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Historical process will give Chavez’ new Venezuelan socialism concrete form

VHeadline guest commentarist Joel Pozarnik writes: President Hugo Chavez has recently admitted that if he once had been attracted by the British concept of the “Third Way” as an alternative between socialism and capitalism, he now believes that “only socialism can be a substitute to capitalism.”

It is a major shift in his political discourse and the fact that his close collaborators publicly echo his new belief seems to announce a campaign to spread the idea. However, because the word “socialism” is used to describe different realities, it is necessary to point out President Chavez’ specific intentions.

The Leap Foward

Hugo Chavez new discourse seems to confirm the “Leap Forward” decided after the electoral victories of August 15 (presidential referendum) and October 31, 2004 (regional and local elections) as a political strategy for the period 2004-2006. With 20 of the 22 regional governments and almost 80% of the municipalities, chavist ideologues feel that it is time to accelerate the pace.

The expression “Great Leap forward” was used to describe economic, social and political measures implemented in China at the end of the 50s, as an intent to find a socialism adapted to Chinese conditions.

Reaction of the opposition

The opposition has immediately reacted arguing that the Venezuelan people would not accept a communist regime: a recent pool from Datanalisis shows that 77.2% of the people don’t want to adopt the Cuban model. Opposition leaders tend to argue that they were right when, a few years ago, they announced that President Chavez wanted to organize a Cuban-type regime in Venezuela: socialism would only be a stage toward communism. However, if they stick to their position, they run the risk to misrepresent the Venezuelan public opinion again: according to the same pool, 54.8% think that President Chavez has no intention to follow the Cuban model.

Actually, it seems that Hugo Chavez doesn’t refer himself to the “real socialism” so far implemented in the USSR or Cuba for instance; nor does he refer himself to the euro-socialism of Nordic countries. He refers himself to the “socialism of the XXI century.”

“Socialism of the XXI century”

It is an expression used by Professor Heinz Dieterich Steffan, a German political scientist and sociologist of the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM), Mexico City. Even if he cannot be considered as the unique ideologue staging behind President Chavez, his influence on the chavista intellectual elite and on his leader is a fact. He personally knows President Chavez since 1998 and reportedly played an important role in the rupture between Chavez and Noberto Ceresole, an Argentinean fascist ideologist, in 1999.

Professor Heinz Dieterich has two main lines of thought:

Political theory: the failure of XX century socialism is due to human mistakes and doesn’t invalidate socialism as such. A “new socialism” adapted to the conditions of the XXI century needs to be invented.

Geopolitical approach: Latin America will only blossom if it gets rids of North American Imperialism, organizes itself as a Regional Block of Power, and implement the “new socialism.”

According to Professor Dieterich, “new socialism” is a “New Historical Project” of universal dimensions aimed at forming a participative post capitalist democracy as an alternative to the neoliberal globalization.

Toward a new Venezuelan socialism:

The project is not totally defined … their promoters argue that the historical process led by the “people” will give it its concrete forms. So far, only what seems to be some general principles can be identified:

Political area: Values the use of political power in favor of the majority, and participative democracy at local, regional and national levels. Respects political pluralism. Reject the over-bureaucratic state, the unique party, labor union and doctrine.

Economic area: Values an economy serving communities’ needs, collective property (cooperatives) of production means, joint management between labor and capital, endogen and sustainable development. Respects market and private property. Rejects oppression of workers and exclusive state property of production means.

Social: Values social rights, social movements, organized communities, equality and social inclusion. Respects class differences. Rejects class oppression.

Geopolitical area: Values the formation of a Latin American Block of Power, the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean) as an integration model, and the South-South dialogue. Respects international treaties. Rejects neoliberalism and US imperialism.

Values: Values solidarity, collective well being, humanism upon economy, freedom and equality, flexibility. Respects local cultures and historic conditions. Rejects egoism, competitive race inside a community, corruption, and accumulation of huge amount of money by individuals.

New socialism would only be possible in a context of high level of education, ethics and organization of productive forces … it is a long term project.

Political marketing:

“Chavism” was not identified with any respected international school of political thought. Although a controversial expression, because “new socialism” belongs to the socialist thinking family, it could give “chavism” its political credentials, and put an end to its ideological isolation.

The national political offer would now be divided between New Socialism (MVR), Social democracy (AD, MAS), Christian Democracy (COPEI), and liberal democracy (PRIMERO JUSTICIA). The Ideological Congress of the MVR should be organized in 2007, after the presidential elections of 2006 and will probably officially adopt this new political line.

In the Latin American left, Hugo Chavez has now differentiated himself from Castro (real socialism) and from Lula (social democracy). His “socialist” label could be less frightening and more appealing than his “revolutionary” and “populist” labels. He might now find himself in a better position to receive some support from the international left.

Practical consequences:

Because the Chavez government was already following the orientations of new socialism, no new policy is to be implemented in the short term as a consequence of his new rhetoric.

However, part of the excluded from the benefits of modernism in Latin America might well be ready to embrace the creation of a new postmodernist society, motivated by the considerable amount of hope and enthusiasm President Chavez is able to generate in his followers.

The leaders of the main country in the region, Brazil, are not yet keen to openly embrace the new concept, but … in the future … they could eventually be pushed to do so by their electorate. And the end, realities and not discourse should make the difference.

A communicational effect:

Some analysts have suggested that “new socialism” has been launched in Venezuela while President Chavez is under scrutiny for his administration of the state oil company PDVSA, suggesting that he is trying to mobilize the country on a political debate in order to divert attention from the debate linked to his administration’s efficiency. It is likely to be the case, but even though, it does not necessarily reduce new socialism to the unique dimension of a communicational effect.


The political project led by President Chavez doesn’t seem to have reached its definitive form.

However, the uncertainty about the real content of the Venezuelan “new socialism” might not obligatorily be frightening for foreign investors … it is all the ambiguity that results from its very expression.

JoŽl Pozarnik

Joel Pozarnik is the founder and director of Intelego, an independent risk management company specialized in Latin America. He is a researcher and consultant dedicated to the political, economic, social and cultural understanding of Venezuela. A graduate of the ESSEC French Business School; MSc. of LSE in Comparative Politics (Latin America); and The London University in Social Anthropology. A native of Paris (France), he had residence in Venezuela 1982-2000 working with international companies for 10 years and in consultancy for 8 years on issues management, market analysis and organizational structure. He was general manager of the Venezuelan French Chamber of Commerce (1990-1992), and general secretary to the Federation of European Chambers of Commerce in Venezuela (FEDEUROPA). He is currently a member of the Issue Management Council (USA) and has published around 30 articles. You may email Joel Pozarnik at

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