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(Given the strong interest in Venezuela, we reprint this article by Gerry Foley. We would welcome response/discussion of the ideas raised.  SD Web editor) 

Chavez projects a non-Marxist ‘petrosocialism’ in Venezuela

Gerry Foley 

August 2007 issue of Socialist Action Newspaper (USA)

Since the failure of the U.S. backed coup of April 2002 to remove the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela, that country’s radical leader has posed the major political challenge to imperialism. His support for to Cuba has also been an important encouragement and material aid for the world’s only revolutionary regime.

Up until now, however, the radicalism of the Chavez regime has consisted essentially of a redistribution of the country’s substantial oil income for social and progressive projects and general denunciations of imperialism and capitalism, as well as invoking the promise of a socialist future. The process in Venezuela now seems to have reached the stage where complications are becoming evident and the need for definitions and concrete plans more acute.

Thus, on July 29 on his program "Aló Presidente," Chavez projected the idea of a specific "petrosocialism." A Venezuelan government press release said: "The president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela made remarks about building a socialist model that is based on the potential of oil resources, during his regularly broadcast program "Aló Presidente."

"‘We are committed to constructing a socialist model that is very different from what Karl Marx imagined in the 18th century. Our model is to count on petroleum wealth,’ Chavez said."

The rise in the oil price since Chavez took office in 1998 from $9 a barrel to the current all-time high of $78 a barrel has been a bonanza for the radical regime. Chavez has said that he expects the price to rise to $100. The vast increase in the country’s oil income has made it possible for Chavez to finance many social projects without coming to sword’s point with the local capitalists.

However, it is risky to base any long-term scheme for social development on confidence in the world capitalist market for oil. The very high price of oil is an incentive to develop new sources and methods of reducing oil use and developing substitutes that could eventually lead to lower oil prices. Moreover, the Venezuelan oil industry is largely dependent on equipment from the imperialist countries. 

Thus, The New York Times reported July 27: "In comments that jolted global energy markets last week, Mr. Ramírez, the energy minister, acknowledged that Petróleos de Venezuela had hired 40 percent fewer drilling rigs than its target for this year, in part because of new rules requiring contractors to donate 10 percent of the value of their contracts to social welfare projects."

The British Economist, one of the most astute capitalist observers, has been speculating that the Chavez regime will eventually run out of steam because the decline in investment in the Venezuelan oil industry by imperialist corporations will lead to a disastrous drop in production. 

The report by Ramirez indicates that this is in fact a danger. The New York Times article continued: "The country’s oil exports fell 15 percent while overall production dropped 7 percent in the first quarter of this year," said Ramón Espinasa, a chief economist at Petróleos de Venezuela in the pre-Chávez era and now a respected consultant, citing both the difficulties with hiring rigs and a surge in domestic fuel consumption driven by subsidized prices.

"Combined with lower global oil prices during part of this year, Venezuela’s income from oil exports may decline by about 24 percent in 2007, to $45.6 billion compared with $60.4 billion last year, by Mr. Espinasa’s estimate."

Moreover, although Petroleos de Venezuela is the central pillar of what is supposed to become a socialist economy, it is not subject to workers control or indeed any democratic control and, according to The New York Times article, it is facing charges of corruption and mismanagement:
"‘Our sovereignty is at risk if we allow Petróleos de Venezuela to remain in this situation," Luís Tascón, a pro-Chávez lawmaker, said in a telephone interview. … We cannot allow this company to remain an indecipherable black box.’ Mr. Tascón has summoned Mr. Ramírez to the National Assembly to respond to accusations of corruption against senior executives."

The New York Times also reported that in addressing the National Assembly in the third week in July, Luis Vierma, vice president of exploration and production at Petroleos de Venezuela, said that the national oil company was in "an operational emergency."

Chavez himself has chosen this moment to declare that the "Twenty-First Century Socialism" he offers has nothing to do with Marxism.

This statement was commented on July 27 by the Aporrea website, an independent left website that supports the Chavez government in an interview with Stalin Perez Borges, a leader of the radical trade-union federation, the CUT, who has joined Chavez’s new party, the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) : "Well, the president said in the last "Aló Presidente," the Venezuelan Socialist Party will not take up the banners of Marxism-Leninism, because this is a dogmatic thesis whose time is past and it does not suit today’s reality. . . . 

“Moreover, in relation to the role of the working class, he said: ‘The theses that the working class is the motor force of socialism and revolution are obsolete. … Work today is different, it is the information and telecommunications industry. Karl Marx could not even dream of these things.’"

It is certain that the PSUV, which Chavez has said is an essential instrument for transforming the country, is not a Leninist Party. In a few months, it has signed more than 5 million new members, a major section of the country’s adult population. Such a party cannot be even a social democratic Party. It can only be a state party, a populist party.

The union leader responded to Chavez’s dismissal of the working class by noting that it was the workers who saved the radical president when the local capitalists and imperialists tried to overthrow him.

As for Chavez’s denial of Marxism, labels of course are not decisive. But his taking the trouble to declare that the socialism that he advocates cannot be Marxist amounts essentially to a guarantee to the capitalists and their imperialist big brothers that Chavez does not really intend to dismantle capitalism, and that invocations of socialism are and will remain vague.

In fact, Chavez’s obituary of Marxism came at the same time as the retiring minister of defense, Raúl Isías Baduel, declared in a speech that Chavez’s socialism must not be contaminated with Marxism. The New York Times article referred to above said that this statement aroused an uproar in the military.

It seems, in fact, to have indicated that the base of reaction in the armed forces has not been eliminated, nor therefore the danger of a future coup, or at least right-wing threats to keep Chavez from beyond the framework of what is tolerable to the local capitalists and their foreign backers.

Thus, at this point it seems doubtful if Chavez’s reforms will go further unless he changes his strategy and his definitions, or unless a new leadership arises in the country. 

The leaders of the radical wing of the union movement—Perez Borges, who joined the 
PSUV, and Orlando Chirinos, who did not—have been increasingly critical of Chavez. They are obviously facing a more and more difficult task of addressing the political and organizational weaknesses of the radicalization that has been developing since the Chavez regime came into office.


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