Grass-roots Chávismo Awakes

Those of us who are activists in the Bolivarian revolution were getting used to winning; and as we were always faced with the task of beating the adversary, we postponed the struggle within the movement, as if Chávismo were one and indivisible, headed by an infallible leader.

I’ve been reading John Reed’s wonderful book, Ten Days
That Shook The World, about the Russian revolution. Writing in July
1917, Reed refers to the Bolsheviks as being still only ‘a small
political sect’. I couldn’t but smile when I read the footnote the
book’s publishers had added to this description: ‘Reed uses the word
“sect” wanting to underscore that immediately after the March 1917
Democratic-Bourgeois Revolution, the Bolshevik Party, which had just
come out of hiding, was still relatively small.’

Despite this clarification, the truth is that the
Bolsheviks were just that: a sect, a small group of revolutionaries,
who through the strength of their audacity and tenacity would change
the history of humanity. The important issue lies in that they would
have to do it sooner rather than later: only three months later, in
October. How was this possible? This is where Reed’s book’s historic
value comes to the fore. This may serve as a taster: ‘In July they were
harassed and spurned; in September the workers in the capital, the
marines of the Baltic Fleet and the soldiers had in their majority
embraced their cause.’

Today, despite the best attempts of many throughout the
decades, no one can convince us that the Bolsheviks were predestined to
lead the Russian revolution. It is clear that in revolutions,
vanguards, leaders and movements play a role. But so does uncertainty,
chance and surprise. In fact, leaders are tested precisely at these
times when indecision and perplexity reign. That’s why it is said that
revolutionary countries always ‘sense’ the moment to act and how.

Nothing is written

Those of us who are activists in the Bolivarian revolution have
been wasting our time if at this stage we are not able to understand
that nothing is written. We were getting used to winning; and as we
were always faced with the task of beating the adversary, we postponed
the struggle within the movement, as if Chávismo were one and
indivisible, headed by an infallible leader.

The constitutional reform referendum defeat on 2
December, which I’ll now refer to as ‘2D’, has taken our side by
surprise. We could obviously evaluate and determine what the main
causes of this defeat were. But the result, without a doubt, has
surprised us all: Chávismo was always sure of victory, even when it
thought it would be tight.

The challenge we now therefore have within the
Bolivarian camp, within the government, that Chávez himself has, but
most importantly that we have within democratic, revolutionary,
grassroots Chávismo, is to know how to deal with this surprise. That is
precisely what the political moment that opened up following 2D
consists of.

Of course revolutionary leadership does not depend
exclusively on the capacity to act with audacity and aptitude in the
face of chance and surprise. On the contrary, it depends on the ability
to become the advocate and defender of demands from the grassroots.

John Reed himself recounts that the efficacy of the
policy that the Bolsheviks implemented in the weeks preceding the
October revolution lay in the way that ‘they took the simple and vague
desires of the workers, soldiers and peasants, and with this built
their immediate programme’ – all power to the soviets, peace on all
fronts, land for the peasants, worker control in industry.

The people’s reform

On 3 December 2006, following the annmouncement of his
comprehensive victory in the presidential elections, Chávez addressed
those gathered at the Miraflores presidential palace: ‘Today is a
starting point, today … a new era begins … [It] will have as its
central aim … as its central strategic line, the deepening, the
widening and the expansion of the Bolivarian revolution, of
revolutionary democracy, in the Venezuelan path to socialism.’

A few minutes earlier he had said: ‘You have re-elected
yourselves; the people are in control. I will always lead obeying the
Venezuelan people.’ Chávez also made a call to increase the battle
‘against the bureaucratic counter-revolution and against corruption,
old vices which have always threatened the republic.’ We were all
convinced we had achieved a new and resounding ‘people’s’ victory.

On 17 January 2007, as he swore in the members of the
presidential commission for constitutional reform, Chávez reminded
people that, as stipulated in the Bolivian constitution, three entities
are allowed to propose a constitutional reform: the president, the
national assembly and the people. Chávez said he had opted for the
first convinced that he was ‘interpreting and collecting the feeling of
the majorities’.

Seven months later, on 15 August 2007, in his speech
presenting the constitutional reform proposal to the national assembly,
Chávez expressed himself in very similar terms: ‘The reform belongs to
the people, it doesn’t belong to Chávez. I am sure that our people will
embrace it; everything I am going to say is said with the Venezuelan
people and their most sacred interests in mind, and thinking of our
revolution and its strengthening.’

If anything has been made clear by 2D it is that what
could effectively have been ‘the reform of the people’ was in reality
Chávez’s reform. It is true that during his speech on 15 August Chávez
reiterated the need to initiate the ‘great debate on the Bolivarian
reform’. It is equally true that the national assembly was far from
being the catalysing space for this debate. The PSUV [United Socialist
Party of Venezuela] wasn’t either. The PSUV’s ‘battalion assemblies’
were conceived as instruments to disseminate and defend the reform
proposal, but at no point as a space where the reform could be
criticised, corrected or supplemented.

Nevertheless, the key to the 2D defeat lies in the fact
that a basic rule of revolutionary politics was missing: ‘It is the
people who rule.’ That same people, who in Chávez’s words, were
re-elected in December 2006; the same people he swore he would obey
while leading. These people were not called on to participate in the
creation of the reform proposal. This is why a considerable sector of
Chávismo never made Chávez’s proposal their own. And this is why
another important sector opted only to critically support the proposal.

Grass-roots Chávismo

There has been much debate, both before and after 2D, about the
reform’s content. Some of us pointed out that one of the problematic
aspects of Chávez’s proposal was the concentration of powers in the
figure of the president. Indeed, the idea of the infallible leader is
one that has been promoted by the right wing of Chávismo, a right wing
that could eventually opt to get rid of Chávez himself once its main
objective – to isolate democratic and revolutionary grass-roots
Chávismo – has been achieved. At the same time, though, many of us
opted to support a proposal that had enough in its content to turn it
into a programme for grass-roots struggles.

Nevertheless, this debate should not distract us from
the most important point: if the reform proposal had been the product
of grass-roots participation and protagonism, there is no doubt that
the content would have been different, much closer to the demands and
desires of revolutionary grass-roots Chávismo. Had this occurred, the
result of 2D would undoubtedly have been favourable for those of us who
struggle for the democratic radicalisation of the Bolivarian process.

Today there is talk of relaunching the reform proposal,
not from the presidency but from the grassroots or the national
assembly. And the convening of a constituent national assembly has not
been discounted. Given the national assembly’s lack of legitimacy and
popular support, there would, in principle, seem to be two
alternatives: reform by grass-roots initiative or via a constituent

Whichever route is followed, it is clear that if we
repeat the same exclusionary logic that bypassed the grassroots last
time, any future proposal could suffer similar resistance. If we insist
on promoting the same reform proposal through a flawed ‘grass-roots
initiative’, we could be making a tactical error of incalculable

But these tactical considerations are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Underneath is a giant that lay dormant under the
troubled waters of 2D: grass-roots Chávismo, the only guarantee of the
revolutionary deepening of the Bolivarian process. 2D found us
dispersed, such as we had not been in many years. But from the very
morning of 3 December the multitude that makes up grass-roots Chávismo
has been the protagonist of an effervescent process of deliberation
that the most conservative sectors of Chávismo will find very hard to
silence. The sleeping giant has awoken and before it lies the
opportunity to become more than just a ‘small political sect’. John
Reed dixit.

Source: Red Pepper