Reinaldo Iturriza: Chavismo and Its Singularities

Well-known Venezuelan writer and theorist, Reinaldo Iturriza, addresses some of the key challenges that Chavismo is facing today in this Venezuelanalysis interview.

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Reinaldo Iturriza. (Nelson González Leal)
Reinaldo Iturriza. (Nelson González Leal)
By Reinaldo Iturriza and Cira Pascual Marquina – Venezuelanalysis
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Reinaldo Iturriza has engaged with the Chavista project in a wide range of roles, from participation to critical and creative reflection. He is a blogger acclaimed by Hugo Chávez, the author of the book El chavismo salvaje (Wild Chavismo) and former Minister of the Communes and of Culture. At present, Iturriza is completing a book called Caribes while working in the National Center of History and as a communal agricultural worker in Lara state. In this interview for Venezuelanalysis, he addresses some of the most difficult questions facing Chavismo today. These include the dialectic between internal democracy and leadership in the PSUV party, the rural comuneros that are facing off with the regional oligarchy and its allies in the government, and the perception of Chavismo internationally.

Hegemonic historiography interprets history as developing linearly, implicitly looking for continuities. By contrast, your reading of the Chavista phenomenon points to singularities and ruptures. Can you explain this to us?

This is indeed a key point. Conservative historiography makes an enormous effort to demonstrate Chavismo’s kinship with the most “backward” elements of Venezuela’s political tradition. Internationally, there has certainly been an attempt to dispel the phenomenon by relating it to the “populism” said to be characteristic, once more, of “backward” countries. It focuses attention on the figure of the leader and relegates the popular classes to the background. Tacitly, the latter are considered incapable of political activity and the same goes for our countries too, which are presented as predisposed toward disorder, irrationality and violence. How often one hears this kind of opinion! However, the uniqueness of Chavismo consists, among other things, precisely in popular protagonism. Chavismo is the result of an extraordinary process of forming a political subject that has its origin in the 1990s, due to a set of historical circumstances. Moreover, Chávez’s leadership is itself inconceivable without that popular upsurge. Chávez is a purely popular construct: the result of a process and not the other way around. His leadership has to do with his resonance with the people, his translating the desires and aspirations of the popular subject.

Then, of course, it is surely possible to point to relations of continuity with the political culture Acción Democrática [a right-wing political party that ruled alongside COPEI for many decades as part of the so-called Punto Fijo Pact]. This culture was clientelist, based on the logic of representation, and relegated the popular classes to a subordinate role, allowing “participation” only through traditional political forms (parties, unions, etc.), and privileging corporativism. The most conservative tendencies in Chavismo feel very comfortable reproducing these same practices, but, again, that is not what defines the nature of Chavismo. What is new in Chavismo is precisely everything that breaks with the old culture, giving birth to a new one: the Chavista subject is essentially Venezuela’s majority population, that has historically been invisible, marginalized, which feels a deep distrust of traditional forms of organization, and which wagers on the logic of direct participation and spaces of self-government. Ignoring this leads to all kinds of errors regarding the Bolivarian Revolution.

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Direct, participative democracy in action. (La Tinta)
Direct, participative democracy in action. (La Tinta)

The IV PSUV Congress (July 28‐30) concluded recently and the debates were intense, even difficult at times. The most trying debate focused on the topic of internal democracy in the party, which has millions of members. One PSUV tendency proposed proclaiming Nicolas Maduro as president of the party and also argued that (given the difficult conditions generated by imperialist aggression) he should personally select the PSUV’s national leadership. Another tendency wanted the party’s national leadership to be elected by the bases while maintaining Maduro as party president. The first proposal held the day. Thinking creatively about the present and the past, what type of party do you think is needed to build socialism in the twenty-first century? Obviously, the question of democracy (and debate among equals) is key, but it is also important that communal projects should have autonomy.

First of all, I consider it correct that the IV PSUV Congress decided to ratify Nicolás Maduro as party president. Chavismo’s unity turns on recognizing the President’s leadership, not the other way around. Second, it’s urgent to renew the party's national leadership. The best way to do it would have been to appeal to the party’s bases, to cast one’s lot with the bases. I do not agree at all with the idea that more democracy generates disunity. It is a fallacious argument. Too often, the Chavista political class decides not to pay attention to the popular masses’ deep discontent with the political class in general, Chavista and anti‐Chavista, considering them to be disconnected from reality, without real knowledge of the problems that the population has to face every day. There is a very severe crisis of political mediation, between the party direction and its bases, that must be faced with courage and audacity. Among other things, a party of twenty-first-century socialism must be one that is willing to do so. We have already had too many mid- and high-ranking politicians who ask the people to make sacrifices that they themselves are not willing to make. Instead, they take advantage of the positions they occupy to obtain benefits, perks, and privileges.

Today it seems as if the rural areas are where the struggle against the despotism of capital (and a part of the bureaucracy) is most active. Examples of such struggles include El Maizal commune [in Lara state] , the resistance in the Sur de Lago [in Zulia state] and the Admirable Campesino March: the protesting peasant farmers who recently walked from interior regions to the capital to make themselves heard. Why do you think that the rural areas are now the most active and mobilized regions in this political process that, until recently, was focused on urban zones, especially in the poor barrios?

In each of the foci of rural struggle, organized popular-class movements are confronting the regional oligarchy and powers-that-be, who undoubtedly think that they are in a position to “restore” their power in the countryside. The popular movements are also confronting the aberrant alliance of a part of the state forces (bureaucrats, police, military personnel, judges, etc.) with these same regional power groups. It is simply unacceptable that this alliance should take place in a situation where, in fact, we are called upon to dedicate all our efforts on using arable land and must give all the support needed to the real subject of revolutionary politics (peasants and comuneros, small and medium producers). For it is among the latter that the revolutionary government continues to operate and hold sway.

In fact, what would really be strange is if the rural situation today did not generate a popular response! The meeting of the peasants and comuneros with the President, and particularly everything they said during the time they had the opportunity to speak (in a national television broadcast), is one of the most important political events of recent times. I believe one could say that the majority of the country felt represented in their words: in their criticisms and demands. What we heard there is the same political clarity found in the people of El Maizal and other communes, in the people in Sur del Lago, and in general in all those who are aware that, in order to overcome this historical crisis, we will have to be able to produce what we eat.

In the international context, some sectors of the the Left say that they are neither with Chavismo nor with its enemies, neither with imperialism nor the Bolivarian government. In truth, that is a false dilemma, since there is a third option: grassroots Chavismo. The latter is of course closer to the government, or at least is willing to form a front with the government to face down imperialism (at the same time as it expresses sometimes quite strong differences with the ruling bloc).

It seems to me that this is the typical position of those who idealize power relations. Despite all the disagreements one might have with the government, it is absolutely clear that anti-Chavismo is simply not an option. Those sectors of the Left, which you just mentioned, like to flaunt their right not to choose. But when you live in a society like ours, where we are trying to carry out a revolution -- with both its wonders and its failures -- and in which it is not an option to be governed by the criminals who ruled in the past (the same people who are recurring to absolutely all forms of struggle to defeat us, including assassination), then that “neither-nor” position looks a lot like imposture: ”My position is not to take a position.” Frankly, however, one can go light on such people. They will understand, when they do their own revolution. When imperialism tries to suffocate them, they will come to understand that the only option is to breathe.