Which Way Venezuela?

Misrepresentations of Venezuela abound. Data is limited and people interpret it in
quite contrary ways. Information deficit plus skewed interpretations
cause many people who ought to support the Bolivarian Revolution to
instead doubt or even reject it. Useful lessons from Venezuela go
largely unreported and thus have less than their widest possible effect.

By Michael Albert - ZNet
Short URL


The diverse factual reports and other data included are are culled from 
documents made available by the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S.


Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution is exciting and exemplary, yet few people know much about where Venezuela is headed.

Misrepresentations abound. Data is limited and people interpret it in
quite contrary ways. Information deficit plus skewed interpretations
cause many people who ought to support the Bolivarian Revolution to
instead doubt or even reject it. Useful lessons from Venezuela go
largely unreported and thus have less than their widest possible effect.


Overview


Hugo Chavez became President in 1999 and in that year, largely due to
the ravages of neoliberal reforms in the 80s and 90s, the Venezuelan
poverty rate had reached 50%. The aim and promise of Chavez and the
Bolivarian Revolution was to not only eliminate rampant, raging,
poverty, but to attain a new economic and social system consistent with
the highest standards of human fulfillment and development.

In the 1999 constitution, Article 299, for example, emphasizes "human
development" as the cornerstone of social judgements and Article 70
states that the "involvement of people in the exercise of their social
and economic affairs should be manifest through citizen service organs,
self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms, community
enterprises, as well as other kinds of associations guided by the
values of mutual cooperation and solidarity."

But, as many skeptics would point out, words are not deeds, and you can
find nice words everywhere - including, say, in the constitutions of
countries suffering dictatorship and economic and social injustice, as
but one example, in the constitution and other literary organs of the
the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Words matter some, but they become infinitely more important and
reliable as evidence if there are deeds in their support and
particularly if institutional relations breathe life into the words
every day.

So what about deeds?


Bolivarian Policies and Their Meaning


According to Venezuelan statistics,
"unemployment has decreased from 14.7% in 1999 to 7.9% in 2008.
Employment in the informal sector has decreased by 6.4% during that
same time. The number of people living in poverty has decreased from
50.4% in 1998 to 33.6% in 2007 and the number of those living in
extreme poverty has decreased from 20.3% to 9.6% in that same period.
The Human Development Index (HDI) increased from 0.72 in 1998 to 0.8 in
2007, and during that time, the GINI coefficient (a measure of economic
inequality) decreased from 0.49 to 0.42.5."

These changes, and many more statistical indices that could be offered
- tell us there have been monumentally important improvements in the
lives of many Venezuelans. But are those improvements a sign of a
revolution going down a path that will lead to worthy ends including
classlessness, social justice, etc.? Or are the improvements a sign of
a corrupt and rotten version of familiar social structures having some
of their most egregious excesses reigned back, but with no likelihood
for fundamental change? Or are the improvements a marker of
revolutionary change that will wind up in rotten results?

By analogy, are the gains worthy and hopeful for a hugely transformed
future? Or are they like, say, gains we find in the U.S. under FDR or
in Sweden transformed by social democrats? Good, but not fundamental.
Or are the gains a sign of a process, temporarily serving diverse
popular interests to win allies, but headed toward untoward final
relations, like the Bolshevik process?

Why is it that some people see an unfolding revolution that they feel
will wind up creating a new society in Venezuela and a beacon for
humanity more widely? Yet other people see an unfolding struggle within
existing relations, already causing some very wonderful and worthy
gains, but going nowhere much beyond that? And other people see a
process that is doing nice things at the moment, but which they believe
is going to inexorably devolve into familiar authoritarian outcomes
that will, in retrospect, compromise it all?

Is it that some people have more information to go on? Is it that there
is enough information for all, but some read it one way - and others
read it another way due to priori expectations or greater insight? Or
is it that the information is vague, and we all tend to read into it
based on whether hope or fear is momentarily most active in our
consciousnesses?

I think all these reactions happen - and regardless of which is
dominant, I am certain more information of a probing sort, getting at
the heart of aims and methods, would help.

According to the Superintendence of Cooperatives (SUNACOOP), in
Venezuela, there were 910 cooperatives nationwide in 1999, while by the
end of 2007, that number had risen to 228,004. According to SUNACOOP,
the cooperative sector in Venezuela now represents about 14% of
Venezuela's GDP, and accounts for about 18% of employment in Venezuela.
Most of the cooperatives fall under the service sector (61.29%) and the
production sector (27%).

But what do these facts tell us? No one could deny that they reveal an
incredible dynamism. But about ultimate aims... people will have
different reactions.

In one reading, the facts noted indicate that the reform effort to make
life better for the poor against the mega rich has utilized coops - a
good thing. But in this reading, these facts are not the stuff of
revolutionary transformation.

In another reading, the facts noted indicate that Venezuela is on the
road to fundamentally transformed economic structures - a true
revolution. More, folks with this reading see a revolution not just
concerning property relations, but also concerning the division of
labor and methods of decision making and remuneration. They see that in
a world situation complicated by both a lack of revolutionary
aspirations in much of the Venezuelan population and a hostile
international context, the Bolivarian process is taking critical steps
on the road to profound and worthy revolutionary changes which still
are, however, a ways off.

In a third read, these facts show only that in Venezuela there is an
appeal to poor constituencies - and while the associated reforms are
good in their proximate implications for those constituencies, they are
part of fundamental changes which lead in ultimately bad directions
along paths we have seen revolutions travel before. Chavez says the
Bolivarian goal isn't twentieth century socialism all over again - but
doubters say, sure, what did you expect Chavez to say? Where's the
evidence?

How does one know which read makes most sense, or even have a truly
informed estimate? We must know Venezuela's long term goals and methods
as evidenced by structural lasting deeds. We must know how the changes
taking place so far are viewed at different levels of society. We must
know what steps the changes have involved and, even more so, what steps
are in the pipeline to come? But we don't know these things. Do people
who confidently say they know where Venezuela is going use tea leaves
to read the future? More understandably, to they read into the future
based on what they have seen elsewhere in times past - whether that is,
for them, hopeful or fearful?


Looking Deeper

A report available from Venezuela points out that: "The rise of
cooperatives began in 2001, with the Special Law of Cooperative
Associations." It emphasizes the importance of the State in "promoting
cooperatives through various mechanisms including education, improved
access to financial services, direct tax exemption and the
prioritization of cooperatives in public contracting" (Article 89). In
fact, Venezuelan sources report, "economic growth accelerated in the
year 2003 as a result of the implementation of these mechanisms through
various state agencies."

For example, one of the most important programs in this regard was the
creation of the Vuelvan Caras Mission in early 2004. In its own self
description, "this state-run program offers both technical education,
such as classes in agriculture, tourism or construction, and
orientation as to what the Bolivarian economic projects are about."
Rather incredibly, "between March 2004 and August 2007, over 670,000
people completed the program, resulting in the creation of more than
10,000 cooperatives by its alumni, more than 3,000 of which pertain to
the agricultural sector."

Is this worthy reform but no more?

Is this the first moves in an inspiring journey toward a truly classless economic and social structure?

Or is this a sop to the poor while establishing a new class rule and
even authoritarianism, using but then failing to fulfill poor peoples'
support?

Different people see the events in Venezuela differently - but what is
missing to decide with real confidence what we think, is more
information about what the goals are, about the extent to which the
goals are widely shared and owned by leaders or by everyone, and what
the methods are and how they connect up to the goals.

"Vuelvan Caras" is one of 25 "social missions," or state-sponsored
social development programs, currently operating in Venezuela "in
diverse fields of human development such as education,health, culture
and nutrition. They are a fundamental part of Venezuela's policy of
redistributing wealth and making basic social services accessible to
all citizens. Studies have found that the social missions contributed
to a 9.9% decrease in the poverty rate since 2003."

But what the missions mean - writ larger?

When you compare the Venezuelan government's agendas and
accomplishments to what, say, the U.S. government does for its less
privileged and downright poor citizens, the contrast is incredibly
stark. But still, having better government policies than the U.S. is
not the same as having wonderful policies. So where is it going?

I am no expert, but my guess is if we were to look back at the New Deal
in the U.S. we would be able to find, over a period of years, a great
many comparable statistical achievements. Similarly, I am sure that if
we were to look at the Bolshevik transition in the Soviet Union from
one harsh and horrible system, to what turned out to be another, we
would again see a huge pile of innovative and positive, albeit it in
some cases temporary, gains. And I think we can also easily comprehend
how a sincere effort to really transform a capitalist, patriarchal,
culturally divided, bureaucratic society into something fundamentally
oriented to human well being and development could involve diverse
steps like those we see in Venezuela, giving am extensive list of short
term gains, but most important also leading forward in worthy new
directions. So, again, for Venezuela - which is it?

In September 2007, "Vuelvan Caras" continued under its new name, "Che
Guevara," to emphasize the incorporation of new elements into its
educational plan. "This new plan aims to educate students about the
distinctive socio-economic models that have been evolving over time,
including, for example, the Social Production Enterprise (EPS) which is
model that has developed in Venezuela within the last few years." These
EPSs are defined by the government as "economic entities dedicated to
the production of goods or services in which work has its proper and
authentic value, with no discrimination associated with any type of
work, no privileges related to certain positions or hierarchies and
with equality between its members, based on participative planning."

That certainly sounds very good - as words. But what about associated
deeds? Are there really units being constructed that involve all actors
in planning and decision making and that have real equality of material
and social circumstance among members, including equitable
remuneration? If there are, what is the make up of these units? What
features do they have? What is the plan for those features to become
core to the whole economy? Should we be optimistic about these
innovations carrying forward? Should we be emulating lessons?

Venezuelans report - though almost no one outside hears the words much
less critically engages with them - that "in practical terms, Social
Production Enterprises represent an advanced cooperative model, where
part of profits are invested into community projects."

Profits? How advanced is it as a real model for a better future, if
there are still profits, albeit some enlightenment in their use?
"Today, there are at least 3,060 Social Production Enterprises in
Venezuela, representing about 30% of the supplier contract value with
state enterprises." If these are all internally on a path to
classlessness, this is major news, to say the least. If these units are
modestly improving internal and broader social relations with nice
social policies, it is very good very good news, but unstable and short
of revolutionary. If they are on the path to authoritarianism, then
there are nice aspects, but no hope for a truly enlightened future. So
which is it? Limited reform, careful but innovative and hopeful
revolution, or careful but familiar and not too hopeful revolution?

Oil and Venezuela?


PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, we are told, "has taken a
lead role in bringing about the move towards a new socio-economic
model. 10% of the investment volume of every project carried out by
PDVSA goes into a social fund that is used for projects in education,
health, infrastructure or the social missions."

This is a good policy, of course, but if Mobil in the U.S. did the
same, under pressure or due to a very innovative administration, what
would that mean? It would be good, but how good? The answer would
depend on whether it was just a temporary policy or a step on a
revolutionary path - and on where that path was going.

PDVSA, we are told, "is supporting endogenous (or inward-focused)
development in Venezuela. By working hand in hand with the private
sector, they plan to invest $56 million in 6 large development projects
until the year 2013."

Private sector? And will that persist? And if so, will it eventually bring back all the old crap?

In Venezuela, gas for autos and other vehicles is subsidized so that
the price of a tank of gas for your car in Caracas, for example, is a
tiny fraction of what people pay in Boston, New York, London, or Rome.
What is the logic of this policy - which is ecologically and socially
backward in so many respects, but persists due to popular desire? What
does not tackling the retrograde approach tell us, if anything?

In 2004, we are told, "PDVSA's national contracts were valued at $6
billion. Of this amount, 80% was concentrated in the hands of 148
firms. In accordance with the concept of participatory democracy in
Venezuela, PDVSA made it a priority to democratize its supplier base,
meaning that it opened up to the many small cooperatives prevalent
throughout the country. This way, the state oil company fostered an
endogenous model of development that is in line with Venezuela's social
principals. By December 2007, PDVSA's supplier network included more
than 3,000 Social Production Enterprises."

But, really, is this about fundamentally transforming the basic
underlying structures of the economy - its property relations, division
of labor, its modes of decision making, norms of remuneration, methods
of allocation - or is it only about ameliorating the most egregious
injustices while retaining old structures?

The fact that in their words, PDVSA "developed an extensive program
around the inclusion of EPS, having hundreds of people work on the
identification of supplier opportunities, a standardized EPS
registration system, and an educational program aiming at strengthening
social production enterprises and preparing them to do business with
PDVSA and other government entities" is undeniably a massive social
experiment that is at least, unto itself, extremely progressive. But is
it more?

In its "EPS School," the potential suppliers "pass through three phases
of socio-economic and technical education, receiving up to 760 hours of
preparation, depending on the sophistication of the service to be
provided."

But is this education about the techniques of oil provision mostly, or
does it have a social and structural component building consciousness
headed toward new social relations? And if the latter is true, what are
the features and what success and problems are encountered?

We are told that "once an EPS has a contract with PDVSA, it commits
itself to contributing about 3% of profits to PDVSA's Social Fund,
which currently holds millions of dollars being invested in community
projects."

Okay, is that a small step, but a step nonetheless, on the road to
eliminating profit as a social category - or is it just a minor tax on
firms, with profits still overwhelmingly in command?

Venezuelans quote from graduates of the EPS programs to demonstrate their impact:

"Today a dream is coming true for us. In the past, doing business with
PDVSA was the privilege of a view large enterprises. Small companies
found closed doors at PDVSA. This changed with President Chávez...now
it's the first time that small businesses are given the chance to
participate as suppliers and partners of PDVSA, contributing in this
way to the socio-economic development of our country....and we are
feeling proud of this."

Is it just a program redressing gross imbalances? Or is it, beyond what
the above person perceived - a program on the road to fundamentally
transforming how production, consumption, and allocation are
accomplished?

Programs Beyond Our View


Here is another bit of news from Venezuela I was sent. "Beyond the
Social Production Enterprises, many other new socio-economic concepts
have evolved in recent years, such as the "Nuclei of Endogenous
Development" (NUDES)." How many people outside Venezuela had heard of
that? I hadn't.

"In Venezuela NUDES are formed when communities discover potential
projects, linked to a physical space in their surroundings
(installations, factories, land) and organize in and around this space
to carry these projects out. For example, various cooperatives might
join to reactivate the area of an abandoned factory, reviving in this
way a whole neighborhood and linking the inhabitants of this area to
the activities of the NUDE, such as in the case of the Nucleus Fabricio
Ojeda."

Again, you can imagine these efforts existing as a broad social
democratic effort to improve the distribution of income, engender
participation, etc., while maintaining the basic structure of society.
Or you can imagine them to be part of a movement and process that will
wind up in the old style socialist swamp. Or you can imagine them as a
part of a rich and diverse process seeking something entirely new, true
classlessness, real participation, even self management.

To judge which picture is real depends on knowing what is said, day to
day, back and forth, by the people involved. Are the changes seen as
tributaries of a growing tide - or are they seen as the whole point,
themselves? Is the process coming ever more under the control of the
populace, or is it centralizing outside the purview and influence of
the populace?

We hear that, "a huge inventory plant in the neighborhood Catia in
Caracas had been inactive for 12 years until the community decided to
turn it into a NUDE. In February 2004, 330 persons formed 24
cooperatives for carrying out diverse construction projects in the
nucleus and bringing the area back to life. Today, the Nucleus is a
flourishing and active community center hosting more than 60
cooperatives in various areas and counting on important facilities and
services such as health care clinics, Misión Che Guevara, sports camps
and pharmacies, just to name a few. Today one can find more than 100
NUDES in Venezuela including more than 950 cooperatives active in
various fields and especially in agriculture."

Again, it is very clearly a vast and exciting social and economic
project with extremely progressive implications. That much is certain.
But beyond that, we still don't know.

"Social Production Networks are formed when a Nucleus connects with
other Nuclei, or with cooperatives, EPS's, Socialist Production Units
or any form of alternative organization to carry out activities for the
benefit of the community."

One person sees in this New Deal innovation and dynamism. Another
person sees in it positive programs which, however, will sooner or
later be compromised by elite rule. A third person - okay, I am this
person - sees an incredibly rich pattern of innovation which seems to
auger truly revolutionary aims. What I see seems to be building up,
slowly, on a base that was not highly politicized, and in a hostile
international context, the infrastructure of new relationships in a
kind of parallel economy and polity, that will be ready, in time, to
challenge for the future of Venezuela.

Another innovative feature of the Bolivarian project - or revolution -
depending on your opinion - are the Socialist Production Units. These
"are companies run by the government and marked by extensive community
involvement. UPS's are found predominantly in the agricultural sector,
and they promote national agricultural sovereignty. Part of the profits
of these companies is invested into community projects, which are
identified jointly with local community leaders. In the long term,
UPS's will ideally be handed over directly to the community and run as
community enterprises."

Profit? Maybe it is just a word, referring to something other than
surpluses accruing to private owners. And what of the internal
organization of the "socialist" structures. Are they internally like
the 20th century firms of Russia, say, or do they offer something new,
or headed toward something new, at least? And if there is originality,
what shape does it take? Does it address the division of labor? The
norms of remuneration? The modes of decision making? The allocation
relations to other firms and consumers?

For example, we are told that the UPS Agrimiro Gabaldon which was
"formerly a privately-run coffee plantation" was "forced to close down
due to a drop in coffee prices," but "was recently inaugurated as a
Socialist Production Unit." The report says that "under the new model,
it extended its coffee cultivation area from 35 hectares to 96 hectares
in the year 2005, and began selling its output mainly to public
entities."

Okay, but did the plantation also alter its internal division of labor?
Is it becoming democratic or even self managing? Is it becoming
equitable in its approach to wages? Does it compete with other firms -
or cooperate?

We hear that "thanks to the creation of these NUDES, Socialist
Production Units, and Social Production Networks, an important number
of neglected sites and companies have been revived, providing new jobs
and linking local economies to local communities to carry out
infrastructure and social projects."

In other words, the changes are occurring in firms and neighborhoods
where things are virtually falling apart. Is this a wise
strategic/tactical way to begin innovations, to make them seen, to
develop support for them, and then to spread them? Or is it a kind of
emergency method for dealing with horrendous problems, to be
transcended later, by settling for more familiar and less innovative
and participatory options when the worst problems are left behind?

We hear that "in order to strengthen regional economies and make them
less vulnerable to financial crisis, the government of Venezuela has
actively supported the rise of barter system and the creation of
communal currencies throughout Venezuela. Currently, about 4,000 people
practice bartering in 6 different regions in Venezuela (Yaracuy,
Falcón, Sucre, Nueva Esparta, Margarita, Barinas, Trujillo). Each has
its own local currency. Agricultural products are mainly available for
barter trade, and the practice fosters local agriculture."

This reveals that indeed some changes are stopgap and instituted only
to deal with problems that wouldn't be present in a transformed future.
Other changes, however, may be part of that future. Which are which?

We hear that "Communal Banks were developed hand in hand with Communal
Councils, or elected neighborhood-based councils. Communal Councils
oversee local politics and execute development projects geared toward
improving the socio-economic status of their communities. The concept
of Communal Councils is grounded in the Law of Communal Councils, which
was passed in April 2006."

Is this a method for getting out of poverty with support from the
population - or even beyond that is it the beginning of structures of
local grass roots self management that will eventually override the
apparatus of mayors, governors, president, etc.?

Communal Banks "are the financial arm of the Communal Councils. They
are constituted as cooperatives and administered democratically by five
persons elected to the Citizens' Assembly, which is the highest
decision-making body of the Communal Councils. Communal Banks
facilitate the flow of resources toward community development projects."

Is this an example of doing some good things with old structures? Or is
it a step away from old structures and toward overcoming market logic
and behavior, having investments and production and consumption
determined by cooperative negotiations among producers and consumers?
We need more information to have a solid opinion.

A New Type of Economy and Polity?


We are told that "according to the Ministry of Popular Power for
Participation and Social Development, there were 19,500 Communal
Councils in Venezuela by March 2007, and the majority of them received
funding from various ministries and state institutions."

Some would say local councils - venues for neighborhood folks to be
politically involved - are little more than means for the government to
poll a passive populace.

Others would say it is even worse, they are the infrastructure of state
intervention and oversight of daily life, via snitches and the like.

Others would suggest, and I am in this last more optimistic camp, that
these local structures are the beginning of an effort to build a
completely new type of political system - for legislation,
adjudication, and also, as per above, for implementation of shared
programs.

In Venezuela you have the new, the incredibly new, the old, and the
incredibly old - and you could replace the word new with progressive
and the word old with reactionary and the sentiment would remain valid.
It is not easy to navigate such complex phenomena, with limited
consciousness present in the population, with media and finances
arrayed against your endeavor, and trying to avoid open warfare and win
change peacefully, and to simultaneously be forthright and clear at
every stage about where things are headed. It is easy to empathize with
the complexity and constraints and to understand why information is
limited. Still, if possible, clarity would help win informed allies,
supporters, advocates, and perhaps most important, would spur emulation
elsewhere as well.

We are told that "by March 2008, the Ministry of Popular Power for the
Communal Economy alone has approved more than $400 million to be handed
over to 2,540 Communal Banks for productive projects. 1,533 of these
banks have already received the whole amount assigned to them, and
another 833 received part of the amount. With this money, 21.277
micro-credits were allotted to cooperatives and individual
entrepreneurs. Most is used for projects in the service industry, or
in commerce or agriculture."

Okay, this is obviously very good by many standards, but is it revolutionary?

"By the end of this year, FONDEMI (the Microfinance Development Fund)
plans to finance 3,000 more Communal Banks, distributing yet another
$420 million for productive projects."

This is clearly also very pogressive, but will it lead to a temporarily
enlightened and certainly better developed Venezuela which is still,
however, fundamentally capitalist, patriarchal, etc.? Or will it yield
a Venezuela that is socialist in the old manner - the 20th century
style? Or will it yield, as Chavez urges, something new, a classless
and socially just society?

We are told that "thanks to the thousands of community projects carried
out by Communal Councils, many important initiatives such as street
pavings, sports fields, medical centers, and sewage and water systems
have been financed and implemented."

Is this the New Deal Venezuelan style - and like the New Deal likely
only to revert to familiar shapes once crises are averted and
development proceeding? Or is it a process using reforms as means of
arousing support, but headed toward old socialism? Or is it a process
using diverse reforms as means to enlist participation, comprehension,
and creativity, not passive support but active participation, toward a
truly new type society?

21st Century Socialism?


Hugo Chavez tells us he wants to build twenty first century socialism.
He often decries market relations. He regularly excoriates capitalism.
His innovative approaches to popular political and economic decision
making via councils and his prioritization of radicalized health,
education, and other human services via innovative public missions,
inspire great hope. But beyond Bolivarian claims and short term
policies, where is the Bolivarian Revolution structurally going? What
are its main institutional goals and timetables? What are the methods
it is employing and will employ to attain its ends? These are questions
I think a lot of people need answers to if they are to have solid
attitudes about Venezuela.

By self description Hugo Chavez is aggressively anti-capitalist, but what does that mean?

Regarding economics, for example, does the Bolivarian revolution reject
private ownership of the means of production? Verbally it says it does,
and likewise in many innovative structures - but what about the bulk of
the economy?

Does the Bolivarian revolution reject markets? Again, verbally, yes, I
think it does. More, internationally, it seems to already often conduct
trade and international aid by cooperative negotiation that ignores
competitive market dictates. This is wildly hopeful, not just for
solidarity in Latin America, but as a challenge to the entire system of
market exchange. But is there a path for transcending market relations
writ large?

Does the Bolivarian revolution, as an aim, to be attained when able in
light of growing consciousness and means, reject capitalistic
remuneration such as people getting profit on property, or getting
wages for bargaining power or even for output?

Similarly, does the Bolivarian revolution reject capitalism's typical
division of labor in which about 20 percent of the workforce
monopolizes all the empowering tasks while the other 80 percent does
only rote, repetitive, and obedient labor?

Is the gigantic spurt of Bolivarian attention to innovative education -
including not just literacy campaigns but also the Bolivarian
University, etc. - meant to catch up to typical educational
achievements of developed countries? Or is it meant to create a
population able to control its own destiny rather than being ruled from
above?

Given that Chavez is against particular capitalist institutions, does
he have a feeling for what would replace them in a better economy? Do
the other ministers of the government have visionary aims? Do the
grassroots activists in the missions and coops? What about the broad
public? How are aims to be generated? How are they to become widely
advocated? How are they do won? Is there a path of innovation that can
bring these features into play?

Put differently, if the Bolivarian Revolution is for twenty first
century socialism, I wonder what that means? What is it about the old
twentieth century socialism, for example, that Chavez and the
Bolivarian revolution rejects? Is it central planning such as we saw in
the Soviet Union? Is it markets such as we saw in Yugoslavia? Is it the
typical 20th century socialist division of labor as we have seen it in
Russia, Yugoslavia, and China, which is essentially the same as the
division of labor we see in capitalism? Is it the norms of remuneration
these socialisms have employed, which while they have jettisoned profit
for property have retained payment for power and output? I hope and
suspect it is all those things that are being dumped, but I don't know.
And if it is, saying so would not only help people get excited about
supporting the project, but would also inspire people to engage in
similar movements elsewhere.

Similarly, in whatever ways Chavez disagrees with "twentieth century
socialism," what does he propose to construct in Venezuela instead?
And more, beyond the President, to what extent do other Venezuelans
have similar aspirations? To what extent will other Venezuelans,
especially at the grassroots, help define outcomes and attain them?

A New Participatory Society?


Regarding the economy, does the Bolivarian revolution believe workers
and consumers should have a say in economic decisions in proportion as
they are affected by them - which would be self management? Does it
believe self managing workers and consumers councils, not boards of
directors or managers, should be the seat of economic decision making
power in each workplace? Does it believe there should be decentralized
and participatory planning by these workers and consumers councils,
including a cooperative negotiation of allocation rather than top down
command allocation or competitive market allocation?

Does it believe workers should be remunerated for how long and for how
hard they work, and for enduring onerous conditions, but not for
property, power, or even the value of output? If these features aren't
part of the Bolivarian economic agenda, then what is preferred for
Venezuela's future economy and why? When can such features appear in
the state sector, in the coop sector, in the private sector? What are
the hopes and plans?

And beyond the economy, Chavez has been very vocal not only about
democracy in the polity, but about Venezuelans literally being able to
have a say over their own social and political lives. Does the
Bolivarian revolution reject, not only capitalist economics, but also
the typical top down alienated approaches to government we see in the
world today? Is the Bolivarian Revolution seeking something
fundamentally different for politics with its grass roots assemblies,
and if so, what are the values and features it prefers? Will these
local assemblies be transmission lines for the will of rulers at the
top? Or will these assemblies in time usurp mayors, governors, and the
president himself, being the ultimate seat of political participation
and influence?

Many international observers are worried there is a personality cult
around Chavez. They site the lack of leaders who enjoy anywhere near as
much popularity as he does and also slogans such as "Chavez is the
people," "With Chavez anything, without Chavez nothing," or "Who is
against Chavez is against the people." If these sentiments and the key
role of Chavez is a necessary part of the early stages of transforming
toward greater participation and self management, shouldn't their
centrality and logic be better explained, and shouldn't it be very
explicitly labelled an interim method, not a permanent goal?

Likewise, is there any exploration, as yet, of new approaches to law
enforcement and adjudication? I would bet there are, but I have no
idea. And wouldn't it be good for people to know, if we are to relate
as more than voyeurs - and if we are to be able to dig in and try our
own hand at related work? On the other side of the coin, human rights
groups have criticized Venezuela's penal code saying that the 2004
reform of the penal code makes certain bad aspects of the penal code
worse, such as its provision outlawing disrespect of government
officials. Is such a clause really necessary? Why is it there? Why not
get rid of it?

And does the Bolivarian revolution have a revolutionary agenda around
gender issues and around race issues? Is it ultimately seeking only
vastly better gender and race policies but within old structures, a
major and profound gain, to be sure - but not the ultimate revolution
in culture and gender we all desire. Or are there fundamental changes
it seeks in underlying familial and cultural institutions? Policies
protecting minorities and advancing the rights women women are
exemplary. But does the Bolivarian revolution have ideas about what
additional needed structural changes might be, and if not, does it have
a method for arriving at potential ideas and then evaluating them? Is
there to be that kind of participation?

I would also like to know about Bolivarian media, not least because
there is so much confusion, so much ruckus about it. Venezuelan
mainstream media are currently narrowly owned and controlled and in no
way reflect the desires of the Venezuelan population. Indeed, to
whatever extent they are able to do so, Venezuelan mainstream media are
hell bent on hindering positive change. I wonder about the Bolivarian
view of how media ought to be organized in a better future? And I
wonder what the plans are for media in Venezuela.

It has seemed, from far away, that the Bolivarian approach to
education, health, coops , and the media as well, and other areas too,
has been to construct a parallel set of structures to what now exists -
for example, the Bolivarian University, health clinics, thousands of
coops, and a Bolivarian state run TV station and I bet a newspaper
soon, too - with the idea that these new approaches will in time
replace the old ones. Is that the plan? And is there concern that the
arena in which this competition between old and new occurs is the arena
of the market, which of course does not favor solidarity, sociality,
etc.? And does this plan, this approach to discovering, refining, and
then spreading new models, given all the difficult constraints it tries
to navigate, do a sufficient job of enlisting the leadership of the
Venezuelan people in the definition of their new society? Regarding
media, for example, rather than a face off between private and state
run, what place is there for grassroots community based and otherwise
self managed media beholden to the public and its workers, but not
owners or the state?

International Relations and Where is Venezuela Going?


As we all know, the United States
routinely uses its wealth to bludgeon foreign countries in ways
overwhelmingly aimed at preserving and enlarging the power and wealth
of U.S. elites not caring a whit about the suffering this imposes on
others. Venezuela also seems to be utilizing its assets in the
international arena via initiating diverse trading patterns, grants,
etc. I wonder what guides these acts? Why isn't it explicit - thereby
providing a norm against which we can all judge international exchanges?

When Venezuela exchanges oil and other products with other countries,
is the Bolivarian revolution intent upon exchanging at market rates, or
does it have a different attitude about what ought to determine
exchange rates, and if so, as certainly seems to be the case, what is
it?

And finally, by way of understanding the timing of the Bolivarian
Revolution, I wonder what Chavez and other Venezuelan activists expect
to be the most important and exemplary accomplishments in Venezuela in
the next five or ten years? And I wonder the extent to which Chavez's
views and the views of other Bolivarian government officials, labor
leaders, and grass roots activists compare with the views of the broad
population? Is the broad public in synch with activist agendas or is it
just watching - more or less as by-standing save in moments of crisis?
Is the population ready to take initiative in advances or is it being
pulled along without taking its own initiatives? And if the public is
largely passive, what steps are in place to enliven public involvement
and will they be pursued and pursued and pursued, rather than falling
back on old models?

The above are just part of the kinds of concerns I have repeatedly
heard from sensible and serious leftists about Venezuela. Clarifying
may well involve strategic difficulties for the Bolivarian Revolution
internally and on the world stage as well. But clarifying also promises
a gigantic leap in interest from outside Venezuela and of active
support at home, I suspect, as well.

The Brazilian path has been to moderate and accommodate and restrain
not just communications, but also policies, in order to prevent massive
external opposition. The price of that choice has been to dramatically
reduce the worth of the whole undertaking. Hopefully Venezuelans will
find a different way to ward off external assault. How about strength
domestically and internationally, predicated on people knowing what is
occurring and even being part of exploring option, choosing paths, and
creating related and supportive commitments.