[OPE-L] Why Aren't *You* in a Hurry, Comrade?

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Feb 01 2007 - 15:10:43 EST


Why Aren't *You* in a Hurry, Comrade?

by Michael A. Lebowitz

"What's the rationale for allowing Chavez to govern by decree?"  Why
such a "precipitous approach"?  As the apparent resident apologist
(or, let's just say, on-site interpreter) for the Bolivarian
Revolution, I get questions like this regularly from friends who
don't know much about Venezuela but do know what they don't like
(from reading the always unbiased and objective capitalist
press).  Of course, I'm not alone in this respect: others here get
the same questions from outside: How can Chavez do this?  How can you
justify this?  The implicit question, of course, always is -- how can
I (the enquirer) continue to say (and think) nice things about the
Bolivarian Revolution when HE does this?  How can I (the enquirer)
justify the process to my friends (colleagues)?  A single party, rule
by decree -- isn't this the road to Stalinism and to the gulag?

As some of the dismay over the idea of a unified party of the
revolution dissipates with Chavez's stress upon the need to build it
from below and to make it the most democratic party in Venezuela's
history, attention now has focused upon his request to the National
Assembly for an
Law that would allow him to introduce laws in specific areas directly
rather than taking these through the National Assembly.  Reminded
that designation of such time-limited special powers is nothing new
in Venezuelan history, predating Chavez and also essential in his own
introduction of 49 Laws in 2001 (laws on cooperatives, fisheries,
hydrocarbon tax, etc), friends ask -- but why now?  After all, given
the opposition's brilliant manoeuvre in boycotting the National
Assembly elections (once it was apparent they would be overwhelmed),
there is no opposition present to delay matters in that body. So,
what's the hurry?

It's a question not only posed by progressive observers outside but
also by their counterparts among some Venezuelan intellectuals.  Can
this be democratic, they ask?  Doesn't this reflect the verticalism
of the military rather than democracy, authoritarianism and
personalism in place of the deliberations of the National
Assembly?  It is the point posed recently by a well-known Venezuelan
<http://www.venezolanosenlinea.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11103&Itemid=79Lopez Maya, when she noted that the tempo for democratic procedures
is not at all the same as that for military operations.  "It's not
clear," she indicated (and, not surprisingly, this was the headline
in the opposition newspaper, El Nacional, to which she gave the
interview), "if chavista socialism will be democratic."

This concern about the tempo is an entirely legitimate question from
the vantage point of a traditional intellectual.  There is no
question that tempo can be the enemy of democratic processes.  But,
this is not the only vantage point worth noting.

I had dinner last night with two friends (one a first-time visitor),
who had spent a full day talking with people active in communal
councils in two Caracas neighbourhoods (one extremely poor).  And,
they were telling me about the frustration and anger of so many with
local and ministry officials who were holding back change -- and
about their identification with the impatience of Chavez, whom they
trusted.  Not surprisingly, this led us to a discussion of the
Enabling Law and of Lopez Maya's interview.  No, they said, the
people they saw weren't worried about that at all -- they agree with
the need for speed.  You mean, I asked, that the people are in a
hurry?  Yes, they readily assented (to my surprise), and one
commented that they are less interested in democracy as process than
in democracy in practice.

There should be no surprises there.  After all, in a country with an
enormous social debt, where people have basic needs for sewers,
electricity, water, jobs, housing, etc. and where they are being
encouraged to take things into their hands through communal councils,
cooperatives, and other forms of collective self-activity -- and
where everywhere they come up against the long-standing patterns of
bureaucracy, corruption, and clientelism -- should we be surprised
that the people are impatient?  Should we be surprised at how few
people answered the Opposition's call to demonstrate against the
Enabling Law?  Should we be surprised that the people are in a hurry?

The real question that needs to be posed is one to traditional
Venezuelan intellectuals and their counterparts abroad: why aren't
you in a hurry, comrade?

Michael A. Lebowitz is professor emeritus of economics at Simon
Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and the author of
Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class, winner of the
Isaac Deutscher memorial prize for 2004, and
<http://www.monthlyreview.org/builditnow.htm>Build It Now: Socialism
for the Twenty-First Century, just published by Monthly Review Press.


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