power that
ultimately compromise democracy, as is well known in the capitalist world.

Other obvious alternatives to
this model include the development of the national economy under the ownership
and control of the state or worker councils and cooperatives, also with their
own issues of inefficiency and bureaucracy.

It was last June when President
Chavez announced an important part of his own "Bolivarian" project for national
development. In order to build productive capacity and the beginnings of national
industries, Chavez announced the creation of more than 200 "socialist" factories
over the next two years.[3]
More recently, Chavez stated that the first 66 factories would be installed and
inaugurated around the country by mid-2008.[4] Many
of these will be joint projects with various other countries to bring in
foreign technology from places like Iran,
China, Brazil, and

But before the new factories
can be installed in different parts of the country, their organization and
control would have to be established under new definitions of property and
management. Under the Bolivarian model, the means of production will apparently
not be solely under the control of the state, the private sector, or the
workers, but rather a mixture of many kinds of ownership and control. The text
of the proposed constitutional reform describes it in the following:

"The state will foment and develop different forms of
production and economic units of social property, from direct or
communal-controlled, to indirect or state-controlled, as well as productive
economic units for social production and/or distribution."[6]

President Chavez explained this
during his presentation of the reform proposal before the National Assembly
last August:

"You see that here is the basic economic triangle: property,
production and distribution. We are entering in all three elements, and it is
necessary that we do it with success in the movement towards, and the
construction of the socialist model… The economic units could be mixed
arrangements between the state, the private sector, and the communal power. You
see, businessmen of the private sectors, private sector producers, you are not
being excluded. We need you to work with us, to ally with us. Together we will
make the great nation that Venezuela
is beginning to be, inside of the great South American nation."[7]

Therefore, it is under these
kinds of property relations that the constitutional reform proposes for the
means of production in the Bolivarian model. The reform arranges the framework
for an economy under the control of organized communities, the state, and
private groups, as well as any number of mixtures of these forms. And in 2008,
as the government begins to install "socialist" factories in the country, they
can be set up under this framework.

Last September, the government
gave an indication as to how these factories might be organized in the future
with the inauguration of a new corn processing plant in the western state of
Yaracuy and announcements about these new economic units in general.

The Central Planning Committee
discussed the construction of this new type of economic structure, starting
with the inauguration of the first of ten corn processing plants around the
country. The corn processing plants, as is planned with other types of
factories, are operated by the local communities organized into Communal
Chavez has also recently mentioned the possibility of putting the thousands of
PDVSA gas stations across the country under the control of the organized
communities in which they are located.[9]

The Central Planning Committee
discussed the creation of the "socialist" factories under the control of
"communes" as a way of developing a new form of socialist economy. President
Chavez stated that the new factories could eventually be put under the control
of communes as a form of "communal" property or "social" property, as is also
laid out in the constitutional reform.

"These are the means for the
participation and central role of the people in the direct practice of their
sovereignty and for the construction of socialism," said Chavez upon presenting
his reform proposal. "And for the democratic management by the workers of any
enterprise of "social" property. This is a term that starts here, social
property. This is new, totally new in our constitution."[10]

Thus, the constitutional reform
is also an attempt to establish the new social and political organization of
the country into "communes" as a new power structure. Organized communities, currently
in a process of forming and operating Communal Councils around the country,
will unite with neighboring communities to form the communes, and groups of
communes will unite to form cities. The text of the reform says the following:

"The primary political unit of the national territorial
organization will be the City, understood as the population base inside a
municipality and made up of areas or geographic extensions denominated as
Communes. The Communes will be the geo-human cells of the territory and will be
made up by communities, each one constituting the basic indivisible nuclei of
the Venezuelan Socialist State
where the citizens will have the power to construct their own geography and

Chavez has said that in the
whole country there will be around 60,000 communal councils, organized into
10,000 communes, 3,000 cities, and 200 federal districts.

Therefore, as can be seen, the
central thrust of Venezuela's
constitutional reform proposal is to set the legal framework for the political
and social reorganization of the country, giving direct power to organized
communities as a prerequisite for the development of a new economic system: a
socialist system with the means of production under communal control.

The text of the reform states
that national laws will be passed to transfer control of public services, state
companies, and productive units to the communes, with the objective of
constructing a socialist economy.

These changes in the
constitution, and in the nation's laws, are essential to the other
revolutionary motors, such as the reorganization of the political geography of
the country (motor 4) and the increased role of communal power (motor 5). The
changes in the constitution will allow the Venezuelan government to move forward
with the reorganization of the country into the basic units of communes, and
later promote the power and influence of these structures.

Another important reform in the
proposal would allow the federal government to designate different regions of
the country as federal districts to focus on and accelerate their
socio-economic development. In a post-colonial country with very uneven
development in different regions of the country, the reason for this addition
makes sense as the government wants to intensify their focus on certain regions
of the country to ensure their quick and balanced economic and social

"These changes are going to
allow us to free ourselves from a territory that is chained by a structure of
political and territorial division that goes back centuries," said Chavez. "We
are going to break the chains of the old conservative, imperial, and colonial

While the reform also includes
many other secondary changes, some very progressive but also a few regressive
ones, the clear focus of the reform is the economic and political
reorganization of the country along the lines explained above.

A clear majority of the Venezuelan people understand
that the heart of this reform is simply a continuation of the Chavez project; a
process of wealth redistribution, national development, and expansion of
popular power that has made significant gains in recent years. Chavez' proposal
plans to make advances in all of these areas, expanding on the current
initiatives to develop national productive capacity and increasing communal
power; something that the Venezuelan people are seeing with their own eyes in
their own communities. It is for these reasons, as well as the high level of
confidence that they have in President Hugo Chavez, that the majority of
Venezuelans will come out for December's national referendum to vote "Si."

[1] President
Chavez explained the "motors" of the revolution for the first time in his
inaugural speech on January 10th, 2007. The full text translated to
English can be seen here: http://archivos.minci.gob.ve/doc/nada_detendrainglesweb.pdf

[2] Translated
from the original Spanish text of the inaugural speech: http://archivos.minci.gob.ve/doc/folleto_jurametacion_presidente.pdf

[3] Prensa Presidencial / Prensa Web YVKE, "Gobierno Nacional proyecta construir 208 fábricas
socialistas nuevas,"
Wednesday, September 5th, 2007. http://www.radiomundial.com.ve/yvke/noticia.php?102

[4] Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN), "Primeras 66 fábricas socialistas
estarán funcionando en julio de 2008," October 5th, 2007. http://portal.gobiernoenlinea.ve/noticias-view/ver_detalles.pag?idNoticia=72965

[5] For more
on the many different joint projects to bring in foreign technology, see my
last article, "The Struggle To Industrialize Venezuela": http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/2689

[6] Translated
from the final text of the reform proposal: http://www.asambleanacional.gov.ve/uploads/biblio/Reforma-%20Constitucional-%20final.doc

[7] From President Chavez' speech during the presentation of
his reform proposal, August 15, 2007: http://www.abn.info.ve/reforma_constitucional.php

[8] Prensa Web RNV / Prensa Presidencial, "Comisión
Central de Planificación evaluó el plan estratégico
de desarrollo," September
5th, 2007. http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=4&t=52455

[9] President
Chavez explained this idea in detail in an interview on live television last
week during a "Yes" campaign in the state of Carabobo.

[10] From President Chavez' speech during the presentation of
his reform proposal, August 15, 2007: http://www.abn.info.ve/reforma_constitucional.php

[11] Translated
from the final text of the reform proposal: http://www.asambleanacional.gov.ve/uploads/biblio/Reforma-%20Constitucional-%20final.doc