The Venezuelan president's calls for a constitutional overhaul suggest a possible first step toward the 'corporatist' policy forged by 20th century rulers like Castro in Cuba, Francisco Franco in Spain and Italy's Benito Mussolini.
At first glance, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro"s proposals for a new assembly to rewrite the Constitution may seem unworthy of even being taken seriously. To begin with, it is evidently another ploy to perpetuate Venezuela's Bolivarian or socialist regime by overriding the most basic democratic of principles. Perhaps also because inside the country, and privately even among the most fanatical of Chavistas or government supporters, Maduro is a veritable disgrace and a comical figure history has so cruelly selected for this tragedy.
It would all be laughable if it were not so distressing. After invoking the soul of his mentor, the late president and regime founder Hugo Chávez, saying he had "heard" him speak to him in the form of a bird, Maduro has now decided to ask some cows their opinion of his new constitutional project. Perhaps he was hoping to revive the spirit of Ubre Blanca, the cow to which Fidel Castro raised a statue even as his grandiose food production plans were falling flat and leaving Cubans hungry. It's curious how tragedy inevitably returns as farce.
Yet the Venezuelan regime's announced reform, intended to extricate the country from its dire political state, should actually be taken quite seriously. This is not so much because the proposed new body might save the regime from sinking — which is unlikely — but for revealing its ideology, values and conception of political order, and for putting its family album on display.
It helps us remember that the Chávez regime, like all populist regimes, has a corporatist view of the social order and of political organization. If it has so far hidden behind institutional and representative forms of liberal democracy, it was because it could exploit them to its benefit.
President Maduro in Caracas on May 3 — Photo: Anebert Rivera/Xinhua/ZUMA
Now that these no longer assure its electoral majority and even condemn the regime to its certain demise, the hour has come to toss these institutions overboard. That begins first and foremost with such principles as "one person one vote," equal political rights for all and the right to free expression regardless of one's profession, ethnic origin, religion or ideology.
The Chavista idea of representation opposes these entirely: It believes every citizen should be part of a corporate grouping, be it professional or territorial, on which his or her rights depend. The individual must submit to the "body" or "organ."
A single party that claims to embody the nation's spirit.
I am a worker? I vote for a worker. A soldier? I vote for a soldier. Do I live in the district of Barinas? My representative will be someone from Barinas, and so on. This is the regime's proposed criterion for choosing the new constituent assembly, with due care to ensure overrepresentation for those sectors where it retains a good base of support. The idea is, each body must fulfill its duties inside the organism that is the nation, and all bodies must cooperate organically inside the assembly they will form. And watching over them will be the only source of national unity, the revolutionary party headed by its great leader — a de facto monarch taking the form of a president for life.
For some time it has been evident where this conception will lead: to a single party that claims to embody the nation's spirit, the sacrifice of individual rights supposedly for the collective good, and the death of pluralism in the name of "popular" unanimity. It constitutes the end of democracy.
There is nothing new in any of this. It is one of the oldest tricks in political history, and the habitual approach of the enemies of liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic. The corporatist model may even be said to resemble, in spite of its differing and distant historical context, the social vision of the Catholic monarchs of the colonial period. The regime's devotees might like to reflect on this, since they insist on describing themselves as "post-colonial."
The same conception, replacing the society of individuals and political parties with one of corporations and bodies, and liberal with corporatist representation, is seen in the totalitarian (fascist or communist) regimes that succeeded or almost succeeded in eliminating their enemies. And on this side, were the Argentine General Juan Perón's political dreams, or those of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico for over 70 years, really any different?
The corporatist tradition's varied ancestry also includes such landmark legislation as General Francisco Franco's labor laws, and Benito Mussolini's Work Charter in Italy, which inspired the creation of the Chamber of Corporations.
Still, the example that has inspired Maduro is closer in time and space: It is Cuba, where thousands of officials continue to hold together a shaky regime. Representation works in the same way there: The individual is encased in one or more "mass organizations' pertaining to the regime, mostly of a professional type like workers, artists or soldiers, but also territorial, as in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
Who controls them? The Big Brother ready to crush anyone who breaks the choral unison of community and people. Chavistas like to call their opponents "fascists," against whom they supposedly mobilize to defend democracy. There may be something even worse than this so-called fascism: utter ignorance and dishonesty.