The Debate over the Historical Role of the 4 February 1992 Coup Attempt

To mark the 20th anniversary of Chavez’s 4 February 1992 coup attempt, Venezuelanalysis.com has translated two articles; one by Chavez himself, and the second by a Venezuelan Communist, which have quite different interpretations of its historical importance. They in turn bring out distinct analyses of the role of Chavez, the military, and the revolutionary vanguard in the Bolivarian revolution.


To mark the 20th anniversary of Chavez’s 4 February 1992 coup attempt, Venezuelanalysis.com has translated two articles; one by Chavez himself, and the second by a Venezuelan Communist, which have quite different interpretations of its historical importance. They in turn bring out distinct analyses of the role of Chavez, the military, and the revolutionary vanguard in the Bolivarian revolution.

The first article argues that the 4 February coup was disconnected from the “masses” and any kind of “revolutionary vanguard” was lacking at the time, while the second is a speech president Hugo Chavez gave last year on 4 February, which also examines what was happening with the people, the military, the vanguard, and consciousness at the time, and the implications of that.

Readers can also read more about the 4 February coup and related issues in the links provided at the bottom.

Article 1: The Great Coup Attempt of 4 February 1992, Popular or Not? – Juan Manuel Sivira

In order to understand processes in general as well as social-historic processes in particular it’s necessary to delve into the causes, into the motives that determined or gave rise to such processes. If we don’t do that, we lose ourselves in appearances, in illusions; we are at the mercy of subjectivity. Basically, we separate ourselves from reality. A reality that can only be understood and established by the full carrying out of dialectics, of historical materialism.

Venezuelan society, as logically occurs in all class societies, found itself, during the events of 4 February [1992]– and still today- immersed in struggle, in class struggle. Only the struggle overlapped between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the struggle between those who don’t produce and those who do.

While the parasitic bourgeoisie and its lackeys fought to perpetuate their spurious class interests and maintain the old relationships of capitalist power, the working and exploited masses, although in a spontaneous way and without any particular direction, fought. Not to bring down the old power relations (which were against their interests and what they are called on to destroy), because their lack of revolutionary consciousness stopped them seeing it like that, but rather because of centuries of rage, they struggled, with the precarious means that were available to them, they made small and certainly insufficient efforts to overthrow the established order.

And all of that is because they weren’t counting on a revolutionary vanguard to educate them and guide them towards the taking of power. What’s the lesson in all of this? That the masses, even when they still hadn’t developed revolutionary consciousness, were, at the time, above their “leaders”. That despite their precarious ideological level, they sensed what the “revolutionary leaders” didn’t even “know”, nor could show them: that the struggle, which in which violence is the highest form of its expression, is the only possible means of liberation.

But the struggle can’t ever be fought as a cause but rather as a consequence of, fundamentally, exploitation and the plundering committed by the cocky capitalists against the working masses.

But, is there any other way to liberate oneself? As our teacher Marx put forward, the class struggle is the motor of history, and it inevitably takes us towards the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or is there someone who thinks that things could operate in another way? That the destruction or abolition of capitalist society can be done peacefully, without a tough struggle, as the “leftwing” intellectuals, the apologists for the Bolivarian “revolution”, and its leader, Chavez, would have it?

4 February 1992

What really happened on 4 February? Did that feat express a real possibility of national liberation, the possibility that the exploited people free themselves of their executioners, the capitalist beasts, destroying the old capitalist state? Or was it more like a tantrum, the means through which an alarmist group [the Spanish word the writer has used is ‘tremendista’, without a precise translation but roughly meaning alarmist, or dramatic] , through a desperate action, made a splash with their military talents in order to get a bit of fame?

Let’s remember that focalism [Foquismo, a theory inspired by Che Guevara and developed by Regis Debray] consists in the armed organisation of small isolated groups, “foci” which (according to a Blanquist perspective) combat “in the name of the working class” the reigning oppression. They manage to do it without the participation of said class, they act on the margin of it. Because they think they are above it. This ideological misplacement should never be used for revolutionary action. It is more of a desperate measure for “super men” with vague consciousness.

What did our focalist alarmists want to propagate or avoid with such an action, an action that failed? Chavez himself has, on various occasions, revealed that that feat didn’t have any chance of being successful… So, why did they go face down and put our alarmist friends at such risk? Why didn’t they start off dedicating themselves to forming, together with the most advanced and revolutionary sectors of society, a revolutionary vanguard that would educate the exploited and working masses and guide them towards the conquest of power. Why did they prefer to instead through themselves into the fire, putting the people to the side?

No one (in their right mind) could deny that from 1989 (the year of the Caracazo) the real possibility of setting up the social revolution in Venezuela was already an imminent fact, given that the objective conditions were there (or maturing) for its outbreak. Capitalist rottenness  was weakening all over the place, it had been exposed to the people. And so what happened then? Why wasn’t the revolution perpetuated? Because the subjective conditions (that is, the revolutionary consciousness of the working class) though experiencing a certain amount of aggravation, hadn’t matured. The working masses as a whole could see the existing contradiction between their interests and those of the capitalist exploiters, but they couldn’t se, and much less understand, the existing contradiction between their interests and the system. Capitalist society found itself in a state of total unevenness in relation to said objective conditions- the rotten capitalist. Nor had a revolutionary vanguard capable of guiding them to the conquering of power been formed. In such conditions it was impossible to set up any revolution.

All that was understood well by the vulgar Venezuelan oligarchy, who, with the diagnosis ready and full class consciousness, activated their plan to avoid, at all cost, that new insurgent outbreaks brewed. This rancid oligarchy knew that a process of legal reforms would feed into the people’s constitutionalist illusions, drain their rage (for a while) and divert them from the revolutionary course- impede the revolution. But this oligarchy also knew that this plan required adequate tactics and strategies to be able to be successful: actors which (without attacking the status quo, the current capitalist order, power and production relations which the oligarchy reigned over) were able to wake up the lost hope in the people.

That was how Hugo Chavez rose up, who, giving a “revolutionary” discourse, and preceded by the fame he obtained on that 4th of February, revived a lost hope in the people. That’s how the ideal man came about to put forward, in the name of the reactionary oligarchy, such reforms. Though the exploited masses still don’t see it like that. The one man who swears up and down that through the purest legal and constitutional reforms, we’ll get to socialism. Mr Chavez, capitalist exploitation doesn’t have a legal character, but an economic one.  While you don’t understand that, you will be a slave of constitutional illusions.

There is no constitution or law that is capable of abolishing beastly capitalist exploitation. To abolish it, it is necessary to have a social revolution. And only the working and exploited masses can carry it out, guided by a revolutionary authentic vanguard, which should educated them according to a socialist/ethic perspective. Only like that will they be able to conquer power and be on the way to the construction of a socialist state, before that, don’t even think about it!

To top it all off, the previously cited date (4 February 1992) has been taken, by the apologists of the Bolivarian “revolution” to abundantly praise the Venezuelan armed forces, to sublimate them. But how does one praise those who act like Cerbero [doorman or goalkeeper] of bourgeoise interests, 99% of the time? Let’s remember that, at that time, it was just a tiny group that went in the face of fire to interrupt the regular chain of events. But because of this “act of goodness” carried out, I repeat, by a small group, and that only lasted one day, they want the whole army to pass for revolutionary. That same army that in an uninterrupted way (except for 12 and 13 of April 2002) has put itself in charge of protecting the status quo and bourgeoisie relations of exploitation. [This is] instead of renouncing its old symbols and its old state in order to subordinate itself to the cause of the exploited people and to prepare with them, the destruction of the capitalist state apparatus.

History and practice have confirmed over and over again that only an armed people – armed ideologically and militarily- can carry out a real revolution. Isolated individuals with vague consciousness and built up as super heroes can only deviate the people from the revolutionary cause, as usually happens these days. That’ we should always be aware of the dialectic relation between need and coincidence regarding the role of the popular masses and that of the leader in history. While the subjective elevation of these popular masses constitutes a historical, fundamental and definitive need for the taking of power and the construction of the socialist state afterwards, the role of the leader in change- without diminishing the importance that there are leaders who are resolute at the time of taking on the cause of the people – should be by chance.

That it’s this or that leader who is at the front of a specific historic event isn’t decisive for altering the course of history. Such events can hold up or accelerate it (always in direct concordance with the inertia that these leaders are experiencing or the strength with which they face such events) but never will they be able to, I repeat, alter its course. In that sense, the people can only take power when guided by a truly revolutionary vanguard, supplied with revolutionary theory.

In the events of February 4, such a vanguard was absent. So was the conscious participation of the people, which categorically denies that the action had any popular [grassroots] character. It was clearly an unpopular action, and furthermore, focalist!

Source: Rebelion

Article 2:  A People without a Conscious and Committed Vanguard Tends to Get Lost – Hugo Chavez


Those who die for life can’t be called dead. The army and I would like to highlight this idea, 19 years after that patriotic day, a day that we should really call ‘the Revolution of 4 February’. It was in the national army where that effort was born and that is very important.

Yesterday I was reading, as I do almost every day, the column that an old comrade, Toby Valderrama, publishes in Diario Vea, called A Grain of Corn. He has a very interesting focus there, as I interpret it. He clearly establishes the differences that there were and that there are between that huge rebellion on the 27 and 28 February [1989] – the Caracazo, and the revolution of 4 February [1992] for history, for the lessons that history has for us.

Nobody planned the Caracazo, it exploded spontaneously, but there was no leadership, no political project, the people didn’t go towards the centre of power but rather they were dispersed, they were massacred.

The 4 February, on the other hand, was part of a thought about project, planned for years. How many meetings did we have in Valencia. Near here [Translator: Chavez is giving his speech in Carabobo state, of which Valencia is the capital] is the race track, I know that racetrack very well, that’s where we met many times…I’m talking about the time around 1978. The first cells of what would later form the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement 200 (MBR) already existed. Adan, my brother, today governor, well I remember that he came to Maracay many times, he was already a teacher at the Los Andes University (ULA) and he was in a group of the Rupture Movement, and I would go to pick him up in a little volts wagon. It was a little car that I had, a beetle that even had a horn, I would pick him up from the [bus] terminal in Valencia, or from the one in Maracay so that we could meet somewhere in this large territory with revolutionary leaders.

It was the end of the 70s, and the 80s passed in the same way, and the national army was gathering strength while almost all the revolutionary political forces were dispersed.  They were disappearing, ending, and I was growing up in the army. I remembered last night a quote by Simon Bolivar, in some document Bolivar wrote; the army is the people who can. That’s what happened here. This quote from Bolivar has a context but I think it’s perfectly applicable to the context of the 70s in Venezuela, and the 80s and 90s. The people couldn’t, and the Caracazo illustrated that perfectly. They people couldn’t, they didn’t have power in order affect the situation, not through elections, which were tampered and manipulated, nor through other ways. The people couldn’t as guerrillas, the people couldn’t in the factories, the working class couldn’t, the rural workers couldn’t, the students couldn’t- despite their huge sacrifice.

The people couldn’t, the people were crashing against a wall and they would fall, and they would get up again, and they would crash again. And so the Bolivarian quote became reality; the army is the people who can, and that was proven on 4 February 1992.

But today already, that quote has been transformed; we’re not in 1992 now. It was the army, the people who could, because we who were in the army, we’re sons of the people and we formed a vanguard movement. It was a vanguard which came out that midnight on 3 February. And that is another idea that Toby Valderrama touched on yesterday in his column, A Grain of Corn. I think it’s opportune for the debate that we are having right now about the strategic lines of political action, because a vanguard is always necessary.

There are those who proclaim anarchist ideas, who deny the need for organisation, who deny the role of the vanguard, but Venezuelan history really shows that a people without a vanguard gets manipulated, that a people without a conscious and committed vanguard tends to get lost in the different aspects of struggle.

The vanguard has to be maintained, has to be strengthened

The vanguard has to be maintained, strengthened. The vanguard today is the party, it has to be a coherent organisation with an ideological and political project. The socialist party has to convert itself into the large vanguard. And I’m going to say it, the army as well. The army, and when I say the army, I mean of course, the navy, the air force, and the national guard, and the militia. The army has to continue forming part of a revolutionary vanguard of the people.

If there was anything I could ask of you all today, I’d take it from father Bolivar:  Unity, unity, unity, unity, unity. Above differences, currents, let’s not allow intrigue, ideological weakness, sectarianism, let’s not permit enemy action in our ranks, let’s not allow that our weakness, that anything weakens unity. Just the opposite, I’ve put five lines of political action out there [for the PSUV] and I ask that they are debated in their most profound sense, in order that they are strengthened.

These political lines of action come from the 4 February, which was the start gun of this entire revolution that’s currently in swing.

In the first line of political action, we should leave the old political and capitalist culture of the Punto Fijo Pact [the power sharing agreement made between the two major parties in 1958] behind forever and we should  take on the task of being militants of socialism, true militants of socialism, a new political culture, new values, new socialist values, the values that should govern our behaviour, moral values, ethical values of open-handedness, transparency, dedication, give ourselves wholly [to the battle] without asking for anything in return for ourselves.

I think that we could be inspired by the men and women of 4 February, because the men and women of 4 February we went out without asking for anything in exchange, we went out to give our life for our country.

[At this point Chavez continues to talk about the different PSUV strategic lines].

2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of the revolution of 4 February and we will celebrate it in many ways… and the best way to celebrate it will be victory in the presidential elections.

Beyond that, being faithful to the spirit of 4 February. Just as we said a little while ago, the Punto Fijo Pact betrayed the spirit of 23 of January [1958: the defeat of the Marcos Perez Jimenez dictatorship by a civil-military coup]. We have to keep saying it; the spirit of 4 February wasn’t born to be betrayed. The revolution of 4 February, its martyrs, and everything that happened as a result of it, arose before Venezuelan history to be the first revolution of the 21st century, to open up the paths of the Bolivarian revolution and to build the homeland of Simon Bolivar. That’s what 4 February happened for.

Let’s all feel proud of what happened that day, you students, University of Carabobo, high school students, people and our soldiers: 4 February was born in order to indicate a path, and here we go and the path is pointed out to us… The 4 February came about in order to make history and build homeland, not in order to fail.

Nineteen years ago Venezuela was a colony country and much more, the homeland was dying. The 4 February saved the homeland, saved its life, and planted a new homeland that we are constructing today collectively…

The forces of the Venezuelan right wing will keep doing everything they can to try to stop this revolution. It’s in our hands to impede them, and for that its important to strengthen revolutionary consciousness, and the unity of the people, as I said already. 4 February marked the historical grave of the Punto Fijo Pact…

Myself as a soldier, just as I said that day [on 4 February], now with this constitution in my hand, now in the street in front of you all and with you all, and I’ll keep on saying it: I assume the responsibility for this Bolivarian military movement.

Source: Revolucion o Muerte

Translated by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com