by David Broder
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who during his ten years in power has introduced extensive state-capitalist measures based on the country’s oil wealth, has embarrassed his international fan club in recent weeks with a series of gaffes when on diplomatic business.
Chávez has long entertained close relations with such “anti-imperialists” as Colonel Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Belarussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko, but his recent speeches have offered a particularly useful insight into the real content of his “21st century socialism” and “Bolivarian revolution”. Once again it is clear that “21st century socialism” is nothing but classic “20th century style state ownership and bureaucracy”.
First came his trip to China in late September, organised in order to sign an arms deal. Upon touching down in the emerging superpower he commented that China “has shown the world that one doesn’t have to attack anyone to become a great power… we are offering tribute in the land of Mao. I am a Maoist.” This was embarrassing not only for the grey Stalinist bureaucrats accompanying him, who have largely eschewed Mao’s ideas in favour of a free-market ideology, but also those such as Socialist Appeal who have for the last two years gushed over an off-hand comment made by Chávez that he is a Trotskyist.
And two weeks ago, after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chávez welcomed Sarkozy’s bank nationalisations in a TV address: “Sarkozy, you are coming closer to socialism, welcome to the club: your ideas are interesting… we must create a new system. With differences here and there, but at least it must be something new. We of course call it socialism, you call it nationalism, but hey, we can discuss that.” Chávez, who has used the police to break up steel workers’ picket lines, clearly does not see the working class as the agent of revolutionary change, but rather, himself.
Was Chávez joking? If his own project were something other than nationalism and state ownership, you might have thought so.