Democratic Socialism Moves Forward in Venezuela

Democracy from the bottom is evolving as a ten-year social revolution in Venezuela. Led by President Hugo Chavez, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela ((PSUV) gained over 1½ million voters in the most recent elections November 23, 2008. “It was a wonderful victory,” said Professor Carmen Carrero with the communications studies department of the Bolivarian University in Caracas. “We won 81 percent of the city mayor positions and seventeen of twenty-three of the state governors,” Carrero reported.

The Bolivarian University is housed in the former oil ministry building and now serves 8,000 students throughout Venezuela. The University (Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela), is symbolic of the democratic socialist changes occurring throughout the country. Before the election of Hugo Chavez as president in 1998, college attendance was primarily for the rich in Venezuela. Today over one million, eight hundred thousand students attend college, three times the rate ten years ago. “Our university was established to resist domination and imperialism,” reported Principal (president) Marlene Yadira Cordova in an interview November 10, “We are a university where we have a vision of life that the oppressed people have a place on this planet.” The enthusiasm for learning and serious-thoughtful questions asked by students I saw that day was certainly representative of a belief in the potential of positive social change for human betterment. The University offers a fully-staffed free healthcare clinic, zero tuition, and basic no-cost food for students in the cafeteria, all paid for by the oil revenues now being democratically shared by the people.

Bottom up democracy in Venezuela starts with the 25,000 community councils elected in every neighborhood in the country. “We establish the priority needs of our area,” reported community council spokesperson Carmon Aponte, with the neighborhood council in the barrio Bombilla area of western Caracas. I interviewed Carmon while visiting the Patare Community TV and radio station—one of thirty-four locally controlled community television stations and four hundred radio stations now in the barrios throughout Venezuela. Community radio, TV and newspapers are the voice of the people, where they describe the viewers/listeners as the “users” of media instead of the passive audiences.

Democratic socialism means healthcare, jobs, food, and security, in neighborhoods where in many cases nothing but absolute poverty existed ten years ago. With unemployment down to a US level, sharing the wealth has taken real meaning in Venezuela. Despite a 50 percent increase in the price of food last year, local Mercals offer government subsidized cooking oil, corn meal, meat, and powered milk at 30-50 percent off market price. Additionally, there are now 3,500 local communal banks with a $1.6 billion dollar budget offering neighborhood-based micro-financing loans for home improvements, small businesses, and personal emergencies.

“We have moved from a time of distain [pre-revolution—when the upper classes saw working people as less than human] to a time of adjustment,” proclaimed Ecuador’s minister of Culture, Gallo Mora Witt at the opening ceremonies of the Fourth International Book Fair in Caracas November 7. Venezuela’s Minister of Culture, Hector Soto added, “We try not to leave anyone out… before the revolution the elites published only 60-80 books a year, we will publish 1,200 Venezuelan authors this year…the book will never stop being the important tool for cultural feelings.” In fact, some twenty-five million books—classics by Victor Hugo and Miguel de Cervantes along with Cindy Sheehan’s Letter to George Bush—were published in 2008 and are being distributed to the community councils nationwide. The theme of the International Book Fair was books as cultural support to the construction of the Bolivarian revolution and building socialism for the 21st century.

In Venezuela the corporate media are still owned by the elites. The five major TV networks, and nine of ten of the major newspapers maintain a continuing media effort to undermine Chavez and the socialist revolution. But despite the corporate media and continuing US taxpayer financial support to the anti-Chavez opposition institutions from USAID and National Endowment for Democracy ($20 million annually) two-thirds of the people in Venezuela continue to support President Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The democracies of South America are realizing that the neo-liberal formulas for capitalism are not working for the people and that new forms of resource allocation are necessary for human betterment. It is a learning process for all involved and certainly a democratic effort from the bottom up.

Peter Phillips is a professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University, and former director of of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored. He wrote his dissertation on the Bohemian Club in 1994. Read other articles by Peter, or visit Peter's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 5th, 2008 at 10:05am #

    socialism, even when incipient, is good for working people. but once it is fully developed it wld be even much better.
    natch, world plutocrats, led by US ones, will try to destroy it.
    that’s why working class amers need a socialist party. such a party in US might at least deter the coming destruction of socialism in weak lands and may be even in china.
    let’s face it people everywhere r desperate to be led. working class in US is now w.o an adequate leadership.
    party is far less likely to be infiltrated than an org. or a movement.
    people can be led by crooks/liars or by people that deceive much less or not at all. thnx

  2. Ramsefall said on December 5th, 2008 at 1:19pm #


    a great piece articulating the progress in Venezuela under Chavez, mainstream readers will obviously not be reading it which is unfortunate because the US population could learn much about the highly participatory, active democratic socialism taking place in South America’s Bolivarian Republic.

    The strongest aspects of Chavez’ MBR have made an identifiable change in Venezuela’s social fabric; health care, education, economic access and self-esteem. This change has been a long time coming after 40 years of repressive oligarchic regimes which hoarded the petro funds among the elite and foreign investors, exactly the reason why the country’s wealthy continue to oppose Chavez’ leadership; a typical scenario of greedy rich people not wanting to share the pie.

    The main goal of Chavez’ agenda has been achieved — restoring dignity to the impoverished population. Let’s hope that for both the people of Venezuela and global observers, Chavez can win more free and fair elections to continue transforming this nation. No wonder he poses such a threat to Washington which fears that the US population might get funny ideas about what real governments do for the people. He is a dangerous man, and admirable.

    ¡Que vivan los pueblos libres y soberanos!

    Best to you.

  3. Brian said on December 6th, 2008 at 11:57am #

    over at an article from Dec. 5 asserts “Chavismo takes a hit” in this election.

    Hard to tell from reading this post and theirs which analysis is correct.

  4. Ramsefall said on December 7th, 2008 at 6:08am #


    the hit is the opposition winning 5/22 gubernatorial positions across the country, generally in the wealthier and more populated states, along with mayor of Caracas which is the big surprise since that’s ground zero for the revolution. With crime and inflation rising somewhat exponentially, thresholds of patience and tolerance are being surpassed. Lots of positive changes in the past decade for many, while presently confronting some very challenging social conditions. The revolution has made progress, but there’s no such thing as a perfect system that will please the entire populace. Remove one weed and another pops up elsewhere, what’s the solution now? Hard to say.

    Best to you.

  5. Daniel Concepcion said on October 10th, 2009 at 11:24pm #

    Finally some literature doing justice to a real reformer! The point on the Media in Venezuela being controlled by the Elite is one that is key in understanding Chavez dilema! They have tried to ridicule this man of humble descent by trying to convert him into a monster! Of, course the US and some other countries want him out, so they can keep exploiting Venezuelas riches and people. The USA better shape up, people are coming on to their tactics of deceit and exploitation.

  6. Obstreperous said on October 11th, 2009 at 8:37am #

    It sure is fun (and fashionable) cheering on cheering on oppression while sitting in the lap of luxury. Tyrants are great if they’re OUR tyrants. How great it is to be an elitist. After all, ideology is more important than hunman dignity, peace or social justice.
    On the other hand…maybe not. Liberty is the only path that respects the will and dignity of all persons necessary to any lasting peace. Maybe that would be great to try.