21st Century Socialism and Latin America

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N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture
21st Century Socialism and Latin America

Theory and Practice of 21st Century socialism

Participants include JB Foster, Monthly Review, and (a lengthy piece by) Marta Harnecker. There's a new book by Micheal Lebowitz coming out this summer (The Socialist Alternative: REal Human Development) and the MR issue covers the "elementary triangle of socialism" which was inspired by Istvan Meszaros and put into practice by Hugo Chavez Frias.

Forward by JB Foster

The elementary triangle, says Chavez, is

1. social ownership of production;

2. social production organized by workers;

& 3. production for communal needs.

These 3 components are seen to interact and influence each other, etc.

Anyway, if I can provide a catalyst for discussing 21st century socialism - beyond what are getting to be rather stale generalizations about what socialism is not, or should not be - then mission accomplished.

I may have some more comments to add after reading Foster's piece and, down the road, Harnecker's as well.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The lead essay and Foster's piece are available online. The Harnecker piece may be available later. I'm impressed with the strong emphasis towards protagonist or participatory democracy and the healthy contempt for primitive, Canadian-style, representative democracy. Even with both societies unquestionably capitalist, one is all formal, and bullshit, democracy, and the other is growing by leaps and bounds of genuine, rich democracy. No wonder Chavez is so hated by the rich and powerful.

Foster has a very good, if brief, discussion of Marxism and the "Vernacular" Revolutionary Traditions. For 21st century socialism, there is no better place to look, to read, and so on.

I think it might be a good idea to have Canadian Bolivarian discussion groups. One nation can and should learn from another.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

One quote on Marxism and/vs "Vernacular" Revolutionary Traditions in worth repeating ...

All peoples have their own vernacular revolutionary traditions, extending back into the distant past. These reflect a particular history and culture, past defeats, and deep-seated problems which remain unsolved. Some of these historical legacies can no doubt be discounted as archaic. But just as often, they reflect radical solutions that were simply ahead of their time or that were not organically connected to earlier struggles. Sometimes they simply represent important causes that were defeated only to grow again. Hence, their transformative power remains.


Thanks for this, N.Beltov. Read with interest. Not much I can contribute, but agree that the discussion is essential. There is an alternative to our representative democracy, and to our hyper-capitalistic economic system.

This is exactly the kind of alternative that must be considered with respect to environmental concerns. Suzuki et al will not effect real change without providing an alternative to the current culture of jobs at any cost. Chavez's "elementary triangle" offers possibilities for re-orienting our lives toward meaningful work and responsible consumption. "Production for communal needs". Revolutionary, indeed!

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The Thatcherite misanthropic ideology of TINA ("There is no alternative") can only truly be crushed and defeated by the elaboration of serious and genuine alternatives to capitalism. That's why this stuff is so important. Capitalism "with a human face" is a kind of confession of failure.

Anyway, there is lots more to read. Many of the important authors are referenced at Monthly Review. For me, I often find that the use of different terms and familliar terms used in a new way are key to retaining understanding of these alternatives. Ciao.


I just wish we had a Venezuelan style of MMP electoral system. The federal NDP mentions the gaping democracy gap in Canada and which our obsolete electoral system contributes to.

And Venezuela used to be hooked into crooked deals with US energy companies, like it is here in Canada since FTA-NAFTA. Venezuela's socialists are much too shrewd to be outmaneuvered by US interests, like our federal Liberals were by 1994.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The Provincial NDP in Manitoba, like majority governments everywhere in Canada, have no interest in MMP. That's what happens when the electoral system benefits the regime in power. We're talking about more important things than the election of the orange-flavoured team, Fidel. Go attack a Conservative or Liberal or something; do something useful.  


Ya-but, the federal NDP realizes nobody but Tories and Liberals will ever benefit by the phony-majority machine in Ottawa, where the real power and federal purse strings are. So, we're willing to diverge from mainly Conservative Manitoba and bite the bullet at the federal level and in Canada's largest province provincially. It's a dirty job, but someone has to push the idea for one Canadian equaling one vote. Wink

Socialism in one province, N.Beltov? Is that how Hugo Chavez dealt with the problem? My,  we sure are playing at divisive politics in the Northern Puerto Rico this am. United we stand, and Neoliberalized by Ottawa we fall. It's their setup not the NDP's. Even after Homeland Security stupidity was foisted on them by bureaucracy-loving conservatives in that country, I think Canada still has more government per capita than the US does. It's ridiculous. It's a rightwing Librarian's dream come true our frozen Puerto Rico is.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

There was one NDP Premier that actually moved things forward by a large step. He's long gone, however. Don't even compare the NDP here to the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Some neophyte might get the mistaken impression that the NDP would ever go beyond some very bourgeois ne plus ultras. 


Boy you sure told me off again. And forget what I said about fair voting in Venezuela. We can tough it out with another 140 years worth of the stoogeaucracy in Ottawa lording it over our worthless, weak and pathetic NDP governments as you so rightly describe them. And we'll just hope that the Yanks turn their backs on us sometime soon to go bomb another energy-rich or "strategic" country, and that we might somehow have an aspiring Chavez incubating in Canada's military. At which point they will storm the legislature in Winnipeg and show the next Gary Doer how to do socialism under the neoliberalorama imposed by Ottawa. That's if Man-Hydro isn't pawned off to rich friends of another Philmon-like conservative gov't, or possibly even a Campbell-like Liberal government ready to raffle off the common good as if some door prize for corporate jackals waiting in the wings. At that point Hugo Chavez de la  Manitoba would need doff his provincial leadership hat to storm Parliament Hill and establish a real federal government in order to create made in Canada policies in replacing the totally excellent colonial administrative setup we have now.

Anyway, I have to admit that you are a far better historian of Marxism and technical socialist than I, N. Beltov. I don't agree with a lot of what you have to say about Canada and the NDP, but that's okay, too. You can't have it all your way, N.B. That wouldn't be fair. What would I have left besides my slavish devotion to the NDP and "the third way" abandoned by Nordic social democrats some time ago?

Protrucio Protrucio's picture
N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Here is the ToC for Harnecker's piece:

Marta Harnecker & Revolutionary Inventiveness


I. Latin America

Candidates from Left and Centre-Left Coalitions Win Elections
Popular Movements: The Great Protagonists
Current Balance of Forces:

- Meetings Without the United States
- Closer Economic Relations With China
- FTAA Turned Down; ALBA Created
- Ecuador Gets Rid of U.S. Military Base
- Cuba Joins the Rio Group
- OAS Consensus on Lifting Sanctions Against Cuba
- Brazil Buys French Military Equipment
- Paraguayan President Refuses Southern Command's Presence
- 2nd Africa-South America Summit
- Bank of the South

Neoliberalism Loses Legitimacy and Bourgeois Liberal Democracy Loses Prestige

The Empire Strikes Back: Recolonization and Discipline

- Attack on Ecuador Launches New Cycle
- Attempted Civilian-Prefectural Coup in Bolivia
- Institutional Coup in Honduras
- New Military Bases in Colombia

Typology of Latin American Governments:

- Governments Seeking Alternatives to Neoliberalism
- Governments Breaking with Neoliberal Policies

"Left" Governments Facing Objective Limitations:

- Electoral Victories, but Less Room to Move
- Opposition-Controlled Media
- Analyzing the Balance of Forces

II Twenty-First Century Socialism

- Chavez Consolidates the Term "Twenty-First Century Socialism"
- A Socialist Society, Fundamentally Democratic

Transition and its Varieties:

- Transition in Backward Countries where State Power Has Been Won
- Transition in Countries where Only the Government is in Our Hands
- An Inherited State Machine Unready to Walk the Road to Socialism
- To Each Country, Its Own Transition

Some Features of Twenty-First Century Socialism:

- Participative Democracy and Protagonist Participation: Democracy
and Participation by the People
- Creating Appropriate Spaces for Participation
- From Representative Democracy to Delegated Democracy
- How this Differs from the Bourgeois Representative System:

. delegates elected where they work or live
. directly connected to the base organization
. electors do not transfer their rights to delegates
. not professional politicians
. no carte blanche from electors
. no binding mandate
. votes not predetermined
. delegates safeguard original interests of voters
. duties beyond decision making
. recall

New Economic Model

- The Elementary Triangle of Socialism

. social ownership of the means of production
. worker-organized production
. satisfaction of communal needs

- New Concept of Efficiency: Respect for Nature and Full Human Development
- Planned Economy and Decentralization
- Decentralization: Antidote to Bureaucratism
- Marx: All that Can be Decentralized Must be Decentralized

Where We Can Progress When the Government is in Our Hands

- Move Toward a New Regional Integration
- Conquering Spaces Formerly Capital's Domain
- Implement a Coherent Strategy Aimed at Changing the Relations of Production
- Transforming the Military:

. Give the Military Responsibility for Social Projects
. Provide Education in the Spirit of the Constitution
. Give the Armed Forces Big Infrastructure Projects
. Democratize Access to the Top Ranks
. Include People in the National Defense
. Recover Patriotic Symbols and Traditions
. Build Territorial State Sovereignty

- Transforming the State: Building From Below
- Transition: Coexistence of Two Types of States
- Guide to Judging Progress:

. attitude to neoliberalism
. attitude to unequal income distribution
. attitude to inherited institutions
. attitude to economic and human development
. attitude to national sovereignty
. attitude to the role of women
. attitude to discrimination
. attitude to means of production and producers
. attitude to nature
. attitude to international (especially Latin American) coordination and solidarity
. attitude to popular protagonism

The Political Instrument Needed to Lead the Transition

- Overcoming Inherited Culture and the Fragmentation of Society
- Tasks of the Political Instrument:

. design a project for the country
. encourage and facilitate protagonist participation
. recruit new cadres to renew the political instrument
. give early warning of weaknesses and mistakes

- The Kind of Political Activist We Need

Bureaucracy: the Biggest Scourge

- The Need to Encourage Public Criticism
- Criticizing Functionaries to Save the Party


Not only should anyone who claims "left" credentials read this, but I would hazard a guess that this piece might be worth making into a Study Group project ... for those who are into such things.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Michael Lebowitz has a short piece over at The Socialist Project with the title The Spectre of Barbarism and its Alternative. I shall attempt to summarize.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Rick Wolff has a very well written column over at Monthly Review about the lessons from having millions of French workers protesting the attempts at "austerity" by the neo-liberal regime in that country, and the utter and abysmal failure in the USA to carry out a similar mobilization against the right-wing atrocities. It also reminds me, personally, about the role of Social Democratic parties - like our own NDP - in contributing to this situation in our own country. Shame.

Rick Wolff wrote:
There is a basic lesson in all this for the US left. It concerns why millions march there but not (yet?) here. The failure to develop, support, and widely disseminate anti-capitalist criticism and proposals for non-capitalist alternatives undermines the capacity for mass mobilizations to protect and advance working people's interests, especially in times of crisis. Even to make a political difference on so limited an issue as changing the age of retirement, effective mobilization of workers requires that they understand that issue in a much broader framework. Workers who see themselves in a broad social struggle for justice and for basic social change toward a better society can also then grasp and act on a particular issue with a sense of its historic meaning and implications.

Why Millions March in France but not in the US (or Canada)


Catchfire Catchfire's picture

The Spectre of Barbarism and its Alternative

Thesis One. The capitalist economic crisis is not over.

Although the immediate financial crisis appears to have been resolved, all of the underlying factors (which are the result of the overaccumulation to which capitalism is prone and which made fictitious capital so vulnerable) are still present. The incredible trade imbalance of the U.S. economy has not been addressed; the unprecedented deficit of the U.S. federal budget is rising; the over-extension of consumer credit hangs over the economy; unemployment is rising and thus consumer confidence and spending is not likely to return to previous heights; and, the general picture is one in which the U.S. economy, the dominant economy in the world, will continue to lose hegemony. When commentators stress signs of recovery, it is essential to remember that this pattern differs not at all from that of 1929 to 1933 – in other words, the period between the stock market crash and the bank failures – a period before much of the depression of the 1930s. At best, although capitalism itself may recover, the prospect is one of a significant geographical restructuring of capital on an international basis, which will require a painful adjustment for the U.S. economy – one which involves acceptance of continued stagnation or decline of incomes for the mass of people.

Thesis Two. The resource/food/water/climate/environment crisis is deepening.


Thesis Three. The current internal political correlation of forces in the United States and other advanced capitalist countries is not favourable to the advance of progressive forces.


Thesis Four. In the context of resource shortages, the struggle to control resource supplies will become intense. That struggle is not likely to take the form of market and financial domination; rather, force will decide. This is one aspect of the spectre of barbarism.

Thesis Five. In the absence of strong political movements on the left, the response in the United States in particular and in other advanced capitalist countries is likely to be one best analyzed by psychologists.


Thesis Six. The old concepts of socialism, the characteristics of socialism of the 20th century, will never challenge the mass psychology which prevails in advanced capitalist countries.

If there is anything clear in the reaction of masses in developed capitalist countries to the initial appearance of this crisis within capitalism, it is that the concept of a big state, of verticalism, of interference by distant entities (not only big government but also big companies) is precisely what people do not want. For them, that is the enemy.

Thesis Seven. The concept of socialism for the 21st century, with its emphasis upon communal councils and workers councils, is the only way to make inroads on the working class of advanced capitalist countries at this point.

What people do respond to favourably is the idea of local decision-making and the ability to make the decisions that affect their lives – precisely because that option has been removed in advanced capitalist countries. Those are precisely the elements needed for the battle of ideas in order to struggle against barbarism.

Thesis Eight. At this time, only Venezuela offers the vision that can arm militants around the world in the battle of ideas in the struggle against barbarism. For that reason, a special responsibility falls upon Venezuela. It not only must struggle against state domination and verticalism and for development of those protagonistic institutions which alone can transform people. This struggle is essential for the health of the Venezuelan revolution; however, the success of this struggle also is needed to provide an example internationally in order to defeat the spectre of barbarism.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

thanks. There's a nice picture associated with Lebowitz's piece. Have a look:

"Make Socialism Fly"

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Thesis 5 refers to the lack of strong political movements on the left in the so-called "advanced" capitalist countries and notes that this might best be analyzed by psychologists. That should be social psychologists I think. The author makes reference to the mass psychology (Thesis 6) in these countries and therefore implies the usefulness of a social psychological understanding. Perhaps I am quibbling. 

And Lebowitz with his appeal to/about revolutionary intellectuals (that are committed to building socialism and that are loyal to this idea of 21st century socialism WHATEVER organization they currently belong to) ... ought to include such people as well (as social psychologists) . Perhaps he IS including such people by placing this appeal right after the 8 theses.

'nuff said for now.