The abolition of private property alone does not guarantee socialism. Private property within capitalism also can be abolished. What actually determines a socialist society is, besides the doing away with private property in the means of production, the control of the workers over the products of their labour and the end of the wage system.
It has always been the case in history that after the death of revolutionary leaders who were popular among the oppressed classes, their enemies have attempted to appropriate their names so as to deceive the oppressed classes.
A change in the forms of property which is not followed by democratic management and a reorganization of the productive system can only lead to a dead end.
In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour time.
What socialism will establish is a practical system of world production operating directly and solely for human needs. Socialism will be concerned solely with the production, distribution and consumption of useful goods and services in response to definite needs. It will integrate social needs with the material means of meeting those needs, that is to say, with active production. Under capitalism what appear to be production decisions are in fact decisions to go for profit in the market. Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs. With production for use, then, the starting point will be needs.
When everyone participates in the production of their existence, the capacity for pressure and oppression now in the hands of the state will cease to be operative. It is because wage-labor society deprives us of our means of living, producing and communicating, not stopping short of the invasion of once-private space and of our emotional lives, that its state is all-powerful. The best guarantee against the reappearance of a new structure of power over us is the deepest possible appropriation of the conditions of existence, at every level.
The goal of the working class is liberation from exploitation. This goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting the bourgeoisie. It can only be realised by the workers themselves being master over production.
For many people on the left, within and outside of Southern Africa, the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is seen as a beacon of socialist hope in a sea of capitalist despair. The reason why many leftists feel so strongly attached to this project, and promote it as an alternative, is because they have come to view it as a move by the Venezuelan state towards creating a genuine, free form of socialism or at the very least an experiment that profoundly breaks with the tenets of neo-liberalism. Many articles have, therefore, been written lauding the state’s nationalisation of some industries, its land distribution programmes, and its attempts to supposedly create participatory democracy in workplaces (through co-management and co-operatives) and in communities (through community councils). Linked to this, a great deal has also been made of the state using some of revenue generated by the Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to roll out social services such as education, subsidised foodstuffs and healthcare. Much ink has, consequently, been spilt arguing that all of these are socialist inspired moves and passionate calls have been made for other states, like the South African state, to adopt Venezuelan style ‘Socialism for the Twenty First Century’.
This article, however, questions the assumption that the Venezuelan state is embarking upon a path to create a truly egalitarian and free socialist society. It will, therefore, be argued that Venezuela is not in a transitional phase to socialism; rather it is a capitalist country where the private sector and important state-owned companies seek to maximise profits. Indeed, it will be argued that while some welfare is handed out by the state, this often sits side by side with other policies that are outright neo-liberal. In order to make the argument that Venezuela cannot be considered as heading in a socialist direction, this article will engage and examine issues around the state’s nationalisation programme, its relations to multinational corporations, its community councils project and its social service programmes. Coupled to this, the nature of the economy will be looked at, including ownership patterns, and it will be critically considered whether or not the relations of production that define capitalism are being transformed into more socialist relations based on direct democracy, mutual aid and self-management in workplaces and communities. In fact, it will be argued, from an anarchist perspective, that unfortunately relations that define class rule and capitalism are not being eroded away by the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’: instead of an egalitarian society arising, it will be considered how and why an elite still exploit and oppress the working class. It will, therefore, be critically considered how and why class rule and capitalism, and even elements of neo-liberal capitalism, in Venezuelan society are not in the process of being eroded away. Far from being a beacon of hope the ‘Bolivarian process’ may be more correctly identified as a case of smoke and mirrors.
Socialism and advanced forms of state capitalism are not easy to distinguish from each other, especially if one’s conception of “socialism” is highly schematic. Drape hierarchy with a red flag, submerge the crudest system of primitive accumulation and forced collectivization in rhetoric about the interests of “the People” or “the “Proletariat,” cover up hierarchy, elitism and a police state with huge portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin, print little “Red Books” that invite the most authoritarian adulation and preach the most inane banalities in the name of “dialectics” and “socialism” — and any gullible liberal who is becoming disenchanted with his ideology, yet is totally unconscious of the bourgeois conditioning he has acquired from the patriarchal family and authoritarian school, can suddenly become a flaming “revolutionary” socialist.