In the early years of the Bolivarian Revolution I was privileged to hear President Hugo Chavez speak in person half a dozen times and to be invited twice as a guest to his weekly television show, Alo Presidente! To this day I strongly support the principles and the goals of the Bolivarian Revolution.
It was an act of striking hypocrisy to hear President Donald Trump officially label the government of Venezuela as a dictatorship. This, from a man who calibrates his bellicosity to suit his bait, while his critics reach to fumigate their brainpans. From a man who has continued Obama’s drone assassination program, who has announced he will be increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, severing whatever chains that might have been holding back potential for more death and destruction of innocent lives, expanding its operations in Iraq and Syria, conducting covert raids in Somalia and Yemen. To hear these words from the mouth of the so-called “anti-globalist” leader of the ‘free’ world is utterly despicable. From a leader who must be pressured by his own government officials to condemn recent domestic terrorism, most recently by white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with citronella tiki torches under the night sky like the Klu Klux Klan of an earlier era, who with shouts of "Jews will not replace us" and "white lives matter" seek to turn the country into a white ethno-state, Trump’s bluster seems hollow. But for many of us who live here in the belly of beast, Trump is capable not only of imagining the unimaginable but of giving wide latitude to his generals in making foreign policy decisions actual, which includes military interventions.
The tortuous crises of legitimacy faced by many Latin American governments in the face of the unprecedented inequalities and suffering imposed on the working classes by globalization, has hit Venezuela with a singular viciousness, giving ballast to the efforts of the transnational capitalist class to discredit the Venezuelan government in its battles with its comprador and oligarchic opposition forces. At this particular historical juncture, when querulous voices brazenly trumpeted from the icy chambers of the US, the OAS Almagro bloc, and the opposition MUD wish to put the gains of Chavistas under both Chavez and Maduro in cold storage and when the opposition is bent on leading the world into the eternal capitalist abyss, the global left – and educators in particular – must be careful when criticizing of the current crisis in Venezuela. It must not reset its vulnerability to capitalism either through acts of political inertia or by belaboring its commitment to the Bolivarian Revolution under granular critiques of Maduro that may have exhortative or paraenetic value in the lecture hall but lacks resonance or reason in the trenches where the fight for the survival of the revolution is being fought, and where the struggle to accumulate forces for the next step forward in the struggle is taking place.
It is in the midst of such a struggle that we come to understand that the social relations of capitalist exploitation can force us to yield but cannot oblige us to obey. And while the left must accept that they have committed errors, and that corruption exists, we must continue our resolve to bring whatever victories we can to the revolution. One important path forward that is often neglected is education. A renewed emphasis on critical pedagogy and the works of Paulo Freire and Simón Rodríguez can assist all Venezolano/as in re-valorizing the values of Marti and Bolivar, by casting off the chains of epistemic colonization. And this needs to be done, as the great Latin American philosopher, Enrique Dussel, has argued, by rejecting the false necessity that tells us that there exist ironclad laws of change that govern the history of human societies and limit human freedom. For Dussel, such a rejection entails epistemic decolonization and a renewed study of indigenous Latin American philosophers and thinkers. From the viewpoint of the South, the plasticity of social organizations and their potential to be reimagined can be analyzed. While the formative contexts of any society are difficult to change since they have been routinized and institutionalized into law and made into seemingly seamless wholes through dominant and subjacent logics grounded in European models, new models of revolution can help restructure institutional life that is currently under capitalism’s imposition of austerity, privatization, and inequality. We too often use the term “neo-liberalism” instead of naming the beast capitalism. Capitalism existed before neo-liberalism and will mutate into another species of exploitation long after neo-liberalism is gone. What is needed is the transition to socialism.
The “Bolivarian Revolution” created the conditions of possibility for a unique transition to socialism that was thoroughly democratic, ending the oligarchic model of development by employing oil revenue to fund massive social welfare programs. Cooperatives, communes and workers’ associations were created. But there were shortcomings, and some serious ones. Problems facing the revolution today can be traced, in part, to a neglect of productive investment in manufacturing and agriculture. Who knew that oil prices would dip so dramatically so soon after the revolution had begun? And too much time passed before the communes and cooperatives were fully integrated into the revolutionary project – only recently have they been stabilized by the National Constituent Assembly. Whether corrections to these structural problems will be able to reverse the economic and political strife in Venezuela still remains uncertain. But what is not in doubt is that under the opposition, things would become much worse, a nightmare of unimaginable proportions. Critical educators worldwide need to renew and mobilize their support for the Bolivarian Revolution. In so doing, I believe that it is imperative that the revolution emphasize endogenous development, an emphasis that is thoroughly de-colonial and works from an education model that is truly critical, such as the one developed out of the work of the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. And it is important to expand such a model through the contributions of de-colonial philosophers. Every revolution for social justice needs an epistemic foundation that is grounded in its own geopolitical location, that it springs from seeds planted in its own soil. Paulo Freire did not want his work to be exported to other countries in order to be “transplanted” but emphasized that his work be " re-invented" in the context in which particular groups were struggling for freedom. President Chavez emphasized this point as well. Critical pedagogy emerging out of Venezuela will be Venezolano. It’s a crucial time that critical educators worldwide speak out to defend the Bolivarian Revolution and its critical educators.
Peter McLaren is Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, College of Educational Studies, Chapman University. He is also Honorary President of Instituto McLaren de Pedagogia Critica, Mexico and Honorary Chair Professor, Northeast Normal University, China.