What is the Significance of Venezuelan Bolivarian process?

College of Complexes presentation by Stan Smith, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5, Latin America Solidarity Coalition

First, the Venezuelan process is not a revolution. The country is still capitalist.

The capitalists still control the media, the banks, all large production (except oil), and the distribution system. The distribution of goods and wealth still takes place according to what is called the “market.”

The state, the government structure is still a bourgeois state structure.

This is to say, the means of production and distribution are not in the hands of the people, there is no socialist state, as we see in the Paris Commune or in Cuba.

Chavez’ party controls the elected government positions on the national level. However, remember in any country there exists a huge government bureaucracy and apparatus, and this is not Chavista. Those people who had government jobs before Chavez often still have their jobs. Government employees can be neutral, dead weight, or are anti-Chavez. In many government bureaucracies, many just adapt to the Chavez revolution, but continue operating as before.

Venezuela has not had a revolution, as in Cuba, where the old state structures were completely dismantled and then rebuilt with new Fidelista people. Nor has the capitalist nature of the economy been changed. If there will be a socialist revolution in Venezuela, it will be in the future.

There is at present no revolutionary party, nor revolutionary working class organizations of any size. There is a PSUV, but this is fundamentally an electoral party, and it is extremely heterogeneous. There are the workers’ unions, but they are divided and bureaucratized.

But Venezuela has had a revolution in the sense that what exists there is not just a progressive government with progressive policies. It is a movement that is driving the process forward, and pushing the government to take further steps. There is a revolution in the sense that he masses of working people are directly involved in politics, they are taking direct action to transform their lives.

They are no longer apathetic and uninvolved.

They are organized in land reform committees, urban land reform committees, education committees, water committees, women’s committees, Bolivarian Circles, student groups, health committees,  and more.

What we in the US know about Venezuela boils down to Chavez, leader of an oil rich country. And what we know about Chavez are his strong anti-imperialist statements and organizing. He has spoken out against US wars, against attempted US coups in Venezuela and Bolivia, praised Chomsky, etc.

But what we know of what is going on in Venezuela is very little. Just phrases such as “Bolivarian revolution” and “21st Century socialism”. It is not clear what they mean, but hopefully I can give you some idea.

What is happening is that the little people, from below are slowing constructing a new society and new economy in Venezuela. What has happened in Venezuela is that a leader has existed there for 10 years, regardless of what nonsense the US says, elected and re-elected over and over. Chavez is the president of a country whose job is facilitator of the self-organization of the Venezuelan people.

As the people start organizing themselves in their communities, start organizing themselves where they work, this “revolution” in Venezuela moves forward.

It moves forward at a  slow, steady pace.

It is quite like what we do here, as in the anti-war movement. We have meetings, get to know each other, discuss, debate, call actions, bring in new people, slowly moving forward. At least Venezuela moves forward, because its leadership is much more serious, much more open, much clearer about who are its allies and its enemies.

So how has this Bolivarian revolution proceeded?

First it began with Chavez’ new constitution, created after much popular discussion, and ratified by referendum in 1998 or 1999. This constitution gave people many rights we do not have, in particular the right to organize and to participate in making the decisions that affect their lives and the life of their communities. But giving people these rights do not mean much unless the people take advantage of this and do it. This they have been doing, and the process has deepened over the years.

What has happened is that Chavez has gone around the established state structures, which often obstructs him, and has called on people to build their own organizations.

He has not so much changed existing organizations, but has facilitated the creation of new ones.

A new educational system exists alongside the traditional one,

A new medical system exists alongside the traditional one,

A new distribution system for goods and products exists alongside the traditional one,

New systems of production exist alongside the traditional one,

A new media exists alongside the old one.

In other words, he has facilitated the increasing democratization of Venezuelan society. That means the direct participation of the masses of poor and working people in the political process, taking direct action to transform their lives, and that is happening now in Venezuela.

This is why he is so hated by the US government and US media, and why the US considers him such a threat to their economic interests and is constantly trying to overthrow him. And being a facilitator of democracy in Venezuela is why he is called a dictator. He actually has much less power in Venezuelan society than Bush does here.

So what has Chavez facilitated in building outside the traditional structures?

Most important are

  1. the misiones,
  2. the community councils.
  3. the producer cooperatives,

The term missions are taken from the Christian concept of missions – missions among the people. Venezuelans are very religious, and so is Chavez.

Land Reform:  By the end of 2005, 3 million hectares of state-owned land had been distributed to 200.000 families


Mision Robinson   I and II

Mission Robinson I

combat adult illiteracy.

By 2007, 2 million Venezuelans (total pop. 27 million) had benefited. Over 100,000 literacy teachers participated through 2004

No more illiteracy now.

Mission Robinson  II

Teaches everyone to the grade 6 level.

They had 1.4 million students by April 2005

Mision Ribas

A high school completion program, like GED.

Students get a stipend, had 800,000 participants by 2005.

Entirely funded and run by PDSVA, the Venezuelan state oil company.

Mision Sucre

Provides university scholarships for the poor.

100,000 students get $100 a month

In total, almost 3 million have benefited from education misiones, which must be 1 out of 6 adults. In addition, even by 1,380,000 pre-school children in public per-schools in 2004. This is one-third of all children that age.

By 2005, 99% of children in elementary school, up from 88.5% in 1995


Mision Barrio Adentro

Free community health care for all, open  24-7

Cuban doctors

Preventive health care

On average, each doctor sees 20 patients a day, and each dentist sees 11 patients a day.

In 1998 there were 1,628 primary care doctors for 23 million people, now 19,571 doctors for 27 million people

There are also community health clinics and some mini-hospitals.


Mision Mercal

Provides  subsidized food to 12 million Venezuelans in communal markets. This is 40% of the population.  As of 2006, there were 15, 726 communal markets in the country.

On average, the subsidized food lowers the market price by 40%. Food prices have risen 50% in the last 12 months, but Mision Mercal prices are fixed.

Mision Mercal is also entirely funded and run by PDSVA.

We should note that it is not just because Venezuela is an oil rich country that it can afford these programs.Nigeria is also an oil rich country, and the living conditions of its people is horrible.

When Chavez was elected president in 1998, 75% of the population was poor, almost 4 out of 5. 58%, more than half, lived in absolute poverty. 70% were undernourished. 83% lacked running water, medical care, other basic services


Bolivarian Cafeterias

Provides free meals to 600,000 very poor people every day.


Mision Guacaipuro

Provides special help on top of this to indigenous people


Women’s Development Bank

Gives micro- credits to women


Mision Habitat

Provides subsidized housing to tens of thousands across the country


Mision Vuelvan Caras

Gave  315,000  grants by 2005  to Venezuelans in a range of service and production jobs, emphasizing the development of cooperatives. 286,000 had graduated by 2005, organizing 7000 cooperatives.

This Mision has collapsed and been ended.

These misiones are subject to local decision-making. They are designed to reduce poverty, the health clinics, the educational centers, and the subsidized food markets are all locally accountable.

Social spending per person by PDVSA and the central government has increasing 314% from 1998-2006.

In all these missions, the people have been the protagonists in making the missions work, not the government from above.

These are not programs instituted from above. Chavez called for their existence, the government funds them, but it is the people on the neighborhood level who implement them. Not like government programs here. Instead, Chavez facilitated, the communities implement.


Community Councils

Chavez government has encouraged local leaders to create community councils.

These let people in their own neighborhoods identify and address their own problems – garbage collection, street lighting, sewage, water supply, lack of decent housing,

school construction, parks, radio station, community center.

The concept of community councils arose from the belief that local groups know what is lacking and know what they want for their communities. The people are organized in councils were the decisions are made, not by the municipal councilor or alderman, but by community assembly. They decide what they want to do, how much it will cost, and then the money is transferred to a community bank.

The community bank takes the public funds out of the hands of the state bureaucracy, where, as we know, there is much public-private corruption, and puts it directly in the hands of the community to dispense. The councils decide how the community construction projects are carried out. Technicians and managers do not decide. Rather, the government lends them to the community council to help implement their plans.

Community councils democratize local government and give people the funding and capacity to make their own decisions for themselves. These community councils are slowly taking power away from the central government, the bourgeois state, and turning it over to the people directly. In other words, the central state is being dismantled bit by bit and transferred to the people.

There are 28,000 community councils. About 200-400 families in an urban area make up a community council. Council decisions require 20% of community attendance. The voting age is 15.

In one meeting we had, in Carora, the mayor of the city turned over 100% of the city budget to the community councils. We had a meeting with one of them. Representatives to the council included a community environment rep, a community bank rep, a cultural committee rep, health committee rep, controller committee.

Each is elected, and report to the council, though the assemblies are the highest authority of the community.

Carora was the city with the most advanced form of community council. All power resides in the community councils.



About 140,000 cooperatives, involving 1,000,000 people, or 10% of the workforce.

We went to a bakery cooperative. 15 women work there. The rent is $300 a month. The coop members bought all the equipment. All 15 women went through Mision Vuelva Caras. All had been housewives before who didn’t work or go to school. All are paid the same. There is a national network of bakery cooperatives. They started the cooperative to lower the price of bread.

The coffee processing cooperative we visited is based on the coffee growers privately owned land. That is, families grow their own coffee. They came together as a cooperative to process the coffee.

The coffee-growers cooperative alternates administrative positions in the coop every 3 years. Each family is paid according to how many pounds of coffee beans they bring in to be processed. 25% of the proceeds go to the running of the cooperative, 50% goes to the producers’ families, 25% goes to the community.

10% of Venezuela’s coffee producers belong to cooperatives. That is 6,000 out of 56,000 producers. There are no big landlords with plantations in coffee production. Big landlords raise cattle. However, 3 Venezuelan families control the distribution of coffee in Venezuela, and then get the lion’s share of the price. The coops will start marketing their coffee through CITCO.

Another cooperative made tiles and bricks.  It is isolated, out in the desert, abandoned place. It has a community council, of 1 man and 8 women. 18 members just finished Mision Ribas, 6 men and 12 women. The council, given its money, built 13 new houses (of 48 in the community)  and I church. They have built new rooms for their school, with 20 computers for the school, using a satellite, with Belarusia providing the internet.

This is an illustration of how people have organized themselves and taken charge of their lives.

We also went to a cocoa coop. Administrative positions in the coop are changed every year. All members are paid the same. The land is owned in common by the town.

The people harvest the cocoa from the trees, then process it. Part of the proceeds go to the town and part to the cooperative.

We must remember that cooperatives operate in a capitalist market. Some production may be in the hands of working people, but the distribution network is still firmly controlled by a few small rich distributors. In addition, cooperatives produce on a small scale. Almost all large-scale firms are private capitalist enterprises.  As the government undertakes large scale construction projects, it relies on traditional capitalist enterprises to do the work.

However, like the vast majority of small businesses in the US, most fail in the first wo years. Not 90%, but maybe 70%,

Nationalizations, Sidor, cement company

They nationalized CANTV by buying its stock.  Nationalized electrical supply distribution companies by buying their stock.  Nationalizes concrete company, bank

Undocumented immigrants

2 million have been given citizenship at one blow in 2004


Has almost 6 million members, but only 200,000 are activists. I went to a meeting of 10 batallones who gathered to nominate someone for elections in November. There were about 75 people there.  These were simply average people, who often agreed and argued, medium level arguing. Each batallon nominates, or doesn’t nominate, someone for the election in the neighborhood.


US Intervention

The US government gives millions of dollars a year to finance counter-revolution. This includes direct US government funds, and funding through NGOs, including US “Human Rights” groups. USAID, NED



The Bolivarian constitution is reproduced, in sections, on food packages so all can read it.


Union Movement

Initiatives have been designed for the formation of a united left Union of oil workers. On paper, yes such a union already exists. From the oil workers of PDVSA, who form the backbone of the workers’ movement in Venezuela, we would expect that they also have the strongest union. This is not yet the case. We met tireless fighters like Tony Leon of the Foro Energetico, who with many others work day and night for the unification of the movement. Others are also risking their lives like Luis from Anzoategui. A few weeks before our visit he was gunned down by mercenaries paid by the old corrupt trade union leaders, still active in the company. He survived the attack and was one of our guides. Despite the fact that the union movement does not possess its own school worth the name, we came across different local initiatives aimed at training the workers.


Economic Growth

 The economy has growth 8-10% a year since the end of the 2003 oil lock-out. The poverty rate was 55% in 2003 during the oil lock-out, now half that by 2007. Poverty was 70% in 1996.  And this is based on income and does not include free health care and education. Investment in social services and provision of social services has increased from 8-9% of the budget to 20%.

56% of the employed are in the formal sector, and 44% in the informal sector. (a quarter of the informal sector sell on the street). Unemployment is 7%. Inflation is 22%, but was 103% in 1995.

Of the Gross Domestic Product, 1.5% comes from cooperatives, 30% comes from state-owned enterprises (18% if we exclude oil), and 70% of the GDP comes from the private sector



Venezuela is the world’s 5th largest oil exporting country.  It sells 1.5 million barrels a day to the US.  This makes it the 4th largest US supplier and the US the #1 export source for Venezuela. Venezuela has regained control of its oil, and is using its oil wealth to benefit the people. Before Chavez, none of the benefits of the oil went to the people.  90% of export income comes from oil. 15% of tax monies comes from private people, 85% from PDSVA


Women in the Revolution

Women play a prominent role in the revolution.

Especially in the neighborhoods, the core of the popular movement, they are often the majority of the active participants.

They told us how during the ‘coup d’état’ in 2002 they were often getting their husbands out of the bars or from in front of the television to demonstrate on the streets.

Today also they struggle to get PDVSA to establish gas lines directly to the popular neighborhoods. Today they still have to carry those heavy gas bottles.

During the people’s assemblies the spokespersons of the community councils explained to us how they organize the neighborhood, raise political consciousness and organize the struggle.


 Media and alternative media

There is no national newspaper of mass circulation that is pro-government.

The majority are very anti-government.

The PSUV has its own newspaper, but it is not widely read.

There is one semi-objective national newspaper.

Most of the TV stations, like most of the newspapers are anti-Chavez, about 85%

There are 860 community radio stations

1000 community newspapers



  1. US  intervention


recent coup attempt

  1. domestic opposition

The oligarchy is still firmly in place, allied with US imperialism, desirous to overthrow the popular government.

Sabotage of economy, withdrawal of food from the market. Constant media campaign.


Bureaucracy of pro-Chavez structures

Due to the fact that the revolution has not been completed,  Venezuela  still suffers from old bureaucratic habits, especially among certain layers of state enterprise management, government bureaucracy, PSUV and UNT bureaucracy.

These have formally adapted themselves to the new regime but continue to function as before.

There is a bureaucracy in the state apparatus that blocks revolutionary initiatives from above and below. This is a 4th Republic bureaucracy and a Bolivarian bureaucracy.

The bureaucracy sabotages the social reforms, represses the democratic participation of the workers and the communities in decision-making.

The bureaucracy helped defeat the 2007 referendum.

Often bureaucracy goes hand in hand with corruption.

Government sometimes does not decisively act against sabotage, opposition. This has happened over and over.

Since 1998, about 100 land reform activists and peasants have been killed by paramilitaries, just as what happens in Colombia.

None of the guilty parties have ever been brought to court. Even this has happened to a Bolivarian member of Parliament.

The attorney general who investigated and attempted to prosecute those involved in the coup was assassinated. Killed in 2005 and no one has been brought to justice.

Those involved in the coup are free in Venezuela, or Colombia or Miami.

No serious action has been taken against them, which can demoralize people.

The revolutionary government is too closely associated with the person of Chavez.

If he were overthrown, divisions in the Chavez movement, into moderate and more revolutionary wings would come to the fore.


For more information



Venezuelan Consulate in Chicago


So what is 21st century socialism?

  1. It has created a participatory democracy, not just a representative one. We have communal councils, misiones,  contraloria social, land committees, water committees, community health committees, citizen’s educational programs
  1. It has involved the traditionally excluded: women and indigenous  peoples.

Through affirmative action programs, microcredits for women, land reform,

  1. It has raised the overall human level of the people – through healthcare, education, popular participation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s