Saturday, February 03, 2007

21st Century Socialism

"Beware of the country where only one exercises all the powers; it is a country of slaves." - Simón Bolívar. Venezuela is about to find out the truth of history.

Presidential announcements on February 1st: President Hugo Chávez enacted the enabling law that was approved Thursday at the National Assembly (AN). The law confers him special ruling powers in 11 areas for 18 months. He ordered enforcement of the law as soon as it is published in the Official Gazette.

Chavez Sets Oil Fields Takeover for May: The Venezuelan Head of State expressed his hope that the five foreign firms operating in the Orinoco Oil Belt, which include Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp., British Petroleum PLC, Total SA and Statoil ASA, would remain as minority partners. "I'm sure that they [the foreign companies] are going to accept because we are going to continue being partners, but if they aren't in agreement, they are totally free to leave," he said.

The western left is giddy with excitement. In their view there can be no dictatorship if the people retain power through "communal councils" in every neighborhood and village.

Chávez in charge: Hugo Chávez is a man in a hurry, and this week's decision by the Venezuelan national assembly to grant him additional powers foreshadows the radical changes that are in the pipeline. … Nothing like this has happened in Latin America since the Cuban Revolution nearly half a century ago. It is riveting stuff.

So what is important here is a change in the nature of government rather than a madcap scheme to seize private assets, soak the rich, and nationalise everything in sight by presidential decree. Perhaps the most significant of the planned reforms is the provision of finance and teeth to the "communal councils" springing up in their thousands all over the country. The future "socialist democracy" of Venezuela will depend more on these grassroots expressions of the popular will than the national assembly in Caracas.

Last April, Gregory Wilpert lays out Hugo Chavez's plan for achieving 21st Century Socialism to an appreciative audience at the UW Madison Havens Center. Just to be perfectly clear, the plan is to eliminate private ownership of land and factories. The plan is do away with competitive markets and rules of law that preserve the former. The plan is to completely replace capitalism with socialism. Unsurprisingly, the UW Madison socialists fully support this most recent attempt to impose “the age-old dream of individual freedom, equality, and social justice” on “citizens”.

The Meaning of 21st Century Socialism for Venezuela: Moving away from capitalism, however, does not, by itself, mean that a society is moving towards socialism. After all, it could move towards feudalism or towards some other form of undesirable social organization. What, then, would constitute socialism or, more specifically 21st century socialism? … The real test of the extent to which the government is willing to go in this direction will come if and when private capital is forced to become marginal in the overall economy.

Once more the idea that good can be imposed on people by human design is going to be tested. Past performance does not guarantee future results, however, this is a capitalist phrase the socialists probably believe they can ignore.