Debate: “Goodbye to Chavismo”?

Long time Venezuelan revolutionary Roland Denis's article "Goodbye to Chavismo" has ignited a firestorm on the Bolivarian left, spawning passionate debates concerning the future of Chavismo in the face of protracted economic war and corrupt bureaucratic state management. VA presents translations of the Denis article as well as a response by Luigino Bracci, arguing that the struggle continues within Chavismo for a revolutionary solution to the present crisis. 

By Roland Denis and Luigino Bracci – Aporrea
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late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías
late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías

On September 28, long time Venezuelan revolutionary Roland Denis published an article entitled “Goodbye to Chavismo” on the left wing public media forum Aporrea.org. Denis argues that Chavismo as a movement has reached its end point, corroded by the structures of the bureaucratic state, which Chávez failed to transform. With nearly 44,000 reads, the article sparked a heated controversy, provoking dozens of responses from across the spectrum of the Venezuelan left. One such response by Luigino Bracci aims to show through the power of a real life anecdote that Chavismo remains an emancipatory horizon for much of Venezuela’s poor and downtrodden who regard the corrupt, bureaucratic petro-state as part of the oppressive legacy bequeathed by the oligarchic Fourth Republic that must be overcome. In what follows, VA presents translations of both articles.

Denis: “Goodbye to Chavismo”*

Walking through the streets or through the countryside, doubtlessly you will find, among those of us who have been part of the collective history of the last 20-30 years, wasted away, frustrated and angry faces saying goodbye to a story which, at the end of the day, is their very own. A passionate story which for many years has been referred to as Chavismo. A goodbye which is not formal; it oscillates between doubt and tears. For others it is done with the relief of having discharged such an unbearable load. However it is the goodbye to a history which could not be brought to fruition.

This piece of writing should have been done long ago, but now it is time to make known to the public, words which are as personal as they are political. Things must finally be said, if it is still meaningful to say something.

Revolutions are romantic stupidities, utopias, maybe, but they cost all the energy of our existence when we see how the heart unites with the plethora of dreams that have crossed our lives.

Human beings spread out everywhere asking to forget the centuries long curse of slavery, poverty and submission, to make themselves the owners of their own bodies and lands, beings who wanted to say goodbye forever to that hateful history. That was the revolution, and it will continue to be so, however, as a lost path; the premonition of a great failure is taking place right before our eyes, and which personally I could perceive since extremely early on. “I prefer to say NO” as the song by the diva goes*, as opposed to keep validating the circumstances which disown us.

Venezuela is a middle of the road country, without any real impact on imperialism apart from its immense amount of mineral and bio-carbon resources, despite the reminders of its legendary past.

It is a curious country which has nothing to offer in terms of what is currently happening there, but which is the home to all the heroes of Our America. An empty shell at the end of the day, with no possible synthesis between its grandiose past and this most defunct reality, which is currently subject to the leadership of those who never understood what it is to take a step towards collective happiness, and who aren't interested in it in the slightest.

When there is no vision for the nation, when there are no collectivities guided by moral principles- especially in a nation which is proposing to the world a radically different life to that which is imposed upon us by destructive capitalism- when the nation is simply a war which moves between grandiose speeches about past heroes and a desperate anxiousness to take control of the wealth provided by an extremely generous subsoil, then you can be sure that “revolutionary and emancipatory reason” is rapidly going up in smoke. This is what has happened, taking with it the best of Chavismo.

Chavismo was conceived as a subversive wager which, in its moment, knew how to bring together all of the forces that were left over from the great failures of the armed and reformist left. At the same time, Chavismo also played its hand alongside gangsters that knew how to mingle with this rebellious diaspora that, since the mid-1980s, had not been able to hold itself back. This buried under the table the true conservatism that united the gangster to the most reactionary being under the same conspirational guild, and which bound them to the insurgent flight of the dreamers.

Taking this majestic cocktail as our starting point, a cocktail where no combination of flavours can work, then we can understand that the new revolutionary movement had to take on a form of caudillo [verticalist charismatic leader] management, which is in effect what happened.

In fact, collective, ideologically homogenous leadership was impossible back then. On the contrary, the cases that we made time and time again for “diversity and horizontalism,” paradoxically in our particular case, did nothing but give way to caudillismo, which rejected a united and organised “we,” and carried out a strange stifling of the poor and docile “people” commanded by their “chosen son” from long centuries past.

For these reasons, the emergence of an omnipotent and despotic caudillo was unacceptable; rather what was needed was an apprentice of the popular movement, born from the grassroots, the wonderful path and personality of Chavez. He also had to be “diverse and horizontal,” in this sense, egalitarian, something which Chavez understood and which he was militant in, despite the fact that he kicked me in the face with the book “The Makers of the Revolution,” [written by Roland Denis] undoubtedly due to pride.

Unfortunately, this same apprentice of the multitudes, of their dreams, programmes and their extreme radicalness when proposing a new horizon for our country, of that initially wonderful fantasy “popular power,” of regurgitating any kind of past in order to make real the possibility of something resembling the Bolivarian project; he [Chavez] converted carrying around that cocktail of gangsterism into a governmental thesis, eventually eating away at, not just bureaucratic entrance halls and ministries to the presidency, but also at collectives, political leaders and historical cadres in the revolutionary struggle. If Chavez really does have a dark legacy, it’s that he never shook off the caudillo that they obliged him to be in order to become a leader with the willingness to use the state against that gangster substrata that accompanied him in his conspirational and then democratic stages.

I have tried to understand this tangled mess of situations for years, after having suffered at the hands of it, and in some cases, written about it without much success. The truth of the matter is that what had to happen is happening today, to give way to the step which many humble beings in my country are now taking without excessive intellectual contortions, a step which may nonetheless be very emotionally intense: saying goodbye to Chavismo.

A revolution often entails situations in which it is necessary to make tough decisions and which encompass all the risks of history, without those decisions it is absurd, cowardly and deceitful to speak of revolution, and much less govern in its name.

If we didn’t do something that was absolutely indispensable here, it was that we had to speak in these terms. Chavismo dies with Chavez, just as Fidelismo dies with Fidel leaving the leadership of the State. Cuba and Venezuela have been the last revolutionary state utopias, embodied in the heroes that opened the way for them.

Having failed to break with the caudillo that they created around him, Chavez had no other option than to cry out for a rupture [with the existing state apparatus] when his life was almost over***, but even after having done this, and I still can’t understand why he didn’t dare to do it, he still left the gangster substrata intact. I don’t understand why he was more afraid of the power that surrounded him than his own death. Can it be that the bureaucratic structures of the state are so immensely powerful that they impose themselves even in the face of death? Here is something that I just don’t understand, whether it is because of some foundational metaphysics that I don’t know about, or some information which I haven't seen, or simply because I am an idiot.  

From then on a disaster has been unfolding that we are tired of denouncing, from its consequences to its material-economic, political, and social roots. But in this case, it’s not about repeating what we have been crying out.

Power corrupts, of course it does, but beyond that power is the historic creation through which one man put himself above another creating social differences, something that only since Machiavelli has been understood as having little to do with morality and a lot to do with to do with skill in manipulating one’s circumstances in terms of friend-enemy relations.

His [Machiavelli] learnings were brilliant, or at least what they inspired. They made it clear that it’s about politics in a world that was preparing to invade the rest of the world in the name of an exploitative mercantilism that they would call “democracy”.

Chavismo, like everything, also had to be corrupted, reproducing itself through a legacy of manipulation worthy of Machiavelli, which, in contrast to the many memories left by past revolutions, leaves behind nothing material. Nothing that resembles intelligence, productivity, science, collective organisation, that we could be proud of in spite of everything. It is an empty legacy, merely symbolic, where only those who have been able to resist the violent bureaucratic siege to which they have condemned the country, have been left to develop a revolutionary cry and possible self-government: communities, communes, crestfallen orders for workers control, without any possibility of uniting in order to tear to pieces this infernal mockery. That is impossible now, perhaps later on, but steps towards unison will have to be taken and they are long and many.

“Goodbye to Chavismo” is a good-bye to an extraordinary dream that became a nightmare in front of our very eyes, a kind of scourge in which all groups that call themselves revolutionary propose some kind of exit strategy on a daily basis; some more principled, others pragmatic, others bravely break with the official political command. But in this way, every day it continues to have less and less meaning, Chavismo has lost it entirely. It’s useless to propose exit strategies to the crisis when its foundations are flooded by these gangster recruits who are in government; governing the grassroots, and the monumental looting of the country that they have undertaken.

The posters of the memory of Chavismo and Chavez himself have collapsed before the weight of collective indifference, passing into nothingness, to being mere symbols without an alternative content to information capitalism; that “aesthetics of nothingness” that were introduced some years ago by our splendid escualidos [bourgeois political opposition].

This is precisely the reason for which Chavismo has died, condemning a whole people to unproductiveness and a fascination with the capacity for manipulation that their commander-president left behind and which snatches at them from beyond the grave. However, they too are simultaneously moving on from this media fascination. They [the government] forgot to do the calculations on how long such an imposition on the collective subconscious might last. It already reached its end point, it already arrived at the goodbye stage that millions of us are giving it.

I am sure, however, that this goodbye, and those that will be added to it, are not just the finale of mounting frustrations leaving behind a frustrated revolutionary adventure. It is precisely that enormous vacuum, this context of radical unproductiveness that Chavismo has left lying sprawled across the country, that can simultaneously be a point of departure for a new explosion of dreaming, without caudillos or pre-established symbolic orders, for direct, horizontal, communicative and productive relations between communities of working beings, illuminated once again by “insurgent ethics”.

If we look at the peace process of the FARC and probably the ELN in Colombia, we could also say that a great dream, full of bloodshed, is also dying. Or if we look at Cuba where the pleasure of usury and accumulation is being reborn, following decades of incredible effort, combined with the friendship of the US.

Perhaps, after everything our generations have lived through, we will remain trapped in this frustration, I will try and make sure that this isn’t the case for me personally. The blood of Our America will not keep still, even less so for us Venezuelans. When Chavismo finally goes to hell, it will leave everything to be done ahead of us; the utopias of those who refused to accept death at the hands of posters and propaganda alive and well, the nothingness that will compel creation. A new world lies ahead of us to build and the vivacious beauty that Che [Ernesto “Che” Guevara], who although dead appears alive, continues to inspire. In the meantime, the tremendous frauds, thieves, liars and traitors can all go to hell; the peoples of Venezuela and Our America are asking you to move out of the way, and if you won’t, we know how to give our blood once more in struggle to force you! There is no such thing as a vanquished peoples!

Bracci: “The Ginger Candy Seller’s Response to Roland Denis’ ‘Goodbye to Chavismo’”

In the middle of all this debate around the “Goodbye to Chavismo” [article] by Roland Denis, one sometimes finds very interesting opinions in the least expected of places. I was in the metro this morning, heading to work, when a man who was selling ginger candies in the train decided to sit down in one of the seats reserved for senior citizens and rest a little from his forbidden work.**** Dark skinned, seventy-something years old, thin, and fairly extroverted, his face showed traces of a life of work and sacrifice.

Inevitably he started to talk with some of the people who were standing in the train. He told them that he would sell the candies for very cheap, that the warehouses would sell them for 10 bolivares each. And the conversation inevitably drifted towards the issue of the high cost of living, the speculation, the lines, the bachaqueros, how difficult and expensive everything is, that for many people it’s not easy to eat. And inevitably the conversation began to touch on the government: that the government officials don’t do anything, that there are many thieves who rob whatever they feel like, etc. 

“The greatest error Chávez made was to tell people to vote for Maduro. He blew it! What Chávez should have done is allow everyone to run for elections and let the people vote for whoever seems best,” the man said.

“And watch out, I voted for Maduro!,” he emphasized.

“Another fool who switched sides,” I thought to myself.

On the opposite side of the train facing the man selling the candies was another man, also seated among the blue seats reserved for people with disabilities. Equally dark skinned, more obese, and also very extroverted, he was younger, but needed the seat because he had recently had a leg operation. This man, surely an opposition supporter excited to hear a Chavista repent in his convictions, asked the ginger candy salesman an inevitable question: 

“And in December, are you going to vote for Maduro?”

“YES, OF COURSE,” responded the ginger candy man, surprisingly.

The second man was left silent for a few seconds, and he responded with a certain indignation that betrayed his political position: “You are going to vote for Maduro after everything you just told me?!?!” 

“Do you think, after all that we’ve swam, I’m going to let myself drown now?,” the candy salesman responded in a humorous fashion, leaving open-mouthed some people who had listened to the conversation without joining in, particularly a girl with an upper class demeanor next to me. From the looks of it, they [the people] could not comprehend that just because a Chavista is frustrated with his government, with an official, with a decision, or with a particular situation, it does not mean that he or she ceases to be Chavista. 

The candy man went on to better explain his point of view. He said that in effect, the government is full of thieves and scoundrels, just like in the governments of the past. “If I don’t leave the house to work, I’m not going to eat. What do you think, that if I go to Miraflores and I say I voted for Maduro, they’re going to give me food?”

But in the next moment, he explained that, for him, the governments of Maduro and that of Chávez were different than their predecessors: “Maduro has built a whole lot of houses for us, for the poorest people, everywhere! And they give them to the people, because I’ve seen it. This never happened before!” He went on to explain how during the government of Herrera Campins, a few acquaintances were given [tin] containers as houses and the hell those people had to go through when the sun shone down. And he noted that that is not happening today, that today there is a government that helps out the poorest of the poor.

“What’s going on is that ALL OF YOU,” he said, pointing to the other man who had asked him if he’d vote for Maduro again, “are annoyed because the government is giving everything to the poorest, to the people who never had anything. That’s what hurts you the most!” 

I would like to say that the conversation delighted me, but it didn’t so much. It’s as if they told us that the Chavistas steal but others stole before, or that Chavismo is good because it gives people things. Yes, I am proud that the Bolivarian government is worried about those people who had never gotten anything even though they deserve everything. But a government is not good just because it gives people things in moments of abundance. An anti-capitalist and socialist government is characterized by much more.

When we Chavistas speak among ourselves, our complaints are always the sames: there are extremely serious problems caused by corruption, inefficiency, irresponsibility, and bureaucratization, to which we now must add the crisis caused by the fall in oil prices, the lack of national production, and the fact that we accustomed ourselves to the “easy life” made possible by oil rents. And to struggle against these problems is NOT at all easy.  

But the solution is not to abandon Chavismo. The solution is to continue fighting to purify it, to make it better every day. It’s something that we owe to Chávez himself. As a friend said, “I don’t say goodbye to Chavismo, but rather I invert the equation: I am staying with Chavismo and I bid good riddance to those who besmirch its memory and hide behind its legacy. Ergo, those who said goodbye to Chavismo are themselves [leaving], not us.” 

It is our duty to continue in Chavismo, but to keep fighting.

·      Fighting against our own demons and vices that every one of us has. Reading, reflecting, listening to those who critique us, debating, changing everything that should be changed.

·      Fighting against the ease and comfort given to us by rentierism

·      Fighting against corruption, inefficiency, bureaucratization, laziness, and all of the bad things that some people disguised as Chavistas want to cause us

·      Fighting against the right (both the national bourgeoisie and the international elements who, more than overthrowing chavismo, want to seize control of the country and its resources)

I refuse to write articles insulting and launching [pejorative] adjectives against Denis, when he is correct in some of the things he writes. It is very hypocritical to insult him as the latest “enemy of the day”, because Nicmer [Evans], Toby [Valderrama], and [Heintz] Dieterich have already gone out of fashion. An article on Aporrea doesn’t depress me, dammit! What depresses me is to find out that one of those guys who appears 14 times a day on VTV, who in one moment stood alongside Chávez or Maduro and even raised their clenched fist alongside him, is a tremendously corrupt thief, or is inefficient, or mistreats the people or his or her subordinates, and there isn’t much that can be done to change that reality.

And this is not to generalize, because there are many people at the high levels of government who are valuable and honest. But damn, this struggle against corruption, this internal OLP [massive anti-crime operation] that we have to undertake, is very important, perhaps more important than ever in the history of this revolutionary process. 

And it’s a very difficult struggle. It is easy fight against an enemy who we have easily identified…when we know that the “bad guy” is Capriles, Leopoldo, or the guarimberos [rightwing anti-government militants]. But to fight against corruption, inefficiency, or against our own vices… that is the difficult part!

In closing: who said that making revolution would be easy? It’s easy to surrender and lay the blame at the feet of the corrupt. And here I’d say to Roland Denis and to all those who feel the same as him, that they rest a little, look for other circles, other spaces where they can continue their everyday struggle. But don’t abandon Chavismo. Here we need people to aid in the fight to purify [Chavismo] in what is perhaps the most difficult moment of this revolutionary process.

P.s. When you see a ginger candy salesperson on the Metro, buy a bunch!

* Editor: Article has been abridged for clarity

** Editor: Denis is referring to Argentine “New Trova” singer songwriter and leftist activist, Mercedes Sosa, and her rendition of “If you want me to have a son”. Lyrics “If you want me to have a son, only to kill him, I prefer to say a sacred and upright “no”.

*** Editor: In reference to Chávez’s last major speech, “Strike at the Helm”, delivered on October 20, 2012: http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/strike-at-the-helm/

**** Editor: The Caracas Metro prohibits the sale of merchandise on buses and trains