The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has died. One of the last bastions of old-school socialism has passed away. He was undisputedly among the most important and frantically adored national leaders during the early years of the 21st century, and hundreds of thousands of his followers have since passionately mourned his death. In the capital city of Caracas, Chávez’s body remained on display, draped in red-yellow-blue flags, which made for a sensational tropical picture.
After several days of national mourning, an enormous state funeral was held on Friday. Without such a charismatic and impassioned leader, who will voice the concerns of Venezuela and many other developing nations in combating what they view as U.S. imperialism? Who will spearhead the discourse against the capitalist normalization and Western dominance of world trade and politics?
The unfortunate passing of Chávez happens only 16 months after another of the world’s most eccentric political characters, North Korea’s former supreme leader, Kim Jong-Il, passed away. Succeeding him is his son Kim Jong-Un. Many hoped that the new, younger supreme leader would set the rogue Asian state back on course to peaceful and fruitful interactions with other nations.
That was not to be the case. The North Korean military repeatedly carried out nuclear tests and last week threatened its enemies with preemptive nuclear attacks before receiving some of the UN’s heaviest sanctions.
In consequence, North Korea severed all ties with South Korea, including scrapping all prior peace talks. Kim Jong-Un thus seems to be even more volatile than his predecessors. While on the face of it, this situation is extremely worrying, it demonstrates an increased insecurity and will only augment North Korea’s political isolation.
There are very few states that stand up to Western powers, but those that do have always tended to do so along one of two paths. One way is to combat imperialism ideologically and politically through more integrating economic policies that focus on welfare and the public good rather than simple and senile quests for profits and nothing else.
These socialist principles are noble but are suffocated by the global market and can rarely lift off effectively. Venezuela, along with its close partner in Cuba, were some of the few states who could function with a true socialist model without sacrificing too much. It has to be noted that much of Venezuela’s ability to instigate such policies was due to the country’s notable oil wealth.
An alternative route to fighting the West is through an extremist ideology coupled with quasi-totalitarian state control and the dissuasive weight of military aggression. North Korea and Iran are probably the best contemporary examples of this path. That said, Iran has done nothing terrible of late; in fact, it has seemingly followed some UN regulations, converting all recorded uranium production into innocent domestic energy. Meanwhile, North Korea’s recent outburst of ridicule-worthy rhetoric follows no logic. The UN sanctions mean that North Korea is effectively driving itself to economic suicide, and any real physical attack would have consequences just as self-destructive.
With Latin America’s great post-Bolivarian leader dead and North Korea’s violent rhetoric verging on the suicidal, it seems that there is a void in coherent anti-U.S. political discourse. While it is undoubtedly a good thing that violent states have become isolated, it is a danger to have the whole world on the same route of absolute capitalist truth.
Even if the free market is what gets you off, counter-rhetoric and the exposure to alternatives is both healthy and vital for the West’s own progress.
To be lulled into a one-dimensional political universe is medieval. Although hegemonic tendencies are inevitable, it is important to be exposed to alternatives, especially those as well-meaning and potentially brilliant as democratic socialism.