Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bolivarian Revolution in the Context of the Third World Movement

By Matthew Siano:

Vijay Prishad in his work The Darker Nations recognizes that the worlds’ historically oppressed and excluded populations represent one of the most powerful forces for historic change towards social and economic justice. The rise of the Third World movement was a manifestation of these popular forces that developed before and after World War II in rejection of the bipolar, First World market capitalist, and Second World state socialist models. The Third World movement represented “the Darker Nations”, or the worlds historically oppressed and excluded majority, through the formation of international organizations, national liberation movements, and alternative development projects. Over time, due to a number of internal contradictions and external pressures, the Third World movement lost much of its political power, but not its’ importance to the lives of those people it represented and all those who desire global justice. Vijay Prishad only briefly mentions the Bolivarian Revolution in his book, and when he does he brushes it off as a colonels coup. Judging by the various similarities between the Third World movement and the Bolivarian Revolution, as well as by the entirely new context through which the Bolivarian Revolution has arisen; I believe that the Bolivarian Revolution represents a novel resurgence of the values and ambitions of the Third World movement.

Today, the First World, with the United States as its vanguard, operates through organizations like the IMF, World Bank and NATO, and has achieved a level of economic and military power that borders on hegemony. Through these institutions, many nations in the former Third and even Second World face the threat of neocolonialism. The neocolonialism of our time often wears a human face or obscures its true intentions through structural adjustment, debt bondage, capitalist culture, and NATO military “humanitarian” intervention. With a lack of any real check on these powers, it is now more important than ever that the voices and wills of the majority of the world achieve political and economic power, and organize themselves internationally to defend their collective demand for equality and justice.

In many ways, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is working towards this reality, and has already achieved economic and political empowerment of a large part of its historically oppressed and excluded population. In the context of a unipolar neoliberal world order, the Bolivarian Revolution has built upon many of the ambitions of the Third World movement. By championing regional integration, international nationalism, and by directly challenging First World ideology that there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism, Venezuela is becoming possibly the vanguard of a new World movement. This new World movement builds upon the Third World movement by learning from its failures and striving towards similar goals of global justice and dignity for the historically oppressed and excluded. 

Popular Power

            The Third World movement was a manifestation of popular power. This popular power took various forms that included armed anti-colonial resistance (Algeria), non-violent anti-colonial resistance (Ghandi, India), and massive grassroots organizing with national liberation or socialism as its demand. A major failure of the Third World movement was that it did not live up to its promise of participatory democracy. Some nations within the Third World such as Saudi Arabia did not even have a semblance of democracy, while others like Tanzania took extremely top-down approaches to their ambitions. Even nations that had emerged from a long anti-colonial struggle and developed strong support like Algeria, “did not fully live up to its promise of radical democracy, where every person would be constituted by the state as a citizen, and where each citizen in turn would act through the state to construct a national society, economy and culture” (122, Prishad).

This failure to include popular forces into the Third World struggle made various states “vulnerable to the counterrevolution of the old social classes of property and the disgruntlement of those in whose name it ruled” (123, Prishad). Furthermore, the failure to include popular forces deprived the movement of its initial energy, and stifled much creative potential that may otherwise have been able to manifest.

The Bolivarian Revolution and government are also rooted in popular power against oppression. One of the earliest manifestations of this popular power came with the Caracazo. During this event, tens of thousands or more people, representing the millions most effected by the new neoliberal “shock” package proposed by Carlos Andres Perez and the First World, took to the streets in protest of rising prices, inequality and poverty. The popular power of this movement was violently repressed, but later manifested as political and economic power with the democratic election of Hugo Chavez and the creation of a new constitution.

Likely in response to the failure of Third World nations in their top-down approaches to global justice and national development, the Bolivarian Revolution has emphasized the construction of a participatory democracy. The government has facilitated this by granting legal authority and logistical support to the creation of communal councils; by opening up opportunities for referendum on national issues; and through its laws that support protagonist action.  Participatory democracy is antithetical to the assumption of the First World that only representatives and technocrats know what is best for the majority. Having travelled to Venezuela recently and listened to many people who have participated in community councils or participatory democracy in other more direct ways, it is quite apparent that these changes are building a society that encourages participation by its members in their own political and economic reality. It is most encouraging that the citizens of Venezuela have legal authority through the constitution to challenge the government, and the institutional framework through community councils and other organizations to do so. While there does still exist bureaucracy between these social forces and the government, it is a good sign that people are encouraged to self-organize to challenge the government, instead of being repressed or ignored. 

Economic Autonomy

            Economic autonomy, or economic self-sufficiency and determination, was equally as important to the Third World movement as political sovereignty. Many Third World nations realized that the economic policies promoted by the First World were the direct cause of their poverty and lack of development. A question arose:

“How can sufficient capital be harnessed to do the important work of reconstruction for economies battered not just by the world depression of the 1930s and the wars of the 1940s but by the centuries of colonial depredation?” (64, Prishad).

A possible answer to this question was Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), which sought to limit their nations importation of goods from First or Second World countries with higher value-added, by producing those products within their own nations. This ISI model was accompanied by social investment in infrastructure and programs, and nationalization of key industries. The ISI model had its own contradictions, some of the most significant being that its main intentions were to protect domestic industry, and that this in turn led to the development of a national capitalist class detached from the interests of national liberation and the history of that struggle. This national capitalist class pushed the Third World into integration with the First World through globalization, which eventually destroyed one of the primary pillars of the Third World movement, economic autonomy.

The Bolivarian Revolution too has championed economic autonomy through endogenous development and a move away from neoliberal policies. The macro-level changes to the Venezuelan economy in many ways appear similar to the economic policies of ISI, including social investment, nationalization of key industries, price regulations and currency control. The Venezuelan government has achieved significant reductions in poverty and inequality, while increasing access to education and health care, primarily through reforms like these. What is inspiring about the Bolivarian Revolution and government is that they have realized the limitations of ISI development, and have sought out a social economy through endogenous development. Endogenous development according to the Venezuelan government is “a means to achieving the social, cultural and economic transformation of our societies, based on the revitalization of traditions, respect for the environment, and equitable relation of production” [2].

How endogenous development has manifested most significantly has been through the creation of a social economy, which attempts to break down capitalist work relations, and move away from capitalism towards democratic and participatory economics.

The creation of a social economy in Venezuela has been a slow process, which at first was primarily promoted through missions like Vuelven Caras and later Che Guevara that sought the creation of cooperatives. Cooperatives were understood to be a model that creates more equitable work environments, while promoting the values of solidarity. The social economy is also present in various worker-run and/or expropriated industries that have been granted legal recognition or are in the process of doing so. Socialist Production Enterprises (EPS) are another way the Bolivarian Revolution has sought to socialize the economy, by integrating production into the structure of the communal council. There are, however, some contradictions within the social economy. One is that many of the cooperatives facilitated by the government have not lived up to their expectations as real alternatives to capitalist relations, either in the workplace or with the community. Another is that the social economy has grown at a sluggish pace, and is still not a significant portion of overall economic activity. However, the very existence of a social economy is a powerful example of alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, and the growth or decline of this sector could very well determine the health of the Bolivarian Revolution in the future.

Internationalist Nationalism

            International nationalism was a theory for the construction of nations within the Third World movement, which built itself upon “the history of their struggle against colonialism, and their program for the creation of justice” (Prishad, 12). International nationalism manifested in the form of organizations like the G-77 and the Non-Aligned Movement, while pushing to democratize the United Nations, which was viewed as “a crucial forum for the Third World to raise issues of colonial barbarity and use the General Assembly as a medium to broadcast previously hidden atrocities before the world” (Prishad, 103). Unfortunately over time nations within the Third World movement began to move away from internationalist nationalism towards cultural nationalism that emphasized linguistic, racial or religious unity. This type of nationalism was deeply rooted in the pre-liberation social forces, and developed symbiotically with globalization. Saudi Arabia became a strong and sad example of cultural nationalism, which developed symbiotically with globalization in order to “open [the] economy to stateless, soulless corporations while blaming the failure of well-being on religious, ethnic, sexual and other minorities” (275, Prishad).

The Bolivarian Revolution is named after a revolutionary leader that helped to liberate many Latin American countries from Spanish colonial rule. The international nationalism of Venezuela today is not only apparent through its various references to Simon Bolivar, who believed in a Gran Colombia and the political unity of Latin America. The Venezuelan government since 1998 has built international relations with regional countries that in many ways challenge the international relations of the First World. The formation of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America’s Trade Agreement for the People (ALBA-TCP) was initially a counter to the neoliberal Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) that has become focused on Latin American and Caribbean integration.  ALBA has already proven to” allow for the creation of new forms of exchange and communication between countries that were once isolated” [3]. These new forms of exchange involve direct commodity trades such as oil for doctors with Cuba. In regards to new forms of communication between countries, Venezuela has established the regional television station Telesur, and launched the communications satellite Simon Bolivar, while also opening up the space for meetings between ALBA countries. Furthermore, Venezuela has been participating in trade agreements and commodity exchanges with members of the South American Nations (UNASUR). As a whole the organization is seeking the creation of alternative economic structures between participating nations, while basing its success on the well-being of its people rather than by profitability.

A more recent development with significant historical precedence is the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in December of 2011. CELAC was pushed for hard by Hugo Chavez, and its first meeting was held in the capital of Venezuela, Caracas. The United States and Canada are intentionally absent from CELAC, due to their domination of previous organizations like the OAS. The official stated objectives of the organization are to “to deepen integration and political, social, economic, and cultural unity and to promote sustainable development” [4]. Leaders such as Rafael Correa have proposed an alternative Latin American human rights watch to combat the plethora of U.S. funded human rights organizations. At the meeting, Chavez also stated: “It’s an honour for Venezuela [to host the summit]… many talk about the dream of Bolivar [for a united Latin America] but few talk about it as a project, about actually putting it into practice. Today we’re laying down the first stone, a fundamental one for the unity of Latin America and for our real independence.” [4]

All of this certainly suggests that Latin America is moving further towards regional integration, seeking cooperation economically and politically to challenge the dominant First World of neoliberalism and imperialism. Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution have been at the forefront of this movement towards integration, through the formation of ALBA, the hosting of and push for CELAC, and increasing cooperation with UNASUR.


Within the context of a unipolar world order, the Bolivarian Revolution has been a critically important accomplishment of popular power. Its goals and values align with the historical struggles of the Third World movement, but in an evolved form that has learned from history. Venezuela today is living evidence that the historically oppressed and excluded are the protagonists of history, and that their struggle for political and economic justice has not ended.

Works Cited

Prishad, Vijay. The Darker Nations. New YorkThe New Press, 2007. Print

[2] Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela:

[3] Tahina Ojeda Medina , 7 Years on from the Creation of the ALBA –TCP : Venezuela Analysis

[4] Ewan Robertson, CELAC Holds First Meeting of Triumvirate Countries, Designates Priorities: Venezuela analysis

June 26, 2012