Antiracism in Practice
In the light of CRT concerns about ‘white Marxism’ (see, for example, the critique of Mills’ and Gillborn’s views on this in chapter 6 of this volume), it is worth pointing out that Chavez was the first Venezuelan President ever to claim and honor his indigenous and African ancestry.17 It is also important to emphasize the antiracist developments currently occurring in Venezuela. Chavez articulated this when he stated:
We’ve raised the flag of socialism, the flag of anti-imperialism, the flag of the black, the white and the Indian ... I love Africa. I’ve said to the Venezuelans that until we recognise ourselves in Africa, we will not find our way ... We have started a hard battle to bring equality to the African descendents, the whites and the indigenous people. In our constitution it shows that we’re a multicultural, multiracial nation (Chavez 2008, cited in Campbell 2008, p. 58).
Like the rest of Latin America, Venezuela’s history is scarred by colonialism’s and imperialism’s racist legacies. Only now, with the gains being made by the Chavez Government and the growing mass revolutionary movement, is Venezuela beginning to grapple in earnest with how to confront this racist legacy.
The rights of Venezuela’s indigenous people were first entrenched in the 1999 Bolivarian constitution (as noted earlier in this chapter, Chavez came to power in 1998), which was ratified by 71% of voters. For the first time, indigenous land rights were identified as being collective, inalienable and non-transferable, recognising the
rights of the indigenous peoples over the land they traditionally and ancestrally occupied. They must demarcate that land and guarantee the right to its collective ownership (cited in Harris 2007).
As Harris points out:
Article 9 stipulates that while Spanish is Venezuela’s primary language, ‘indigenous languages are also for official use for indigenous peoples and must be respected throughout the Republic’s territory for being part of the nation’s and humanity’s patrimonial culture’. The 1999 constitution also affirms that ‘exploitation by the state of natural resources will be subject to prior consultation with the native communities’, that ‘indigenous peoples have the right to an education system of an intercultural and bilingual nature’, that indigenous people have the right to control ancestral knowledge over ‘native genetic resources’ and biodiversity, and that three indigenous representatives are ensured seats in the country’s National Assembly (these were elected by delegates of the National Council of Venezuelan Indians in July 1999).
Since 1999, the confidence of the indigenous rights movement has exploded. The multitude of social problems that persist as a hangover of previous, capitalist policies has led to a culture of Chavista activists who support the revolution and lobby the Chavez government to demand attention to their particular issues (Harris 2007).
One organization at the forefront of the antiracist movement is the Afro-Venezuelan Network, headed by Jesus “Chucho” Garcia, which is lobbying for recognition of Afro-Venezuelans in the next round of amendments to the Bolivarian constitution. This Network successfully campaigned for the creation of a presidential commission against racism in 2005, the inclusion of Afro-Venezuelan history in the school curriculum, the establishment of a number of cocoa-processing plants and farming cooperatives run by black Venezuelans and for Afro-Venezuelan Day on May 10 of each year (Harris 2007).
As Harris (2007) explains, the ambitious land and agrarian reforms embedded in the 1999 constitution have been especially beneficial to indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan communities. The constitution declares that idle, uncultivated private land over a certain size can be transformed into productive units of land for common social benefit. ‘By prioritising socially productive land use over monopolistic private land ownership and redistributing idle land to the landless, Chavez has promoted independence, food sovereignty and local agricultural development’ (Harris 2007).
Such developments are not confined to Venezuela. Chavez has also been building alliances with other marginalised communities in the Americas, including providing food, water and medical care to 45,000 Hurricane Katrina victims in areas surrounding New Orleans, and supplying discounted heating and diesel oil to schools, nursing homes and hospitals in poor communities in the US (Harris 2007).
Harris (2007) concludes:
in Venezuela the space for frank discussion about how to move forward in the context of a mass movement has been opened up by the ongoing revolutionary process, and genuine gains have been made by indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan movements to eliminate the systemic nature of racism from Venezuelan life.
Whatever the eventual outcome, the current climate and developments in the Bolivarian Republic ofVenezuela should provide hope for the future for Marxists and Critical Race Theorists alike. However, these developments cannot be clearly understood or analysed by Critical Race Theory, unless articulated with Marxist analysis.
In this chapter I began by arguing that capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to generate conflict. I went on to give a few examples of potentially revolutionary situations, noting the success of capitalist ideology in keeping Marxism off the agenda. I then considered a number of common objections to Marxism, and gave my own Marxist response. In the final part of the paper, I looked at developments in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as examples of twenty-first social democracy in practice and the possibility of socialism in embryo. Contra the CRT assertion that Marxism is ‘an exercise of White power’ (as Gillborn interpreted Allen in chapter 6 of this volume), I argued that, in Venezuela, serious attempts are being made to grapple with that country’s racist colonial legacy and to move forward in a socialist direction. I hope I have now fully laid the groundwork for the final chapter, in which I will direct my attention to some implications for classroom practice of CRT and Marxism respectively.