Magazine article Monthly Review

Protagonism and Productivity

Magazine article Monthly Review

Protagonism and Productivity

Article excerpt

When I went to work in Venezuela in 2004, I discovered in the Bolivarian Constitution some elements that I consider to be central to the concept of socialism for the twenty-first century. For one, there was the emphasis upon human development-the goal of "ensuring overall human development." But there was more. That Constitution also focused upon the question of how people develop their capacities and capabilities-i.e., how human development occurs. It declared that participation by people in "forming, carrying out and controlling the management of public affairs is the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective." The necessary way. Accordingly, the Bolivarian Constitution calls for democratic planning and participatory budgeting at all levels of society and upon "self-management, co-management, cooperatives in all forms."1

And these were more than noble words in a constitution that are soon forgotten. President Chávez constantly stressed the importance of practice. "Socialists have to be made," he explained on Aló Presidente in 2007. "A revolution has to produce not only food, goods and services it also has to produce, more importantly than all of those things, new human beings: new men, new women." Agreeing with Che's point about the necessity of simultaneously developing productive forces and socialist human beings, Chávez insisted that the only road was practice: "We have to practice socialism, that's one way of saying it, have to go about building it in practice. And this practice will create us, ourselves, it will change us; if not we won't make it."2

Precisely because he understood the importance of this link between practice and human development, Chávez stressed the development of the communal councils where people transformed both circumstances and themselves, calling those councils the cells of a new socialist state. And, it is why, in his last reflection (when already seriously ill), Chávez stressed the absolute necessity of building the communes (comuna o nada) and argued that capitalist workplaces with their built-in hierarchical social division of labor should be replaced by one that involves the full participation of the associated producers and an appropriate means of coordination. For Chávez, the necessary road was protagonistic democracy-in the workplace and in the community-as the practice that transforms people.

All this should be familiar to anyone who has studied Marx. This key link between human development and practice is precisely Marx's concept of revolutionary praxis as "the simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity or self change." Once we grasp Marx's key link, we understand that every human activity has two products-both the change in circumstances and the change in self, both the change in the object of labor and the change in the laborer. In short, in addition to the material product of activity, there always is a second product-the human product. Unfortunately, that second product is often forgotten. And, the question we should ask is: what are the implications of forgetting that second product?

If we begin from the recognition that every activity in which people engage forms them, then we understand that there is a relation between the nature of our acts and the capacity we develop. If, for example, workers democratically decide upon a plan, work together to achieve its realization, solve problems which emerge and shift from activity to activity, there is a constant succession of acts which expand their capacities. Those workers are, indeed, the products of their own activity. "Every developed personality," proposed the French Marxist psychologist Lucien Seve, "appears to us straight away as an enormous accumulation of the most varied acts through time."3

Thus, the level of capacity is a function of the nature and extent of practice. This is one aspect of Marx's key link of human development and practice. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.