Pioneering the new socialism of the 21st century

On January 8, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez swore in his new cabinet, including five new members, calling upon them to take an oath that they would "never rest arm or soul in the construction of the Venezuelan path towards socialism". One the ministers sworn in was Hector Navarro, previously higher education minister and now Venezuela's minister of science and technology.

Visiting Australia towards the end of last year as part of a presidential delegation, Navarro spoke with Green Left Weekly about his ideas on the new socialism of the 21st century. The first part of the interview was published in GLW #684.

According to Navarro, this "new socialism" is posing a real alternative to "what some authors have called 'hegemonic global imperialism'".

The early imperialist system, as analysed by Lenin during World War I, had several rival developed capitalist powers. "But now, there exists one sole empire which is both global and hegemonic", Navarro argued, adding: "It does not recognise the UN, instead it does what it wants."

This US-centred empire is in its "terminal phase". Pointing to the chronic and permanent trade deficits of the US as one example of this, he noted that in essence what is occurring today "is not just a crisis of capitalism, but of its very essence, which is capital".

"Capitalism has a logic, which is the logic of capital. It is the logic of the pursuit of maximum profit, which automatically means that there is no respect for the environment, because, if you want to maximise profit, the environment is not important for you. If you are going to maximise profit, human beings don't matter to you. What is important is maximising profits, and under the logic of capital, the market is what regulates everything."

Drawing out the irony of all the talk about the virtues of the "free market" under corporate capitalism, Navarro said that what really exists is a "market that is manipulated by the mass media, which induces people towards consumerism, towards buying new things. The result is that there is no such thing as a free market, there only exists manipulation."

Navarro argued that in the end all this does is "draw us into a vicious cycle where we are simply destroying the environment. This is a limiting factor which impedes capitalism from being able to continue existing after this final phase.

"After global hegemonic capitalism there is no other phase of capitalism. There is the death of humanity, the disappearance of the human species and the disappearance of life on this planet — or the alternative, which is to replace the logic of capital with the logic of labour, a totally different logic, because now it is not maximisation of individual profit, but rather, it is based on benefiting the collective."

Navarro said that this is the type of society that the Bolivarian revolution is trying to build today, based on the "logic of labour" rather than capital. For Navarro, this "logic of labour" is the basis of "a new socialist project that rescues the real origins of socialism, of that socialism with is filled with humanism".

Navarro said this was a break with the "old socialism" exemplified by the Soviet Union. "I take Cuba out of that because the Cuban socialist project is different to other socialist projects", he added.

This "new socialism" is based on "a new type of democracy where the workers have to take up a protagonistic role. Everyone has to take up the work of the state so they need time to not just carry out their functions, they need creative time."

Recalling some of the experiences and discussion he had in his visit to the Soviet Union in 1982, Navarro stated: "The USSR failed among other things because it did not understand that humanity evolves and that human beings need other spaces. Humans do not live by just satisfying their material necessities, such as housing, clothing, etc.

"As well as material needs — which are important, indispensable — there are other elements, which have to do with the mind, with the spirit, that have to do with the nature of humans as opposed to animals. Animals can live by just satisfying their material needs. Humans cannot. Humans needs a space to project themselves, and that space to project themselves, socially and politically, is contained with the Bolivarian constitution."

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this is Article 62, which states, "All citizens have the right to participate freely in public affairs, either directly or through their elected representatives. The participation of the people in forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective. It is the obligation of the State and the duty of society to facilitate the generation of optimum conditions for putting this into practice."

Navarro commented that "the Soviets though they were the end of history — you can see here a coinciding of idea put forward by the Soviet leaders and by the neoliberals — the end of history, the end of ideologies. The Soviets also came to believe that they were the end of history and that there was nothing beyond the way things were in the Soviet Union.

"But things are not like that because humans are permanently evolving. They began to maximise benefits, but it was the state that appropriates it, not society — not a state where everyone is a part of the state, rather a state formed by a few elites."

He noted that the Venezuelan constitution "guarantees that petroleum revenue is used for the benefit of all Venezuelans", unlike how it was used by previous neoliberal governments to enrich the wealthy elite. "Moreover, it indicates in what things revenues from petroleum can be invested — education, health, etc.

"This marks a clear difference with any capitalist vision because it is saying that what is socially produced is socially used and that is a socialist concept. What is socially produced, what is the product of our collective labour, cannot be taken advantage of by the owners of capital, but instead it should be for the use of the collective.

"So petroleum is a collective good, everything that is underground is a common good that belongs to society as a whole. The term collective means not only for Venezuelans, because at the moment Venezuela's foreign policy is focusing on an important part of petroleum resources to be used to help other peoples in obtaining education, health etc.

"This is something the Cubans also did and continue to do. They continue to do it with us, for example, through the Cuban doctors and the literacy campaign" in Venezuela.

Navarro said that "we cannot commit the same error those who led the Soviet Union did. We cannot think that within 151 years, three months, two days and three hours, we will have constructed socialism and that once we get there, that's it and we are all happy.

"Socialism is constructed each day permanently, just like happiness is constructed permanently. Happiness does not exist in isolation. What exists is being on the path towards obtaining happiness, constructing it. You feel happy when you know that you are on the path to obtaining happiness. But absolute happiness cannot exist. Socialism cannot exist as a static phenomenon, because it is like a grand goal that is over there, but what has to happen is that we as humans have to be travelling towards that goal each day, constructing socialism. That is the real socialism."