By Michael Albert
Have you ever felt like there are things you want to know about what someone thinks that would matter for the lives of many people and yet you have no way to get the answers? You can’t call the person on the phone and ask their views. The person doesn’t have a public phone number. You can’t appeal to friendship. The person doesn’t know you. You can’t use email. The person has no public email address. In the case of some folks, of course, all that insulation from the public is reasonable. Take Hugo Chavez, for example. For him to have a public phone number or email address would be ridiculously dysfunctional. But what if you have questions and you not only can’t get direct answers, but you also can’t get your questions answered by way of intermediaries because those routes are mazes that lead nowhere. Most often, then, pragmatism should trump futile persistence. Move on.
But what if the person whose views you want to hear is not only incredibly open in his or her demeanor, and incredibly thoughtful by reputation, but also part of a process committed to seeking advocacy from all directions? And what if you think – whether you are deluded in this or not – that your questions are right up the person’s alley, in this case Chavez or other folks participating in the Bolvarian Revolution, and are key to your and others advocacy? If so, how about floating your questions out into cyber space, hoping for the best. At the very least, that’s gotta be better than tossing a bottle with a note in it in the ocean, even in a swift current.
Hugo Chavez says he wants to build twenty first century socialism. He decries market relations. He excoriates capitalism. His innovative approaches to popular political and economic decision making and his prioritization of radicalized health, education, and other human services also inspire great hope. But beyond claims and short term policies, where is the Bolivarian Revolution going? What are its main institutional goals and timetable? These are questions I’d like answers to from whomever might have them.
By self description Hugo Chavez is aggressively anti-capitalist. But what does that mean? Regarding economics, does the Bolivarian revolution reject private ownership of the means of production? Does it reject markets? Does it reject capitalistic remuneration including people getting profit on property, or getting wages for bargaining power or even output? Similarly, does the Bolivarian Revolution reject capitalism’s typical division of labor in which about 20 percent of the workforce monopolizes all the empowering tasks while the other 80 percent does only rote, repetitive, and obedient labor?
Given that Chavez is against particular capitalist institutions, does he have a feeling for what would replace them in a better economy? Put differently, if the Bolivarian Revolution is for twenty first century socialism, I wonder what that means? What is it about twentieth century socialism, for example, that Chavez rejects? Is it central planning such as we saw in the Soviet Union? Is it markets such as we saw in Yugoslavia? Is it the typical 20th century socialist division of labor as we have seen it in Russia, Yugoslavia, and China, and which is essentially the same as the division of labor we see in capitalism? Is it the norms of remuneration these socialisms have employed, which while they have jettisoned profit for property have retained payment for power and output?
Similarly, in whatever ways Chavez disagrees with “twentieth century socialism,” what does he propose to construct in Venezuela instead? What does the Bolivarian revolution seek for the economy? Does it believe workers and consumers should have a say in economic decisions in proportion as they are affected by them – which would be self management? Does it believe workers and consumers councils, not boards of directors or managers, should be the seat of economic decision making power in each workplace? Does it believe there should be decentralized and participatory planning by these workers and consumers councils, including a cooperative negotiation of allocation rather than top down command allocation or competitive market allocation? Does it believe workers should be remunerated for how long and how hard they work, and for enduring onerous conditions, but not for property, power, or even the value of output? If these features aren’t part of the Bolivarian agenda, then what is preferred for Venezuela’s future, and why?
Chavez has been very vocal not only about democracy in the polity, but about people literally being able to have a say over their own social and political lives. Does the Bolivarian revolution reject, in addition to capitalist economics, also the typical top down alienated approaches to government we see in the world today? Is the Bolivarian Revoluation seeking something fundamentally different for politics with its grass roots assemblies, and if so, what are the values and features it prefers? Likewise, is there any exploration, as yet, of new approaches to law enforcement and adjudication? And does the Boilivarian revolution have a revolutionary agenda around gender issues and around race issues? Is it ultimately seeking only vastly better gender and race policies, or are there fundamental changes it seeks in underlying institutions in these realms as well? Does the Bolivarian revolution have ideas about what such changes might be, and if not, does it have a method for arriving at some?
I would also like to know about Bolivarian media. Venezuelan mainstream media are narrowly owned and controled and in no way reflect the needs of desires of the Venezuelan population. Indeed, to whatever extent they are able, they are hell bent on hindering positive change. I wonder about Chavez’s view of how media ought to be organized in a better future? And I wonder what his plans are for media in Venezuela. It has seemed, from far away, that the Bolivarian approach to education, health, the media, and other areas too, has been to construct a parallel set of structures to what now exists – for example, the Bolivarian University, health clinics, and TV station – with the idea that these new approaches will in time replace the old ones. Is that the plan? And is there concern that the arena in which this competition between old and new occurs is the arena of the market, which of course does not favor solidarity, sociality, etc.?
As we all know, the United States routinely uses its wealth to bludgeon international relations in ways overwhelmingly aimed at preserving and enlarging the power and wealth of U.S. elites, whatever suffering this imposes on others. Venezuela also seems to be utilizing its assets in the international arena via initiating diverse trading patterns, grants, etc. I wonder what guides these acts? When Venezuela exchanges oil and other products with other countries, Is Chavez intent upon exchanging at market rates, or does he have a different attitude about what ought to determine exchange rates, and if so, as seems to be the case, what is it? Has Chavez thought about explicitly using Venezuelan assets to aid organizing projects and activist movements around the world who are seeking desirable changes toward justice, equity, etc.? Could Chavez imagine Venezuela-owned Citgo becoming a trojan horse for workers control and socially oriented production inside the U.S.? Could Chavez imagine directly donating funds to movements, or perhaps doing so by way of payments for book rights or other arrangements with Venezuela?
And finally, by way of understanding the timing of the Bolivarian Revolution, I wonder what Chavez and other Venezuelan activists expect to be the most important and exemplary accomplishments in Venezuela in the next five or ten years? And I wonder the extent to which Chavez’s views and the views of other Bolivarian government officials, labor leaders, and grass roots activists compare with the views of the broad population? Is the broad public in synch with the agendas or by-standing. Is it ready to take initiative in advances, or is it being pulled along without taking its own initiatives?