Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was the result of a political and economic crisis of capitalism, driven by opportunists and embezzlers. His first speech about 21 st Century Socialism sustained by a model of economic development beyond oil, in a participative and progressive democracy with production through self-management and cooperatives, was very encouraging for Venezuelans and for the people of the region.
However, during Hugo Chavez’s government, these project cores were abandoned, intensifying the actions of the paternalistic state, the growth of the bureaucracy, movements, leftist institutions and mobilizations, cronyism and corruption, along with medical and education missions, organized by Cuban professionals in order to finance, with the Venezuelan oil received in exchange, the obsolete monopolistic capitalism of the Cuban state, in crisis since the fall of the USSR and the “socialist camp.”
With the oil boom, the ability to purchase from abroad all kinds of food and supplies to counter private national capitalism and to use these riches to promote regional solidarity with the political processes of Venezuela and Cuba, “under siege from imperialism,” was concentrated in the actions of Chavez and his government.
The abundant money coming from Venezuela’s oil and the tightening of ties with Havana led the Chavista leadership to believe it could forget the economic and social foundations of the 21 st Century Socialism it was promulgating. Chavez kept talking about 21 st Century Socialism, but assumed the bureaucratic and interventionist practices of Fidelismo.
The ability to expand the “new socialist model” with the support of the then powerful Venezuelan economy, based on rising oil prices, was designed by the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) founded in response to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the United States based alliance to create a free trade area in the Americas that would support the economic development and integration of the continent.
The fear of imperialism from the powerful north, fomented especially since the Triumph of the Revolution in Cuba in 1959, the traditional influence of Western Europe in the Caribbean and in much of South America, and a regional lack of self-esteem prevented the idea of a continental trade integration taking shape. And ALBA, initiated by Fidel Castro and Chavez, was the catalyst for the rejection.
The Bolivarian Alliance could have been a project of revolutionary integration if it had considered involvement from below, from the social and economic bases of the countries involved, unification of the currency, free movement of people and capital, and the expansion of ideas to finance the development of a solidarity economy led by equal exchanges, on the basis of cooperatives and self-management. The issue, with all its implications, was addressed in February 2007 in “Some Tactical and Strategic Issues of the Bolivarian Integration” (Kaosenlared.net).
That opportunity was lost, as the original Chavista project was lost, because state development and relations between states prevailed, and “socialism from above” prevailed over real socialism from below.
Heinz Dieterich, the leading international promoter of the ideas of 21 st Century Socialism who initially advised Chavez, on January 4 told the newspaper El Nacional:
“I was disappointed when my friend Hugo Chavez did not impose, for many reasons, this combination of possible Latin American developmentalism and the scientific-political paradigm of 21 st Century Socialism, which would have put Venezuela in the vanguard of the global society. However, he only used the term 21 st Century Socialism, not the respective institutions. Therefore, no sane person can say that there is 21 st Century Socialism in the country. What failed in Venezuela was a poorly executed Latin American developmentalism. My disappointment, however, was continental. I spoke to almost all the progressive presidents of Latin America and the Caribbean and none of them had a serious intention to transcend the capitalist system with a new civilization.”
The death of Chavez left Chavismo without its leader’s charisma and without having developed the original program. Chavismo fell into irreversible crisis and the pro-Cuban policies of President Nicolas Maduro ended up sinking it. The situation created in Venezuela with the triumphant arrival of the opposition in the National Assembly can be considered the failure of Chavismo influenced by Fidelismo; but not the failure of 21 st Century Socialism, which never managed to develop, not even during the life of Chavez himself.
With the failure of Chavismo-Fidelismo in Venezuela, ALBA, which never developed the 21 st Century Socialism alternative, could also quickly succumb as a political alliance. The states that benefited from this project will soon begin to suffer its effects because of their own inability to develop an integration from below, which would have meant the consistent application of 21 st Century Socialism, ideas abandoned by Chavez and rejected by Fidel Castro.
The governments of Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia took part in some of the original ideas of 21 st Century Socialism and were careful not to embark on the previous statism of Chavismo, essentially maintaining their traditional capitalist development projects, with a State deliverer in the social-democrat style. So they would be less affected by this situation.
What happened in Venezuela was not the failure of 21 st Century Socialism, but rather of a development model of state monopoly capitalism, inspired by the obsolete neo-Stalinist Cuban experience, which also failed. It was Chavismo-Fidelismo that failed there.