Thursday, August 16, 2007

If I WasPresident

A couple of real-life (i.e., not electronic) friends recently asked me what I thought or had to say about recent proposed changes to the Venezuelan constitution made by President Hugo Chavez.

Let's take a moment to law down one axiom for the duration of the discussion: proper socialism, as conceived of in my theoretical tradition ({Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, et seq.}) requires a revolution. Not only is it the response to the commonly touted "you can't change the way people think" objection, but it's also common sense. Ask David Lesar if he feels like giving up his money so that poor people can eat. Not only will he respond in the negative, but he also commands a company that has the ear of the Federal Government (and therefore the military) which can help him make that point abundantly clear.

In that sense, objections to Chavez's proposed abolition of term limits are misplaced. The objections should come in noting that legislation to socialism is not sufficient for a change in the mode of production. Or to put it another way, vote for Nader, but be his fiercest critic on his first day in office. Term limits, per se, are apolitical (remember that the U.S. has a term limit largely by historical accident). If a candidate does good work for the people, that should license the indefinite continuation of his/her political agenda, which is not necessarily disjoint with the candidate.

Do I think Chavez might abuse this term limit removal? Or to reply directly, what of these complaints, raised by the Chavez opposition:

His critics say Mr Chavez is attempting to remain as president for decades, following the example of his close friend Fidel Castro in Cuba.

"Chavez is seeking to reduce the territory held by the opposition and give his intention to remain in power a legal foundation," said Gerardo Blyde, an opposition leader.

These are legitimate fears, but they are not novel to Venezuela. Think of the unending slide rightward of seemingly left-wing candidates. If a pro-war majority of apples can spoil the healthy anti-war apples, then of course we should have systemic fears about political corruption. But this is like saying that just the 2000 election was stolen, as if all elections in the U.S. aren't stolen. Moral: if you like a candidate, that candidate should be allowed to remain in office, but don't confuse punching a ballot box with marching in the streets, and do not allow your candidates to confuse the two, either.

It's also worth noting that the proposed Venezuelan constitutional reforms aren't only about Chavez's term limits, or even majority so. The above article notes that it also brings the national bank under federal control, and mandates a six-hour working day. Six hours! We can't even establish a decent minimum wage in this country!

Furthermore, the legislation expands the local council power. Taken with this in mind, Chavez's term limits seem almost puerile. Some voice concerns at this move:

Mr Lopez agrees that people should have more control of their communities, but he says the president's definition of people power is a contradiction.

"Communal councils have to register themselves with the president's office. But if they're not absolutely loyal to the government, they won't get registered. And if there're not registered, there's no access to government funds.

"You need to promote plurality, tolerance and diversity. Without this, there is no democracy," he continued.

However, history has already shown us what the opposition's conception of plurality is: a military coup. Almost as hypocritical as American politicians claiming to understand democracy.

Speaking of democracy, I will leave with this quote, and a question:
But all this is raising concerns among those who dislike the radical nature of the president's politics. Opposition groups say democracy is being politicised, with the local councils used as hubs for political activism.
I'm not sure how this even has an understandable meaning. How does one politicize democracy?