Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, recently announced the arrival of XXIst Century Socialism. This declaration, although greeted with great enthusiasm, left a residue of confusion. Since Chavez didn't discuss XXIst Century Socialism during his recent Presidential campaign, and since there are virtually no public theoretical documents defining this new Socialist era, its precise features are not always clear.
Fortunately, Chavez has appointed a committee, well stocked with international supporters, to come up with appropriate explanatory documents. In the meantime, we can best understand the contours of XXIst Century Socialism by examining it as it actually functions in the real world. Practice is the true test of theory; after several years of Chavez's leadership, we can readily detect the broad outlines of this innovative Socialism.
There appear to be several critical new features of the new XXIst Century Socialist breakthrough. We will review some of the most important:
First of all, XXIst Century Socialism does not require a revolution. This comes as a great relief to Socialists around the world, and will surely encourage many new Socialists to step forward.
Socialism now has a better strategy for establishing its hegemony. This strategy calls for XXIst Century Socialists to promote a powerful populist figure, preferably one who (as in Chavez's case) specifically denies being a leftist. After helping this man to power, the Socialists encourage him to take over as many state and economic institutions as possible, removing bourgeois obstacles that would have taken mass organizations many years to overthrow. In time, the Socialists convince the Leader to declare himself a Socialist.
Not only does this strategic solution avoid much sterile left-wing ideological debate, it also makes worker insurgency, clandestine revolutionary organization, guerrilla warfare, a militant women's movement and many other holdovers from the Old Socialism obsolete.
Second of all, XXIst Century Socialism is initiated and directed from above. The Socialist Leader makes all decisions about the direction of society, an arrangement that provides maximum flexibility and singleness of purpose.
The Socialist Leader is responsible for deciding the details as well as the overall direction of domestic and foreign policy. These decisions are announced to the people when the time is right. The Leader is also positioned to reverse Socialism's course quickly if conditions change.
To implement this advanced policy, the Socialist Leader has personal control of the finances, media, justice system and armed forces of the state, with no sabotaging oversight from bureaucrats, functionaries or potential backsliders.
Similarly, to avoid the carping and splitting that are so common among old-style party-builders, the Leader himself declares and forms the XXIst Century Socialist Party. As a side benefit, anyone who does not join the true Party is starkly exposed as a likely enemy of Socialism.
To prevent this Socialism from above from becoming undemocratic, Socialist society is mobilized to support it in the ideological realm and in the streets. Large posters of the Leader are prominently displayed on public surfaces; busloads of supporters are organized for all his speaking engagements. Roving bands of Socialists maintain discipline and quickly implement the Leader's instructions.
Since a Leader must be able to communicate directly to the masses, XXIst Century Socialism provides for him to take over all broadcast media for unlimited periods so that the people can see and hear the Leader's speeches or informal comments. Opposing media are permitted to operate during other time periods, unless the Leader determines that they are undermining Socialism. Reactionary misuse of the media will be prevented by any means necessary.
Third of all, XXIst Century Socialism is socially conservative. This is one of the most innovative features of the new Socialism--one that is sure to rattle the bourgeoisie. The ruling classes expect Socialists to take knee-jerk positions on women's rights, religion and other social issues.
But Chavez confounds ruling class strategists by opposing abortion (which he "abhors"), by appealing to messianic religious fervor (he calls Jesus his "savior" and "Commander-in-Chief"), and by embracing anti-imperialist partners of the hard Right such as Iran's fundamentalist leader, Amadinejad (whom he considers his "ideological brother"). Chavez and his Bolivarian comrades lead the way with an unapologetically virile style of leadership. They transcend the "political correctness" and petty concerns of bourgeois feminism that have enervated Socialism for decades.
Fourth of all, XXIst Century Socialism defeats capitalism using the weapon of natural resources. Trying to create a sustainable, broad-based economy in an under-developed country is an exercise in frustration. The new Socialist model, by contrast, is fueled by massive sales of oil and other super-valuable commodities. The bourgeoisie is infuriated by having to finance Socialism every time they purchase a barrel of crude on the world market. The Leader generously shares tens of billions of dollars of windfall profits from natural resources with allies and friends of Socialism worldwide.
Fifth of all, XXIst Century Socialism builds a rich web of rewards and financial networks. The Old Socialist bromide called for giving "To each, according to their labor." This is now replaced with, "To each, according to their XXIst Century Socialism."
Socialists are compensated in myriad ways, as in Venezuela. Those who prove their loyalty enjoy automatic preference on the job and in every other aspect of social life. Pro-Socialist businesses also are richly rewarded. At the same time, careful monitoring, including computerized recording of citizen voting choices, allows XXIst Century Socialists to detect disloyal individuals and counteract their treachery through a wide array of proactive measures.
Under the new Socialism, reactionary corruption inherited from the bourgeoisie is dialectically transformed into a progressive system of Socialist Rewards. Superficial observers are confused that in Venezuela, judges and law enforcement officials from the old regime are allowed to continue their previous practices with impunity, and that no-bid contracts, private jets, Hummers, and other luxuries proliferate among Socialists. It is plain to see, however, that today such benefits are only permitted to those who are loyal to XXIst Century Socialism. Any official who strays off the path of Socialism can be quickly arrested for Bourgeois Corruption, which gives critical leverage to the Socialist leadership.
Overall, XXIst Century Socialism dramatically streamlines the political process. Divisive special interest groups such as independent unions, women's organizations and opposition parties are no longer necessary, since Socialism itself looks after all the Socialist people. The bond between the Socialist Leader and the masses is direct and visceral, unmediated by bureaucratic, legislative, political or judicial institutions. For instance, armed Socialist militias swear loyalty not to a paper constitution, but personally, to the Leader himself. The same efficient dynamic applies in practice to judges, Socialist legislators and politicians, the military, and those who direct Socialist industries.
Surely many more features of XXIst Century Socialism will emerge as time goes on. One thing is certain, though: if current trends continue to advance, Socialism will never be the same.