21st Century Socialism defined

Courtesy of Aporrea.org, we finally have a working definition of the goal of the Bolivarian Revolution:

21st Century Socialism must drive the betterment of society, in such a way that all citizens satisfy their needs and form one middle class, theoretician Haiman el Troudi said yesterday at the opening of the First Forum on 21st Century Socialism in Venezuela.

“The order must be: Let’s push upwards, let’s all be middle-class”, said El Troudi, speaking from the auditorium of the Medical College of Caracas, in response to the myth that socialism intends to do away with wealth and equalize society downwards.

In the search for a defintion which would drive president Hugo Chavez’s model, El Troudi said that 21st Century Socialism “is a society governed by the power of the people, in a democracy profoundly participative and protagonistic, with material and cultural equality in which everyone can receive from society in accordance with his or her needs and contribute according to his or her capacities in the quest for integral human development.”

El Troudi, who was chief of dispatch for the Presidency of the Republic in 2005 and 2006, said that 21st Century Socialism must not devolve into state capitalism, the total control of society and the usurpation of popular power by the elites, as occurred in the former Soviet Union.

So much, then, for the notion that what Hugo Chavez is aiming for is just another form of old-style Soviet “communism”, which was nothing of the sort at all but rather a form of state capitalism (I choose, here, to use the oldest, and in my opinion truest, definition of the term–namely, that used by the 1918 Left-Communists). Actually, 21st Century Socialism, as set forth by Haiman el Troudi, means to do for Venezuela in the 21st century what mixed-economy socialism in the 20th did for Canada: create a culture in which the middle class is the strongest in terms of numbers, and thus holds the balance of power in electoral terms.

Actually, I think Venezuela might even go further, since we Canadians only have a representative democracy, not a participative one. Which is to say, we hire Members of Parliament through our elections, and these MPs in turn vote–theoretically on our behalf, but in practice, not always so–on pieces of legislation in Parliament. We do not directly write or ratify our own laws; our representatives do. Our input is limited–typically to our acceptance or rejection of a given party platform on election day, and to writing to our MPs thereafter. However, it is still a matter of their own discretion whether or not they will ultimately heed the will of their constituents! Parliament is not so much the power of the people as it is the intermediary between power and the people. It often lags behind popular sentiment, and it is at the mercy of special interests (and, I daresay, it lags behind popular sentiment precisely BECAUSE it is at the mercy of special interests.) We have not written or ratified our own constitution; the greatest event in its history is Pierre Trudeau’s patriation of it in 1982. Thus, Venezuela has already gone us one better on constitutional grounds, by having an elected Constituent Assembly to write the Bolivarian Constitution–and once again, by submitting the final draft to direct public vote during its ratification in 1999.

Since then, Venezuela has been through about a dozen popular votes. If Bolivarianism and Hugo Chavez have received overwhelming support in them, it is certainly not because they were the only game in town. Venezuela has literally dozens of political parties at the moment. And even if Chavez’s call for a unified party of the left–the PSUV–were to be fulfilled, it still wouldn’t be a one-party state. It would simply mean that all the diverse parties that support the Bolivarian agenda are now operating as one, rather than the old conglomeration of dozens of splinter groups, each with its own system and agenda. This would, in turn, speed the process and facilitate the move toward participatory democracy, according to Chavez and others in the movement. The parties of the right would still be as numerous as they are now, and if none of them get into power, it’s because they have not earned the trust of the majority of the people, or because they have not expressed the majority’s wishes. But no one is stopping anyone from voting for them, any more than they are stamping them out of existence. Their legal rights are guaranteed, and are the same as those of the rest. The Venezuelan right is just as free to try to consolidate its base as the Bolivarian left is talking of doing. They have done so already, in a sense; they fielded a unity candidate in the last presidential election. (Manuel Rosales lost fair and square.)

As you can see, Venezuela’s Bolivarian society looks nothing like the oppressive bureaucracy of the Soviet state–nor, for that matter, “Castro-communism”, the booger-bear of the Venezuelan oligarchy. In fact, the popular, participative and protagonistic approach El Troudi speaks of would probably resonate with the popular progressivism of, say, Thom Hartmann. The key difference being that in the eyes of liberals in the US, capitalism and corporations should still enjoy more privilege than they would under Bolivarianism, where co-operatives and public ownership of the service sector would be the predominant model. The reasons behind the Bolivarian preference are self-evident: capitalism and corporations tend to create oligarchies, not democracies. They concentrate money and power both in too few hands.

To create a true participatory democracy, then, you have to break down that old power structure and, as Chavecito says, “give the power to the poor”, which in turn empowers them to raise their status and become the middle class. No capitalist or “communist” (state capitalist) system has ever done that–both are oligarchic and run from the top down.

But a socialist system can do that, because socialism is to economics what democracy is to politics–in both cases, real power lies with the people, not the elites claiming to represent them. It worked to some extent here in Canada, thanks to the influence of Tommy Douglas, our first elected socialist leader. Thanks to his pioneering work on universal healthcare, education, welfare and unemployment benefits, the working class and the poor rose up and became the middle class which still predominates today. But without the will of the people– participating in democracy!–that power would rapidly dissolve into corporate ownership of not only the government, but ourselves.

This is why I find the Bolivarian project in Venezuela so interesting. It’s an effort to do with an entire country something which has never been taken to its full potential yet, even here. We Canadians have much to be proud of but we can’t afford to take it for granted–because our mixed economy, for all its strengths, has the built-in weakness that it still gives too much weight and power to the forces of oligarchy.

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