Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Hugo Chavez and Venezuela's twenty-first-century socialism

in Latin America's Turbulent Transitions

Thousands of supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez flood Bolívar Avenue in Caracas for a campaign rally in support of Chávez's 2006 re-election (credit: Sílvia Leindecker).

The rise of 21st century socialism is linked to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez more than any other figure. In the early years of this century, with the world focused on the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, socialism appeared moribund, a political relic of the past relegated, in the Americas, to the island of Cuba. This changed abruptly in January 2005, when Chávez announced at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, that it was time to reclaim the socialist dream: 

"It is impossible within the framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of poverty of the majority of the world’s population. We must transcend capitalism. But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion as the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project, and a path ... a new type of socialism, a humanist one, that puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything."

Chávez’s call to construct a new socialism for the 21st century marked a turning point in progressive history. Before this moment, even sectors of the left believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union had heralded the death of socialism. Yet here was a president willing to reclaim the word “socialism,” placing it back on the public agenda. These were not just the words and aspirations of a single figure; they reflected the growing anti-capitalist consciousness of a popular democratic movement that was directly challenging U.S. hegemony in the region. Socialism could be achieved with “democracy” insisted Chávez, “but not the type of democracy being imposed from Washington.”

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