“Socialism doesn’t work – have you seen Venezuela?”
As an unrepentant anti-capitalist, this is one of the questions I have had to get used to answering regularly. Of course, there are many potential answers to this question, and each seems to largely relate back to one key point: Venezuela’s economy is still hugely reliant upon the very capitalist system so hostile to the country’s government. Not only is a vast proportion of the Venezuelan economy still based in the private sector (sporting 70% private industry, with even the UK
But there’s a different argument towards Venezuela and Chavismo which is continuously ignored by both the Western left and right. This being the success of the Masista government of Chavez’s protégé, Evo Morales, in Bolivia.
Morales’ government is extremely representative of its voters
One of the main criticisms often made of Chavismo is that it is inherently “undemocratic” in comparison to Western “liberal democracy”. However, the internationally undisputed result of the 2014 General Election in Bolivia put Morales with 61% of the vote share. Not only does this showcase a high level of political engagement in a country where compulsory voting is unenforced, but it also means that over half of the total Bolivian population voted for Morales – a clear representative democratic mandate. In contrast, Trump and Clinton both only received around a quarter of the population’s vote each, and as of yet, Boris has only been chosen by 0.13% of the British population. So to call “Socialism for the 21st Century” inherently undemocratic in comparison to the West is quite a rich claim.
But vote share aside, Morales’ government is also extremely representative of its voters. Over half of the Bolivian population is indigenous, yet Morales is its first president from an indigenous background, and the first democratically elected indigenous leader in South America. Over half of the Bolivian population is female, yet Morales’ 2009 cabinet was the first in the country’s history to be 50% female. A shining example of postcolonial development, Morales’ Bolivia has aimed to create the first plurinational state in South America, granting autonomy to indigenous communities and recognising them within Morales’ new constitution. This constitution was also the first in Bolivian history to guarantee equal legal rights for men and women, earning Morales the support of notable 5th-wave feminist organisations under the Coordinadora de la Mujer. Gender-based policies, and efforts to label femicide as a crime against humanity, have also been enacted by the masistas.
The Bolivian economy has stayed afloat through the economic crash of 2008 and the 2014 oil crisis
Chavismo is also often proclaimed by a Western narrative to be ruthlessly unequal and rife with poverty, but the statistics show the opposite in its application in Bolivia. In 2017, the poverty rate in Bolivia fell to its lowest point in history, having been up to 90% in rural communities before Morales. The minimum wage is now the second highest in South America, as inflation and inequality rates have steadily declined. 86% of the population now have access to clean water, which was previously difficult to come by in Bolivia, and with thousands of new healthcare centres around the country, citizens rich and poor, urban and rural, now have access to medical attention. And with, at times, the most rapid economic growth on the continent, the GDP has tripled since Morales took office. Being neither involved with the Western neo-liberal capitalists nor reliant on the oil industry, this Bolivian economy has stayed completely afloat throughout both the economic crash of 2008, and the 2014 oil crisis (this being the one which crippled Venezuela).
Morales’ campaign to aid indigenous and impoverished farmers has admittedly been criticised by environmentalists in the past, however Evo has proven himself as “the protector of Mother Earth” during Amazon burnings this year, in which he and his government eliminated 85% of fire hotspots in Bolivia, after fires spread to the country from neighbouring Brazil. Identifying the culprits to be large corporations, Morales went so far as to blacklist these corporations and ban the sale of private property in affected areas, aiding the eco-socialist cause. The same respect for the ‘lungs of the world’ cannot be attributed to Brazil’s rightist president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The limited reformism of Chavismo seems the most pragmatic option
Countries such as Bolivia or Venezuela generally do not have an adequately powerful proletariat for socialist, Zapatista-style revolution, the limited reformism of Chavismo would seem to be the most pragmatic option for many 21st century South American nations to demonstrate the benefits of a post-colonial, anti-capitalist alternative to their people. In Bolivia, this is clearly working. In Correa’s Ecuador and Lula’s Brazil, both governments having drawn inspiration from Chavismo, we have seen similarly positive effects occur – so all things considered, can Venezuela’s collapse really be labelled as the inevitable conclusion of a flawed ideology? Or do its other circumstances, more plausibly, make it an exception, not the rule?
Image by Douglas Fernandes via Flickr