How the imperialist system works, and how Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution resists it

A Venezuelan sociologist explains how the imperialist system is built on a murderous, savage capitalism, and how Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution has resisted it, based on Hugo Chávez’s concept of 21st-century socialism.

By: María Páez Victor

Venezuela Bolivarian Revolution

This article by Venezuelan sociologist María Páez Victor is based on her presentation at the webinar “Imperialism and the Western Left” organized by the Geopolitical Economy Research Group and International Manifesto Group on April 24, 2022.

There are many characteristics of imperialism, but essentially it involves the desire and the ability of one nation to overpower, dominate, and or persuade other nations to act in the best interests of the empire’s own aims.

Imperialism is not a new phenomenon, but today it can be said to involve a new colonialism. This brand of colonialism does not necessarily take over militarily large tracts of lands of peoples or nations, but seeks to destroy the sovereignty of established states, weaken them, and impose a tutelage over them, in its quest of natural resources, advantages and hegemonic power.

Moreover, today there is a new way of waging war has been added to military war: hybrid war, which is economic, diplomatic, legalistic, mediatic, and equally lethal.

There is only one empire in the world right now; it is the United States of America, and it is intent on remaining so, on being the one hegemon, the one superpower, with the help of its firm allies in Europe and Canada.

The United States is the only nation that has approximately 800 military bases across the planet. It has the largest armed forces in the world, and is the number one arms manufacturer and seller on Earth.

War has been its main instrument and business, for most of the 20th and now the 21st century. Consequently, Washington’s foreign, diplomatic, economic, and financial policies are no longer different from its military objectives.

The US private and the public spheres have largely combined with the militarization of its foreign policy, and this cloaks a profound class struggle, domestic as well as international, counting on the formidable power of corporate media.

Empires have always tried to mask their military power with their “auctoritas” (authority): the narrative façade about the empire’s worth, quality, superiority, and benevolence. This provides an apparent reason for its domination of other peoples and nations.

Empires cannot hold their power just by force alone, as that would be prohibitively expensive; they need to convince other nations to submit. An empire does this through its ideology, its superstructure, that masks, upholds, and promotes its military infrastructure.

US society – historically, culturally, and psychologically – is seeped in racism, which is an integral part of its hegemonic ideology.

Yet today, Washington has lost a great deal of its hegemonic aura, after a slew of failures and lies, such as the “domino theory” of the Vietnam War or the claim of non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” that was used to try to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The US government’s series of futile wars, endless coups d’etat, interferences in other nations’ governance, and trashing of international law when it suits it has not helped either.

In other words, the ideology of the US empire has worn thin. Whether Washington likes it or not, a multipolar world is emerging, and the empire’s rationalizations are not so believable any more.

Savage capitalism: an anti-democratic system dominated by finance

The economic system of imperialism is capitalism, which is in a present stage referred to as corporate capitalism, but which Venezuelan revolutionary leader Hugo Chávez called “savage capitalism“ (capitalismo salvaje). Washington is its main exponent.

This system is characterized by a preponderance of corporate finance and speculation. It is only marginally geared towards producing and satisfying citizens’ needs; labour and its representatives have been undermined and marginalized.

The corporate market largely determines political decisions in this system, thus undermining democratic institutions such as parliaments, political parties, law, and judicial power.

We are witnesses to corporate unrestrained power, which has led to widespread inequality and political polarization, as economist Thomas Pickety most clearly pointed out in his 2013 book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century“.

Domestic auctoritas is also fractured within the USA. Author Chris Hedges even considers that the United States is today “in the last stage in the emergence of corporate totalitarianism.”

Finance capitalism adds nothing of value to the real economy; it is a casino capitalism made possible by degrading the institutions that guard the common good: education, health, unions, even law.

There is an inherent contradiction between the single-minded search for profits of the corporations, and the protection of the social common good, most especially, the democratic good.

Corporations are not democratic entities; they defy real democracy and dominate nation-states. Their power meshes with that of the US empire. In other words, you cannot disengage corporate power from imperialism.

Resource colonialism

A reality often overlooked is that today’s main industries – weapons, energy, and telecommunication – cannot exist in a financial vacuum. They need specific natural resources from the extractive industries, such as petroleum, lithium, rare minerals, coltan, and other ores.

The great economic power is largely concentrated in the Global North – the USA and its allies – but the grand bulk of the absolutely essential natural resources are in the South.

Thus a new colonialism has emerged, camouflaged with all sorts of smoke and mirrors: “free trade” (that is not free), promises of “trickle-down” investments (that never trickle down), and supposed “humanitarian interventions” to protect human rights (only some of them).

Global North governments claim to help countries in the South develop (only where convenient to their enterprises), to teach other nations about the supposed “rule of law” (based on their rules), and even to promote NGOs to purportedly protect democracy and the environment (while these organizations act as spies and saboteurs).

Venezuela is a case study. There, from 2002 to 2012 alone, CIA cutout the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) gave $100 million to create 300 NGOs opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution launched by President Chávez.

We are also witnesses to an uncontrolled expansion of corporate capitalism which euphemistically or cynically is referred to as “progress”. It is necessarily predatory.

This system’s insatiable consumerism, rampant industrialization, and appalling individualism have catastrophically injured the natural world, polluted land and waters, caused climate change, increased species extinctions, and depleted biodiversity.

It is leading us to the sixth extinction, if not stopped.

Natural resources seem to be viewed as the property of the North, not the South where they are found. This divide is profoundly eurocentrist, classist, and racist.

A shocking example was the 2010 European Commission report on critical raw materials for the EU, which, in a matter-of-fact- bureaucratic vocabulary, unashamedly defined environmental risk as “the measures that might be taken by countries with the intention of protecting the environment and by so doing endangering the supply of raw materials to the European Union.”

The people most severely impacted by this natural resource devastation in Latin America are the rural campesinos and the indigenous peoples.

US imperialism’s top target: Latin America

Because of its natural resource richness and its strategic geographical position, the most important area of the world that the US empire believes it absolutely needs to dominate is Latin America and the Caribbean – not Europe, not Canada, not Asia, not Middle East, not even Russia or China.

In this region, the USA has carried out roughly 90 coups d’etat, destablization campaigns, or invasions since 1900.

Virtually every progressive leader or reformer in Latin America has been threatened to be killed, opposed, or deposed by Washington. The victims among the people are countless.

Atilio Boron, a distinguished Argentine intellectual, points out that there are no Monroe Doctrines for any other part of the world, except for Latin America.

Washington considers the region its “backyard” – or as ignominiously Biden has said, trying to soften the insult, the US “front yard”.

The farce of the USA being any sort of “defender” of Latin America from European threats, as the Monroe Doctrine spouts, was shown to be a lie when Washington backed the UK’s colonialist war against Argentina over the Malvina Islands (Falklands).

The last word on imperialism belongs to revolutionary Che Guevara, who stated that “it is the nature of imperialism that makes men into beasts, that turns them bloodthirsty animals, that are willing to slit throats, to kill, to destroy the last image of the revolutionary, of the supporter of a government that has fallen under his boot or that fights for his freedom.”

El Che warned that “imperialism cannot be trusted for a minute, not even a little bit.”

There are too many examples to cite, in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, and even in the less powerful nations of Europe, where they have all felt the boot of empire on their throats.

Socialism of the 21st century

The opposite of imperialism today is the movement of Socialism of the 21st Century. It is the hope for the future of Latin America, and the world, against the savagery of imperialism.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was re-elected for his second term in 2006 by an overwhelming majority who voted for his electoral promise of building what he called Socialism of the 21st Century, as the basis of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The instrument of this revolution is the PSUV, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which is formed by many smaller parties and grassroots organizations. It is not just a government party.

Many figures on the Western left, in the USA, Canada, and Europe, have claimed for years that Venezuela’s revolution is not truly socialist. These armchair revolutionaries have too often disdained the Bolivarian Revolution because it did not “fit” with their narrow eurocentric theoretical framework.

Some mistrusted Chávez because he was a military man; others ridiculed him because he was an acknowledged Catholic; and yet others on the left have gone so far as saying Venezuela did not really have a revolution because its revolutionaries did not take up arms outright and kill the capitalists.

When speaking on panels about my homeland Venezuela, I have been confronted various times by those who want to see blood on the ground – not their blood of course, but somebody else’s.

They have said to me that because it was not born by taking up arms, like the Cuban Revolution, Venezuela’s is not truly a revolution.

In one of these occasions, I had the great honor of sitting next to the consul general of Cuba, who whispered in my ear to pay no attention to such nonsense, as if Fidel Castro and El Che had wanted to kill their compatriots, as if they had thought killing was the cornerstone of a socialist revolution.

The principles of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

Venezuela’s revolution does include the analysis of Marx and Engels, but not exclusively so, because it is also based on Venezuela’s indigenous communitarian traditions, and on the principles of its revolutionary liberator Simón Bolívar.

These Bolivarian principles were sovereignty, egalitarianism, repudiation of slavery and imperialism, and regional Latin American integration.

The Bolivarian Revolution is also nurtured by other Venezuelan heroes, incorporating Simón Rodríguez’s views on education, or Ezequiel Zamora’s on land reform.

The genius of Hugo Chávez is that he was able to articulate a socialist ideology that was rooted in Venezuelan cultural and political history. Before that, socialist and communist inroads had been weak because they were seen as a foreign thing, Northern, theoretical, and alien to the history, culture, and cosmology of ordinary Venezuelans.

The Bolivarian Revolution is also humanistic and spiritual, inclusive, and respectful of indigenous cosmologies. It is inspired by Liberation Theology.

The Bolivarian Revolution is likewise participatory and democratic, as it gained power through the ballot box.

It does not follow the patterns of the revolutions in Russia, China, or even entirely in Cuba. It is its own thing. The Venezuelan people recognize it as “their” socialism.

The goals of Venezuela’s socialism are to obtain the health and happiness of a people who can exercise self-determination without foreign pressure, to rid racist and classist elites of political power so that the people have power both through democratic representation and through the exercise of participatory democracy in communes, collectives, and communal councils.

Chávez proclaimed socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the dissolution of the USSR, after the rumors that history had come to an end. In this way, Chávez showed the world that socialism was not remotely dead.

This flew in the face of those who, while professing socialism, were looking for the illusion of a “third way”.

Let us count the ways how revolutionary Venezuela is.

A quick comparison with the policies espoused by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, when considering the changes that time and history have brought about, shows a remarkable parallel with the policies and gains of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution:

  • state-owned factories and instruments of production
  • land reform and agricultural improvements
  • raising the working class into a ruling class, to “win the battle of democracy”
  • creating a national bank
  • establishing a graduated income tax
  • establishing public transport

Two of Marx’s proposed policies that have not been implemented in Venezuela are a centralized means of communication, which would not be accepted today in view of the human rights to freedom of speech, and the prohibition of inheritance rights. But many the fundamental policies considered by Marx are in full view in Venezuela’s revolution.

Venezuela’s victories

Venezuela has asserted its sovereignty over its natural resources, taking over control from elites and international corporations. This set a regional example of independence, which Washington considers a threat to its hegemony, especially given that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and the second-biggest gold fields.

Under the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuelan society underwent a strong social transformation. This began by redefining the state itself, with a new constitution, anchored in the concepts of human rights, both individual and social rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of women and children, and social rights to education, health, and a protected environment.

Venezuela has wrestled power from the comprador class, the supremist elites, the upper classes that had ruled for decades and drove their people into abject poverty, while wasting the equivalent of 15 Marshall Plans worth of wealth on corruption and illicit enrichment.

The revolution has reduced not only poverty but also inequality.

Venezuela’s participatory democracy does recognize private property, but also state, communal and social ownership. It also enshrines the communal state of communal councils and communes. These are not add-ons, but part of state power.

And these new forms of participatory democracy are truly distinct from the representative democracy and bourgeois state created by a market capitalist society, which is eminently individualistic and competitive.

The welfare state was designed to temper, to soften the market. But corporate capitalism declared war on the welfare state, and with much success.

Socialism bolsters the policies that preserve the common good.

Venezuela has carried out effective land reform, transforming agriculture to the point that today the nation has relatively more food security, and is even exporting food for the first time in 100 years.

This is due to the masterful policies of President Nicolás Maduro, who has steered the country through the illegal US sanctions that have almost destroyed the economy and killed 100,000 Venezuelans.

The Venezuelan working class has been the backbone of the productive invigoration of the economy.

President Maduro is referred to as “the worker president”, as he drove a bus for nine years in Caracas, and has strong links to and understanding of the working class and the unions.

President Maduro’s measures to diversify the economy, to implement an effective internal revenue system, revigorated the economy and battled inequality. He has successfully gotten rid of hyperinflation and made Venezuela a stronger more viable country.

Venezuela’s GDP is estimated to grow by an astonishing 20% in 2022, as calculated by Swiss bank Credit Suisse. This is after losing 99% of government revenue due to illegal US sanctions, according to the top UN expert. That is quite an extraordinary achievement.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, grassroots organizations, the communes, and communal councils, united with the PSUV and public health institutions to protect the people.

Due to illegal US sanctions, medical supplies and masks were sometimes unavailable, and vaccines were denied to Venezuela, but it was still very successful at controlling the pandemic, especially in the context of the region. Venezuela was eventually able to get vaccines thanks to the solidarity of China, Russia, and Cuba.

Disingenuous criticisms rooted in eurocentrism

While not demeaning for a second the very positive and brave, heroic struggles and contributions of members of the oldest political party in the country, the Communist Party of Venezuela, the fact is that it never achieved a significant popular following in or out of elections, because it was not rooted in the people’s profound sense of history, their culture, traditions, and spirituality.

The Bolivarian Revolution on the other hand was able to accomplish all of this, while also making clear the class struggles and dynamics of capitalism.

To its admirable merit, the Communist Party of Venezuela has supported the PSUV in particular in its struggles against imperialism, even when the party did not fully agree with Bolivarianism. This is a shining example of solidarity that the international left should learn from.

Domestically, many who proclaim to be on the left and who criticize the government and President Maduro are in fact armchair theorists who use the excuse of “self-criticism” to simply oppose a government and a movement which has rejected them and their advice, as they have been very far from the grassroots and real links to the people.

These criticisms are cheap as these figures bear no responsibility in feeding and nurturing a population, not to mention facing a formidable foreign power. They invariably end up becoming darlings of the right.

Venezuela does not think that it has already “arrived” at socialism; it considers this to be a process, a road that it must go down until the entire bourgeois state has been transformed.

Much of the Western left, on the other hand, has had reservations from the very beginning, if not openly criticizing Venezuela’s brand of socialism. The reasons are ugly, tainted by cultural determinism and even racism.

Firstly, there is eurocentrism. For many Northern leftists, anything that deviates from Marx and Engels, or any other Northern socialist movement, is not the “real thing”.

This is actually quite ironic, if not knee-slapping funny, in view of the fact that none of these Western theorists or activists have actually been able to carry out any socialist revolution in North America or Europe. Yet they think they have the right to point out to the “lesser” beings in Latin America what is real and what is not, and that they have got it all wrong.

Secondly, the foreign critics of the Bolivarian Revolution are often ignorant of the Venezuelan culture, specifically its political culture. And I suspect that this is a willful ignorance that is also tainted with racism.

They have not fully understood that there is not one road to socialism, but many; that Venezuela revolts at the thought that it has to pattern its revolution on one unique pattern, on a foreign strategy that would force it to give up its identity and its own idiosyncrasies.

As if these accomplishments were not enough – as if Venezuela’s heroic triumphs against illegal sanctions, paramilitary attacks, sabotages, assassinations, coup attempts, and demonization of the hybrid war were not enough – just consider the enemies that have lined up against Venezuela: the US empire and its allies, the international banking system, the international media, and all the fascist organizations of the world.

They do recognize a revolution when they see it. Why can’t much of the Northern left?

Despite such formidable challenges, Venezuela has prevailed and triumphed. Venezuela today is more unified, stronger, more economically viable, and a more politically determined nation on the road to socialism. So Venezuela must be doing something right.

The choice could not be clearer: Will the world continue to give a free ride to a devious, amoral, predatory imperialism? Or will the freely chosen, revolutionary socialism of Venezuela, which feeds, shelters, heals, clothes, inspires, and defends its people, be given the international recognition and solidarity that it deserves, as a road to hope, peace, and justice in the world?

Venezuela’s answer is the same as Cuba’s: Venceremos! We will prevail.

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