Could you speak about the situation in Venezuela?

Due to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and because all countries that call themselves or are labeled as socialist bear the unhappy burden of having all of their failings immediately attributed to socialism, I've been seeing a lot of reporting on Venezuela that lacks nuance. I'm not sure how familiar you are with the situation there, but I think it would be great if you could speak about it and go into some depth. It would provide a nice counterpoint to your criticisms of capitalism institutions to hear something about an ostensibly socialist state (which I guess you consider to be more along the lines of state capitalism than the sort of socialism for which you advocate) to help us learn not just why the economic system we're stuck with sucks but also learn from the mistakes of people who tried in some capacity to break away from capitalism.

Official response from submitted

I am no expert on Venezuela, but some general comments on the issues you raise may be of some use. The transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe took centuries to achieve with many fits and starts, experiments in capitalist economies that lasted for weeks, months or years only to dissolve eventually. One set of conditions made the old system feudalism dissolve, but a different set of conditions was needed before a new system could grow enough in enough different places and industries to come together and grow while mutually reinforcing one another. Thus the 1917 revolution in Russia or that in 1949 in China or those later in Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam and beyond....were all initial experiments in building a system different from capitalism. Like their counterparts in feudalism, they learned many lessons, tried hard to survive and grow, but fell ultimately because not enough of the conditions were in place to sustain them. In Venezuela's case, the long-built dependence on petroleum meant that its price collapse in recent years was a devastating blow to state revenues and thus the support the state provided to non-capitalist production units in venezuelan villages. Likewise the long-nurtured alliances among Venezuelan capitalists, US capitalists, and the comfortable upper middle classes provided easy routes to fund and provoke anti-government agitations, conspiracies, campaigns. The glue for the left provided by a charismatic leader weakened when he died. Thew achievements of the venezuelan experiment were a state capitalism (the Soviet model of what one meaning of "socialism" is) with a remarkable degree of support for local, village based collective production and self-governance. That, for example, was a lesson learned especially by Cuba as it now makes a much more concerted effort to transition from state capitalism to a worker-cooperative based kind of quite different model of "socialism." I dont doubt that there will be more experiments before the lessons learned coupled with the evolving conditions of a broken, dysfunctional capitalism combine to enable a new definition of "socialism" to become as powerful a movement against capitalism in the 21st century as the state-capitalist variant of "socialism" proved itself to be in the 20th century.

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  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2016-09-27 20:58:43 -0400
  • Brian Kendall
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2016-09-26 14:54:22 -0400