Venezuela: A “Critical Evaluation” of the Bolivarian Process

This presentation by Vladimir Acosta, broadcast on the state-owned television channel VTV, was part of a forum "Intellectuals, Democracy & Socialism" organized by the Centro Internacional Miranda over June 2-3, which has sparked a debate about the role of criticism within the Bolivarian process.

Translator's Note: This presentation by Vladimir Acosta, broadcast on the state-owned television channel VTV, was part of a forum "Intellectuals, Democracy & Socialism" organized by the Centro Internacional Miranda over June 2-3, which has sparked a debate about the role of criticism within the Bolivarian process.

Well, in ten minutes it's hard to say a great deal, above all when referring to a process as rich and as complicated as this. Of the three themes that are established here, it appears to me that the least important is the first one, the most important are the second and third, that is, a critical and self-critical evaluation of this process and to think a bit about the things that can be done. But the second is a pre-requisite for the third, that is, firstly we need to carry out a critical evaluation in order to then think about what can be done. Therefore, I'm going to refer fundamentally to a critical evaluation of this process, beginning with what Juan Carlos Monedero said a little while ago, which is something I agree with: there has to be space for criticism here, we have to lose our fear of making criticisms due to any dismissive insult of what we say.  

Ten years of extraordinary achievements

My starting point, of course, is the idea of all the extraordinary achievements that have been obtained here in these 10 years. This is a different country to that which existed here ten years ago, it is another Venezuela, and what has happened here is truly extraordinary. I say this simply as an introduction, but I believe it is completely useless to refer to this, because everyone here knows this, we all agree with this, and that is exactly why we are here. I believe that what is more important [to discuss] is that in the midst of these achievements, and associated with these achievements, there are problems. There are problems, and there are some problems that are not seen, that are hidden, or that are underestimated, and they are important problems, that, if they accumulate will be converted into a threat against the advance and deepening of this process, which I believe we all want.

In these ten or twelve minutes, it will be very difficult to go in detail into the problems, what I'm fundamentally going to do is make a series of statements, that later can be discussed in more depth. And precisely to make the best use of my time, I have brought along a few dot points here. We have to begin, in my opinion – and this is a theme I have dealt with in more detail on other occasions – observing the three key problems of this process in the midst of all its achievements.

Lack of a clear political program

The first [problem] is the lack of a clear political line or program. Of course, [this is] Socialism of the 21st Century, but Socialism of the 21st Century is a very generic idea, and has to be, because it is an idea in construction. We don't have any socialist recipe. And this process has got to where it is precisely due to a sequence of events. In the beginning, what we fundamentally had was a social sensibility, later an anti-imperialist position was assumed and finally Socialism of the 21st Century has being taken up. But there is a mountain of things here that are not clear, and one of the facts that stands out, is that the political line is fundamentally what President [Chavez] discovers or establishes the line to be as he goes along. And this generates a first problem. This is why the second problem occurs, which is related to this – and I ‘m only just stating them – and is the lack of a collective leadership, something which I have referred to a thousand times.

No one questions the leadership of Chavez, but a collective leadership is needed

Of course, no one questions the leadership of President Chavez. President Chavez is the soul, the heart, the nerves, the driving force of this process; this process is completely identified with him, the president works 25 hours a day for this process, he dedicates and risks his life for this process. No one questions his leadership, but the president cannot do everything and cannot be everywhere. And one of the things that a process such as this one requires is a collective leadership. The relationship continues to be a relationship between the President and the people; the majority of people who justifiably love him, but the leaders, the cadres or are unknown, or are ignored and even rejected by the population.

The leaders should be bold enough to state an opinion before Chavez says it

There has not been the creation of a collective leadership here which can strengthen the leadership of the president and this appears fundamental to me in order that tasks can be carried out in a better manner and so that a leader, having also a political line, dares to give an opinion before Chavez says anything, because everything is more or less established; the general line. This is the second weakness that I believe we have and I repeat: I'm only stating the problems without giving much detail.

Absence of a revolutionary party

A third weakness, a third problem is the absence of a revolutionary party. There is no revolutionary party here. The PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] is not even a party; I'm sorry to say this. The PSUV has been in reality, at least until now, an administrative and electoral instrument used for applying the political line that President Chavez has been establishing; it is not yet a political party. Moreover, it is a political party that is organized from above; it runs the risk of attracting many people who are not revolutionary. There are many revolutionaries in the PSUV, but there are also people who are simply looking for jobs etc, etc. This is one of the basic problems posed by the PSUV.

Why only one party?

Moreover, there is no reason why there should only be one [pro-revolution] party, there could be a number of parties and this would generate richer discussions. Because one large and powerful party generates arrogance, generates dominance, generates bad relations with its own allies. This generates, or is related to problems, in this case, of bureaucratism, inefficiency and at times, even corruption, about which I'm not going to say more.

Three extraordinary achievements that allow for the financing of social projects

Another aspect that I want to touch on is a double-edged advantage this process has, that is, an advantage that also has negative aspects. The correct and successful policy that the Bolivarian government has carried out in these years has allowed for, among other things, the saving of OPEC, the recuperation of OPEC, and through OPEC the recuperation of oil prices. They fell of course, after the speculation and the [global economic] crisis, and are rising once again. But it has been an enormous effort for the Venezuelan government to rescue OPEC, to rescue oil prices, and to rescue PDVSA and convert PDVSA into a truly national company, a company that belongs to the Venezuelan people and not a company for the corrupt minorities, the transnationals and the enemies of the country who previously dominated. The Bolivarian government has achieved control over its reserves, and rescued its reserves; it has achieved an end to the supposed autonomy of the Central Bank of Venezuela that served interests contrary to the country; and has achieved a situation where the population has begun paying taxes. These are three extraordinary achievements.

These three extraordinary achievements have permitted the financing of the large social projects that are being carried out, social investment; what neoliberals call the ‘social spending.' That is, everything that has been done for the health of the people, for education, the creation of new universities, for social security, the distribution of urban and rural land, the construction and development of the country; all of these great achievements are born out of this, and this is the extraordinarily positive part.

But there is a negative aspect that is sometimes forgotten, and that is precisely that this [advantage] has allowed all of these achievements to be obtained without having touched a single hair of the bourgeoisie, without having touched a single hair of the dominant class. The relations of production have not been touched at all. Yes there is a competition that is being generated, because the state is trying to introduce socialist companies, solidarity-based companies, etc, etc. But, in this context, it is very difficult to advance much, because capitalism does not have any moral limits. A capitalist can rob his mother to build a company and this is perfectly valid under capitalism. Then he can buy a television channel that presents him as a good person and all is forgotten. Socialism has moral limits; solidarity, ethics, protection of the weakest and it is therefore always more difficult and more costly to build socialism when, above all, you have a super-powerful capitalism, like the capitalism you have here.

The fact is that the bourgeoisie continues in control here. The Venezuelan oligarchy continues to control the greatest section of power, including political power. Sometimes they lose terrain and then turn around and recuperate it, like recently when they obtained some governorships in order to destroy the achievements that had been gained under Bolivarian management. They have the greater share of economic power, they have ideological power, they have media power, they have religious power, and they still control education, despite everything that has been done here. Therefore we find that these enemies, who are part of this society, have enormous power that has not been neutralized. Apart from local conflicts, the truth is that the state buys companies; they have not exactly been nationalized, they buy them on the market, however, some businessmen from friendly countries still scream, because buying companies that are doing damage to the country means exercising the sovereign right to do so.

This generates comfort, laziness, consumerism

Finally, what worries me most and what appears to me to be most important is that this generates an erroneous vision amongst the population. It generates comfort, it generates laziness, it generates consumerism.

Socialism is costly. Costly, not in terms of money, costly in terms of the effort it implies to break with all the rubbish that one has in one's head, because they put it in there from when you are a child. They fill it with rubbish: they put it in at church, they put it in at school, they put it in at university and they put it in through the media and they continue filling it everyday; they have put in all these individualist values, stinginess, selfishness, anti-social values. And I repeat, with all these advantages that capitalism has simply because it has always governed, even though they do not have political power now, it continues acting as if it was in power and we see this everyday: in how these businessmen act, how the opposition acts, as if they were in power and our government is always on the defensive: giving explanations, giving explanations and sometimes crying because it is people on our side that are being killed in this conflict; that fortunately has not gone beyond certain limits and we hope that it won't. Therefore it generates a simplistic vision that things are obtained without much effort, that achievements are obtained without much effort, and this, evidently represents a serious danger for this process.

Lack of ideological training

Here there is a lack of ideological training, of education, and cadres. There's a weakness in generating a constructive vision, constructing, step by step, this Socialism of the 21st Century, on the basis of understanding that this implies a real revolution in the minds of each and every one of us. Including those of us who believe we are really revolutionary, and who sometimes forget that we also have some of this rubbish in our heads.

Well, I still have a little bit of time left and with this I will say the rest.

The media, the number one power

Moreover, we have another problem that I just want to mention, because it would be too difficult to deal with here: the problem of the media. The problem of the media, which today is not the fourth power as some romantics have previously said, nor the second power as [Ignacio] Ramonet says, rather it is the number one power, an exceptional power and the expression of this single power.

In a country like ours, where there is little institutionality and the institutionality that does exist, is in good part the rotten institutionality of the past, the [private] media has converted itself into a space that belongs to everyone; here the media is the courts, here the media is the universities. Here everything happens within the media and it is the media that controls. Fundamentally they [the private media] are enemies of this country and the enemies of this process and are the instruments of North American imperialist domination. This is one of the great weaknesses of this process; that we have not, in ten years, been capable of elaborating a correct media policy. There are some efforts that started off well, but have since stalled a little and I'm not going to mention them. In the majority of cases, however, we have lost the initiative in the media sphere, in such a manner that almost always we convert ourselves into antennas of repetition of the enemy media in order to try and dismantle some of the lies they say. And the majority of our time goes into this. This is a problem that must also be discussed in depth.

Absence of popular revolutionary organizations

Then there is another problem – which I'm simply going to mention – and that is the lack of popular revolutionary organizations. A revolution like this is constantly under threat from the enemy, and here what has been built, which are extremely valuable, are the communal councils, but these are not exactly revolutionary organizations, they are institutional organizations. In poor areas, leftists probably dominate a communal council, but a communal council in Lagunita, if there is one, or in Cafetal, is unlikely to be a revolutionary council. What we have to have, as well as these [communal councils], are popular organizations in all parts, at the level of the barrios, at the level of whatever space that revolutionary organizations can exist. We had them and we lost them, because the Bolivarian Circles were exactly a practice run of this, and disgracefully they were left behind along the way. But a revolution under threat like this one needs something to defend itself with. It is not enough to have social auditing, and the information uncovered, for example, where the cars that this gentleman had hidden were, someone surely saw a lot of cars, but this is circumstantial [1]. There are conspiracies here, there are threats, there is a permanent war here to destroy this process and the people need to be well organized to confront it.

The most moderate currents dominate because they are better organized

I will say also, that this revolutionary process, like all revolutionary processes, is heterogeneous. Heterogeneity means that different currents participate in it, different groups that have different visions and have different aims, which is the gravest thing. Without writing off anyone for being rightwing or anything like that, here we have honest, valiant, revolutionary people  -as one would say- but who see things up to a certain limit, who are happy with certain achievements and don't want to continue advancing.

And this then converts itself into a hindrance. Because it just so happens that there are other sectors, who are precisely the most revolutionary, the poorest, the most discriminated against, those who want to advance more but who are least organized, who are the weakest and therefore this generates tension in which there are moments of advance, moments of retreat, as happens in all revolutions, but without consolidation of many of the more radical achievements. The most radical achievements are not sufficiently consolidated and therefore there is a permanent threat that more moderate positions, positions that don't dare to advance, become the positions that are strongest because they are most organized and are the ones that really have more power.

Strong independent movements don't exist

We have a serious problem: that our revolutionary process does not have a truly independent, class conscious and organized workers movement. And the attempts to organize one have ended up bringing the workers movement closer to the policy of the state, which should not always be the policy that the worker movement should take because the workers movement has to go much further beyond this.

Nor do we have a peasant movement that is sufficiently strong and a student movement; we have been trying to build one but it also is not sufficiently strong. These are great weaknesses of our process, because you cannot build socialism without workers, without peasants, without well-organized popular sectors that can push towards more radical situations or positions.

Don't hide criticisms out of fear because later it could be too late to correct them

I don't want finish without saying something positive, because they're going to believe that what I'm saying is that everyone should simply go and commit suicide. This is not so. What I'm trying to say is that in the middle of the extraordinary achievements that we have obtained here, which we see everyday – which is why, I repeat, it is not necessary, in ten minutes, to dedicate ourselves to them, because it would take a week to mention them all – in the midst of these achievements we have important problems, we have serious problems and a lot of the time there is not sufficient space here to make these criticism, which are constructive criticisms, in order to improve, in order to strengthen [the process]. It's excellent that this meeting is an opportunity in which, without fear of who is here, criticism does not have to be hidden; criticism is made openly and precisely because of this we can advance. No matter the television channel that is here, no matter who is here. This is what we have to do, because there are too many positive things above and beyond these criticisms for us to be afraid, to think that we have to hide them. What is wrong is to hide criticisms out of fear and to leave things that begin to damage [the process] to rot and then return to them much too late to confront them.

Let's confront these criticisms, let's criticize, and this is the point of departure which leads to the last aspect I want to mention, which is, how can we resolve these problems and how can we continue advancing so that this revolution can truly become an instrument to continue transforming Venezuelan society and to bring us closer to a more just society, a sovereign society, a free society, a society that cannot be anything but a socialist society.

[1] This is a reference to Guillermo Zuloaga, who was charged with usury connected to allegedly illegally speculating on imported cars.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke & Federico Fuentes for Venezuleanalysis.com

Vladimir Acosta is professor of sociology at the Cental University of Venezuela.