Socialism of the 21st century

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Socialism of the 21st century (Spanish: Socialismo del siglo XXI) is a political term used to describe the interpretation of socialist principles advocated first by Heinz Dieterich in 1996 and later by Latin American leaders like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil.[1] Socialism of the 21st century argues that both free-market industrial capitalism and twentieth-century socialism have failed to solve urgent problems of humanity, like poverty, hunger, exploitation, economic oppression, sexism, racism, the destruction of natural resources, and the absence of a truly participative democracy.[2] Therefore, because of the local unique historical conditions, socialism of the 21st century is often contrasted with previous applications of socialism in other countries and aims for a more decentralized and participatory planning process.[3] Socialism of the 21st century has democratic socialist elements, but primarily resembles Marxist revisionism.[3]

Historical foundations

After a series of structural adjustment loans and debt restructuring led by the International Monetary Fund in the late twentieth century, Latin America experienced a significant increase in inequality. Between 1990 and 1999, the Gini coefficient rose in almost every Latin American country.[4] Volatile prices and inflation led to dissatisfaction. In 2000 only 37% of Latin Americans were satisfied with their democracies (20 points less than Europeans and 10 points less than sub-Saharan Africans).[5] In this context, a wave of left-leaning socio-political movements on behalf of indigenous rights, cocaleros, labor rights, women's rights, land rights, and educational reform emerged to eventually provide momentum for the election of socialist leaders.[3]

Socialism of the 21st century draws on indigenous traditions of communal governance and previous Latin America socialist and communist movements, including those of Salvador Allende, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and the Sandinista National Liberation Front.[3]

Theoretical tenets

According to Dieterich “the program of the Socialism of the 21st Century is necessarily a revolutionary one” in that the existing society is replaced by a “qualitatively different system."[2] This revolution, however, should be a gradual process that does not employ violence but instead utilizes participative democracy to secure power, education, scientific knowledge about society and international cooperation. Dieterich suggests the construction of four basic institutions within the new reality of post-capitalist civilization:

  1. Equivalence economy, which should be based on Marxian labour theory of value and which is democratically determined by those who directly create value, instead of market-economical principles;
  2. Majority democracy, which makes use of plebiscites to decide upon important questions that concern the whole society;
  3. Basic democracy, based on democratic state institutions as legitimate representatives of the common interests of the majority of citizens, with a suitable protection of minority rights; and
  4. The critical and responsible subject, the rationally, ethically and aesthetically self-determined citizen.”[2]

Latin American application

See also: Pink tide

Regional integration

The model of socialism of the 21st century encourages economic and political integration among nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. This often accompanied with opposition to North American influence. Regional organizations like CELAC, Mercosur, UNASUR, and ALBA promote cooperation with Latin America and exclude North American countries.

ALBA is most explicitly related to socialism of the 21st century. While other organizations focus on economic integration, ALBA promotes social, political, and economic integration among countries that subscribe to democratic socialism. Its creation was announced in direct opposition to George W. Bush's attempts to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas that included the United States. In 2008 ALBA introduced a monetary union using the SUCRE as its regional currency.

Bolivarian process

Socialism of the 21st century was promoted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who differentiated it from previous movements.

Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has called the process of socialist reforms in Venezuela the "Bolivarian process." It is more heavily influenced by the theories of Mészáros, Lebowitz and Harnecker (who was Chávez's adviser between 2004 and 2011) than by those of Dieterich. The process draws its name from Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar and is a contemporary example of Bolivarianism.

Buen vivir

Often translated to "good living" or "living well," the concept of buen vivir is related to the movement for indigenous rights and rights of nature. It focuses on the living sustainably as the member of a community that includes both human beings and Nature. Buen vivir is enshrined in Ecuador's new constitution as an alternative to neoliberal development. The constitution outlines a set of rights, one of which is the rights of nature.[6] In line with the assertion of these rights, buen vivir seeks to change the relationship between nature and humans to a more bio-pluralistic view, eliminating the separation between nature and society.[6][7] This approach has been applied to the Yasuní-ITT Initiative.

Buen Vivir is sometimes conceptualised as collaborative consumption in a sharing economy, and the term is used to look at the world in way sharply differentiated from natural, social or human capital.[8]



Critics claim that democratic socialism in Latin America acts as a façade for authoritarianism. The charisma of figures like Hugo Chávez and mottoes like "Country, Socialism, or Death!" have drawn comparisons to the Latin American dictators and caudillos of the past.[9] According to Steven Levitsky of Harvard University, "Only under the dictatorships of the past ... were presidents reelected for life", with Levitsky further stating that while Latin America experienced democracy, citizens opposed "indefinite reelection, because of the dictatorships of the past".[10] Levitsky then noted that "In Nicaragua, Venezuela and Ecuador, reelection is associated with the same problems of 100 years ago".[10] The Washington Post also stated in 2014 "Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez ... used the ballot box to weaken or eliminate term limits".[11] In 2015, The Economist stated that the "bolivarian revolution" in Venezuela was devolving from authoritatianism to dictatorship; opposition politicians are jailed for plotting to undermine the government, violence is widespread, and opposition media are shut down.[12]

Western media coverage of Chávez and other Latin American leaders from the 21st century socialist movement has been criticized as unfair by their supporters and leftist media critics.[13][14][15]


The sustainability and stability of economic reforms associated with socialism of the 21st century have been questioned. Latin American countries have primarily financed their socialist programs with extractive exports like petroleum, natural gas, minerals, coffee, and soybeans, creating a dependency that some economists claim has caused inflation and slowed growth.[16] For the Bolivarian government of Venezuela, their economic policies led to shortages in Venezuela, a high inflation rate and a dysfunctional economy.[17]

In 2015, Venezuela had the world's worst performing economy; the currency is collapsed, it had the world's highest inflation rate, and its GDP shrank into an economic recession.[18] On the other hand, economic growth increased in Bolivia under Evo Morales.[19]


  1. Partido dos Trabalhadores. Resoluções do 3º Congresso do PT (PDF). 3º Congresso do PT. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Heinz Dieterich: „Der Sozialismus des 21. Jahrhunderts – Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft und Demokratie nach dem globalen Kapitalismus“, Einleitung
    Socialism of the 21st Century – Economy, Society, and Democracy in the era of global Capitalism, Introduction
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Burbach, Roger; Fox, Michael; Fuentes, Federico (2013). Latin America's Turbulent Transitions. London: Zed Books. ISBN 9781848135697. 
  4. ECLAC (2002). "Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean". Social Panorama of Latin America 2000-2001: 71. 
  5. "Encuesta Latinobarómetro 1999-2000". Retrieved 3 May 2013. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gudynas, Eduardo. 2011. Buen Vivir: Today's Tomorrow Development 54(4):441-447.
  7. SENPLADES. 2009 National Plan for Good Living. Electronic document, accessed May, 2012.
  8. Balch, Oliver (2013). "Buen vivir: the social philosophy inspiring movements in South America". Guardian. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  9. "Venezuela after Chávez: Now for the Reckoning". The Economist. March 9, 2013. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Does Ecuador's leader aspire to a perpetual presidency?". The Christian Science Monitor. 11 April 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2015. 
  11. Miroff, Nick (15 March 2014). "Ecuador’s popular, powerful president Rafael Correa is a study in contradictions". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 July 2015. 
  12. "A slow-motion coup. The authoritarian regime is becoming a naked dictatorship. The region must react.". The Economist. 28 February 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  13. Oliver Stone Interview: There's a Specter Haunting Latin America, the Specter of 21st Century Socialism
  14. Hart, Peter. "NYT Debates Hugo Chavez- Minus the Debate". Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  15. You can crush the flowers, but you can't stop the spring
  16. Roth, Charles (March 6, 2013). "Venezuela's Economy Under Chávez, by the Numbers". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  17. "Venezuela toilet paper shortage an anti-Bolivarian conspiracy, gov't claims". CBS News. 16 May 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  18. "Why Venezuela is the world’s worst performing economy, in three charts". Quartz. 16 March 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2015.