HARDLY a week goes by these days without a new book on Venezuela being published, it seems.
While this is a good thing – a couple of years ago most
English-speaking progressives hadn't even heard of President Chavez and
the Bolivarian revolution – there is more danger of repetition.
Fortunately, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power is jam-packed with
new and original information, much of which has only been available in
Spanish until now. The title is a dig at the anarcho-marxist bible
Change the World Without Taking Power by John Holloway, whose theories
are severely challenged by even the existence of Venezuela's Bolivarian
Greg Wilpert has been editing the independent solidarity-orientated
news source VenezuelAnalysis.com since its launch over four years ago
and is well used to communicating the reality of the revolution from
the ground. Although he's clearly sympathetic with the government's
aims, he presents all the different political positions fairly and with
The bulk of the book looks at the Chavez government's policies,
specifically its economic, social, governance and foreign policies.
Wilpert explores the key aims and objectives, points out the pitfalls
and examines in depth how successful the results have been.
Alongside this is an historical analysis which gives a fresh and
sometimes personal perspective to the events inside parliament and on
the streets. Venezuela is a country rich in both resources and
contradictions, which is reflected by the government's radicalisation
in response to the ongoing counter-revolution.
Chavez's base of support has shifted from the predominantly
middle-class vote which elected him in 1998 to the largely
working-class backing that he enjoys today. There are several reasons
for this, from the relentless propaganda campaign against him and his
supporters to the government's initial urgent priority of raising
living standards for people in absolute poverty by retaking control of
the country's oil and using the military to deliver social programmes.
The major message is that of empowering the population, whether
through communal councils, co-operatives, comprehensive education or
the new constitution.
The chapter on opportunities, obstacles and prospects summarises
Venezuela's journey on the road to "21st-century socialism" before
carefully describing the current balance of forces. Wilpert warns that
the Bolivarian movement's internal and external obstacles may overwhelm
the opportunities and he proposes a new agenda of attack against the
bureaucratic and corrupt practices of the past.
Paradoxically, Chavez is both the movement's greatest strength and
weakness. Although he has united the left, his central role as maximum
leader inhibits true bottom-up participatory power.
The epilogue bring everything up to date, with rare and valuable
analysis of the major political developments since the December 2006
presidential election. These include constitutional reform, the new
Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela and the replacement of
coup-plotting television channel RCTV with experimental socialist
Like his website, Wilpert's book is a great place to get informed
quickly and it should be required reading for anyone interested in
either solidarity or socialism today.