Columnists

Thomas Ponniah
Ecology and Venezuela: A program for 21st-century socialism

| December 12, 2012
Ecology and Venezuela: A program for 21st-century socialism

Change the conversation, support rabble.ca today.

Build and promote the eco-socialist and productive economic model, based on a harmonious relationship between human and nature that guarantees the rational, sustainable and optimal use of natural resources while preserving the processes and cycles of nature.

- Venezuela's Second Six-Year Plan (2013-2019)

In June 2012, Venezuela released its draft second six-year plan (English translation). This is a fascinating document: it outlines a program for 21st-century socialism along the following trajectories: consolidate national independence, construct Bolivarian socialism, make Venezuela a social, economic and political power within Latin America and the Caribbean, contribute to the development of a multi-centric and multi-polar international society that guarantees world peace, and a remarkable final section focused on preserving life on the planet via the development of an eco-socialist model of economic production.

In my co-edited volume The Revolution in Venezuela: Social and Political Change Under Chávez (Harvard University Press 2012), I noted that the Bolivarian process was oriented by contradictory commitments to greater economic redistribution, cultural recognition and political representation. For example, despite its flaws, that is, its undermining of traditional democracy, its centralization of power, and its crippling dependence on charismatic leadership, the government has advanced social development in numerous ways. Chávez's policies reduced extreme poverty from 19.9 percent in 1999 to 7.2 percent by 2009 and overall poverty from 50 per cent to 28.5 per cent in the same time period; enacted an anti-sexist and anti-racist constitution that has been followed with numerous policies advancing the cause of women, Venezuelans of African descent and indigenous communities; and has tried to deepen participatory democracy via numerous referenda and citizen engagement in policy-making and implementation.

The second six-year plan demonstrates that the Bolivarians have expanded their radical framework by introducing a substantial commitment to eco-socialism. Here are a few of the proposals that the document makes: promote actions at the national and international levels for the preservation of water sources and reservoirs; support integrated management of watersheds, biodiversity, sustainable management of seas, oceans, and forests; continue to encourage the recognition of the access to water as a human right for all; dismantle and combat the international schemes that promote the corporatization of nature, environmental services and ecosystems. Throughout its time in power, the administration has tried to tackle the various inequalities associated with class, status and power and now it is openly moving to integrate ecological concerns into its policy framework.

The commitment to environmental renewability is predictably, in light of our historical-cultural context, not an unambiguous one: Tamara Pearson has written a thoughtful analysis of this Second Six-Year Plan and notes that while the proposals are rousing they exist in contrast to a number of other objectives in the document. The six-year plan also emphasizes industrialization, doubling the production of petroleum, and accelerating the manufacture of cars. These latter proposals may aid the country's overall social development but will likely not enhance sustainable development. It is unclear how the country will be able to pursue its diverse aims. What is evident is that the Chavistas have stayed in power, despite relentless Venezuelan and international opposition, because for the past 13 years they have put forward broadly popular goals and then found creative ways of fulfilling the majority of them. The government's genius lies in its ability to pursue its social justice goals without being overwhelmed by its external enemies nor undermined by its internal antinomies.

While the commitment to ecological sustainability is in contradiction with numerous desires, from this state it is nonetheless a significant step forward. The Bolivarian process, because of its resilience and its oil wealth, remains at the vanguard of the Latin American left, and perhaps of the global left. Once again via its latest program, Venezuela's leadership has sketched the bridge that progressives of all types need to cross: a genuine alternative to neoliberal modernity will only be found in a creative fusion of ecological aspirations with various struggles for equality.

For those interested in further discussion of the country's newest plan, I will be part of a panel discussion, "A Socialist Alternative? The New Venezuela Post-Election Six-Year Plan and Human Development," organized by the York Institute for Political Economy Initiative, Centre for Social Justice, and the Socialist Project held on Thursday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 1 on the second floor of the Centre for Social Innovation at 720 Bathurst Street in downtown Toronto.

Thomas Ponniah was a Lecturer on Social Studies and Assistant Director of Studies at Harvard University from 2003-2011. He remains an affiliate of Harvard's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and an Associate of the Department of African and African-American Studies.