The Separate Paths of Venezuelan Politics

Sociologist Reinaldo Iturriza delves into the phenomenon of “disaffiliation” in present-day Venezuela. 
According to Iturriza, disaffiliation is one of the most serious problems facing Venezuelan society today. (Venezuelanalysis)

If we were to accept the premise that it is no longer possible to speak of a politically polarized Venezuela because the political field has ceased to be the scene of a conflict between two antagonistic projects in Venezuela, the most logical conclusion would be to formulate some hypotheses about the course of the poles in contention, specifically about their social support bases and their leadership figures.

This is relevant because, in the realm of anti-Chavista opinion-makers, the analysis seems to go as follows: after years of sterile confrontation, the deep discontent towards the ruling class has proven them right. According to their reading, anti-Chavismo was not just always on the right side of history, but things have shifted to the point where the use of the term  “anti-Chavismo” could already be outdated. While in the past the term appealed to identify an important but minority political faction, now it is gradually fading to the point of becoming indiscernible from the majority popular sentiment. In their view, everyone is united against a Chavista minority determined to perpetuate itself in power.

Reality, of course, is not so simple, and it does not change through self-deception. The first thing to highlight is that this is a belief in the strict sense, that is, something closer to an act of faith and far from a genuine analysis of the situation. Next, it is not correct to conclude that the overwhelming majority of the social base of Chavismo, that is, what once constituted the country’s main political force, ended up going over to the anti-Chavista camp. While it is true that under certain circumstances the camps may coincide – for example, in rejecting the ruling class –, it is also true that these forces follow separate paths with different itineraries determined, among other things, by their diverse class origins, by the orientation and content of the political horizon, which in turn means that the trajectories are inevitably separate.

The widespread perception that old-fashioned polarization (that of the times of Hugo Chávez) is a thing of the past, adds fuel to the idea that other coincidences may be possible in the future, including convergence around a political leadership that advocates for national and popular program. But at this moment nothing points in that direction.

So the question now is if we can speak of different paths and parallel trajectories when we have witnessed a massive process of disaffiliation from the Chavista political identity over the past decade. My answer is yes. I consider, moreover, that it is precisely at this point where a good part of the political analyses on the Venezuelan situation go astray, particularly those coming from anti-Chavismo and which, as we already suggested, are nothing more than extremely self-complacent exercises.

The phenomenon of political disaffiliation is a mass event that hasn’t been fully understood. Finding interpretative keys to understanding the phenomenon is not an easy task, but there is an imperative need to recognize its historical significance.

My generation, whose baptism of fire was the February 27th, 1989 “Caracazo”, has taken too long to understand the historical milestones that define recent generations. Younger generations shape their character, their way of seeing the world, their future prospects, and their relationship with politics, in a very different way. To a greater or lesser extent, they identify the economic crisis that they experienced (hyperinflation, sanctions, etc.) and the political situation they live in (linked to the profoundly destructive effects of the economic situation) to a political class called to continue with the transformation process led by Hugo Chávez.

The situation – with effects that all living generations have had to endure –, and the actions and omissions of the political class, assessed by most as misguided or insufficient, are at the root of the phenomenon of political disaffiliation. Simply put, there is a prevailing perception that the path was wrong, and consequently, we ended up, as a society, at a dead end.

However, something that must be understood is that political disaffiliation does not mean that what once was no longer exists, that there is no alternative but to start from scratch or, worse yet, to long for an improbable past where peace and harmony prevailed. We must avoid the tempting idea of a historical tabula rasa. Instead, we should understand that disaffiliation entails discomfort regarding the path chosen.

Affiliating with a political project, with an identity, is about adopting a horizon shared by many, a common cause, core ideas that inspire and mobilize us, goals, a diagnosis of the situation, cohesive leadership, a set of feelings, ways of thinking, and a conception of life. Furthermore, the relevance, validity, currency, and strength of a political project, of an identity, are tested in the times of greatest hardship. It is in such moments that we must reaffirm the course, or appeal to the intelligence, will, know-how, and perspicacity of all the forces involved in the project to reorient it if necessary, but without losing sight of the programmatic horizon, which ultimately defines the nature and character of the project.

Political disaffiliation is what happens when a sector of the forces that identified with a certain project no longer recognizes itself in the present course of affairs or does not agree with the reorientation given by those exercising leadership roles. The disaffiliated individual is not willing to adopt what they interpret as a different course from the one that drove their identification with the project, and therefore can no longer see themselves in those who represent, so to speak, the political identity. Does the above imply a renunciation to the project, and even to its political identity? Absolutely not when it comes to the project, and not necessarily when it comes to political identity.

In the specific case of Chavismo, what seems to prevail is a distancing, an extremely problematic relationship with those who represent the political identity, and in those cases where rejection has turned into exhaustion or, worse yet, into indifference, disaffiliation from one’s own identity. This does not occur in the same way, in my opinion, with the political project, which tends to be perceived as delayed, not viable, or suspended. In other words, I insist, political affiliation transcends identity, even if identity is very important. 

In any case, I find no base in the idea that the disaffiliation from Chavismo’s political identity translates into a strengthening of anti-Chavismo unless one falls into the opportunistic misconception of “confusing” a punctual coincidence of purposes with genuine identification. The “structures of feeling” – to borrow the concept coined by Raymond Williams – of Chavismo and anti-Chavismo are incompatible, and this remains valid for those disaffiliated from Chavismo.

Those disaffiliated from what we could call “historical Chavismo” constitute today an important and decisive contingent of millions of people who are going through the political desert that means not finding a solution to the problem of political representation. This is one of the most serious and challenging problems facing Venezuelan society today, and it will remain unresolved on the day after the upcoming presidential elections on July 28th. This is a problem that no leadership from anti-Chavismo will even come close to solving. It is a group that never recognized a shred of dignity in the Chavista people – and hence continues to show no willingness to distinguish between the ruling class and Chavismo –, is unable to recognize the phenomenon of political disaffiliation, and continues to conceive it [Chavismo] as a curse that fell on their bourgeois country.

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.