Roland Denis: “Chavez Didn’t Dare to Do What He Had to Between 2002 and 2003”

In a critical interview, longtime Venezuelan anarchist revolutionary, Roland Denis, gives his perspective on the present condition of the Bolivarian revolution, judging it to be at a critical conjuncture.


Long time revolutionary anarchist and people’s fighter of the Venezuelan Left, Roland Denis is a graduate in philosophy from the UCV [Central University of Venezuela] and was Vice-Minister of Planning and Development from 2002 to 2003. In the 1980s, he was a militant in the Popular Disobedience Movement and subsequently in the Our America Project/April 13 Movement. He is the author of, among others, Los Fabricantes de la Rebelión (2002) and Las Tres Republicas (2012). He currently participates in the organization of “Militant Assemblies” which focus on supporting the building of territories of “People’s Government”. 

I want to ask about the current political situation in Venezuela. Before we move on to this this, however, if you permit me, I would like to begin our conversation by broaching some initial, central issues. What is, what should we understand by [the term] the Bolivarian Revolution?

The Bolivarian Revolution is essentially a popular-democratic revolution, born out of the popular rebellion that began in the mid-’80s and extended until the beginning of the ’90s with the popular military insurrections of ’92 and ’93. This phase created the conditions for the creation of a unified movement among the organized sectors of the people, even extending itself to the entire society of the poor. In the middle of this initial process, an initial revolutionary ideology began to emerge, linked to the idea of social justice, the refunding of the nation, a popular constituent process, national sovereignty and our America, and popular power. 

Later on, this phase of radicalization, led by Hugo Chavez towards anti-imperialist and socialist positions in 2005, comes to an end. However, from that same year onwards, in spite  of the radicalism of the ideas, a corrupt bureaucratic and military caste began to seize leadership positions within the party and government, rolling back large swathes of their democratic and emancipatory content to the point of creating a sort of political autocracy that took advantage of the support of Comandante Chavez himself. This began forming a model that we have called a corporate-bureaucratic republic which stands in confrontation to [both] the self-governed republic created by the grassroots, and, of course the neoliberal republic driven by the Right. History continues to be defined by the confrontation between these three forces.  

Unfortunately in the last three years, the shameless appropriation of oil income by the transnational, monopoly, and financial sectors, with the consent of this corrupt caste, has brought us to a disastrous situation. It is a true national embezzlement for which they have used the secret bureaucratic mechanisms of currency controls, a state financial policy designed to exclusively favor the oligarchic banking sector, with which they have come to pocket 300 billion dollars via capital flight, internal debt, etc. It is something bestial and vomit inducing, but at this stage, with industry in shambles, with hyperinflation accelerating impoverishment, all of this is creating the conditions for the Right and old bourgeoisie to take power again. The revolution, if there is anything left of it these days, is in a truly critical situation, and in the short term there does not appear to be a possibility of resurrecting a collective vanguard to put on the brakes before this precipice, much less any political will on the part of Nicolas Maduro to cause the political stir necessary for putting a stop to this disaster.

And why did Comandante Chavez support this political autocracy? Did he lose his political orientation, confuse up with down, trust in those who shouldn’t be trusted, betray the revolution, if you’ll permit my expression? 

Why he supported a bureaucratic caste so corrupt and why he never accepted that the situation was as it was, at least openly, are facts whose explanations are never sufficient. There is evidently a very subjective reason on Chavez’s part. Coming from a world as closed and corporative as the military, he without doubt idealized this sector that remained loyal to him, above all after the 2002 coup. This also has to do with “bonapartism” or “caudillismo” (something that he always disliked being said to him) of his own leadership, something that naturally drove him to establish a relationship of authority with his those around him that was more and more vertical- the psychotic paranoia of the supreme leader- who doesn’t accept delegation, collective leadership, critique and self-critique, but rather unconditional loyalty. It’s the perfect terrain for the opportunist and for the logic of bureaucratic and authoritarian leadership to become established. After that comes the corruption, the black boxes regarding the use of resources, the banking and financial scourge, businessmen and their friends, etc.  

It’s a situation that was extended to the entire popular movement that began imitating in a barbarous way this conduct of silence and unquestioning loyalty (the illusion of the poor that the good father who loves them is always right). On the other hand, we have a state – and a society that it dominates – which are culturally accustomed to the behavior of political castes. Something that comes from our independence era and increased with the appearance of oil. The state is not only the collective leadership of the bourgeoisie, it’s a “magic” structure as Cabrujas says, that defines everything, it is illusory and thousands of individuals and families live off its fruits of power and wealth.  

This is the consolidated culture that eroded the revolutionary leadership on all sides. We didn’t have antibiotics in the face of it. 

And lastly, and for me this is most important, Chavez didn’t dare do what he had to do between 2002 and 2003. He radicalized his discourse, made more expropriations…effectively, but he didn’t touch the central nodes of bureaucratic, military, and oligarchic domination, in PDVSA terribly have worsened right up to today. 

The popular workers’ movement that threw itself in the struggle to truly change things regarding land and industry (the bases of a new society) was largely crushed by the imposition of ferociously corrupt officials that directed the expropriated companies and or they only invested new projects until a great proportion of this key experience was destroyed. There Chavez had a great share of responsibility, and of course the ministerial train that followed him. His fear of “anarchy” put an end to the large part of the productive revolutionary base. Add to this the statist and reformist monetary stupidity of all the years of currency controls, plus the criminal financial gifts bestowed onto the banks and we can begin to understand a lot of things.  

He (Chavez) recognized this in some way at the end of his life. I am sure that the situation was subjectively and objectively making things terrible for Chavez. I don’t know if in the end a demonic imperial commando team induced his cancer, but in any case the growing neurosis, the paranoid psychosis that this situation was creating in him helped in large part to develop the cancer and kill him.  

You also talk about the appropriation of oil income by transnational, monopoly, and financial sectors with the consent of this corrupt caste. Can you document this statement for us? What transnational sectors are you referring to? Who make up this corrupt caste you are referring to? 

The concrete facts of this immense embezzlement are now in plain sight with the expositions that have been made by the Public Citizens’ Audit that was formed this week. I think the facts regarding capital flight, debt manipulation, the diversion of resources, sector by sector, are posted on Aporrea by the initial report of this commission.  

Of course many things remain to be investigated. For example, what happened with the sovereign bonds, the use of the China Fund, Fonden – that was the secret, little government account that went bankrupt together with PDVSA. The companies that have most received dollars are right there: General Motors, Sidor, Polar, pharmaceuticals, tire companies, Colgate, Toyota, the kingdom of the Commercial Council, but still nothing is known of the companies which only existed on paper, and I fear that they disappeared this information. 

This is what has happened with the gigantuan corruption of Coropelec [state electric company], CANTV [state phone company], the Housing Mission, the internal food monopolies and the great “goats” of this business who are linked to the Food Ministry. We will have our mouths wide open for decades as we discover more and more facts about this anti-communal embezzlement. 

If you ask me about the concrete personalities in this caste… 

I am asking you… 

There’s not four or five, there are hundreds who in turn have created their own networks of collaborators and frontmen. There might be a few who are exceptions, but all of the Chavista governors are on the list, a large part of whom have passed through the high military command and the Ministry of Defense with its internal tentacles, but who have always remained very close to leaders like Diosdado Cabello. Add the leaders who have managed the Seniat (tax institution) from Vielma Mora to David Cabello, brother of Diosdado. Ministers like Osorio who have managed an entity of food [administration], or Elias Jaua [former head] of land [administration]. Add the directors of the BCV [Venezuelan Central Bank], particularly figures like Nelson Merentes. All of its directors since the Cadivi [currency controls] offices were formed have managed the exchange controls, especially figures such as Barroso. All of the leadership of PDVSA, in particular the indescribable (Rafael) Ramirez, and the networks of corruption, trafficking, fuel smuggling, subcontractor front companies, etc. that were created under his administration. The majority if not all of the managers of the Guayana [state] enterprises. Those that have passed through the [state] food corporation whose names I can’t remember. But there you also have to add what has happened with the stratification of insurance companies of this type linked to figures such as the Attorney General, the principal courts, the Supreme Court. 

Any militant from the grassroots or politically committed official in any part of Venezuela these days with all of their rage could give you more facts, it’s one’s everyday bread. The corrupt caste is already a proto-bourgeoisie that has the government practically in its hands, very enriched, with a lot of capital abroad, made up of totally national and transnational capital.  

It’s not an ordinary thing what you just said. I’m going to change the topic but continue along the line of these basic questions. When we speak of 21st Century Socialism what exactly are we talking about?

I personally never understood what was meant by the holy 21st Century Socialism invented by Heinz Dietrich. A combination or extravagant cocktail of market, state, socialization, ecology, and democracy by the looks of it. In any case, these are theses elaborated by isolated intellectual brains that had the luck of being copied and taken in a certain moment by a leader like Chavez. But they don’t make up a collective truth that is forged in the struggle, within the collective reason and thought. I personally don’t believe in revolutionary inventions in briefcases for public sale, whether they are successful in the political and ideological market or not. For that reason, [21st Century Socialism] is a proposal that doesn’t mean anything for me. 

But Chavez himself, unless I’m wrong, spoke of 21st Century Socialism. Even here in Europe there are collectives who took on this denomination. 

Of course the ideological premise of 21st Century Socialism made a lot of noise nationally and internationally. Chavez became enthusiastic about it. He wanted to make it the synthesis of his proposal, and then didn’t know how to explain the synthesis because it was no more than discourses on top of discourses, without collective soul nor skin. This is a great and absurd error since the socialist or directly communist revolution proposed more than a century and a half ago – closed programmatic models, as Marx grew tired of reaffirming.  

I would ask myself, why this thesis of 21st Century Socialism and not “democratic confederalism” as proposed by the Kurdish revolution in Turkey and Rojava. Who has the last word? The last word belongs in any case to the peoples rising up in their historic moments , such as the Kurds in this case, or the Zapatistas in the Sixth Declaration from Lacandona Jungle. These thesis are much more interesting and universal because they are born from among the people who break with the existing order, destroying its material and cultural logics of domination and forge a new reality in the middle of the struggle. There is a lot to learn there. This indeed makes all of the sense in the world to study and take on instead of more intellectual pedantries selling world salvation. 

Was Hugo Chavez a revolutionary socialist? Do we place him alongside Che and Fidel Castro? 

He’s a lot closer to Fidel than Che in any case. A man who like Fidel grew together with the revolution that he led and at the same time had the clarity to interpret it. He probably didn’t have the capacity that Fidel indeed had to bring himself above all of the opportunistic trash that surrounds every transformative process; life was not loyal to him as he died relatively young. If he was alive, who knows what Chavez would have done after that last, self-critical, emancipatory and more radical than ever speech called “strike at the helm”. Hugo Chavez was essentially a Bolivarian revolutionary who took on, with increasing depth, the general horizons of libertarian socialism. 

Translated by Venezuelanalysis