Opinion and Analysis: Bolivarian Project
The Paradox of Power
HARDLY a week goes by these days without a new book on Venezuela being published, it seems.
While this is a good thing - a couple of years ago most English-speaking progressives hadn't even heard of President Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution - there is more danger of repetition.
Fortunately, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power is jam-packed with new and original information, much of which has only been available in Spanish until now. The title is a dig at the anarcho-marxist bible Change the World Without Taking Power by John Holloway, whose theories are severely challenged by even the existence of Venezuela's Bolivarian government.
Greg Wilpert has been editing the independent solidarity-orientated news source VenezuelAnalysis.com since its launch over four years ago and is well used to communicating the reality of the revolution from the ground. Although he's clearly sympathetic with the government's aims, he presents all the different political positions fairly and with academic objectivity.
The bulk of the book looks at the Chavez government's policies, specifically its economic, social, governance and foreign policies.
Wilpert explores the key aims and objectives, points out the pitfalls and examines in depth how successful the results have been.
Alongside this is an historical analysis which gives a fresh and sometimes personal perspective to the events inside parliament and on the streets. Venezuela is a country rich in both resources and contradictions, which is reflected by the government's radicalisation in response to the ongoing counter-revolution.
Chavez's base of support has shifted from the predominantly middle-class vote which elected him in 1998 to the largely working-class backing that he enjoys today. There are several reasons for this, from the relentless propaganda campaign against him and his supporters to the government's initial urgent priority of raising living standards for people in absolute poverty by retaking control of the country's oil and using the military to deliver social programmes.
The major message is that of empowering the population, whether through communal councils, co-operatives, comprehensive education or the new constitution.
The chapter on opportunities, obstacles and prospects summarises Venezuela's journey on the road to "21st-century socialism" before carefully describing the current balance of forces. Wilpert warns that the Bolivarian movement's internal and external obstacles may overwhelm the opportunities and he proposes a new agenda of attack against the bureaucratic and corrupt practices of the past.
Paradoxically, Chavez is both the movement's greatest strength and weakness. Although he has united the left, his central role as maximum leader inhibits true bottom-up participatory power.
The epilogue bring everything up to date, with rare and valuable analysis of the major political developments since the December 2006 presidential election. These include constitutional reform, the new Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela and the replacement of coup-plotting television channel RCTV with experimental socialist station TVes.
Like his website, Wilpert's book is a great place to get informed quickly and it should be required reading for anyone interested in either solidarity or socialism today.