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January 14, 2007

Comments

Chuck Morse

OK, thanks for going into detail on this. I appreciate that. But are you advocating the "national liberation" of Venezuela? I'm honestly not trying to be cute, but it sounds like that’s what you're suggesting (and that such a demand would be a necessary part of the application of the New Democracy framework). Am i right about that? Thanks.

r. john

yes. That is what I'm saying.

Venezuela 2007 is far from China 1949.

We can't be mechanical. We can't frame our thoughts by formulas lifted out of time and place.

But....

Venezuela is an oppressed country, caught in the grip of an imperialist world system -- this has a profound impact on the nature of the united front, and on some of the key tasks the revolution has to tackle.

(again I don't know whether there are semi-feudal relations in that society, with all the implications of that, or whether agriculture is overwhelmingly capitalist with wage labor etc.)

But yes, i suspect that even in a relatively developed country like Venezuela with a very important and powerful industrial sector, there is a question of genuine "national liberation" (as opposed to "we will demand the highest world prices we can and distribute what we get").

And I suspect that there is some relevance to the "two stage revolution" that is inherent in the Maoist concept of New Democratic Revolution.

Christopher Day

The following is a passage from "Collision in Venezuela" by Gregory Wilpert that appeared in New Left Review, May-June 2003. I think it is a pretty decent overview of both the land situation in Venezuela and the nature of Chavez's initiatives in this area (which should probably accelerate with chavez's new powers).

"Entitlements to land

"The second fundamental issue that has put the opposition onto red alert is land. Prominent in the package of 49 decrees in November 2001 was a major agrarian reform. In itself, land reform is no novelty in Venezuela, which—like many other Latin American countries in the days of the Alliance for Progress, when Washington was fearful that the example of the Cuban Revolution might spread—passed a modest law in 1960 that eventually benefited up to 150,000 small farmers. This programme, however, quickly fell apart in the 1970s, when the government lost interest in it during the oil bonanza. The original measure had in any case failed to provide adequate credit, technical or marketing assistance to the peasants who received land, and did little or nothing to change the overall picture of Venezuelan agriculture.

"In the forty years that have elapsed since this timid experiment, Venezuela has become an overwhelmingly urbanized society, in which 87 per cent of a population of 25 million live in towns. [6] Over the same period, agriculture’s share of gdp declined from 50 per cent in 1960 to a mere 6 per cent in 1999, the lowest figure in Latin America. Venezuela, in fact, is the continent’s only net importer of agricultural products. The main reason for this dramatic change has, of course, been the distorting effect of oil rents, which have long been responsible for a wasting ‘Dutch disease’—generating a high exchange rate that makes local products, agrarian or industrial, uncompetitive on international and domestic markets, and shifting labour into non-tradeable services.

"This does not mean, of course, that land in the countryside therefore loses all value. But it has lowered the pressure for any serious redistribution of a fantastically unequal property structure. No less than 75 per cent of the private agricultural land is owned by 5 per cent of proprietors, while 75 per cent hold only 6 per cent of the land. [7] Furthermore, it is estimated that 60 per cent of Venezuela’s rural producers work the land for themselves—that is, are not day-labourers—yet have no title to the plots they till.

"The Ley de Tierras passed by Chávez seeks to redress this dismal scene in three ways. Firstly, it sets a maximum legal size of farms, ranging from 100 to 5,000 hectares according to respective productivity. Seeking to put an end to latifundia that are not used for agricultural purposes, it levies a special tax on any holding that is left more than 80 per cent idle, and allows for the redistribution of certain lands to landless peasants who commit themselves to their cultivation. Only high-quality idle land of over 100 hectares or lower quality land of over 5,000 hectares, however, can be expropriated—at market value. Chavistas maintain that there is abundant government-owned land that can be redistributed before any private property needs to be transferred. Any Venezuelan citizen who is either the head of a family or is between 18 and 25 years old may apply for a parcel of land and, after three years of cultivation, acquire a title to it that can be passed on to descendants, but not sold: a provision that has drawn strong criticism, as discriminating against peasants who, if they need to sell, will be driven to do so at heavily—40 to 60 per cent—discounted prices on a black market for sub-legal transactions. [8] By redistributing land to smaller family farms, however, the government hopes not only to mitigate the huge social injustices of the present pattern of ownership, but also to increase agricultural output, in the belief that modest-sized units are generally more efficient than vast estates or ranches. [9] With the long-term objective of making Venezuela self-sufficient in foodstuffs, it aims to double the share of agriculture in gdp to 12 per cent by 2007.

"As of April 2003, around 200,000 hectares (some 500,000 acres) have been distributed to 4,500 families. The government plans to accelerate the programme so that by August 2003 over 130,000 families will have received 1.5 million hectares—an average of about 10 hectares, or 25 acres, per family. This pace, if it is kept up, would compare favourably with Venezuela’s 1960 reforms. Land reform, however, is a notoriously uncertain affair. The fao reports that most land reforms carried out since 1945, throughout the world, have failed to assure either equity or efficiency, above all because there is typically a tremendous gap between theory and practice. Laws and intentions are one thing; implementation and results are another. Critics may legitimately ask: what is there to suggest that the Venezuelan programme, in a country which has neglected the countryside for so long, will succeed where others have aborted? The official answer is that the Ley de Tierras has created three new institutions to back up redistribution: the National Land Institute, responsible for land tenancy; the National Rural Development Institute, in charge of technical and infrastructural aid to producers; and the Venezuelan Agricultural Corporation, to provide them with marketing assistance. Above all, the Chávez administration insists that it has what was always wanting in the past—the political will to force through real change in agrarian relations.

"That this is not an empty threat can be seen from the violence of the reactions to the new law by defenders of the staus quo. fedecamaras was so outraged by what it termed this violation of the rights of private property that it highlighted the Ley de Tierras as the single most important reason for launching the first employer-led lock-out of 10 December 2001, just a month after the package of 49 decrees was announced by Chávez. The ctv joined the action with the somewhat unusual explanation—for a trade-union federation—that the land law and associated measures would impinge on employers’ ability to do business. The ‘strike’ failed, but resistance to agrarian change soon found other and more deadly forms.

"In August 2002, in a small town in northern Venezuela, a man wearing a ski mask drove up to Pedro Doria, a respected surgeon and leader of the local land committee, called his name and, as Doria turned, shot him five times. The committee Doria led was in the process of claiming title to idle lands south of Lake Maracaibo which, according to government records, belonged to the state and could thus be legally transferred to the fifty peasant families that had applied for ownership. However, a local latifundista also claimed title to the property, and on several occasions had refused to let Doria and government representatives inspect it. It is common knowledge in the region that this landowner is a close friend of former Venezuelan president Carlos Andrés Pérez, driven from office for corruption, who is himself said to own over 60,000 hectares through third parties throughout the country, the vast majority of it idle.

"Doria was not the first peasant leader to be targeted by professional killers or paramilitaries. Another who escaped from death earlier this year was José Huerta. Shot in the shoulder, he barely survived. Huerta was working for the National Land Institute at the time and was in charge of processing the claims of Doria’s committee. According to Braulio Álvarez, director of a coalition that links about a dozen peasant organizations, over fifty popular leaders have been assassinated in the past year. None of these cases has been resolved, mostly due to collusion between large landowners and the police. For example, in the cases of Doria and Huerta, the latifundista suspected to have hired the gunmen is Omar Contreras Barboza, former Minister of Agriculture in Carlos Andrés Pérez’s government and brother of an ex-governor of the state of Zulia, where the disputed lands are located. If the most spectacular episodes of the class war raging in Venezuela have occurred in the towns, its deadliest front so far is in the countryside."

Christopher Day

A few other things to keep in mind about Venezuela:

In 1958 Venezuela has a "revolution" which ended miiltary rule. It was led by Accion Democratica which briefly identified with the Cuban Revolution but by the early-mid 1960s was pretty clearly a social-democratic party (and in fact affiliated with the Socialist International). AD basically engaged in alternation of power with COPEI, essentially a Christian Democratic-type party. The resulting corruption massively discredited AD populist nationalist social-democratic politics. This is important to appreciate in understanding what Chavez was in opposition to.

While the agrarian question is not unimportant, Venezuela is a pretty thoroughly urbanized society.

Both the experience with AD and the degree or urbanization of Venezuela must be understood as connected to the question of oil. Venezuela is almost unavoidably a rentier state -- that is to say a state that sits on top of such valuable real estate t(because of the oil underneath it) that it exists off the rent it collects from oil profits. This is a very particular kind of social formation and really should not be analyzed the same as other imperialized countries (though it has been and still remains very much subordinate to imperialism).

ShineThePath

I am not going to repeat myself or become an apologist for the Cuban Party; however on food soveriegnty, any real critical analysis of the history of Cuba will show that the agricultural sector of the economy was developed on all sides, yes they developed cash crops, and so on. However at the time of the Special Period, the food crisis was not as sever as other Socialist countries...Stalinist USSR, Great Leap Forward China being the main example. Cuba had developed a sustainable system which allowed itself to not fall into millions of dead.

Albeit...it was indeed not "land-to-tiller" that saved it, but its statist control over agriculture...perhaps. However, how is that fundamentally wrong? Land-to-Tiller programs are petty-bourgeois programs above all...and did not China try to eliminate this in GLF? Was it not the revisionists who brought the campaign back? If you're critiquing the process of Cuban socialization of Agriculture, isn't it more prudent to critique the whole process, through the ICM, of that exact process. In my opinion this can becomes a Buhkarinite attack on Cuba, rather than a Maoist critique of the dogmatic plans that existed to socialize agriculture in a Socialist country.

I am not going to go any more into prostitution in Cuba. The Cuban government doesn't criminalize women who engage in prostitution and have fully admitted it is the economic situation that has created this problem.

http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/cuba/pimps.htm

http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/cuba/cuba-prostitution-11-03.htm

a couple of resources I found interesting.

the burningman

"any real critical analysis of the history of Cuba will show that the agricultural sector of the economy was developed on all sides"

This is not historically true. ALL agricultural work was put into sugar production. Vegetable production was criticized, and nationalized land was utilized "as efficiently as possible," meaning that it was entirely geared to cash crop production.

They did have livestock, but the Soviet model insisted that "superior" Russian grain-fed cattle replace the grass-fed herds. This worked fine so long as Russia provided the grain (as Cuba could not). And then they died when the Russians changed their game plan, and left Cuba without beef for years. They have yet to recover from this.

Community gardens, a sort of New Economic Policy for rural agriculture and the opening of farmers (dollar) markets in the cities have changed this, but the end of guaranteed subsidies for food has hit the Cuban people very hard.

Just to note it. And...

Women go to prison for two years on the first prostitution offense.

Women who walk with men in the street are routinely hassled.

How do I know this?

Because I befriended Cuban hustlers on a trip there. I could not walk through the center of Havana with a black woman without being stopped several times. Each time they expressed NO interest in me, but grilled the shit out of the woman. (Who were just friends, in any case.) They taught me to walk across the street so we could just get where we were going.

Raising these issues is not to dismiss Cuba, or "score points" somehow. I think the lived experience of Cubans today, most of whom have no memory of life before the revolution, is crucial to understanding not just how the Cuban state (and people) stand up to imperialism, but how they don't.

Cuba did not socialize agriculture. They nationalized it.

For more on this discussion, check out today's post.

the burningman

How is it fundamentally wrong, speaking of state capitalism as orientation?

Let me put it another way, if we just nationalized WalMart – would that alone make us "socialist"?

Over to BA on this one!

ShineThePath

The Wal-mart comparison is not apt.

But even then...it depends on how your "socialist" Wal-Mart runs. Why not Socialist Wal-Marts, though? Stores like Wal-Mart, that make it convient for buying all types of utilities isn't the problem, its their brutal exploitation of labor.

That maybe a bit controversial to say as a Maoist, but I have no problem with a socialist department store.

Small isn't that beautiful Burningman.

the burningman

Well this is funny. I think the WalMart inventory system makes central planning possible in a way never imagined.

Remove that whole brutal exploitation of labor thing, and for the distribution of goods, it would work just fine.

A row of shops is a department store with different architecture.

There's also no reason that local charm need be sacrificed because of effecient inventory control.

WalMart says they have no need of a union because they are a family.

Which I guess connotates some kind of love. The clerks are associates and are encouraged to be peppy. Fuck socialist realism for creepy forced joy. This is it.

So, if that job is guaranteed, Sam Walton's picture goes down for the great leader of your choice – and you get the proverbial library card and modern dentistry... and that's it?

I'm not putting anything on you, I'm asking. What do you think the role of proletarian agency is in socialism? In their earstwhile dictatorship?

Why do you think the Soviet Union became something the people didn't rise to defend? That was okay at best and frightening at its worst?

That rather than the proletariat committing class suicide, society as a whole was subjected to proletarianization?

I'm also curious what organized political forces you see even concerned with popularizing discussion of socialism, who also do organizing and political campaigns. More of that is a good thing, so if the point is that you aren't impressed... well, impress.

the burningman

RJ – I'm also curious for how adherents of La Sexta are operating in the USofA. What's up? I caught some of this on your site, but as an orientation Chuck hinted that something is afoot.

ShineThePath

Maybe the inventory system of WalMart should be embraced...it is more helpful in planning than the methods of the state in USSR...but I digress.

I like "Local Charm" as much as the next guy...and isn't it sad that NYC has changed so much. But lets look on the other hand...have you ever shopped at K-Mart for example? OH HOW WONDERFUl!! If it wasn't for those giant department stores in the Bronx my family and many others would have little winter clothing or some footballs to play with. I mean in some sense, local charm is nice...but you ever go to a thrift store in NYC these days? My Science! You pay more for a used K-Mart shirt there.

So how do you solve such contradictions? On one hand...we want products that can be purchased at very reasonablly cheap prices...but we want to keep the "charm" of our areas. It is a good question.

I am sure it wasn't that local charm being lost that the Soviet people didn't come to defend the USSR. That being said, it is interesting that many of the eastern european people are longing for the Stalinist planning of old...but moving on.

Proletarian agency and the masses participating in the development of a Socialist society is something needed. That is why effectively the Soviet model turned into a revisionist pragmatic model. The Party is bound to become a power bloc at some point, in persuit its own interest to keep and maintain power. Which is what indeed occured in the USSR...I think I be for Khruschev if he admitted along with the other sins of Stalin, his method led to a less and less revolutionary party in the USSR.

Mao Zedong perhaps understood this more than most, like Enver Hoxha and the rest of the old communist gang. Khruschev organized a more human stalinist purge of the last revolutionary Stalinists...while Mao organized the masses of people against the revisionists and the dogmatists in the part.

The failure of the GPCR, is that it didn't move further into its statges...it didn't develop workers power and the peasants power. We have a couple of countryside communes and the Shanghai communes, which eventually were pushed back into state control by order of Mao. China entered a more pragmatic line of alliances to fight Soviets on the border. Lin Piao died, Zhou Enlai and Mao began reorganizing the Parties efforts after the thrust of the Cultural Revolution.

I don't want to get into a history lesson about who was wrong...Mao, Lin, Zhou, or the Gang. When it came down to it, between Hua vs. the Gang or Hua vs. Deng...the most conscious masses in the world didn't come to fight the more and more revisionist deviations that drove China down to state-capitalism. You can blame on one hand that the Gang was too mechanical in their campaigns and alienated people like more centrists, or like Bettelheim who argues it was a matter of the GPCR not moving forward but backward...both have truths to them.

So my concern with the lessons of the ICM, is the lack of agency in society for people. I think when it comes down to it, Maoists need to re-examine the role of Stalin, the Soviets, the Shanghai Commune, Hungary in 56', and of course Cuba..which has always towed the line of the revolutionary party and a pragmatic one...

On what organizations "popularize" Socialism...Well since popularize is the key and relative word here, all of the parties do and don't. RCP, PSL, WWP, FRSO, and others do popularize Socialism in a sense...but they also don't because they actually never build class consciousness. Yes I am impressed by some of their efforts, but they do lack. If you want me to impress you, well that is going to take some time for little ole' me, deary. But I am sure that isn't what you really what you want...what you want is to see me silently critique RCP from the inside...and that is where this fallacious questioning is leading. "What have you done?" or "Who are you in comparison to RCP?" Should I even bother Burningman?

Just some thoughts

Elas

So, getting back to the original topic of the thread,

What's interesting to me about Venezuela's path to economic and political sovereignty are the striking similarities to Iraq under the Baath: the struggle against the oil cartel; the attempts at de-stabilization and intimidation on behalf of the US; the development of national infrastructure and great gains in living standards on the basis of oil revenues; the moves towards nationalization of industries; limiting the influence of foreign capital in the domestic market; the proclamations of socialism by the parties/movements of the national bourgeoisie.

I would even go so far as to say that as far as a class analysis of Saddam Hussein and Hugo Chavez goes, the two are identical.

So it's striking to hear the praise for Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution from those who would dismiss the Baath and Saddam as fascists. Almost every gain made by Chavez that was praised on this thread was implemented in Iraq under the Baath.

Where do you see the difference?

The national bourgeoisie in general plays a progressive role in countries oppressed by imperialism. We see it concretely in Venezuela. We should acknowledge the same in Iraq.

the burningman

Taking this question at face value, which is honestly hard:

1) Baath Socialism was admittedly inspired by European fascism. Saddam Hussein personally oversaw the murder of a whole generation of communists, well documented in Tariq Ali's book Bush in Babylon, and cooptation of the rump organization (which has since backed the occupation authority, for the record).

2) Baath Socialism, in both Syria and Iraq were based on clan/ethnic domination by minorites (Allawite and Sunni Arab, respectively). Chemical weapons were deployed against whole Kurdish villages, and tens of thousands of Shia were butchered in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Butchered. In Venezuela, there is a cultural revolution against white chauvinism and a promotion of African and Indigenous culture.

3) Oil and telecommunications have been nationalized and re-nationalized several times in the course of Venezuelan history. That in and of itself tells us little. After all, National Socialism (Nazism) put the state in charge of key industries, as well as supporting public education. So does the USA, France, Iran and Britain.

What is distinct about the nationalizations are two things:

a) the reliance on the masses of people, democratic forms including worker-management, a conscious fight against white domination, and towards socialism in socio-political terms, not merely equating "nationalization" with "socialization."

4) Baath Socialism was a murderous regime, responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Iran-Iraq war.

5) Venezuela has more press freedom than any country in the hemisphere, does not engage in systematic torture or have ANY political prisoners. I don't think any of these define the mode of production in a society, but they say a HELL of a lot about basic, everyday differences in the political, social and cultural world we inhabit.

6) Saddam Hussein built dozens of palaces for HIMSELF and his FAMILY like a king. Chavez is the opposite of a caudillo, or in the case of Hussein, the opposite of a monarch.

7) The Baath regime in Iraq used the proxy terror gang of Abu Nidal to systematically murder left-wing and nationalist Palestinians throughout the Arab worldin the late 70s and early 80s. This gruesome work was directly funded and supported by the government, and was one of many causes for the ascendent Islamism in Palestine. They provided no support when Israel invaded Lebanon. Oh, except to kill intellecutals, activists and militants associated with the PLO, which was a very different creature then than it is now.

------

This goes back to the discussion running parallel to this one about Avakian's "three alternative worlds."

I'm making an argument that Venezuela is pushing in the direction of socialism, and that this is distinct from the totally mechanical, essentially revisionist understanding of socialism as "the state owns everything, do what you're told... oh yeah, we're socialist (and that Hitler was sure onto something)."

Scratch an apologist for Baath Socialism and you'll find a Hitler-lover underneath.

What makes socialism is the conscious activity of the people and political control of the state. Genuinely socialist countries can have degrees of mixed economy, while utterly reactionary, state-capitalist countries can have almost total state economic control.

We are not "statists." We are communists – that difference is simple enough, and those who refuse to see the difference justify the former.

ShineThePath

There is actually a vast difference between Chavez and Hussein. The characterization of Hussein and Baathism as Fascism is a correct categorization of their essentially corporatist aspects. I shall go as far to say that the "national bourgeoisie" as a "progressive" pole in Venezuela doesn't exist. Venezuela isn't like the colonial states in Africa or like semi-feudal nations in the 50s' in Asia. Saying that Chavez is merely a representive of a "national bourgeois" class in a semi-colonial nation has a sort of rigidness to it, for the very fact it is the "national" bourgeois and comprador bourgeois who oppose Chavez. Chavez is no mere Jacobin in other words, his power is coming from the workers, the small farmers, and oppressed people in Venezuela...where as the Baathists rode the "CIA train" against Kassim and utilized their power to begin to build their own power structure and dominate their region. Their ambition, be the biggest of the smallest...and they were almost successful.

Looking into events only economically is one-sided. It gives great depth of knowledge, but drawing conclusions on anything so one-sidely is going to leave you with an analysis that doesn't illuminate anything.

It is true with those who throw Communists and Nazi together as just "Totalitarians," it is true with this approach as well.

You can draw conclusions in anyway that suits you...NEP USSR was "national bourgeois" if you like (as some "orthodox" marxists ahve put it), even during the height of the the 1930s', one can find evidence indeed for it merely being "state-capitalist." And so on and so on is the game which can be played by anyone.

The point is to have a full sided understanding of these historical models and the developments today. Is it true there are similarities with Iraqi nationalization and the "Bolivarian" revolution. Yes there is...but there are similarities with that with Soviet and Chinese models as well, if you go so far. What becomes the underlying difference, in Iraq their nationalization was based on the Fascist method of corpoatism...the State became the all powerful regulating body, ended trade unions, and any workers and amss power through the country. It was the Arab version of the Volk...it wasn't in any sense the socialist vision I would say Chavez has some concept of. For all his weaknesses, I think you SHOULD put some basis to his rhetoric...when he speaks of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and yes even Trotsky, why does he do so? Is it merely to win the hearts of the small groups of Maoists and Trotskyists in Venezuela? Or is it because he does see a vision of a more radical model for Venezuela.

i raan so far away

If anyone wants to read a comprehensive anti-state critique of venezuala, check out what Natche of RAAN fame had to write about the situation. It's quite non-dogmatic in that it accepts that alot of people like Chavez, but it is honest about the all to statist goings on.

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