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Marta Harnecker

In another one of her works, Making Possible the Impossible: The Left on the Threshold to the 21st Century [1], initially published in Cuba and later in Chile, Colombia, México, Portugal and Spain, Marta Harnecker offers a panorama of Latin American popular movements and, as the title suggests, ventures to define the new political drive—to make possible what at first sight appears impossible—that is today illustrated by, among others, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and is embodied in the sentiment of Bolivarian Revolution. Three years ago, the Chilean that left her country persecuted by the Pinochet dictatorship, moved from Havana, Cuba to Caracas where she resides and works as a close ad hoc collaborator of Chávez in what she herself defines as the revolutionary “laboratory” that the petro-country has become.

Harnecker is thus part of a select group of intellectuals—militant, organic—that, from within or out of Venezuelan territory, “assesses” the advancement of the process, which since the beginning of the year has had as its declared goal the construction of “socialism of the 21st century”. Theoreticians, journalists and analysts such as Heinz Dieterich Steffan (German professor at the University of Mexico), the Uruguayan director of TeleSur Aram Aharonián and Luis Bilbao (journalist and director of the magazine América XXI), among others, make up this think tank of the left. Harnecker, for example, was responsible for the edition and indexation of “El nuevo mapa estratégico” (The New Strategic Map), a collection of speeches given by Chávez in November 2004 to the upper echelons of his government.

This booklet contains the condensed doctrine of the Bolivarian Revolution.

From this perspective, in the following interview with Siete sobre Siete, Harnecker offers significant first hand information regarding the debates and exercises that pace the reality of the Bolivarian Revolution. She explains that after the defeat of the general strike that caused an acute scarcity of basic products at the end of 2002, there was a break in the Venezuelan bourgeoisie confrontations with the government.

In addition, she explains why, while advocating the necessity to “construct socialism,” Bolivarian leaders make extraordinary efforts to incorporate the private sector into the country’s economic plans without renouncing possession of the means of production or forfeiting a profit margin that is limited by measures required to abate the biting levels of Venezuelan poverty.

- At what political moment did you encounter the Bolivarian Revolution?

- In a moment of intensification. During an effort to make the State apparatus more efficient, to combat corruption, to purify the police and the State security forces, to expand participatory democracy, and to prepare for the implementation of a different economic logic: a humanist and cooperative logic.

- What have been the most important steps in the political process since Chávez defined the socialist path of the Bolivarian Revolution?

- It may surprise you if I say that there have been no relevant steps made since the mentioned definition. What has happen is that in practice, the leadership of the process has found that the humanist and cooperative logic they began to implant at every level, especially in the economic realm, collided at every step with the capitalist logic of profit.

For example, it would not be possible to create agricultural or basic industry cooperatives successfully if the State did not assume a large role in the purchase and distribution of said products. It would not be possible to control the effect of excess cash flow, resulting from the enormous quantity of grants that the government is offering to all Venezuelans who are studying in the different missions, if a mechanism for controlling the prices of the basic diet items of the humble sectors was not implemented.

How could these issues be resolved within the capitalist logic where the motor of the system is profits and not the satisfaction of human needs? One measure that was adopted as an emergency measure to secure alimentation of the population during the business strike at the end of 2002 when the opposition tried to stop the revolutionary process by starving the Venezuelan people—the massive purchase of food from outside the country to supply improvised popular markets—illuminated the way. Today hundreds of popular markets, distributed throughout the country, cover 40% of food consumption [2].

They offer products at prices much cheaper than the private supermarkets. These prices have been sustained by state subsidies since the program’s inception. In addition, these markets are stimulating small farmers to produce internally that which until recently was imported by insuring the sale of their products and eliminating the middlemen.

As you can see, "socialism" did not begin in Venezuela when Chávez declared it—at the beginning of 2005—but instead much sooner. And I speak of socialism in quotations, because in reality what has been initiated in Venezuela is not socialism, but a path that could lead to a society ruled by a humanistic and cooperative logic, where all human beings can reach their full development. Chávez does not deny that initially he believed it possible to resolve Venezuela’s deep economic and social problems by a third way; he believed that it was possible to humanize capitalism, but experience has shown him that this is not possible.

- The insistence on socialism as the only path paradoxically appears at the same time efforts are being made to incorporate the private sector into the economic plans of the government. Isn’t this contradictory?

- It is somewhat contradictory for the classic vision of socialism as a society in which all the means of production must be in the hands of the state eliminating the foundation of private property. This classic view puts the emphasis on the ownership and not on the control of the means of production. When Chávez speaks of the socialism that he intends to build in Venezuela he always clarifies that he means the "socialism of the 21st century" and not a copy of past socialist models. The focus today in Venezuela is to rise out of poverty.

A short while ago I heard a leftist youth criticize the vice-president of the Republic calling him a reformist because he had said that poverty is the principal enemy that must be eliminated, instead of saying that the bourgeoisie needs to be eliminated. What blindness! What dogmatism! What is the point of attacking private companies at this moment? This is merely radical rhetoric that has little to do with an analysis of the real situation. How could this youth not understand that in order to rise out of poverty, among other things, productive employment must be created and that the reactivation of the private sector has been the principal source of employment in the country in recent months? Why didn’t he ask why the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, who tried to destroy Chávez in the past, is now ready to collaborate with the government?

Not even Lenin thought that it was necessary to eliminate private property to begin building socialism. Few have read one of the initial decrees of the recently inaugurated soviet government: the decree states that private capitalists ready to collaborate with the government should be allowed to advertise. It was not the socialists that marginalized the capitalists of Russia, it was the capitalists who marginalized themselves by refusing to collaborate with the soviet government and opted for civil war.

When analyzing this problem the theme of the correlation of forces cannot be forgotten. While the bourgeoisie feels strong and believes it has the power to dominate the situation by vote or by arms it is understandable that they are not disposed to collaborate with a revolutionary project that goes against the logic of capital.

But, what can the Venezuelan bourgeoisie do after three-times being defeated: failed military coup of April 2002, failed corporate strike at the end of that same year, and failed referendum in August 2004? They are left with no alternative except leave the country or collaborate with a government that facilitates credit and assures a market.

- But doesn’t coexistence with the bourgeoisie present a danger?

- Sure it poses a danger. The logic of capital will always attempt to impose itself. There will be a constant struggle to see who will defeat whom. We are at the beginning of a long process.

The control of political power, the control of exchange, a correction of the credit policy in which capitalists receive loans under predetermined conditions set by the government – producing for the national market, creating sources of employment, paying taxes, collaborating with local communities etc.— are formulas that the Bolivarian government uses to insure that small and medium size Venezuelan companies commit to collaborating with the government program of eliminating poverty. These business sectors are precisely those who are most affected by neoliberal globalization.

But, it must not be forgotten that they come from a society where the logic of capital reigns, with a culture that encourages the owners of the companies, as much as the workers who labor in them to pursue individualistic objectives.

For this reason socialism will only triumph over capitalism if along with economic transformation, a cultural transformation of the people is also put in motion. When people begin perceiving the positive effects of the new humanist and cooperative economic model that is being put forth, when they begin conquering individualism, consumerism, and their own drive for profit, they will arrive at the same conclusion that Chávez has: that the only alternative to the tragic consequences of neoliberal capitalism is socialism.

It is symptomatic that recent polls indicate that today 40% of the population considers socialism to be something positive. This is a great improvement if the ideological bombardment the people have been subjected to is taken into consideration. The practical results of the government’s adoption of humanistic and cooperative measures are rifles much stronger than all the media missiles launched by the opposition.

Being aware that it is a matter of two antagonistic economic models, it is fundamental that an important part of state resources be destined to finance and develop the state sector of the economy. Controlling strategic industries is the best way to assure the triumph of the new humanistic and cooperative logic and fulfill the national plan of development aimed toward the elimination of poverty.

Collaboration with private capital should only be sought in so far as it permits the advancement of the goals of the revolution.

- This definition implies a conceptual change. What does "inventing socialism" mean in 21st century Latin America under severe North American hegemony. What theoretical innovations appear most urgent?

- More than theoretic innovations, I think that there are many elements that already exist in the works of classic Marxist thinkers that are unfamiliar or forgotten. The Socialism of the 21st Century will have to resurrect them while at the same time it will have to invent new solutions to the new problems resulting from recent global changes. One important concept is: socialism as the more democratic society. Lenin once said, "capitalism equals democracy for the elite; socialism equals democracy for the great majority of the people".

Another, important concept is: the workers’ control. Production can be state property, but without worker control it is not socialist ownership; conversely, private ownership with worker control could perhaps be closer to socialism than the former. Another: every country must find its own path of transition to socialism. What can or cannot be realized will depend to a large degree on the correlation of forces in this country, and at the global level, manifest in favor of socialism.

If we want to truly be radicals and not just radicals in name, we must immerse ourselves in the daily work of constructing a social and political force that permits us to bring forth the changes that we want. How much more fruitful would it be if those who spoke out were those who were committed to this daily militancy instead of those who practice their militancy from a desk.

- After many years of living and working in Cuba, Why have you come to live in Venezuela?

- To closely accompany this laboratory that is the Bolivarian revolution and to illuminate it to the world. To lend support in whatever I can—especially in the area of protagonistic participation of the people, which is my passion.

- Although Chávez’s presence grows stronger on the Latin American scene, some forces of the left, both civil and governmental, still appear to view his leadership with caution. Do you think that the left of the region adequately values the Venezuelan process?

- I believe that they are increasingly valuing it. The facts cannot be denied. But still there are those, however few, as many inside as outside the country, that do not understand the importance of being able to count on a popular government in order to advance the struggles of their people.

What are the implications of the fact that today in Latin America, fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the debate about the construction of a counter position to capitalism has been renewed with such gusto? We are beginning a new cycle of revolutionary advancement and we must accelerate the construction of the subjective factors that circumvent new historical frustrations. Unfortunately, there are few countries where the social and political forces of the left work harmoniously reinforcing each other.

Egoism and political ambition usually prevails among their leaders. They have not sufficiently understood that power is in unity and that unity is constructed by respecting each other’s differences. They have not sufficiently understood that the art of politics is to construct a political and social force capable of making that which appears impossible today, possible in the near future; that in order to construct political strength you must construct social strength.

Siete Sobre Siete
Translation: Dawn Gable

[1] MEPLA, Havana, February 1998. Some of passages of this work, along with various other articles of Harnecker can be viewed freely at www.rebelion.org/harnecker.

Editor’s note: This book was published for the first time by Siglo XXI Editores of Spain

[2] The popular market program is called MERCAL