Under the leadership of President Chavez, and with the backing of the great majority of the Venezuelan people, a process of social transformation is underway which challenges the old neoliberal, imperial-centered, political-economic order. Equally important, President Chavez has proposed a new project for Latin America integration, ALBA, which challenges the imperial project ALCA, designed to consolidate neocolonial empire.
This paper will begin by analyzing two dimensions of ALBA, its critical diagnosis of Latin American problems and its current status, prospects and obstacles. We will follow with an analysis of the “social debt” in Latin America in the context of the imperial-centered model of capitalist accumulation (what is called “neoliberalism”).
In part two, proposals for a new social, economic, cultural and ecological order, we will examine the basic principles, institutions and proposals for achieving the new order. Here we will consider the inter-relationship between popular representation, administrative changes, as well as key changes in social relations of production and the development of the forces of production.
In the concluding sections we will focus on the necessary security measures and cultural transformations to ensure that the social transformations are sustainable and irreversible.
ALBA: A Contemporary Perspective
ALBA provides several clearly stated objectives:
1. It is a critical diagnosis of the human condition in Latin America based on President Chavez’ analysis of the socio-economic problems in Latin America.
2. It focuses on the role of US and European imperialism as the principle determinants of the economic stagnation and social regression in the region.
3. It provides a critique of ALCA, the principle US project to consolidate an imperial-centered model of domination and exploitation.
4. ALBA offers an alternative to the current fragmentation and dispersion of contemporary counter-hegemonic struggles based on national strategies.
5. ALBA is an alternative Latin American model of integration which promotes several basic principles favorable to its member states: (a) economic complementarity — a division of production based on reciprocal benefits, (b) the extension and deepening of domestic markets under relatively equality of competitive positions, (c) increase in consumption and production of products of mass consumption leading to rising living standards, (d) a collective defense against US impositions and adverse conditions on Latin American trading partners, (e) a powerful collective bargaining bloc to reduce, renegotiate, repudiate or investigate foreign debts to creditor banks, (f) ALBA creates the initial framework toward a future United States of Latin America; the realization of the original Bolivarian vision and (g) it creates a regional bloc capable of negotiating on a more equal basis with other regional blocs like the European Union, NAFTA and ASEAN. The advantages of ALBA are obvious and numerous — from a rational political and economic calculus, especially for the great majority of the people of Latin America and its local small and medium size producers. However the realization of the ALBA vision faces serious opposition from US and EU imperialism, as well as from within Latin America among the ruling classes and political elites with long-standing links to foreign capital, overseas banks and the imperial state.
The Status of ALBA Today
Despite the political obstacles, both external and internal, to the advance of ALBA, several positive steps are evident today. ALBA is an alternative conception to ALCA backed by a powerful state sponsor. It destroys the propaganda promoted by imperial ideologues and Latin American collaborators that there is no “realistic” or “practical” alternative to imperial-centered models of integration. ALBA takes an idea imagined by intellectuals and makes it common currency among the masses or at least militants throughout Latin America. Moreover ALBA provides a concrete critique and alternative program to ALCA which erodes the uni-polar imagery projected by the mass media.
ALBA is a process not a single dramatic event. As such, several first steps toward regional integration have already taken place which demonstrates the positive virtues of ALBA style integration. The implementation of Petro-Caribe and the Cuban-Venezuelan trade, investment and aid agreements are ‘models’ for deepening Latin American integration. Proposals to link public-energy enterprises also move in the same direction. Most important of all, ALBA has played an important role in raising Latin American consciousness, both in unifying and strengthening mass anti-imperialist consciousness and creating the basis for affirming a common set of regional agendas. Today regional or Latin American consciousness has challenged US hegemony among the masses, and in large part has replaced it.
ALBA has been an important aspect of the rise of Latin American consciousness, which co-exists with national and class consciousness in a synergetic relationship, each reinforcing the other.
An important institutional advance (in line with ALBA) in creating Latin American consciousness is the emergence of TELESUR as a counter-hegemonic mass media outlet. Along with the emergence of hundreds of Bolivarian and other anti-imperialist organizations in Latin America, the social bases for ALBA are growing throughout the region.
Social Debt: The Role of Imperialism
The term “social debt” refers to the large-scale, long-term social regression suffered by the vast majority of the Latin American people. “Social debt” implies that “some one” owes compensation to those who have lost out in the process of global capitalist expansion. It is the language of the international, United Nations bureaucracy like CEPAL. As such it provides useful data on a series of social problems in Latin America but fails to provide a situational link between the international power configurations and their policies, and the regressive social consequences. Statistical surveys, demonstrate the social regression of most Latin Americans over the past quarter of a century.
Let it be noted also that the indices and measures, for example, used by CEPAL and the World Bank are inadequate and profoundly underestimate poverty levels, standards of living, inequalities and other dimensions of social conditions.
Mass poverty has greatly increased throughout Latin America; substantial increases are evident from Mexico to Argentina, especially in Nicaragua, Haiti and Colombia which have seen a major US military and paramilitary presence.
Standards of living for the great majority (including health and educational services) have declined as a result of privatizations, foreign debt payments and free trade policies. Declining living standards and mass poverty are a cause and consequence of the concentration and centralization of wealth and capital in a small number of national and foreign banks. Inequalities have reached unprecedented levels as foreign capital and goods dominate local economies and markets and as political economic decisions are concentrated in the hands of client political regimes. Health and educational budget cuts and the spread of elite private clinics and schools have reinforced the inequalities while opening new “service sectors” for foreign investment. The “specialization” in raw materials and agro-mineral export sectors serving the imperial countries has increased the number of under and unemployed and polarized the class structure in extreme.
The cause of social regression (which is never mentioned by CEPAL or the World Bank in any of their writing about poverty or “extreme poverty”) is imperialism and the neo-liberal policies advocated by the international agencies.
Imperialism plays a major role in creating, extending, deepening and reproducing social regression via several mechanisms and policies. The most important mechanism of imperialist exploitation and the cause of social regression is the takeover of strategic political positions and economic sectors. Imperial-trained Latin American collaborators, linked to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Wall Street, formulate “macro-economic”, monetary and income policies via their positions in the Finance and Economy Ministries and the Central Banks. Their policies facilitate the take-over by US and European Union multinational banks of the principal banks and financial institutions, telecommunications, agro-mineral sectors, gas and petrol industries, commerce and services. Through their political and economic control of the strategic sectors they facilitate the massive outflow of billions of dollars in interest (and principle) payments, royalty and profit remittances which de-capitalize the economy. These pro-imperial power elites sign “conditionality” agreements with the IMF and World Bank which deepen privatizations and private monopolies. The result is economic stagnation, growing unemployment, declining living standards, and an increase in poverty — in a word, the “social debt” is a result of deep structural relations which are reproduced by the contemporary regimes whether they are called “center-left” or “center-right”. More important, while these structural relations exist it is difficult to imagine any government to government agreements to further ALBA.
This is particularly the case where Latin American regimes support the US occupation of Haiti and the military bases in their countries (Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador and Dominican Republic). If the “social debt” is the product of imperial political penetration and economic takeovers, and the local Latin American regimes collaborate in defending this power bloc, then it is difficult for ALBA to advance via government to government agreements. ALBA must rely on the mass movements changing the existing ruling blocs in Latin America. If imperialism is the strategic enemy and major determinant of social regression, the immediate obstacle to reversing the social debt are the local ruling classes who apply neo-liberal policies.
President Chavez’ 21st Century Socialism: Proposals for Advancing and Consolidating the New Order
When we write of a “new” social, economic, cultural and ecological order we do not mean reforms grafted on to an old order of capitalist banking and latifundio property ownership. The new order does not mean simply additional social spending for the poor without changing the concentration of income and property. The new order means inverting the social pyramid — where the majority receives most of the wealth and controls the major means of production, finance and trade, while the elite receives the least and owns minority shares of property. Fundamental to inverting the social pyramid is property redistribution from big property holding to national public enterprises, co-operative and worker-engineer self-management within a national plan. It means the highest budgetary priority is social spending and public investment, not tax exonerations and subsidies for private capital. It means eliminating sales and regressive taxes in favor of increased direct taxes on wealth, especially foreign owned banks and energy firms as well as big property interests, including media monopolies.
The new order can only advance if it is accompanied by the creation of a new political power bloc. New representative institutions cannot operate effectively if they are superimposed on existing corrupt bodies. Four socio-political proposals form the core of a systemic transformation:
New institutions for popular representation
This means replacing oligarchic parties with popular assemblies, which directly select the candidates for legislative office. Direct election of the working majorities is based on proportional representation of industrial workers, the under-employed as well as the unemployed, salaried workers, construction workers and professionals. Legislative priorities are based on majoritarian social needs: a) production of goods for popular consumption, b) housing, c) salaries, d) pensions, e) social infrastructure (water, electricity, sewage and clean air), f) positive legislation for women, Afro-Venezuelans and Indians.
Replace Administrative Apparatus
Representative assemblies and positive legislation require an efficient, politically capable administration. To implement new policies the administrative sectors needs to be restructured and reformed: a) reduce layers of bureaucracy via early retirements; rationalization and restructuring of administrative structures to make them compatible with new social priorities, b) introduce performance criteria in order to evaluate administrative and management efficiency and provide a rational basis for promotions, demotions and pay raises, c) create independent auditing commission to ensure financial accountability — against corruption, misallocation of funds and transparent records, d) create new administrative bodies parallel to old corrupt, inefficient and politically hostile agencies, increase budget of the new and reduce the budget of the old.
Introduce new social relations of production
This is accomplished by facilitating worker control to democratize the workplace and increase production and accountability and in order to advance toward worker-engineer management based on workers’ councils elected at general assemblies with management oversight.
Develop the Forces of Production
This is accomplished through the following measures: a) maximize the integration of under-employed and unemployed workers into more productive value added employment, b) accelerate the state takeover of closed factories, bankrupt or highly indebted firms in consultation with trade unions and community based organizations, c) intervene in problematic factories with high levels of underutilized capacity, d) expropriate unused or under developed urban and rural landholdings, organize production councils in the countryside and cities, e) large-scale, long-term public investments in intensive infrastructure projects — ports, highways, subways and railroads utilizing the vast army of underemployed.
These proposals are eminently practical, feasible and within the financial resources of the government — given the high earnings from petroleum exports. They are essential to consolidating and deepening the social base of the Bolivarian revolution, diversifying production and increasing domestic consumption. To finance these ambitious programs will require re-allocation of resources from overseas programs to domestic priorities.
Restructuring Macro-Economic Policy: Domestic Growth and National Security
National security priorities coincide very well with the accomplishment of socio-economic goals. Several priorities are evident in a time of rising conflict and possible rupture in relations with US imperialism:
1. Move all reserves out of US banks; sell all holding in US physical facilities (CITGO, refineries etc.) to avoid confiscation and freezing of assets. The freed funding can be reallocated to developing domestic production, refineries and the internal market.
2. Decrease excessive reserves (“dead money”) and increase investments in priority projects especially in higher value-added petroleum related industries, like petrochemicals, fertilizers, plastics, etc. This increases national income over the mere selling of crude petroleum, diversifies markets, increases self-sufficiency and decreases vulnerability to imperial blockages or embargos.
3. Invest in domestic armament industries — including heavy armaments, helicopters and missile defense systems; reinforce the frontiers (especially coastal and areas adjacent to Colombia); expand and strengthen counter-intelligence agencies to respond rapidly to continued incursions of Colombian military and paramilitary forces; introduce new revolutionary curriculum and instructors for military and police training.
4. Emphasize local content in military procurement of uniforms, transport etc — stimulating national producers.
There can be no serious discussions of socio-economic changes, and national independence without a comprehensive national security policy. Above all, it is necessary for the national security forces to be politically compatible with the socio-economic transformations. International solidarity and independent foreign relations are directly dependent on strong domestic socio-economic and security foundations. Strong national foundations are built on objective (material) and subjective (consciousness) advances.
Cultural Revolution Within the Revolution
There are two essential interrelated subjective developments necessary to sustain a revolution against external aggression and internal subversion: the deepening and extension, simultaneously, of national and class consciousness. In pursuit of these goals there is a multiplicity of sites at which integral national-class consciousness can take place. Constructing an anti-imperialist consciousness takes place via a multiplicity of activities which cumulatively converge and create the “New Patriot.” State intervention is crucial in constructing and facilitating the national culture:
1. Setting a quota for mass media presentations based on 75% local productions, using local performers, music, stories etc.
2. Encouraging and financing a national, regional and local complex of arts, sports, humanities, literature, libraries accessible especially to the social base of the revolution,
3. Expanding the mass media: publishing newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines and books with special audiences — women, teenagers, sports enthusiasts, health and so on. Combine entertainment and education in public television.
4. Finance a national cinema with a focus on critical realism, documentaries, children’s stories with social content as well as personal and universal themes.
5. Finance international scientific and cultural exchanges, create science parks, promote science studies at all levels of education, encourage rational scientific explanations of the universe.
6. Expand financing of historical and social science research to broaden understanding of popular struggles, social problems, imperialist threats and international alliances.
7. Continue to promote solidarity activities — organizing international forums and encourage Bolivarian solidarity groups throughout the world especially with mass organizations. Put a definitive stop to extraditing revolutionaries to paramilitary states — like Colombia.
8. Promote cultural diversity in the mass media, especially in advertising, encourage the presence of Afro-Venezuelan and Indio-Venezuelans in social spheres in science, education and the economy (and not only in song and dance).
9. Revolutionize education: Sponsor curriculum reform, teacher training, which increases practice based knowledge and theoretical understanding of the historical and contemporary history of imperialism and anti-imperialism, false and class consciousness. Encourage “red” and “expert” — competent professionals with revolutionary consciousness. Studies of revolutionary traditions, both national and international should be critically studied and compared.
Cultural revolutions are necessary, especially in a revolutionary process to avoid stagnation, regression, corruption and bureaucratization. A revolution must be constantly renewed to avoid reproducing a new elite class structure. Creating a vibrant cultural transformation is both a cause and consequence of national integration: cultural advances depend on a strong nation-state independent of imperialist hegemony; a strong national culture contributes to greater national cohesion.
Throughout past and recent history, imperialist powers have followed “divide and conquer” tactics to take control of countries, as the European colonial powers demonstrated in India (Muslims against Hindus), the French in Africa and the US today in Iraq (Shia against Sunni) and in Iran (Persians against Arabs and Kurds). In Venezuela today, Washington pursues the same tactic, fomenting a separatist movement in the state of Zulia on the basis of a specious set of pseudo-regional identity. The prime condition for the effective survival and development of a modern national state is a strong territorial unity, complementary economic sectors and a powerful internal market. To achieve national integration, most nation states have taken the following steps.
1. Firm and decisive action, early on, to eliminate the secessionist elites acting as surrogates of imperial strategies.
2. Integration of all its people — leaving no room for elites to manipulate and use the grievances of “marginal” or minorities as a weapon for undermining the integrity of a nation. This requires the inclusion of Afro-Venezuelans, women, Indio-Venezuelans among others as active participants in all spheres of public life at all levels. It is especially important to offer full citizenship to the millions of Colombian farm laborers, domestic workers and construction laborers resident in Venezuela for many years.
3. To compensate for elite educational advantages, affirmative action involving compensatory training and university and technical training serves to maximize the massive entry of children of the poor and working class in institutions of higher learning. This is important politically because this is the strongest social base of the Bolivarian Revolution.
4. Among many existing trade unions and many neighborhood groups, there is little actual participation of the membership because they are controlled by “progressive oligarchs.” Integration requires the democratization of civil society organizations, opening them to debate and free, secret votes on policy positions. Civil society organizations and trade unions are only as strong as their power of convocation. “Paper membership” among numerous organizations without active membership, does not create a strong basis for supporting and defending the advance of the revolutionary process. We have the case of the former USSR with 20 million members of the Communist Party which could not turn out 100,000 people to prevent a Yeltsin-led coup by a few thousand people in Moscow.
Above all national integration involves public control of the strategic economic sectors of the economy: banking to provide credit, trade to optimize the allocation of foreign exchange and energy, mining and petroleum to create new industries. National integration has been the fundamental premise for a strong unitary state which in turn has been the historical foundation for dynamic development in the US, Germany and Japan in the 19th century and China in the 20th century.
The fundamental basis of international integration has been political compatibility, economic complementarity and mutual benefits. It is impossible for neo-liberal, nationalist or socialist regimes to “integrate” their economies as their trade, investment and income policies are diametrically opposed. This is the case today in Latin America, where extra-regional trade and investment policies supersede “regional agreements.”
What can take place is greater integration between Cuba and Venezuela on the basis of political compatibility between nationalism and socialism, complementary economies (energy for social services) and reciprocal benefits.
International integration is more a goal for the future which can, perhaps, be approached via piecemeal changes: an association and interchange between public enterprises, commodity producer agreements, a debtors union, the development of a common anti-imperialist or non-intervention front based on a rejection of US military bases and doctrines. International integration as a goal and as the basis for creating international popular solidarity and anti-imperialist consciousness is much more feasible and important in the present conjuncture than attempting to spend large amount of financial resources in “buying” (temporary) friendships with alien neo-liberal regimes.
The New Economic Order
Nationalist, collectivist and neo-liberal regimes have in greater or less extent been guilty of pillaging the economy in the name of rapid growth of the GDP. Fortunately in recent years a powerful new ecological consciousness has emerged which impacts on everyday existence. Contaminated air, water and food reduce standards of living. Ecological deterioration converts natural disasters in human catastrophes. Quantitative indicators of economic growth are being rejected in favor of qualitative indicators of the quality of life. Ecologically progressive policies cannot be simply deduced from socially or economically equitable policies. As we have seen from past experiences, regimes which provide universal free health care can also produce high pollutant economic policies which increase respiratory diseases — as in the former USSR.
Progressive ecological programs need to focus on three interrelated levels of policies: state, enterprise and individual practices.
State policy proposals focused on sustainable development have several dimensions:
a) Long-term strategies of conservation of natural resources over and above maximizing current returns.
b) Developing current or short-term policies compatible with strategic goals. This means that reduction of contamination begins now.
c) Making environmental evaluation an integral part of any proposal for new investment especially in extractive industries (petroleum, gas, bauxite and so on)
d) Developing large-scale, long-term policies designed to provide clean air, clean water, adequate sewage treatment and garbage disposal projects both in neighborhoods and workplaces.
e) Including ecological experts and commissions in all major decision making bodies affecting the environment.
f) Expanding public transport based on low use or alternatives to fossil fuels instead of private transport based on fossil fuels.
g) Enacting legislation and regulating agencies to enforce environmental standards in factories and developing alternative technologies.
h) Providing state subsidies for conversion to ecologically sound technologies
i) Re-orient financial resources form environmentally damaging oil and gas pipelines in the Amazon toward expanding maritime transport and conservation.
j) Tighten state regulation over the timber industry, contraband, drug procession and other predatory practices which destroy natural resources.
k) Expanding urban green areas, constructing parks, zoos, aquariums through strict land use legislation.
l) Lower the level of public litter through obligatory national recycling campaigns, public education and severe penalties for illegal dumping.
m) Obligatory education on ecological issues in public and private education beginning in primary schools and continuing throughout the educational process.
n) Nationalize all ocean front property to make it accessible to public with adequate garbage disposal containers and sewage treatment facilities.
Local Ecological Proposals
1. Introduce voluntary weekly neighborhood clean-up campaigns
2. Impose tougher regulation on street vendors, market stall owners on disposal of their trash
3. Regularize garbage collection.
4. Relocate highly polluting incinerators away from population centers
5. Organize public demands for state action on ecologically damaging public or private enterprise polluters.
1. Organize neighborhood environment committees to educate households on sound environment practices (no dumping of garbage out the window).
2. Combine health with ecological education at the level of primary medical clinics.
3. Establish voluntary neighborhood patrols to protect the environment.
4. Outlaw high pollutant workshops in neighborhoods.
5. Encourage the use of low polluting natural gas burners for cooking.
6. Combine ecological materials to literacy campaigns.
7. Introduce legal penalties for repeated offenders who prejudice neighbors.
8. Promote local radio programming, public forums and publicity against littering and for recycling.
Conclusion: Making the New Order Irreversible
A revolutionary process is as solid and sustainable as the active mass base which supports it. This requires expanding the avenues for popular participation and closing the channels for imperialist financed agents of subversion.
Several proposals can strengthen the relative irreversibility of the revolution:
The Politics of Irreversibility
1. Multiply the sites for popular assemblies — neighborhoods, workplace, cultural activities and so on.
2. Multiply the powers accruing to popular assemblies to resolve substantive problems and propose positive legislation. Attendance and popular participation will decline to the degree that people lack the power to deal with important problems.
3. Multiply elections and debates of public policies in workplaces and neighborhoods.
4. Prosecute agents and collaborators, posing as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who are financed by imperial governments; outlaw foreign financing of political activity. Speed up judicial inquiries and prosecution of those involved in coup activities, economic sabotage and espionage as well as political assassinations.
5. Increase obligatory anti-imperialist education via all levels of public and private education, through the mass media, cultural activities and in the workplace and neighborhoods.
6. Sponsor and promote documentaries on the everyday experiences of people victimized imperialist wars, interventions and transitions to capitalism.
7. Equalize income and social services and increase the material stakes which the people have in defending the revolutionary process.
8. Reduce salaries and privileges of Congress people and functionaries to discourage opportunists, capitalist roaders and opponents from taking control of the political parties and state. Election in assemblies — popular democracy can neutralize the rise of a new “revolutionary” oligarchy of the “new” rich attempting to corrupt the revolution from within.
9. Expand and massify the popular militias, to counter any internal coup or external military intervention.
10. Expropriate all mass media associated in any way with inciting a military coup or foreign invasion.
There are many negative and positive lessons to be learned from previous revolutionary processes, where revolutions were reversed and in cases where revolutions were consolidated. We can cite as examples of revolutionary reversals, the USSR, Nicaragua and Chile.
In the case of Chile, the principal reason for the reversal was the government’s total neglect of security, namely the failure to move from regime change toward a transformation of the state to make it compatible with the socio-economic transformation. The failure to appreciate the level of penetration of the CIA and Pentagon of civil society was fatal. The lesson is clear: The need to close all channels for imperialist penetration of civil society; the need to co-coordinate socio-economic changes with transformations of the security apparatus.
The Sandinistas’ strategic mistake was allowing an internal counter-revolution to function in close coordination with imperialist backed and armed contra-paramilitary forces. The lesson is clear: Elections cannot take place in the midst of a war, which destroys the economy and impoverishes the country. Domestic collaborators with imperialist armed aggression should be subject to preventative detention till the war is finished, as was the case with the allies during the Second World War.
State property and central planning are not sufficient conditions for sustaining a revolution if a bureaucratic elite seizes the state and marginalizes mass popular participation. The dangers to a revolution are as much internal as external: namely the rise to power of a new educated class with dollar signs in their eyes and privileged backgrounds and ambitions. The important lesson is that democratizing the social relations of production, direct participation in policy and the subordination of leaders to popular assemblies reduces inequalities and activates the masses to defend the revolution against the “new class.”
Cuba: The Positive Lesson
Cuba’s revolution which has so far been irreversible provides several positive lessons for sustaining a revolution. No single feature of the Cuban revolution is sufficient to explain its sustainability. Rather a series of inter-related factors are essential. Public ownership eliminated potential counter-revolutionary financing, economic sabotage and imperialist collaboration. An efficient military and security system backed by a one-million person militia and neighborhood watch committees has eliminated imperial-backed terrorists, assassins and saboteurs. A highly professional, disciplined, battle-hardened veteran army serves as an important deterrent to an armed US invasion. Equally important, a vast socio-economic reform program especially in health, education and employment has created a popular stake in the revolution. Popular assemblies in the workplace and communities provide some channels for legislative debates, proposals, criticism and _expression of voter preferences. Mass popular mobilization, extensive cultural and educational programs have created a powerful anti-imperialist consciousness.
Emerging contradictions nevertheless have appeared and deepened in Cuba during in the past two decades. Inequalities, tourism, family remittances, the formerly dollarized economy, theft of public property has created a new rich class which threatens the revolution from within. Recognizing the danger, Fidel Castro and Felipe Perez Roque have called for a “revolution within the revolution.” Culture Minister Abel Prieto has encouraged the ‘battle of ideas’ to counter the objective and subjective basis of the counter-revolution. From above and below, combining important large-scale investments in social reforms and comprehensive cultural and educational programs the revolution continues despite the emerging contradictions. The process continues to be irreversible under the current correlation of forces. The adaptation of the lessons of Cuba to the conditions of Venezuela points to the transformation of the state, economic diversification, deepening and extending class/national consciousness and, above all, the organization of a revolutionary party. These measures would make the revolutionary process in Venezuela irreversible.