But what I found more worrisome was when I heard Hugo Chavez a few days later saying that socialism had existed in Latin America before the arrival of the European conquistadors. The Venezuelan leader said native peoples had experienced a socialist system and that such a reality was frustrated by the capitalist system brought over by the settlers.
To my understanding, the Aztec and Inca empires conquered a series of native peoples and exploited their respecting farming communities through tributes that ended up as sumptuous amounts enjoyed by the elites. Moreover, the dissatisfaction against those elites was masterfully utilized by the Spanish conquerors who were often welcomed as liberators of peoples oppressed by the indigenous monarchies.
I ask: Can a state be called socialist if it conquers, oppresses and exploits? Some will say that these erstwhile empires knew how to live in harmony with nature, but this —which is also debatable in many instances— refers more to communities “at the grassroots level” than to the large Amerindian empires.
I remember that Stalin called for the censoring of research into the “Asiatic mode of production,” a type of social organization described by Marx that existed in the Chinese, Babylonian and Egyptian empires (and probably in the Aztec and the Inca ones) in which a despotic state became the common people’s principal exploiter. Why this censoring? Simple: What was built in the Stalinist USSR looked too much like the “Asiatic mode of production”…
For me, socialism is not statism, and statism is not socialism. This is taught to us by the history of the 20th century. Socialism is the radicalization of democracy.
Beyond the academic debates, the recent speeches by presidents Morales and Chavez have made me begin to think about the direction in which the social models of the left governments of Our America are heading. Will these be models based on diversity, dialogue and autonomy, or will they be something similar to the Aztec Empire?