The Future of Socialism

Sean Para, Columnist

The death of Hugo Chávez last week was a landmark event. It will have a dramatic impact on the future not only of Venezuela, but also for socialism as a political ideology. Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, promising major reforms and the institution of socialism for the impoverished nation. Though many of his promises were broken or only half kept, he revitalized the Venezuelan political community and the discourse on socialism worldwide. Chávez allied himself with Cuba, a longtime bastion of communism in the western hemisphere, and sought an alliance with Russia. These moves were aimed at weakening the power of the United States in Latin America, where the untrammeled hegemony of our nation has prevailed for more than a century. While America’s imperialistic attitude towards its southern neighbors served often to their detriment, Chávez’s vehement anti-Western rhetoric inflamed tensions and marked Venezuela as a clear enemy of the United States. With his death, one wonders not only about the future of American-Venezuelan relations but also about the future of socialism as an anti-American doctrine.

Chávez’s socialism, inspired in large part by the 19th-century South Ameri- can revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar, was slightly authoritarian but sought to improve the lives of the Venezuelan people. Chávez instituted more government control over several key industries such food and oil production. He sought to create a more open, democratic process in Venezuelan politics and give the people more freedom through government intervention. While not entirely successful in his goals, Chávez was perhaps the foremost socialist leader of his generation. Many thought that socialism had fallen with the Soviet Union, and that states such as China, Vietnam and Cuba were vestiges of a bygone era. Chávez was able to show that socialism is still a viable political ideology and has the chance to be implemented in new countries around the world. If only he had been more effective as a reformist and less self-aggrandizing.

Socialism is not a dead political philosophy. Marx proved unable to create a system, but he was a political philosopher, not a politician. The great failures of socialism have been due to totalitarian dictators such as Stalin and Mao, who used communist philosophy as a justification for their self-serving political goals — it was a means to power, not freedom for these men. Socialism as an ideology is at heart based around expanding freedoms from the purely political to the economic. Nineteenth- century liberalism saw the expansion individual freedom as the goal of the state. However, combined with capitalism, this has created the massive inequalities we see today. Socialism seeks to create a freer society with an expansion of economic rights, distributing wealth and resources throughout the population instead of letting them be concentrated in the hands of plutocrats at the top of the economic pyramid. A developed country has never tried to institute communist economic policies, largely in response to the fear brought on by the poor implementation of socialism in the USSR. after the Russian Revolution and fear of what the Reds would do in power in the West. However, socialist reforms are still possible in the 21st century. They must be seen as ways to create a more egalitarian society instead of taking away the freedoms we hold so dear.