Marxism in the 21st Century – Chavez, Latin cultural unity & the amassing proletariat By Jessica Long

Dandelion Salad

By Jessica Long
08/20/07 “ICH

To this day, rhetorical deployments of the Marxist agenda send shivers down the backs of the Western citizen. Somehow, extending the duration of the Cold War ending in 1991, the Red Scare continues to loom over the head of Western ideals. Of course, environmental dissipation, nuclear war, and terrorist activities have diminished the priority status of the Marxist threat. Yet Marxism is still regarded as the ultimate “anti-freedom,” positing it in direct opposition to the capitalist agenda. For many, the end of the Cold War proved that Marxism was both unreliable and illegitimate in the context of the times. However, the “era of globalization” that defines post Cold War society forces us to look at Marxism in a whole new light: one unified global civil society. Globalization is readily accepted as a device of the capitalist agenda. Given this, Marx’s critique of capitalism is applicable to the global corporate market. The laissez-faire agenda of the global market parallels that of the bourgeois’ agenda: maximum profit accumulation! Marx asserts that such an agenda is propelled by proletarian exploitation. The exploitation of the global South by the global North is exemplary of Marx’s decree, suggesting that the corruption of global capitalism is only advancing with time. Few can argue the contrary. The sudden acceleration of globalization has led to an unrestricted capitalist agenda in which exploitation is not only inevitable, but a necessary means to the bourgeois (or American) end. Cultural homogenization is a definite factor in the maintenance of class consciousness. As globalization continues to break down national borders, multi-national cooperation among the South makes cultural unity more viable.

The world is polarizing into a dichotomy of “Us vs. Them” between wealthy countries of the global North and impoverished countries of the global South. Economic polarity makes bourgeois and proletarian homogenization unavoidable. In essence, it becomes crucial for the global South to act as a cohesive force in order to combat neoliberal efforts. Thus, cultural unification is a by-product of class consciousness- the same class consciousness that Marx prophesizes will lead to the bloody end of, in this case, global capitalism and the neoliberal order. In terms of cultural unity paving the way for proletariat revolution, Latin America is arguably the most progressive region of the global South. The push for cultural integration has provided the region with an increasing solidarity that is essential to face the imperialist powers of the global North. There are many that feel “the time has come to launch the Latin American Revolution, to integrate, and breakaway” (Mrquez, 2005:12). Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; the Independent Democratic Pole in Colombia; the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil; the indigenous movements in Bolivia and Ecuador; the Socialist Parties of Chile and the piqueteros in Argentina are all exemplary of the rising resistance to corporate neo-liberal policies. These leftist South American governments are gaining momentum through regional multi-lateral cooperation. Together, they are unwavering in their pursuit of cultural integration while answering to the outrage of their impoverished civilians. At the forefront of this uprising is Venezuela.

While Venezuela features the same civilian unrest and anti neoliberal sentiments as many other countries of the global South, their domestic politics provide them with a slightly different mode of operation. Venezuela is unique in the fact that the initiatives of the political elite are clearly aligned with proletarian progress. Thus, unlike the situation in the Niger Delta, the exploited civilians are generally supportive of their government. Supportive civilians advocate nationalism, which, in turn, provides the footing for cultural unity. The difficulty in the case of Latin America, is discerning how well these political elites can maintain the proletariat as their priority concern. The neoliberal consensus questions the motives of political leaders like Hugo Chavez, calling him a “dictator in the making.” The fact is, with or without radical leaders like Chavez, the masses are arranging themselves.

This is most evident in the countryside where a “revolution within a revolution” is occurring (DeLong, 2005:5). Their peasantry and poor urban classes are highly vocal in their anti-neoliberal sentiments. Agrarian Revolution, one of the most progressive facets of the Bolivarian Revolution, attempts to overthrow the current structure of bourgeois power by leveling the playing field for the landless proletariat. The Venezuelan Agrarian Revolution incorporates the following three aspects: cultural unity, ecological and environmental emphasis, and violent resistance.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a petroleum-rich nation lying on the northern Caribbean Coast of South America. Basing their principles upon the 19th century South American Revolutionary leader, Simon Bolivar, proponents of Bolivarianism are advocates of social democracy and vehemently opposed to the neoliberal order. It is not difficult to see why. The polarity of bourgeois and proletariat civilians has resulted in a segregated rural sector and embittered urban poor. As of 2005, a mere 5% of all Venezuelan landowners own 75 to 80% of private land. Only 2% own 60% of the country’s farmland in terms of agriculture. Before the oil boom in the 1970s, 75% of the population lived in rural regions. Today, 90% live in urban areas. Inevitably, industrialism and corporate enterprises have devastated Venezuela’s agrarian sphere, with thousands of campesinos flooding cities in attempts to keep up with modernity’s high demand for labor. However, Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president and leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, has utilized high oil profits to fund a number of social programs for the poor. His most ambitious attempt to re-structure bourgeois power is the Agrarian Land Reform.

In November of 2001, Chavez initiated the “Vuelta al Campo” or Return to the Countryside campaign under the Law on Land and Agricultural Development. The campaign put four primary objectives into movement: 1) minimize the size of landholdings; 2) tax idle property; 3) redistribute (mostly federally owned) unused land to peasant families; and 4) seize undeveloped land from private estate owners in exchange for market value compensation. This year, Chavez aims at expropriating 7.4 million acres and redistributing it to the peasant class. He further asserts that 42 million acres will be confiscated in order to dilute the polarity of bourgeois and peasant landholdings. Although the Agrarian Revolution has been slow in its development, wealthy foreign and domestic private land owners are outraged. They argue that expropriation violates private property rights. Their response has been one of brutal and violent resistance to the newly empowered rural peasantry. In response, the proletariat has resorted to violent tactics to secure new land dwellings. Thus, Chavez’s six year “Revolution for the Poor” has come into full effect, proposing violence as an essential means to combat proletariat opponents.

Calling upon the collective support of all the world’s poor nations, Chavez has only increased his criticism of globalization in recent years. He asserts:

Now the imperialist forces are starting to strike against the people of Latin America and the world. It is up to our soldiers to stay alert and be prepared to defend the people and not to submit themselves to the interests of the empire.

Venezuela is now preparing to fight what Chavez calls an “asymmetric war” against the leading imperialist nation of the world, the United States. Venezuelan parking lots have been transformed into military training camps, where civilians of all ages and both sexes pledge their allegiance to fighting the capitalist agenda. Most recently, Venezuela purchased 100, 000 AK-47 rifles and a number of helicopters, planes and ships from Russia, Brazil and Spain. The U.S. did not respond out of character. They “resent[ed] the fact Venezuela did not buy US-made weapons!”(Ceasar, 2005:12). Chavez now fears his vigorous opposition to neoliberalism will invoke a covert coup of his administration by the U.S. government. U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, told the Miami Herald, “What in the world [is the threat] that Venezuela sees that makes them want all those weapons?”

But Chavez’s notions do not seem to be that absurd. Consider the 1970s Allende Regime in Chile. Allende, a self-proclaimed Marxist and opponent of the capitalist cause, attempted a similar land reform from 1970 to 1973. Between those same years, the U.S. spent $8 million on covert tactics to remove Allende from office. In Nixon’s words, the U.S. government planned to exploit the Chilean market “until they screamed.” Expropriation in Chile also meant that American private land holders were at risk with their property investments. In 1973, a successful coup officially replaced Allende with the corrupt capitalist Pinochet. The U.S. denies any sanctioned involvement. However, the U.S. provided $183 million in bilateral assistance to Pinochet’s regime in comparison with $19.8 million during Allende’s. Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor in 1970, argued “Allende’s election was a challenge to our national interest” given his “anti-American politics”. Is it therefore unlikely that Chavez would expect the same scenario given his blatant rejection to corporate U.S. interests? Perhaps Rumsfeld’s dismay stems from the fact that both Venezuela and U.S. are economically dependent upon one another, with Venezuela accounting for 14% of U.S. petroleum imports. “If somebody meddles with Venezuela, they’ll repent it for 100 years,” says Chavez. “We’ll make the blood flow.” Sound indicative of a bloody proletarian Marxist revolution?

Chavez has already solidified ties with other progressives within South America. Brazilian president, Luize Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula) shares the same stance on corporate imperialism as Chavez. Lula, a former factory worker and union leader, is the president of the Worker’s Party whose concern lies with the proletariat. Chavez and Lula are virtually agreed in their viewpoints on the FTAA, the IMF and neoliberalism as a whole. For the proletariat of Latin America, they have evolved into “symbols of the fight against free-market policies and U.S. imperialism” (Sustar, et al. 2003:7). The Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil parallels the Venezuelan Agrarian Revolution. The MST is considered the largest social movement in Latin America. Nearly 1.5 million participants in the movement work to achieve reform of the rural land shares to the peasantry. With such a large following, it is not surprising that both Chavez and Lula were welcomed like proletariat demigods at the 2003 World Social Forum in Brazil. Throughout the duration of their speeches, the entire audience resounded with waves of support from all over Latin America. At the Forum’s end, Portuguese musicians led thousands in the traditional Socialist anthem, “La Internationale.” The crowd sang along in their native languages. Alberto Muller, a retired Venezuelan general claims:

On an international level, these movements may seem fragile, but if they succeed in forging an ideology in the form of a cultural proposal, grounded in a set of common values by Latin America and the Caribbean, they could become a more permanent influence.

Cross-cultural unity in support of a Socialist transition is on the verge of actualization. The neo-liberal order, ie. global market capitalism, is quickly eroding in its legitimacy as proletariat nations are amassing.

However, any truth in the global Marxist prophecy will most likely be vehemently contested by the global North. The idea that Marxism may be a legitimate threat despite the end of the Cold War is far too much to swallow for the political-ethno-centric capitalists of Western society. Yet, as we have seen, globalization has proved to be a covert extension of capitalist imperialism, encompassing grand scale exploitation in an array of realms. Ironically, Marxism still remains sovereign in its definition as the “anti-freedom” while capitalist corruption glorifies imperialism. Regardless, the South has began to take shape as a collectively exploited community, whose quality of life is determined by the resistance of cultural, environmental, economic and ideological realms. The exploited working class grows more desperate when attempts at reforming their situation are perpetually suppressed by Northern and (sometimes) Southern governments. Reformation does not bring the swift change needed to end the South’s misery. Thus, exploitation via neoliberal policies only exacerbates proletarian resentment of the capitalist order and those that promote it. This steadfast Capitalist corruption propels the Marxist theory of the emergence of new Socialist endeavors attempting to stifle global South exploitation.

Ceasar, Mike. “Chavez’s ‘Citizen Militias’ on the March.” BBC. 1 July 2005. (5 Feb. 2006).

DeLong, Seth. “Venezuela’s Land Reform: More like Lincoln than Lenin.” Venezuelan Views, News and Analysis. 25 Feb. 2005. (25 Feb. 2005).

Mrquez, Humberto. “World Social Forum: The Rising Leftist Tide in South America.” Global Information Network. New York: 2005. (Jan 2006).

Sustar, Lee, Selfa, Lance and Orlando. “Voices Against War and Neoliberalism: World Social Forum.” Internationalist Socialist Review. April 2003. (5 May 2005).

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