Thursday, January 11, 2007

Chavez spooks capital.

Predictably, the media - whether centre-left or centre-right - cannot contain their condescension and derision at Chavez's declaration of "Socialism or death!" following his inauguration after being re-elected this December with 63% of the vote. Especially since that declaration comes with a concrete set of policy proposals that are quite radical in their means and ends. Specifically, Chavez proposes to nationalise key industries including electricity and telecommunications, increase state control over four major oil projects, return the central bank to public control, and expand local democracy through community councils. While radical and thoroughly deserving of support from socialists, this does not advance beyond left social democracy, and it is not intended to (despite Chavez referencing Trotsky in what can only be a deliberate fuck-you to the White House).

Yet The Guardian is agog - "ideological time warp", "communist revolutionary", "US-bashing", "dogmatic anti-globalist" etc etc. The BBC reports Chavez's ominous "bid for more state control". As usual, the media routinely tout claims from opposition politicians who claim Chavez is "acting like a despot" and so on. Some have claimed that Chavez's decision not to grant a renewal of RCTV's license is part of a crackdown on media freedom. This is preposterous - any media outlet that helped organise an attempted coup in any other country in the world would have been shut down the day after and its executives put in prison. The more interesting claim from an ideological point of view is that nationalising industry is in itself undemocratic - the precise opposite is true. There is nothing democratic about allowing a country's resources to be controlled by tyrannical, secretive, unelected and unaccountable elites. There is nothing democratic about allowing the central bank's policies (and therefore a crucial mechanism of control over the economy) to be controlled by a dictatorship of capital (usually called 'autonomy' or 'independence'). State ownership, even with a democratically elected government, is not necessarily more democratic, though it tends to be because it is obliged to perform in such a way as to credit the elected government. It also tends to have a countercyclical effect, thus modestly improving the bargaining power of labour, itself a democratising effect.

Sources close to yours truly, however, say that the investment banks are worried, but not panicking. In the short-term, their experts tell them, the stock markets will experience a brief capital flight, but the long-term growth Venezuela offers, particularly in energy, will dampen down the exodus before long. Sure, they complain about the "deteriorating climate for property rights", but they don't expect expropriation. In fact, the business wire services like Bloomberg, while hostile to anything that promises to democratise property, note that Chavez is more likely to purchase the companies he wishes to nationalise, rather than simply take them.

Of course, they're quite happy if the newspapers and television broadcasts focus on the hysterical claims about Chavez's tyranny since it provides a background noise that is conducive to excuses for the next coup if there is to be one, and also forms a kind of persistent, low-level flak for the interests of capital. It stops people getting ideas, assuring them that they wouldn't like what Chavez has to offer. Because that is their biggest fear: the potential popularity of socialism in the advanced capitalist countries.