Building a New Socialism

[A Reply for the Nation Symposium on Reimagining Socialism By Carol Delgado Arria, Consul General of the BolivarianRepublic of Venezuela]

To re-imagine and reinvent Socialism has been the Bolivarian Agenda and it is refreshing that progressives in the
U.S. are daring to re-conceive this debate. In Venezuela, when we speak of 21st century socialism, we mean empowering people by retaining the grassroots aspirations of anti-capitalist movements but rejecting the institutions that have failed to meet peoples’ needs.

As the authors point out, solidarity is extremely relevant. It can be a practice that allows new ways to think about ourselves as individuals, about society, as well as about North-South relations. This is why the Venezuelan government practices a number of non-market policies that are expressions social solidarity, such as the discounted heating oil program for poor communities in the U.S., the solidarity-based trade initiative known as ALBA, and the Petrocaribe agreement, which provides low interest financing for oil.

Although there is still much to be done and done better, in Venezuela we foster equity of distribution and give people control over their own lives and economic circumstances. Communal councils and communal banks are key institutions for creating Socialism of the 21st century in this context. Communal councils consist of communities organized to deliberate their most pressing problems and work with local government and national officials to turn community ideas into feasible projects. Through the communal banks, which are funded by the central government, thousands of local projects that emphasize collective property and participatory economics (Socialist Enterprises, cooperatives, etc) have been financed. This model is still developing but generally gets rid of bureaucracy and corruption, eliminates top down command, improves efficiency, and gives a sense of empowerment to the whole community. By reimagining socialism we are creating a more equitable, empathetic, and human society.

We believe we must go beyond hierarchies that divide and exploit. In our still new socialist enterprises we are discovering the need for a new definition of work and tasks, new procedures for decision-making, and new norms for income distribution. We aim to move towards an economic model that replaces the market, top-down planning, corporate decision-making, and alienating divisions of labor, in favor of participatory planning and substantive equality.

In our polity we need grassroots popular power, local assemblies, and informed active citizens, which is why we have created 27,000 communal councils, on the road to 50,000 to be the infrastructure of a new type of government.

I was pleased to see Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr. mention participatory budgets as something to learn from. Also, I was happy and hopeful to see the call to examine participatory economics, or Parecon, which to me addresses precisely the issues and offers highly relevant possibilities for truly 21st century economic production and allocation. Particularly interesting for us are the ideas of remuneration according to effort and sacrifice (instead of according to market criteria) and participatory planning (which provides a new popular power approach to allocation as a successful alternative to markets).

There are many "socialisms" and the U.S. has the people and the thinkers needed to facilitate the drafting of a great vision right here, right now. An anti-imperialist agenda is key to start the debate on the global financial crisis and the new America. Hopefully the discussion of a better economy and society undertaken in the U.S. will be informed by and perhaps even contribute to our efforts to build a better economy and society in Venezuela. Lets work together to make that happen.

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