Latin America & Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes, Chapter 2

We have said that, in order to judge a government, it is not so important to consider the pace at which it advances as the direction it is taking. This goal, this direction, has been defined by several of our governments as “twenty-first century socialism.”

II. Twenty-First Century Socialism

We have said that, in order to judge a government, it is not so important to consider the pace at which it advances as the direction it is taking. This goal, this direction, has been defined by several of our governments as “twenty-first century socialism.”

“Why talk of socialism?” we may ask. After all, “socialism” has had such negative connotations since its collapse in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. For many years after Soviet socialism disappeared, intellectuals and progressive forces talked more of what socialism must not be than of the model that we actually wanted to build. Some of the facets of Soviet socialism that were rejected—and rightly so—were: statism, state capitalism, totalitarianism, bureaucratic central planning, the kind of collectivism that seeks to homogenize without respecting differences, productivism (which stresses the growth of productive forces without being concerned about the need to protect nature), dogmatism, atheism, and the need for a single party to lead the transition process.

Again, “Why speak of socialism?” There is a very powerful reason to do so. Here, I quote the Bolivian Vice President, Álvaro García Linera, who, using very simple words, told his people why on February 8, 2010, a year after the new Bolivian Constitution was promulgated. Referring to what he called “community socialism,” he said:

[W]e are speaking about this subject for one reason only, and that is because the society that exists in the world today, the society that today we have all over the world, is a society with too many injustices, a society with too many inequalities….Today, in this capitalist world in which we live…eleven million children die every year from malnutrition, from poor medical care, because there is no support to cure curable diseases….It is as if the whole population of Bolivia was to die every year, and every year again.

This capitalist society, which dominates the world, which gives us flights into space, which gives us the internet, allows 800 million human beings to go to bed hungry every night….There are about two billion people in the world who don’t have basic services. We have cars, we have planes, now we are thinking about going to Mars, wonderful! But down here on earth there are people who have no basic services, there are people who have no education, and if that wasn’t enough, this is a society which permanently and repeatedly generates crises, and crises cause unemployment, force companies to close. There is so much wealth, but it is concentrated in few hands. And there are many people who have no wealth and cannot enjoy what there is. Today there are 200 million unemployed people in the world.

[T]hat is the problem, this is a society which generates too many contradictions, which pours forth knowledge, science, and wealth, but which simultaneously generates too much poverty, too much neglect and, to top it off, is not content with destroying human beings but also destroys nature. Thousands of animal and plant species have been destroyed in the last 400-500 years since capitalism began. The forests are getting smaller and smaller, the ozone layer is being debilitated, we have climate change, our eternally snow-capped mountains are disappearing.

When one talks of socialism, one is talking of something quite different from what we are experiencing. We could give it a different name. If someone doesn’t like the word socialism, they can call it communitarianism, if they don’t like communitarianism, they can give it the name “living well,” that’s no problem, we won’t fight over names.56

As is well known, Chávez at first thought that he could move ahead with social transformations, leaving capitalism untouched, “the third way.”57 However, he soon realized that this wasn’t possible. The Venezuelan oligarchy was unwilling to give ground on anything. It only had to see that the enabling laws decreed at the end of 2001 might affect its interests a little, to decide to organize a coup d’état. Once this plan failed, it tried to paralyze the country by sabotaging, first and foremost, the oil industry. This experience and two other things convinced the President that he had to find another way, had to move toward a different kind of society, toward what he calls “twenty-first century socialism.”58 These two factors were the realization that the heartrending problems of the Venezuelan people could not be solved quickly enough using the bourgeois state apparatus bequeathed to him, and that, in “the framework of the capitalist model, it is impossible to solve the drama of poverty, of inequality.”

Chávez Consolidates the Term “Twenty-First Century Socialism”

On December 5, 2004, at the closing ceremony of the World Meeting of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity, held in Caracas, Chávez surprised the audience by declaring, for the first time, that “it is necessary to review the history of socialism and rescue the concept of socialism.”59 A few weeks later, when he spoke at the World Social Forum on January 30, 2005, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Chávez reiterated the need to overcome capitalism and build socialism, but he also warned: “We have to reinvent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism we saw in the Soviet Union.”60 Moreover, it’s not a matter of “resorting to state capitalism.” If we do that, we will fall “into the same distortion as the Soviet Union did.”

Then, at the fourth Social Debt Summit on February 25, 2005, he said there was no alternative to capitalism other than socialism. But, he warned, it had to be different than the socialisms we have known; we would have to “invent twenty-first century socialism.”61 This was the first time the term twenty-first century socialism was used in public.

We can say without a doubt that Chávez was the one who brought popular attention to the term “twenty-first century socialism,” and that, in doing so, he sought to differentiate the new socialism from the errors and deviations of the socialist model implemented in the twentieth century in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. However, this term had already been used in 2000 by Chilean sociologist Tomás Moulian in his book Twenty-First Century Socialism: The Fifth Way.62

We must keep in mind that the world’s first peaceful transition to socialism began in the early 1970s in Chile, with the triumph of President Salvador Allende, supported by the leftist Popular Unity coalition. It was defeated by a military coup three years later. If our generation learned anything from this defeat, it was that if you want to travel peacefully toward that goal, you have to rethink the socialist project as it had been applied in the world up until then, and that, therefore, it was necessary to develop another project better adapted to Chilean reality and to find a peaceful way to build it. That was what Allende seemed to sense when he coined the expression, “socialism with red wine and empanadas,” which alluded to the idea of building a democratic socialist society rooted in popular national traditions.63

However, it’s not a matter of copying foreign models or of exporting ours; it’s about building a model of socialism tailored for each country. Naturally, all models will share some features.

These features include three basic components that Chávez has pointed to: economic transformation; participative and protagonistic democracy in the political sphere; and socialist ethics “based on love, solidarity, and equality between women and men, everybody.”64 These socialist ideas and values are very old. They can be found, according to Chávez, in biblical texts, in the Gospel, and in the practices of our indigenous peoples.65

Chávez—as did José Carlos Mariátegui—thinks that twenty-first century socialism cannot be a carbon copy of anything but has to be a “heroic creation.” That is why he talks of a Bolivarian, Christian, Robinsonian, Indoamerican socialism, a new collective existence, equality, liberty, and real, complete democracy.66 He agrees with Mariátegui that one of the primary roots of our socialist project can be found in the socialism of our indigenous peoples, and he therefore suggests that those indigenous practices, imbued with a socialist spirit, must be rescued and empowered.67

Moreover, when people in Bolivia speak of “communitarian socialism” they are proposing that we rescue what the Vice President of that country has called “communal civilization, with its technological procedures based on the power of the masses, on managing family and communal land, and on the way economic and political activity meld, a civilization which has its own authorities and political institutions which give more importance to normative action than to electing, and in which individuality is a product of the collectivity and its past history.”68

According to García Linera, most of the Bolivian population “is submerged in economic, cognitive, and cultural structures that are non-industrial and, in addition, are carriers of other cultural and linguistic identities and other political habits and techniques that stem from their own technical and material life: placing collective identity above individuality, deliberative practice above elections, normative coercion as a form of behavior that is rewarded above free acceptance and compliance, the depersonalization of power, its consensual revocability, rotation of positions, etc., are forms of behavior which speak of political cultures different from liberal and party representative political cultures.”69

Being certain of these realities should lead us to renounce Western paternalist culture, which believes that we should go off and help indigenous communities. Chávez maintains that we should, rather, “ask them for help…so that they cooperate with us in building the socialist project of the twenty first century.”70

A Socialist Society, Fundamentally Democratic

Chávez has stressed the fundamentally democratic nature of twenty-first century socialism. He warns that “we must not slip into the errors of the past,” into the “Stalinist deviation,” which bureaucratized the party and ended up eliminating people’s protagonism.71

The practical and negative experience of real socialism in the political sphere cannot make us forget that, according to classic Marxist tenets, post-capitalist society always has been associated with full democracy. Marx and some of his followers called it communism, others have called it socialism, and I agree with García Linera that it doesn’t really matter what term we use. What does matter is the content.

Few people are familiar with a brief text about the state by Lenin, which is contained in a notebook and predates his book The State and Revolution. In it, he says that socialism must be conceived of as the most democratic society, in contrast to bourgeois society, where there is democracy for a minority only. Comparing socialism to capitalism, Lenin observes that, in the latter, there is democracy for the rich only and for a small layer of the proletariat, whereas in the transition to socialism, there is almost full democracy. Democracy, at this stage, is not yet complete because of the unignorable will of the majority, which must be imposed on those who do not wish to submit to the majority will. However, once communist society is reached, democracy will be finally complete.72

This view was inspired by the writings of Marx and Engels, who said that the society of the future would make possible the full development of all human potential. Fully developed human beings would replace the fragmented human beings produced by capitalism. As Friedrich Engels writes, in his first draft of The Communist Manifesto, we must “organize society in such a way that every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society.” “In Marx’s final version of the Manifesto,” this new society appears as an “association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”73

But how long will it take us to reach this goal? History has shown that “heaven” cannot be taken by storm, that a long historical period is needed to make the transition from capitalism to a socialist society. Some talk in terms of decades, others in terms of hundreds of years, still others think that socialism is the goal we must pursue but that perhaps we may never completely reach.

We call this historical period “the transition to socialism.”

II.1. Transition and its Varieties

We should distinguish three kinds of transition to socialism: transition in advanced countries, transition in backward countries where state power has been conquered, and finally, transition in countries where only the government is in our hands.

Marx and his followers thought that socialism would start in the more advanced countries, where capitalism itself had created the material and cultural conditions for it. Revolutionary access to state power was thought to be the sine qua non which would make it possible to expropriate from the expropriators, create producer associations, and convert the state into an expression of society instead of a body above it.

Transition in Backward Countries where State Power Has Been Won

However, history took a different road. The construction of socialism did not begin in advanced capitalist countries that had a large and experienced industrial working class, but in countries where capitalist development was only just beginning, whose population was predominantly peasant, and whose working class was a minority in the population.

Why did it happen like that? It is because political conditions outstripped economic conditions.74

The outcome of the February 1917 revolution in Russia was that the bourgeoisie gained power, but shared it with the Soviets of workers and soldiers. This revolution was considered by Lenin to be an “unfinished revolution…the first stage of the first of the proletarian revolutions caused by the war.”75 According to him, it was the horrors of the imperialist war that had led to these proletarian insurrections, and these evils could only be cured if the proletariat took power in Russia and adopted measures that, even if not yet socialist, were steps toward socialism. Lenin was fully aware that the backwardness of his country would prevent the immediate installation of socialism, but also saw with total clarity that the only way to get the country out of the critical situation the war had led them into was by taking steps toward that goal.

In my book Reflections about the Problem of the Transition to Socialism, there is a thorough discussion of this subject. 76 According to Lenin, “Beginning with April 1917, however, long before the October Revolution, that is, long before we assumed power, we publicly declared and explained to the people: the revolution cannot now stop at this stage [the bourgeois revolution], for the country has marched forward, capitalism has advanced, ruin has reached fantastic dimensions, which (whether one likes it or not) will demand steps forward, to socialism. For there is no other way of advancing, of saving the war-weary country and of alleviating the sufferings of the working and exploited people.”77

A few weeks before the October Revolution, Lenin gave an exhaustive explanation of the analysis he had often repeated in the preceding months: “It is impossible to stand still in history in general, and in war-time in particular. We must either advance or retreat. It is impossible in twentieth-century Russia, which has won a republic and democracy in a revolutionary way, to go forward without advancing towards socialism, without taking steps towards it (steps conditioned and determined by the level of technology and culture: large-scale machine production cannot be ‘introduced’ in peasant agriculture nor abolished in the sugar industry). But to fear to advance means retreating.”78

The Russian Revolution thus shattered European Social Democracy’s traditional preconceptions. The proletarian revolution was victorious when the objective premises for socialism did not yet exist in Russia, when the development of the productive forces had not yet reached the level of development that makes socialism possible. The leaders of the Second International drew the conclusion, therefore, that it was a mistake for the proletariat to have taken power and to have embarked on the construction of socialism, that it should have gone down the road of capitalist development and Western European bourgeois democracy.

Lenin, in one of the last things he wrote, in January 1923, rails against those who supported this thesis.79 He maintains that these people failed to reflect on the reasons that determined the outbreak of revolution in Russia and not in the advanced European countries. They did not realize that the war had created “a hopeless situation” in that country; and, concomitantly, that the political conditions, the combination of a peasant war with the workers’ movement, had created a balance of forces such that it was possible to overthrow Czarism and big imperialist capital.80 Should they have rejected the road of the socialist revolution because they did not yet have all the material and cultural prerequisites for building socialism?

Lenin, referring to the Social Democrats, maintains: “You say that civilization is necessary for the building of socialism. Very good. But why could we not first create such prerequisites of civilization in our country by the expulsion of the landowners and the Russian capitalists, and then start moving toward socialism?”81 However, even if Lenin thought that Russia had to go down the socialist road because it was the only way of solving the serious problems caused by the war, he was not unaware of the fact that it was an extremely difficult task and knew that “The final victory of socialism in a single country is of course impossible.”82

It was also the political conditions caused by the Second World War that allowed revolutionaries to take state power in Eastern Europe and then in Africa and Asia, and use that power to begin the transformations to build socialism.

Transition in Countries where Only the Government Is In Our Hands

To a certain extent, one could compare the situation in Latin America today with the situation in prerevolutionary Russia. In our countries, neoliberalism has aggravated poverty, injustice, and social discrimination. It has destroyed nature, laying waste to ancestral forests, contaminating the waters, and destroying biodiversity. Our peoples have reacted to all that, saying “enough.” They are on the move, resisting at first, then moving to the offensive and supporting presidential candidates with anti-neoliberal programs. The new governments have faced the same dilemma as the Bolsheviks in Russia: they either implement capitalist measures to try to get our countries on the road to development, which would mean more suffering for our peoples, or they throw themselves into the task of building a society that is an alternative to capitalism. In other words, they set off down the road to socialism and give the role of principal builders of the new society to our peoples.

However, even if there are similarities between what happened in the Soviet Union and what is happening now in Latin America, the situation facing our “left” governments is even more complex than that which faced the Soviet government. The dilemma is how to advance toward that horizon using the government when—as Álvaro García Linera, says—the cultural and economic conditions that could serve as the foundation for that progression do not exist.83 This was the dilemma Lenin spoke of in 1917, and of which many of our current heads of state speak, but with the added difficulty that, in our case, we have not conquered state power.

It is not only that the economic, material, and cultural conditions in our countries are not very favorable to building socialism but also that the most important condition is lacking, one that, until now, has been considered indispensable: we do not have the whole of state power, we only have a tiny part of it. Let us remember that the power of the state is not limited to the executive branch, but includes the legislative and judicial branches, the armed forces, local government bodies (municipal and state governments), and other institutions.

Therefore, taking government power is not the same thing as conquering state power. This was one of the errors made by some sectors of the left in Chile. People said, ignoring the existing balance of forces, that we had conquered power and thus, all we had to do was implement our program.

The fact that we were the government meant, it cannot be denied, that we had gained a portion of political power. But it must not be forgotten that, although we had very large left parties and a fairly strong labor movement on our side, we didn’t have the armed forces and were a minority in Parliament. In fact, we never won an absolute majority in any election. The Christian Democrats still had a large following, not only in the middle and upper classes but also among workers and peasants. This partly explains why Popular Unity, the political coalition that supported Allende, never proposed holding a constituent assembly. What it did was to use the existing legislation to look for legal loopholes. Some laws passed in the 1930s by a socialist government, which had existed for one hundred days, were still in effect. Using those laws, we were able to nationalize the most strategic sectors of the economy, referred to by Popular Unity as the “area of social property.”84

I agree with Pomar that the “conquest of state power is a complex process,” and that one of its more important aspects is having the support of the armed forces or what is referred to as “the monopoly of violence” (or at least an important part of it). It is because of this need for military support that Chávez insists there is a fundamental difference between the process led by Allende in Chile and the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela: the first was a peaceful, unarmed transition, the second, a peaceful armed transition—not because the Venezuelan people are armed but because most of the armed forces support the process.

An Inherited State Machine Unready to Walk the Road
to Socialism

We should recognize that our governments inherit a state apparatus whose characteristics work well in a capitalist system but are not suitable for a journey toward a humanist and solidarity-infused society; a society that not only places human beings at the center of its own development but also makes them the lead actors in the process of change. Nevertheless, experience has demonstrated that, contrary to the theoretical dogmatism of some sectors of the radical left, you can take this inherited state and transform it into an instrument that collaborates with building the new society. The fact that state institutions are run by revolutionary cadres, that are aware they should aim to work with the organized sectors of the people to control what the institutions do and to press for transformation of the state apparatus, can make it possible, within certain limits, for these institutions to work for the revolutionary project.

This does not mean that we should limit ourselves to using only the state we have inherited. Rather, it is necessary that, using that same state, we begin laying the foundations of new institutions and a new political system, creating spaces from the bottom up where popular protagonism can be exercised; spaces where popular sectors can learn to exercise power from the simplest level up to the most complex. There are people like Pomar who think that, as long as this condition does not exist, as long as the working class has not taken over state power, it is only possible to speak of “the struggle for socialism but not of the transition to socialism.85 I do not share this opinion because I think that what baptizes a process with the name “transition” is the aim that it pursues and the measures used to achieve it. Of course, these measures must be consistent with the aim pursued, as we shall see below.

Why call these processes socialist, then? We do so because the governments begin to implement measures that will lead to a socialist transformation and so begin a process in which they could conquer all state power. I agree with Pomar that “conquering state power is a complex process,” but I think this process can be initiated precisely because left forces take government power.86

To Each Country, Its Own Transition

Before we look more deeply into this subject, let us look at some of the characteristics of any transition to socialism. As Lebowitz says, “Socialism does not drop from the sky.” Every society has its own unique characteristics that differentiate it from other countries, and, although there may be a shared goal, the measures taken in the transition process must be adapted to the specific conditions of each country. Socialism must necessarily be rooted in a particular society.

“Every society has its unique characteristics—its unique histories, traditions (including religious and indigenous ones), its mythologies, its heroes who have struggled for a better world, and the particular capacities that people have developed in the process of struggle.”87

The starting points of each transition process are different too. The measures adopted will depend on the conditions that exist when the process begins: the specificities of the inherited economic structure, the level of development of the forces of production, the way in which daily life expresses itself, the population’s educational level, and so on.88 What is more, both the balance of forces that exists between the actors who want to move toward the construction of a new society and those who want to prevent such a change, and the manner in which the class struggle takes place both domestically and internationally will mark each transition.

Finally, depending on the class structure of each country and the history of its struggles, the historical actors who work for the transition will be different. In some cases, they might be working-class parties; in others, indigenous and peasant movements; in others, a sector of the military; and in others, charismatic leaders.

It is implicit in the foregoing that there cannot be a general theory of transition, but that each country must design its own particular strategy for the transition. This will depend “not only on the economic character of that country but also on the way the class struggle is waged there,” and this strategy should guide the way the process advances.89

Nevertheless, even with all these variants, in the current situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, all of our transition processes have one common feature: we are “transitioning” peacefully. This means starting out from what is inherited from the previous regime and, little by little, transforming it, by first of all taking over the government, as we have indicated above.

II.2 Some Features of Twenty-First Century Socialism

In what follows, I shall present some of the features that, according to the opinions of several thinkers and political leaders, should be characteristic of twenty-first century socialism. In fact, they restate many of Marx’s original ideas.

Our socialist conception does not, unlike the capitalist, start off with the idea of people as individual beings isolated, separated from others, but with the idea of people as social beings, who can only develop themselves if they develop together with others.

As the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre understood, there is no such thing as an abstract citizen, someone who is above everything, who is neither rich nor poor, neither young nor old, neither male nor female, or is all of those things at once. As Miodrag Zecevic said: “What exist are concrete persons who live amongst and depend on other people, who associate with and organize in various ways with other people in communities and organizations in which and through which they make real their interests, rights, and duties.”90

In positing social human beings as the philosophical basis of socialist democracy, we are not proposing the negation of the individual; what we are saying is that individual human nature is eminently social and that by developing social values—for example, solidarity—the individual develops more fully. There is a complementary, dialectical relationship between individual being and social being that makes it impossible to separate the individual character of human beings from their social surroundings.

This implies a rejection of “collectivism,” a way of thinking that suppresses the differences between individual members of society in the name of a group. Collectivism is a flagrant distortion of Marxism. Remember that Marx criticized bourgeois law for trying to make people artificially equal instead of acknowledging their differences, and maintained instead that any really fair distribution had to take account of people’s differentiated needs. Hence, his maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

The goal of twenty-first century socialism is full human development. It cannot, therefore, come into being because a government or an enlightened vanguard says so; it cannot be decreed from above; it is a process that is built with the people, in which, as they transform their circumstances, they transform themselves.91 It is not a handout; it is something to be conquered.

Participative Democracy and Protagonistic Participation: Democracy and Participation by the People

We have spoken of full human development, but how can that be achieved? Lebowitz says that “only a revolutionary democracy can create the conditions in which we can invent ourselves daily as rich human beings.” He refers to a “concept…of democracy in practice, democracy as practice, democracy as protagonism.” “Democracy in this sense—protagonistic democracy in the workplace, protagonistic democracy in neighborhoods, communities, communes—is the democracy of people who are transforming themselves into revolutionary subjects.”92

This is why it is not only a matter of giving democracy a social content—as Alfredo Maneiro, a Venezuelan intellectual and political leader, said of solving the people’s social problems (access to food, health care, education, etc.)—but also of transforming the very form of democracy by creating spaces which allow people, as they fight to change their circumstances, to transform themselves as well. It is not the same, Maneiro said, if a community, for instance, manages to get a pedestrian bridge that it has organized and fought for, as when it is given the bridge as a gift from a paternalist state. State paternalism is incompatible with a popular protagonism. It tends to turn people into beggars. We must move from a culture of citizens to become a culture of citizens who make decisions; who implement and control; who manage things themselves; who govern themselves. We have to move, as [former Venezuelan Minister of Education] Aristóbulo Istúriz says, from government for the people to people’s self-government, to a point where the people take power.

The need for popular protagonism is a recurring theme in the speeches of the Venezuelan President, and this distinguishes him from many advocates of democratic socialism. In a June 11, 2009, television and radio broadcast, Chávez quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin [a Russian anarchist thinker] wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920. Kropotkin, in this letter, maintains: “Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life. It seemed that the soviets were going to fulfill precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party’s influence over people…has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution—the soviets.”93

Participation, protagonism in all spaces, is that which allows human beings to grow and increase their self-confidence, that is to say, develop humanly. The Bolivarian Constitution—approved by the Constituent Assembly in 1999—emphasizes popular participation in public affairs and stresses that it is this protagonism that will guarantee complete individual and collective development. Although there are several articles in the Constitution that refer to this subject, probably the most specific one is Article 62. It says that “the people’s participation in creating, implementing, and controlling public policy is the necessary way to achieve the protagonism that ensures its full development both individual and collective.” It goes on to say that it is “the state’s obligation and society’s duty to create the conditions most favorable to this participation.”94 In addition, Article 70 points to other ways that allow people to develop “their capacities and abilities”: “self-management, cooperatives of all kinds…and other forms of association that are guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity.”95

As for participation on the local, territorial level, emphasis has been placed on participative diagnoses, participative budgets, and social auditing.96 Initially, Local Public Planning Councils were set up at the municipal level. These were composed of representatives (mayors, councilors, members of the parish boards) from already existing institutions, and community representatives to perform public planning.97 It is important to point out that there was a higher percentage of community than institutional representatives (51 percent to 49 percent), reflecting the clear political will to encourage community protagonism.

Creating Appropriate Spaces for Participation

This would have never gone beyond mere talk if appropriate spaces had not been created where participatory processes could take place freely and fully. For this reason, Chávez’s initiative to create communal councils—which was followed some time later by his proposal for workers’ councils, student councils, and peasant councils—is an important step toward forming real popular power and how this power should then be expressed in the communes. It is only if a society based on worker self-management and the self-management of community residents is created that the state will cease to be an instrument over and above the people, serving elites, and will instead become a state whose cadres are the best of the working people.

One of the most revolutionary ideas of the Bolivarian government is that of promoting the creation of communal councils, a form of autonomous organization at the grassroots level.98 These are territorial organizations unprecedented in Latin America because of the small number of participants. They number between two hundred and four hundred families in densely populated urban areas; between fifty and one hundred families in rural areas; and an even smaller number of families in isolated zones, mostly indigenous areas. The idea was to create small spaces that offered maximum encouragement to citizen involvement and facilitated the protagonism of those attending by putting them at their ease and helping them to speak without inhibition. This model was arrived at after much debate and after looking closely at successful experiences of community organization, such as the urban land committees (Comités de Tierra Urbana or “CTU”), some two hundred families organizing to fight for the regulation of land ownership, and health committees, some one hundred fifty families that form committees to offer support to doctors in the most disadvantaged communities.

Estimates indicate that in Venezuela, which has about twenty-six million inhabitants, there are about fifty-two thousand communities. (These numbers are based on our understanding of “community” as a group of families that live in a specific geographical space, who know each other, can relate easily, can meet without needing to rely on transport, and who, of course, share a common history, use the same public services, and share similar problems, both socio-economic and those connected to urban development.) Each of these communities has to elect a body that would act as a community government.

The kind of democracy I propose is against any imposition of solutions by force; instead it advocates winning over the hearts and minds of the people to the project that we wish to build—in other words, obtaining hegemony in the Gramscian sense and using that hegemony to build it. As Chávez says, hearts and minds are won in practice by creating opportunities for people to begin to understand the project while they are engaged in building it.99

However, what does this mean in practice? That workers’ councils must have all the workers in the company as members; the communal councils have to be composed of all the residents in a given area; the health councils, the technical water committees, the energy committees, and the cultural groups have to have all those interested in working on these matters. No one who, in good faith, wishes to work for a collective, for the welfare of that collective, seeking solidarity with other collectives, should be excluded.

From Representative Democracy to Delegated Democracy

Now, even if our starting point is the worker organized in his or her community, in the place where he or she works or studies, we should not limit this self-governing system to small-scale grassroots experiences. A system must be created that allows us to reconcile and merge the interests of each locality, workplace, or interest group with the interests of other communities, workplaces, or interest groups, so that we can manage the public affairs of society in general. This self-governing system should extend over the whole country and, in order to do that, some form of representation or delegation must be established.

Therefore, we do not reject all kinds of representation, but what we do reject is bourgeois representative democracy. This is not because it is representative but because it is not representative enough. When it comes down to it, it is socialist democracy and not bourgeois democracy which most resembles the classical definitions of democracy. It is socialist democracy which can make Lincoln’s famous words—“government of the people, by the people, and for the people”—come to life.100

The challenge, then, is to build a different kind of system of democratic representation that is the true expression of the interests of the working class and of society in general. It is a question of promoting a system for decision making by society in all spheres of social life; in other words, a process of socializing decision making in which representatives or delegates or spokespersons are elected from communities and workplace assemblies, and must be accountable to them. In order to make this goal possible, the representative system of bourgeois liberal democracy must be replaced by a delegate or spokesperson system.

How this Differs from the Bourgeois Representative System

The delegate system or spokesperson system is not just a form of political representation, nor just an electoral system. It cannot be reduced to a single act of voting every four or five years. It is not that five-minute democracy where citizens drop their ballots in the box every so many years and then never hear anything more from the representative for whom they voted. Its aim is to ensure that the workers, the organized people—in other words, the majority and not the elites—exercise power and are involved in running public affairs.

The delegate or spokesperson system—which came into being during the Paris Commune and showed in practice how classical political representation can be transcended—is a system that allows the people to exercise their sovereignty at all levels of the state system.101

Some of harshest criticisms of bourgeois representative democracy have been made in Venezuela, with the introduction of the term “spokesperson.” Venezuelan militants refuse, with reason, to use the term “representative” to describe these individuals because of the negative connotations this term has acquired in the bourgeois representative system. “Representatives” only approach their communities during elections, promising “all the gold in the world,” and then, after being elected, are never seen again.102 Those elected to be part of a communal council are called spokespersons (Spanish: vocero or vocera, from voz, voice). That is why, when these people lose the confidence of those who elected them, because they have ceased to transmit to higher levels what the community thinks and decides, they should be recalled. They have ceased to be the voice of the community.

The aim of a delegate or spokesperson system is to abolish the legal precept of political representation and to ensure a direct relationship between the voters and the decision-making process at all levels. The characteristics of this system include the following.

Delegates Elected where They Work or Live: Unlike the representative system and formal democracy, delegates are elected exclusively in the places where they live or work, and every person is a potential delegate or spokesperson.

Directly Connected to the Base Organization: Since all delegates are part of some grassroots organization or local organized community, they have firsthand experience of the problems of their community or workplace. Unlike professional political representatives, they are directly connected to the grassroots organization that elected them, and that organization must supervise and guide their work, preventing them from becoming bureaucratized and separated from their roots.

Electors Do Not Transfer Their Rights to Delegates: Delegates are not classical political representatives to whom voters transfer their rights to make decisions and to participate in governing. These rights remain in the hands of those who elected the delegates. Nevertheless, even if the electors keep all their rights and powers, they do not exercise them directly because some of them are implemented through the work their delegates do.

Not Professional Politicians: Delegates receive no salary; they continue to work at their respective jobs and, therefore, do not turn into professional politicians.

No Carte Blanche from Electors: Unlike the representative parliamentary system, delegates do not get carte blanche from their voters for a given period of time but must be guided by the decisions and directions adopted by the voters, who then must evaluate whether delegates perform their tasks satisfactorily. Moreover, the grassroots bodies that elect delegates must be those who decide which matters should be taken to the next-level delegate or spokesperson assembly with no changes, and which questions can be left to the delegates to decide, provided they follow the general guidelines they are given.

No Binding Mandate: Nevertheless, this does not mean that delegates are given an “imperative mandate.” They are not automatons who receive messages and transmit them. They are, rather, responsible and creative people. They have to be active and creative during the whole process, in expressing their electors’ points of view, in creating bonds with other delegates, and in making decisions in the assemblies.

Often delegates have to make decisions concerning policies and interests put forward by delegates from other grassroots bodies that clash with their organization’s interests and policies.

Votes Not Predetermined: When a conflict of interests arises, delegates have to bear in mind the guidelines they received and try to act accordingly, but they must also consider general interests and needs that were perhaps not analyzed when they were given certain instructions. Therefore, their vote cannot be predetermined by those who voted for them. It is normal that when delegates—who genuinely represent the interests of their fellows—are faced with matters about which there has been no discussion with their base organization, they will react by interpreting the wishes of the voters.

Delegates Safeguard Original Interests of Voters:Whereas in the bourgeois system of political representation, the interests of the voters become distorted and lose their authenticity, the delegate system safeguards the original character of the interests expressed by the voters.

Duties Beyond Decision Making:Delegates’ jobs and duties do not end when decisions have been made. They return to their grassroots communities, workplaces, and interest groups. Delegates must explain to the voters how a given problem was solved or why (if this be the case) a community’s proposal was not taken into consideration in the guidelines and basic agreements.

Recall: Those who elected them will be the ones who decide if the delegates were justified in straying from the agreements reached. If voters feel delegates were not justified, they can demand that appropriate political measures be applied for such delegates, up to and including recall.

II.3. New Economic Model

Twenty-first century socialism proposes a new model to replace the neoliberal capitalist model. Its main characteristics will be discussed below.

Chávez talks of a humanist socialism that puts human beings and not machines above everything. It follows, therefore, that his model is ruled by a humanist, solidarity-based logic that focuses on the satisfaction of human needs and not on profit. He talks about a social economy focused more on use-values than exchange-values.

One hundred years before the ecological problem was raised internationally, Marx said that the capitalist mode of production, as it developed technology and social processes of production, simultaneously undermines the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the laborer.103 Today we all know how right Marx was. Our universe is in danger of disappearing if we do not take serious steps to slow consumerism down and avoid destroying nature. It is not only the capitalist countries that are responsible for this situation but many socialist countries too, especially those which, driven by productivism, were not aware of the ecological damage they were causing.104

The new economic model to be built must be extremely mindful of the ecological crisis and the struggle against consumerism. We must promote the idea that our goal, as Bolivian President Evo Morales says, is not to live better but to live well.105 The indigenous communities’ traditional practices have a positive attitude toward nature, and we must rescue and respect it.

The Elementary Triangle of Socialism

To build this new economic model, it is necessary to begin restructuring not only the relations of production but also the relations of distribution and consumption. The elements of a new dialectic of distribution-production-consumption must be assembled.106 According to Chávez, these elements are: (1) social ownership of the means of production; (2) social production organized by the workers; and (3) the satisfaction of communal need. These make up what Chávez has called the elementary triangle of socialism.107 In what follows, we shall examine each of these elements and how they must be combined so we can talk of a socialist model that is an alternative to the capitalist model.

Social Ownership of the Means of Production: If we are Marxists, we know that the way the social product is distributed depends on the way the means of production in a given country are distributed. Therefore, if our aim is to create an economic model in which social wealth is distributed more equitably, satisfying the needs of all the country’s inhabitants, it is absolutely essential that these means of production—or at least the most important ones—are not hoarded by a few people and used for their own benefit but are collective property, owned by all the people.

Twentieth-century socialism tended to identify collective property with state property, in spite of the fact that Lenin stressed that statizing (or transferring ownership to the state) was not the same thing as socializing ownership. It is therefore very important to distinguish between formal ownership and real appropriation. Although the state formally represents the collective, what is needed if the collective is really to appropriate the means of production (factories, mines, land, services, etc.) is more than a simple legal act to hand over these means of production to the state.108

What happened in the Soviet Union, and in most of the countries that followed its example, was not real appropriation of the productive process by the workers but simple statization of the means of production. These went from being the property of a few to being the property of the state, which supposedly represented both urban and rural workers. Nevertheless, the productive process itself went through very few changes. A large capitalist factory was not very different from a large socialist factory: the workers continued to be just a few more cogs in the wheel, and they had very little or no participation in decision making in their workplaces. This state capitalism kept the hierarchical organization of production intact; the manager had “dictatorial” power, and orders came from the top down.109 “The preferred role of a worker organization from this perspective is to mobilize human resources to meet the selected goal—i.e., to serve as a transmission belt for state directives.”110

This state capitalism—which Lenin saw as only the first step toward overcoming backwardness and one of the several kinds of relations of production that could exist in the transition period—became the goal of twentieth-century socialism.

Worker-Organized Production: It is not enough, then, that the state be the legal owner of the means of production; it is essential that the workers participate in organizing production. Work, the central element of the new economic model, rather than alienating workers, should allow thinking to be combined with doing. In this way, workers, as they work, can achieve their full development as human and social beings. Workers should be protagonists in their workplaces. “Protagonistic democracy in the workplace is a necessary condition for the producers to develop fully.”111

It is interesting to see that, in Chile, Allende said that one of the aims of having workers participate in managing state companies was to achieve “the overall development of the human personality,” and that, since workers had the same rights as any citizen, “it would be paradoxical if in the heart of the company where they work they did not have equal rights.”112

Twenty-first century socialism cannot afford to leave untouched labor processes that alienate workers, and it cannot allow the division between manual labor and intellectual labor to continue. The person who works has to be informed of the whole production process, must be capable of controlling it, and be able to express an opinion on production plans. But are workers prepared to play an active role in managing companies? No, they are not. This is precisely because capitalism has never had any interest in sharing with workers technical knowledge about managing companies. Here, I am referring not only to production related matters but also to those related to marketing and company finance. Concentrating this knowledge in the hands of management has been one of the mechanisms that has allowed capital to exploit workers.

Therefore, one of the first steps that must be taken if we are to achieve more self-management of companies is to make it possible for workers to obtain that knowledge. To do that, they must be able to educate themselves.

Satisfaction of Communal Needs: Lastly, we come to the third element of the triangle. If the means of production are collectively owned—by collectively owned, we mean they are the property of everybody—the goods produced in response to the needs of the people and the surpluses produced from them cannot be appropriated by the specific group of workers who produce them, but have to be shared with the local or national community.

Who decides what these needs are? In twentieth-century socialism, it was the central state that established these needs and decided what to produce to satisfy them. In twenty-first century socialism, the people themselves must set the priorities for what needs will be satisfied.

Let us remember that socialism pursues the goal of full human development. This is achieved not only by the workers acting as protagonists in the productive process but also by their working to satisfy the needs of those who are part of the human family, in an expression of solidarity.

New Concept of Efficiency: Respect for Nature and Full Human Development

Twenty-first century socialism requires a “new concept of efficiency.”113 It cannot continue measuring efficiency by productivity, that is, by the number of products made in a given period of time, without considering whether this is detrimental to nature. The efficiency of Japanese transnationals in southern Chile was measured by the amount of wood obtained from logging in a given time. That measurement did not take into account the damage done to Chilean forests and the effect this would have on climate change.

Efficiency in socialism has to take two things into consideration. The first—something many have absolutely no doubt about—is that a company will only be efficient if, as it produces, it does not destroy the future of humanity, and it does not destroy nature. The second—which is generally not taken into account—derives from the dual character of what a company produces. A company, it seems, only produces goods or services as it transforms raw materials into products. But that is not the whole truth; something else is transformed in the production process—the workers: the men and women who, as they turn raw materials into products, either develop themselves as human beings or become deformed. In this sense, a company will only be efficient under socialism if, as well as being materially productive, it allows the workers, through the labor carried out during the workday, to develop themselves as human beings.

Having workers who are but cogs in the machine is efficient from the capitalist point of view because it increases productivity. But it is not efficient from the point of view of socialism since it cripples human beings; it does not allow them to develop, it transforms them into slaves to the machine.

Historical experience has taught us that, without this education, those who manage the companies that have become social property are not the workers per se but usually the technicians, since it is they who have more knowledge about how to run a productive process.114

The concept of socialist efficiency, then, should include not only respect for nature but also the understanding that investing in the development of the workforce is productive investment. Therefore, education should not be thought of as something separate from the workday. On the contrary, every workday should include, as part of the job, a certain amount of time devoted to worker education.

This means that one cannot use the same standards to measure the efficiency of a steel plant in Venezuela set on socialism—a steel works that has proposed devoting, for instance, two hours of the working day to study—as those used to measure the efficiency of a capitalist steel works in an advanced country where all of the working day is devoted to producing goods. If efficiency is only measured by output, it is possible that the capitalist company will win—although that remains to be seen, because it has also been proven that the more aware the workers are about the meaning of their work activities, the greater is their motivation on the job, and that has a positive effect on productivity. If, instead, we measure efficiency not only by labor productivity but also by the human development of the worker, there is no doubt that a self-managed or co-managed socialist company will come out ahead of a capitalist company.

Planned Economy and Decentralization

Another feature of the new economic model is that economic activity is planned. A planned economy must put an end to the constant anarchy and periodic convulsions, which are the inevitable consequences of capitalist production, and should allow for a more rational use of the natural and human resources available.115 This planning must not repeat the errors of hyper-centralized Soviet planning, which was carried out in a bureaucratic manner. It must be the result of a decentralized, participatory planning process in which the social actors from various spheres of society are involved.116

If this process is implemented from the smallest to the largest territorial units, the plan could discover people’s and the localities’ needs. Then, the companies operating in those areas could discuss to what degree they could satisfy them.117

Protagonism becomes a mere slogan if people do not have the opportunity to offer their opinions and make decisions in areas where they participate (territorial areas, workplaces, educational institutions, and interest groups). If the central state decides everything, there is no room for local initiatives, and the state ends up being a hindrance or, as Marx says, hinders the “free movement” of society.118

It is interesting to note that István Mészáros thinks that the excessive centralization of the Soviet state led to the fact that “both the Soviets and the factory councils had been deprived of all effective power.”119 We should not be surprised, therefore, that Mészáros stresses the need, in the transition stage, to “accomplish a genuine autonomy and decentralization of the powers of decision making, in opposition to their existing concentration and centralization which cannot possibly function without ‘bureaucracy.’”120

Decentralization: Antidote to Bureaucratism

The relationship between decentralization and people’s protagonism is one of the central themes of twenty-first century socialism, and we should always keep it in mind. However, there are other aspects that I should like to discuss here, such as the relationship between centralization and bureaucratism.

It is clear that this was not the way Lenin saw it; he always related the phenomenon of bureaucracy to the state inherited from capitalism. When he was dying, he was worried about the “bureaucratic ulcer” that was affecting the state apparatus.121 In one of his last writings, he maintained that “our state apparatus is to a considerable extent a survival of the past and has undergone hardly any serious change.”122 A few days earlier, he had described it as a “Bourgeois, tsarist mish-mash.”123

In January 1922, in his last work on the role of the unions, he went so far as to say that “in no way could the strike struggle be renounced” provided that it is directed against the bureaucratic deviations of the proletarian state. He explained, however, that this struggle was very different from the one waged under the capitalist regime. In that case, the struggle was to destroy the bourgeois state, but in this case, it was to fortify the proletarian state by combating “the bureaucratic deformations” of that state, its huge weaknesses, and “all kinds of vestiges of the old capitalist regime in its institutions, et cetera.”124

As we can see, Lenin thought that the bureaucratic deformations that characterized the Soviet state were a legacy of past regimes. I think he was wrong and that his view prevented him from prescribing the right medicine for this disease. As I understand it, the underlying cause of bureaucratism is to be found—and far more important than legacies of the past—in the excessive centralization of the Soviet state. We know full well what happens when not only strategic decisions but also most decisions are made centrally: the red tape, the endless running around, the slowness with which decisions are made, the lack of control.

One of the most important lessons learned after the goal set by Fidel Castro for the 1970 sugar harvest in Cuba was not met was understanding that it was impossible for the socialist state to administer everything centrally, especially in an underdeveloped country such as Cuba. Therefore, spaces where the people could control the way the state functioned were needed in order to ensure that the state operated more effectively.125 Castro admitted this in a July 26, 1970, speech.

“The revolutionary process itself has shown,” Castro said two months later, “the problems caused by bureaucratic and also by administrative methods.”126 After pointing out the mistakes that had been made by identifying the party with state administration, and by allowing mass organizations to weaken, he stressed the role that the people should play in making decisions and solving problems. Castro added:

Imagine, a baker’s shop on a street which provides bread to all who live there and an administrative apparatus that controls it from above. How does it control it? How could the people not care how that bakery operates? How could they not care whether an administrator is good or bad? How could they not care if people there had privileges or not, if there was negligence or not, insensitivity or not? How could they not care about how it delivered its services? How could they not care about the hygiene problems there? And how could they not care about the production problems, absenteeism, the quantity and quality of the goods? They couldn’t! Can anyone think up a more effective means for controlling that bakery than the masses themselves? Could there be any other method of inspection? No! The person who runs that micro-unit of production could become corrupt; the person who inspects it could become corrupt, everyone could become corrupt. The only ones who are not going to become corrupt are those affected [by all this], those affected!

These ideas were incorporated into Cuba’s new Constitution in 1976. The new political model proposed decentralizing as many as possible of the state’s functions, down to the municipal level. Although these institutions had to be subordinated to those above them, they could act autonomously within the established legal and regulatory framework and “should not be submitted to constant and restricting supervision by the institutions above them.”

This mechanism, according to Raúl Castro, in addition to making the higher level bodies work faster and better and be more in tune with the demands made by the where and when of the decisions that have to be taken, frees them, and especially national institutions, of the heavy, voluminous burden of everyday administrative tasks which in practice they cannot properly carry out…and which, moreover, prevent them from attending to the important tasks that they really are competent to undertake in areas related to setting standards, control and inspection of the activities they deal with.127

As time went by, experience showed that it was necessary to decentralize government administration even more, and the body known as the People’s Council was set up in Havana in 1990. This was a government body that functioned in an area smaller than the municipality. Its objective was to improve the control and supervision over all administrative bodies and find ways that made it possible to involve all members of a community in solving their own problems. Author Jesús García says that the idea was to have “a strong government body at the ‘barrio’ level that could organize community forces for solving the problems the people had at that level.”128

Unfortunately, the great economic difficulties that have beset Cuba in the last two decades placed huge limitations on the resources available for attending to people’s aspirations. The People’s Power cadres also began to “burn out” and grow weary, people lost trust, and participation began to diminish and become rote. All this—as well as other reasons I cannot go into here—meant that People’s Power, which had started out with such brio and creativity, began to lose prestige.

Marx: All that Can Be Decentralized Must Be Decentralized

I am more and more convinced by historical experience that decentralization is the best weapon for combating bureaucratism, since it brings government closer to the people and allows them to exercise social control over the state apparatus. I therefore share Marx’s opinion that it is necessary to decentralize all that can be decentralized, keeping as functions of the central state only those tasks that cannot be carried out at the local level. In the Civil War in France Marx said: “The communal regime once established in Paris and the secondary centers, the old centralized government would in the provinces, too, have to give way to the self-government of the producers.”129

The few but important functions that would be left to a central government would not be eliminated, as some have said, deliberately falsifying the truth: “The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, to be organized by Communal Constitution, and to become a reality by the destruction of state power which claimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and superior to, the nation itself, from which it was but a parasitic excrescence.”130

Of course, we are not talking about an anarchic decentralization. There must be a national strategic plan that coordinates local plans; each of the decentralized spaces should feel that they are part of the national whole and be willing to contribute their own resources to strengthen development of those spaces with the greatest shortages. This kind of decentralization must be imbued with a spirit of solidarity. One of the most important roles the central state plays is just that: implementing this process of redistributing national resources to protect the weaks the central state plays is just that: implementing this process of redistributing national resources to protect the weak and help them develop.

It should be clear that I am not talking here about the kind of decentralization promoted by neoliberalism. I am in complete agreement with Chávez about that kind of decentralization being a global strategy to weaken national unity and the nation-state. What I am advocating here is a different way of looking at decentralization, a socialist conception of decentralization—the concept enshrined in numerous articles in the Bolivarian Constitution.131 Here, decentralization strengthens the communities, the communes that are the foundation of the nation state. It helps deepen democracy and strengthen the central state, the fundamental instrument for defending our sovereignty and leading the country toward the new society we want to build.132

II.4. Where We Can Progress When the Government Is in Our Hands

Thus far, I have given a broad overview of some of the characteristics of twenty-first century socialism. Now I will go into some of the concrete measures that—using the state bequeathed to us but run by revolutionary cadres—can be taken, in order to move toward that goal, provided that the political will to do so exists.

Move toward a New Regional Integration

Left governments can gain a lot of ground in the international sphere. Since we know how powerful the Northern Empire is, Bolívar’s ideas about the need to unify our countries are more and more relevant. Isolated, we will achieve very little; working in coordination, we will gain respect and be able to find economic, political, and cultural solutions that make us less and less dependent on the big world blocs. The creation of ALBA, Petrocaribe, Telesur, Radio del Sur, Bank of the South, UNASUR and its Defense Council, the Sucre (ALBA’s trading currency unit), and many other initiatives means we have moved fairly far in this direction.

Conquering Spaces Formerly Capital’s Domain

It is possible, using the inherited state, to start a process of recovering spaces that were lost as a result of the privatizations during the neoliberal period and of beginning to create new spaces under the control of the people’s government.

The clearest example of this in Venezuela was the recovery of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the oil company. Although formally in the hands of the state—it was nationalized August 29, 1975, during Carlos Andrés Pérez’s presidency—it was not run by the government but by neoliberal managers, who had their own agenda that coincided with the interests of the dominant economic groups. The oil sabotage of late 2002 and early 2003 allowed the Venezuelan government to get rid of the coup-supporting, anti-national managers and replace them with new managers who supported the Bolivarian process. This meant the government could recover control of the company and use the surplus for social use.

The Venezuelan government has also been able to nationalize or renationalize such important strategic companies as the Orinoco Steelworks, cement, plastic, and telecommunications companies, food processing installations such as Conservas Alimenticias La Gaviota (a sardine tinning plant), Lácteos de los Andes (Andes Dairy Products), sugar mills, silos, coffee roasting plants, and refrigerated storage companies.133 The state also took over one of the biggest private banks, the Banco de Venezuela, which belonged to the Spanish-owned Grupo Santander; more recently it took control of the Exito chain of supermarkets and intends to hand it over to the workers to manage. Ownership of the means of production must become increasingly social, but there is a role for small-scale private property.

Implement a Coherent Strategy Aimed at Changing the Relations of Production

These changes won’t happen overnight. It is a complex process, which needs time. As Lebowitz says, “It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.”134 It is necessary, therefore, to design a coherent strategy aimed at transforming the existing relations of productions into the new relations that are the hallmark of twenty-first century socialism. The steps to be taken and the speed with which these can be implemented depend on the starting point and on the existing balance of forces.

To explain this more clearly, I list below some of the steps that will have to be taken: first, when dealing with state-owned companies; second, when dealing with cooperatives; and third, when dealing with capitalist companies.

It goes without saying that the easiest transition is the one that can take place in state companies, since these are formally owned by society in general and are explicitly directed to serve the interests of that society. In such companies it would be possible to move from formal ownership to real appropriation by:

  • Creating councils of workers that would allow workers to play a part in running the company;

  • Organizing production to satisfy communal needs;

  • Opening the books and ensuring complete transparency, which would allow workers to exercise a social accounting function and to combat waste, corruption, and bureaucratic interest;

  • Electing managers who share this vision and who have the trust of the workers;

  • Applying a new type of efficiency in these companies, one which, as it improves productivity, makes it possible for the workers to achieve more and more human development (e.g., introducing a workday that includes time for worker education so workers’ involvement in management is truly effective and not merely formal); and applying a new type of efficiency that also respects the environment.

According to Lebowitz, it is possible that specific companies that follow this type of social policy may not, initially, be profitable. However, since these are policies that can be thought of as social investment, all of society should cover their cost.

Cooperatives must be encouraged to overcome their narrow orientation only toward the interests of the group that makes up the cooperative. One way to do this is to develop organic links with the rest of society. It is therefore important to encourage them to forge links between themselves (the cooperatives) so they relate to each other in a cooperative way instead of a competitive way. In some cases, it might be possible to integrate their activities directly without their being separated by commercial operations.

It is also important to forge relations between cooperatives and the communities. This is the best way to begin to move away from the private interests of each cooperative and focus on the interests and needs of people in general.

It might be possible to transform capitalist companies gradually by finding various ways to subordinate their economic activity to the interests of the national economic plan. Lebowitz has called this “socialist conditionality.” These measures could include:

  • Demanding transparency and open books so that communities and workers can inspect them;

  • Using a system of prices and taxes that obliges companies to transfer a portion of their surpluses to other sectors of the economy, and thus making it possible to set up new companies or to improve social services for the population;

  • Using competition with state companies or with subsidized cooperatives to oblige capitalist companies to lower their prices and reduce their profits;

  • Using government regulations that require companies to transform the workday, so that a given number of hours is set aside for educating workers; and requiring companies to implement specific ways for workers to participate in making decisions about how companies will be run.

But why would capitalist companies accept such impositions, if they can simply move to other parts of the world where these costs do not exist? They might be willing to do so if the owners have a strong patriotic consciousness and if the revolutionary government rewards their collaboration with the national development plan by giving them easy credit from state banks and by guaranteeing that state companies or the state itself will purchase their products at prices acceptable to them. That is, the state can use its power to change the rules of the game under which capitalist companies can survive.

If, however, the revolutionary government’s aim is to begin to move toward a society without exploiters and exploited, why design a strategy to incorporate capitalist companies into the national plan, if, by definition, they continue to exploit workers? The reason is simple: because, overnight, the state is not capable of running all these companies. It has neither the economic resources nor the managerial experience needed.

We must never lose sight of the fact that capitalist companies placed in this situation will continually try to reduce the burden of the aforementioned “socialist conditionality.” At the same time, the revolutionary government, with the cooperation of workers and communities, will try to introduce more and more socialist features into these companies. There will be, therefore, a process of class struggle in which some will attempt to recover lost ground by returning to the capitalist past, and others will attempt to replace capitalist logic with a humanist, solidarity-based logic, which makes it possible for all human beings to develop fully.

Changing the Rules of the Game and Creating New Institutions

One of the first tasks of left governments has been to change the rules of the institutional game by means of a constituent process that has allowed them to develop new constitutions.135 This step must not be taken in a voluntarist manner. If a government is to promote a constituent process, it must be certain that it will win. It only makes sense to promote this kind of process when revolutionary forces think that they can create a balance of electoral forces that will allow the constituent process to lead to the necessary changes. There is no sense advocating a constituent process that won’t result in change.

It is not enough just to change the rules of the institutional game. It is necessary to look for never-before used ways to fight against the inherited bureaucratic apparatus. This is what the Bolivarian revolutionary government did in order to provide assistance to the most neglected sectors: it decided to create institutions that set up programs outside of the old state apparatus. This is the objective of the different social missions that were created by the government: Misión Barrio Adentro (to provide health care to the poor neighborhoods); Misión Milagro (to attend to those who have vision problems); Misión Mercal (to supply food and essential products at lower prices); the educational missions for various levels (literacy, primary, secondary, and higher education); Misión Cultura (to expand culture all over the country); Misión Guicaipuro (for the indigenous communities); and Misión Negra Hipólita (to provide services to those living in extreme poverty and the homeless). These missions, as Diana Raby says, are not “populist” or “paternalistic charity” from an oil-rich government; they stress popular participation in their planning and administration.136

Why did the Bolivarian government create these missions outside the inherited state apparatus? The example of the Barrio Adentro Misión will allow the reader to understand. The Ministry of Health’s bureaucratic apparatus wasn’t able to respond to demands to provide health care to the very poor who live in faraway areas or areas that are hard to access, such as the cerros of Caracas and poor neighborhoods in the large cities and villages. The doctors working in the inherited health system didn’t want to go to those places, and they weren’t really interested in providing services; their aim was to make money. Additionally, they were not prepared to give basic health care; they were largely educated as specialists, not as general practitioners, though general practitioners are what are needed for this kind of medical care. While a new generation of Venezuelan doctors is being educated to meet this demand, the government decided to create the Barrio Adentro Misión, building medical clinics in the cerros and in the barrios to provide basic health care to the poorest people. It sought cooperation from Cuban doctors to work in them. Whereas the poor joyfully welcomed these doctors, the opposition criticized the measure, saying that the Cubans had come to take jobs away from Venezuelan doctors and nurses. They also accused the Cuban doctors of not being trained professionals and made other ridiculous accusations. However, this Misión has generated such positive results and has had such an excellent reception from the Venezuelan people that the opposition’s electoral campaigns are now saying that it will keep the missions but make them much more efficient.

The government is not only capable of creating new institutions better suited to the new tasks; it is also capable, up to a point, of transforming the inherited state apparatus by promoting greater popular protagonism in given institutions. For example, the Venezuelan National Assembly is practicing what is known as “street parliamentarianism,” holding discussions with the people about the draft laws that will most affect them.

The point, according to Pedro Sassone, head of the National Assembly’s research department, is that there exists “a possibility that what happens in the legislative branch could also be part of a new decision-making system. This means that in order to legislate we must build new spaces.”137 There is no doubt that, if this legislative proposal is well implemented, it could mean a veritable revolution in the way laws are drafted.

Sassone is thinking about a totally decentralized parliament, a parliament where the ability to draft laws is built up from the social base, where the people “appropriate the legislative process itself.” He thinks that social street parliamentarianism should move toward a different, more advanced, concept of parliament: a people’s parliament, a permanent parliament where participation takes place not only when the law has been written but also when the communities themselves propose bills.

Transforming the Military

One of the most important tasks facing our governments is that of transforming the military. But is it possible for a body that has been part of the repressive, disciplinary apparatus of the bourgeois state, impregnated with bourgeois ideology, to transform itself into an institution at the service of and increasingly identified with the people?

Historical experience in the last few decades in Latin America allows us to think that this might happen. In the years following Chávez’s election as President in Venezuela, the armed forces have played an important role in defending the decisions democratically taken by the Venezuelan people. It was the armed forces that were mainly responsible for Chávez’s return to government when a group of top officers, most of whom commanded no troops, sadly played the role of pawns of big business interests, in April 2002, in a frustrated coup attempt.138

In most of our countries, the military has been a repressive institution at the service of the established order. What order are we talking about? The order that has allowed capital to reproduce itself and that is enshrined in the inherited constitution. Every time the popular movement, through various forms of struggle, has threatened the reproduction of the capitalist system, every time that capital’s interests have been even slightly threatened, or an attempt has been made to reduce the privileges of the groups that have ruled up to that point, the armed forces have been called in to impose order. That is to say, to keep bourgeois order, the inherited system of institutions. It is symptomatic that in Bolivia the armed forces had concentrated—and to some extent still concentrate—their soldiers around the mines in the rebellious Altiplano and the Chapare, that is to say in the rebellious zones of the city and the country. The logic of this was social containment.

Today, however, an increasingly large number of left governments in our continent understand the importance of changing this order and of creating new rules for the institutional game, which could serve as a framework to make it easier to build the new society. For this reason, they have organized constituent assemblies to draft new constitutions that will institute a new way of organizing society and establish a social order that will serve the majority of the population, rather than the elites. These constitutions will ensure that the natural wealth of these countries, which was ceded to transnational companies, will be returned to our governments and will ensure the construction of independent and sovereign states. The military, by defending this new order, will thus defend the homeland and the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.

That was what happened in Venezuela. The first gesture made by the newly elected government was to organize a constituent process to change the rule of the inherited game and to refound the state by creating a new set of institutions better suited to the changes people wanted to make. The Constituent Assembly led to a new Constitution.139 The new Constitution became an important ally of the process, because defending the Constitution means nothing if not defending the changes undertaken by Chávez’s government. It was this Constitution that allowed the majority of high-ranking officers—under pressure from the people—to declare themselves as rebelling against the coup-supporting officers and to disobey the orders of their superiors. Many young officers and soldiers used this same constitution to organize resistance from below, putting pressure on their officers to reject the coup.

Our governments have been implementing various measures in order to get the process of transforming the armed forces under way—a process which will allow them to defend and implement the new institutional order in a more consistent way. Let us examine some of these.

Give the Military Responsibility for Social Projects: Assigning social projects to the armed forces so that they use their labor power, their technical knowledge, and their organizational abilities to help the most destitute social sectors is a key measure. The most obvious example of this is Plan Bolívar 2000, which Chávez instigated in Venezuela when he began his mandate. In Plan Bolívar 2000, a program designed to improve living conditions of the popular sectors, the military cleaned streets and schools, cleaned neighborhoods to fight against endemic diseases, and helped restore the social infrastructure in urban and rural zones. Venezuelan soldiers accepted this work with a great deal of enthusiasm. In fact, their direct contact with the social problems of the population’s poorest helped to raise consciousness and social commitment among the young officers who worked on the program. These young soldiers are today among the most radicalized sectors of the process.

In Bolivia, the military has been given the job of providing the most destitute sectors with economic aid, such as the Juancito Pinto bonus, to provide help to schools for the children of the lowest income families, and the Juana Azurduy bonus, for single pregnant mothers.

Provide Education in the Spirit of the Constitution: It is important that top military officers and those under their command have a vision of the world that is consistent with the new society we want to build.

Interestingly, in Hugo Chávez’s generation, most officers were not educated at the School of the Americas in the United States but in the Venezuelan Military Academy, which had undergone far-reaching changes in 1971. “What was known as the Andrés Bello Plan raised the level [of education at the Military Academy] to university equivalent. Army cadets began to study political science, to learn about democracy theorists, and analysts of Venezuelan conditions. For military strategy they studied Clausewitz, Asian strategists, and Mao Zedong. Many of these soldiers ended up specializing in certain subjects in the universities and began to interact with other university students. If any did go off to study in the U.S. academy, they went with their rucksacks filled with progressive ideas.”140

Give the Armed Forces Big Infrastructure Projects: Our armies and our peoples, even though they desperately wish to live in peace, must be prepared to defend national sovereignty as long as imperial forces want to dominate the world and impose their vision of what we must do, ignoring our projects for national development. It may be worth remembering that, in the beginning, the Cuban Revolution wanted to turn barracks into schools, but it had to change its plans and spend huge sums of money on strengthening its military to prevent U.S. intervention. Faced with an unreasonable enemy, there is no option but to prepare for war as the best way to prevent it.

However, in countries like ours, which have so many development needs, it makes no sense for our armies only to train for war and then just sit around and wait for an invasion. Some of the soldiers can be used for strategic economic tasks. Moreover, it is important that the armed forces feel they are not simply defenders of national security but are also builders of the new society. Much of the knowledge they acquire to defend the homeland can be used to repair those elements of the infrastructure that have fallen into disrepair for lack of maintenance (e.g., hospitals and public schools) or to collaborate in managing new strategic companies, or to undertake work that, for example, improves communication systems throughout the country. In Cuba, for instance, excellent results have been achieved by employing members of the military in economic tasks. Companies run by the army have, on the whole, achieved better results than other state companies.

Democratize Access to Top Ranks: It is important that all forms of societal discrimination impeding access to the highest ranks in the military be eliminated. In Venezuela, many projects were easier because, unlike in other countries, no military caste existed. Most of the high-ranking officers came from low-income families, both rural and urban, and knew firsthand the difficulties the Venezuelan people had to face in their daily lives.141

In Bolivia, as in most of our countries, an officer who had trained in the United States had more chance of being promoted. In the future, things will work in the opposite way: whoever shows the greatest nationalist sentiment, the greatest commitment to institutions, the greatest support for social and productive tasks will be the person with the best chance of being promoted in the armed forces.

Include People in the National Defense: Our nations must be prepared, as we have already said, to defend themselves from any foreign interference. It is obvious that, because of numerical and technological imbalances, our armies would not be able to resist an imperial invasion, unless our people join on a mass scale with military personnel in the task of defending our sovereignty. As Álvaro García Linera says, our only option for living or resisting, if faced with a possible invasion, is if there are strong links between military and social structures. In Bolivia they are rediscovering a tradition of struggle from the past: something that there was called “las republiquetas” [the little republics]. These arose to fight against Spain during the struggle for independence. In these republiquetas the military was merged into the local community structure. That was how they stood firm and developed during the fifteen years of the battle for independence and were able to build the Bolivian state. This is the logic being used by members of the military themselves to create Bolivian military doctrine.142

To defend the sovereignty of Cuba, a country that is only ninety miles from the United States, it was and is of fundamental importance to develop people’s militias to defend the homeland, in conjunction with the standing army, in the event of an external threat. In Venezuela, similar progress is being made in this area.

History has shown that no empire can be victorious when confronted with the combative morale of our peoples who have risen up in arms. The decision to form the Defense Council of UNASUR has been another important step forward in the defense of our sovereignty as a subcontinent.

Recover Patriotic Symbols and Traditions: Another effort our governments have made is to restore traditions and values by modifying national symbols so that these fit better with the characteristics of each national reality. The most recent example of this is the decision that the armed forces of the plurinational Bolivian state should adopt, as one of its flags, the indigenous symbol of the Whipala.143

Build Territorial State Sovereignty: There are countries in our continent, such as Bolivia, that have not yet gained complete sovereignty over their territory. Until a very short while ago, the state did not control about 30 percent of its national territory. In the eastern strip, in a part of Beni up to Santa Cruz, power was in the hands of landowners, drug traffickers, wood smugglers, and raw material and mineral smugglers. There was no state there, and the strongest—the drug trafficker’s thugs or the landowner’s thugs—ruled. “Now we are getting this territory back as never before in our history. The state’s presence in this area has multiplied by two thousand,” says Bolivian Vice President García Linera. “Previously a visit to Pando was a once-a-year visit for the President. Now, not a week goes by but a minister visits. We have managed to make the state present in all of these territories in the country. Now there is a permanent state present with its armed forces, bringing resources, bringing health care, bringing education.”144

Transforming the State: Building from Below

Since, in Venezuela, the inherited state didn’t make enough room for popular protagonism, Chávez had the idea of encouraging new forms of popular organization and began to transfer power to them. Chávez is convinced, and on innumerable occasions has said, that the problem of poverty cannot be solved without giving power to the people. One of the most original creations of the Bolivarian revolutionary process was the communal councils, which gave decision-making power on a range of matters to the inhabitants of small territorial spaces. Chávez understood that he could not just talk about this, but that the state should help people to take power. He understood that it was essential to give each community a certain quantity of resources along with the power of decision over how these were to be used.

Later, it was decided that the ideal size in which to develop self-government was a geographical space smaller than a municipality but bigger than the area of the communal council. This is a space which is, to some degree, economically self-sustaining, and to which certain government functions and services, which had previously been the province of the municipalities, could be transferred. These functions and services include, among other things, the upkeep of the electricity service, street and road maintenance, tax collection, rubbish disposal, and preservation of educational and health installations. The idea is to create communal governments where the members are elected and recallable by voters. These communal governments have autonomy to make decisions within their areas of competence and receive resources to implement public works. As far as is possible, they will move toward economic self-sustainability.

Transition: Coexistence of Two Types of States

It is necessary to understand, as Lebowitz contends, that during the transition process, two states will coexist for a long time: (1) the inherited state, whose administrative functions are taken over by revolutionary cadres that use it to push through the process of change; and (2) a state that begins to be born from below, through the exercise of popular power in various institutions, including the communal councils.145

The uniqueness of this process is that the inherited state fosters the emergence of the state that will replace it. Therefore, a complementary relationship should be developed, rather than one in which one of the states negates each other. Of course, the assumption is that the organized movement must control and exert pressure on the inherited state, so it moves in a forward direction. After all, the inherited state will suffer from tremendous inertia, exacerbated by the fact that the cadres occupying leadership positions in it may not always be imbued with a genuinely revolutionary spirit and may slip into the same behavior patterns as the officials of the past.

It cannot be ignored that the seeds of popular power springing up from below might be contaminated by the inherited culture, and that they might deviate into bureaucratism or other things. As Gramsci says, and Chávez never tires of repeating, a struggle exists between the old that hasn’t finished dying and the new that is being born.

One of the characteristics of the state that emerges from below is its tendency to have a “local view” of reality, seeing the trees but not the forest.146 It is similar to a phenomenon familiar in the trade union movement, which often, focusing on the interests of workers in particular workplaces, loses sight of the interests of the working class as a whole.

The inherited state, however, because of its national character, necessarily tends to have a “global view” of things.147 It should have a plan for the overall development of the country, designed with as much participation by the people as is possible. This plan must advance the kind of economic, political, educational, and cultural transformation that will lead to the building of a new society—a society that makes possible the full development of all people, that is in solidarity with the poorest areas, and will foster balanced national development.

Guide to Judging Progress

Thus far, we have tried to analyze the characteristics of the processes of building socialism in our subcontinent. We have indicated how progress can be made on this project by using government power, and we have said that, in order to judge our governments, it is more important to look at the direction in which revolutionary states are going than the speed at which they are advancing. Now, we would like to propose some criteria that could allow us to make an objective assessment of the progress of our governments that have explicitly set themselves the goal of building twenty-first century socialism.

Attitude to Neoliberalism: What is the attitude of our governments toward neoliberalism and capitalism in general? Do they lay bare the logic of capital? Do they attack it ideologically? Do they use the state to weaken it?

Attitude to Unequal Income Distribution: Are they moving to diminish the gap between the richest and the poorest? Are they giving the latter better access to education, health, and housing?

Are they taking measures to ensure there is a fairer distribution of wealth between the poorest and richest municipalities?

Attitude to Inherited Institutions: Do they convene constituent processes to change the rules of the institutional game, knowing that the inherited neoliberal state apparatus places huge obstacles in the way of any progress in building a different kind of society?

Do they strive to increase the number of people registered to vote, given that the poor are usually less likely to be on the electoral rolls?

Attitude to Economic and Human Development: Do they consider that the goal of satisfying human needs is more important than that of accumulating capital?

Do they understand that human development cannot be achieved in a state that is merely paternalistic, one that solves problems by transforming its people into beggars? Do they understand that human development can only be achieved through practice and, therefore, strive to create spaces in which popular protagonism is possible?

Attitude to National Sovereignty: Do they reject foreign military intervention, military bases, and humiliating treaties? Are they recovering their sovereignty over natural resources?

Have they made progress in finding solutions to the problem of media hegemony, which until now has been in the hands of conservative forces? Are they promoting the recuperation of national cultural traditions?

Attitude to Role of Women: Do they respect and encourage the protagonism of women?

Attitude to Discrimination: Are they making progress in eliminating all types of discrimination (sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.)?

Attitude to Means of Production and Producers: Is social ownership of the means of production increasing, and are workers more and more the protagonists in the workplace? Is the distance between intellectual and manual work growing smaller? Is the workers’ capacity for self-management and self-government growing? Is the distance between the countryside and the city diminishing?

Attitude to Nature: Are these governments dealing with the problem of industrial pollution? Are they ruling out the use of transgenic crops and livestock? Are they implementing educational campaigns to promote environmental protection? Are they encouraging and taking practical measures for recycling rubbish?

Attitude to International (especially Latin American) Coordination and Solidarity: Are they looking for ways to integrate with other countries in the region?

Attitude to Popular Protagonism: Do these governments mobilize the workers and the people in general in order to carry out certain measures, and are they contributing to an increase in their abilities and power? Do they understand the need for an organized and politicized people, one able to exercise pressure to weaken the state apparatus and thus drive forward the proposed transformation process? Do they understand that our people must be protagonists and not supporting actors?

Do they listen to the people and let them speak? Do they understand they can rely on the people to fight the errors and deviations that come up along the way? Do they give them resources, and call on them to exercise social control over the process? In sum, are they contributing to the creation of a popular subject that is increasingly the protagonist and gradually assuming the responsibilities of government?


* Bracket material has been added in the interests of clarity by the Monthly Review editors.

56.     Álvaro García Linera, speaking on the program “El pueblo es noticia” on Channel 7 and Radio Patria Nueva, February 8, 2010.

57.     “[S]ome have spoken and written a lot about the Third Way, capitalism with a human face, Rhenish capitalism, Martian capitalism, and I don’t know how many other kinds, trying to disguise the monster, but whatever mask one puts on the monster is a masks that falls to the ground destroyed by the facts. I myself must confess, there is no need to confess really, everyone knows, especially Venezuelans, I was going through a phase and talking about the third way.” (Hugo Chávez, Speech at the Fourth Social Debt Summit, February 25, 2005).

58.     Ibid. Some authors, including Michael Lebowitz, prefer to call it “socialism for the twenty-first century.”

59.     Diana Raby, Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today (London: Pluto Press, 2006).

60.     Although in his speech in Caracas’ Teresa Carreño Theatre, during the Meeting for Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity, November-December 2004, he had already mentioned the subject.

61.     Hugo Chávez, “Opening remarks to the 4th Social Debt Summit,” Caracas, February 24, 2005.

62.     Tomás Moulian, Twenty-First Century Socialism: The Fifth Way (Santiago: Lom Ediciones, 2000).

63.     Empanadas are a typical Chilean food. See Tomás Moulian “La Unidad Popular y el futuro”(“Popular Unity and the Future”), Encuentro XXI 1, no. 3; Marta Harnecker, “Reflexiones sobre el gobierno de Allende, Estudiar el pasado para construir el futuro” (“Reflections on Allende’s Government, Study the Past to Build the Future”), Utopía, revista teórica del Partido Comunista de España, June 5, 2009, 219.

64.     Hugo Chávez, “Speech on Unity,” Caracas, December 15, 2006, Ediciones Socialismo del Siglo XXI, no. 1, Caracas, January 2007, 41.

65.     The prophet Isaiah and many other prophets preached a message of equality that had a clearly socialist spirit. See Chávez’s “Speech on Unity”; Chávez quotes from the version of the Sermon on the Mount that appears in Saint Luke’s Gospel, ibid., 42-43

66.     Simón Rodriguez was Simón Bolivar’s teacher and friend. The latter referred to the former as Robinson, hence the term Robinsonian; Ibid., 51.

67.     Ibid., 46.

68.     Álvaro García Linera, Luis Tapia Mealla, and Raúl Prada Alcoresa, Muela del diablo (Bolivia: Publishers Comuna), 46. García Linera identifies four civilizing regimes in Bolivia. The first is the modern, mercantile, industrial regime. The second involves economy and culture organized around simple domestic-type mercantile activity, either craft or peasant (these activities account for 68 percent of urban employment). The third is communal civilization, and the fourth is Amazonian civilization, which is identified by the itinerant character of its productive activity, technology based on individual knowledge and industriousness, and the absence of a state. Altogether, two-thirds of the countries’ inhabitants are in the last three “civilizing or societal bands,” 46-47.

69.     Ibid., 48.

70.     Chávez, “Speech on Unity,” 48.

71.     “[T]hat party betrayed its nature and ended up being an antidemocratic party. And that the wonderful slogan, ‘All power to the Soviets!’ in the end became, in fact, a completely different slogan: ’All power to the party! That regime turned into an elite regime which could not build socialism. That explains why, when socialism fell, the workers did not go out to defend it,” Chávez, “Speech on Unity.”

72.     V.I. Lenin, “Marxism on the State,” http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/index.htm.

73.     Michael Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006), 13.

74.     The two following paragraphs are drawn from my paper “How Lenin saw socialism in the USSR,” given at a seminar sponsored by the journal América Libre, Sao Paulo, Brazil, December 2000. We found texts and proposals that are not very well known and that demonstrate that Lenin had no illusions about the difficulties of building socialism in the conditions in the USSR at that time.

75.     V. I. Lenin, The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.), http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/cw/volume24.htm.

76.     Marta Harnecker, Reflexiones acerca del problema de la transición al socialism (Managua: Nevo Nicaragua, 1986), 23-35.

77.     V.I. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/prrk/subservience.htm.

78.     V. I. Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/ichtci/11.htm#v25zz99h-360.

79.     Lenin, Our Revolution, http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/jan/16.htm.

80.     Ibid.

81.     Ibid.

82.     V.I. Lenin, “Third All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers,’ Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies,” Collected Works, Vol. 26 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 453-82.

83.     I use this word in its strict sense. It is usually understood to mean that body (which can be composed of a president or prime minister and a variable number of ministers) that the constitution or the fundamental rules of a state awards executive duties or powers and that exercises political power over a society (definition taken from Wikipedia).

84.     Marta Harnecker, “La lucha de un pueblo sin armas” (“The Struggle of a People without Arms”), Encuentro XXI, 1995, http://rebelion.org/docs/95161.pdf.

85.     Pomar, Las diferentes estrategias de la izquierda latinoamericana, 246.

86.     Ibid., 247.

87.     Lebowitz, Build it Now, 67.

88.     V. I. Lenin, first draft of “The Immediate Tasks of Soviet Power,” Collected Works, Vol. 27 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 235-77.

89.     Marta Harnecker, Los conceptos elementales del materialismo histórico (Mexico: Siglo XXI), 215; E. Balibar, “Sur la dialectique historique (Quelques remarques critiques a propos de Lire le capital)” in Cinq études sur le materialismo historique (Paris: Maspero, 1974), 243. This article implies a radical change in the author’s ideas about the problem of transition in comparison with those expressed in Lire “Le capital(Paris: Maspero, 1965).

90.     Miodrag Zecevic, The Delegate System (Belgrade: Jugoslovenski pregled, 1977).

91.     This approach runs through all of Michael Lebowitz’s work, and thanks to his influence, I have incorporated it into my work.

92.     Michael Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).

93.     Kropotkin goes on to say, “At present, it is the party committees, not the soviets, who rule in Russia. And their organization suffers from the defects of bureaucratic organization. To move away from the current disorder, Russia must return to the creative genius of local forces” (a letter from P. Kropotkin to V. I. Lenin, March 4, 1920, http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_archives/kropotkin/kropotlenindec203.html).

94.     Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Chapter IV: Political Rights and Popular Referenda, Section One: Political Rights, http://vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=6831.

95.     Law of Municipal Public Power, Art. 234, May 17, 2005; Ibid.

96.     Ibid., Art. 33.

97.     In Venezuela, the municipalities are divided into parishes.

98.     See Marta Harnecker, “De los consejos comunales a las comunas” (“From Communal Councils to Communes”), http://rebelion.org/docs/97085.pdf.

99.     Hugo Chávez on his radio and television program, “Aló, Presidente” Teorico, June 11, 2009.

100.     Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863.

101.     Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, http://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm. This concept was also applied in the soviets that existed in Russia in 1905 and again during the October Revolution, and became the base of the Soviet state in the early years of its existence. However, it became bureaucratized and lost all its original creativity; Socialist Yugoslavia managed to formalize a delegate system in its 1974 constitution. See Zecevic, The Delegate System. Cuba, in its 1976 Constitution, established a political system where state power is exercised directly or through delegates to the assemblies of People’s Power and other state organs that are under them.

102.     Harnecker, Rebuilding the Left.

103.     Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 638.

104.     “Productivism” is defined as the tendency to think that the solution to everything is to increase production of material goods without being concerned about the effects that certain production processes can have on nature.

105.     On this subject, we recommend Enrique Leff, Ecología y capital: Racionalidad ambiental, democracia participativa y desarrollo sustentable (Mexico and Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1998). He argues: “Environmentalism is a radical critique of the needs imposed by the expansion of capital and over consumption which exhausts resources at an exponential rate. The concept of quality of life redefines human needs and re-postulates the bases of the production process to satisfy these needs in a new social rationality,” 284.

106.     Michael Lebowitz, “New Wings for Socialism,” Monthly Review 11, vol. 58 (April 2007).

107.     Ibid.

108.     On the concepts of ownership and real possession, see Harnecker, Los conceptos elementales del materialismo historico.

109.     Lenin thought that big industry needed the existence of “a strict and absolute unity of will” to direct common work and that the task of the party should be to “guide” the masses “along the path of coordinating the task of arguing at mass meetings about the conditions of work with the task of unquestioningly obeying the will of the Soviet leader, of the dictator, while at work.” He stressed that democracy in public meetings should be combined “with iron discipline during working hours.” See V.I. Lenin, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government,” Collected Works, Vol. 27 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 235-77.

110.     Michael Lebowitz, Building New Productive Relations Now, unpublished document, December 2006.

111.     Michael Lebowitz, The Logic of Capital Versus The Logic of Human Development, 54, communal council libraries, Venezuela.

112.     Partido Socialista de Chile, “Elementos a considerar para la política de participación de los trabajadores en la empresa industrial” (“Things to be taken into consideration for a policy of worker participation in industrial companies”), 1971.

113.     I have taken the main ideas I develop here from Michael Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, Chapter 7.

114.     See Michael Lebowitz’s analysis of the experience of co-management in Yugoslavia in the chapter entitled “Seven Difficult Questions” in his Build it Now.

115.     “[U]nited co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of capitalist production,” Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, in the Appendix to 1903 edition of Belfort Bax, A History of the Paris Commune (Twentieth Century Press: 1895).

116.     See Pat Devine, Democracy and Economic Planning; The Political Economy of a Self-governing Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988).

117.     Noel López and I have written two documents on this subject: “Planificación participativa en la comunidad,” http://rebelión.org; and “Planificación participative en la municipalidad,” currently undergoing final revision.

118.     Marx, The Civil War in France.

119.     István Mészáros, Beyond Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995), 906. On Lenin, Mészáros argues: “The main themes of The State and Revolution receded further and further in his thought. Positive reference to the experience of the Paris Commune (as the direct involvement of ‘all the poor, exploited sections of the population’ in the exercise of power) disappeared from his speeches and writings and the accent was laid on ‘the need for a central authority.’” Further on, he says: “The ideal of autonomous working-class action had been replaced by the advocacy of ‘the greatest possible centralization,’” (903-06).

120.     Ibid.

121.     V.I. Lenin, “10th Congress of the RCP(B),” Collected Works, Vol. 32 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 165-271.

122.     V.I. Lenin, “How Should We Reorganize the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection,” Collected Works, Vol. 33 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 481-86.

123.     V.I. Lenin, “The Question of Nationalities Or ‘Autonomisation,’” Collected Works, Vol. 36, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1966).

124.     V.I. Lenin, “On the Role and Functions of the Trade Unions in the New Economic Policy,” Collected Works, Vol. 33, 188-96.

125.     Most of what follows has been taken from the introduction to Marta Harnecker, Cuba ¿Dictadura o Democracia? (Mexico: Siglo XXI, 1979).

126.     Fidel Castro, September 28, 1970, speech given for the 10th anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

127.     Raul Castro, at a seminar for the delegates of the Matanzas Popular Power Assembly, August 22, 1974.

128.     Jesús García, Cinco tesis sobre los consejos populares (La Habana: Revista Cubana de Ciencias Sociales, 2000).

129.     Karl Marx, The Civil War in France.

130.     Ibid.

131.     Articles 16, 157, 1581, 85, and 269, Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, http://venezuelanalysis.com/constitution.

132.     Marta Harnecker, ed., La descentralización ¿fortalece o debilita el estado nacional? (Does Decentralization Strengthen or Weaken the National State?), http://rebelion.org. This work includes papers presented by those taking part in a workshop organized by the Centro Internacional Miranda, September 23-24, 2008.

133.     A company created as a state enterprise in the 1960s, then sold to foreign capital in 1997, and renationalized in April 2008 after an almost two-month strike by its 15,000 workers.

134.     Lebowitz, Building New Productive Relations Now. Most of the ideas I set out below are developed more thoroughly in that paper.

135.     When those who govern Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela came to power, they promoted constituent processes. The new constitutions these assemblies drafted were then passed by a vote in a referendum. The Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela became law in December 1999, the Ecuadorian Constitution, on September 28, 2008, and the Bolivian in February 2009. The Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya also wanted to convene a constituent assembly but was overthrown by a military-institutional coup.

136.     Raby, Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today.

137.     Director General of the Venezuelan National Assembly’s Department of Legislative Research and Development; Marta Harnecker, La descentralización ¿fortalece o debilita el estado nacional? (Caracas 2009), http://rebelion.org/docs/97088pd f. This book is an edited transcript of a workshop on this subject held at the Centro Internacional Miranda, September 23-24 2008.

138.     It is not well known that the only high level coup-supporting officers who actually had troops under their command were Chief of the General Staff, General Ramírez Prez, and the Commander of the Army, General Vásquez Velasco. Backing the coup were several retired generals and about two hundred officers who included generals, admirals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, and noncommissioned officers. Official statistics say the armed forces have 8000 officers. Eighty percent of serving officers backed the plan to rescue Chávez. The number may, in fact, be even higher because communications were very difficult at that time.

139.     Marta Harnecker, interview with Álvaro García Linera, March 2010 (work in progress).

140.     Marta Harnecker, Militares junto al pueblo (Caracas: Vadell Hnos, 2003).

141.     This can be corroborated by the biographies of the generals and officers interviewed in my book mentioned in the previous note.

142.     Marta Harnecker, interview with Álvaro García Linera.

143.     Indigenous, rainbow colored flag.

144.     Marta Harnecker, interview with Álvaro García Linera.

145.     “We have talked about two states here—one, the state that workers captured at the outset and that initiates despotic inroads upon capital, that is, the old state; and, two, the emerging new state based upon workers’ councils and neighborhood councils as its cells. The starting point, of course, is with the old state, and the becoming of socialism as an organic system is a process of transition from the old state to the new. But this means that the two must coexist and interact throughout this process of becoming.” See Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development. Several of the ideas that I use below have been taken from this book.

146.     Ibid.

147.     Ibid.