Hi all: I am finishing up a 10 day trip to Venezuela, participating in the 6th International Forum on Philosophy called State, Hegemony and Revolution. The workgroups have been working on these three topics: I Constitutive Processes and the State in America Latina: Reform, Transformation or Revolution? II Democracy, Transition to Socialism and Construction of Hegemony and III The Principle of Autonomy and Selfdetermination of Peoples against the New Imperial Order (straight translation from Spanish: probably refers to the Bush et al New World Order). I am in workshop II and it has been fascinating having discussions with Marxist-oriented philosophers from all over the world, but especially from Venezuela, about how to incorporate democracy, i.e. participatory democracy, into a revolutionary socialist process which also includes the Chavez socialist party engaged in a representative democracy electoral politics. They have created a dual power sysem called Popular Power, which allows towns and barrios to form their own social councils which can then form "communas" or economic projects which involve workers' cooperatives doing things like creating public housing, producing and distributing milk projects, and cooking gas company and construction companies (the ones I visited). All of these projects are 5 years old or less, and they all were voted money from their local social councils which gets money from the Popular Power administration at the central state level, but the social councils get to choose how to use it, with the stipulation that each new cooperative gets tokeep 70% of their income, give back 24% to the social councils for other community projects and 6% goes back the national Popular Power budget. Although this whole process is contested, because the Chavez PSUV party doesn't really have hegemony in more than 5% of the towns yet (because the mayors elected through the corrupt electoral process, usually from other liberal and right parties are usually corrupt and try to undermine the social council process), they seem to be really working and spreading. Their theory of radical change is heavily influenced by Gramsci's ideas of (counter) hegemony and the idea that they are now part of a Historical Bloc of socialist LA states (the ALBA group, including Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba,and Paraguay and Nicaragua etc) plus the more social democratic states of Argentina and Brazil. So they are creating emancipatory schools for workers and campesinos to try to create a new common sense in the Gramsci sense of the term, to give the popular sectors the critical theory to understand the various conflicts and contradictions of the political process in a partly capitalist partly socialist country in a world where the US historical bloc of imperialist countries, now including Europe uses its military force to force wars in the middle East to maintain access to oil, supports a coup in Honduras, puts sanctions on Venezuela, bombs Libya and threatens to bomb Syria.
Anyway it is fascinating how the Occupy movements (called the indignados in the Spanish speaking world, having started first in Madrid and Barcelona even before the Egyptian spring) are dovetailing with the participatory democracy experiments in Venezuela. It does suggest that even though the anarchists in the US will be suspicious (rightly so, perhaps in our context of the populism of Hugo Chavez and that kind of leadeship (which may nonetheless be necessary in the Venezuelan context given the ongoing possibility of a right wing coup supported by the US), nonetheless there is something the Northern left can learn from the experiments in the South about processes of radical democracy that hasnt forgotten to link it with socialism! Also when we try to generalize about what kind of democracy is possible we forget to be historically specific. In the US where most people are not illiterate, even though they are brainwashed, it is easy to underestimate the importance of basic education. So the workers and peasants' schools need to teach not only reading, writing and math but technical skills as well as critical thinking. A tall order, but maybe just a different order of difficulty in trying to teach critical thinking in the US where class has been so mystified and confusing. More on that later. .
Professor emerita of Philosophy and Women's Studies UMass Amherst and