Right now, the Venezuelan government is using some really consistant messaging regarding its objectives and plans in its “march toward socialism,” framing much of their current work in terms of “5 motors” that will speed Venezuela like a locomotive towards their socialist future.
These motors are (and you can see an interesting graphic in Spanish here: http://www.minci.gob.ve/motores/62/11852 ):
1) The enabling law: “The direct route to socialism.” This is the law that will allow Chavez to pass certain laws without congressional approval for 18 months. The argument is that there are many people in the National Assembly who claim to be Chavistas (the whole assembly is filled with Chavez supporters, since the oppisition backed out of the last elections in a bid to discredit the process…and because they knew they were going to lose anyway) but who will hold back and sabotage the process, and so Chavez says he needs this so that the people don’t have to wait any longer for the changes they are demanding…this is the argument, anyway.
2) Constitutional reform: “A socialist state of law.” Chavez has called for the election of a new constitutional assembly to change the constitution to make it more in-line with a socialist nation…that is, stronger labor rights, and especially they are talking about highlighting “social property” rights over private property rights. The new constitution will have to be approved through a national referendum.
3) Morals and enlightment: “Education with socialist values.” Chavez’ brother Adan seems to be in charge of this one, and it’s a massive educational project to push the country in a socialist direction culturally and ideologically. It will affect the public school system as well as the universities and I also imagine that it will involve “promoters” or trained organizers who will be pushing for socialist ethics in their communities and workplaces…it’s essentially training to create a socialist mass base.
4) The new geometry of power: “The socialist reordering of the geopolitics of the nation.” This is about transforming government infrastructure (as well as foreign policy relationships) to get rid of old structures and bureaucracies that ostensibly are slowing the process down, and to form basically a new Venezuelan state that is in line with their notion of “21st century socialism.”
5) Explosion of communal power: “Protagonistic democracy, revolutionary and socialist!” This is what I was talking about earlier…transforming the state by basing it much more strongly in local, grassroots communal power through communal councils. The vice president has been talking alot about this lately, telling the communal councils more or less to get ready to become the new government.
Now let me be clear that most of these both excite me and scare me. They excite me because they are a new discussion of socialism that is consciously post-Soviet, in that they consistantly and explictly declare that they don’t want to be like Russia, China, or Cuba…and that they don’t want to have Bolshevik or Stalinist structures (Chavez himself speaks very well about these historic lessons). They excite me because 2 years ago Chavez had just barely mentioned socialism in a World Social Forum speech, and now it’s plastered all over the government websites…that is, they are rapidly speeding up and radicalizing. But they scare me because it is a massive, powerful state with a strong figurehead, and so many of these “motors” can easily just be methods for indoctrination and solidification of state control. What is socialist education? Because of US cold war brainwashing, it seems almost inherently totalitarian…but really it’s also what I really would like to see. It all depends on the actual content of what these motors are. What kinds of laws will Chavez fast-track? How will the new constitution be different? What are socialist values? On the values question, I’ve seen Adan Chavez speak on youtube and stuff and it seems like they are trying to challenge notions like competition, speculation, profit-seeking, egoism…maybe even machismo and racism. This could be powerful education…or it could just be indoctrination into patriotism and loyalty to the state. We have to wait and see.
But this brings me back to why I’m most excited: because of that 5th motor. The explosion of popular power is the final motor because the government sees it is the most important and final step…the transition from a top-down statist past (and process) towards a new Venezuela based in grassroots popular power. That’s not me projecting my anarchist wishes…that is how these folks actually talk. The discourse is about popular power, the 5th motor is the goal. And if that really is true, if that desire is authentic, then I believe that grassroots energies can keep Chavez’ ego in check and keep the state in check so that the revolution doesn’t get diverted into yet another form of state domination. This is what’s interesting about the Venezuelan process: that their strategy is so based in activating and inspiring the grassroots base to take up more space and initiate more projects (they support grassroots indymedia, Chavez has called on workers to take over their factories, etc…). Now I’ve read so often that this kind of thing is common in the early years of revolutions, then the state gets scared of the people and clamps down, so I’m still waiting and watching for that other shoe to drop.
And in many ways it already has. The Venezuelan process is also really gross in many ways, beyond the cult of personality. The oil politics create a lot of contradictions with ecological values. Indigenous rights are not respected as much as is claimed, especially regarding industry and land use. Abortion is still illegal (although hopefully not for long). Anarchist critics of the state are harassed and lumped together with the right-wing opposition…and many times criticism of Chavez is treated as a no-no. I have heard from a number of people that Chavez is quite a womanizer (he’s separated from his wife…his second wife). The government is spending billions on new weapons (perhaps justified but the military presence really is strong down there), etc.
I am an excited yet critical supporter of this whole thing. History tells us that this great experiment can only end badly, as all other experiments with state-driven revolution have. But not all revolutions end in dictatorship…so even if the powers that be do settle in and slow down the Venezuelan process before it truly bares fruit…at least the people might get some new schools and hospitals out of it. But imagine, just imagine, if they actually manage to form an entirely new kind of country out of it. New forms of decision-making and participation. New forms of economic production, consumption, and exchange….
Oil money and modern online tools for information-sharing and democratic decision-making might make it possible. I hope, I hope, I hope!