From Chávez’s “Strike at the Helm” to Maduro’s “Shake-up” in Venezuela

Director of the Latin American Strategic Center of Geopolitics (CELAG), Alfredo Serrano Mancilla, takes a look at the political significance of Nicolas Maduro's recent "shake-up" of the Bolivarian Revolution. 


Some years have gone by since Chávez used the slogan “a jump forward” to describe what direction the Bolivarian Revolution had to take. It was a way of clarifying that any process of change requires continuous change. In that moment, the focus was to propose twenty-first century socialism as a new strategic compass for continuing to row against the current. From that moment onwards, Chávez always appealed to one key concept: all revolutions require a permanent revolution; all transformation demands constant revision, rectification and reconfiguration.

Of all the times he made these appeals, the one that stands out the most, perhaps because it was the last time and also, the most self-critical, was Chávez’s speech “el golpe de timón” (strike at the helm) which he gave after having had won the last presidential election by a landslide. Chávez surprised both friends and strangers by proclaiming that there was no time to rest on our laurels; no revolutionary process can have moments of lethargy nor complacency over what has been gained.

Alluding to Meszaros (Hungarian Marxist philosopher), Chávez warned us about what we would soon have to do to guarantee the irreversibility of all of the social advances gained over the past decade.

The sustainability of the social revolution demands socialist efficiency in the management of public policy, and he especially emphasized the need for a great economic revolution, not a neoliberal one, but a revolution capable of transforming the economic model and its social-productive metabolism. For Chávez, allowing a post-capitalist system of capital (capitalist parasites in a non-capitalist system) to continue existing and profiting from within this process of change is giving the enemy too much of an advantage and providing them with fertile conditions for continuing their effective economic war.

The “strike at the helm” was frustrated by the events which were to come: the death of Chavez, new elections, the attempts of the opposition to use other pathways to get what they had lost at the ballot box, and new municipal elections. The economic war occurred following the elections, taking advantage of precisely what Chávez had warned about years back. Having regained sovereign control of the oil sector, the economic dispute centralized on the use of the oil rents for the people. The rentier importer model of the twenty first century is situated as the central economic phenomena at the heart of the struggle for distribution.

Due to everything that has been happening, we have advanced very little of what Chavez established as a priority in his “Strike at the Helm” speech. The enabling law, to struggle against the economic corruption was a step forward but, it was nonetheless insufficient. The oppositions’ attempt to oust Maduro by undemocratic means also did not help in moving the process forward. This slow motion coup attempt may not have achieved its central objective, but it did force the government to dedicate all of its energy and effort into putting out this fire, therefore postponing the complicated economic tasks that they needed to address.

Because of that, the “shake-up” proposed by President Maduro is the continuation of Chavez’s “strike at the helm”. It was fundamental that Maduro reestablished this practice of rennovation and that it was he who took responsibility for advancing another jump forward in search of new answers to changing historical circumstances. Many voices have rushed to declare that this “shake up” only slightly stirred the pot, but it is too soon to make that call, because the new policies for the economic reconfiguration have only just been proposed.

 Nonetheless, it is notable how this “shake-up” has taken up the discussion once again on long term strategy, redefining the five revolutionary axes (productive-economic, of knowledge, of the social programs, state policy, and territorial) placing emphasis on a) ending what remains of the bourgeois state, b) not complying with the exchange rate adjustment designed by the bosses (FEDECAMARAS) c) creating a Vice Presidency of food sovereignty, d) reaffirming the importance of diversified production, e) moving towards an economy of knowledge, f) guaranteeing socialist efficiency in the missions (social programs) g) granting more importance to the communes within their geographic development. All of these are necessary and pertinent aspects of this new stage so that the current changes can be sustainable. 

To tell the truth, the “shake up” is absolutely necessary because it has a vital political role; it is not enough to identify who is destabilizing the economy, it’s also about finding adequate solutions to very complex and challenging scenarios. Hopefully, the “shake-up” will be the path for finding those solutions.

Alfredo Serrano Mancilla (PhD. Economics) is Director of the Latin American Strategic center of Geopolitics (CELAG)

Translated by Cory Fischer-Hoffman for Venezuelanalysis