Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chavez, Corporatism, and the Continuing Struggle. . .

The life of Hugo Chavez reminds us of many of the difficulties facing the world in our generation.  Chavez was a man who saw that capitalism had led in Latin America to structural poverty for a large swarth of the population and though there was, in the latter half of the 20th century, a degree of development in most Latin American Countries, this development showed no sign of raising this consistently poor class above the level of wretched poverty.

The latter part of the 20th century saw a significant structural shift in the international capitalist structure. The process of globalized corporate capitalism, though still in development, has imposed important changes in politics everywhere and has been significant for both 'conservatives' and 'liberals.' Globalizing corporate capitalism has actually put paid to much traditional conservative ideology. Because the model of capitalism changed and the transnational corporation has become the central model of wealth and power, so-called conservatives abandoned their traditional fiscal conservatism and instead their political efforts have become concentrated on increasing the wealth and power of large corporations. This effort demanded a policy effort which seeks to shift huge amounts of money away from the general population and into the hands of a small group of corporations and ultra-rich. Thus supposedly conservative governments from the late-seventies onward have actually abandoned their supposed fiscal responsibility and today we have a Conservative government in Canada which is the most deficit ridden in the country's history. For more liberally minded people, the model shift in capitalist development has meant attempting to protect the social structure and rights that were gradually gained in the first parts of capitalist development. However, so far this has been a sadly losing effort and the radical increases in economic and political power over the last thirty years has demonstrated our losses.

Of course, the damaging effects of globalizing capitalism has not gone unanswered and Hugo Chavez was part of a new generation of what one might call 'semi-socialists' who are looking to mitigate the effects of corporate power and structural inequalities to which it is leading. But the life of Chavez demonstrates just how difficult this struggle is, and will continue to be.

Changing a prevailing power structure is certainly never easy. To paraphrase Marx, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling. In a system in which big money controls most of the conduits of ideas and ideology, it is very difficult to make people understand the nature of the power structures that surround them. It was this way in feudal Europe where a shocking percentage of the population actively supported their own oppression, and convinced that it was divinely derived and the best of all possible worlds. Fighting the structure of modern corporate capitalism is similarly difficult. Corporations and the rich can effectively limit and control political discourse and in many cases specifically control electoral outcomes. These challenges have led to such efforts as the occupy movement in the 'first' world and to more radical and powerful efforts in the developing world. Chavez was part of this radical movement. Regular democracy means little in circumstances in which a rich and powerful elite control the discourse and the structures of the state and the economy. In countries like Venezuela these challenges are made even more problematic by an absence of generalized education and the ideological structures of elitism steeped in generations of inequality.

The rich and powerful of the world, those that represent the corporatist ideology fear men like Hugo Chavez more than anything else. Just as the feudal lords feared agricultural reformist leaders like Gerrard Winstanley and the 19th century capitalists feared men like Feargus O'Connor, the corporate capitalists of the 21st century fear men like Hugo Chavez because they are not content to let the system of inequality keep going unchallenged.

If the leaders of Western nations learn anything from Hugo Chavez it should be that people will not let inequality go unchallenged indefinitely. Over the past thirty or forty years Western Democracies have seen more and more inequality and one might say that we are witnessing the creation of a structural underclass and new ruling class. But where there are inequalities there are people willing to fight against them. And if the rules of the game is stacked against them, they start to break the rules. People can fuss and whine all they want against such struggles, they can attempt to marginalize leaders like Chavez, but the struggle will continue none the less.

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