Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Use Political Supremacy to Wrest, by Degree, All Capital from the Bourgeoisie

Official Marxism of the formerly socialist states depoliticized people, for the USSR and the PRC had much less room for political debates and social conflicts in the public sphere than Iran. Hence the eventual demise of socialism there.

That is the problem that Socialism of the 21st Century in Venezuela seeks to avoid, though that means slower and lesser transformation so far of political economy than in Iran, let alone the USSR and the PRC. Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval write in "The Venezuelan Economy in the Chávez Years": "As can be seen in Table 1, the private sector has grown faster than the public sector over the last 8 years, and therefore the private sector is a bigger share of the economy in 2007 than it was before President Chávez took office" (emphasis added, July 2007, p. 6).

Venezuela, Real GDP

That stands in contrast to the experience of the Iranian Revolution, about which one neoliberal critic wrote disapprovingly: "Semi-official estimates put the private-sector share of the national economy at between 15 to 20 percent. This made the Islamic state a mixed capitalist-socialist economy predominantly under clerical control" (Akbar Karbassian, "Islamic Revolution and the Management of the Iranian Economy," Social Research, Summer 2000).

The question is, can people use "political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie," as Michael A. Lebowitz proposes below?
But, the idea of this socialism cannot displace real capitalism. Nor can dwarfish islands of cooperation change the world by competing successfully against capitalist corporations. You need the power to foster the new productive relations while truncating the reproduction of capitalist productive relations. You need to take the power of the state away from capital, and you need to use that power when capital responds to encroachments -- when capital goes on strike, you must be prepared to move in rather than give in. Winning the “battle of democracy” and using “political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie” remains as critical now as when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto.

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However, the success of this process is not at all inevitable. There are, as there have always been within the Bolivarian Revolution, powerful tendencies that point in the opposite direction. Not only the strong inclination of government ministers and managers in important state sectors to plan and direct everything from above (a pattern which has successfully crippled independent workers’ movements) and not only the continuing culture of corruption and clientalism which can be the basis for the emergence of a new oligarchy. There is also a very clear tendency which supports the growth of a domestic capitalist class as one leg upon which the Bolivarian Revolution must walk for the foreseeable future.

No Chavists these days, of course, openly argue that socialism for the twenty-first century should depend upon capital. Rather, all insist that the process at this point requires the Bolivarian Revolution to tame private capital through “socialist conditionality”—i.e., by establishing new ground rules as conditions under which private capital can serve the revolution. In its best versions, this may be seen as a process of transition, that process of making “despotic inroads” and wresting, “by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie.” Certainly, measures such as opening the books, imposing workers’ councils with power, demanding accountability to communal councils, and transforming the workday by introducing education for worker management introduce an alien logic into capitalism -- the logic of new socialist productive relations within capitalist firms.

However, the lack of clarity as to the nature of those ground rules means that mixed signals are being sent out. The “realistic” message that Venezuela is likely to have a “mixed economy” for a long time, that there is a place for private capital in the Bolivarian Revolution, and that a sufficient condition for access to state business and state credit is a commitment by capital to the interests of communities and workers has brought with it the formation of organizations such as Conseven, the “Confederation of Socialist Industrialists,” and other private capitalist organizations busily defining private capital as socialist property. “Productive socialism,” it is being said in meetings of “Chavist” capitalists around the country, requires private capitalists as part of the socialist model.

In this case, rather than the “elementary triangle” of socialism (units of social property, organized by workers through social production, for the satisfaction of communal needs), what is strengthened is the capitalist triangle: private ownership of the means of production, exploitation of wage laborers, for the purpose of profits. However lofty the language of social responsibility, the pursuit of profits dominates: commitment to the community becomes, effectively, a tax, and worker participation becomes shares in the company to induce workers to commit themselves to producing profits. As may be seen from the disappointing experience of the EPS (which has followed this pattern), capital accepts these constraints as conditions in order to ensure its right to exploit and generate profits until it is strong enough itself to impose capitalist conditionality.

The Bolivarian Revolution, like all revolutionary processes, produces its own potential gravediggers. To the extent that it fosters the infection of the logic of capital, the Bolivarian Revolution does not walk on two legs but, rather, has one leg walking backward. When we acknowledge that this tendency is flourishing within the process and add it to the continuing pattern of clientalism and corruption, the remaining enclaves of old capitalist power (in banking, import-processing, land-ownership, and the media), and the constant presence and threat of U.S. imperialism, it is obvious that there are formidable barriers to the struggle for socialism in Venezuela.

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In a relatively short time, the Bolivarian Revolution has come a long way. It still faces many problems, and its success will only occur as the result of struggle -- not only a struggle against U.S. imperialism, the champion of barbarism around the world, which is threatened by any suggestion that there is an alternative to its rule; and, not only against the domestic oligarchy with its capitalist enclaves in the mass media, banks, processing sectors, and the latifundia. The really difficult struggle, I’ve argued, is within the Bolivarian Revolution itself -- in the divergence between a would-be new Bolivarian oligarchy and the masses of excluded and exploited.

These are struggles that all Latin America faces. As I concluded in Build it Now, “every place these struggles proceed, though, will make it easier for those who have gone before and those yet to come.” Venezuela’s lesson needs to be understood and communicated widely: its focus upon human development and revolutionary practice, its missions in education and health, and its creation of communal councils as the basis for a revolutionary democratic state cannot help but inspire masses elsewhere and create the condition for a revolutionary leadership to emerge. The real lesson of the Bolivarian Revolution, though, is what can happen when there is a dialectic of masses which understand that there is an alternative and a revolutionary leadership prepared to move in rather than give in. (Michael A. Lebowitz, "Venezuela: A Good Example of the Bad Left of Latin America," Monthly Review 59.3, July-August 2007)
I cannot guarantee that the Bolivarian strategy will work for Venezuela (difficulties that this strategy faces are highlighted in the above excerpt from the Lebowitz article -- read the full text to see its promising aspects), or it can be applied in Iran to reverse the trend toward gradual adoption of the neoliberal model after Khomeini's death, but the idea certainly merits serious consideration by all, religious or secular, who struggle against the neoliberal stage of capitalism and imperialism.

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