Socialism in the 21st century - Second part

3.2. Recent developments in Venezuela


When Chavéz, talks about the Socialist Revolution in his country, he refers to it as “a moral, political, democratic and peaceful revolution” (Janicke, 2007). As mentioned before, it is a new kind of socialism which is “dedicated to the comprehensive, humanist, endogenous and socialist development of the nation.” (Rosenberg, 2007). However, this revolution is not as moral, political, democratic or peaceful as described. On the contrary, it suffers from destabilizing factors which are both external as internal. In order to gain a clearer insight into the recent changes, it is necessary to describe how this revolution concretely occurred in Venezuela under the leadership of Chavéz. When he was elected in 1998, it was under the preconditions of a complete transformation of the economical system (BBC news) since the leading powers had mostly brought forward a corrupt bureaucracy that was spending the country’s wealth derived from oil. Knowing that the country was in need of reforms, President Chavéz promised revolutionary social reforms, advocating those for the first time in 2001. Consequential, the government introduced 49 reform laws, including land and oil industry reforms, under protection which meant that they did not had to be approved by the National Assembly. Nonetheless, Chavéz’s policies were not liked by the whole of the population, in fact, he faced several coups which aimed to undermine his presidential authority. However, after a 2002 referendum, he received legitimacy to serve out his term. After this establishment of strong public backing, Chavéz started to introduce the social policies of his political beliefs. In 2005, he signed a decree on land reforms which aimed to diminish the power of Venezuela's large estates. This decree would, according to Chavéz, bring justice to the poor, however the ranchers believe it to be an attack on private property. Next big steps were taken in 2007, when energy companies and telecommunication firms, as well as the oil projects of the Orinoco Delta were nationalized (BBC news).

Chavéz is being criticised in the way he exerts his power. For example did he announce in 2007 that he would end the permission and licence of the private broadcasting company RCTV. This implies that another opposition disappeared, which consequently would enlarges Chavéz’s power over the media (Mondiaal Magazine). Another significant example is the power holding of Venezuela’s oil companies. Roland Denis criticized this in the 110th volume of the International Socialism magazine as following:


There is apparently a great deal of money coming from oil, but very little finding its way down to the great mass of people. Much of it gets lost in the social movements that have a direct relationship with the governmental institutions. The masses in general get hardly any of it. There is a great industry for many of the people who support Chavéz.

This implies that Chavéz’s economical actions are not as beneficial for the people as it is often pictured. This is in line with the recent developments, which show that President Chavéz is gradually losing support from the Venezuelan people. In November 2007 the government announced a constitutional reform that had to be passed through by a referendum in December (Calcoen, 2007). The constitutional reform stirred up emotions in Venezuela, as there were certain amendments that would extend the presidential power, for example, the extension of the reign and an increase in the votes needed for a referendum to suspend the reign of the ruling president. In addition, the economic system of Venezuela would suffer under the new amendments in the constitution. It stated that everything within the borders would be ‘federal territory’ which implies that property is foremost owned by the state and is only in second rang private owned. Furthermore, President Chavéz would be in command of the international reserves with lesser restraint, thus having the currency value in hands. In other words, the renewal of the constitution would cause the loss of autonomy of the Central Bank of Venezuela. This in turn creates a more negative climate for foreign investors (Calcoen, 2007). However, it becomes clear that most of the changes are directed against neo-liberalism, which implies


the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services, and without any attempt to justify them in terms of their effect on the production of goods and services; and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs (Treanor, 2008, in Schardt).


The main focus of neocons is based on markets, in sheer contrast to Bolivarian socialism, which amendments are set out to create further progress for the working class and youth. Additionally, Chavéz aims at working against the neo-liberal notion that poverty is the fault of the poor themselves, thus, fighting against this social Darwinist version of the survival of the fittest with the consequence of the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. Consequently, Chavéz prohibited discrimination when considering health and sexual preference, the decrease of the obligatory working hours up until a maximum of 36 hours a week, as well as the loss of housing in the case of bankruptcy. Conversely, he supports free college education and foremost the expansion of collective property, which will provide a more extensive power toward the president of the oil gains of Venezuela. Despite his social agenda, on December the second, President Chavéz suffered his first defeat since 1998. The constitution that would have brought Venezuela towards an improved twenty-first century socialism was discharged by 50.7 percent of the people (Mondiaal Magazine). Heavy critique was directed towards the nationalization of private property. However, after the defeat, President Chavéz has claimed that private ownership is equal to collective and community ownership. He stated that “it is impossible to maintain strategies that have failed throughout the world, like the abolishment of private ownership.” He therefore aims to renew his connections with the Venezuelan middleclass and business people by adjusting the profile of Bolivarian socialism. Analyst Luís Vicente León states that this is not to be seen as a step back, but a mere dissociation of radical socialism (Gutiérrez, 2008). The proclaimed vision of the more moderate course of President Chavéz is said to win back the faith of the politically moderate population of Venezuela. Even more recent is the upheaval in between Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Some theorists claim that the Latin-American focus upon foreign affairs is merely a method to distract attention from internal affairs. The previously mentioned defeat of the socialist referendum is an illustration of Chavéz’s fading popularity, which is to be concealed by external threats (De Waal, 2008, p. 4).


3. Conclusion


In conclusion it can be seen that the history of socialism did not end with the break-down of the Soviet Union. This paper set out to show whether socialism is on the rebound in Latin America and in particular in Venezuela. As has been shown, Socialism in the Soviet Union could not assert itself on a long-term basis due to economic and ideological deficiencies of the socialist system. On the one hand, this was due to a misconception of economic planning by the central planning bureau (CBP). By focusing national investment on the heavy industry, the economy produced goods which did not meet consumer demand. Growing stocks of unwanted goods and an increasing trade deficit from imports of consumer goods were the causes of this misconception. On the other hand, the structure of the centrally directed economy (CDE) could not furnish producers with the necessary information about current consumer demand so that they could meet demand with industrial supply. In a capitalist society, this information could be derived from the change in price level. Since prices remained fixed however, a growing gap between supply and demand appeared. The Soviet Union could therefore not achieve self-sufficiency of its economy. Finally, Soviet Socialism could not achieve the perfect human being Owen and Marx had hoped for. Instead of giving up self-interests for the community, the pursuit of personal gains remained a strong factor of motivation for workers and producers. In this sense, Soviet socialism failed because it was economically and ideologically impractical. Compared to the dreams and implementations of socialism in the twentieth century, Chavéz’s socialism of the twenty-first century is arguably different. With its emphasis on non-private forms of ownership, namely, cooperatives, expanded state management and co-management, and the establishment of a participatory democracy, it sets himself clearly apart from any form of socialism that existed earlier, like utopian socialism, Marxism or state socialism. Thus, the new socialism is more pluralistic and less state-centered. Consequently, this paper concludes that socialism is on the rebound in Venezuela; however, it is arguably not a resurgence of the socialism which took different shapes in the twentieth century. In fact, as has been shown, a “new socialism” of the twenty-first century” is slowly emerging under Chavéz rule which aims to unite Latin America and other poor countries in a “social alliance” (Rosenberg, 2007, p. 2) in order to build a counterforce to the capitalistic EU and USA. Thus, Venezuela is the prime example of what a state system might look like that is fulfilling the needs of the poor. However, those needs are not yet fulfilled by the economic changes that are currently being regulated by Chavéz. Although the will is present to enforce changes, it is not likely to say how sustainable Chavéz’s transformation of Venezuela will be. On the one hand, Chavéz is the glue that keeps Venezuela together: if he fails to overcome obstacles, like the bourgeoisie opposition, or if he does not hold the presidency anymore, it is possible that his new socialism will not be kept up. On the other hand, what Chavéz is for Venezuela, Venezuela is for Latin America, thus, the country may successfully function as hot spot for the proliferation of the new socialism of the twenty-first century and in fact build an alliance against capitalism. Nonetheless, if Chavéz continues to spend all the oil revenue Venezuela gains, it is arguably possible that the economy will not be sustainable. In fact, this “economic failure” (Rosenberg, 2007, p. 17) is even worse for the poor in Venezuela because it deprives them from a secure future for their children. However, due to the lack of transparency about amount and efficiency of social spending, it is hard to judge the benefits of Chavéz’s socialism for the Venezuelan society. Thus, it is still subject to speculations how the rise of the new socialism in Venezuela will develop and what effects it will have on the current balance of power. As has been shown, the suggestion of the “economic clash” of civilizations established in the introduction has to be reconsidered. There is no definite clash, since Bolivarian socialism has learned from the flaws of 20th century socialism. Chavéz has consequently altered his policies in order to create a moderate form of socialism, which does not neglect the necessity of Western capitalism in the world economy anymore. It becomes obvious that the evolution of socialism is still in full progress. Thus, further research is necessary in order to evaluate the implementations of Chavéz’s new socialism.


































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[1] To attenuate the problem, Temkin (1996) asserts that Polish planners for example tended to look at the capitalist world market price of a commodity and fix prices in the CDE accordingly, presuming that demand in the CDE would match demand in the world market (p. 33).