When it comes to processes of revolutionary change, almost always on a national scale, it is necessary to lose the fear of the idea of starting over. More than one simple idea among many, starting over may well be a circumstance that is imposed on us as a political and even ethical imperative.
In a 1922 text, Lenin raised the need to “start over from the beginning” as many times as necessary. However, we must admit that such an expression can lead to wrong conclusions, especially if we make the mistake of ignoring the historical context. Starting over should not and cannot mean starting from scratch.
Not even in February 1999, when Hugo Chavez first came to power, were we starting from scratch. A lot of history had gone by and built up to what became known as the Bolivarian Revolution. It is true that the deep popular conviction that one stage of the nation’s life was coming to an end made this idea that it was possible to wipe the slate clean not only acceptable, but even desirable. Let’s say that the promise of starting from scratch managed to partially reflect, at that time, the yearning of a good part of the popular classes, while simultaneously helping to strengthen their will to fight and making them feel part of an epic struggle. But not even that promise was as effective as a political speech that updated the Bolivarian, Zamorist and Robinsonian ideology (1), which until then had lain submerged in the depths of the nation’s collective memory, and which again, to the surprise of the majority, had much to contribute when the moment came to address the fundamental problems of Venezuelan society.
If the Bolivarian Revolution represents something of a break with the continuum of history, it is no less true that it would also be inconceivable without a rediscovery of a certain historical continuum, which harkens to the tradition of the struggle of the oppressed.
If 23 years later—or nine years, if we take the physical disappearance of Hugo Chávez as a reference point—we propose the need to start over, it is because of the imperative to update, and to a certain extent rediscover, the programmatic horizon of the Bolivarian Process. More than starting over from the beginning, it would be about reaffirming the fundamental strategic principles of the Bolivarian revolution, namely: recovery and the firm defense of sovereignty over our resources; defense of our rights, in particular the economic, social and cultural rights won by the people; centrality of the concept of a participatory and protagonist democracy or, what ends up being the same thing, the defense of popular sovereignty; and the transformation of a dependent and subordinate economic structure via the construction of a solid mixed economy, with special emphasis on forms of social property.
Thus, starting over would be nothing more than another way of stating what the most lucid of the Chavista popular militancy and, beyond that, an important part of Venezuelan society, today raises as a programmatic, unifying and mobilizing slogan, or brandishes as a heartfelt aspiration: to return to Chávez.
Obviously, if it is necessary to return to Chávez, it is because there has been a distancing from what he represents. Not from Chávez as a person, let’s make it clear, but of the programmatic horizon outlined by Chavismo under his leadership.
To return to Chávez is not a nostalgic or anachronistic slogan or aspiration. Political goals or strategic principles can and should only be updated if they help us to think and act in the present. Otherwise, they are simply dispensed with and we proceed to build or define others that will allow for the drawing of a new horizon. Similarly, if they need to be rediscovered, it is because there are forces that have been partially successful in their efforts to hide, ignore or silence them.
From the aforementioned, it follows that returning to Chávez has nothing to do with wanting to return, to live forever with him, in that past in which we were happy and swam, carefree and irresponsibly, in a calm ocean of oil, according to the story told by the right and some on the left. Instead, it has to do, paraphrasing Mark Fisher, with accepting that “the past has not happened yet” and, therefore, with the need to retell it, because “the political objective of reactionary history is to suffocate the potential that lays in wait, ready to be awakened again.” To return to Chávez is to rediscover ourselves with our “lost futures.”
In other words, to dismiss the imperative to start anew as something nostalgic or anachronistic is a profoundly reactionary gesture, which seeks to suffocate the potential of that past time when, for example, Chávez not only raised the issue of a transition to socialism, but also led a government effort that sought to be consistent with the principle that the – interrupted – process of transition had to be gratifying for the popular classes, as Chávez himself repeated over and over again.
Anachronistic is advice, which presumes to be novel and timely, that posits that it is convenient to not to return to Chávez, because “the people” want “change,” and what is needed instead is to place oneself in an implausible political center instead of getting lost in a process that moves toward the left.
One need not be a Saint Just to know that the aforementioned center is the place that has always been occupied by those who prefer the freezing of revolutions to dangerous popular effervescence.
This proposition that it is unsuitable to return to Chávez is nothing but a different way of affirming that, instead of updating or rediscovering, what must be done is to start from scratch, and such an affirmation is inseparable from the idea that suggests that it is easier to imagine—and which therefore accelerates—the end of the Bolivarian Revolution than the end of neoliberalism.
Submitting societies to successive political, economic, and social traumas, with the aim of wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch, has been the dream of neoliberals since the 1970s, and the nightmare of the people wherever these objectives have been achieved. The traumas suffered by Venezuelan society during much of the last decade are directly related, at least partially, with very similar purposes.
In our case, we decided to reaffirm ourselves in the conviction that, regardless of how easy or difficult it may be, the right thing to do—in the sense that this is what dictates the need to be in favor of the interests of the popular classes—is to return to Chávez or to start over. In other words, to consider updating and rediscovering the programmatic horizon of the Bolivarian Revolution, in order to once again be in a position to defeat neoliberalism.
Reinaldo Iturriza López is an activist, writer, and sociologist with a degree from Venezuela’s Central University. He is the author of several books, including 27 de Febrero de 1989: interpretaciones y estrategias and El chavismo salvaje.
Iturriza López, father of Sandra Mikele and Ainhoa Michel and Venezuelan baseball enthusiast, is a former Culture Minister and Communes and Social Movements Minister. He also headed the Audiovisual Production School at Ávila TV. He writes regularly for the blog Saber y Poder.
Translated by Venezuelanalysis.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.