It has been suggested that Post-neoliberalism be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since June 2023.

Fernando Lugo (President of Paraguay), Evo Morales (President of Bolivia), Lula da Silva (President of Brazil), Rafael Correa (President of Ecuador) and Hugo Chávez (President of Venezuela) on 29 January 2009

Socialism of the 21st century (Spanish: Socialismo del siglo XXI; Portuguese: Socialismo do século XXI; German: Sozialismus des 21. Jahrhunderts) is an interpretation of socialist principles first advocated by German sociologist and political analyst Heinz Dieterich and taken up by a number of Latin American leaders. Dieterich argued in 1996 that both free-market industrial capitalism and 20th-century socialism have failed to solve urgent problems of humanity such as poverty, hunger, exploitation of labour, economic oppression, sexism, racism, the destruction of natural resources and the absence of true democracy.[1] Socialism of the 21st century has democratic socialist elements, but it also resembles Marxist revisionism.[2]

Leaders who have advocated for this form of socialism include Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Michelle Bachelet of Chile.[3] Because of the local unique historical conditions, socialism of the 21st century is often contrasted with previous applications of socialism in other countries, with a major difference being the effort towards a more effective economic planning process.[2]

Historical foundations

After a series of structural adjustment loans and debt restructuring led by the International Monetary Fund in the late 20th century, Latin America experienced a significant increase in inequality. Between 1990 and 1999, the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality in the income or wealth distribution, 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, called the Pink tide, 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.[2]

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 and the Sandinista National Liberation Front.[2]

Theoretical tenets

According to Dieterich, this form of socialism is revolutionary in that the existing society is altered to be qualitatively different, but the process itself should be gradual and non-violent, instead utilising 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 civilisation:[1]

  1. Equivalent economy based on the Marxian economic labor theory of value and democratically determined by those who directly create value instead of principles of market economies.
  2. Majority democracy which makes use of referendums to decide upon important societal questions.
  3. Basic state democracy with a suitable protection of minority rights.
  4. Citizens who are responsible, rational and self-determined.

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 is often accompanied with opposition to North American influence. Regional organizations like ALBA and CELAC 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

Further information: Bolivarian Revolution

Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez initiated a process of social reforms in Venezuela known as the Bolivarian Revolution. This approach was more heavily influenced by the theories of István Mészáros, Michael Lebowitz and Marta Harnecker (who was Chávez's adviser between 2004 and 2011) than by those of Heinz Dieterich. The process draws its name from Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar and is a contemporary example of Bolivarianism.[citation needed]

Buen vivir

Further information: Sumak kawsay

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.[6] Buen vivir is enshrined in 2008 Constitution of Ecuador as an alternative to neoliberal development. The constitution outlines a set of rights, one of which is the rights of nature.[7] 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.[7][8] 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.[9]



Critics claim that socialism of the 21st century 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.[10] 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".[11] Levitsky then noted: "In Nicaragua, Venezuela and Ecuador, reelection is associated with the same problems of 100 years ago".[11] The Washington Post also stated in 2014 that "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".[12]

In 2015, The Economist stated that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela—now under Nicolás Maduro after Chávez's death in 2013—was devolving from authoritarianism to dictatorship as opposition politicians were jailed for plotting to undermine the government, violence was widespread and opposition media shut down.[13] Western media coverage of Chávez and other Latin American leaders from the 21st-century socialist movement has been criticised as unfair by their supporters and leftist media critics.[14][15]


The sustainability and stability of economic reforms associated with governments adhering to socialism of the 21st century have been questioned. Latin American countries have primarily financed their social programs with extractive exports like petroleum, natural gas and minerals, 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] However, the economic policy of the Hugo Chávez administration and Maduro governments have attributed Venezuela's economic problems to the decline in oil prices, sanctions imposed by the United States and economic sabotage by the opposition.[18]

In 2015, Venezuela's economy was performing poorly—the currency had collapsed, it had the world's highest inflation rate and its gross domestic product shrank into an economic collapse in 2016.[19]


Although democratic socialist intellectuals have welcomed a socialism of the 21st century, they have been skeptical of Latin America's examples. While citing their progressive role, they argue that the appropriate label for these governments is populist rather than socialist.[20][21] Similarly, some of the left-wing pink tide governments were criticised for turning from socialism to authoritarianism and populism.[22][23]

See also


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ a b c d Burbach, Roger; Fox, Michael; Fuentes, Federico (2013). Latin America's Turbulent Transitions. London: Zed Books. ISBN 9781848135697.
  3. ^ Partido dos Trabalhadores. Resoluções do 3º Congresso do PT (PDF). 3º Congresso do PT (in Brazilian Portuguese).
  4. ^ ECLAC (2002). "Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean". Social Panorama of Latin America 2000-2001: 71.
  5. ^ "Encuesta Latinobarómetro 1999-2000" [Latino Barometer Survey 1999-2000] (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  6. ^ Cochrane, Regine (Summer 2014). "Climate Change, Buen Vivir, and the Dialectic of Enlightenment: Toward a Feminist Critical Philosophy of Climate Justice". Hypatia. 29 (3): 576–598. doi:10.1111/hypa.12099. S2CID 143724316.
  7. ^ a b Gudynas, Eduardo. 2011. Buen Vivir: Today's Tomorrow Development 54(4):441-447.
  8. ^ SENPLADES. 2009 National Plan for Good Living. Electronic document. Retrieved May 2012.
  9. ^ Balch, Oliver (2013). "Buen vivir: the social philosophy inspiring movements in South America". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  10. ^ "Venezuela after Chávez: Now for the Reckoning". The Economist. 9 March 2013. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Does Ecuador's leader aspire to a perpetual presidency?". The Christian Science Monitor. 11 April 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  12. ^ Miroff, Nick (15 March 2014). "Ecuador's popular, powerful president Rafael Correa is a study in contradictions". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ "Oliver Stone Interview: There's a Specter Haunting Latin America, the Specter of 21st Century Socialism".
  15. ^ Hart, Peter (8 March 2013). "NYT Debates Hugo Chavez- Minus the Debate". Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  16. ^ Roth, Charles (6 March 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. ^ Martin, Abby (22 June 2017). "Empire Files: Venezuela Economy Minister – Sabotage, Not Socialism, Is the Problem". Truthout. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  19. ^ "Why Venezuela is the world's worst performing economy, in three charts". Quartz. 16 March 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  20. ^ Munck, Ronaldo (2012). Contemporary Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 119. In a broad historical sense Chávez has undoubtedly played a progressive role but he is clearly not a democratic socialist [...].
  21. ^ Iber, Patrick (Spring 2016). "The Path to Democratic Socialism: Lessons from Latin America". Dissent. Retrieved 20 August 2020. Most of the world's democratic socialist intellectuals have been skeptical of Latin America's examples, citing their authoritarian qualities and occasional cults of personality. To critics, the appropriate label for these governments is not socialism but populism.
  22. ^ Lopes, Arthur (Spring 2016). "¿Viva la Contrarrevolución? South America's Left Begins to Wave Goodbye". Harvard International Review. 37 (3): 12–14. JSTOR i26445824-. South America, a historical bastion of populism, has always had a penchant for the left, but the continent's predilection for unsustainable welfarism might be approaching a dramatic end. [...] This "pink tide" also included the rise of populist ideologies in some of these countries, such as Kirchnerismo in Argentina, Chavismo in Venezuela, and Lulopetismo in Brazil.
  23. ^ De Faria, Carlos Aurélio Pimenta; Lopes, Dawisson Belém (January–April 2016). "When Foreign Policy Meets Social Demands in Latin America". Contexto Internacional (Literature review). Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. 38 (1): 11–53. doi:10.1590/S0102-8529.2016380100001. ISSN 1982-0240. The wrong left, by contrast, was said to be populist, old-fashioned, and irresponsible [...].

Further reading