Axis of Logic
Finding Clarity in the 21st Century Mediaplex

Critical Analysis
WHAT IS THE PATH TO SOCIALISM: REVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION?
By Jesús A. Rivas. Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic (Original in Spanish at Apporea)
Friday, Jul 10, 2009

During the first years of the presidency of Hugo Chávez did give any label to the Venezuelan process and only regarded to it as "Bolivarian".  It was on 2005 during the Social Forum in Brazil, Chávez went as far as saying that the Bolivarian process was the XXI century socialism.  However, it is not clear what this new socialism mean.  How is it different from other socialist models?  Why did it take 6 years for Chavez to talk of socialism? In fact, Chávez seems to have changed his mind at least a couple times since the beginning of the process. What are the goals of the Bolivarian process? Where is Venezuela going to? What is life like in the new socialism?  When Fidel Castro was asked about his mistakes on the last few decades, he answered that one of his mistakes was to think that somebody knew how to build a socialist system.

Apparently Marx (who was mainly a philosopher) realized that the capitalist system could not sustain itself over time and it was bound to collapse and give raise to something new: a system where the least privileged classes were not exploited by the dominant ones.  Marx did not write an instruction manual about how these changes were going to come about.  All the social revolutions we have seen to the present have worked improvising their own path or copying and adapting from revolutions from the past. This observation leads me to ask if the path to socialism really involves a revolution or if it is rather an evolutionary process.  Being a biologist by training, I am very acquainted with the process of biological evolution and I will give my reasons to believe that what is happening in Venezuela is rather evolution than revolution.  I will also use our knowledge about biological evolution to better understand the directions to take with the processes of social evolution and avoid pitfalls that other processes have done in the past.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN EVOLUTION AND REVOLUTION

The word revolution is of common usage and refers to dramatic changes on the status quo that occur in very short time.  Whether it be a social or political revolution (such as the Russian, French or Cuban revolution) or revolution of other nature such as the industrial revolution or later technological revolutions we have seen in the recent past. They always refer to a process that in very short time, usually involving violence in political processes, produces great changes from the prior conditions.  Evolution on the other hand requires longer periods of time, and it is a process that never ends.   What is happening in Venezuela?   Any person that is well acquainted with the Venezuelan process would not hesitate to say that the process is beginning.  After 8 years, there have been great changes but every body agrees that the changes to come are even greater and of greater importance.  If you look at the former processes we can see that after the first 8 years the majority of the changes had already taken place and the conditions of the system did not resemble nearly at all the conditions of the former system.   This simple observation suggests that the process in Venezuela resembles more an evolutionary process than that of classical revolution

THE DIRECTIONS

Other than the time scale, there are other important differences between evolution and revolution.  The revolutions (social and political) had always followed a preconceived idea of their leaders of a goal that they wanted to accomplish.  Evolution, on the other hand does not have a preconceived goal.  A common error among people that only have a superficial understanding of evolution is to think that evolution changes the species for the better. This is not true.  Evolution is simply the application of a set of simple rules over time that ends up producing a change.  In biology, this rule is natural selection and simply says that those traits that give the individual advantage in survival and/or reproduction will increase in frequency in the future generations; the accumulation of these changes will end up producing new species.  So, evolutionary changes are based on the unflinching application of simple rules without any predetermined idea of the final state.

When a society, say a post feudal system, is subjected to the rules of free market and maximization of capital the results are, as we have seen, the development of liberalism as an economic paradigm; and now the original liberal system has evolved into the globalized system (neoliberalism) extending across countries that we have now.  We can make a change to socialism by simply changing the set of rules and principles that we apply.  Let's say for the effect of this essay that we apply the principle of social justice and human rights.  For human rights I do not mean only the conventional rights that are used on the westernized world but I extend it to other rights that people ought to have such as right to housing, education, health, a proper job and in short, the right to live with dignity.  The application of this principles of social justice and human rights will lead any system through gradual changes to a more just system without violence and even though it may take longer it will be an irreversible process of constant change maximizing these values without any preconceived idea of the final state (it has no final state).  The only thing we know is that there will be social justice and human rights but how these two are accomplish depends on the initial state and the events that happened during its evolution.   Revolutions on the other hand have clear goals and a preconceived idea of the final system.  The advantage of the evolutionary process is that applying undisputable social principles to the system without forcing it to a preconceived idea of what ought to happen we avoid the risk of making mistakes that may lead the system through a erroneous path if the leaders make a mistake.  The use of irrefutable principles lowers the risk of making a mistake since the principles are always right.  For example a social revolution whose interest is the well being of the people might end up executing a group of people that may be a hurdle towards a final goal they want to accomplish.  This would be in conflict with its values that the well being of the people matters.  This contradiction of values and actions would be unacceptable in a process of deep roots that is guided by irrefutable principles and not by preconceived goals.  A process that seeks human well being, peace and harmony cannot be violent, unjust or inhumane.

This idea that the path to socialism does not follow a preconceived idea but a general direction of universal principles is important and might be on the essence of Fidel's comment when he says that nobody knows how to build a socialist system.   It is possible to apply a set of rules and values (social justice and human rights) but there is not necessarily any series of steps to take to bring the system to a given point neither do we know what the state is that we are going to.  The process in Venezuela started in a very different point than the process in Cuba or Bolivia and the result will have to do with the initial state and the events that happen in the process.  For instance, Cuba had to endure armed invasions that demanded they took a series of steps that perhaps (hopefully) will not be needed in other processes.  Venezuela and Bolivia have many things in common but also a lot of differences.  Each process is different because each process has a different starting point and will produce different things even though the principles they follow may be the same.  ON the same token, the same rules that produced the evolution of the plants on the rain forest will also produce the vegetations of the deserts acting on different situations.

NO RETURN TO THE PAST

Revolutions produce changes that may be reverted in the end.  For instance the Bolchevique revolution produced a system that lasted several decades met an end eventually and when the system collapsed it brought the system back to a society of exploitation as capitalist as the most (although very different from the one before).  If we are to judge by the levels of poverty, demographic distribution of wealth and the difference between the rich and the poor, Rusia is among the most capitalist countries in the world.  On the other hand, evolutionary changes never go back once they occurs.  The concept of involution is purely imaginary and does not happen in real life.  Some fishes conquered the land and gave rise to other vertebrates (amphibians and reptiles), some of these vertebrates went back to the water but not as fishes. What changes do we want in Venezuela?  Do we want temporary changes, that involve violence, with a lot of instability and conflict, and that may bring only temporary benefits to the country?  Or do we want stable changes, without violence, that bring permanent benefits?

WHAT EVOLUTION ACTS UPON

Another important characteristic of the evolutionary process is that it acts on pre-existent structures and changes them based on the new principles while it cannot create anything new.  Thus, some species of fishes with articulated fins were able to come out to land and conquer the land by modifying their fins into legs.  The evolution did not invent a new structure for movement on land but changed the former structure into something usable for land.  Perhaps it would have been better to come up with wheels for moving on land but there was not any preexisting structure that evolution could change into a wheel for terrestrial vertebrates to move about.   This is key because a social revolution could attempt to do new things without have the condition (pre-existing structures) for it, while a process of social evolution does not have this risk.  To begin a transformation without the preexisting scenario could bring the system to the collapse.  On the other hand a process that is based on gradual changes of the preexisting structure does not have that risk.

War against latifunds

Let's consider the war against latifunds.  The application of the principles of social justice requires latifunds to be changed.  If we apply a preconceived idea, typical of former revolutions, we could distribute the land among small farmers so there may be social justice.  While this is true, it is also true this is not the only path to social justice, and perhaps not the best.  A process that is guided by preconceived ideas of the final product could rush to distribute too much land without giving the farmers the right infrastructure and resource to make the land produce properly, considering the vocation of that land.  This might collapse the production of the country and bring down the system.  On other hand, a process that is only guided by irrefutable principles of justice and human rights will call for gradual changes to the system that would end with the social exclusion of farmers without land.  This system may end up in a system with independent farmers with small plots of land but it could end up in something very different.  There could be a model of social management of the latifunds that give the farmers access to the land and to its resources but that does not destroy the environment or collapses the economy (Rivas & Lavieri 2007).  So long as the changes are guided exclusively by principles of social justice and human rights we can be sure that the system will change always to the better.  If the changes are gradual it will be possible to correct any mistake we might have made in interpreting the principles.
 
The religion

Another example of the need to respect existing structures can be found on religions.  Many revolutions from the past attempted to eradicate religious believes since the religious leaders often side with the reaction and end up being political tools of the status quo.  The results of these attempts have been always negative. Not only because religions always persists despite of the attacks on them but also because frequently religions advocate for real values that may benefit the system.  What has been the approach of the Bolivarian process?  In Venezuela with a catholic majority the Liberation Theology has been a very handy resource. The interpretation of the teaching of Jesus magnifying its social content has been a useful tool to bring socialist values into everybody's homes.  Acting on the pre-existing structure (Christian believes) the principles of social inclusion that socialism seeks find good ground to reach the masses.  However, this cannot be a panacea.  For instance in a country like Bolivia where the rural majority has religions believes more of the likes of the original pre-Columbian style the Liberation Theology might not be as successful.  Also, if we were to apply principles of human rights and social justice in a Muslim country then we definitely must seek a different approach.  The principles are always the same but the path to follow depends on the initial state.

ALL STAGES OF THE EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS ARE STABLE

The last difference between evolution and revolution that I want to discuss here is the fact that evolution is not only a gradual process but also it is always stable and capable of self sustaining.  All the steps of the evolutionary process are compatible with the laws of nature.  For instance, a species of mammal, perhaps something similar to a current bear, living in moist areas could specialize for aquatic life until it became in something similar to a sea lion.  However, this process is not only gradual but all its steps had to be individuals capable of surviving.  The legs of the bear were modified into flippers that the sea lion uses to swim but this could not happen without other changes that allowed the "bear" adapt to aquatic life such as physiological changes and lung capacity.  These changes had to had been not only gradual but in coordination with one another.  As the legs were modified into flippers the physiology and lung capacity was also adapting for aquatic life so the bear could dive for longer periods of time.  If this kind of "bear" would had changed the legs for flippers but had not changed the respiratory anatomy and physiology that allows it to dive, it would starve to death since it would not be able to get under the water to find its see lion food but could not walk around the forest to get its bear food.  In Bolivarian process we come from a system that is 100% capitalist if something change to a 100% socialist style without other changing in harmony with it, there could be great problems.   If the system of land ownership and the relation of production were to change without the development of a socialist ethic, morals and goals, if the morals and style of living of the individuals were still the same than in the capitalist system the future is not promising for there will be plenty of opportunities for people to abuse the system.  All aspects of the Venezuelan society must change in harmony towards that of a socialist system, or else the system may not be sustainable.  The slow change, of small but continuous step, guided for principles more than by goals, where all the states of the change are self sustainable as human society is better described by a process of evolution than by what we currently know as revolutions.

THE NATURE OF CHANGES

The similarities between the Bolivarian process and processes of biological evolution go beyond simple rhetoric comparison.  Evolutionary processes cannot be stopped, neither can one impose to it arbitrary directions or rhythms that are not their own.   We cannot force animals that are not ready to conquer the water to evolve aquatic lifestyle.  From the beginning president Chávez has been trying to release the popular power of the people with the Bolivarian Circles but the country was not ready for it then. The people of the country had not reached the required level of cognitive liberation to make the transition then and there was no social organization what-so-ever.  Now, the government is trying to encourage the Communal Councils to take charge of the popular power.  If the people are ready or not for this (or if this even the path for Venezuela) is something to be seen. ON the other hand countries like, say, Bolivia, could be a lot better suited for this kind of processes since the original social structure of the original inhabitants still persist among the rural population; so the explosion of the popular power may take place in Bolivia a lot quicker and easier than in other countries.  What really matters is that the process should not be forced into a path that is not the path the system is ready for.

It is not possible either to slow down, or to stop, a process whose time has come.  Imagine a population of ancient reptiles that had modified scales on the form of feathers.  This group of reptiles would be in conditions to conquer the air and colonize many new open niches.   There is no way to stop or delay their process of evolution.  Some individuals will star using new habitats and natural selection will favor those changes that improve survival or reproduction of the individuals which will lead to the evolution of new species (birds in this case).  Evolution cannot be stopped.  On the same manner, there is no way to stop or delay the evolution of a country towards a social system once they have accomplished the awareness of their own freedom.  Workers of many private companies in Venezuela have seen what they can do as free people and claim for their companies to be nationalized so this liberation can take place.  It would be a mistake to try to delay or stop such process if the condition for it is ready to happen.  In biological systems we use the term of adaptive radiation to describe processes as the one that happened when reptiles took over the air producing thousands of new species of birds.  The explosion of the popular power is not different.  Both are process of qualitative change when the system has reached the required point of maturity

When we consider the Bolivarian process of Venezuela and other Latin American countries, we can see that it resembles more an evolutionary process than those of typical revolution that we have seen in the past.  Revolutions tend to be violent, have periods of great instability, and are normally guided by leaders with a preconceived idea of the final state.  Evolution, on the other hand is gradual, it is guided for fail-proof, irrefutable principles which act as a safer guide for the leaders.  The Bolivarian Revolution is already famous worldwide and it is way cooler to say: "I am a revolutionary" than to say "I am an evolutionary or an evolutionists".   The truth is that it does not matter much how we call it so long as we do not lose sight of the process we want.  The process we want is the one that is based on pre-existing structures, without violence, the one that is irreversible and sustainable in every one of its steps, which results are permanent and that is guided by irrefutable principles and not by preconceived goals.

Original Source in Spanish: http://www.aporrea.org/

Jesús A. Rivas is a biologist from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. His research interests include natural history, ethology, and conservation. He has been working for a number of years in the study of behavioral ecology and conservation of large tropical reptiles of the llanos of Venezuela which is his homeland. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee (Laboratory of Reptile Ethology). He taught for one year at Boston University, made TV documentaries for National Geographic Television as a field correspondent and continues to make independent film documentaries.  He is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Math and Natural Sciences at Somerset Community College in Somerset, KY. He is also a prolific writer on social and political matters. His essays are frequently published in Spanish at www.aporrea.org.

Read more about his interesting background at: http://pages.prodigy.net/anaconda/.

He can be reached at: jesus@anacondas.org.

Visit his website at: http://www.anacondas.org

Other articles by Jesús A. Rivas

Rivas, J. A. 2007a. Demografía y conservación: ¿Cuantos somos, cuantos necesitamos y cuantos cabemos? Aporrea http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a35808.html.


Rivas, J. A. 2007b. La conservación ambiental y el Socialismo: ensayo para un manifiesto conservacionista. Encontrarte 55:1-20   disponible en http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a29018.html


Rivas, J. A. 2007c. La diferencia entre el socialismo y el capitalismo: mas allá de las relaciones de producción. Aporrea http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a32936.html.


Rivas, J. A., and R. Lavieri. 2007. El manejo social del Latifundio y la conservación del medio ambiente. Aporrea http://www.aporrea.org/endogeno/a34633.html