In recent times both the United States media and the right-wing Venezuela’s ruling elite mouthpieces have been attacking President Hugo Chavez’s proposed constitutional reforms under the banner “21st Century Socialism.” Mr. Chavez has been packaging himself as a new, younger and modern version of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and wrapping himself in the supposed cloak of scientific socialism. His proposed reforms come after a long line of left-sounding, anti-imperialist and inflammatory rhetoric that helped boost his international stature as a staunch anti-American socialist and defender of the common man.
I admire Mr. Chavez’s guts and gumption. I like his political brashness and in-your-face style and there is no doubt that he’s a populist president who has the love and admiration of Venezuela’s suffering poor. But Hugo Chavez is no socialist. Maybe that may sound treasonous to his many supporters but the basis for my conclusion is an examination of the very set of constitutional reforms that he’s proposed as necessary to build socialism.
First of all the reforms do not empower the working class and poor as called for under genuine socialism. While Mr. Chavez talks about “people’s power” and call in his reforms for the setting up of communal councils as a form of local government these organs will not be developed from conditions on the ground and the dynamics of the relationships between the haves and the have nots but from the top down. Thus, once opertionalized these grassroots groupings will be controlled, bankrolled, and dependent on the new political ruling class now being created by Mr. Chavez.
And this points to a serious danger to the Venezuelan body politic and poses grim repercussions for the working class and its allies in particular with the potential of these reforms to entrench, strengthen and nurture a new ruling class created and birthed by Mr. Chavez himself. This new class while spouting the rhetoric of socialism and cloaking itself in its tenets will practice just the opposite and will ultimately be just another tool of repression that hinders and obstructs the progressive movement of Venezuela’s toiling masses for equality and social justice that has been denied them for so long.
Indeed, socialism must be seen through the eyes of the workers, their relations to the means of production, and the nature of their struggles on the ground for equality and social and economic justice. Mr. Chavez’s brand of socialism is to cunningly utilize populist agitation to arouse the poor using their well founded and legitimate problems as fodder for his bully pulpit. He’s also in a pitched battle with Venezuela’s traditional old ruling elites that he’s enraged since taking power. Their agenda is simple: a return to the old days of unrestrained plunder and oppression and a rekindled love affair with Washington.
So for all their patriotic talk and opposition to the Chavez proposed reforms they hate Venezuela’s “unwashed” masses as much as the “new elite” - those concealing their disdain for Mr. Chavez’s struggling masses and who now surround the enigmatic president. The old Venezuelan oligarchy is fearful of the reforms because they will give Mr. Chavez dictatorial powers and wider unfettered control of all aspects of life in the country. That kind of power they want for themselves and the crux of their outrage is not about Venezuelan democracy or protection of the people but who gets this power.
This group has mobilized demonstrations against the Chavez reforms and amendments that have comprised mainly elements of the upper middle class who also see their fortunes being placed in jeopardy if Mr. Chavez gets his way. The oligarchy has also been successful in pulling a large number of students on to the streets many of who come from the privileged sections of Venezuela’s middle and upper classes. These elements are defending their future class interests and have been the most treacherous elements in Venezuelan society having one foot in the working class camp and the other in the upper class sections of the society.
For the old privileged ruling elite these public displays are crucial to securing the backing of the international community that sees Mr. Chavez as an annoying presence. It is the actions of this group that gets international attention and media coverage that conveniently forgets that these classes are the ones that have historically visited untold misery on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, have supported military coups and counter-coups, and have absolutely no love for genuine democracy or what Mr. Chavez calls “people’s power.”