An Affective Picture of Chavismo (VII): Indomitable

Reinaldo Iturriza continues his reflections on Chavismo, this time examining how it went above and beyond the traditional spaces of leftist militancy.

By Reinaldo Iturriza - Saber y Poder
Short URL

all-power-to-the-soviets.-the-meeting.jpg

"All power to the Soviets. The meeting" - painting by Pyotr Antonovich Yablonovsky.
"All power to the Soviets. The meeting" - painting by Pyotr Antonovich Yablonovsky.

“The solution is beyond the left, it is where we can find the mobilizable social forces to break with the terrifying future of a country after decades ruined with clear culprits” [1].

These words were written in 1980 by Alfredo Maneiro, a very important historical referent for the Venezuelan left, with whom Chávez had the opportunity to speak to several times in the late 1970s, when he was just beginning his military career.

The solution began to take shape in the following decade, with the historical emergence of Chavismo, a political subject which, with Chávez at the helm, managed to constitute itself into a powerful popular and national collective will that transcended, by and large, the spaces of political militancy of the left, even if the left did have a notable role from the beginning, assuming the leadership of different levels of the movement.

It would be completely absurd to deny the decisive influence of the militant left on Chavismo. But it is also worth recognizing that much of the latter’s audacity is directly related to the very particular process of politicization it experienced, which allowed it to engage in the political struggle without the burden of the old leftist political culture, its traits of authoritarianism, dogmatism, sectarianism and strategic short-sightedness, building an arsenal of ideas that had little to do with the narrowness of political manuals, and a lot with the issues of the actual country, [building on] historical figures who, rescued by Chavismo, would recover a relevance and centrality almost without precedent.

From the hand of [independence hero] Simón Bolívar, [Bolívar’s mentor] Simón Rodríguez and [19th century revolutionary campesino leader] Ezequiel Zamora, without denying other historical, political and theoretical references, and setting participatory and protagonist democracy as the horizon, Chavismo set out to conquer political power. But first it won over the souls of the popular majority, which were now mobilized to defeat those identified as responsible for the national tragedy, and to avert the terrifying future Maneiro talked about once and for all.

Chavismo always positioned itself beyond the left, and if at one point it proposed the construction of something called “21st Century Socialism,” it is not because it decided to retreat, but rather because it felt the historical conditions to propose a reinvention of the revolutionary left had been generated, settling accounts with the experiences that Daniel Bensaid called the real existing socialisms.

If we want to take stock of this reinvention attempt, the starting point needs to be an assessment of this singular relation between the left and Chavismo. Even if, for some reason, a different starting point was chosen, any such exercise would have to go through this.

Keeping a distance from Chavismo out of leftist positions is a shortcut that leads nowhere, although it can also lead us to a situation that is very similar to the one Maneiro referred to: proud of our leftist political affiliation, but far, far away from solving our problems.

Chávez referred on several occasions to a phrase he once heard from some old leftist militants: “We may be few, but we are indomitable.” The circumstances went more or less like this: the old militants had the task of undertaking work among the masses to amplify the social base of the movement. After a while they had to present their results. They described the multiple obstacles they found, perhaps mistrust from the people, their being associated to the old establishment parties, their vices and limitations. Not with resignation, but rather as a consolation and an undisguised pride, they concluded their report with that verdict: “We are few, but indomitable.”

The problem, of course, is that revolutions are not carried out by a few indomitables. “No, no, we cannot be few, we have to be many” [2], Chávez said on another occasion. And in order to achieve it, one must understand that the militant is not the beginning nor the end of revolutionary politics: “In other words, you, me and five other enlightened ones are going to come up with these new morals and have it clear before going and organizing the people, or are we going to get those new morals down there amidst the people? […] Doesn’t your revolution depend on the collective’s revolution? Isn’t it rather a consequence and not a cause? […] I believe so, and when I came out prison I said: I’m going down to the people’s catacombs. Because this is not about Hugo Chávez’s morals […] I’m going down there, excrement will fall on me, flies will chase me, a snake will bite me, yes, but I prefer that to having my flawless morals up on the mountain, talking to the sun and a rock […]. Because even the definition of these morals depends on the blend of excrement and blood, purity and impurity of a collective that is down there” [3].

Now that the Bolivarian Revolution is going through a tough historical phase, and the identification of popular classes with Chavismo begins to weaken, many of us choose to react like those old and honorable comrades, who may never be accused of selling out, and believe that the most dignified option is to reaffirm our indomitability.

It is not a problem. A few of us will remain, the indomitable ones. However many you are, whenever you want, we will be ready.

Moreover, from our indomitability we even point the finger at those who mean to question the Bolivarian Revolution from leftist positions, accusing them of not understanding the popular soul, something which, it must be said, is often true. But it is an uphill battle to recognize in our own indomitability one of the main characteristics of the old leftist political culture: sectarianism.

I may be wrong, but I dare suggest that there is a Chavista indomitability that can be distinguished from the typical indomitability of a lefist militant. In my particular case, as a leftist and a Chavista, I do not always have it clear whether I am assuming one attitude or the other. A thin line separates them.

Of the first one there are many examples: tales that defy belief of what many people had to do to vote on July 30, 2017, when we elected the National Constituent Assembly. The woman who, on February 23, 2019, in San Antonio (Tachira State), explained with tears in her eyes why she had rushed to Simón Bolívar bridge – to stop a foreign force, egged on and accompanied by vassals, from violating national sovereignty, bringing the poorly named “humanitarian aid” across the border.

In these episodes, as in many others, there is an unbreakable desire to continue being free, to solve our issues among us, democratically, putting our own life on the line, a will that is expressed out on the streets, alongside others, no matter the risk, or averting multiple dangers in order to precisely join, meet, gather with the millions that share that very same will.

By contrast, the left’s indomitability is more of an issue of self-referential niches, of small (often paranoid) groups, more associated with conspiracy theories than with doing work on the streets. Boastful, it struggles to place itself in the other’s shoes because, naturally, the left is the only one with the correct position, saying everything that needs saying, thinking and acting on its own, and even less so with people who expose its difficulties, fears and shortcomings.

The problem is that with this attitude you cannot build a majority. With all the reason in the world, and no matter how painful it could be to us, the political masses do not find their political and ethical references among us, the indomitable leftists. Rather, it is we who faced an opportunity that is hardly repeatable, when a revolutionary leadership was able to empathize with the popular misery and greatness, and bring about an extraordinary political force out of that dialogue. At the time, we indomitable leftists joyfully joined the task of building a revolution we could not have led even in our dreams.

We are missing a lot of the militant humbleness with which the people became Chavista. We lack a willingness to learn everything that the indomitably Chavista people can teach us.

Notes

[1] Alfredo Maneiro. “Más allá de la izquierda es donde está la solución”, en: Escritos de filosofía y política. Fondo Editorial ALEM. Los Teques, Venezuela. 1997. Pág. 306.

[2] Hugo Chávez. Conversation with delegates during the XVI World Youth and Student Festival, August 13, 2005.

[3] Agustín Blanco Muñoz. Habla el Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías. Cátedra Pío Tamayo, CEHA/IIES/FACES/UCV. Caracas, Venezuela. 1998. Págs. 441-442.

This is the seventh installment of a series of texts by Venezuelan writer and theorist Reinaldo Iturriza. Follow the links for the previous texts: part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV, part VI.

Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.