Transformation : Venezuela : the Bolivarian revolution


Richard Moore

   "It is not a process where the people are waiting for the
    leader to deliver them a present, it is a process where
    the people are waking up, are auto-affirming themselves,
    are growing as people, and are forming themselves in the
    missions, through [Chavez's weekly TV program] Alo
    Presidente , and through their daily participation."
    - from Marta Harnecker interview, below.


I continue to be inspired and impressed by events in
Venezuela. Here we can see an honest attempt by Chavez to
empower the people themselves, in the grassroots, to take
responsibility for solving their own problems and managing
their own affairs. Similarly, as a player in Latin
American affairs, Venezuela is setting up cooperative
arrangements, and barter systems, aimed at building
collaboration and economic self-sufficiency in Latin
America, and directly confronting the forces of neoliberal
globalization and the interests of financial elites. The
recent defeat of the NTAA initiative, at the Americas
conference, demonstrates a new spirit of independence and
self-reliance in the region generally, a spirit to which
Chavez' initiatives have clearly contributed.

In pursuing the Bolivarian project, Chavez, and the people
of Venezuela, are encountering three sources of
resistance: the forces of globalization, domestic wealthy
elites, and the domestic political apparatus. If it were
otherwise, I would be discouraged. The project seeks local
autonomy and economic self-sufficiency - anathema to
neoliberalism - and opposition from Washington is to be
expected. The project seeks to achieve empowerment and
improvement in living conditions for people generally, and
we should expect entrenched elites to struggle against the
erosion of their political influence and economic
leverage. The project seeks to evolve toward a genuine,
participatory democracy, and we should expect opposition
from 'party people' and from career bureaucrats.

In Cuba, we saw a radical transformation of society -
along lines similar to those being pursued in Venezuela -
but brought about 'all at once', relatively speaking, by
an armed insurgency, and a leader who, like Chavez, had
the people genuinely in his heart. In Venezuela, we see a
more gradual process, led from the top of the old system,
and developing in the shadow of that system. In both of
these cases, transformation emerged from a context of
imperialist exploitation, which provided a collective
interest, and common 'enemy', to fuel the transformative

In Cuba, Castro was able to install a system of
representation that employs open dialog at the community
level, leading to representation 'by agenda', through a
slate of ordinary citizens, rather than representation by
politicians who frequently have their own agendas, or who
might cater to special interests. This is certainly a step
forward for democracy, as compared to the U.S. or European
models, even in their ideal form. 

Venezuela seems to be moving even deeper into local
autonomy, local initiative, and real participatory
democracy. Chavez is pushed in this direction by the need
to move the revolution forward despite bureaucratic
resistance. Tactically, a grassroots-centered movement is
working for Chavez; strategically -- from the perspective
of democracy -- such a movement has the potential to
create the most democratic society that the world has seen
in some time.

Cuba has long been seen by Washington as a 'thorn in our
side', and all sorts of destabilization initiatives have
been pursued over the years, both overt and covert.
Venezuela, however, represents far more of a threat to
'American interests' -- i.e., the interests of financial
elites and the neoliberal project -- than Cuba ever did.
While Che Guevara was killed in the jungles before he
could do much 'exporting of revolution', Chavez is openly
engaged in organizing his Latin American counterparts in
opposition to the plans of elite global interests. While
Cuba has had to live on the edge economically, Venezuela
has considerable oil, and has been creative in using this
valuable resource in support of achieving regional
economic self-sufficiency.

Chavez is beginning to use the word 'socialism' to
describe the goals of the Bolivarian project. To our ears
this may raise fears of centralized systems, but given the
grassroots nature of the movement, we must take
'socialism' in the broad sense: organizing the economy
around the needs and desires of the people, rather than
around serving the interests of the already wealthy. Real
socialism, in its ideal sense, is most achievable in a
grassroots-based participatory democracy; there is no
contradiction. To the ears of the neocons and their
employers on Wall Street, 'socialism is socialism'.
Whatever form it takes: it represents a challenge to the
neoliberal project and to the financial hegemony of
dominant elites.

Iran is a threat to elite interests because it is making
long-range oil deals with China, and because it is
planning to set up a Euro-based oil exchange. The China
deals undermine the Anglo-American strategy of oil-based
dominance, and the Euro exchange threatens Wall Street
financial dominance, which is based on the petrodollar,
and which keeps the American economy from collapsing
altogether. It is no wonder that the war sabres have been
rattling, and WMD fantasies have been reappearing, and
talks of UN sanctions, in the case of Iran.

But what's happening in Latin America, right in America's
'back yard', is very much an equivalent threat to the same
interests and for the same reasons. We must assume that
the same planners who come up with schemes for 'regime
change' in Iran, have also come up with schemes for
Venezuela, and with comparable urgency. To be sure there
was a concerted effort by the CIA, in collaboration with
wealthy Venezuelan elites, to stage a coup against Chavez.
But other than that, he has been left pretty much alone,
apart from the occasional 'concern' expressed by the White
House. Whatever 'big stick' Uncle Sam might have in mind
for Venezuela, 'walk quietly' makes sense for now, given
that the U.S imports lots of Venezuelan oil.

We cannot take this 'grace period' as being an encouraging
sign. The threat posed by Chavez's initiatives are too
great. If Latin America moves toward its own kind of
regional 'trade zone', based on mutual benefit rather than
economic exploitation, and on self-sufficiency rather than
dependence on multinational banks, that would be
perceived by Wall Street as being the equivalent of a
'communist takeover' of the continent. 

A cooperative- minded Latin-American block would find
natural alliance with China, Russia, and Iran, creating a
bipolar financial world, in place of petrodollar hegemony.
Already China and Russia are building alliances and making
investments and deals in Latin America, and supplying
modern weapons systems. It's not a pretty scenario to
those who favor the PNAC agenda, and its vision of
American geopolitical and economic hegemony.

The danger to Chavez is great, particularly while the
Bolivarian project still depends on his personal ability
to work effectively with the administrative hierarchy, the
grassroots initiatives, and his counterparts in the rest
of Latin America. Over the past century there have been
numerous cases of sudden deaths, typically in questionable
circumstances, and always at critical times, where one
individual was making lots of trouble for the New York or
London banks. The target might be a German banker, an
Italian industrialist, a Swedish financier, or even a U.S.
President, as we learned in Dallas. Chavez is doing all he
can to watch his back, but no one is really safe from
spook assassins, if they are unleashed.

We can only hope that the Bolivarian project takes root
quickly in Venezuela, and that lasting collaborations are
established rapidly in Latin America. In the meantime, we
can hope that the models being developed in Venezuela find
fertile soil elsewhere, in Latin America and wherever
political and economic conditions are favorable.


Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2005 10:57:50 +1000
From: glparramatta <•••@••.•••>
Subject: VENEZUELA: Building socialist democracy - Green
Left Weekly #646,
 October 26, 2005 (1)

Green Left Weekly <>
RSS feed <>

Green Left Weekly #646, October 26, 2005

VENEZUELA: Building socialist democracy - an interview
with Marta Harnecker

Along with attempting to transform the state and the logic
of the capitalist market, the Bolivarian revolution has
fought to replace the so-called representative democracy
that existed for 40 years prior to the 1998 election of
Chavez and replace it with a real participatory democracy,
under which the people begin to take control of their
lives, their community and their country. It is in this
area of popular participation that Harnecker spends most
of her time, studying and promoting new experiences and
initiatives that are attempting to transfer real
decision-making power to the people...

* VENEZUELA: Expropriations, cooperatives and co-management
* VENEZUELA: Government rejects latest slurs
* VENEZUELA: Significant decrease in poverty


VENEZUELA: Building socialism - an interview with Marta Harnecker 

Federico Fuentes, Caracas 

The last time I spoke with long-time influential writer on
Latin American politics Marta Harnecker was at the 2003
World Social Forum, where we talked of the "most important
anti-neoliberal struggle in the world" unfolding in
Venezuela. It was two years later at this same event that
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for the first time in
the international arena, proclaimed his support for
socialism as the only alternative to capitalism.

Harnecker now lives in Venezuela, trying to support the
government however she can, including working as an
adviser to the new Minister of Participation and Social
Development. Meeting her again, I asked her what she
thought Chavez's comments on socialism represented in
relation to changes in Venezuela over that period.

"I think you can say that nothing new has happened after
the declaration of socialism, because the declaration is
nothing more than giving a name to many things that were
already occurring in this country. These were all things
that were against the logic of capital. Instead they were
based on the logic of a humanist solidarity.

"What had been occurring in practice helped to demonstrate
to the leadership of this process that the logic of
humanism and solidarity that they were proposing would at
each step clash with the logic of capital.

"Look at the social missions. The missions are not
socialist, but they can only be imagined in a society that
wants to construct something different from capitalism,
because they permit people to grow, to become subjects in
this process and create a new way of looking at society."

The social missions - which began with Mission Barrio
Adentro, taking health care into the poorest barrios of
Caracas - have now been extended to incorporate
Venezuelans who have traditionally been excluded from the
education system through Mission Robinson (literacy),
Mission Ribas (high school) and Mission Sucre
(university). Other missions have been established to
tackle the plight of indigenous peoples (Mission
Guicapuro) and the struggle of campesinos (peasants) for
land (Mission Zamora), among others.

Harnecker explained that "one of the most important
missions is Mercal. Mercal is something that is contrary
to the logic of capital. It attempts to give food to
people at a price not fixed by the law of demand, but
rather at below market prices." Products in Mercal outlets
are usually sold at up to 40% below the market prices.

"It also has attempted to establish a network for national
production by buying from cooperatives. One of the
problems of cooperatives is the competition they face in
the capitalist market. This is resolved by a state market
which buys the products for the people and offers them at
below market prices, where during the whole process profit
is not the objective.

"It is interesting if we look at how the idea of Mercal
comes about. It originates from the necessity of food
sovereignty, coming out of the bosses' strike in December
2002." Harnecker said that the government at that time saw
"how weak they were, all the food was in the hands of
private businesses, so they could strangle the process
through hunger. So the government rapidly saw the
necessity to resolve this problem."

Harnecker noted that the missions "were only possible by
going outside the inherited state. One of the biggest
problems of this revolution is the inherited state
apparatus and the inherited habits of the people. The
missions were a way of doing things outside the state and
beginning to transform it from the outside, something that
is very difficult."

Participatory democracy

Along with attempting to transform the state and the logic
of the capitalist market, the Bolivarian revolution has
fought to replace the so-called representative democracy
that existed for 40 years prior to the 1998 election of
Chavez and replace it with a real participatory and
protagonist democracy, under which the people begin to
take control of their lives, their community and their
country. It is in this area of popular participation that
Harnecker spends most of her time, studying and promoting
new experiences and initiatives that are attempting to
transfer real decision-making power to the people. For
Harnecker, "Venezuela is a country that gives its citizens
all the opportunities possible for people to participate".

We discussed the experience of the community governments
in Carabobo. There, in the municipality of Libertador, the
mayor has worked on the division of the parroquiales into
sectors, where community governments are established to
decentralise tasks and resources, such as rubbish
collection and the maintenance and payment of electricity
supply. All these tasks are taken on by the whole
community, with resources from the council.

The Chavez government has also promoted the establishment
of community committees to tackle problems of health,
education, sport and other issues, working closely with
the missions. The Comites de Salud (health committees) are
one example. They work closely with the Cuban doctors in
Mission Barrio Adentro, helping to carry out censuses of
the community and encouraging those that are ill to visit
the local doctor, whom many couldn't previously afford to

Harnecker explained: "There are many different
experiences, with different names, but similar
objectives." Together with the ministry for popular
participation and social development, Harnecker is working
on the promotion of the communal councils. "One of the
problems we have here is that the new constitution has
created excellent conditions for the protagonist
participation of the people, but these ideas are not
always implemented correctly."

Harnecker cited the example of the Local Councils of
Public Planning (CLPPs), established in the constitution
and codified into law. These aimed to establish a council
involving the mayor, the elected members of the municipal
council, the presidents of the Juntas Parroquiales and
leaders of the organised community elected in citizens'
assemblies. The idea was that the community would have
50%-plus-one membership of this body and it would help to
establish where a certain portion of the municipality's
budget went. Yet in reality there have been many problems
in getting these off the ground.

"For example", said Harnecker, "how do you democratically
elect representatives from a community in a citizen's
assembly when we are talking of a geographic area which is
inhabited by thousands or tens of thousands of people?
Whilst the grassroots of the society are not organised, it
will be very difficult for those who make up the CLPP as
an expression of the people to be truly representative.

"That is why it is so important to form the communal
councils in small communities of 200 to 600 families in
urban areas and much smaller in rural areas. The
spokespeople of those councils should be the
representatives of that community in the CLPP. The
councils also help to resolve the problem of the
dispersion of the organisations that are in the community.
There are many popular organisations which are very
focused on their own sector."

Harnecker explained that what they are proposing with the
communal councils is "that the community put forward an
organisation or space that articulates all the
organisations which exist in a community and that allows
the elaboration of a single plan for the community which
includes health, education, everything, but that it be a
single plan".


Through increasing popular participation, Harnecker
explained that it "will help consolidate this process at
the grassroots level, take it forward and broaden it,
creating more forces that are in favour of the process".
Facilitating popular participation will also help create a
whole new generation of leaders, because "that is where
the people will have to do things and will have to
demonstrate in practice that they are capable of leading
this process. This is why I am enthusiastic about working
with the construction of popular participation at the
grassroots level, with the ideas of the communal councils,
because these people are elected according to the
leadership they display in their day-to-day activities."

This is also how Harnecker sees that the Venezuelan
process will be able to overcome one of its biggest
weaknesses - the lack of a political instrument. "The
different parties and different leaderships have not been
able to integrate in a real way, they are too worried
about their own group's interests and there is a big
problem within the MVR [Chavez's party, the Movement for a
Fifth Republic], which attempts to impose its hegemony. It
is a 'majoritarian' party that is not really very
generous. The problem is not so much in the top
leadership, who understand that it is necessary to give
and create spaces for their allies, but because there are
many groups within the MVR they need to respond to the
requirements of each group and that is where the problem
comes from.

"For a while after the referendum it appeared that the
UBEs [Units for Electoral Battle], a brilliant form of
organisation, would allow Chavez to resolve the issue of
the connection with the people and how to organise them.
At that moment, a political front could maybe have been
created from the UBEs, where the people involved would
have really been those who worked in the grassroots, with
representatives from the parties, but with a majority who
came through because of work in the grassroots.
Unfortunately the conditions were not there, particularly
from what I have been told about the discussion inside the
MVR, to accept the idea."

Harnecker believes that "unless some very grave event
happens that forces [the parties] to put the interests of
the process above all else ... I foresee a process much
longer of construction of leaders, the growth of leaders
via popular participation. In six years I believe we are
going to have a generation of leaders that will impose
themselves on this process."

Asked whether the revolution has six years to solve the
problem, Harnecker replied: "What Chavez is doing is
looking for mechanisms to substitute for that deficiency.
He is the clear conductor of this process, the process
depends a lot on Chavez and that is why the threat of
assassination is real. However, with that conductor and
with the popular pedagogy and with a process that creates
opportunities for the people to participate and grow, this
problem is being overcome. It is not a process where the
people are waiting for the leader to deliver them a
present, it is a process where the people are waking up,
are auto-affirming themselves, are growing as people, and
are forming themselves in the missions, through [Chavez's
weekly TV program] Alo Presidente , and through their
daily participation."

From Green Left Weekly, October 26, 2005. 
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page. 

Send a letter to the editor 
Join the Green Left discussion list 


"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

Posting archives:

Subscribe to low-traffic list:
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving the included information for
research and educational purposes.