[OPE] "The spectre of socialism for the 21st century"

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Date: Thu Jul 03 2008 - 11:09:48 EDT

Michael Lebowitz: The spectre of socialism for the 21st century | Links


*Michael Lebowitz: The spectre of socialism for the 21st century

The following is the keynote address to the annual meeting of
the Society for Socialist Studies, Vancouver, June 5, 2008. It was
originally titled ``Building socialism for the 21st century''. To
hear an audio recording of the speech, click

By *Michael A. Lebowitz*

A spectre is haunting capitalism. It is the spectre of socialism for the
21st century. Increasingly, the characteristics of this spectre are
becoming clear, and we are able to see enough to understand what it is
not. The only thing that is not clear at this point is whether the
spectre is real &ndash; i.e., whether it is actually an earthly presence.

Consider what this spectre is not. It is not the belief that by
struggling within capitalism for reforms that it is possible to change
the nature of capitalism -- i.e., that a better capitalism, a third way,
can suspend the logic of capital (except momentarily). Nor is it a focus
upon electing friendly governments to preside over exploitation,
oppression and exclusion -- i.e., to support barbarism with a human
face. Indeed, this spectre does not accept the premise that you can
challenge the logic of capital without understanding it. Very simply,
the spectre of socialism for the 21st century is not yesterday's
liberal package -- social democracy. Further, this spectre is not a
focus upon the industrial working class as the revolutionary
subjects of socialism, a privileging whereby all other workers
(including those in the growing informal sector) are seen as lesser
workers, unproductive workers, indeed lumpenproletariat. Nor does it
suggest that those industrial workers by virtue of the difference
between their productivity with advanced means of production and
their incomes (i.e., the extent of their exploitation) have a
greater entitlement to the wealth of society than the poor and

In the conception of socialism for the 21st century, socialism is not
confused with the ownership of the means of production by the state such
that (a) it is thought that all that is necessary for socialism is to
nationalise and (b) that everything not nationalised is an affront.
Indeed, this spectre does not emphasise the development of productive
forces without regard for the nature of productive relations (such that
gulags, dictatorship and indeed capitalism can all be justified because
they develop the productive forces and thereby move you closer to
socialism and communism).

Nor, for that matter, does it think of two post-capitalist states,
socialism and communism, separated by a Chinese wall; in the concept of
socialism for the 21st century, there is no separate socialist principle
of ``to each according to his contribution'' which must be honoured.
Rather, there is simply the recognition that the development of the new
society is a process and that this process necessarily begins on a
defective basis -- in other words, with defects such as self
orientation. Precisely for this reason, this recognition of existing
defects, the battle of ideas -- an ideological battle against the old
world -- is central to the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

Finally, socialism for the 21st century is not based upon democracy in
the classic sense. By that, I mean that it is not based upon the concept
of representative democracy -- that institutional form in which rule by
the people is transformed into voting periodically for those who
will misrule them. All these fall into what I call yesterday's
socialist package.

*Marx and the centrality of human development*

So, if the spectre of socialism for the 21st century differs from
yesterday's liberal and socialist packages, what is it?

First of all, it is a stress upon the centrality of human development.
In this respect, it is a restoration of the focus of 19th century
socialists. It is the vision of a society with the goal (according to
Saint-Simon) of providing to its members ``the greatest possible
opportunity for the development of their faculties'', a goal to which
Louis Blanc referred as ensuring that everyone has ``the power to
develop and exercise his faculties in order to really be free'' and of a
society in which, according to Friedrich Engels, ``every member of it
can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom
and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society''.
This vision of human development which is central to socialism for the
21st century was unquestionably Marx's vision (Lebowitz, 2006: 53-60)

The Young Marx envisioned a ``rich human being'' -- one who has
developed their capacities and capabilities to the point where they are
able ``to take gratification in a many-sided way'' -- ``the rich man
profoundly endowed with all the senses'' (Marx, 1844: 302). ``In
place of the wealth and poverty of political economy'', he proposed,
``come the rich human being and rich human need'' (Marx, 1844: 304).
But, it was not only a young, romantic, so-called pre-Marxist Marx
who spoke so eloquently about rich human beings. In the /Grundrisse/,
Marx returned explicitly to this conception of human wealth -- to a rich
human being -- ``as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities
and relations''; real wealth, he understood, is the development of human
capacity -- the ``development of the rich individuality which is as
all-sided in its production as in its consumption'' (Marx, 1973: 325).

Could anything be clearer? This is what Marx's conception of socialism
all about -- the creation of a society which removes all obstacles
to the full development of human beings. He looked ahead to that society
of associated producers, where each individual is able to develop
her full potential -- i.e., the ``absolute working-out of his
creative potentialities'', the ``complete working out of the human
content'', the ``development of all human powers as such the end in
itself'' (Marx, 1973: 488, 541, 708). In contrast to capitalist
society in which we are the means to expand the wealth of capital,
Marx in his book /Capital/ pointed to that alternative society,
``the inverse situation in which objective wealth is there to
satisfy the worker's own need for development'' (Marx, 1977: 772).

The workers' own need for development -- there is the spectre,
there is the impulse for a new society. In his /Critique of the
Gotha Programme/, Marx projected that in the cooperative society
based upon the common ownership of the means of production, the
productive forces would have ``increased with the all-round
development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative
wealth flow more abundantly'' (Marx, 1875: 24). As he described it
in the /Communist Manifesto/, our goal is ``an association, in which
the free development of each is the condition for the free
development of all'' (Lebowitz, 2003: 202-5). Our goal, in
short, cannot be a society in which some people are able to develop
their capabilities and others are not; we are interdependent, we are all
members of a human family. Thus our goal must be the full development of
all human potential.

*`These ideas live today'*

There's more here than a 19th century view. That these ideas live
today can be seen very clearly in the Bolivarian Constitution of
Venezuela. In its explicit recognition (in Article 299) that the
goal of a human society must be that of ``ensuring overall human
development'', in the declaration of Article 20 that ``everyone has
the right to the free development of his or her own personality''
and the focus of Article 102 upon ``developing the creative
potential of every human being and the full exercise of his or her
personality in a democratic society'' --  this theme of human
development pervades the Bolivarian Constitution.

Further, there is something there that you don't find in the liberal
conceptions of human development underlying the UN Human Development
Index. This constitution also focuses upon the question of how people
develop their capacities and capabilities -- i.e., how overall human
development occurs. Article 62 of the Bolivarian Constitution
declares that participation by people in ``forming, carrying out and
controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of
achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both
individual and collective''. The necessary way. And, the same
emphasis upon a democratic, participatory and protagonistic society
is present in the economic sphere, which is why Article 70 stresses
``self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms'' and
why Article 102's goal of ``developing the creative potential of
every human being'' emphasises ``active, conscious and joint

This focus upon practice as essential for human development was, of
course, Marx's central insight into how people change. It's not a matter
simply of spending more on education, health and social services.
Remember Marx's early comment on Robert Owen's conception that what was
needed to change people was to change the circumstances in which they
exist. Marx (1845) emphatically rejected the idea that we can give
people a gift, that if we just change the circumstances in which they
exist they will be themselves different people. You are forgetting, he
pointed out, that it is human beings who change circumstances. The idea
that we can create new circumstances for people and thereby change them,
he insisted, in fact divides society into two parts -- one part of which
is deemed superior to society. It is the same perspective that Paulo
Freire (2006: 72) subsequently rejected in his /Pedagogy of the
Oppressed/ -- the concept that ``knowledge is a gift bestowed by those
who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider
to know nothing''.

In contrast, Marx introduced the concept of revolutionary practice --
``the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity
or self-change'' -- the red thread that runs throughout his work. He
talked, for example, of how people develop through their own struggles
-- how this is the only way the working class can ``succeed in ridding
itself of the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew''.

And he told workers that they would have to go through as much as 50
years of struggles ``not only to bring about a change in society but
also to change yourselves, and prepare yourselves for the exercise
of political power''. And, again, after the Paris Commune in 1871,
over a quarter of a century after he first began to explore this
theme, he commented that workers know ``they will have to pass
through long struggles, through a series of historical processes,
transforming circumstances and men'' (Lebowitz, 2003: 179-84).

Always the same point -- we change ourselves through our activity.
This idea of the simultaneous change in circumstances and
self-change, however, is not limited to class struggle itself. It is
present in all activities of people -- i.e., every process of
activity has two products -- i.e., joint products -- the change in
circumstances and the change in the actor. This obviously applies in
the sphere of production as well. As Marx commented in the
/Grundrisse/, in production ``the producers change, too, in that
they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in
production, transform themselves, develop new powers and
ideas, &hellip;new needs and new language''. Here, indeed, is the essence
of the cooperative society based upon common ownership of the means of
production -- ``when the worker cooperates in a planned way with others,
he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the
capabilities of his species''.

How far, of course, this is from the idea that what you have to do is
build up the productive forces and thereby transform the conditions in
which people exist, transforming their being and their consciousness!
But what other inferences flow from these principles -- the focus upon
human development and upon revolutionary practice, that simultaneous
changing of circumstances and self-change? Let me suggest that these two
principles constitute the ``key link'', the key link we need to
grasp (in Lenin's words) if we are to understand the concept of
socialism for the 21st century.

Consider, for example, what this means for the process of production. If
people are prevented from using their minds within the workplace but
instead follow directions from above, you have what Marx described as
the crippling of body and mind, producers who are fragmented, degraded,
alienated from ``the intellectual potentialities of the labour
process''. There's no surprise that Marx looked forward to the
re-combining of head and hand, the uniting of mental and physical labour
-- i.e., to a time when the individual worker can call ``his own
muscles into play under the control of his own brain''. But, more
than a simple combination of mental and manual labour within the
sphere of production is needed. Without ``intelligent direction of
production'' by workers, without production ``under their conscious
and planned control'', workers cannot develop their potential as
human beings because their own power becomes a power over them
(Marx, 1977: 450, 173).

*`Protagonistic' democracy*

What kind of productive relations, then, can provide the conditions for
the full development of human capacities? Only those in which there
is conscious cooperation among associated producers; only those in
which the goal of production is that of the workers themselves.
Clearly, though, this requires more than worker-management in
individual workplaces. They must be the goals of workers in society,
too -- workers in their communities.

After all, what is production? It's not something that occurs only in a
factory or in what we traditionally identify as a workplace. When we
understand the goal as that of human development, we recognise that
production should not be confused with production of specific
use-values; rather, as Marx noted, all specific products and activities
are mere moments in a process of producing human beings, who are the
real result of social production. And, that points to the importance of
making each moment a site for the collective decision making and variety
of activity that develops human capacities.

Implicit in the emphasis of the concept of socialism for the 21st
century upon human development and how that development can occur only
through practice is our need to be able to develop through democratic,
participatory and protagonistic activity in every aspect of our lives.

Through revolutionary practice in our communities, our workplaces
and in all our social institutions, we produce ourselves as 'rich
human beings'  -- rich in capacities and needs -- in contrast to the
impoverished and crippled human beings that capitalism produces.

In contrast to the hierarchical capitalist state (which Marx
understood as an ``engine of class despotism'') and to the despotism
of the capitalist workplace, only a revolutionary democracy can
create the conditions in which we can invent ourselves daily as rich
human beings. This concept is one of democracy in practice,
democracy as practice, democracy as protagonism. Democracy in this
sense -- protagonistic democracy in the workplace, protagonistic
democracy in neighbourhoods, communities, communes -- is the
democracy of people who are transforming themselves into
revolutionary subjects.

How else but through protagonistic democracy in production can we ensure
that the process of producing is one which enriches people and expands
their capacities rather than crippling and impoverishing them? How else
but through protagonistic democracy in society can we ensure that what
is produced is what is needed to foster the realisation of our potential?

If there is to be democratic production for the needs of society,
however, there is an essential precondition: there cannot be a
monopolisation of the products of human labour by individuals, groups or
the state. In other words, the precondition is social ownership of
the means of production: this is the first side of what President
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has called the ``elementary triangle'' of
(a) social ownership of the means of production, which is a basis for
(b) social production organised by workers in order to
(c) satisfy communal needs and communal purposes.

Let us consider each element in this particular combination of

*A. /Social ownership of the means of production/*

Social ownership of the means of production is critical because it is
the only way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is
directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the
private goals of capitalists, groups of individuals or state
bureaucrats. Social ownership is not, however, the same as state
ownership. Social ownership implies a profound democracy -- one in which
people function as subjects, both as producers and as members of
society, in determining the use of the results of our social labour.

*B. /Production organised by

Production organised by workers builds new relations
among producers -- relations of cooperation and solidarity. As long
as workers are prevented from developing their capacities by
combining thinking and doing in the workplace, they remain alienated
and fragmented human beings whose enjoyment consists in possessing
and consuming things. And, if workers don't make decisions in the
workplace and develop their capacities, we can be certain that
someone else will. Protagonistic democracy in the workplace is an
essential condition for the full development of the producers.

*C. /Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes/*

Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes focuses upon the importance
of basing our productive activity upon the recognition of our common
humanity and our needs as members of the human family. Thus, it
stresses the importance of going beyond self-interest to think of
our community and society. As long we produce only for our private
gain, how do we look at other people? As competitors or as customers
-- i.e., as enemies or as means to our own ends; thus, we remain
alienated, fragmented and crippled. Rather than relating to others
through an exchange relation (and, thus, trying to get the best deal
possible for ourselves), this third element of the elementary
triangle of socialism has as its goal building a relation to others
characterised by our unity based upon recognition of difference;
through our activity, then, we both build solidarity among people
and at the same time produce ourselves differently.

And, this concept of solidarity is central because it is saying that all
human beings, all parts of the collective worker, are entitled to draw
upon our ``communal, social productivity''. The premise is not at all
that we have the individual right to consume things without limit
but,  rather, that we recognise the centrality of ``the worker's own
need for development''. Further, our claim upon the accumulated
fruits of social brain and hand is not based upon exploitation. It
is not because you have been exploited that you are entitled to
share in the fruits of social labour. Rather, it is because you are
a human being in a human society &ndash; and because, like all of
us, you have the right to the opportunity to develop all your

At the same time as a human being in a human society you also have the
obligation to other members of this human family -- to make certain that
they also have this opportunity, that they too can develop their
potential. As a member of this family you are called upon to do your
share -- a concept also present in the Bolivarian Constitution: Article
135 notes ``the obligations which by virtue of solidarity, social
responsibility and humanitarian assistance, are incumbent upon
individuals according to their abilities''.

Look at the direction that this key link -- human development and the
simultaneous changing of circumstance and self-change takes us:

- to democratic decision making in the workplace and the community

- to a focus upon building solidarity and new socialist human beings
rather than relying upon exchange relations and material self-interest
(which Che Guevara &mdash; whose 80^th birthday would have been today --
warned us leads to a blind alley)

- to a new conception of the state as one which is not over and above
civil society (i.e., a state of the Paris Commune-type) -- i.e., a state
which Marx wrote is our own ``living force'', our own power, rather than
a power used against us

- and, for that matter, this key link of human development and

revolutionary practice leads us to recognise the need for a
political instrument which respects the creative energy and
revolutionary practice of masses rather than substitutes its own
wisdom. In short, a political instrument which embraces the
revolutionary pedagogy of Rosa Luxemburg when she argued: ``The
working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn in
the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the
errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are
infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central

*Is the spectre real? **Venezuela**'s Bolivarian Revolution*

The outlines of the spectre, socialism for the 21st century, become
increasingly clear. The question remains, however, is the spectre real?
Does it have an earthly presence? Especially, since this vision of the
spectre draws so much upon the discourse of the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela, it is important to ask what the reality is there.

Certainly, socialism for the 21st century has been explicitly on the
agenda in Venezuela since Chavez's closing speech at the January 2005
World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when he surprised many
people by saying, ``We have to re-invent socialism.'' At that time,
Chavez emphasised that ``It can't be the kind of socialism that we saw
in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that
are built on cooperation, not competition.'' Capitalism has to be
transcended, he argued, if we are ever going to end the poverty of the
majority of the world. ``But we cannot resort to state capitalism,
which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must
reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type
of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or
the state ahead of everything.''

Without question, there has been progress in this direction. Starting in
2004, oil revenues from the newly recaptured state oil company were
directed to new missions which have been providing people with basic
prerequisites for human development -- education, health care, adequate
and affordable food. Important steps, too, have been taken to develop
each side of the elementary socialist triangle:


/Social property:/ There has been an expansion of state property,
which can be a threshold to socialist property (because it is
possible to direct state property to satisfy social needs). In
addition to the expansion of state sectors in oil and basic
industry, to last year's acquisition of strategic sectors such as
communications, electric power and the recovery of the dominant
position for the state in the heavy oil fields has been added this
year so far a major dairy company and most recently the steel
company (SIDOR) that had been privatised by a previous government.
Further, the offensive against the /latifundia/ has resumed with
several land seizures (or ``recoveries''), and new state companies
(including joint ventures with state firms from countries such as
Iran) have been created to produce means of production like tractors.


/Social production:/ While the government has continued to seek
ways to encourage worker-management, in particular by supporting
cooperatives and recovered factories, this side of the
triangle is the least developed so far. In part, this is because of
opposition within the state to worker-management in strategic
sectors such as oil and energy, and in part because of opposition
from traditional trade unions to co-management structures and
workers' councils.  What has been happening is a continued search for
forms, and the government has moved from exploring cooperatives as
the desired form, to EPS, companies of social production (which made
commitments to workers and communities), and now to the
exploration of the concept of socialist companies. Everyday, I
hear of new ideas in this direction. At this point, this aspect is
a work in process. However, it does appear that a previous model
of 51% state ownership and 49% ownership by a workers' cooperative
is being replaced by focus upon 100% state ownership with workers'
control. Progress in this area, unfortunately, has been held up by
the chaos and intense battles between Chavist trade union
currents, and that has been a source of incredible frustration for
many -- including Chavez. In this process, Chavez continues to
exhort the working class to play a leadership role. After this
year's takeover of the dairy producer Los Andes, he argued that
``workers' committees must be created, socialist committees, in
order to transform the factory from inside. The workers must know
what is happening in the company, participate in decision-making
in the firm.'' And, after the decision to nationalise SIDOR, he
announced that the government was a government of the working
class. At this very point, the nationalisation of SIDOR after
major struggles by the steel workers has re-animated the organised
working class; and our institute (Centro Internacional Miranda)
has organised roundtables between tendencies and currents that
would not have been possible several months ago.


/Production for social needs:/ Throughout the country, there are

many experiments attempting to link producers and consumers
directly -- especially in the sphere of agricultural products and
in local trading with local currencies. To be able to identify
social needs, though, continuing social institutions are required;
and the most significant advance that has occurred is the
development in 2006 of the new communal councils which are able to
identify the needs of their communities. These councils are an
extraordinary experiment in bringing power to people in their
neighbourhoods -- creating an institutional form in which they can
diagnose their needs collectively and determine the priorities for
their communities. Of course, the idea of participatory diagnosis
and budgeting is not unique to Venezuela; that is occurring in a
number of communities elsewhere (and the most famous example is
Porto Alegre in Brazil). But what is unique in Venezuela is the
size of the units in question. Communal councils are formed to
represent in urban areas 200-400 families (which can be 1000
people) and in rural areas as few as 20 families. It means that
the councils are choosing not distant representatives but, rather,
their neighbours, people they know well -- and not as
representatives but as /voceros/, spokespersons for the ultimate
decision-making body, the general assembly (which, of course,
meets in the neighbourhood, thus allowing everyone to
participate). In the communal councils you have the embryo for a
new state from below. And that was recognised explicitly by Chavez
last year when he proclaimed ``All Power to the Communal
Councils''. Now, of course, the communal councils are small, and
the problems of society go well beyond those that can be resolved
at the neighbourhood level. That is understood, and Chavez has
called the councils themselves the cell of a new socialist state.
They are seen as the building blocks -- essential because they are
allowing people to develop confidence and capacities in dealing
with problems they understand. (Observing the sense of pride in
these communities is very moving.) However, it is obviously
necessary to begin to combine the communal councils into larger
associations in order to deal with larger problems. And that is
precisely what is happening now with the creation of pilot
projects to combine some of the more advanced groups of councils
into socialist communes. The process envisioned is very clearly
one of trying to build a new state from below.

So, is this spectre of socialism for the 21st century, with its focus
upon human development and practice, real? Clearly, it is not just
words. There is truly an attempt to make socialism for the 21st century
real. But, can it succeed?

*Can socialism for the 21st century succeed?*

You might wonder, why am I even posing this question -- given evidence
that the desire is there and knowledge that the great oil revenues
available provide the means!

Three years ago, I gave a talk in Venezuela called ``Socialism doesn't
drop from the sky'', which has been very widely circulated in Venezuela

(largely because Chavez has talked about it a number of times on
television); it is also a chapter in my book, /Build it Now: Socialism
for the 21st Century/. One aspect of the title of that essay refers
to the obvious point that socialism obviously is necessarily rooted
in particular societies -- which is to say that it must be developed
in societies with particular histories. To understand the
possibilities for  success in Venezuela, you have to know something
about the nature of that society.

Now, I can't give you a complete, balanced account of Venezuela in the
time left. So, I'll just stress just some of the characteristics which
suggest significant obstacles to building socialism for the 21st century
in Venezuela.

When you talk about Venezuela, you have to begin with oil. Not only the
effect of oil exports upon the hollowing-out of the economy such that
local manufacturing and agriculture effectively disappeared as the
result of an exchange rate which made it much cheaper to import
everything rather than to produce it domestically. It's an extreme
example of what is called the ``Dutch disease'': despite rich
agricultural land, Venezuela was importing 70% of its food. So, massive
migration from the countryside to live in the cities, e.g., in the hills
surrounding Caracas -- 80% of the population is urban, maybe 10% engaged
in agriculture. And as for industry, it was largely import processing --
processing food, assembling cars and assorted other import-related
sectors. Oil production itself doesn't generate many jobs, so we have to
think about unemployment, an informal sector (about 50% of the working
class) and poverty -- extreme social debt and inequality.

Add to that economic effect, the effect upon state and society. Unlike
the classic picture of a state resting upon civil society, upon the
social classes, in Venezuela, civil society rests upon the state.

Contrary to Engels' sneers at Tkachev, in Venezuela the state indeed
has been suspended in mid-air -- or, more precisely, suspended upon
an oil geyser. Thus, the state has been the supreme object of desire
-- or, more precisely, access to the state for the purpose of
gaining access to oil rents has been a national preoccupation. And,
in this orgy of rent seeking within a poverty-stricken society -- a
culture of corruption and clientalism, parasitic capitalists who
don't invest, a labour aristocracy with trade union leaders who sell
jobs, a party system which functions as an alternating transmission
belt for elections and access to state jobs, a state which mostly
does not work because it is filled with incompetent sinecurists but,
when it does, is completely top-down. These are just a few
characteristics worth mentioning.

All of this was present in Venezuela when Chavez was elected in 1998.
And, you would have to be truly naďve to think that it disappeared when
Chávez came to office. On the contrary, it pervades /Chavism/ -- the
corruption, the clientalism, the nature of the state, the nature of the
party (including the new party &ndash; PSUV -- currently being
built), the gap between the organised working class and the poor in
the informal sector -- it's all there! And, you will recognise that
it is entirely contrary to everything in the concept of socialism
for the 21st century.

Socialism doesn't drop from the sky. It is necessarily rooted in
particular societies. And, these two souls which currently beat in the
breast of Venezuela are clearly at war. Chavez often cites [Italian
Marxist Antonio] Gramsci about how the old is dying and the new cannot
yet be born (although he leaves out the part about how a great many
morbid symptoms appear at that time). Precisely because of these two
opposed tendencies, when I write about Venezuela, I always stress the
internal struggle within Chavism as the main obstacle to the success of
the Bolivarian Revolution. Obviously, it is not the only obstacle --
there is the existing oligarchy, the /latifundists/ (who are the most
reactionary and violent part of the opposition), the existing
capitalists in their enclaves of import processing, finance and the
media (which has been their main weapon) and, of course, US imperialism.
Not only was the US complicit in the 2002 coup which briefly removed
Chavez and in the oil lockout and sabotage later that year, but it also
funds and trains the opposition, orchestrates the international media
blitz against Venezuela (currently with the assistance of magical
laptop  computers produced by its Colombian clients), and it is in
the process of bringing the US navy back to patrol the waters off

Imperialism is no paper tiger. And, clearly, solidarity with the
Bolivarian process is essential by those outside the country who value
the concepts and developments I have described. However, I stress the
internal obstacles to socialism within Chavism -- the emerging new
capitalists (the ``bolibourgeoisie''), the high officials (both from
military and vanguardist traditions -- it is difficult to see the
distinction) who are opposed to power from below in workplaces and
communities (and, thus opposed, in this respect, to human development
and revolutionary practice), the party functionaries and nomenklatura.
Why do I stress this? Because I consider this the ultimate contradiction
of the revolution; and, I think the struggle between this
``endogenous right'' (the right from within) and the masses who have
been mobilised is the ultimate conflict which will determine the
fate of the Bolivarian Revolution.

*Who will win?*

Who will win? I have to tell you honestly that I don't know. My
daily mantra in Venezuela is ``pessimism of the intellect, optimism
of the will''. I can tell you that Venezuela is no place for a
revolutionary who suffers from bipolar disorder. There are the days
of depression and despair; there are the days of manic exultation.
In the end, it will all depend upon struggle, class struggle, and
when it comes to class struggle, there are no guarantees.

But let's assume a worse-case scenario -- that the process in Venezuela
degenerates, that it proceeds to demoralise its supporters, is
defeated in one way or another by defectors, domestic capitalists,
the military or imperialism. Let's assume, in other words, that this
particular earthly manifestation of the spectre of socialism for the
21st century is no more.

What will be left? A spectre -- but one with much more substance than
Marx and Engels could write about in the /Communist Manifesto/ in the
mid-19^th century. A spectre -- but one which is capable of becoming a
material force by grasping the minds of masses. A spectre -- but one
which is absolutely essential to our survival because of another spectre.

Think about this concept of socialism for the 21st century. About the
focus upon human development as the goal, upon a democratic,
participatory, protagonistic society as the necessary way for the
complete development of people, individually and collectively. Think
about the idea of communal councils in which people can collectively
decide upon their needs, where they simultaneously change circumstances
and themselves. Think about democracy in the workplace, about ending
the divide between thinking and doing and being able to draw upon
the tacit knowledge of workers to be able to produce better. Think
in general about this concept of revolutionary democracy which is
central to the concept of socialism for the 21st century.

This is not a concept just for Venezuela or Latin America or for the
poor of the South. Why is this not a spectre that can appeal to
Canadians in their communities and workplaces? Why is there not the
potential for a political instrument here that can focus upon these
aspects, that can put forward a vision and that can be a medium for
coordinating these struggles from below?

I suggest that this is not just a nice wish -- it is a necessity.
Because there is another spectre out there -- a spectre which is
haunting humanity, the spectre of barbarism.

Think about capitalism. Its very essence is the drive to expand capital.
The picture is one of capital constantly generating more surplus value
in the form of commodities which must be sold, constantly trying to
create new needs in order to make real that surplus value in the form of
money. That constant generation of new needs, Marx noted already in the
mid 19th century, is the basis of the contemporary power of capital.

Thus, a growing circle -- a spiral of growing alienated production,
growing needs and growing consumption. But how long can that continue?

Everyone knows that the high levels of consumption achieved in
certain parts of the world cannot be copied in the parts of the
world which capital has newly incorporated into the world capitalist
economy. Very simply, the Earth cannot sustain this -- as we can
already see with the clear evidence of global warming and the
growing shortages which reflect rising demands for particular
products in the new capitalist centers. Sooner or later, that circle
will reach its limits. Its ultimate limit is given by the limits of
nature, the limits of the Earth to sustain more and more consumption
of commodities, more and more consumption of the Earth's resources.

But well before we reach the ultimate limits of the vicious
circle of capitalism, there inevitably will arise the question of
who is entitled to command those increasingly limited resources. To
whom will go the oil, the metals, the water -- all those
requirements of modern life? Will it be the currently rich countries
of capitalism, those that have been able to develop because others
have not? In other words, will they be able to maintain the vast
advantages they have in terms of consumption of things and resources
-- and to use their power to grab the resources located in other
countries? Will newly emerging capitalist countries (and, indeed,
those not emerging at all) be able to capture a ``fair share''? Will
the impoverished producers of the world -- producers well aware of
the standards of consumption elsewhere as the result of the mass
media -- accept that they are not entitled to the fruits of
civilisation? How will this be resolved?

The spectre of barbarism is haunting humanity. And, what is the
alternative to it? Yesterday's liberalism -- social democracy -- has
never understood the nature of capital and offers, accordingly, only
barbarism with a human face. And, yesterday's socialist package, with
its promise of more rapid development of productive forces, its
privileging of industrial workers and, its premise of a stage based upon
a principle that we all must get in accordance with our contribution --
this is no alternative to the crisis humanity faces.

Whatever the ultimate fate of the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela,
its principal contribution has been to restore hope; it has done
this by revealing that there is an alternative to neoliberalism and
the logic of capital. The alternative offered by socialism for the
21st century points to the need to understand that, regardless of
the luck of our birthplaces or our own past contributions, the
accumulated fruits of social brain and hand belong to us all.
Internationally, its alternative is ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas, which has created links between Venezuela, Cuba
and Bolivia based upon solidarity rather than exchange relations. At
the core of the alternative offered by socialism for the 21st
century is the idea of building a society based upon relations of
solidarity -- solidarity between producers, e.g., in
formal and informal sectors, solidarity between those of the North and
those of the South. At its core is the idea of producing consciously for
communal needs and purposes and thereby building a society in which the
free development of all is the condition for the free development of

So, let me conclude with a point that is completely unoriginal but
which, so significantly, is being heard more and more these days: the
choice before us is -- socialism or barbarism.

Let me add, though, that socialism doesn't drop from the sky --
you have to struggle to make it real.

[Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon Fraser
University in Vancouver, Canada, and director of the Centro International
Miranda, Caracas, Venezuela.]


Freire, Paulo. 2006. /Pedagogy of the Oppressed/ (New York: Continuum).

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003. /Beyond Capital: Marx's
Political Economy of the Working Class/ (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2006. /Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st
Century/ (New York: Monthly Review Press).

Marx, Karl. 1844. /Economic //and Philosophic Manuscripts of
1844, in /Marx and Engels (1975b), /Collected Works, /Vol./ /3.

Marx, Karl. 1845. 'Theses on Feuerbach', in Marx and Engels
(1976), /Collected Works,/ Vol. 5.

Marx, Karl. 1875. /Critique of the //Gotha// Programme, /in Marx and
Engels (1962), /Selected Works, Vol. II./

Marx, Karl. 1973. /Grundrisse /(New York: Vintage Books).

Marx, Karl. 1977. /Capital, Vol. I /(New York: Vintage Books).

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