Wither Chavismo and Latin America’s Left Turn? Contours of Venezuela’s Crisis

Gabriel Hetland


This talk will examine Venezuela’s deepening economic, social, and political crisis in the context of the current challenges facing the Latin American Left. Venezuela’s crisis, which places the future of Chavismo in serious doubt, stems from three factors: Venezuela’s continuing extreme dependence on oil; destabilization efforts by rightwing domestic political forces and the US government and its international allies; and the internal contradictions generated by Venezuela’s highly uneven “transition to socialism”. A primary focus of the talk will be the evaluation of the thesis that, contrary to the narrative presented by mainstream media and western governments (and official state rhetoric), Venezuela’s crisis is not due to too much socialism, but rather to too little. Socialism is understood as a system of production and distribution distinct from capitalism and statism. In capitalism, private property owners control economic decisions considering the use of scarce resources. In statism state officials control such decisions. In socialism, by contrast, workers and communities, acting collectively through democratic assemblies control economic decision-making. While the Venezuelan government has discursively promoted socialism since 2005, in practice socialism remains subordinate to capitalism and statism. Venezuela’s crisis is not due to the partial decommodification of food consumption, healthcare, and education achieved between 2001 and 2013, and limited instances of worker and community control over decision-making. Rather, it stems from the unofficial alliance between corrupt layers within the state and profit-seekers in the private sector, who have taken advantage of the contradictions generated by Venezuela’s uneven transition to socialism to generate enormous profits for themselves. In the context of declining oil prices and continuing domestic and international destabilization efforts, this corrupt state-capital alliance has generated the profound crisis found in Venezuela today, marked by deepening poverty, widespread scarcity of basic goods, growing inequality, and an increasing rejection of Chavismo, and politics in general, by much of the population. The population’s rejection of the government does not, however, signal a desire to return to neoliberal policies, which devastated Venezuela in the 1990s, but a visceral desire to “end the lines” and scarcity marking daily life. The talk concludes by examining local, regional, and national grassroots struggles to continue the push for a genuinely socialist economy and state, marked by worker and community control over political and economic decision-making, and the (dwindling) possibilities for such struggles to help Venezuela overcome its crisis, and allow Chavismo to avoid the fate of the Left in Argentina and Brazil.

Venezuela - Socialism - Latin America - Crisis - Left