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I know for a fact that Venezuela is or was socialist, but when ever I bring it up in a debate people just deny it and I can’t find any proof online that it was, they all just take it for granted. What elements of Venezuela is or were socialist because I heard the almost perfectly met the socialist agenda but I don’t know how.

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    I heard the almost perfectly met the socialist agenda , please cite your source. Even Stalin and his counterpart (USA) claims the fascism USSR is "communism"; not to add that the Nazi that practice discrimination has a "socialist" name. – mootmoot May 2 at 10:04
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    Socialism is the social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management. Typically when a country calls itself a Socialist state it means that is following the Leninist theory that only by means of a vanguard party (usually autocratic) can socialism be achieved (eventually) . The same for Communist states (for communism which is a type of anarchism, i.e. no state). However in Europe different socialist-based models are fairly common, i.e. social-democracy or democratic socialism. – armatita May 2 at 11:29
  • @armatita - Some people's ideas of theoretical communism might be synonymous with anarchy, but essentially every group that has claimed to be Communist has been either a state (e.g. China, Soviet Union) or a group within an area governed by a state. In other words, I don't think there have been many, if any, regions operating under stateless communism. – Obie 2.0 May 2 at 12:05
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    @Obie2.0 Saying "every group" is a bit of a stretch. But as countries or states go they usually claim wanting to achieve something. Communist parties typically claim their ultimate goal is to achieve communism, not that they are one. But yes, as I said, more often than not Leninism in its several versions lead to autocracy. I'm only insisting on correct nomenclature due the way these things usually go: i.e. universal healthcare is socialism, and socialism is Venezuela, so UH is basically Satan's baby (or some other different but equally fallacious reasoning). – armatita May 2 at 12:32
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    Who are the people who are denying it? If they're Socialists (or sympathetic to Socialism), they may be denying it simply because Venezuela's Socialist government is such an abject failure. – jamesqf May 2 at 17:45
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Let's say that nationalizations rather than welfare programs are closer to the hardcore idea of socialism. According to a 2012 Reuters article:

In 14 years in office, Chavez has nationalized major swaths of the OPEC nation’s economy as part of a socialist agenda.

In 2007, Chavez’s government took a majority stake in four oil projects in the vast Orinoco heavy crude belt worth an estimated $30 billion in total. Exxon Mobil Corp and ConocoPhillips quit the country as a result and filed arbitration claims. Late last year, an arbitration panel ordered Venezuela to pay Exxon $908 million, though a larger case is still ongoing.

France’s Total SA and Norway’s StatoilHydro ASA received about $1 billion in compensation after reducing their holdings. Britain’s BP Plc and America’s Chevron Corp remained as minority partners. [...]

In 2009, Chavez seized a major gas injection project belonging to Williams Cos Inc and a range of assets from local service companies. This year, the energy minister said the government would pay $420 million to Williams and one of its U.S. partners, Exterran Holdings, for the takeover.

In June 2010, the government seized 11 oil rigs from Oklahoma-based Helmerich & Payne Inc. [...]

In October 2010, Venezuela nationalized Fertinitro, one of the world’s biggest producers of nitrogen fertilizer, as well as Agroislena, a major local agricultural supply company. It also said it would take control of nearly 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of land owned by British meat company Vestey Foods. Vestey had already filed for arbitration over the earlier takeover of a ranch. Chavez said the latest deal with Vestey was a “friendly agreement.” [...]

In June 2010, Venezuela took over the mid-sized bank Banco Federal, citing liquidity problems and risk of fraud. The bank was closely linked to anti-government TV station Globovision.

In 2009, Chavez paid $1 billion for Banco de Venezuela, a division of Spanish bank Grupo Santander. [...]

In October 2010, Chavez ordered the takeover of the local operations of Owens Illinois Inc, which describes itself as the world’s largest glass container maker.

Chavez in April 2008 announced the government takeover of the cement sector, targeting Switzerland’s Holcim Ltd, France’s Lafarge SA, and Mexico’s Cemex SAB de CV. [...]

Chavez has considered bringing mining more firmly into state hands, and in 2009 the mining ministry seized Gold Reserve Inc’s Brisas project, which sits on one of Latin America’s largest gold veins. Gold Reserve immediately filed for arbitration with ICSID.

In August 2011, Chavez said he was nationalizing the gold industry. Toronto-listed Rusoro Mining Ltd, owned by Russia’s Agapov family, was the only large gold miner operating in Venezuela, and this year it filed for arbitration.

The government paid $2 billion in 2009 for Argentine-led Ternium SA’s stake in Venezuela’s largest steel mill.

In 2007, the nation’s largest telecommunications company CANTV was nationalized after the government bought out the U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc’s 28.5 percent stake for $572 million. Analysts said Verizon received fair compensations for its assets.

[Also] In 2007, Venezuela expropriated the assets of U.S.-based AES Corp in Electricidad de Caracas, the nation’s largest private power producer. The government paid AES $740 million for its 82 percent stake in the company. Analysts described the deal as fair for AES.

More recently (2017) they seized a GM car plant. And

Delta (DAL), American (AAL), United (UAL) and other airlines are collectively still trying to claw back $3.8 billion in profits frozen in Venezuela. Those airlines, along with Lufthansa, Alitalia and LATAM, either drastically reduced flights to Venezuela or stopped flying there entirely.

A lot of those nationalizations are still going through arbitration. Conoco recently (2019) won $8 billion.


In US leftist circles there is denial that this "resource nationalism" is socialism though. E.g. an article in The Nation argues that

while Venezuela has moved away from free-market capitalism, its economy is hardly socialist. The private sector, not the state (and still less the social economy), controls the overwhelming majority of economic activity. Between 1999 and 2011, the private sector’s share of economic activity increased, from 65 percent to 71 percent.

Frankly that's probably more because the state run companies proved bad at managing what they grappled. Also, in (what we'd call today a) Turkish-style purge, in 2002 Chavez fired 18,000 employees of the state run oil company PDVSA because they staged a strike against him. That is said to have contributed to the lack of efficiency of the state-run oil sector. And the politicization of the state oil company is not too hard to observe in political discourse either:

"By now there should not be one single counter-revolutionary left in the heart of the oil trade unions. We must stay on alert," Rafael Ramírez, the oil minister and head of PDVSA, said in a [2009] televised speech.

"There cannot be one single state company where socialist committees do not exist. Any state companies lacking a socialist committee shall be suspected of plotting against the revolution."

But there are also some unique "Bolivarian" characteristics of the Venezuelan system, in particular the emphasis on the military's role, i.e. the "civil-military alliance", which extends to who runs the state-run enterprises, largely carved out to military leaders.

Military officers also hold significant economic power. General Manuel Quevedo, a general in the Gendarmerie, is both president of PDVSA and oil minister. In late 2017 he displaced civilian personnel who were allied with Rafael Ramírez, a now-disgraced internal rival of Mr Maduro. General Quevedo has been unable to turn PDVSA around but has appointed several military officers—who like him have no previous experience in the oil sector—in management and operations roles in the company. More generally, military commanders (or people close to them) have repeatedly been granted control of state-owned companies across the country. Although, in an apparent attempt to improve performance, some positions in key industrial concerns were re-staffed by civilian personnel in the second half of 2018, the military continues to wield substantial economic power.

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Venezuela has a self-proclaimed socialist government. The members of government, its supporters and much of the opposition would describe the country without hesitation as Socialist. The name of the political party in government is Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and Hugo Chavez, the deceased predecessor of current president Maduro, called his project: Socialismo del siglo XXI (Socialism of the 21st century). The country nationalized a large part of the means of production and created various welfare-programs for its poor, its closest ally is Cuba along with several other leftist countries,... Yes, this looks like Socialism!

Yet, there are also people who say that the government has little to do with (real) Socialism, that this label is abused to justify a corrupt, kleptocratic military dictatorship. Among them are many former supporters of Chavez who continue to consider themselves socialists but think that Maduro has failed them.

One has to know that Venezuela had experienced a short-lived bonanza due to extraordinarily high oil prices followed by years of misery due to very low oil prices:

  • Once, during the time of Chávez, the country had enough money to finance many programs for the poor thanks to high oil prices. Venezuela even provided heating aid to poor New Yorkers.

  • After Maduro had taken over money (and everything else - including toilet paper) became scarce and mismanagement obvious, living conditions worsened, millions of people left the country.

Now, if the Venezuelan flavor of Socialism looks failing, you can take it as a proof that Socialism doesn't work. Alternatively you can say that Socialism would work, but that Venezuela had been on the wrong track, that this had not been true Socialism ("No true Scotsman...").

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    It would help if you provided refs for "The country nationalized a large part of the means of production". Welfare programs for the poor aren't so hardcore socialist. (They're easy to find reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-election-nationalizations/… etc.) – Fizz May 2 at 9:15
  • Thanks, I added your link which provides a good overview, even if it is still missing what happened in the last few years.. The forced expropiations of companies which ceased production when sales prices were fixed at a level below raw material costs are missing. A more up-to-date summary article would be nice. – Frank from Frankfurt May 2 at 9:57
  • I think Venezuela is "populism" similar to oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran. it is funny that media didn't call many countries that previously subsidies the oil price as "socialism". – mootmoot May 2 at 10:16
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    I wouldn't really describe Saudi Arabia or Iran as populist. Populist usually implies staying in power by having the support of the people, be it through manipulation or actually benefitting them. Both are in essence monarchies, whether by the House of Saud or the Ayatollah (although the elected president does have some power in Iran) and don't rely on popularity for their power. – Obie 2.0 May 2 at 10:29
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    As for Venezuela, under Chavez it could certainly be called populist, with a high approval rating and programs that benefited people (some more so in the short term). It's a bit hard to argue that Maduro is a populist by his approval ratings, these days, and he doesn't rely on popular support to get things done. Maybe his rhetoric is still a little populist. – Obie 2.0 May 2 at 10:36
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What political discourse in the United States calls "socialist" is different from what political discourse in Western Europe calls "socialist," and that differs from what political discourse in South America calls "socialist." In politics, and to a lesser degree in political science, labels are shifting over time and also over geographical areas.

For instance, there is a Party of European Socialists. They label themselves Socialists, so they must be Socialists, right? Yet this party consists of

  • the British Labour Party,
  • the Italian Democratic Party,
  • the German Social Democratic Party,
  • the French Socialist Party, among others.

And all these examples are completely different from the First International, or the Second International, and so on.

So your statement

I know for a fact that Venezuela is or was socialist

only makes sense if all participants of the debate agree on a working definition of "socialism," if only for the purpose of debate.

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