”So what is ‘Twenty-First Century Socialism’? The question [is] an open one. In my opinion, it is a weakness of the progressive movements to not have defined Twenty-First Century Socialism, to have stopped short.’”
By Roger Annis
Published on A Socialist in Canada, Feb 24, 2019
In a new interview on Venezuela Analysis, Argentine philosopher Néstor Kohan examines the evolution of politics and imperialist intervention in Latin America (Confront imperialism and don’t make concessions: A conversation with Nestor Kohan, published in Venezuela Analysis, Feb 23, 2019, part one). The crux of part one of the interview is contained in this segment:
So what is ‘Twenty-First Century Socialism’? The question [is] an open one. In my opinion, it is a weakness of the progressive movements to not have defined Twenty-First Century Socialism, to have stopped short.’
Kohan makes a brief reference to the New Economic Policy that governed economic policy in the early Soviet Union from 1921 until its abrupt ending in 1928. Kohan’s reference is all too brief. More problematically, it is inaccurate. This is most unfortunate because his interview otherwise contains much of value on the prospects for socialism in Venezuela and in the rest of the world.
NEP was a crucially important policy and period of time for the survival of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that came into being in 1922. It was not a policy of “market socialism”, as Kohan summarizes. It was a stage in the transition to socialism in which primacy was given to preserving and extending the alliance of workers and peasants that made possible the revolution of 1917. The Russian economy had been all but destroyed by World War One and by the imperialist blockade and military intervention that began in 1918 and lasted until 1921. Millions died in the military defense of the revolution or in the harsh conditions of life created by the imperialist intervention.
NEP was conditioned by this reality. It consisted of socialist development in industry and finance, socialist and private market development in the countryside, and a vast, universal expansion of social and cultural rights.
In today’s world, conditions for advancing towards socialism resemble much more the ‘by stages’ years of NEP than the years of relatively rapid socialist transformations that occurred in Asia, eastern Europe and then Cuba during and after World War Two. In Venezuela today, there is a crucial need to preserve the alliance of class forces—workers, farmers, Indigenous peoples, middle class and even sections of the upper classes—that constitute the Bolivarian Revolution  while simultaneously avoiding a descent into the fratricidal war which the U.S. and its allies wish to create.
Kohan argues in his essay that “Today, the counterinsurgency project [of the 1960s and 1970s in Latin America] continues. There is some continuity and some discontinuity.” But his explanation of the ‘discontinuity’ consists of a mere paragraph:
Today, the counterinsurgency project continues. There is some continuity and some discontinuity. I believe that we are seeing a new attempt to apply the [old] counterinsurgency doctrine in different conditions. Why does this happen? Because rebellions re-emerged, as responses to neoliberalism, which was applied at the end of the 1970s. The rebellions emerged after twenty or so years of neoliberalism.
There are resemblances to today’s imperialist interventions in Latin America and those of the 1960s and 1970s. But a great deal of positive change has occurred since then in Latin America and in the world. Kohan does not explain this. Notably, there is a growing awareness among the world’s population of the predatory nature of imperialism and imperialist democracy. One proof of this positive change is the very continued survival of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. The U.S./Canada/Europe drive to overthrow Venezuela’s sovereign government is stalling as it runs into the resolve of the Venezuelan government and people and international solidarity from governments such as Bolivia, Cuba, Russia, China and Iran.
The big danger in the world today is twofold. One is the increasing desperation of a capitalist world order in decline. This is evidenced by the rise of the Trump phenomenon in the U.S. and the parallel erosion of liberal capitalist rule in the countries allied with the U.S.; the increasing militarism of all the imperialist countries, including the U.S. renewal of the nuclear arms race; catastrophic global warming caused by expansionist capitalism; and rising social inequities.
The other danger is the string of setbacks and defeats delivered to the working classes in recent years. Coups have taken place in Haiti (2004), Libya (2011), Mali (2012), Egypt (2013), Ukraine (2014) and Brazil (2016). Extreme rightists were elected to lead India in 2014 and the Philippines in 2016. The extreme-right is resurgent in some countries in Europe, particularly in Ukraine where, though small in numbers, it shares governmental power and rules in the streets through its use of violence. The social-democratic ‘pink tide’ in Latin America has receded following the soft coup in Brazil in 2016, the turn to the right of Ecuador under its new president Lenin Moreno, the continued existence of an extreme-right government in Colombia, and election victories by conservatives in Argentina and Chile.
Much of the global left is confused by what, exactly, has taken place in the past several decades. This confusion stems from the ideological retreat that Marxism and other left-wing ideologies have suffered for decades. Ultraleftism has held sway, such as in Trotskyism’s ‘theory of permanent revolution’, while much of the Western left has adapted to the relative comforts of imperialist democracy following the rise of globalized capitalism (hyper-capitalism) beginning in the late 1970s. This adaptation is evidenced by acquiescence to imperialism’s new cold war against Russia and, increasingly, against China.
Néstor Kohan is, indeed, correct to argue for the importance of a renewal of socialist thought and practice in the 21st century. Perhaps what is called for is nothing less than a ‘rebirth’. That’s not negative–there is a great deal from the experience of the past century and more for the working classes in today’s world to build upon. Raoul Peck’s 2017 film The Young Karl Marx leaves the viewer with the uncomfortable impression that when it comes to radical political theory, it is time to return to the drawing boards.
 A history of the New Economic Policy and its demise is contained in Stephen Cohen’s 1973 book, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (online in pdf here). Speeches explaining and advocating the New Economic Policy were delivered by Vladimir Lenin in 1921 and Leon Trotsky in 1922.
 An excellent overview of the economic policies of the Bolivarian Revolution and the class alliances which underline it is contained in a new essay by Steve Ellner, in Latin American Perspectives, January 2019. You can read it here in pdf format (23 pages): Steve Ellner, Class strategies in Chavista Venezuela, in Latin American Perspectives, Jan 2019.