Mike Gonzalez on Hugo Chavez
In 2005, speaking at the World Social Forum, Chavez announced that Venezuela was constructing “21st century socialism”. While it was received joyfully, it remained unclear what it meant. It was clearly different from Stalinism, emphasising democracy and popular participation, and it was radically anti-imperialist. Chavez scourged Bush and the US invasion of Iraq at the UN, and began to build organisations of Latin American unity linking other “new left” governments in Bolivia and Ecuador.
And in a series of electoral tests it became clear that Chavez’s support was growing. In 2006 he won the presidency again with over 60 percent of the national vote. Some weeks later he announced the formation of a new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Had the revolutionary nationalist become a revolutionary socialist? Chavez and others frequently referred to Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci—as well as Simon Bolivar, and God. If the transformation was real, then the PSUV would be an expression of power passing directly into the hands of the mass organisations, which was the brief expectation of many on the left. Nearly six million joined the new party, a testimony to Chavez’s enormous popularity.
But the model of the party adopted by the PSUV appeared to be the Cuban Communist Party, not noted for its democratic character. The irony of the Bolivarian revolution is that its undoubted social advances were made possible by the rising price of oil. This funded the social programmes and oil remains the country’s main export earner. Chavez diversified Venezuela’s international dependencies. China, Russia and Iran came to play an increasingly central role. Yet, despite the hysteria of the anti-Chavez camp, there was no policy of redistribution. Some firms were nationalised and compensated at market rates, but for the most part only when they were abandoned or guilty of the most barefaced manipulations.
The year 2006 was in many ways a crossroads. The creation of Latin American blocs such as ALBA and CELAC were expressions of Chavez’s Bolivarianism, his Panamerican vision. Yet this was not the 21st century socialism, the democratic revolution, that had been promised...
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