Umbrellas and Children’s Theater

An x-ray of Venezuelan society, where the petroleum-derived income and the parasitic business class deform our consumption parameters and misdirect the path towards socialism.

By Rosa Tristan – Debate Socialista
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Imagine a housewife preparing a list of the things she needs to buy and do. She quickly finds a pencil and paper. She makes a list of what’s urgent, and not so urgent: “Put gasoline in the car. Cereal, milk, cooking oil. José’s cigarettes. A bottle of wine for the friends that are coming over on Friday. Buy a small gift for my mom whose birthday is on Saturday – maybe a watch, perfume, or an umbrella for the heavy rains coming down these days. Stop by the bank to see if they approved the credit for the new car.” For the time being, she doesn’t remember anything else. She puts the little piece of paper in her pocket and rushes out on her routine.     

Up to now, it’s an internal monologue had by millions of middle class women before leaving the house each morning. If the monologue was had by a gentleman, also of the middle class, perhaps he would add the purchase of some car part that is impossible to find.

Inexistent are people who on their list add something like, “reduce the use of shampoo, for millions of people, so as to strengthen Inside the Barrio II.” It doesn’t exist. It’s falsely idealistic.

Below we inquire into the concepts of individual and social needs and their relationship with the hegemonic social system. Further on, we’ll take an x-ray of Venezuelan society, where the petroleum-derived income and the parasitic business class deform our consumption parameters and misdirect the path towards socialism.

Individual and Social Needs

In his book, A Revision of the Theory of Needs in Marx, Hungarian author Agnes Heller, disciple and investigator of the life of Georg Lukács, proposes the following central theme: Distinguish the different types of needs and the individuals’ perspective on those needs, society’s perspective, and, of course, the social system’s perspective. That is, he attempts to relate necessities with the social system and, recognizing these needs, asks how to transition from capitalism to socialism.

The first thing Heller tells us is that necessities are historic, that they depend on tradition and on culture. For this reason, it is inappropriate to classify them in relation to objectifications, to the sentiments and passions that they provoke in individuals. He also informs us that no concrete product or necessity possesses the property of being a product or “necessity of luxury.” That is, a car, a computer or a cellular phone are commodities placed on the market in line with capitalism’s social division of labor and, as such, they become “necessary necessities” for any given human being, independent of his or her social class. It can be said that everyone, the rich and the poor, have the same material aspirations, since the system imposes said aspirations.

Marx understands necessities only as the necessities of individuals. For Marx, the category of “social necessity” does not exist. Heller cites Marx to prove the point: “A certain man, from a certain class, from a certain period, is born into a system and into a hierarchy of needs that are pre-constituted (though evolving) by customs, by the morality of preceding generations and, above all else, by the objects of his necessities. Man internalizes the system in an individual way. But in no case does he constitute an autonomous structure that elevates itself above the members (of society)…”

As such, individuals internalize the products that the hegemonic system offers to them as necessities. This being  the case, is it possible to establish true social necessities that place themselves before individual necessities? If so, which social necessities would these be?

Authentic social necessities are those that are totally conscious, while social necessities that surge from the market are those imposed by the possibility of satisfaction of capitalist society.

Heller concludes that a radical revolution can only be a revolution of necessities.

Venezuelan Society's Needs

To take an x-ray of Venezuelan society we will go over three figures: Income resulting from petroleum, the amount dedicated to imports, and the amount of gasoline destined for domestic consumption. That will give us a first approximation of quantities of money.

In 2009, the income stemming from worldwide petroleum operations rose to almost 75 billion dollars. Meanwhile, close to 39 billion dollars were dedicated to imports, of which almost 28 billion are liquidated as cheap dollars by the Venezuelan state. This amount of liquidated dollars rises each year due to the constant pressures by the private sector that bets on the contraction of the national economy. 

And finally, if we calculate the internal consumption of 273,000 barrels of gasoline per day at the price paid by consumers in New York (not at the subsidized prize in Venezuela), we get close to 10 billion dollars per year.

This means that Venezuelan society spends more than half of its income on buying imported products and that an equivalent of 10% on consuming gasoline. It becomes evident that the majority of Venezuela’s private businesspeople dedicate themselves to the importation of products with cheap dollars provided by the state, and in addition, we are large consumers of gasoline.

Imports and Social Needs

Now yes, these statistics escape our daily references, escape the magnitudes that we are able to manage. All of them sound like a lot of money, but we don’t know with scientific precision how big or small they really are. It is for this reason we wanted to inquire a bit more, to place them in their just dimension. This investigation allowed us, at the same time, to see the relationship between capitalism’s induced necessities in Venezuelan society and compare them with the new, authentic social needs in which the revolution is gaining ground. 

To do this, we went in to the statistical database for the International Trade by Commodities Statistics – which is a statistical division of the United Nation’s ComTrade (UN ComTrade). Very easily, you can type the word TradeMap in your search engine of choice and find the application that allows you to see the types of imports that Venezuela has been bringing in over the last five years.

After that, you can visit the Fonden website, where you can observe the list of projects that the petroleum-derived income has financed. 

Translation by Juan Reardon for