Marxism in the 21st Century: Chavez, South American Cultural Unity and the Amassing Proletariat

To this day, rhetorical deployments of the Marxist agenda send shivers down the backs of the Western citizen. Somehow, extending the duration of the Cold War ending in 1991, the Red Scare continues to loom over the head of Western ideals. Of course, environmental dissipation, nuclear war, and terrorist activities have diminished the priority status of the Marxist threat. Yet Marxism is still regarded as the ultimate “anti-freedom,” positing it in direct opposition to the capitalist agenda. For many, the end of the Cold War proved that Marxism was both unreliable and illegitimate in the context of the times. However, the “era of globalization” that defines post Cold War society forces us to look at Marxism in a whole new light: one unified global civil society. Globalization is readily accepted as a device of the capitalist agenda. Given this, Marx’s critique of capitalism is applicable to the global corporate market. The laissez-faire agenda of the global market parallels that of the bourgeois’ agenda: maximum profit accumulation! Marx asserts that such an agenda is propelled by proletarian exploitation. The exploitation of the global South by the global North is exemplary of Marx’s decree, suggesting that the corruption of global capitalism is only advancing with time. Few can argue the contrary. The sudden acceleration of corporate globalization has led to an unrestricted capitalist agenda in which exploitation is not only inevitable, but a necessary means to the bourgeois (or American) end.

Cultural homogenization is a definite factor in the maintenance of class consciousness. As corporate globalization continues to break down national borders, multi-national cooperation among the South makes cultural unity more viable. The world is polarizing into a dichotomy of “Us vs. Them” between wealthy countries of the global North and impoverished countries of the global South. Economic polarity makes bourgeois and proletarian homogenization unavoidable. In essence, it becomes crucial for the global South to act as a cohesive force in order to combat neoliberal efforts. Thus, cultural unification is a by-product of class consciousness — the same class consciousness that Marx prophesizes will lead to the bloody end of, in this case, global capitalism and the neoliberal order. In terms of cultural unity paving the way for proletariat revolution, Latin America is arguably the most progressive region of the global South. The push for cultural integration has provided the region with an increasing solidarity that is essential to face the imperialist powers of the global North. There are many that feel “the time has come to launch the Latin American Revolution, to integrate, and breakaway.”1 Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez; the Independent Democratic Pole in Colombia; the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil; the indigenous movements in Bolivia and Ecuador; the Socialist Parties of Chile and the piqueteros in Argentina are all exemplary of the rising resistance to corporate neo-liberal policies. These leftist South American governments are gaining momentum through regional multi-lateral cooperation. Together, they are unwavering in their pursuit of cultural integration while answering to the outrage of their impoverished civilians. At the forefront of this uprising is Venezuela.

While Venezuela features the same civilian unrest and anti neoliberal sentiments as many other countries of the global South, their domestic politics provide them with a slightly different mode of operation. Venezuela is unique in the fact that the initiatives of the political elite are clearly aligned with proletarian progress. Thus, unlike the situation in the Niger Delta, the exploited civilians are generally supportive of their government. Supportive civilians advocate nationalism, which, in turn, provides the footing for cultural unity. The difficulty in the case of Latin America, is discerning how well these political elites can maintain the proletariat as their priority concern. The neoliberal consensus questions the motives of political leaders like Hugo Chavez, calling him a “dictator in the making.” The fact is, with or without radical leaders like Chavez, the masses are arranging themselves.

This is most evident in the countryside where a “revolution within a revolution” is occurring.2 Their peasantry and poor urban classes are highly vocal in their anti-neoliberal sentiments. Agrarian Revolution, one of the most progressive facets of the Bolivarian Revolution, attempts to overthrow the current structure of bourgeois power by leveling the playing field for the landless proletariat. The Venezuelan Agrarian Revolution incorporates the following three aspects: cultural unity, ecological and environmental emphasis, and violent resistance.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a petroleum-rich nation lying on the northern Caribbean Coast of South America. Basing their principles upon the 19th century South American Revolutionary leader, Simon Bolivar, proponents of Bolivarianism are advocates of social democracy and vehemently opposed to the neoliberal order. It is not difficult to see why. The polarity of bourgeois and proletariat civilians has resulted in a segregated rural sector and embittered urban poor. As of 2005, a mere 5% of all Venezuelan landowners own 75 to 80% of private land. Only 2% own 60% of the country’s farmland in terms of agriculture. Before the oil boom in the 1970s, 75% of the population lived in rural regions. Today, 90% live in urban areas. Inevitably, industrialism and corporate enterprises have devastated Venezuela’s agrarian sphere, with thousands of campesinos flooding cities in attempts to keep up with modernity’s high demand for labor. However, Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president and leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, has utilized high oil profits to fund a number of social programs for the poor. His most ambitious attempt to re-structure bourgeois power is the Agrarian Land Reform.

In November of 2001, Chavez initiated the Vuelta al Campo or Return to the Countryside campaign under the Law on Land and Agricultural Development. The campaign put four primary objectives into movement: 1) minimize the size of landholdings; 2) tax idle property; 3) redistribute (mostly federally owned) unused land to peasant families; and 4) seize undeveloped land from private estate owners in exchange for market value compensation. This year, Chavez aims at expropriating 7.4 million acres and redistributing it to the peasant class. He further asserts that 42 million acres will be confiscated in order to dilute the polarity of bourgeois and peasant landholdings. Although the Agrarian Revolution has been slow in its development, wealthy foreign and domestic private land owners are outraged. They argue that expropriation violates private property rights. Their response has been one of brutal and violent resistance to the newly empowered rural peasantry. In response, the proletariat has resorted to violent tactics to secure new land dwellings. Thus, Chavez’s six year “Revolution for the Poor” has come into full effect, proposing violence as an essential means to combat proletariat opponents.

Calling upon the collective support of all the world’s poor nations, Chavez has only increased his criticism of corporate globalization in recent years. He asserts: Now the imperialist forces are starting to strike against the people of Latin America and the world. It is up to our soldiers to stay alert and be prepared to defend the people and not to submit themselves to the interests of the empire.

Venezuela is now preparing to fight what Chavez calls an “asymmetric war” against the leading imperialist nation of the world, the United States. Venezuelan parking lots have been transformed into military training camps, where civilians of all ages and both sexes pledge their allegiance to fighting the capitalist agenda. Most recently, Venezuela purchased 100, 000 AK-47 rifles and a number of helicopters, planes and ships from Russia, Brazil and Spain. The U.S. did not respond out of character. They “resent[ed] the fact Venezuela did not buy US-made weapons!”3 Chavez now fears his vigorous opposition to neoliberalism will invoke a covert coup of his administration by the U.S. government. U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, told the Miami Herald, “What in the world [is the threat] that Venezuela sees that makes them want all those weapons?”

But Chavez’s notions do not seem to be that absurd. Consider the 1970s Allende Regime in Chile. Allende, a self-proclaimed Marxist and opponent of the capitalist cause, attempted a similar land reform from 1970 to 1973. Between those same years, the U.S. spent $8 million on covert tactics to remove Allende from office. In Nixon’s words, the U.S. government planned to exploit the Chilean market “until they screamed.” Expropriation in Chile also meant that American private land holders were at risk with their property investments. In 1973, a successful coup officially replaced Allende with the corrupt capitalist Pinochet. The U.S. denies any sanctioned involvement. However, the U.S. provided $183 million in bilateral assistance to Pinochet’s regime in comparison with $19.8 million during Allende’s. Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor in 1970, argued “Allende’s election was a challenge to our national interest” given his “anti-American politics”. Is it therefore unlikely that Chavez would expect the same scenario given his blatant rejection to corporate U.S. interests? Perhaps Rumsfeld’s dismay stems from the fact that both Venezuela and U.S. are economically dependent upon one another, with Venezuela accounting for 14% of U.S. petroleum imports. “If somebody meddles with Venezuela, they’ll repent it for 100 years,” says Chavez. “We’ll make the blood flow.” Sound indicative of a bloody proletarian Marxist revolution?

Chavez has already solidified ties with other progressives within South America. Brazilian president, Luize Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula) shares the same stance on corporate imperialism as Chavez. Lula, a former factory worker and union leader, is the president of the Worker’s Party whose concern lies with the proletariat. Chavez and Lula are virtually agreed in their viewpoints on the FTAA, the IMF and neoliberalism as a whole. For the proletariat of Latin America, they have evolved into “symbols of the fight against free-market policies and U.S. imperialism.”4 The Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil parallels the Venezuelan Agrarian Revolution. The MST is considered the largest social movement in Latin America. Nearly 1.5 million participants in the movement work to achieve reform of the rural land shares to the peasantry. With such a large following, it is not surprising that both Chavez and Lula were welcomed like proletariat demigods at the 2003 World Social Forum in Brazil. Throughout the duration of their speeches, the entire audience resounded with waves of support from all over Latin America. At the Forum’s end, Portuguese musicians led thousands in the traditional Socialist anthem, “La Internationale.” The crowd sang along in their native languages. Alberto Muller, a retired Venezuelan general claims:

On an international level, these movements may seem fragile, but if they succeed in forging an ideology in the form of a cultural proposal, grounded in a set of common values by Latin America and the Caribbean, they could become a more permanent influence.

Cross-cultural unity in support of a Socialist transition is on the verge of actualization. The neo-liberal order, ie. global market capitalism, is quickly eroding in its legitimacy as proletariat nations are amassing.

However, any truth in the global Marxist prophecy will most likely be vehemently contested by the global North. The idea that Marxism may be a legitimate threat despite the end of the Cold War is far too much to swallow for the political-ethno-centric capitalists of Western society. Yet, as we have seen, corporate globalization has proved to be a covert extension of capitalist imperialism, encompassing grand scale exploitation in an array of realms. Ironically, Marxism still remains sovereign in its definition as the “anti-freedom” while capitalist corruption glorifies imperialism. Regardless, the South has begun to take shape as a collectively exploited community, whose quality of life is determined by the resistance of cultural, environmental, economic and ideological realms. The exploited working class grows more desperate when attempts at reforming their situation are perpetually suppressed by Northern and (sometimes) Southern governments. Reformation does not bring the swift change needed to end the South’s misery. Thus, exploitation via neoliberal policies only exacerbates proletarian resentment of the capitalist order and those that promote it. This steadfast Capitalist corruption propels the Marxist theory of the emergence of new Socialist endeavors attempting to stifle global South exploitation.

  1. Mrquez, Humberto. “World Social Forum: The Rising Leftist Tide in South America.”:12. []
  2. DeLong, Seth. “Venezuela’s Land Reform: More like Lincoln than Lenin.” Venezuelan Views, News and Analysis. (25 Feb. 2005) :5. []
  3. Ceasar, Mike. “Chavez’s ‘Citizen Militias’ on the March.” BBC. 1 July 2005. (5 Feb. 2006):12. []
  4. Sustar, Lee, Selfa, Lance and Orlando. “Voices Against War and Neoliberalism: World Social Forum.” Internationalist Socialist Review. April 2003. (5 May 2005):7. []
Jessica Long is not a fan of corporate globalization. She can be reached at Read other articles by Jessica, or visit Jessica's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Brian Mattox said on August 20th, 2007 at 9:47am #

    What we are witnessing all over the globe is the utter collapse of liberalism. This is made obvious not only by the nominal liberal party, the Democrats, unwillingness to confront Bush on any of his many crimes, but also on the inability of the leading liberal institutions to protect the issues they represent.

    Even as our economy has soar over the past 20 years or so, wages have stagnated and benefits have been lost. Labor unions continue to see a declining memberships as the role of unions has increasingly become that of negotiating concessions and layoffs to their members. Who in their right mind wants to pay 2 hours of wages per month to the company’s negotiating team?

    The environmental groups continue to be ignored even as we rape the planet at an alarming rate and find ourselves at the threshold of ushering in a potential catastrophe of epic proportions. The science community is in consensus on the reality of global warming and its causes, yet they find themselves politically ignored.

    The ACLU finds itself with a Bill of Rights that is now in shreds and swirling around the lower levels of the abyss.

    The underclass will eventually come to the realization that liberalism cannot protect them in a capitalist society where every liberal asperation must eventually bow down to the capitalist’s demands for profits. As this realization grows among the underclass, socialism will reemerge as the only viable alternative to the raping of the masses and the destruction of the environment.

    There is an old union rallying cry that goes, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” In a world where capital is global, that rallying cry must also become global. But the foundation of capitalism rests upon massive amounts of virtual slave labor throughout the world. Forty-one percent of the world’s people live in abject poverty on less than $2 per day. That figure, of course, doesn’t count the many who live in developed nations and earn far more than that yet still live in poverty. A global movement which successfully begins to protect the slaves who toil at the bottom of the pyramid of capitalism could do no other than to utterly destroy capitalism.

    It is only when we begin to organize on a global basis for the protection of worker’s rights and environmental protection that we will start to put the world on a sustainable track, free of the imperialist wars and predatory capitalism that inflict so much death, destruction and misery for the benefit a relatively tiny handful of super-rich welfare-elites.

  2. Michael Kenny said on August 20th, 2007 at 11:20am #

    The problem with Marxism is not so much Marx as the communists. Communism was the first and longest-lived of the many forms of fascism that developed in Europe out of the chaos of WWI. All those different fascisms claimed to be “sociaist” in one way or another (National Socialist German Workers Party, for example) and most actually were at some time and to some extent. The communists claimed to be both marxists and socialists, although whether they were either is highly questionable. I have always regarded their econnomic ideas as merely capitalism with a single monopoly capitalist, namely, the state.

    In practice, Europe’s communist dictatorships were nothing like US propaganda made them out to be (which was why Americans were so surprised when they were overthrown). Now that the dirt has come out here in Europe, we can see that communism was utterly corrupt, with a small clique of wealthy, middle class, party fatcats living on the backs of the working people and thieving openly from the public purse. The repressive apparatus of the dictatorship kept that under wraps but, the “street” had ceased to beleive in the regime years before the end. For obvious reasons, US propagands also kept all that under wraps!

    Socialism has undoubted suffered from its “hijacking” by the communists (many Americans don’t even seem to know the difference between the two!) but in 20th century Europe, socialism did an immense amount of good, consolidating and building upon the immense good done by liberalism in the 19th century. Many people are attached to the positive achievemnets of both, in particular, democracy and the welfare state. There is no doubt, though, that socialism is now running out of steam but the idea of trying to go back to liberalism seems absurd (you just “unsolve” the problems in liberalism that socialism solved!). Indeed, it was the desire of the communists and other fascists to reject liberalism and go back to 18th century absolutism that got them into the mess that eventually discredited all of them.

    What is needed is a new ideology for the 21st century, a “third storey on the democratic house” so to speak, which builds upon the positive achievements of liberalism and socialism without calling either into question. Judging from what interests the (highly impressive!) youth of today, I would guess that the new ideology will be some form of political ecology. A clear rejection of globalisation is obviously a part of that.

    So marxism in the 21st century is dead buried and discredited, and sends no shivers down any spines outside the US! That Ms Long sees some future for it merely reveals the “disconnection” of Americans, of all political persuasions, from the real world. Basically, America is living in the past, with the right still looking for reds under the beds and the left still hoping they’ll find them! That disconnection has produced the disaster in Iraq and it would produce a similar disaster in Latin America if the gringos, whether of the right or of the left, were to meddle there.

    Moral of the story: Yankee stay home!

  3. Gary Lapon said on August 20th, 2007 at 12:23pm #

    I agree that Marxism is incredibly relevant today, but I don’t think it’s accurate to present the split as one between the global North vs. South. It is true that the bourgois elements in nations of the North are hyperexploiting the proletariat in nations of the global South, but they are doing the same to the proletariat in their own countries, as working class living standards in the North have been under attack for 30 years. Similarly, the proletariat in the global South is exploited by their own bourgeoisies: the people within the nations of the South are polarized as well, into classes with opposing interests.

    Working class people in the North are beginning to respond to the growing gap between rich and poor that affects them as well. The leftward shift in consciousness that is currently underway in the United States is evidence of that, as are the May Day protests of 2006 and 2007. Consciousness lags behind organization, and when organization begins to catch up it will be vital to link working class struggles in the North to those in the South, to argue that the interests of working class people are the same across all boundaries, national or otherwise.

    Finally, Marxism is not prophecy. Marx recognized tendencies and trends within capitalism, and the potential for the working class to sieze power and run society in the interests of the vast majority, but he never said it was an automatic process. It requires people like us to organize, agitate, and build organizations that can win the demands we make. This is something we need to do for ourselves. Your point that the “masses are arranging themselves” independently of leaders like Chavez is well taken. Chavez is certainly doing some great things in Venezuela, and in challenging the neoliberal agenda he is opening up much-needed space for strategic political debate on the topic of working class emancipation, and in this he deserves the (critical) support of socialists. This is what Marx had to say on the topic, probably his most fundamental idea (and I agree with him): “the emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself.”

  4. John Bambey said on August 23rd, 2007 at 4:14pm #

    Two things budding politically oriented people ought to know First Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It does not matter if the wielder of that power is a Bush or a Stalin or a Hitler or a Castro, or a Pinochet, prisons of all of these people are full of people unjustly accused. . A true human rights advocates is wary of the concentration and exercise of power. The strongest protection Ordinary citizens can have is a multi party participatory democratic Republic with a constitution that guarantees certain inalienable rights like our bill of rights, active grass roots level participation in multiple political parties acts as a check on any one group tripling on the rights of others, What Chavez is doing in Venezuela especially with land reform is not communism but a form of capitalism known as distributionism where extreme excesses of wealth concentration are prohibited.
    As a Nationalist I support what he is doing as long as he does not try the extreme leveling of society found in socialism, which as the USSR demonstrated, is not only unworkable but the enormous power vested in a government necessary to carry this out results in a horrible form of societal slavery.
    The second thing they need to realize is that since people are neither perfect nor in this life perfectable, any society formed will not be less corrupt than the majority of the people in it. People get lazy and complacent after good times and are easily taken advantage of by the unscrupulous. Political Reform movements are periodically necessary to clean up the mess. JJB Vice Chair RPCa

  5. shai said on August 23rd, 2007 at 9:07pm #

    John Bambey…
    I think you completely missed the point of this article. Long seems to be commenting on capitalism on a new world order scale….not domestically- as the Agrarian Land Reforms concern. How Chavez operates internally has little to do with the intent of the article…. rather, the article suggests that Chavez is leader of a Proletariat State…as most global South economies are and that he stands in stark opposition to the imperialist first world (capitalist) or (bourgeois) nations. That being said, I do believe that the author has a valid point: Marxism….concerning state actors (proletariat nations vs. bourgeois nations) has a certain legitimacy worth acknowledging….
    Perhaps before we critique essays we should gain a complete understanding of their true intent…..

  6. Kevin Carson said on August 27th, 2007 at 11:42pm #

    “The laissez-faire agenda of the global market”?

    You’re kidding, right?

    If there were the remotest threat of a genuine laissez-faire or free market policy, the Fortune 500 would forestall it with a coup d’etat.

    Corporate globalization is about as far from laissez-faire as you can get.

    For one thing, damn near the central focus of the globalization movement is the enforcement of so-called “intellectual property” [sic] rights, which are state-enforced monopolies fundamentally at odds with any genuine free market principles.

    For another, corporate globalization relies heavily on taxpayer subsidies to the operations of TNCs. If it weren’t for foreign aid and world bank loans to build the road and utility infrastructure which is a prerequisite for profitable Western investment in the Third World, we’d be buying a lot more stuff built here at home.

    Corporate globalization also requires the fundamental violation of genuine private property rights (namely, the traditional property rights of peasants in the land they work), the preference of artificial property rights based on feudal land grants from the state (i.e., those of the latifundistas and landed oligarchs), and collusion between the U.S. national security state and local landed oligarchies in robbing peasants so their land can be used for cash crops and the peasants themselves can be forced into wage labor. For that matter, Anglo-American industrial capitalism did not emerge from the free market; it required Enclosures for the same purpose as the modern-day land thefts in the Third World.

    Corporate globalization requires a massive national security state to guarantee access to foreign resources and markets, protect merchant shipping at general taxpayer expense, and to guarantee the security of overseas investments.

    It’s not by coincidence that the dominant profitable sectors in the global economy are those most dependent on direct state subsidies, or on state-enforced “intellectual property” [sic] monopolies: agribusiness, biotech, military hardware, electronics, software, and entertainment.

    “Laissez-faire”? I think not.

  7. Gary Lapon said on August 28th, 2007 at 2:47pm #

    I’m not at all convinced of the applicability of the term “proletariat nations” that Long and shai use. The capitalist class throughout the global South has much more in common with the ruling class in the West than it does with workers and peasants in its own nations. Is this class overlooked when we determine a country a “proletariat nation?” It would seem not, as Long mentions the extreme concentration of land in Venezuela in the hands of a few. How does the capitalist class of the global South nation factor into the definition of “proletariat nation?”

    Also, does this definition assume that the interests of the working classes in the global North are aligned with those of their own bourgeoisie? If we are to consider the United States, for example, as a “bourgeois nation,” it would seem to follow that working class people in the United States benefit from US imperialism. If this is the case, how does one explain why working class living standards in the United States have declined for over 30 years, even after the fall of the USSR and the victory of the Washington consensus?

    Far from “polarizing into a dichotomy of “Us vs. Them” between wealthy countries of the global North and impoverished countries of the global South,” the global South is making an appearance in the cities and rural areas of the global North as the “employers’ offensive” continues to attack wages, benefits, and social services. In the US, imperialism is quickening this trend, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan burn money while tens of millions of working class residents lack access to health care, decent housing, job security, and other basic services. This is exactly the kind of polarization that Marx was talking about, and it exists North and South.