Lessons from Venezuela

Photograph Source: Wilson Dias/ABr – CC BY 3.0br

This article addresses some key aspects about imperialism, today, in this XXI century and its relation to Venezuela.

There are many characteristics of imperialism, but essentially it involves the desire and the ability of one nation to overpower, dominate and or persuade other nations to act in the best interests of the empire’s own aims. Imperialism is not a new phenomenon, but today it can be said to involve a new colonialism. This brand of colonialism does not necessarily take over militarily large tracts of lands of peoples or nations, but seeks to destroy the sovereignty of established states, weaken them, impose a tutelage over them, in its quest of natural resources, advantages and hegemonic power. As well, today there is a new way of waging war has been added to military war: hybrid war that is economic, diplomatic, legalistic, mediatic, and equally lethal.

There is only one empire right now, it is the United States of America, and it is intent on remaining so, on being the one hegemon, the super-power, with its firm allies in Europe and Canada. It is the only nation that has about 800 military bases around the world. It has the largest armed forces in the world, and is the number one arms manufacturer and seller in the world. War has been its main instrument and business, for most of the XX and now XXI century. Consequently, Washington’s foreign, diplomatic, economic, and financial policies are no longer different from its military objectives. The private and the public spheres have been greatly combined with the militarization of its foreign policies, and it cloaks a profound class struggle, domestic as well as international counting on the formidable power of corporate media.

Empires have always tried to mask their military power with its “auctoritas”: the narrative façade about the empire’s worth, quality, superiority, and benevolence. It provides an apparent reason for its domination of other peoples and nations. Empires cannot hold their power just by force alone as that would be prohibitively expensive; they need to convince other nations to submit. This is its ideology, its superstructure that masks, upholds and promotes its military infrastructure. The USA society – historically, culturally, and psychologically- is seeped in racism, so obviously also is its hegemonic ideology.

Currently, Washington has lost a great deal of its hegemonic aura after a slew of failures and lies, for a starter the “domino theory” of Vietnam War and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq. The series of futile wars, endless coups d’etat, interferences in other nations’ governance and its trashing of international law when it suits them has not helped either. In other words, the ideology of the empire has worn thin. Whether Washington likes it or not, a multipolar world is emerging and the empire’s rationalizations are not so believable any more.

The economic system of imperialism is capitalism which is in a stage referred to as corporate capitalism but which Hugo Chávez ingeniously called “savage capitalism“ and Washington is its main exponent. It is characterized by preponderance of corporate finance and speculation. It is only marginally geared towards producing and satisfying citizen’s needs; labour and its representatives have been undermined and marginalized. The corporate market largely determines political decisions thus undermining democratic institutions, such as parliaments, political parties, law, and the judicial power.

We are witnesses to corporate unrestrained power which has led to widespread inequality and political polarization, as Thomas Pickety has most clearly pointed out.[2] Domestic “auctoritas” is also fractured within the USA. Chris Hedges even considers that the USA is today “in the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism. “[3] Finance capitalism adds nothing of value to the real economy, it is a casino capitalism made possible by degrading the institutions that guard the common good: education, health, unions, even law.

There is an inherent contradiction between the single-minded search for profits of the corporations, and the protection of the social common good, most especially, the democratic good.

Corporations are not democratic entities; they defy real democracy and dominate the nation states. Their power meshes with that of the USA empire. In other words, you cannot disengage corporate power from imperialism.

A reality often overlooked is that today’s main industries: – arms, energy, and telecommunication- cannot exist in a financial vacuum. They need specific natural resources from the extractive industries (petroleum, lithium, rare minerals, coltan and other ores). The great economic power is in the North – USA and its allies- but the grand bulk of the absolutely essential natural resources are in the South. Thus a new colonialism emerges, camouflaged with all sorts of smoke and mirrors: free trade (that is not free), promises of trickle down investments ( that never trickle), and supposed humanitarian interventions to protect human rights (only some of them), help nations develop (only where convenient to their enterprises), and to teach other nations about the supposed “rule of law” (which is their rule) and even promote NGOs to protect democracy and the environment (while actually being spies and saboteurs). (In Venezuela, 2002 to 2012 alone the National Endowment for Democracy gave $100 million to create 300 opposition NGOs)

We are also witnesses to an uncontrolled expansion of corporate capitalism which euphemistically or cynically is referred to as “progress”. It is necessarily predatory. Its insatiable consumerism, rampant industrialization, appalling individualism have catastrophically injured the natural world, polluted land and waters, caused climate change, increased species extinctions, depleted biodiversity and is leading us to the sixth extinction if not stopped.

Natural resources seem to be viewed as the “right” of the North not the South where they are found. This divide is profoundly Eurocentrist, classist and racist. A shocking example is the 2010 European Commission report on critical raw materials for the EU[4], which, in a matter-of-fact- bureaucratic vocabulary, unashamedly defines environmental risk as “the measures that might be taken by countries with the intention of protecting the environment and by so doing endangering the supply of raw materials to the European Union.” The people most severely impacted by this natural resource devastation in Latin America are the rural campesinos and the indigenous peoples.

Because of its natural resource richness and its geographical position, the most important geopolitical area of the world that Washington believes it absolutely needs to dominate, is Latin America and the Caribbean. Not Europe, not Canada, not Asia, not Middle East, not Russia or China. In this region the USA has overthrown, destabilized or invaded about 90 nations since 1900. Every progressive leader or reformer has been killed, opposed or deposed by Washington and the victims among the people are countless.

Atilio Boron, a distinguished Latin American intellectual, points out, there are no Monroe Doctrines for any other part of the world, except for Latin America.[5] Washington considers it their “back yard” or as ignominiously Biden has said, trying to soften the insult, its “front yard”. The farse of the USA being any sort of “defender” of Latin America from European threats, as the Monroe Doctrine spouts, was shown up as a lie when Washington backed the UK’s unconscionable war against Argentina over the Malvina Islands (Falklands).

The last word on imperialism belongs to Che Guevara in whose opinion imperialism is a bloodthirsty thing ready to slit people’s throats and he warned that you cannot trust imperialism for a minute, not even a little bit. There are too many examples to cite in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, and even in the less powerful nations of Europe where they have all felt the boot of empire on their throats

The opposite of imperialism today is the Socialism of the XXI Century. It is the hope for the future of the region, and the world against the savagery of imperialism.

Hugo Chávez was re-elected for his second term in 2006 by an overwhelming majority who voted for his electoral promise of building what he called Socialism of the XXI Century in Venezuela as the basis of the Bolivarian Revolution. Its instrument is the PSUV, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which is formed by many smaller parties and grassroots organizations, not just a government party.

Many on the Western left, (USA, Canada, and Europe) have been decrying for years that Venezuela’s revolution is not socialist. These cosmopolitan, or armchair revolutionaries, have too often disdained the Bolivarian Revolution because it did not “fit” with their narrow Eurocentric theoretical framework. Some mistrusted Chávez because he was a military man, others ridiculed him because he was an acknowledged Catholic, and yet others on the left have gone so far as saying Venezuela did not have a revolution because it did not take up arms outright and kill the capitalists. I have been confronted various times when speaking on a panel by those who want to see blood on the ground – not their blood of course, but somebody else’s. They have said to me that because it was not born by taking up arms, like the Cuban Revolution, Venezuela’s was not a real one. In one of these occasions, I had the great honor of sitting next to the Consul General of Cuba who whispered in my ear to pay no attention to such nonsense, as if Fidel and Che wanted to kill their compatriots, as if they thought killing was the cornerstone of a socialist revolution!

Venezuela’s revolution does include the analysis of Marx and Engle’s, but not exclusively because it is also based on Venezuela’s indigenous communitarian traditions, on the principles of its revolutionary Liberator, Simón Bolívar which were: sovereignty, egalitarianism, repudiation of slavery and imperialism, and regional Latin American integration. It is also nurtured by other Venezuelan heroes such as Simón Rodríguez on education, and Ezequiel Zamora on land reform.

The genius of Hugo Chávez is that he was able to articulate a socialist ideology that was rooted in Venezuelan cultural and political history. Before that, socialist and communist inroads had been weak because they were seen as a foreign thing, northern, theoretical, alien, to the history, culture and cosmology of ordinary Venezuelans.

The Bolivarian Revolution is as well humanistic and spiritual, inclusive, and respectful of indigenous cosmologies and inspired by Liberation Theology. As well it is participatory and democratic as it gained power through the ballot box. It does not follow the patterns of the Russian, Chinese, or even entirely the Cuban Revolution, it is its own thing. The Venezuelan people recognize it as “their” socialism”.

The goals of Venezuela’s socialism are to obtain the health and happiness of a people who can exercise their self- determination without any tutelage or other foreign pressure, to rid racist and classist elites of political power so that the people have power both through democratic representation and through the exercise of participatory democracy in communes, collectives, and communal councils.

Chávez proclaimed socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the dissolution of the USSR and the rumors that history had come to an end and thereby Chávez showed the world that socialism was not remotely dead. This in the face of those who professing socialism were looking for the illusion of a “third way”. Let us count the ways how revolutionary Venezuela is.

A quick comparison with the policies espoused by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, and considering the changes that time and history have brought about, shows a remarkable parallel with the policies of the Bolivarian Revolution:

* State factories and instruments of production

* Land reform and agricultural improvements

* Raise working class into a ruling class to “win the battel of democracy”

* Create a national bank

* Establish graduated income tax

* Establish public transport

Two of Marx’ policies which have not been implemented are centralized means of communication, which would not be accepted today in view of the human rights to freedom of speech and the prohibition of inheritance rights. But the fundamental policies considered by Marx, and much more are in full view in Venezuela’s revolution.

Venezuela has asserted its sovereignty over its natural resources taking over control from elites and international corporations. This has set a regional example of independence that the Washington considers counter to its hegemony especially since the country has the largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest gold fields.

Venezuelan society underwent a strong social transformation begun by redefining the state itself, with a new Constitution, anchored on the concepts of human rights, both individual and social rights, and includes the rights of indigenous peoples, of women and children and social rights to education, health, and protecting the environment.

Venezuela has wrestled power from the “comprador class,” the supremist elites, upper classes that had ruled for 40 years and drove their people into abject poverty while wasting the equivalent of 15 Marshall Plans in corruption and illicit enrichment. The revolution has reduced not only poverty but also inequality.

Venezuela’s participatory democracy recognizes private property, but also state, communal and social ownership and enshrines the communal state of communal councils and communes. These are not add-ons but part of state power. And these new forms of exercising participatory democracy are truly in juxtaposition of the representative democracy/bourgeois state created by a market society that is eminently individualistic and competitive. The welfare state was designed to temper, to soften the market society and state, but corporate capitalism declared war on the welfare state and with much success. Socialism bolsters the policies that preserve the common good.

Venezuela has carried out an effective land reform, transforming agriculture to the point that today the nation has food security and is even exporting food, the first time in 100 years. This is due to the masterful policies of President Nicolás Maduro who has steered the country through the illegal sanctions that have almost destroyed the economy and killed 100,000 Venezuelans. The Venezuelan working class has been the backbone of the productive invigoration of the economy. President Maduro is referred to as “the worker president” as he drove a bus for 9 years in Caracas and has strong link and understanding of the working class and the unions.

President Maduro’s measures to diversify the economy, to implement an effective internal revenue system revigorated the economy and battled inequality. He has got rid of hyperinflation and made Venezuela a stronger more viable country. Its GDP is estimated will grow by an astonishing 20% this year, as calculated by Credite Suisse. This after losing 99% of government revenue due to the USA sanctions. Quite an extraordinary achievement.

During the pandemic grassroots organizations, the communes and communal councils, the PSUV, united with public health to protect the people, even when medical supplies and masks were unavailable, when vaccines were not sold to Venezuela, and now it has the best record of controlling the pandemic in the region. Venezuela was able to get vaccines thanks to the solidarity of China, Russia, and Cuba.

While not demeaning for a second the very positive and brave even heroic struggles and contributions that members of the oldest political party in Venezuela have had, namely, the Venezuelan Communist Party, the fact is that it never achieved a significant popular following in or out of elections, because it was not rooted in the people’s profound sense of history, their culture, traditions, and spirituality. The Bolivarian Revolution does all this, as well as making clear the class struggles and the dynamics of capitalism. To its admirable self-less merit, the Venezuelan Communist Party has supported the PSUV especially in struggles against imperialism, even when they did not fully agree with Bolivarianism. They are a shining example of solidarity to the international left who should learn from them.

Domestically, many who proclaim being on the left, criticize the government and President Maduro are in fact armchair theorists that use the excuse of “self-criticism” to simply oppose a government and a movement which has rejected them and their advice, as they have been very far from the grassroots and real links to the people. Their criticism is cheap as they bear no responsibility in feeding and nurturing a population, nor in facing a formidable foreign power. They invariably end up being darlings of the right.

Venezuelans do not think that they have ultimately “arrived” at socialism, but considers it a process, a road that they must go down until the entire bourgeois state has been transformed.

The international left on the other hand, has had reservations from the very beginning, if not open criticism of Venezuela’s brand of socialism. The reasons are ugly, tainted by cultural determinism and even racism.

Firstly, there is Eurocentrism. For many anything that deviates from Marx and Engels, or any other northern communism or socialism experience, is not the “real thing”. This is actually very ironic, if not knee-slapping funny, in view of the fact that none of these western theorists or activists have actually been able to carry out any socialist revolution in North America or Europe, yet they think they have the right to point out to the lesser beings in Latin America what is real and what is not, and that they have got it wrong.

Secondly, the international critics of the Bolivarian Revolution are ignorant of the Venezuelan culture, specifically its political culture, and I suspect it is a willful ignorance that is also tainted with racism. They have not fully understood that there is not one road to socialism, but many; that Venezuela revolts at the thought that it has to pattern its revolution on one unique pattern, a foreign strategy and give up its idiosyncrasy, its identity, to create socialism.

And if these accomplishments were not enough, if Venezuela’s heroic triumphs against illegal sanctions, paramilitary attacks, sabotages, assassinations, coup attempts, and demonization of the hybrid war are not enough, just consider the enemies that have lined up against Venezuela: the empire and its allies, the international banking system, the international media, and all the fascist organizations of the world. They do recognize a revolution when they see it.

Despite such formidable challenges, Venezuela has prevailed and triumphed. Venezuela today is a more unified, stronger, more economically viable, and more politically determined nation on the road to socialism. So, Venezuela must be doing something right!

The choice could not be clearer: ¿will the world continue to give a free ride to a devious, amoral predatory imperialism?

Or will the freely chosen revolutionary socialism of Venezuela, that feeds, shelters, heals, clothes, inspires and defends its people be given the international recognition and solidarity that it deserves as the road to hope, peace and justice in the world?

Venezuela’s answer is the same as Cuba’s: VENCEREMOS!

We will prevail.

1. This article is based on a webinar on the same topic organized by the Geopolitical Economy Research Group and International Manifesto Group, of 24 April 2022

2. Thomas Pickety, “Capital in the XXI Century”, Harvard University Press, 2014

3. Chris Hedges, “America: the Farewell Tour”, Simon & Schuster, 2018, p.13

4. European Union, European Commission report on critical raw materials for the EU, “Critical raw materials for the EU: report of the ad-hoc working group on defining critical raw materials”, Brussels, 2010

5. Atilio Boron, “America Latina en la geopolítica del imperialismo”, Buenos Aires, ediciones Luxenburgo, 2014

María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada.