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Publication Details

Reference
Hattingh, Shawn  (2012) Venezuela and the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’: Beacon of hope or smoke and mirrors?.  : 1-29.

Summary
For many people on the left, within and outside of Southern Africa, the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is seen as a beacon of socialist hope in a sea of capitalist despair [1]. The reason why many leftists feel so strongly attached to this project, and promote it as an alternative, is because they have come to view it as a move by the Venezuelan state towards creating a genuine, free form of socialism [2] or at the very least an experiment that profoundly breaks with the tenets of neo-liberalism [3] [4]. Many articles have, therefore, been written lauding the state’s nationalisation of some industries [5], its land distribution programmes [6], and its attempts to supposedly create participatory democracy in workplaces (through co-management and co-operatives) [7] and in communities (through community councils) [8]. Linked to this, a great deal has also been made of the state using some of revenue generated by the Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to roll out social services such as education, subsidised foodstuffs and healthcare [9]. Much ink has, consequently, been spilt arguing that all of these are socialist inspired moves and passionate calls have been made for other states, like the South African state, to adopt Venezuelan style ‘Socialism for the Twenty First Century’ [10].

This article, however, questions the assumption that the Venezuelan state is embarking upon a path to create a truly egalitarian and free socialist society. It will, therefore, be argued that Venezuela is not in a transitional phase to socialism; rather it is a capitalist country where the private sector and important state-owned companies seek to maximise profits. Indeed, it will be argued that while some welfare is handed out by the state, this often sits side by side with other policies that are outright neo-liberal. In order to make the argument that Venezuela cannot be considered as heading in a socialist direction, this article will engage and examine issues around the state’s nationalisation programme, its relations to multinational corporations, its community councils project and its social service programmes. Coupled to this, the nature of the economy will be looked at, including ownership patterns, and it will be critically considered whether or not the relations of production that define capitalism are being transformed into more socialist relations based on direct democracy, mutual aid and self-management in workplaces and communities. In fact, it will be argued, from an anarchist perspective, that unfortunately relations that define class rule and capitalism are not being eroded away by the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’: instead of an egalitarian society arising, it will be considered how and why an elite still exploit and oppress the working class. It will, therefore, be critically considered how and why class rule and capitalism, and even elements of neo-liberal capitalism, in Venezuelan society are not in the process of being eroded away. Far from being a beacon of hope the ‘Bolivarian process’ may be more correctly identified as a case of smoke and mirrors.

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