This article contains a video of all the presentations made at “Venezuela and the Chavez Government: Advances and Shortcomings” on Sunday morning, plus my commentary.
Here’s the panel abstract:
Venezuela is going through a crucial period right now because it is emerging from a two-year recession and President Chavez and his allies have won only narrow electoral victories since the loss of a 2007 constitutional reform referendum. In addition, after 12 years in power there is a certain erosion of enthusiasm among rank and file Chavistas. Chavez is up for reelection in 2012, which will be one of his most critical contests yet. The speakers on this panel will explore what is currently going on in Venezuela, in terms of the advances and the shortcomings of the Chavez government and they will thereby try to make sense of where Venezuela has been and where it is heading.
The speakers included:
- Steve Ellner—Universidad del Oriente, Venezuela
- Dario Azzellini—Johannes Kepler Universität, Austria
- Isabel Delgado—Ministry of Basic Industries and Mines, Venezuela
- Mark Weisbrot—Center for Economic and Policy Research
- T.M. Scruggs – University of Iowa / Independent Scholar
I found Ellner’s talk the most interesting since it claimed that Venezuela illustrated Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to some extent. It differed, however, because Chavez believes in compromise and Trotsky didn’t. This amounted to a swipe against the trade union activists who have been interviewed in the ISO and British SWP press. In my view, they have made some important critiques from the left but are in no position to supersede Chavez. This is a function of “vanguardist” habits that prevent them from a reaching a critical mass.
I should add that a panel discussion took place last year along the same lines, as I reported:
12pm-1:50pm: Lessons from Venezuela: Achievements and Failures
This featured three very well-known commentators—Steve Ellner, Greg Wilpert and Eva Gollinger—as well as two that were new to me: Carlos Martinez, the author of “Venezuela Speaks!: Voices from the Grassroots”, and Dario Azzellini, the co-director of a documentary “Venezuela from Below”.
All the talks were a mixture of interesting observations about the current situation in Venezuela with what I am afraid were muddled theories about “21st century socialism” which amounts to statements that the revolution is impossible to categorize, but different from statist, 20th century models, and filled with contradictions, etc. There was a certain amount of defensiveness from Steve Ellner who stated that the revolution would never satisfy “the Trotskyists”, both inside the country and out.
Azzellini went furthest out on a limb by trying to describe Venezuela as an example of “council communism” since so many councils were being formed with the encouragement of the government. Apparently, these councils would eventually change from quantity to quality and result in a full-fledged socialist state or something like that. He said that Venezuela was very much like the Paris Commune, perhaps in a bid to assuage the “Trotskyists” in the audience who needed reassurance that the experiment in Venezuela was in conformity with the Marxist classics.
In the Q&A, feeling a bit testy from all the foggy rhetoric, I said that it might make sense to stop worrying about whether Venezuela conformed to some classical definition of socialism and perhaps be satisfied with the analysis put forward by Marxmail’s Nestor Gorojovsky, namely that Chavez was a radical nationalist not much different from Peron or a dozen other anti-imperialist heads of state. It is much better to leave it like that rather than to offer up definitions utterly lacking in theoretical rigor. I don’t think that the panelists were happy with my intervention, even though it was offered by somebody totally in sympathy with Hugo Chavez’s presidency.
This year I had another comment that reflected my mixed feelings about “21st Century Socialism” (it had nothing to do with Hugo Chavez’s ties to Qaddafi). I stated that all socialist revolutions of the 20th century grew out of armed struggles (including the October 1917 revolution, which involved winning the army over) against despotic rule. Once the old state with its repressive apparatus was dismantled, a “workers state” would nationalize the means of production and institute large-scale planning. But the new model taking shape in Latin America has operated on a totally different basis. Leftist presidents have been elected but have carried out reforms, often quite radical, that have an anti-capitalist dynamic. The failure of these governments to complete this new type of revolution suggests that it might not be possible, especially with the collapse of the USSR that provided economic and military aid in the past.
Time will tell, I am sure.