The Legacy of Hugo Chavez

Roger Burbach

Perhaps Chavez’ greatest international legacy is the revival of socialism. He more than any other figure is identified with the concept of “twenty-first-century socialism.” On January 30, 2005, he addressed the fifth annual gathering of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. I was among a crowd of 15,000 at the Gigantinho stadium, as Chavez proclaimed: “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.”

Chavez’s call to construct a new socialism for the twenty-first century marked a turning point in progressive history. Before that 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.

Moreover, these were not just the words and aspirations of a single figure; Chavez captured the growing anti-capitalist consciousness of a popular democratic movement that was directly challenging neoliberalism and U.S. hegemony in the region. Socialism could be achieved with “democracy,” insisted Chavez, “but not the type of democracy being imposed from Washington.”

During the past eight years, Chavez and the Venezuelan nation have gone far to implant socialism in their country. In late 2005 Chavez began called on citizens to form communal councils. The Law of Communal Councils defined these councils as “instances for participation, articulation, and integration between the diverse community-based organizations, social groups and citizens, that allow the organized people to directly exercise the management of public policies and projects.”

To date over 40,000 communal councils have been formed. Cooperatives are also a major form of constructing socialism from below. Many factories are now administered by workers councils, particularly in the steel, aluminum and bauxite industries. Food distribution centers are controlled by the workers.

The road to socialism, however is fraught with difficulties, as shortages and inflation have gripped the economy. Even Chavez acknowledged in his final days that Venezuela had by no means achieved a socialist utopia.

In spite of these problems, and contrary to the opinion of critics who decry his “authoritarian rule,” Hugo Chavez has left behind a political, social and economic edifice that is capable of carrying the revolution forward. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, is a capable leader of a trade union background who served as foreign minister until becoming vice-president. He will surprise people, as did Chavez, with his ability to lead Venezuela and to carry forth the struggle for democratic socialism and a better world.

SOURCE: Excerpt from



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