Some time ago, when facing the systematic deployment of the “caudillo” [leader] archetype by the elites displaced from power during the early days of the Bolivarian Revolution, I pointed out that this discursive practice followed a very particular hagiographical form. Of course, their point was not to justify what would be the equivalent of a “monarch,” but to summon a subject that would be capable of defeating the caudillo: civil society.
I wrote then, concerning this discourse: “‘Civil society’ is not just the obverse, embodying the interests of the elites being displaced, but also the reverse of the ‘pueblo’ subject of Chavismo, which still remains invisible, reduced, hidden. Unable, or rather unwilling to recognize any uniqueness in Chavismo, it [the discourse] invariably concludes that Chávez is a reiteration of the secular past, more of the same, the eternal caudillo (along with the masses), a reminder of how much barbarism still exists among us.”
In response to this discourse that “tightens and dehumanizes Chávez’s figure (deifying and demonizing him simultaneously) and relegates Chavismo to ostracism, expelling it from the ‘earthly paradise’ of politics,” I argued that it was necessary to “desacralize Venezuelan politics: the way its history is told, the way it is conceived and narrated.”
This meant “recognizing conflict as the foundation of politics and not distancing oneself from it due to a supposed moral superiority or blurring it in the name of ‘scientific’ or journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Precisely because both impostures are based on a moral condemnation of conflict, the subject of the struggle disappears from the scene, or only appears as a ventriloquist’s dummy. This is what Chavismo means: it is the subject of the struggle.” Desacralizing it meant “rescuing it from obscurity,” “depicting Chavismo in all its profanity, with its greatness and miseries.” At the same time, desacralizing Venezuelan politics also meant “humanizing Chávez’s figure.”
During the 1990s, and in response to attacks against him, Chávez distanced himself from more traditional caudillismo: “I do not consider myself a caudillo or a messiah. This is a collective process, and one positions oneself at a point, at a moment of that process and perhaps can accelerate it, even slow it down, give it a touch, a small turn.” On another occasion, he said: “I believe there is no true leader without collective leadership. For the leader to be a leader, they require a collective. Furthermore, the collective needs to produce leaders […]. And if a leader emerges who is unable to branch out their leadership in such a way that these branches genuinely capture the feelings of a collective, that process would not be viable.”
Nonetheless, contrary to the narrative put forth by conservative historiography, Chávez did reassess the role played by certain popular caudillos in Venezuelan history: “And beware, there are or were caudillos necessary to the process of bringing a pueblo into a specific struggle.” Later, he clarified: “The role of caudillos in certain historical periods is that of mobilizers of masses […]. If they become truly aware, if they abstract themselves from their own person and see the process from a distance, looking at themselves and interpreting the moment, that’s where I believe caudillismo could be reinterpreted, so it could continue to be relevant. If that person understands that and dedicates their life, their effort, to collectivizing leaders, projects, ideas through their ‘mythical’ power, if that happens, abstracting themselves from all processes, it would justify the presence of the caudillo.”
With Chávez serving as President of the Republic, and as he consolidated power in a democratic manner and with broad popular support, it became clear to us that, with its specificities, the practice of deifying Chávez – that is, of dehumanizing him through sanctification on the one hand while demonizing and making invisible the Chavista people on the other – was not exclusive to the anti-Chavistas. What I once defined as “officialdom” [oficialismo] proceeded in very similar terms.
In this regard, it is worth recalling the words of John William Cooke: “And when the bureaucrat tries to cover his conceptual nudity with the vehemence of his unconditional adhesion to the leader, he distances himself even further from the truth; when he concentrates all the dynamics of the event on the leader, he is further away, although it may seem otherwise, from being one with him.” He is further away because he ignores the very close connection of the leader with the reality that has made his emergence possible: “the popular hero, the revolutionary leader, is not a personal phenomenon imposed on the reality that allows his emergence but a protagonist who integrates that reality and expresses the forces of growth, the longing of the oppressed for freedom, the national will to constitute itself as a sovereign community.”
A revolutionary leader, to truly be such, not only “requires a collective,” but must also capture the feelings of that collective, as Chávez said.
Any attempt to deify him will encounter an insurmountable obstacle in the indisputable fact that Chávez did not try to supersede reality. On the contrary, he sought to fully integrate himself into the reality of the oppressed people. Denying that reality is akin to being condemned to pass into history without glory. Chávez, however, that profane, earthly leader, that man of flesh, bone, and dust, is forever engraved in the popular soul.
 Reinaldo Iturriza López. El chavismo salvaje. Editorial Trinchera. Caracas, Venezuela. 2016.
 Agustín Blanco Muñoz. Habla el Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías. Cátedra Pío Tamayo, CEHA/IIES/FACES/UCV. Caracas, Venezuela. 1998. Pg. 28.
 Ibíd. Pg. 516.
 Ibíd. Pgs. 171-172.
 John William Cooke. Peronismo y revolución. Granica editor. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 1973.
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.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translated by Venezuelanalysis.