Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Venezuela was never Socialist

According to CCN news "Venezuela is quietly quitting socialism" (20 December 2020). This is news to us.

So why does CNN think that Venezuela is socialist? For a start, the Venezuelan government believes it is socialist and that its governing party is made up of socialists. Its friends on the capitalist left also say it is a socialist country. And so does its enemies in the West, like President Trump. So there is an excuse, up to a point, for CNN erroneously believing Venezuela is socialist, a view shared by many workers.

We are told by CNN that the former President Hugo Rafael Chavez had a vision for Venezuela. The news item claimed Chavez:

"... prophesied a Marxist utopia where the state would look after the needs of the people, raise the quality of life, erase inequality and limit private enterprise to a minor role in the economy".

The report contrasted Chavez's "Marxist Utopia" (an oxymoron if ever there was one) with the reality for the working class in Venezuela today:

"Venezuela today hardly resembles the one pictured by Chavez. Hunger is rampant, inequality dizzying, and public hospitals stand derelict as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The US dollar is increasingly taking precedence over the bolivar, and while the Venezuelan minimum wage is the lowest in the region, the country's stock market is booming. Chavez's successor, current President Nicolas Maduro, recently inaugurated an ultra-luxury hotel where rooms are the equivalent of $300 per night"

According to CCN, Venezuela is slowly embracing the market, private property ownership, speculation and all the trappings of capitalism found in the United States. So much for Chavez's "Marxist Utopia". Capitalism works: socialism doesn't. That is the conclusion CNN are making.

From the perspective of Marx and socialists, Venezuela was never a socialist country. Socialism has nothing to do with the State and nationalisation. Political leaders can never make a capitalist economy run in the interest of all society. And Marx did not present a "utopia" but said that socialism had to be established by the political action of the working class and no one else.

Marx said:

"Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class" (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO)


"all previous historical movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority"

It was not in Chavez's power to promise socialism in Venezuela. Not only can socialism not be established in one country but it cannot be imposed on a non-working class. Only the working class understanding, accepting and taking political action as socialists and without leaders can establish socialism.

So why do socialists say Venezuela is not socialist? It has a long history.

In the nineteenth century some said that Bismarck's social reforms were socialist. Engels dismissed this as absurd. In SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, Engels remarked that if all this was true then Napoleon and Metternich "would rank among the founders of socialism".

Engels went on to ask:

"If the Belgian State, for quite ordinary political and financial reasons, itself constructed its chief railway lines; if Bismarck, not under any economic compulsion, took over for the State the chief Prussian lines, simply to be the better able to have them in hand in case of war, to bring up the railway employees as voting cattle for the Government, and especially to create for himself a new source of income independent of parliamentary votes - this was, in no sense, a socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Otherwise, the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal porcelain manufacture, and even the regimental tailor of the army would also be socialistic institutions, or even, as was seriously proposed by a sly dog in Frederick William III's reign, the taking over by the State of the brothels".

Engels was right. Nationalisation has nothing to do with socialism. It is merely state capitalism. The wages system and class exploitation remains intact.

So what is socialism? Why is our definition of socialism better than those holding political power in Venezuela? Why has nationalisation nothing to do with socialism?

To answer these questions, socialism has to be contrasted with capitalism. To understand what socialism is and what are its characteristics we have begin with capitalism as an integrated global system of production and exchange for profit.

Capitalism is a global system broken-up into competing nation states. And each country has a capitalist class minority who own the means of production and distribution and a majority working class who do not. Whereas the capitalist class lives off its property ownership the workers are forced to sell their ability to work for a wage. They are exploited in the production process by producing more social wealth than they receive in wages. This social wealth or 'surplus value' is the source on the unearned income going to the capitalist class in the form of rent, interest and profit.

At the heart of capitalism is the class struggle over the intensity and extent of exploitation. The working class cannot get their needs met by the rationing of the wages system. They are forced into wage slavery only able to get enough o produce and reproduce themselves and their families as an exploited class. And they are forced, as a class, to struggle for higher wages and better working conditions. And the class struggle is a political struggle because workers, to establish socialism, have to capture the machinery of government, including the armed forces, protecting the private property of the capitalist class.

This reality applies to Venezuela. In Venezuela, production takes place for profit. Most of the country lives in poverty and are forced to work for wages. Class exploitation exists as does the class struggle. A ruling class live a life of privilege while the rest of society struggle to make ends meet. It will be the rich who will stay in the $300 a night hotels waited on by the working class. Venezuela is a capitalist country not a socialist one. CNN and Venezuela's supporters and detractors are all wrong.

Like Cuba and China, Venezuela has never been socialist. It has never been in a position to slide back into socialism.

This brings us on to socialism. What is socialism? Socialism has never existed anywhere in the world. Like capitalism it will be a global and integrated system of production and distribution. But unlike capitalism it will not have competing nation states or classes. There will be no buying and selling and no wages system.

In fact we can define socialism as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. This definition can be contrasted with capitalism and it is clear that the preposterous claim that Venezuela is 'socialist' is found wanting.

There is more we can say about socialism. It will be governed by two socialist principles: "from each according to their ability to each according to their need" and "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all". Production will be undertaken by voluntary social and cooperative labour. Production and distribution will take place directly and solely to meet social need. There will be no markets, particularly a labour market.

How do we get from capitalism to socialism? It will not be through political leaders. Socialism has to be established globally by a world socialist movement. Socialism requires principled socialist parties and socialists taking democratic and political action to gain control of the machinery of government through socialist delegates and the revolutionary use of the vote. It is only through the democratic and political action of a socialist majority that capitalism can be replaced by socialism. And that includes Venezuela.

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