On March the 5th, Hugo Chavez died. Our silence at his passing was motivated in large part by our ignorance of the complexity of the Revolución Bolivariana and of Venezuela. Equally, we were silenced by the torrent of media attention that his death, as his political life before, brought down upon him. But it is difficult to ignore completely the death of someone that Tariq Ali, in his obituary, described as “one of the political giants of the post-communist era”; (The Guardian 06/03/2013) someone who, for many, both inside and outside Venezuela, is considered a socialist revolutionary of great significance.
Our judgement is more skeptical, and more knowledgeable voices than ours have had occasion to question the supposed radical nature of the political process initiated by Chavez, especially after 2004.
Chavez was systematically presented in the corporate media as an authoritarian populist. Whatever concessions of virtue have been made on his behalf, it has had to do with the massive reduction of physical poverty in venezuela. But even this virtue is offset by accounts of economic ineptitude, corruption, nepotism, clientalisme and the like. In other words, Chavez was one more example of South American excess, yet another caudillo, whose passing should allow for a return of reason and moderation to the country.
The stupidity and ignorance, intentional or not, of such caricatures sometimes defy even the most jaded among us; and of course, they leave everything unsaid. For us, what perhaps above all needs to be understood is the extent to which the mass fabric of local collectivities, neighbourhood associations, cooperatives, social movements, which in some cases preceded Chavez, have acquired a real or significant autonomy relative to the State, however socialist it might be and its dependence on petroleum.
If there is a revolution in venezuela, then it is at this level of social life that it manifests itself, and it is at this same level that its future will be decided.
To follow Jerome Roos of the Roarmag Collective: The revolutionary is dead; long live the revolution!
From EL LIBERTARIO Editorial Collective …
Chávez’ death: Neither in mourning nor celebration, time for social struggles to become autonomous!
When an illness becomes serious, when medical attention becomes a vehicle for myopic, politically motivated decisions and when a patient becomes drunk with power, it can only end this way. The strongman has died, and in so doing, he has initiated a substantial shift in the Venezuelan political landscape.
What used to be the regime’s greatest strength has suddenly turned into its defining weakness: it was all Chávez, and, without him, the only solution is to fabricate an absolute commitment to his memory and his plans for succession. The government’s true fragility can now be seen, a government which tried to demonstrate its “popular, socialist” character via a grotesque personality cult, a practice that has now been reduced to the empty invocation of spirits. The deceased himself is to blame for this outcome as the secrecy around his illness was propelled by the same motivations as the extreme centralisation of power around him, while the lack of ideological coherence amongst his followers has left them scrapping for crumbs. The high-level “rojo-rojito” [chavista red] bureaucrats and the upper echelons of the military are best placed to benefit, as they negotiate impunity for their various misdemeanours and corruptions.
For the right-wing and social democratic opposition, the new situation finds them unable to overcome their losses of the presidential elections of October 7 and the regionals of December 16, offering a “yuppy populism” which promises voters that they will maintain and fine-tune the clientelist tools of governmental power which were so useful to Chavez. This accommodation assumes the belief that a fortuitous metastasis has brought them within reach of the power that their greed, mistakes, laziness and incompetence had kept them away from, power they will wield with similar stupidity and greed as the Chavista bolibourgeoisie.
The backdrop to this load of petty opportunism – from both the Gran Polo Patriótico [the Chavista coalition] and the Mesa de Unidad Democrática [the opposition coalition] – is Venezuela, a country that faces its own problems: out of control inflation, rising unemployment and precarious jobs, the devaluation of the currency, shocking personal insecurity, crises in electricity and water provision, education and health systems in decline, a housing shortage, obsolete – or incomplete – public works, a demagogic approach which pays attention to only the most extreme scarcities experienced by the most desperate people… a whole host of other problems which are equally disastrous.
These issues are not the central concern of the two gangs in competition for Miraflores [the President palace/seat] and the oil booty. Our collective response must be to not relent to their blackmail: support at the ballot box in exchange for ‘solutions’ that either never materialise or are ludicrously inadequate. Now is the time to overpower the rotten powers that be and build – from below – a real democracy of equality, social justice and freedom. We must unleash the generalised anger caused by our suffering, and convert it into autonomous social struggles, self-managed and extensive. We must spell out for the politicians in power that we don’t need them, neither as intermediaries nor as gracious givers of what we ourselves can construct – united and from the base – without any need for “clean hands” or “red berets”.
Jerome Roos of Roarmag recently wrote an excellent critical evaluation of Chavez’s politics. Click here.
El Libertario, a south american anarchist website, with articles in various languages, is an excellent source for information and reflections on the Chavez’s politics, and more broadly, of the continent.
To share, a film, which behind its apologetic nature, helps to understand the popularity of Chavez in his country, as well as, perhaps unintentionally, the limits of this understanding of revolution. From Melanie MacDonald and William Roche, in collaboration with Manos Fuera de Venezuela, comes the film No Volverán. La Revolución venezolana ahora (with english subtitles).
More significantly, the collective Voces Urgentes, of venezuela, has also chronicled in film the revolutionary process, but giving particular attention to its expressions at local levels (in Spanish).