Michael Lebowitz: The spectre of socialism for the 21st century

The following is the keynote address to the annual meeting of the Society for Socialist Studies, Vancouver, June 5, 2008. It was originally titled ``Building socialism for the 21st century''. To hear an audio recording of the speech, click HERE.

By Michael A. Lebowitz

A spectre is haunting capitalism. It is the spectre of socialism for the 21st century. Increasingly, the characteristics of this spectre are becoming clear, and we are able to see enough to understand what it is not. The only thing that is not clear at this point is whether the spectre is real – i.e., whether it is actually an earthly presence.

Consider what this spectre is not. It is not the belief that by struggling within capitalism for reforms that it is possible to change the nature of capitalism -- i.e., that a better capitalism, a third way, can suspend the logic of capital (except momentarily). Nor is it a focus upon electing friendly governments to preside over exploitation, oppression and exclusion -- i.e., to support barbarism with a human face. Indeed, this spectre does not accept the premise that you can challenge the logic of capital without understanding it. Very simply, the spectre of socialism for the 21st century is not yesterday’s liberal package -- social democracy. Further, this spectre is not a focus upon the industrial working class as the revolutionary subjects of socialism, a privileging whereby all other workers (including those in the growing informal sector) are seen as lesser workers, unproductive workers, indeed lumpenproletariat. Nor does it suggest that those industrial workers by virtue of the difference between their productivity with advanced means of production and their incomes (i.e., the extent of their exploitation) have a greater entitlement to the wealth of society than the poor and excluded.

In the conception of socialism for the 21st century, socialism is not confused with the ownership of the means of production by the state such that (a) it is thought that all that is necessary for socialism is to nationalise and (b) that everything not nationalised is an affront. Indeed, this spectre does not emphasise the development of productive forces without regard for the nature of productive relations (such that gulags, dictatorship and indeed capitalism can all be justified because they develop the productive forces and thereby move you closer to socialism and communism).

Nor, for that matter, does it think of two post-capitalist states, socialism and communism, separated by a Chinese wall; in the concept of socialism for the 21st century, there is no separate socialist principle of ``to each according to his contribution’’ which must be honoured. Rather, there is simply the recognition that the development of the new society is a process and that this process necessarily begins on a defective basis -- in other words, with defects such as self orientation. Precisely for this reason, this recognition of existing defects, the battle of ideas -- an ideological battle against the old world -- is central to the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Finally, socialism for the 21st century is not based upon democracy in the classic sense. By that, I mean that it is not based upon the concept of representative democracy -- that institutional form in which rule by the people is transformed into voting periodically for those who will misrule them. All these fall into what I call yesterday's socialist package.

Marx and the centrality of human development

So, if the spectre of socialism for the 21st century differs from yesterday's liberal and socialist packages, what is it?

First of all, it is a stress upon the centrality of human development. In this respect, it is a restoration of the focus of 19th century socialists. It is the vision of a society with the goal (according to Saint-Simon) of providing to its members ``the greatest possible opportunity for the development of their faculties’’, a goal to which Louis Blanc referred as ensuring that everyone has ``the power to develop and exercise his faculties in order to really be free’’ and of a society in which, according to Friedrich Engels, ``every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society’’. This vision of human development which is central to socialism for the 21st century was unquestionably Marx’s vision (Lebowitz, 2006: 53-60)

The Young Marx envisioned a ``rich human being’’ -- one who has developed their capacities and capabilities to the point where they are able ``to take gratification in a many-sided way’’ -- ``the rich man profoundly endowed with all the senses’’ (Marx, 1844: 302). ``In place of the wealth and poverty of political economy’’, he proposed, ``come the rich human being and rich human need’’ (Marx, 1844: 304). But, it was not only a young, romantic, so-called pre-Marxist Marx who spoke so eloquently about rich human beings. In the Grundrisse, Marx returned explicitly to this conception of human wealth -- to a rich human being -- ``as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations’’; real wealth, he understood, is the development of human capacity -- the ``development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption’’ (Marx, 1973: 325).

Could anything be clearer? This is what Marx’s conception of socialism was all about -- the creation of a society which removes all obstacles to the full development of human beings. He looked ahead to that society of associated producers, where each individual is able to develop her full potential -- i.e., the ``absolute working-out of his creative potentialities’’, the ``complete working out of the human content’’, the ``development of all human powers as such the end in itself’’ (Marx, 1973: 488, 541, 708). In contrast to capitalist society in which we are the means to expand the wealth of capital, Marx in his book Capital pointed to that alternative society, ``the inverse situation in which objective wealth is there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development’’ (Marx, 1977: 772).

The workers’ own need for development -- there is the spectre, there is the impulse for a new society. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx projected that in the cooperative society based upon the common ownership of the means of production, the productive forces would have ``increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly’’ (Marx, 1875: 24). As he described it in the Communist Manifesto, our goal is ``an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’’ (Lebowitz, 2003: 202-5). Our goal, in short, cannot be a society in which some people are able to develop their capabilities and others are not; we are interdependent, we are all members of a human family. Thus our goal must be the full development of all human potential.

`These ideas live today’

There’s more here than a 19th century view. That these ideas live today can be seen very clearly in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela. In its explicit recognition (in Article 299) that the goal of a human society must be that of ``ensuring overall human development’’, in the declaration of Article 20 that ``everyone has the right to the free development of his or her own personality’’ and the focus of Article 102 upon ``developing the creative potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her personality in a democratic society’’ -- this theme of human development pervades the Bolivarian Constitution.

Further, there is something there that you don’t find in the liberal conceptions of human development underlying the UN Human Development Index. This constitution also focuses upon the question of how people develop their capacities and capabilities -- i.e., how overall human development occurs. Article 62 of the Bolivarian Constitution declares that participation by people in ``forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective’’. The necessary way. And, the same emphasis upon a democratic, participatory and protagonistic society is present in the economic sphere, which is why Article 70 stresses ``self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms’’ and why Article 102’s goal of ``developing the creative potential of every human being’’ emphasises ``active, conscious and joint participation’’.

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This focus upon practice as essential for human development was, of course, Marx's central insight into how people change. It’s not a matter simply of spending more on education, health and social services. Remember Marx's early comment on Robert Owen’s conception that what was needed to change people was to change the circumstances in which they exist. Marx (1845) emphatically rejected the idea that we can give people a gift, that if we just change the circumstances in which they exist they will be themselves different people. You are forgetting, he pointed out, that it is human beings who change circumstances. The idea that we can create new circumstances for people and thereby change them, he insisted, in fact divides society into two parts -- one part of which is deemed superior to society. It is the same perspective that Paulo Freire (2006: 72) subsequently rejected in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed -- the concept that ``knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing’’.

In contrast, Marx introduced the concept of revolutionary practice -- ``the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change’’ -- the red thread that runs throughout his work. He talked, for example, of how people develop through their own struggles -- how this is the only way the working class can ``succeed in ridding itself of the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew’’. And he told workers that they would have to go through as much as 50 years of struggles ``not only to bring about a change in society but also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise of political power’’. And, again, after the Paris Commune in 1871, over a quarter of a century after he first began to explore this theme, he commented that workers know ``they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historical processes, transforming circumstances and men’’ (Lebowitz, 2003: 179-84).

Always the same point -- we change ourselves through our activity. This idea of the simultaneous change in circumstances and self-change, however, is not limited to class struggle itself. It is present in all activities of people -- i.e., every process of activity has two products -- i.e., joint products -- the change in circumstances and the change in the actor. This obviously applies in the sphere of production as well. As Marx commented in the Grundrisse, in production ``the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, …new needs and new language’’. Here, indeed, is the essence of the cooperative society based upon common ownership of the means of production -- ``when the worker cooperates in a planned way with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species’’.

How far, of course, this is from the idea that what you have to do is build up the productive forces and thereby transform the conditions in which people exist, transforming their being and their consciousness! But what other inferences flow from these principles -- the focus upon human development and upon revolutionary practice, that simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change? Let me suggest that these two principles constitute the ``key link’’, the key link we need to grasp (in Lenin’s words) if we are to understand the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Consider, for example, what this means for the process of production. If people are prevented from using their minds within the workplace but instead follow directions from above, you have what Marx described as the crippling of body and mind, producers who are fragmented, degraded, alienated from ``the intellectual potentialities of the labour process’’. There’s no surprise that Marx looked forward to the re-combining of head and hand, the uniting of mental and physical labour -- i.e., to a time when the individual worker can call ``his own muscles into play under the control of his own brain’’. But, more than a simple combination of mental and manual labour within the sphere of production is needed. Without ``intelligent direction of production’’ by workers, without production ``under their conscious and planned control’’, workers cannot develop their potential as human beings because their own power becomes a power over them (Marx, 1977: 450, 173).

`Protagonistic’ democracy

What kind of productive relations, then, can provide the conditions for the full development of human capacities? Only those in which there is conscious cooperation among associated producers; only those in which the goal of production is that of the workers themselves. Clearly, though, this requires more than worker-management in individual workplaces. They must be the goals of workers in society, too -- workers in their communities.

After all, what is production? It’s not something that occurs only in a factory or in what we traditionally identify as a workplace. When we understand the goal as that of human development, we recognise that production should not be confused with production of specific use-values; rather, as Marx noted, all specific products and activities are mere moments in a process of producing human beings, who are the real result of social production. And, that points to the importance of making each moment a site for the collective decision making and variety of activity that develops human capacities.

Implicit in the emphasis of the concept of socialism for the 21st century upon human development and how that development can occur only through practice is our need to be able to develop through democratic, participatory and protagonistic activity in every aspect of our lives. Through revolutionary practice in our communities, our workplaces and in all our social institutions, we produce ourselves as ‘rich human beings’ -- rich in capacities and needs -- in contrast to the impoverished and crippled human beings that capitalism produces.

In contrast to the hierarchical capitalist state (which Marx understood as an ``engine of class despotism’’) and to the despotism of the capitalist workplace, only a revolutionary democracy can create the conditions in which we can invent ourselves daily as rich human beings. This concept is one of democracy in practice, democracy as practice, democracy as protagonism. Democracy in this sense -- protagonistic democracy in the workplace, protagonistic democracy in neighbourhoods, communities, communes -- is the democracy of people who are transforming themselves into revolutionary subjects.

How else but through protagonistic democracy in production can we ensure that the process of producing is one which enriches people and expands their capacities rather than crippling and impoverishing them? How else but through protagonistic democracy in society can we ensure that what is produced is what is needed to foster the realisation of our potential?

If there is to be democratic production for the needs of society, however, there is an essential precondition: there cannot be a monopolisation of the products of human labour by individuals, groups or the state. In other words, the precondition is social ownership of the means of production: this is the first side of what President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has called the ``elementary triangle’’ of socialism: (a) social ownership of the means of production, which is a basis for (b) social production organised by workers in order to (c) satisfy communal needs and communal purposes.

Let us consider each element in this particular combination of distribution-production-consumption.

A. Social ownership of the means of production

Social ownership of the means of production is critical because it is the only way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the private goals of capitalists, groups of individuals or state bureaucrats. Social ownership is not, however, the same as state ownership. Social ownership implies a profound democracy -- one in which people function as subjects, both as producers and as members of society, in determining the use of the results of our social labour.

B. Production organised by workers

Production organised by workers builds new relations among producers -- relations of cooperation and solidarity. As long as workers are prevented from developing their capacities by combining thinking and doing in the workplace, they remain alienated and fragmented human beings whose enjoyment consists in possessing and consuming things. And, if workers don’t make decisions in the workplace and develop their capacities, we can be certain that someone else will. Protagonistic democracy in the workplace is an essential condition for the full development of the producers.

C. Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes

Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes focuses upon the importance of basing our productive activity upon the recognition of our common humanity and our needs as members of the human family. Thus, it stresses the importance of going beyond self-interest to think of our community and society. As long we produce only for our private gain, how do we look at other people? As competitors or as customers -- i.e., as enemies or as means to our own ends; thus, we remain alienated, fragmented and crippled. Rather than relating to others through an exchange relation (and, thus, trying to get the best deal possible for ourselves), this third element of the elementary triangle of socialism has as its goal building a relation to others characterised by our unity based upon recognition of difference; through our activity, then, we both build solidarity among people and at the same time produce ourselves differently.

And, this concept of solidarity is central because it is saying that all human beings, all parts of the collective worker, are entitled to draw upon our ``communal, social productivity’’. The premise is not at all that we have the individual right to consume things without limit but, rather, that we recognise the centrality of ``the worker's own need for development’’. Further, our claim upon the accumulated fruits of social brain and hand is not based upon exploitation. It is not because you have been exploited that you are entitled to share in the fruits of social labour. Rather, it is because you are a human being in a human society – and because, like all of us, you have the right to the opportunity to develop all your potential.

At the same time as a human being in a human society you also have the obligation to other members of this human family -- to make certain that they also have this opportunity, that they too can develop their potential. As a member of this family you are called upon to do your share -- a concept also present in the Bolivarian Constitution: Article 135 notes ``the obligations which by virtue of solidarity, social responsibility and humanitarian assistance, are incumbent upon individuals according to their abilities’’.

Look at the direction that this key link -- human development and the simultaneous changing of circumstance and self-change takes us:

- to democratic decision making in the workplace and the community

- to a focus upon building solidarity and new socialist human beings rather than relying upon exchange relations and material self-interest (which Che Guevara — whose 80th birthday would have been today -- warned us leads to a blind alley)

- to a new conception of the state as one which is not over and above civil society (i.e., a state of the Paris Commune-type) -- i.e., a state which Marx wrote is our own ``living force’’, our own power, rather than a power used against us

- and, for that matter, this key link of human development and revolutionary practice leads us to recognise the need for a political instrument which respects the creative energy and revolutionary practice of masses rather than substitutes its own wisdom. In short, a political instrument which embraces the revolutionary pedagogy of Rosa Luxemburg when she argued: ``The working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn in the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.’’

Is the spectre real? Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

The outlines of the spectre, socialism for the 21st century, become increasingly clear. The question remains, however, is the spectre real? Does it have an earthly presence? Especially, since this vision of the spectre draws so much upon the discourse of the BolivarianRepublic of Venezuela, it is important to ask what the reality is there.

Certainly, socialism for the 21st century has been explicitly on the agenda in Venezuela since Chavez’s closing speech at the January 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when he surprised many people by saying, ``We have to re-invent socialism.’’ At that time, Chavez emphasised that ``It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.’’ Capitalism has to be transcended, he argued, if we are ever going to end the poverty of the majority of the world. ``But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything.’’

Without question, there has been progress in this direction. Starting in 2004, oil revenues from the newly recaptured state oil company were directed to new missions which have been providing people with basic prerequisites for human development -- education, health care, adequate and affordable food. Important steps, too, have been taken to develop each side of the elementary socialist triangle:

  1. Social property: There has been an expansion of state property, which can be a threshold to socialist property (because it is possible to direct state property to satisfy social needs). In addition to the expansion of state sectors in oil and basic industry, to last year’s acquisition of strategic sectors such as communications, electric power and the recovery of the dominant position for the state in the heavy oil fields has been added this year so far a major dairy company and most recently the steel company (SIDOR) that had been privatised by a previous government. Further, the offensive against the latifundia has resumed with several land seizures (or ``recoveries’’), and new state companies (including joint ventures with state firms from countries such as Iran) have been created to produce means of production like tractors.

  2. Social production: While the government has continued to seek ways to encourage worker-management, in particular by supporting cooperatives and recovered factories, this side of the triangle is the least developed so far. In part, this is because of opposition within the state to worker-management in strategic sectors such as oil and energy, and in part because of opposition from traditional trade unions to co-management structures and workers’ councils. What has been happening is a continued search for forms, and the government has moved from exploring cooperatives as the desired form, to EPS, companies of social production (which made commitments to workers and communities), and now to the exploration of the concept of socialist companies. Everyday, I hear of new ideas in this direction. At this point, this aspect is a work in process. However, it does appear that a previous model of 51% state ownership and 49% ownership by a workers’ cooperative is being replaced by focus upon 100% state ownership with workers’ control. Progress in this area, unfortunately, has been held up by the chaos and intense battles between Chavist trade union currents, and that has been a source of incredible frustration for many -- including Chavez. In this process, Chavez continues to exhort the working class to play a leadership role. After this year’s takeover of the dairy producer Los Andes, he argued that ``workers' committees must be created, socialist committees, in order to transform the factory from inside. The workers must know what is happening in the company, participate in decision-making in the firm.’’ And, after the decision to nationalise SIDOR, he announced that the government was a government of the working class. At this very point, the nationalisation of SIDOR after major struggles by the steel workers has re-animated the organised working class; and our institute (Centro Internacional Miranda) has organised roundtables between tendencies and currents that would not have been possible several months ago.

  3. Production for social needs: Throughout the country, there are many experiments attempting to link producers and consumers directly -- especially in the sphere of agricultural products and in local trading with local currencies. To be able to identify social needs, though, continuing social institutions are required; and the most significant advance that has occurred is the development in 2006 of the new communal councils which are able to identify the needs of their communities. These councils are an extraordinary experiment in bringing power to people in their neighbourhoods -- creating an institutional form in which they can diagnose their needs collectively and determine the priorities for their communities. Of course, the idea of participatory diagnosis and budgeting is not unique to Venezuela; that is occurring in a number of communities elsewhere (and the most famous example is Porto Alegre in Brazil). But what is unique in Venezuela is the size of the units in question. Communal councils are formed to represent in urban areas 200-400 families (which can be 1000 people) and in rural areas as few as 20 families. It means that the councils are choosing not distant representatives but, rather, their neighbours, people they know well -- and not as representatives but as voceros, spokespersons for the ultimate decision-making body, the general assembly (which, of course, meets in the neighbourhood, thus allowing everyone to participate). In the communal councils you have the embryo for a new state from below. And that was recognised explicitly by Chavez last year when he proclaimed ``All Power to the Communal Councils’’. Now, of course, the communal councils are small, and the problems of society go well beyond those that can be resolved at the neighbourhood level. That is understood, and Chavez has called the councils themselves the cell of a new socialist state. They are seen as the building blocks -- essential because they are allowing people to develop confidence and capacities in dealing with problems they understand. (Observing the sense of pride in these communities is very moving.) However, it is obviously necessary to begin to combine the communal councils into larger associations in order to deal with larger problems. And that is precisely what is happening now with the creation of pilot projects to combine some of the more advanced groups of councils into socialist communes. The process envisioned is very clearly one of trying to build a new state from below.

So, is this spectre of socialism for the 21st century, with its focus upon human development and practice, real? Clearly, it is not just words. There is truly an attempt to make socialism for the 21st century real. But, can it succeed?

Can socialism for the 21st century succeed?

You might wonder, why am I even posing this question -- given evidence that the desire is there and knowledge that the great oil revenues available provide the means!

Three years ago, I gave a talk in Venezuela called ``Socialism doesn’t drop from the sky’’, which has been very widely circulated in Venezuela (largely because Chavez has talked about it a number of times on television); it is also a chapter in my book, Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century. One aspect of the title of that essay refers to the obvious point that socialism obviously is necessarily rooted in particular societies -- which is to say that it must be developed in societies with particular histories. To understand the possibilities for success in Venezuela, you have to know something about the nature of that society.

Now, I can’t give you a complete, balanced account of Venezuela in the time left. So, I’ll just stress just some of the characteristics which suggest significant obstacles to building socialism for the 21st century in Venezuela.

When you talk about Venezuela, you have to begin with oil. Not only the effect of oil exports upon the hollowing-out of the economy such that local manufacturing and agriculture effectively disappeared as the result of an exchange rate which made it much cheaper to import everything rather than to produce it domestically. It’s an extreme example of what is called the ``Dutch disease’’: despite rich agricultural land, Venezuela was importing 70% of its food. So, massive migration from the countryside to live in the cities, e.g., in the hills surrounding Caracas -- 80% of the population is urban, maybe 10% engaged in agriculture. And as for industry, it was largely import processing -- processing food, assembling cars and assorted other import-related sectors. Oil production itself doesn’t generate many jobs, so we have to think about unemployment, an informal sector (about 50% of the working class) and poverty -- extreme social debt and inequality.

Add to that economic effect, the effect upon state and society. Unlike the classic picture of a state resting upon civil society, upon the social classes, in Venezuela, civil society rests upon the state. Contrary to Engels’ sneers at Tkachev, in Venezuela the state indeed has been suspended in mid-air -- or, more precisely, suspended upon an oil geyser. Thus, the state has been the supreme object of desire -- or, more precisely, access to the state for the purpose of gaining access to oil rents has been a national preoccupation. And, in this orgy of rent seeking within a poverty-stricken society -- a culture of corruption and clientalism, parasitic capitalists who don’t invest, a labour aristocracy with trade union leaders who sell jobs, a party system which functions as an alternating transmission belt for elections and access to state jobs, a state which mostly does not work because it is filled with incompetent sinecurists but, when it does, is completely top-down. These are just a few characteristics worth mentioning.

All of this was present in Venezuela when Chavez was elected in 1998. And, you would have to be truly naïve to think that it disappeared when Chávez came to office. On the contrary, it pervades Chavism -- the corruption, the clientalism, the nature of the state, the nature of the party (including the new party – PSUV -- currently being built), the gap between the organised working class and the poor in the informal sector -- it’s all there! And, you will recognise that it is entirely contrary to everything in the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Socialism doesn’t drop from the sky. It is necessarily rooted in particular societies. And, these two souls which currently beat in the breast of Venezuela are clearly at war. Chavez often cites [Italian Marxist Antonio] Gramsci about how the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born (although he leaves out the part about how a great many morbid symptoms appear at that time). Precisely because of these two opposed tendencies, when I write about Venezuela, I always stress the internal struggle within Chavism as the main obstacle to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution. Obviously, it is not the only obstacle -- there is the existing oligarchy, the latifundists (who are the most reactionary and violent part of the opposition), the existing capitalists in their enclaves of import processing, finance and the media (which has been their main weapon) and, of course, US imperialism. Not only was the US complicit in the 2002 coup which briefly removed Chavez and in the oil lockout and sabotage later that year, but it also funds and trains the opposition, orchestrates the international media blitz against Venezuela (currently with the assistance of magical laptop computers produced by its Colombian clients), and it is in the process of bringing the US navy back to patrol the waters off Venezuela.

Imperialism is no paper tiger. And, clearly, solidarity with the Bolivarian process is essential by those outside the country who value the concepts and developments I have described. However, I stress the internal obstacles to socialism within Chavism -- the emerging new capitalists (the ``bolibourgeoisie’’), the high officials (both from military and vanguardist traditions -- it is difficult to see the distinction) who are opposed to power from below in workplaces and communities (and, thus opposed, in this respect, to human development and revolutionary practice), the party functionaries and nomenklatura. Why do I stress this? Because I consider this the ultimate contradiction of the revolution; and, I think the struggle between this ``endogenous right’’ (the right from within) and the masses who have been mobilised is the ultimate conflict which will determine the fate of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Who will win?

Who will win? I have to tell you honestly that I don’t know. My daily mantra in Venezuela is ``pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’’. I can tell you that Venezuela is no place for a revolutionary who suffers from bipolar disorder. There are the days of depression and despair; there are the days of manic exultation. In the end, it will all depend upon struggle, class struggle, and when it comes to class struggle, there are no guarantees.

But let’s assume a worse-case scenario -- that the process in Venezuela degenerates, that it proceeds to demoralise its supporters, is defeated in one way or another by defectors, domestic capitalists, the military or imperialism. Let’s assume, in other words, that this particular earthly manifestation of the spectre of socialism for the 21st century is no more.

What will be left? A spectre -- but one with much more substance than Marx and Engels could write about in the Communist Manifesto in the mid-19th century. A spectre -- but one which is capable of becoming a material force by grasping the minds of masses. A spectre -- but one which is absolutely essential to our survival because of another spectre.

Think about this concept of socialism for the 21st century. About the focus upon human development as the goal, upon a democratic, participatory, protagonistic society as the necessary way for the complete development of people, individually and collectively. Think about the idea of communal councils in which people can collectively decide upon their needs, where they simultaneously change circumstances and themselves. Think about democracy in the workplace, about ending the divide between thinking and doing and being able to draw upon the tacit knowledge of workers to be able to produce better. Think in general about this concept of revolutionary democracy which is central to the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

This is not a concept just for Venezuela or Latin America or for the poor of the South. Why is this not a spectre that can appeal to Canadians in their communities and workplaces? Why is there not the potential for a political instrument here that can focus upon these aspects, that can put forward a vision and that can be a medium for coordinating these struggles from below?

I suggest that this is not just a nice wish -- it is a necessity. Because there is another spectre out there -- a spectre which is haunting humanity, the spectre of barbarism.

Think about capitalism. Its very essence is the drive to expand capital. The picture is one of capital constantly generating more surplus value in the form of commodities which must be sold, constantly trying to create new needs in order to make real that surplus value in the form of money. That constant generation of new needs, Marx noted already in the mid 19th century, is the basis of the contemporary power of capital.

Thus, a growing circle -- a spiral of growing alienated production, growing needs and growing consumption. But how long can that continue? Everyone knows that the high levels of consumption achieved in certain parts of the world cannot be copied in the parts of the world which capital has newly incorporated into the world capitalist economy. Very simply, the Earth cannot sustain this -- as we can already see with the clear evidence of global warming and the growing shortages which reflect rising demands for particular products in the new capitalist centers. Sooner or later, that circle will reach its limits. Its ultimate limit is given by the limits of nature, the limits of the Earth to sustain more and more consumption of commodities, more and more consumption of the Earth's resources.

But well before we reach the ultimate limits of the vicious circle of capitalism, there inevitably will arise the question of who is entitled to command those increasingly limited resources. To whom will go the oil, the metals, the water -- all those requirements of modern life? Will it be the currently rich countries of capitalism, those that have been able to develop because others have not? In other words, will they be able to maintain the vast advantages they have in terms of consumption of things and resources -- and to use their power to grab the resources located in other countries? Will newly emerging capitalist countries (and, indeed, those not emerging at all) be able to capture a ``fair share’’? Will the impoverished producers of the world -- producers well aware of the standards of consumption elsewhere as the result of the mass media -- accept that they are not entitled to the fruits of civilisation? How will this be resolved?

The spectre of barbarism is haunting humanity. And, what is the alternative to it? Yesterday’s liberalism -- social democracy -- has never understood the nature of capital and offers, accordingly, only barbarism with a human face. And, yesterday’s socialist package, with its promise of more rapid development of productive forces, its privileging of industrial workers and, its premise of a stage based upon a principle that we all must get in accordance with our contribution -- this is no alternative to the crisis humanity faces.

Whatever the ultimate fate of the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, its principal contribution has been to restore hope; it has done this by revealing that there is an alternative to neoliberalism and the logic of capital. The alternative offered by socialism for the 21st century points to the need to understand that, regardless of the luck of our birthplaces or our own past contributions, the accumulated fruits of social brain and hand belong to us all. Internationally, its alternative is ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which has created links between Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia based upon solidarity rather than exchange relations. At the core of the alternative offered by socialism for the 21st century is the idea of building a society based upon relations of solidarity -- solidarity between producers, e.g., in formal and informal sectors, solidarity between those of the North and those of the South. At its core is the idea of producing consciously for communal needs and purposes and thereby building a society in which the free development of all is the condition for the free development of each.

So, let me conclude with a point that is completely unoriginal but which, so significantly, is being heard more and more these days: the choice before us is -- socialism or barbarism.

Let me add, though, that socialism doesn’t drop from the sky -- you have to struggle to make it real.

[Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at SimonFraserUniversity in Vancouver, Canada, and a program coordinator with the Centro International Miranda, Caracas, Venezuela.]


Freire, Paulo. 2006. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum).

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003. Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2006. Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (New York: Monthly Review Press).

Marx, Karl. 1844. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in Marx and Engels (1975b), Collected Works, Vol. 3.

Marx, Karl. 1845. ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in Marx and Engels (1976), Collected Works, Vol. 5.

Marx, Karl. 1875. Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx and Engels (1962), Selected Works, Vol. II.

Marx, Karl. 1973. Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Books).

Marx, Karl. 1977. Capital, Vol. I (New York: Vintage Books).


Like most such pieces by Mike Lebowitz, going “beyond Capital” tends to take us back to Capital, and even further, to the Grundrisse and the early Marx. Not to deny the relevance and usefulness of this exercise. Mike has done a great job of exegesis on some of the very essential ideas of Marx and Marxism in his books and his descriptions of 21st socialism as it is being discussed in the Venezuelan context.

But what I find lacking in much of this material, including this article, is strategy -- the topic of much of 20th century socialist debate and conflict. How do we get from here to there? Mike offers some useful leads: “practice as essential for human development”; attention to “all activities of people” and to “the goals of workers... in their communities”, and not just to industrial workers; social ownership (which can include non-state forms of organization of economic activity); “protagonistic democracy in the workplace”, etc.

But when we get down to examining the “earthly presence” of this 21st century spectre, in the Venezuelan experience to date, we find that the Bolivarian revolution is experiencing many of the same difficulties and challenges experienced by revolutionary socialists in the 20th century. The cooperatives and recovered factories, as primarily local and often isolated experiments, are still confronted with the negative effects of the law of value in determining investments and organizing workers self-management (which Lebowitz often confuses with workers control, and vice versa). The communal councils are a promising development, by all accounts, but as he says they need to evolve a larger regional and national presence as well if they are to develop into “socialist communes”. Venezuela is still terribly dependent on food imports; its agrarian reform is very limited and undeveloped; we are still a long way from overcoming the deep-rooted “culture of corruption and clientelism” in the state structures and Chavism itself that Lebowitz correctly underscores. These are the kinds of problems that were encountered by the social revolutions of the 20th century, provoking many debates, proposals, approaches, and producing many examples of both successes and failures.

There are no ideal “models” to follow, but we do have some useful past experiences to examine and learn from. In this regard, the varied experiences of the Cuban revolution, for example -- in the 20th century, no less -- are of great value in assessing the tasks facing the Bolivarian revolution.

The challenges facing the revolution in Venezuela call for strategic responses, that is, not just the kind of democratic, participatory goals now identified with 21st century socialism, but some coherent approaches that can be pursued and implemented with the assistance of a revolutionary cadre that learns how to assimilate lessons of previous experiences, international as well as national, and to think through and tackle the new problems that arise in today’s context. That is why I would question Mike Lebowitz’s claim that “the internal struggle within Chavism [is] the main obstacle to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution.” In my view, that struggle, which is being waged today on all fronts of the revolution (communal councils, factories, farms, universities, etc.) and not just within the PSUV debates and organizational conflicts, is crucial; there must be a “revolution within the revolution” to build a national leadership that can continue leading the process forward.

But perhaps Lebowitz is saying much the same thing. As he puts it at the end of his speech, “the struggle between this ‘endogenous right’... and the masses who have been mobilised is the ultimate conflict which will determine the fate of the Bolivarian Revolution.”

In this context, there is a dimension to that revolution that is extremely important, although it is only alluded to briefly in Mike’s speech. That is, its international dimension. He mentions ALBA, the links with Cuba and Bolivia (Ecuador and Nicaragua could also be cited). As he says, these still-embryonic relations of trade and mutual social development assistance are “based upon solidarity rather than exchange relations”. And that too, must be a key ingredient of 21st century socialism – although it receives no mention in Mike’s book Build It Now.

The internationalism of Chávez’s socialism is a key feature that links the Bolivarian Revolution with Cuba’s and other attempts to build an anti-imperialist, democratic, pluralistic alternative and begin building a socialist society in the Latin American context. And it renews with a key feature of communist strategy in Lenin’s time, the attempt to build meaningful international experiences of solidarity and mutual assistance. Socialism will make little progress in Venezuela, or any other country in Latin America, without a qualitative advance in continental unity and integration. As the Cubans say, it is integration... or annexation to the Empire, North American imperialism. The stakes are nothing less.


Richard Fidler’s comments on Mike Lebowitz’s talk are very to the point, and need to be discussed.

I agree with much of what Richard argues, but would like to stress a prior point to any discussion of obstacles to victory in Venezuela. The main obstacle and enemy of the victory of 21st Century socialism in Venezuela, that is the Bolivarian revolution broadly conceived, is not internal. It is imperialism, centered both in the USNA and in Europe. The strategists of imperial power are highly skilled and experienced in taking advantage of internal weaknesses and mistakes, but they have additional assets - raw power and control over ideological production on a world scale.

It is this reality that leads the Bolivarians to stress the strategic importance of Indo-Latin American unity, of common economic strategies on the part of South and Mesoamerican countries. We could refer to this as the “specter of internationalism.”

Not even the stupendous dollar resources of Venezuela’s oil exports can save the revolution short of a broader anti-imperialist response on a continental scale. We can already see the contours of the imperialist counteroffensive in Bolivia, in Colombia, in Peru, and here in Nicaragua.

These are additional reasons to support Richard’s appeal for strategic responses, and not just the broad generalizations that Mike portrays. I do not want to diminish the vital contribution that Mike is making to our understanding of the challenges faced by the Bolivarians. They are almost beyond description in a short talk or essay. But, in the last analysis, or perhaps now the next stage of the analysis, the question of class power and anti-imperialist alliances becomes more and more central and decisive to the outcome of the developing showdown in Venezuela.

Fortunately, I would argue, we find a very sophisticated and open leadership in Venezuela, a team that is looking for input to help them cross hurdles and even more hurdles after that. The outcome of the showdown will be a function not just of a relationship of class forces, measured internationally, but also the calibre and will of the leadership. I am too far from the theater of the conflict the express a solid opinion on that issue. But not so far that I can't say that so far the leadership has made all the difference. Let's hope that this qualitative factor persists over the next phases and beyond.

Felipe Stuart



Understanding socialsm as an ongoing and enriching educational development is a mutual & reciprocal manner of improving my/your life. Now, doing the work to make it a reality is our next step.

see, I know what you mean, and I talk some of that way when I'm trying to let people with whom I'm talking see that it's pleasant to work to build socialist struggle. But in order to fund it we need to own our work. In order to have hope that we might survive the onslaughts, we need to know that the object is for us to take Earth for us all, to use gently.
The phrasing you've used is too utilitarian. Again, I know what you mean. But it's really about us just being able to relax and enjoy life, enjoy the fruits of our labors, pursue our pleasures, get the maintenance done brilliantly - using relevant innovations, but not ones that destroy the land and the life on it, including us workers.
Away all 'excellence' and 'striving', the roots of our self oppression, often of our ruin of our bodies and-or minds.
We just want to do what we do well - well enough, easily, where our neighbors clap us on the back for doing it, because it needs to be done, and because it's nice.


There is a curious phenomenon among some putative revolutionaries -- they reason that distance from a revolutionary process is an advantage because it gives one a perspective that is not available to those too close to the ground. To fill in the inevitable knowledge gaps, the formulae of old texts, the scripts of old movies and the score-sheets of revolutions past are always available.

Happily, Richard Fidler in his recent comment in Links ("internationalism, strategy and 21st century socialism") avoids most of this theoretical substitutionism; however, he is not entirely immune. Note, for example, his references to "the negative effects of the law of value" upon Venezuelan cooperatives and recovered factories "in determining investments and organizing worker self-management" (as if this were the central problem of those workplaces), his plaint about the absence of a "revolutionary cadre" that can assimilate lessons of past experiences (as if Venezuela’s problem was a revolutionary cadre deficit), and his muted reference to the catechism about the impossibility of building socialism in one country (as if anyone these days was arguing otherwise).

I certainly appreciate Richard's favourable comments about my theoretical work, my discussions of socialism for the 21st century, and my descriptions of the situation in Venezuela. However, his caveat with reference to my talk in Canada (published in Links as "the spectre of socialism for the 21st century") that what he finds "lacking in much of this material, including this article, is strategy" puzzles me! What have I been writing about all along (both in general and in relation to Venezuela) if it is not revolutionary strategy?

As my response ("The Politics of Beyond Capital", Historical Materialism, 14:4, 2006) to a symposium on Beyond Capital: Marx's political economy of the working class (Palgrave Macmillan, 1992, 2003) demonstrates, a political strategy was present in that book. Its implications for a political theory for the working class included (1) a focus on human development, (2) the importance of a vision of a socialist alternative, (3) the centrality of revolutionary practice, (4) the necessity of theory, (6) the critique of social democracy (which enforces the logic of capital), (7) the necessity for a worker's state which stresses the centrality of revolutionary practice, (8) the need to go beyond exploitation as the basis for entitlement within the new society, (9) the recognition that the subjects of revolutionary change go well beyond industrial workers, (10) the need for a political instrument to unite the collective worker, (11) the need for an organized effort to communicate theory, and (12) the need for a party of a different type (because "nothing could be more contrary to a theory which stresses the self-development of the working class through revolutionary practice than a party which sees itself as superior to social movements and as the place where the masses of members are meant to learn the merits of discipline in following the decisions made by infallible central committees").

Look back at the talk that provoked Fidler, a talk intended to reach out to despairing, dormant left Canadians with a vision of a socialist alternative based upon the key link of human development and revolutionary practice. The theme of a "democratic, participatory, protagonistic society as the necessary way for the complete development of people, individually and collectively", the ideas of a state based upon communal councils, of democracy in the workplace, of a "political instrument which respects the creative energy and revolutionary practice of masses rather than substitutes its own wisdom" -- it is all there. "Why," I asked, "is this not a spectre that can appeal to Canadians in their communities and workplaces? Why is there not the potential for a political instrument here that can focus on these aspects, that can put forward a vision and that can be a medium for coordinating the struggles from below?"

Obviously, there is a strategy there -- one distinct from social democracy, entrism and the “banked knowledge” of the Leninist party. So, it must be the lack of strategy with respect to Venezuela that is my sin in Fidler's eyes. But, that charge is simply not true. Consider Build it Now’s emphasis upon the importance of democratic decision-making from below in communities and workplaces, its indication of the high-level opposition to worker-management and its stress upon the need for “a political instrument that can bring together those fighting for protagonistic democracy in the workplace and in the community”--- i.e., “a party from below that can continue the process of revolutionary democracy that is needed to build this new type of socialism”. As can be seen easily on-line at Monthly Review, MRZine and Links, I have continued since to stress these points in talks that I have given in Venezuela and have made increasingly explicit the centrality of and necessity for class struggle within the Chavist movement.

Last year, in “Venezuela: a Good Example of the Bad Left of Latin America” (Monthly Review, July-August 2007), I wrote that the dialectic between leadership and the movement of masses, “a dialectic of masses which understand that there is an alternative and a revolutionary leadership prepared to move in rather than give in” had been essential in the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution. But what happens when that dialectic is suspended or reversed?

Given the current dismay (which may be difficult to see from a distance) among many supporters of the process over the increased inflation generated by the removal of price controls on food and by Chavez’s June 11th “productive re-impulse” speech proposing an alliance with national capitalists, it is useful to look back at what I also wrote in “the Bad Left”. In looking at the obstacles to socialism from within the Bolivarian Revolution, I noted that “there is also a very clear tendency which supports the growth of a domestic capitalist class as one leg upon which the Bolivarian Revolution must walk for the foreseeable future.” Mixed signals, I warned, were being sent out, and “what is being strengthened is the ‘capitalist triangle’: private ownership of the means of production, exploitation of wage laborers, for the purpose of profits.” Indeed, the Bolivarian Revolution was producing “its own potential gravediggers. To the extent that it fosters the infection of the logic of capital, the Bolivarian Revolution does not walk on two legs but, rather, has one leg walking backward.”

Which brings us back to the “claim” I made which Fidler explicitly questions--- that “the internal struggle within Chavism [is] the main obstacle to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution” (although, curiously, he seems to accept my statement that “the struggle between this ‘endogenous right’ [the right from within] and the masses who have been mobilised is the ultimate conflict which will determine the fate of the Bolivarian Revolution”). It’s obvious that it is not the lack of a strategy in my arguments with respect to Venezuela that bothers Fidler. Rather, he just doesn’t seem to agree with the strategy there.

And, why? The answer appears to be signaled in his title--- “Internationalism, strategy and 21st Century Socialism” and in his emphasis upon learning from the experience of the Cuban Revolution (presumably not with respect to communal councils and worker-management) and upon allying with Cuba. The implicit suggestion (which can be read as well into the comments of his old comrade Phil Cournoyer) seems to be that the principal contradiction is with imperialism. Certainly, that calls for a strategy which differs from one which stresses the need to struggle for socialism within the Chavist movement against the ‘bolibourgeoisie’; and, this position has been most explicitly advanced by the PCV (the Venezuelan Communist Party) which has argued for a broad, multi-class alliance against imperialism at this time and, at a later stage, a struggle for socialism led by a Marxist-Leninist Party.

Obviously, imperialism has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate that it is a major threat to the Bolivarian Revolution--- I have made that point repeatedly. And, no one can deny the importance of Cuba’s success to date in the struggle against U.S. imperialism. In “New Wings for Socialism” (Monthly Review, April 2007), I wrote that “I regard Cuba's victory over imperialism in the Special Period not as the last chapter of twentieth-century socialism but as a new beginning -- the first chapter of socialism for the twenty-first century.” The question, though, is whether Cuba could have succeeded with one leg marching backward.


Michael Lebowitz’s clarification is appreciated. In fact, his list of the attributes of 21st century socialism (the 12 points) is a useful summary not just of the topics addressed by 21st century socialism but of many of the topics of debate and struggle that absorbed the attention of socialists in the 20th century.

I still don’t think that Michael’s summary of goals and processes — “democratic, participatory, protagonistic society as the necessary way for the complete development of people, individually and collectively” — adds up to a strategy, which to my way of thinking refers to the coherent responses forged by the masses themselves in a dialectical process of responding to and overcoming the challenges and obstacles that arise in the revolutionary process. That is why I see the internal debate within the Chavista movement not as an obstacle to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution (as Michael put it in his speech) but rather as the means by which the masses themselves are working their way through those problems and developing their alternatives.

As Michael reminds us, he has the benefit of first-hand observation of this process through his presence in Venezuela. I look forward to his accounts in future of how these strategic debates within the revolution are proceeding — the element that was absent from his speech.

In this sense, I would question Michael’s assertion that it is somehow contradictory to pose the struggle to defeat the endogenous right, the “Bolibourgeoisie”, within the Chavista current as one that must necessarily unfold within an anti-imperialist framework.

If there is one overriding distinction between the socialisms of the 20th and 21st centuries, it is that the latter must be imbued with an internationalist, anti-imperialist content. Both Social-Democracy and Stalinism, the twin devils of 20th century socialism, were products of imperialism as a system: Social-Democracy as an ideology reflecting the relative privilege of workers in the imperialist countries; Stalinism as the ideology of the ruling caste that seized control in a Soviet republic isolated within a world dominated by the imperialist powers. At bottom, both ideologies were and are an expression of nationalist interests, not internationalist.

While most socialists today reject these ideologies, the system that spawned them remains in place, stronger and more universal than ever. This reality poses some particular challenges to the socialist movement. It does not mean erecting a Chinese wall between anti-imperialism and socialism (as Michael says the Venezuelan CP does), but it does mean incorporating the anti-imperialist perspective as a vital component of socialist strategy.

It is no accident that the Cuban revolution, which has been imbued throughout its history by this anti-imperialist, internationalist perspective, is the most successful and enduring of the 20th century socialist revolutions.

That is why I regard the internationalism of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, along with Cuba, as emblematic of the attempt to build a socialism of the 21st century. This is expressed in the international exchanges of solidaristic social programs, the formation of ALBA and other non-market based economic and trade relations, the strong stance of international solidarity with all the victims of imperialism, and not least the ongoing attempts to forge Latin American and Caribbean unity and integration as a counter-force to the imperialist colossus of the North.

As the socialist forces within Venezuela and other countries advance, the threat from imperialism will increase, and the challenge of confronting it is a major issue already facing the participants in Venezuela’s fledgling protagonistic democracy, from the PSUV to the grass-roots councils in communities and workplaces. These debates and struggles will be a key arena in the battle against the Bolibourgeoisie and the endogenous right wing, which imperialism is already manipulating through the media, NGOs and a plethora of institutions based within the state structures inherited from Venezuela’s semi-colonial past.

-- Richard Fidler


I am not sure I agree with the level emphasis that Richard places on the anti-imperialist aspect of the struggle. Like Richard I am not in Venezuela and am not in a position to judge things on the ground. But comments from Venezuelan friends, people who consider themselves Chavistas but who aren't activists in any sense are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Chavez government - not because that Chavez is too radical but because they feel the layers around him aren't for social change but are only for their own power and wealth.
(One particular friend has told me of a number of stories of great activists who have basically sold-out everything once they got a sniff of power and unaccountable access to finance. Or other more honest people she knew being executed in their homes after exposing corruption in the National Guard.)
That doesn't lead them to the opposition who they equally despise, but it just leads to a feeling of dispair that nothing will ever change and there is no use for hope, no use for getting involved.
So, to give a concrete example, US imperialism can organise, train and finance the Venezuelan oligarchy to destabalise the Chavez government and be a stronger force organisationally and in terms of their image. But from what I understand from people in Venezuela, this is not the most crucial danger in this upcoming election. What is more dangerous than the opposition parties themselves, is people abstaining from politics because they are dissillusioned with government corruption and bureuacracy. I think this was a major force in the referendum battle.

But anyway I think the battle against this emerging "Bolibourgeoisie" is a battle required to get much of the population out of the frame of mind of "home-delivery revolution" and actually get them to become capable leaders in their own right - but its a battle that does need to be fought in the short term as well as the long term if the revolution is to survive and deepen.


On the role of anti-imperialism in Latin America

Mike Lebowitz’s response to a critique by Richard Fidler (Missing Strategy…or a Different One?) attributes to me in passing a political position on the Bolivarian revolutionary struggle that I do not hold, while raising an important question regarding the struggle for socialism in Latin America.

Mike wrote that it is possible to read into my comments, “The Spectre of Boliviarian Internationalism,” an “implicit suggestion … that the principal conflict is with imperialism. Certainly, that calls for a strategy which differs from the one which stresses the need to struggle for socialism within the Chavist movement against the ‘bolibourgeoisie’; and, this position has been most explicitly advanced by the PCV (the Venezuelan Communist Party) which has argued for a broad, multi-class alliance against imperialism at this time and, at a later stage, a struggle for socialism led by a Marxist-Leninist Party.”

I don’t see how Mike can read such a conclusion into my brief comments. Holding that imperialism is the main enemy does not require one to adopt the Venezuelan CP theory of a two-stages revolution, a position that has been discredited in Latin America since the time of the First and Second Declarations of Havana in the early sixties.

I draw the opposition conclusion. Imperialism is the main enemy, but it operates through sections of the national oligarchy and bourgeoisie and a myriad of “civic” organizations. The national bourgeoisie derives much of its strength and power from imperialism. It is the working masses of town and country who are challenged to lead the fight against imperialism that is also necessarily a class struggle within the country for hegemony over the anti-imperialist struggle.

And to the extent that popular forces contend against the bourgeoisie for leadership in an anti-imperialist struggle, they will seek to endow it with a program and direction that corresponds to their own social goals and that points to socialism.

Venezuela provides a good example of this process.

My schematic description obviously needs to be modified in terms of social conditions (tasks in Haiti are far different from those in Brazil) and the stage of the struggle. One can also debate the meaning of “main enemy” – I am sure there are more nuanced and precise ways to describe how anti-imperialism relates to the class struggle.

But it does seem clear, and here I believe Mike and I are in full agreement, that currents that leave imperialism out of their analysis of Latin America will go wrong on the tasks before working-class and popular movements. The evolution that I have witnessed in Nicaragua of the dissident Sandinistas – the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) – provides a tragic example of this danger. (See my “Nicaragua: Anti-FSLN opposition seeks unity to topple Ortega government” at http://links.org.au/node/482).

Mike is absolutely right to insist that the struggle for a socialist course for the PSUV must be waged now – not at some distant time in the future. At the same time the PSUV is challenged to keep leading Venezuela’s anti-imperialist course and the international alliances it is spearheading – not just the pro-socialist ALBA alliance, but broader economic and political alliances that point towards the unification of the Gran Patria – South and Mesoamerican or Indo-Black-Latin American unity against the Empire.
Mike has advanced a developed strategic concept of revolutionary transformation that is best articulated in his book Beyond Capital, and he summarizes this strategy in paragraph four of his “A Missing Strategy…or a Different One?” This summary is worth careful attention, and I will quote it in full:

“(1) [A] focus on human development, (2) the importance of a vision of a socialist alternative, (3) the centrality of revolutionary practice, (4) the necessity of theory, (6) the critique of social democracy (which enforces the logic of capital), (7) the necessity for a worker's state which stresses the centrality of revolutionary practice, (8) the need to go beyond exploitation as the basis for entitlement within the new society, (9) the recognition that the subjects of revolutionary change go well beyond industrial workers, (10) the need for a political instrument to unite the collective worker, (11) the need for an organized effort to communicate theory, and (12) the need for a party of a different type (because ‘nothing could be more contrary to a theory which stresses the self-development of the working class through revolutionary practice than a party which sees itself as superior to social movements and as the place where the masses of members are meant to learn the merits of discipline in following the decisions made by infallible central committees’).” [Note that point (5) was missing in the original].

I agree fully with the points raised here and I believe they apply to struggles in Latin America today. We should note that Mike advances this strategy for the working-class struggle on a world scale. In applying it to countries of Latin America, I suggest there are three other points that should be considered, obviously with due regard to the vastly varying conditions from one country to another.

1. The need for the pro-socialist forces to include leadership of the anti-imperialist struggles in their strategic program for advancing the Bolivarian revolution.
2. The need to forge international alliances not just of a partially anti-capitalist character such as ALBA and special relations with the Cuban workers state, but of broad anti-imperialist alliances such as UNASUR and regional market alliances designed to shield Latin American countries from the worst depredations of imperialism.
3. The growing and crucial role of indigenous struggles in Indo-Black and Latin America. The MAS-Morales government is the high watermark of this process to date.

Once again, I assume agreement with Mike regarding the relevance of these points. What remains unanswered in my mind is what weight he assigns to these questions and how they relate to his overall strategic argument.

I believe that anti-imperialism and strategic alliances with other Indo Latin American and Caribbean countries, and the special relations with revolutionary Cuba (in the case of the Bolivarian struggle) are vital. They are not an optional add-on or accessory. They too are part of the building the social forces of oppressed and exploited people who will change themselves in the course of struggle. Anti-imperialist struggle too is a school for revolution.

Anti-imperialism and internationalism are a necessary component of the ideological and political struggle against the Venezuelan oligarchy and “bolibourgoisie.” They seek to ally with other bourgeois forces abroad, including in North America, rather than an alliance with working-class and popular movements abroad. It is a matter of their internationalism and ours.
The toilers of Venezuela cannot win their national struggle at home without including these internationalist elements as a crucial component of their political and ideological arsenal.

Also, the defense of indigenous struggles, especially in countries where native peoples can pose the question of power or make a significant difference in class and social polarization, has strategic weight and importance for revolutionary strategy today.

Finally, let me emphasize that we all owe Mike a vote of thanks for persistently explaining the urgency that exploited and oppressed forces in Venezuela struggle for leadership in the Bolivarian struggle for national sovereignty and socialism.