Minister of Culture and Venezuelan academic, Reinaldo Iturriza, outlines the three main historic moments of anti-Chavista strategy in order to contextualise the logic behind the opposition’s latest attacks on the Bolivarian Revolution, the ongoing economic war and its consequences for the Venezuelan process.
In general terms, it appears possible to define three key moments within anti-Chavista strategy.
The first moment is defined by a violent confrontation with the Bolivarian Revolution. This begins in 1998 with a tentative attempt to refute the electoral triumph of Commander Chavez on December 6th. We then see a business strike carried out on December 10th 2001, a coup d’etat on the 11th of April 2002, a business lockout and sabotage of the oil industry between February 2002 and February 2003, the barricades in February and March 2004 and the decision not to participate in the parliamentary elections of December 2005. During this time period, the identity of anti-Chavismo is consolidated, and particularly its classist and racist nature. Its view of Chavismo is characterised by fear and contempt. There are countless speeches which criminalise and demonise anything related to the people or working class. This moment comes to an end on December 3rd 2006 with the opposition’s defeat in the presidential elections.
The realignment of forces prior to December 2006 is expressed by the displacement of the traditional political class. For the first time in 2007, the subject “the student movement” becomes the vanguard of the opposition, no longer following a violent and offensive trajectory, but instead raising the flag of civil and political rights, which are “threatened” by the closure of RCTV (Radio Caracas Television, which lost its broadcasting rights on public channels due to its central role in the 2002 coup).
The campaign against reforms to the constitution, on the other hand, focusses on the defence of small scale private property. During the same campaign, we see the first speeches to mimic Chavista symbols emerge. There is an almost total dominance of discourse surrounding government inefficiency, which replaces the discourse surrounding the illegitimacy of President Chavez, which is emblematic of the first moment of anti-Chavista strategy. These efforts are orientated towards demonstrating that Chavismo is incapable of governing, and that socialist rhetoric is not only ideologically excessive, but that it is also a pretext to mask the inefficiency of the government. We see the first episodes of artificial scarcities. The discourse surrounding inefficiency will reach its height in 2010, the year when the country suffers the worst period of drought in its history, which causes a serious electrical crisis. The year ends with the worst rains since records began, which produces an intense humanitarian crisis, with more that 120,000 left homeless.
During these years there is a progressive assuagement of the discourse criminalising Chavismo, which is directly proportional to attempts to steal some of its ideas and strength. The exercise of copying Chavismo will reach unprecedented heights during the 2012 presidential campaign.
The defeat of the opposition in the presidential elections of October 2012 opens up a period characterised by strategic uncertainty, the strategy to “wear down” Chavismo as in the second moment has been defeated, giving way to isolated violent episodes and the return of classist and racist discourse.
Demoralised, anti-Chavismo will suffer another defeat in the regional elections on December 16th 2012. Internal tensions become more acute. Its political leadership is called more and more into question as it reaches the extreme of publicly questioning the date of Comandante Chavez’s death. It refuses to acknowledge the results of the presidential elections on the 14th of April 2013. New violent acts leave a death count of 11 people. The economic war is intensified: artificial scarcities, hoarding, speculation on the foreign currency market. In February 2014, the opposition readopts a tactic which it abandoned ten years ago: the barricades, which results in a death count of 43.
With the barricades politically defeated (even though they included a global publicity campaign which rallied celebrities to the show) and in the midst of strong disputes over leadership, the economic war gets worse.
During the first few days of 2015, the effort which anti-Chavismo is making to overcome the strategic precariousness that has been weighing it down since October 2012 starts to become more apparent.
To fully understand this tactical movement, we must firstly locate ourselves within the relationship that the opposition has with Chavismo in terms of its political identity. The transition appears to be clear: the total denial of the first period, with its heavy dose of dehumanisation, the criminalisation of its adversary and the underestimation of its political capabilities, all of which had catastrophic as well as educational consequences for the opposition, to a second period in which the strength of Chavismo is recognised, the principal characteristics of its political culture are identified, giving way to proceeding attempts to copy them. We then see a third period which, upon having proven unsuccessful, ends up returning to the previous period where the forces which advocate violent confrontation with Chavismo gain ground once again. It’s important to point out that in the circumstantial protagonism of these forces lies a sign of rage and, consequently, of weakness. With these forces better aligned, the strategy appears to be orientated, not towards the original rejection of Chavismo, but rather towards the identification of Chavismo with the worst characteristics of its historic adversary: anti-Chavismo itself.
The strategy is no longer about gatecrashing Chavismo’s cultural political spaces in order to colonise it and defeat it from within. That didn’t work. Now it’s about fragmenting it and slicing it up into pieces. Chavismo must come apart at the seams. What is currently underway is a daring attempt to put an end once and for all to the Chavista epic, by belittling the greatest effort at social transformation that the Venezuelan people have ever undertaken in their history.
When anti-Chavismo stimulates and eventually creates the conditions for practising different forms of Venezuelan “quick wittedness” (the infamous “viveza criolla) (“CADIVISMO” or profiteering from the government’s CADIVI dollar control system, small scale contraband at the border, queue jumping etc.) in order to then celebrate it as a sign of the moral decomposition of the regime, but above all of the decomposition of its support base, it is not “discovering” the essence of Chavismo, as something which has been capably masked by government propaganda up until now, but rather it is drawing us back to what we used to be and what we started to cease to be with Chavismo: the people fighting against the people, the exacerbation of individualism, of selfishness and the imposition of the survival of the fittest.
We can’t forget that it was the oligarchy that constructed the myth of “Venezuelan quick wittedness,” of the lazy and uncultured Venezuelan that takes advantage of certain circumstances, but above all, of other people for personal gain with no effort. But who this myth is really describing is the oligarchy itself, mediocre and unproductive, which caricatures and stigmatises the working people. This myth of “Venezuelan quick wittedness” is encouraged by the elites in order to stimulate internal conflicts within the same class, and aims to make sure that Venezuelans forget that the real antagonism is with the oligarchy.
The strategy is directed at the moral decomposition of the social base of the Bolivarian Revolution, because what is indispensable is that the people stop believing in themselves, in their creative and transformative capacity. With the economic war, anti-Chavismo is stimulating cynicism: if access to essential products, an indisputable achievement for the Revolution, begins to be perceived, not as an expression of the construction of a society based on fairness and solidarity, but rather as an opportunity for competition, cheating, lies and a “lack of authority”, then evidently what we are witnessing is not an achievement but rather a painful and frustrating defeat. The circumstances lead us to the mistaken way of thinking that, despite everything, we were incapable of seeing this through, because after everything, we continue to be what we said we were struggling against.
This set of circumstances, meaning the everyday expressions of the economic war, with an emphasis on queuing, are taking place at a moment when Chavismo has lost its primary ethical reference point: Comandante Chavez. The anti-Chavista strategy is articulated around one discourse: in the absence of Chavez, the incorruptible, what remains is a corrupted and corrupting form of Chavismo. Here we have the phrase “Maduro isn’t Chavez” in the mouths of anti-Chavista voices, which is not about recognising Comandante Chavez in the slightest. Twenty one months after the government of President Nicolas Maduro demonstrated that Chavismo was capable of triumphing without Comandante Chavez at its helm and that Nicolas Maduro is capable of leading Chavismo, anti-Chavismo is going after the political culture which managed to survive beyond its original leader.
This is why anti-Chavismo is focussing on the issue of corruption. If, in the first period, Chavismo was illegitimate, less than human, in the second period if was inefficient but with a human face, in the third period it is corrupt, thieving and mafia like. That is, the exact, spitting image of the Venezuelan oligarchy.
It’s about a corrupt, inefficient and illegitimate government. Inefficient because it does nothing to solve the problems of hoarding and scarcities and this is a discourse which resonates with a sector of Chavismo. It’s here where we confront each other, within Chavismo itself, with our own limitations: given that it falls on the government to respond to its responsibilities, of course it must, but it also falls on the organised people to respond to theirs. Because this isn’t about a government which is more or less efficient, but about a people which are building a revolution and that, alongside its government, is called upon to act with political efficiency.
If we are going to question rentier logic, let’s do it properly. Rentier logic in the economic arena also has its political correlation. Revolutionary politics produces new social relations. Rentier politics administers the status quo. Anti-Chavismo today repeats over and over again that “Maduro isn’t Chavez” because there is a part of Chavismo that continues to lament “if only Chavez were alive”. More than defeatism, the expression alludes to our difficulty as a people in revolution in overcoming our old political culture, in realising that the destiny of this revolution depends on us. In other words, it alludes to our difficulty in overcoming a political culture founded within a rentier logic.
Still prisoner of the political culture associated with rentier politics, a part of Chavismo still complains, demands, and if its demand isn’t satisfied, it laments “if only Chavez were alive”. It’s impossible to overcome this perverse logic claiming, through naivety, voluntarism or demagogy, that it is possible to satisfy every demand. To govern is not to satisfy, or to create a client base by satisfying the few. Governing in revolution is about creating the conditions for the people to govern. Governing in revolution is to produce another society, not to administer the old society.
This very same concept of politics as something that is produced, and not as a rent (politics) which is administered better or worse, involves opening ourselves up to the possibility of appealing to our government, but also to the possibility of being appealed to as a people that wants to govern. That has a “will to power”. This equally involves not forgetting that Commander Chavez was a product, a consequence, of a people who decided to make a revolution. Chavez is also an “heroic creation” of the Venezuelan people.
In terms of the government, of our responsibilities, of the need to recognise our own shortcomings, it would be necessary to undertake an exercise similar to that carried out here, identifying what we have done and what we have stopped doing during the same time period, simultaneously to the anti-Chavez movement which has tried, without success, to defeat the Bolivarian Revolution. To identify, for example, when and how we allowed a “new class” to emerge, taking refuge within the revolution, and when and how this ended up being an obstacle to liberating ourselves from the constraints of a rentier economy. How and when, due to action or omission, we contributed to creating the conditions for the appearance of CADIVISMO.
As is usually the case, anti-Chavismo has taken it upon itself to highlight its vast knowledge of the problem of queuing. One of the references currently in use is the “psychology of waiting”. Making analogies here and there, they claim to explain why the queues in Venezuela are a prelude to a social catastrophe. The most curious aspect of this is that if we allowed ourselves the same false step (an easy analogy to “demonstrate” what is previously affirmed), the so called “psychology of waiting” would provide us with important information on what the propaganda machines of anti-Chavismo have done with their own social base: “If the wait is considered to be unfair, it is poorly tolerated,” “nerves make waiting seem longer and it is poorly experienced,” “waiting with no explanation is poorly tolerated”. This means that the social base of anti-Chavismo has been conditioned to experience the Bolivarian Revolution in the same way as the Chavistas today experience queuing. Something like “Didn’t you all want your homeland? Ah well then, deal with it”. Queuing is a particular form of revenge for everything that Chavismo has made them suffer.
With the queues that are being created, anti-Chavismo is provoking perhaps the most powerful subject of the Bolivarian Revolution: the women of the barrio. Any Chavista knows that processes of organisation in the barrio are fundamentally led by our women. Women that became emancipated, in good part, in private spaces and went on to become protagonists in public spaces, with their infinite strength, perseverance and wisdom forged in the daily struggle for their children, generation after generation. I have not met more beautiful women than the women from our barrios. With the queues, the Venezuelan oligarchy is sending the following message to our women: you should go back to the private sphere, to the domestic economy, you have no other mission in this world but to administer scarcity and to go from one place to the next searching for food for your children. They do not know the women of our barrios.
There are those whose form of conceiving of politics is reduced to this: I would see these people die of hunger just to see if the government will finally fall.
Lastly, it’s necessary to respond to the following question. Why is the strategy of the anti-Chavista camp orientated towards identifying Chavismo with the worst characteristics of anti-Chavismo itself? Because with the death of Comandante Chavez, the opposition has also been left with no ethical reference points. Because it never had them amongst its ranks. Because it feels desolate. Because Chavismo is on the path to creating new references and new leaderships, that are able to overcome the old ones which still persist within the ranks of the Bolivarian Revolution, and anti-Chavismo is not going in that direction. Because they prefer a desolate country to a country in revolution, with a high intensity democracy, which advances in the struggle to eliminate poverty, criminality, class privilege, to construct a society in which the population has progressively more access to goods and services, to the free exercise and enjoyment of its rights. A society that we barely started to construct with Chavez. It is this society that we must build, in large part, with those who are currently militants against the revolution. Now there is a lot of work ahead of us.
Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis