The reelection of Hugo Chávez as president is an important moment in Venezuela and Latin America as a whole. After more than a decade in power—during which his administration practically eliminated illiteracy, drastically reduced misery and poverty, including far greater access to food and healthcare, and improved housing—the majority of the population continues to support Chávez as against the right wing neo-liberal forces supported by the U.S.
At the same time it is necessary to be aware of the limitations of this win, and the difficult problems and contradictions within the Venezuelan social process:
• The personalization of the social changes in Venezuela. Much of the election was focused on being for or against Chávez. His personality, his will, his ideas and actions, have come to represent the transformative process. Can Venezuela arrive at the deep changes needed if the changes are only embodied in a single individual, and not a social movement of the masses?
• Because the project has not fully developed as a social movement from below, changes are dependent on a state and local bureaucracy which often uses the revolutionary process for individual, narrow ends, as opposed to a process that further develops and deepens the revolution. Corruption and putting brakes on social change is everywhere within the state, and rather than being rooted out from below, it depends on the word of Chávez to check or not check it. Centralization of power has substituted for the movement from below, and with this the danger of state-capitalism is ever present.
• Objectively, Chávez’s project has been a nationalist and democratic one, important and necessary, but not a socialist one, despite much rhetoric. Venezuela is more dependent than ever on the most crucial commodity in the world, oil, including its sale to the United States. The establishment of socialism needs to move toward breaking the law of value. This can only be done from below; and not alone in a single country.
• Genuine socialism is international in its viewpoint. Chávez is international in establishing an alternative trade structure, ALBA, and promoting solidarity. However, his primary focus has been anti-imperialism. This is not wrong in and of itself. But Chávez’s anti-imperialism has been narrowly focused—only against the U.S. This has been reduced to “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as in his support of Iran’s repressive regime, which crushes its own people. An internationalism, which is viewed only through the lens of a narrow anti-imperialism, is not the internationalism of socialism.
• Chávez has been willing to explore some ideas of Marx and Marxism. However, a much fuller exploration of Marx’s philosophy of revolution is needed throughout Venezuelan society, particular among the masses.
All of this is not to deny the great importance of the social processes taking place. However, the possibility of success is dependent on eliciting more profoundly the actions and ideas of the Venezuelan masses, and on a fuller development and clarification of Marx’s ideas in relation to Latin American realities.