I've been hearing a lot about Venezuela in the news lately. And it seems there is a big debate over whether it was socialism or not, or whether it was implemented properly.

Is it safe to assume that it was indeed a socialist experiment?

What would make it not socialist?

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    Regarding the "implemented properly" debate, I would recommend referencing "No True Scottsman" fallacy description in a list of logical fallacies. People making that argument are mostly arguing using that fallacy. Socialism isn't a cookie recipe, where you can conclusively prove it was or wasn't followed "properly" - it is a broad and varied umbrella set of ideologies. – user4012 Sep 14 at 20:19
  • There is no definite description for a socialist system but the main feature of Socialism tends to be the social ownership and self-management of the means of production. Some people interpret that (or just find it convenient) an authoritarian centralized state is a similar notion. There are indeed plenty of socialized sectors in Venezuela, but calling that government socialist is a stab in the hearth for people from Proudhon to Rosa Luxemburg. Strictly speaking Venezuela is an authoritarian centralized economy (called Chavismo but similar to others such as Leninism, or Maoism). – armatita Sep 24 at 12:47
  • @armatita The premise of this question is flawed. There is no debate about whether socialism was implemented. PSUV is the political party of Chavez and Maduro. The S means Socialist. What has been implemented also looks consistent with socialist goals. – H2ONaCl Sep 25 at 20:21
  • @H2ONaCl I disagree. The OP clearly asks "Is Venezuela an example of socialism?". Either you just say yes and ignore several perfectly functional democratic countries around the world; or you say no and need to explain why. The fact remains that just saying yes is the same as equating the word to authoritarianism. At the very least a bunch of EU countries and political parties (incl. ones were Socialist and Social-Democracy is the name of the party) would vehemently disagree. And they would be right to do so. Also names are often propaganda. DPRK for example... – armatita Oct 2 at 8:06
  • @armatita Saying yes is most certainly not the same as equating socialism to authoritarianism because the set of authoritarian socialist countries is not the set of socialist countries. It is a subset. – H2ONaCl Oct 3 at 17:28

Venezuela's economy
Venezuela is a communist planned economy with an authoritarian government. It is, therefore, an example of Socialism. Under Chavez and Maduro, Venezuela's economy became a planned economy based on oil production, with few other industries, its oil industry has been nationalized since 1973, and there were significant petrol subsidies for its citizens.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuela
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Venezuela

In 1973, Venezuela voted to nationalize its oil industry outright, effective 1 January 1976, with Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) taking over and presiding over a number of holding companies; in subsequent years, Venezuela built a vast refining and marketing system in the U.S. and Europe.
Under the tenures of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro, many businesses abandoned Venezuela. In 1999, there were 13,000 companies in the country. By 2016, less than a third of companies remained in Venezuela, with only 4,000 companies operating in the nation.
Venezuela has large energy subsidies. In 2015, the cost of petrol was just US$0.06 per gallon, costing 23% of government revenues.

Although Venezuela's economy was planned around a single industry, they are beginning to diversify.

A range of other natural resources, including iron ore, coal, bauxite, gold, nickel and diamonds, are in various stages of development and production. In April 2000, Venezuela's president decreed a new mining law and regulations were adopted to encourage greater private sector participation in mineral extraction.

Some reasons for the failure of Venezuela's economy:

At first, the economic decline was due to low oil prices, but it was fueled by the turmoil of the 2002 coup attempt and the 2002–2003 business strike. Other factors of the decline were an exodus of capital from the country and a reluctance of foreign investors.
The 1999 Vargas tragedy was a disaster that struck the Vargas State of Venezuela on 15 December 1999, when the torrential rains and the flash floods and debris flows that followed on December 14–16 that killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed thousands of homes, and led to the complete collapse of the state's infrastructure.

Venezuela as an example of failed Socialism in debate
A lot of internet conversations use Venezuela as an example of Socialism failing, and they often do it in response to discussions of Democratic Socialists in America, and the viability of Democratic Socialism at large. Undoubtedly, this argument is the main driver for the existence of this stackexchange question and quite a lot of other stackexchange questions about Venezuela. This attempt to associate Democratic Socialism with Authoritarian Socialism is a mistake for multiple reasons:

  • Although many political candidates in the United States are now self-identifying as "Democratic Socialist," they tend to model their principals after Nordic Model Social Democracy. Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism are somewhat close in many ways, but Social Democracy is a bit more like a well-taxed Capitalist economy with social benefits; whereas Democratic Socialism has more government control over the economy, property and institutions are more public than private, and there are more elements of a decentralized planned economy.
  • Democratic Socialism and Authoritarian Socialism are not the same thing and do not have equal track records.
    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_socialism
Democratic socialists oppose the Soviet economic model, rejecting the authoritarian form of governance and highly centralized command economy that took form in the Soviet Union in the early 20th century.

Authoritarian Socialism, as well as any Authoritarian government combined with any economic system, has a consistent track record of poor quality of life, weak civil rights, poor democracy, and sometimes a poor economy. Democratic Socialism (and other kinds of Social Democracies, democratic Mixed economies, and democratic Social Capitalism) offers many success stories of countries with good economies, strong democracy, strong quality of life, strong social progress, and good economic freedom (seriously, open up some of these rankings and go looking for Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, and Canada). If a politician says that they want to model the economy after Denmark, it is simply dishonest to say that the economy will instead turn out to be like Venezuela.

Here is a list of examples of Authoritarian countries, Socialist and otherwise.

  • Socialism itself has many economic flavors, creating a broad opening for weakly informed people to equate countries with very dissimilar economies.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and workers' self-management of the means of production as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective or cooperative ownership, or to citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, though social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms. Socialist economic systems can be divided into non-market and market forms. Non-market socialism involves the substitution of factor markets and money with engineering and technical criteria based on calculation performed in-kind, thereby producing an economic mechanism that functions according to different economic laws from those of capitalism. Non-market socialism aims to circumvent the inefficiencies and crises traditionally associated with capital accumulation and the profit system. By contrast, market socialism retains the use of monetary prices, factor markets and in some cases the profit motive, with respect to the operation of socially owned enterprises and the allocation of capital goods between them. Profits generated by these firms would be controlled directly by the workforce of each firm, or accrue to society at large in the form of a social dividend. The socialist calculation debate discusses the feasibility and methods of resource allocation for a socialist system.
  • Some people don't understand, or act like they don't understand, that national economies exist along a continuum. Economic systems are not binary. They are almost never entirely capitalist, and rarely entirely socialist. Most countries fall in the middle, and simple variances in tax rates, social benefits, or business regulations can subtly move a country along the continuum; not into an entirely different, discrete box. America's form of Welfare Capitalism and the Nordic Model's form of Social Democracy only vary mildly in terms of government regulation, tax rates, social programs, etc. This article even lists the United States alongside the Nordic countries as examples of welfare states. However, it seems that the small differences in tax rates and social programs between the United States and the Nordic countries were enough to create a large difference in their income inequalities.
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    Hmmm... Oil prices smacked Venezuela? macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart In 1973, oil was about $24/bbl. Briefly in 1998 is was below that. Most of the time since 1973 has been significantly above that. Today it is around $70/bbl. It seems odd that they could not cope. – user21424 Sep 14 at 20:19
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    @puppetsock adjusting for inflation $24 in 1970 converted to 2018 dollars is $136.30. Source – lazarusL Sep 14 at 20:33
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    Heh heh! Adjusting for inflation in Venezuela, it's pocket lint. – user21424 Sep 14 at 20:43
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    You say authoritarian government like that's a part of socialism. You also don't go into the nuances of what is and isn't a communist economy, which is where the debate actually lays. – tox123 Sep 15 at 3:28
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    +1 just for the last bullet. There are economic theories and there are real world practices. It is wildly simplistic to claim that one country subscribes to some economic theory and blame all the countries' economic troubles on the theory. I would claim no country has implemented an economic theory cleanly. One needs to do careful analysis to see how the claimed theory has influenced results, not just say the USA is capitalist, Venezuela is socialist, and the old USSR is communist. – Ross Millikan Sep 15 at 3:32

It does somewhat depend how you define Socialism, but it most definitely falls within the broader definition. This can be seen in various policy positions the people currently running the country take, especially economically. The thing that would not make it socialist is corruption and the near dictatorship, but these are general things that occur in various political systems, and seem especially present in more "pure" socialist systems (as opposed to what is increasingly referred to as democratic Socialism)

As you can imagine, politics is often complicated by a very partisan and politically/historically illiterate approach to definitions.

Socialism, like other political terms, is a broad classification which allows for a considerable degree of variation in practice. What makes a socialist society "socialist" is "public ownership" of the "means of production". Socialist politics attempts to create an egalitarian society by "sharing" ownership of industries which typically are owned almost exclusively by an aristocratic elite. Socialism is a political response to inequality.

It's worth noting that Communism is a variety of socialism where society is governed by a one-party state, whose purpose is to lead the people towards greater equality. Considering that Lenin said: "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country" ... it's fair to say the exact definition can vary considerably.

There are many different examples which are relevant to contextualise the point. The Soviet Union is the most famous, but even within Soviet history there were arguments about how society should be organised. The USSR switched between leaders who, generally speaking, prioritised the survival of the state (Stalin, Brezhnev) and those who prioritised the empowerment of the individual (Khrushchev, Gorbachev). Lenin even proposed the "New Economic Plan", which advocated the Communist state's industry should become for-profit. Stalin disagreed.

Lenin believed, without global revolution, the Communist state had to be pragmatic and manage capitalism over the long term to survive. Stalin believed that, without global revolution, the Communist state needed to rapidly industrialise to provide the military-industrial capacity to protect its short term survival.

What's interesting here is that Mao's policies were essentially Stalinism for peasants, but after his death China's Communist party adopted the NEP under Deng Xiaoping's leadership. All of this is socialism, because the means of production is owned and run by the state, (in principle) for the benefit of the people.

Communism is a top-down system, where the leadership make decisions which must be obeyed by the people. The two main alternatives, Democratic Socialism, and Anarcho-Syndicalism, represent other ways of distributing power.

The simplest way of describing the difference is to say that in Communism power is given to the Party, in Democratic Socialism power is given to the voters, and in Anarchism power is given to the workers. Again, these are all legitimately socialist systems, just governed by different philosophies.

After the Second World War the United Kingdom voted for the socialist Labour Party. Their policies were to nationalise many industries (coal, steel, transport, healthcare, defence, etc) and create public housing after clearing the slums. This was the socialism which George Orwell wrote 1984 and Animal Farm in defence of, in opposition to Stalinism. British socialism came to an end with Margret Thatcher's election victory in 1979.

The Labour Party became "New Labour" with the abandonment of Clause IV in 1995. This clause in the party's constitution made the party socialist, by requiring the public ownership of the means of production, and without it Labour transitioned into a Social Democratic party.

Venezuela's economy consists of a large public sector of nationalised industries, in an attempt to create an egalitarian society. That's quintessentially socialist. However, Venezuelan Socialism appears to be transitioning from a Democratic Socialism which emphasised the empowerment of the individual, into something more Stalinist, which emphasises national survival. It's all socialist, but whether it is any good is another question.

  • Communism is more broad than "socialism with a one party state", and generally includes a stateless society, where there is no government, or where all government decisions are collective. – David Rice Sep 24 at 14:18
  • @DavidRice There's always going to be debate, though isn't that more of a theoretical definition than one going by the realities of what Communist states have looked like? – inappropriateCode Sep 24 at 14:23
  • That depends on how you define a communist state - there have been fairly large communes where there was no separate governance, and Communism has as complex interpretations as Capitalism does (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communism) – David Rice Sep 24 at 14:34
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    @DavidRice I'm not interested in how you or I define it, but by adhering to a demonstrably general classification. I think Communism doesn't work when we talk about leaderless collectives owing to the split in the first international between Marx and Bakunin, the latter becoming Anarchists, the former Communists. Otherwise it seems like Anarchists are Communists, and what does that make Communists? – inappropriateCode Sep 24 at 14:39
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    @DavidRice No, I'm saying there seems to be little real distinction between anarchism, anarcho-communism, anhrcho-syndicalism. They function is very similar ways, generally speaking. Ukraine's Black Army were anarchists, for example. And "anarchist" in the context of socialist politics basically means horizontal collective leadership. That's the way it has been since the First International split back in 1872. What I'm saying is that it doesn't make much sense as they seem very similar, generally speaking. – inappropriateCode Sep 24 at 15:35

Was socialism "implemented properly" in Venezuela? That tends to beg the question. There's always been widespread disagreement about what's proper in economics, and what's not. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the science of Economics is now perfected, and proper methods of implementing any given economic system are known and obvious to the whole world, and never controversial. Even if that were really so, a nation's mere aggregate failure or success is insufficient evidence, since...

  1. A nation could implement an economic system improperly and yet be quite successful due to various other factors; say a meteor of gold falls from the sky and saves an incompetent government from ruin. Or an incompetent government is supported by a powerful ally, who rescues them just to spite a rival. Etc.
  2. A nation could implement an economic system properly and yet fail, due to various other factors; say an immense meteor of lead falls on the capital, effectively assassinating the entirety of a competent government. Or the small nation could be opposed by a larger adversarial nation that sets out to ruin the small nation by various underhanded but well-funded means, and then install its own eager to please puppet government. Thereafter the larger nation denies, distracts, and justifies the results of its efforts, and forever blames the victim.

In this instance Venezuela is opposed by a larger adversarial nation, (with a mostly unapologetic history of "destabilizing", covert and otherwise), that wants its own favorite economic system implemented in Venezuela. In which case, the larger nation might have already deployed its usual methods of destabilizing to "make an example" of Venezuela.

So the answer is: It's hard to tell whether Venezuela is a failed example of socialism. A building is shaking! It looks ready to collapse! It might be bad design. Or shoddy contracting. Or it might be that guy with the ski-mask and the blowtorch melting a few I-beams in the basement.

(Note: of course being ruined by a larger nation is no proof of competence. The point is such action changes the experimental design.)

  • Like every company is subsidized (not just the oil companies) because every company has workers that use public roads to get to work; assume every country does something every other country is opposed to. What is it specifically about U.S. policy in 2018 that is adversarial to Venezuela that you seem to believe is unjust? – H2ONaCl Sep 22 at 17:58
  • @H2ONaCl, Re: "...seem to believe is unjust?": a misreading. This answer doesn't contain the word "justice"; rather it addresses sufficient and satisfactory evidence, and therefore accuracy. The effects of adversarial actions, (see URLs in answer), should not be inaccurately confounded with more relevant data when evaluating a nation's implementation of an economic system, as distinct from its military system. – agc Sep 23 at 9:46
  • I don't know about the history of destabilizing but on the surface it appears socialism is a choice that can be implemented even in the context of the U.S. having contrary preferences. Chavez and Maduro had/have real power within the borders. What is the mechanism by which sanctions resulted in the economic recession? It would seem socialism is easier to trace to a recession. It would seem lower a oil price is easier to trace to a recession. – H2ONaCl Sep 24 at 17:19
  • @H2ONaCl, It's possible, (probable even...), that it wasn't just sanctions. That is, the adversarial nation uses a three-pronged strategy, a maybe *legal*(-ish) suit and tie one of sanctions like embargos and whatnot; a second full-on cold-war strategy of spies, subversion, bribes, gun-running, and kindred methods; and a third media strategy where they absolutely ignore strategy #2, softpedal strategy #1, and blame everything bad that happens on the destabilizee. More on economic sanctions later... – agc Sep 24 at 17:36
  • How's it going with those sanctions? – H2ONaCl Sep 25 at 20:08

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