Planning the detail of the transition and revolution toward a socialist and more just society, from community and worker organization, to consciousness building, to production and distribution systems, to combating state and judicial corruption and bureaucracy, to agriculture, mining, petroleum, infrastructure, and relationships with other countries, is no small task. The truth is, it has been a hard task writing this analysis. It has required a certain level of restraint to force myself to be selective and pick out only the most salient points of Chavez's 39 page proposed plan for the 2013-2019 period of the Bolivarian revolution. All of the objectives and strategic points and sub points seemed important, and that in of itself reflects something wonderful, I think. For the millions of us heavily involved in this revolution, we are so drawn in that we care what the agricultural goals are, we're concerned about methods for reforming the utterly rotten judicial system, we're watching closely to see how food distribution progresses – even if we aren't ourselves directly involved. We're reading the plan (according to the national news agency of Venezuela (AVN) one million copies have already been distributed) and realizing just how much we have to do, because we feel like this is our responsibility too, not just the state's (or Chavez's). It's our project.
This plan, like its predecessor, the First Socialist Plan 2007-2013, will be taken very seriously as a guide, or reference point for where we should be heading and what needs to be done. It will be quoted at meetings, it will be a permanent fixture on office desks, it will be browsed at night. And importantly, first it will be debated. Over the next six months, various fronts, councils, organizations, and movements, will discuss the plan and send in suggestions, as the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) – Women's Council has already done. If Chavez wins the presidential elections, the final version of the plan should be passed by the National Assembly in January next year.
Of course, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has, as a requirement at the time of registering for the presidential elections, had to submit a plan as well, and I'll briefly review his at the end of the article. However, to compare the two plans is like comparing a Lego town with a real city, or Harlequin ‘romance’ novels to Eduardo Galeano, or origami tigers with the real animal. Capriles’ ‘plan’ is in fact a pretentious collection of advertizing slogans. Even a non Spanish speaker, taking a quick glimpse at the two (Chavez's plan is available here and Capriles’ here) can see who seriously intends to win the October presidential elections, and who has lethargically hired a public relations team to put together a few of the standard election key words used in every single country by those vacant politicians who pretend to care about their electorate, such as ‘progress,’ ‘quality’ and ‘future’ into a rather childish looking power point presentation.
Chavez's plan, double the length in pages and with about forty times the content, is much more sophisticated and articulate in wording and structure, opens with an introduction and a chapter on the historical context framing the plan, whereas Capriles’ has no kind of introduction at all, and simply leaves out a lot of vital issues such as Venezuela's relationship with other countries, with Latin America, and the United States. Nor does it mention in any way culture, agriculture, the environment, indigenous rights, racism, sexual diversity, or in fact, laughably, most aspects of the economy.
Chavez's proposal is a continuation of the program we're on now, the National Project Simon Bolivar 2007-2013. Where the current plan set about defining basic concepts and general orientation, and was focused on ethics and morals, the new proposal looks to detail and deepen those concepts and take them out of ideology and experimentation and give them a firm, across the board, across the country, daily and concrete application. In some cases the new plan does that by just aiming to strengthen existing initiatives, such as housing and healthcare, in other cases it aims to have many ‘more’ of something – such as many more communal councils and communes and building more state factories, but it also includes some key qualitative changes, such as the total elimination of the latifundio (large land holders), and the democratization of, or worker or state participation in all basic needs or key resource related means of production.
It's an honest, realistic, yet ambitious proposal. I don't think Chavez has tried to make any false or empty promises. He also talks about socialism, imperialism, and capitalism freely, where as Capriles’ plan is dishonest, and does not refer to any sort of economic system or ideology. Chavez's plan is also believable because of the extent to which it is based on projects, initiatives, and ideas which are already being implemented, if not universally.
There is no question that the proposal seriously aims to eradicate the old capitalist institutions and market, and replace them with grassroots control and organization and ‘alternative’ production and distribution methods. The plan also provides a lot of detail into development of the petroleum industry, both in infrastructure terms and political terms (making it more participatory and democratic), and reflects the government's (sadly) keen interest in mining. I feel however that it under-emphasises some issues (such as women, and LGBT rights) although the fact that such issues are mentioned (they weren't in the first plan) is an important reflection of the growth of those movements. Likewise, this plan, unlike the current one, has an environmental section. This sort of new content is suggestive of the slow and gradual deepening of the people's own consciousness, as basic issues like health and education have become second nature, and the (active) people and the government are starting to look at other more ideologically difficult issues (or less urgent from the perspective of poverty) such as gender, sexuality, institutionalism, land use, confronting the old culture, habits, and discourse, and the environment.
The plan also has a very strong focus on independence – not a new notion to the revolution which names itself after Bolivar of course, but the heavy focus is somewhat new. Independence is the context given in the introduction, and it is understood to be more than a political concept, but rather something that penetrates most aspects of this revolution, such as independent food production, not depending on U.S. or other imperialist countries’ investment, training or technology so that Venezuela can more and more produce, build, and provide services on its own, and in its own way, purely for the benefit of its people.
I don't believe the revolution's biggest enemies – the failure of the judicial system, corruption, bureaucracy, apathy, and consumerism – can be beaten mostly by consciousness raising workshops and some restructuring, as the plan puts forward. ”
Finally, it also attempts to address the revolution's most serious problems, but I feel falls short in this respect. I don't believe the revolution's biggest enemies – the failure of the judicial system, corruption, bureaucracy, apathy, and consumerism – can be beaten mostly by consciousness raising workshops and some restructuring, as the plan puts forward.
“This is a program of transition to socialism and of radicalization of participative and protagonistic democracy,” reads the introduction. That transition depends on the “restitution of power to the people.” Chavez here recognises that “the socio-economic formation that prevails in Venezuela is of a capitalist and rentier character” and that socialism is barely starting to “implant its own dynamism.” Hence, the next six years must focus on deepening it “step by step.” Popular power also needs to be capable of shaping that new society, and Chavez refers to the need to “completely pulverise the bourgeois state that we inherited, which still reproduces itself through its old and harmful practices and continues to invent new forms of political management.”
“This is a program that aims to go past the point of no return,” Chavez writes. The significance then, of the 7 October presidential election can't be understated.
The plan is divided into five main sections or objectives, which I've summarized and briefly analysed below.
1. Consolidate National Independence
In order to achieve full national independence the plan emphasises the need for sovereignty over the country's national income, mostly obtained through the petroleum industry. This income will be managed by the people indirectly through projects – and there is nothing particularly new about that. The plan also gives a lot of weight to unleashing the country's agro-productive potential, which is unfortunately the only key way it seeks to diversify the economy away from petroleum, apart from encouraging small and alternative type business, and smaller industries such as tourism.
2. Construct 21st Century Bolivarian Socialism
Here we see the very real intention to transfer power to the people and away from the old institutions and big business – probably the most genuine antidote to the problem of bureaucracy. However, as we're already experiencing, there'll be resistance to this power transfer – by the mayors who lose their power, by the civil servants who often still don't understand what it means to serve the people and what people power is, and of course by anyone else with economic or political power. The plan doesn't address such resistance, beyond, as I mentioned, consciousness workshop programs. Strategies for creating a broader, bigger leadership, a strong cadre layer, unfortunately aren't included, but the plan to consolidate a system of articulation between grassroots organizations so that they transcend local action is a much needed and an important initiative.
In some instances, this section of the plan leans toward reformism, where it fails to see the problems of the old structures and believes that imposing some values will be enough to improve them. Regarding education, for example, the plan mentions increasing enrolment, building new schools, introducing or improving certain curriculum content – such as the people's and indigenous history of Venezuela, and strengthening research into the educative process, but no structural or methodology changes. The education system in Venezuela has hardly changed over the last 12 years. The achievement of literacy and enrolment of the poorest sectors is important, but the teaching methods are still traditional authoritarian, competitive ones, and while some schools have become more involved in their community life, many are still merely producers of obedient workers and a source of income for the teachers. More radical change than what has been proposed is needed.
Similar structural change, or the elimination of the old and construction of the new right from the start is also needed in the hospitals, police, and army – which is happening to a limited extent with the health missions and the new national police. Likewise, the plan refers to a “deep and definitive revolution” for the ridiculously inefficient, corrupt, and anti-poor justice system, but its proposals involve building more infrastructure, more courts, and workshops for the lawyers. Unfortunately, few lawyers who have been corrupt and selfish for the last twenty years will change that easily.
Lastly, it's worth pointing out an interesting and quite large emphasis on sports, recreation, and nutrition, with recreation seen as key to preventing the “culture of excess and destruction generated by capitalism” and community sports seen as both ways of combating alienation as well as improving the health of what has become a fairly overweight population.
3. Make Venezuela a Social, Economic and Political Power within
Latin America and the Caribbean
Here we see a huge emphasis on industrialization, acquiring industry and technology independence, and on productivity. Yet there are some fairly significant contradictions. The aim of doubling petroleum production makes sense in terms of funding social and grassroots projects, yet contradicts the aim of becoming less reliant on petroleum. Aiming to increase (synthetic) fertiliser production contradicts the aim of going over to alternative, environmentally friendly agriculture. Likewise, the aim to increase car manufacturing conflicts with wanting to decrease car dependence.
As in the last section, a deeper transformation of the military is needed than just training and increased resources. Possibly one of the most significant changes that is already taking place is the way the military is now, often, at the service of the people rather than repressing them, with the military in my community coming to our communal council meetings and helping us with whatever we ask for. It's surprising that strengthening such relationships isn't mentioned in the plan.
4. Contribute to the Development of a New Geopolitical International for
a “Multi-Centre” World to Guarantee World Peace
With the recent coup in Paraguay and continued aggression in all forms – economic, media, political – by the right wing in the Americas, and with Venezuela continuing to play a leading role in uniting an America that is free of imperialist influence and power, this section is clearly very important, and it's encouraging to see that Chavez has no intention of backing down here.
The section is however less concrete than other sections because implementation of many of these aims depends on multiple countries, and therefore the details can not to be decided by Venezuela alone.
5. Preserve Life on the Planet and Save the Human Species
The plan correctly identifies the environment as a global issue, and lays a lot of the responsibility on “first world” countries. It's a position that most governments are too cowardly and disinterested to take on, limiting themselves instead to a few token and short term measures, if any.
However, while Venezuela's contribution to global environmental problems may be relatively less, it's still important that the country improve the situation in its own backyard as well, yet this is barely referred to in this section. This is an area where awareness raising workshops could be very beneficial, as environmental consciousness is very low in Venezuela. Lifting or reducing petrol subsidies (at least for private vehicles), taking measures to replace the dominance of plastic bags, penalties for companies which contaminate or commit other environmental crimes, constructing recycling plants, making bull fighting illegal, and other measures should have been included here, but haven't.
Henrique Capriles Radonski – Government Program
Reading Capriles ‘plan’ I literally laughed out loud a number of times. It is such a wishy-washy confusion of cliché catchphrases and empty niceties repeated three different ways in huge font in order to fill up space, that it's hard to take it at all seriously.
Like advertizing, the plan tries to appeal to the lowest common denominator by saying as little as possible, meaning it has almost no concrete proposals at all. “There is a way,” Capriles’ campaign slogan is none too clear on what that way is, where it is going, or how to get there, and his plan is the same.
In content, it reflects the contradiction between trying to garner the levels of support that Chavez has by imitating him, pretending to care about the poor majority and supporting many of the current government's initiatives, and at the same time trying to present Capriles as an alternative to Chavez. It is a hodgepodge of sprinklings of Bolivarian revolutionary discourse like “integral” and “inclusion,” and “with the support of private companies” tacked on to the end of many statements. Its content reveals the dilemma bourgeois politicians always face between actually representing the wealthy business class, but pretending to represent “all” of the country in order to get votes. There are no references at all – as it would be politically inconvenient – to the origins of poverty and exclusion, but rather the plan promotes “business” as something that should be “accessible” to everyone.
Hence the plan is basically, an 18 page sham. It is to be taken about as seriously as Monsanto starting on its homepage that “If there were one word to explain what Monsanto is about, it would have to be farmers. It is our purpose to help them meet the needs of a growing population...,” or the U.S. government's “no child left behind” education policy, which rings some bells when looking at Capriles’ front cover slogan: “no one left behind.”
Nevertheless, it's worth quickly going over some of the plan's content, in order to get a sense of what angle the opposition is taking in its campaign to win the upcoming presidential elections.
The plan has 9 themes: maternal-infant care, housing and its environment, training and development, employment and entrepreneurship, health and social security, citizenry, tranquillity, justice, and social protection.
For maternity care, the two strategic lines are basically the same thing rephrased: “Guarantee optimal conditions of development in the first stage of life...” and “access to high quality maternal-infant care.” Objectives include: decrease mortality rates, increase quality coverage of maternal care during women's pregnancy, detect pregnancy earlier, guarantee that the whole population has access to a balanced diet, recognise the bonds associated with breastfeeding, assure that all pregnant woman have the tools to care for the child and access to a network of assistance, and adequate family and social environment. As with the rest of the plan, it's not stated how such things could or should be achieved, apart from increasing funds assigned to the area and “agreements with the private sector and with education institutions.”
The housing section is fairly predictable, with aims to improve access to housing, improve public transport and strengthen risk management, and the training section refers to things like “inclusion” and “solidarity” with the word “quality” especially repeated over and over, but of course not defined. Likewise, under health, Capriles supposedly plans to “improve” public hospitals, but he doesn't say what he'll do with the Barrio Adentro program.
And again, under “tranquillity,” or crime, he talks about emphasising prevention and attacking causes, without specifying what those causes might be, though in terms of prevention he does talk about the recovery of public spaces and “social programs” to prevent family based and gender violence, teenage pregnancy, and drug consumption.
For the economy, Capriles argues that “trust” is the “fundamental tool to consolidate a creative economy of wealth and social equity.” He supports a strong public and strong private sector, where the public sector “promotes and orients private initiative,” “immediately ending expropriations and negotiating with those who have been affected,” and he concludes this section with the objective of transitioning “from a model of sharing out the wealth to one of creating wealth,” presumably referring to going from an economy based on sharing out petrol income to sectors and areas where it's needed, to one based on a lot of big, medium, and small businesses.
The no content strategy behind Capriles’ plan and his electoral campaign will only work on a minority of Venezuela's population. Perhaps a third to a half of the Venezuelan public, though it may not have an in depth Marxist materialist understanding of things, has reached a level of political discussion which demands a good amount of analysis, and in which sloganeering isn't good enough. For a minority though, it is good enough, with many people insisting that the mere fact of having the same president for thirteen years means that ‘change’ is needed, though most can't articulate what kind of change they mean.
What Capriles’ plan does do, is provide a dodgy type of documental backing for Venezuela's private and opposition supporting media to be able to publish headlines like these: “Capriles will dramatically increase the number of high schools and primary schools,” “Capriles will provide quality housing” and “Capriles’ program includes popular welfare.”
At the same time, this media has gone around distorting Chavez's plan and making things up that simply aren't in it, claiming for example that it “contemplates the implantation of the militias across the country in order to basically militarize the members of the PSUV and give them arms, to then plant fear in the citizenry.” It goes to show that debating the Second Socialist Plan 2013-2019 has a second purpose; apart from grassroots participation in its final version, such debate will hopefully help raise awareness of its content and help Chavez to secure a victory in October. •
Tamara Pearson is a writer and activist living in Merida, Venezuela. Her writings have appeared in venezuelanalysis.com where this article first appeared.