An Affective Picture of Chavismo (VIII): The Non-Place of Politics

Venezuelan writer and theorist Reinaldo Iturriza writes on the need to reinvent political discourse and practice in order to overcome “foolish politics.”

By Reinaldo Iturriza - Saber y Poder
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Clowns and foolish politics (Archive)
Clowns and foolish politics (Archive)

Imagine young people around twenty years old who are starting their university studies. They are intelligent, sensible. Not only do they believe in their country, but their soul also hurts with what is going on and, rather than leaving, they want to do something about it. They are studying to solve their material needs, of course. They want to have a good job, support their parents, fall in love, party, travel, start a home, but all that is not enough. Their blood boils with every injustice. They want to make a difference, join some collective endeavor.

Thereupon, the young persons in question identify their closest political references, probably among their classmates. It is impossible to identify with anti-Chavismo in its methods, its race and class prejudices, in its contempt for anything popular. These young folks may come from the barrio or not, perhaps their families belong to popular middle classes. Their primary and high school happened in public schools. Many of their friends, including some of the closest ones, are of humble origins, went to great lengths to study, some even had to work in order to be able to afford to study or to lend a hand at home. The reality of popular sectors is not foreign. They know of their dreams and frustrations, their triumphs and failures. If they are going to do something, they would rather do it with people who belong to their world. Among them, among the people without privileges, they feel at home.

They then turn to see their Chavista classmates. In general mediocre, undisciplined, arrogant. Their class interventions are much like a poorly elaborated pamphlet: they offer nothing new, their discourse is worn-out, repetitive, vacuous. The clothes they wear, the phones they carry, do not match their class origins. It looks like their life has been sorted out. Between what they preach and their daily practice there is an unbridgeable gap. It is impossible, therefore, to identify with the closest references of Chavismo.

So where do these young people turn to do politics? Surrounded by intolerant elitists and accommodated pamphleteers, they seem destined to occupy a non-place in politics. Beyond expressing a profound rejection, they are unable to establish a relationship with the two poles of foolish politics.

This is not a mere thought exercise: such a picture is a result of stories and impressions discussed with university professors and students. All of them Chavista, or at least not identified with anti-Chavismo.

Similar situations take place throughout Venezuela, in workplaces, in many communities near and far. Human groups or entire populations at the mercy of indolent, pusillanimous bureaucrats or politicians, who pretend to fight for a better destiny for the country while they instead fight to take over spaces of power and business opportunities.

For a while now real politics, politics of the genuine kind, no longer go through spaces controlled by foolish politics. The issue here is that the latter wants the monopoly of politics to the detriment of the majority of the country, including of course most of Chavismo’s social base and, I assume, of anti-Chavismo’s as well.

Future politics, which will emerge from the ultimate defeat of foolish politics, will be built, at least in part, by what those who today occupy this non-place in politics are able to do. That is the historical mission that destiny reserves for them, as grandiloquent as this statement may sound. Their task is embracing an urgent reinvention, reformulating political discourse and practice, creating something new.

For a long time, anti-Chavismo has tried to push ahead, connecting with popular discontent, not with the goal of creating anything at all, but of prevailing. This is one of the dangers we need to identify: those who have no other way of doing politics but reproducing the logic of foolish politics will try to present themselves as a new, digestible, healthy alternative.

The worst of anti-Chavismo tried to take advantage when they created the term “enchufado” [someone who takes advantage of connections]. The term was introduced by Henrique Capriles’ team during the 2013 presidential campaign.

Supposedly directed against public employees, the term targeted not just social missions but also popular organization in communities, which are pillars of the Bolivarian Revolution. A regrettably famous TV ad run during that electoral campaign directed its attacks, in particular, against the educational missions and the great housing mission. Those who spoke were women from the barrios. Very conveniently, the one who used the term “enchufado” was the woman dressed in a red shirt. Anyone who knows anything about Venezuelan politics knows that social missions would be unthinkable without popular organization.

The underlying message of Capriles’ campaign team was the following: the missions are no more than opportunities for cheating, for those who have “buddies,” “old-time friends” who are “enchufados,” to take advantage. As a result, organizing is not worth it. It was not, I insist, a message against public employees. It was a message of discouragement, looking to generate political impotence, cynicism... so we would stop believing in the power of popular organization.

A campaign is effective politically when it manages, even if partially, to colonize thought, which is then reflected in the language we use to name things. And this campaign was effective: nowadays the term is used by many Chavistas and, not coincidentally, by many of those who no longer identify with Chavismo. What do you call those preachy, accommodated Chavista students? Well, “enchufados.” It is almost obvious.

The issue with the language we use is that not only are we naming things, we are also interpreting them. Once our thoughts are colonized by the language used by the most outrageous anti-Chavismo, we can only interpret the world in a cynical, discouraged way, from a deep mistrust in our own ability to transform it.

By definition, Chavismo is better prepared to lead the necessary exercise of political reinvention. It has its historical origins in a gigantic desire for change, which was driven essentially by the popular classes. It needs to remain faithful to those roots. But for that it needs to be willing to interact fluidly with those who nowadays occupy this non-place in politics. Without ignoring its roots and its enormous trajectory, it should look to it for clues to solve the mystery of its woes, settling accounts with foolish politics. A few years ago I called this process “re-polarization.”

Maybe foolish politics itself is one of those clues. That is why I make the point of naming it. So that it stops pretending to be what it is not, and so that politics become what the popular majority thinks, feels and desires.

This is the eighth installment of a series of texts by Venezuelan writer and theorist Reinaldo Iturriza. Follow the links for the previous texts: part I, part II, part III, part IV, part VI, part VII.

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.