Understanding the Revolution in Venezuela: A People's History
The Western Media generally attempt to portray Venezuela as some type of dictatorship. In typical Orwellian fashion Venezuela is called Un-Democratic. The reality is that Venezuela is seeing the creation of the 21st centuries first Real Democracy. I use the term Real Democracy because democracy is supposed to mean rule by the People. In the west we have so called representative democracy where we get to choose between bought off and pre-selected candidates who generally ignore the wishes of those they claim to represent. In Venezuela on the other hand there has been an effort to create people's assemblies so that the people themselves will directly participate in decision making. George Ciccariello-Maher's book "We Created Chavez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution" provides a brilliant account of the forces that truly brought the Bolivarian revolution about in Venezuela where we can see the troubled birth of a new sort of democracy a Real Democracy where the people's voices are finally heard and their demands met. He takes a unique approach to the problem that should have been obvious save for the mesmerizing now dead Hugo Chavez who became a lightning rod. Whether portrayed as a hero or villain the obsession with Chavez Obscured from view the roots of the revolution. These roots are the many people of Venezuela who have been fighting for decades in the battle for a more just world. Actually the book is as much a work of Political philosophy as a work of history so you'll have to actually read the book if you want to follow George Ciccariello-Maher brilliant and complex line of thought. I can offer here only a simplified account of the events and forces that would give birth to and shape the Venezuelan revolution.
In most ways the account begins with the overthrow of the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958. Ironically the election of Romulo Betancourt the first "Democratic" president was greeted by riots in the capital. According to Betancourt "The People as an Abstract concept do not exist" this riot of discontent on the birth of representative democracy foreshadowed later popular uprising's like the one in 1989 that was a reaction to the treachery of Carlos Andres Perez who was elected on a based on his strong criticism of Neo-Liberal economics and the IMF Austerity policies that had impoverished Venezuelans. Upon being elected he immediately institutited the very policies he had campaigned against. If it had happened in Washington or London people would perhaps merely have shrugged but in Venezuela where radical opposition had permeated the society and the poorest were well organized a rebellion took place known as the Caracazo which the government suppressed by killing between 300 and 3000 people. (Throughout the 80's this "democracy" in a sea of dictatorships had begun murdering the opposition Caracazo saw this tendency reach a bloody climax) Chavez would come onto the scene as a sort of delayed response to the brutal suppression of the Caracazo in 1992 with his failed military coup. Chavez's brother was a member of the revolutionary party PRV. Chavez was a product of Venezuela's revolutionary heritage rather then it's originator. Since I've already jumped ahead to from one popular uprising to another let's jump to the third important popular uprising in the book before returning to 1958 to explain some of the history of Venezuela's radical groups. After being released from prison Chavez ran for office and became president. In 2002 the elite with the secret urging of the US and the CIA decided to overthrow Chavez in a coup. NED funded crowds flooded the streets made up of Venezuela's Privileged who despised Chavez for being poor and being part black and Indian. In fact the US ambassador got in trouble for putting on play in which Chavez was portrayed by a chimpanzee echoing racist caricatures common among the opposition then and now. Colin Powell was not amused and the ambassador was forced to apologize. In a situation eerily similar to the recent coup in Ukraine opposition snipers fired on their own protestors. The military used the shootings as an excuse to overthrow Chavez and he was dragged off to an undisclosed location where they tried and failed to get Chavez to resign. It was an echo of the many US backed coups in Latin America. However it was foiled when yet again the people flooded the streets to make their displeasure felt. This inspired members of the Military still loyal to Chavez or at least opposed to the Coup to launch a counter coup and restore Chavez to Office. It was after being returned to office by a radical and mobilized people that Chavez truly began his series of radical reforms. Faced with many enemies he sought to hand more and more power to the people since only they could truly be relied upon to safeguard the Venezuelan revolution. Actually the most Unique aspect to George Ciccariello-Maher's book is that Hugo Chavez himself only makes fleeting appearances. Thus I will wait till a future time to further discuss Chavez himself. Instead we must return to 1958 to understand the story of this people usually invisible and forgotten until it emerges onto the streets to make it's will felt.
The tensions surrounding the first democratically elected president since the overthrow of the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez reflected the split in the forces seeking to overthrow the president between those older more higher placed opposition members who lived in exile and the increasingly radical grassroots movement that actually overthrew him. The new President had been greeted by an angry riot from the People of Caracas and he responded by launching a murderous campaign to suppress dissent. Inspired by the successful Cuban revolution that happened that same year and disgusted by their murderous new democracy many youthful idealists actually quit parliament and decided to instead head for the country and attempt to stage a violent revolution. Unfortunately unlike the Cuban revolutionaries they failed to build strong ties with the people who's behalf they were supposed to be fighting. They fell under the influence of a French Theorist Regis Debray who had misinterpreted the Cuban revolution by putting too much emphasis on the idea that the key was for armed revolution to provide a focal point for popular discontent. Basically put simply the idea was that if you lead they will follow. The Guerrillas managed to alienate the masses and were crushed. However in failing they began to rethink their whole strategy and sought to form strong bonds with the People. Former guerrillas would begin to play vital roles in many of Venezuela's social movements. One of the running themes of the book is that whatever social movement he studies whether it is focused on Afro-Venezuelan Issues, women's issues, landless peasants etc. Inevitably he finds that it is lead by a former guerrilla. Former Guerrillas also served in the Chavez government itself. Thus while the Violent revolution proved a failure the introspection and change in direction this failure produced would be incredibly fruitful for Venezuela.
One of the big mistakes of the Guerrillas was their failure to join pre-existing struggles they expected to inspire revolution wherever they went and so ignored the areas where peasant's were already fighting for economic justice. After they began to rethink their strategy in the late 60's this would change. They began to join and helped to organize Venezuela's social movements. It is the social movements that really are behind the success of the Venezuelan revolution. In fact most of the book is devoted to various social movements in Venezuela, students, women, indigenous peoples, afro-Venezuelan, Workers, peasants, soldiers and so called informal labor( temporary labor, street vendors, hustlers that make up a large portion of the world, the unemployed struggling to survive.) Perhaps the epitome of the relation between the social movements and the Bolivarian revolution is the La Piedrita a neighborhood in Caracas marked by a sign that says "Here we command and the Government obeys" the social movements do not offer servile support instead they constantly demand more radical change. In many cases they are so successful that for instance it was the women's social movement that actually rewrote the parts of the constitution dealing with women, and it was indigenous groups that wrote the parts dealing with the rights of indigenous groups. Workers are encouraged to try and run their own factories. Their is an effort to increasingly empower the people to vote in their own local assemblies and decide for themselves rather then relying on generally corrupt representatives. Of course this produces all sorts of tensions, Conflicts and complexities and Venezuela is far from some paradise at least not yet. Still while we in the US, Europe and almost the whole world seem powerless to influence our governments a problem only intensified by it's formalization in international treaties like NAFTA and the attempts to push through new ones like the TPP and the TAP Venezuela is one of the few countries where the people are gaining more say rather then less say in how their country is run. This is no accident but the result of the fact that Venezuela is one of the few countries in which the people have successfully organized themselves so as to make their demands heard. One of the excellent things about the book is that studying resistance in Venezuela is to study Venezuela itself. Meaning that studying the social movements one finds them active in every sector of Venezuela. Unfortunately the social movements provide to large a topic to do justice to them all in a short essay. Instead I'll briefly describe one example with which the book opens the neighborhood of La Piedrita literally the pebble. In the 70's and 80's Venezuela was the scene of a low intensity urban guerrilla war. Inspired by the urban guerrillas many poor neighborhoods began to form self defense squads to defend themselves first from the police then to fight crime in their neighborhoods. La Piedrita was a particularly effective example it managed to stamp out the drug trade and also to keep the police at bay. As in most countries this was hardly paradoxical as the police were actively involved in the drug trade. Piedrita did more then just stamp out it's crime it also organized it's whole community into an assembly and the whole community became an autonomous collective. Piedrita became an important center for organizing the Caracazo uprising and later was also a major center for organizing the the resistance to the attempted coup in 2002. They are both strongly supportive of and fiercely independent of the Maduro government. To quote one leader in Piedrita (While Chavez was still alive) "Here the government doesn't tell us anything, they ask." Yet the same man when asked his opinion of Chavez replied "He's our Maximum Leader" La Piedrita embodies the new Venezuela.
The Venezuelan example has proved infectious across Latin America. While much of the rest of the world subserviently applies the policies of the IMF and the so called Washington consensus in Latin America a new independent course is being charted. It is long past time that the rest of the world began to follow the Venezuelan example. It is time that the rest of the world had a taste of real democracy. It won't happen overnight the Venezuelan revolution is the result of 40 years of struggle. Perhaps the key to the social movement's success is that unlike their northern cousins they retained their vision of radical social change the woman's movement for example always focused first on the needs of poor women (who make up the majority of Venezuela's women )and was clear in it's demand that the problem's of women could not be solved without radically changing society as a whole. The same focus is present in all of Venezuela's social movements. Thus social movements fight for areas of special concern but do not loose track of the big picture. Instead all to often in the north social movements sacrifice the big picture in favor of their narrow interests. Or worse engage in nothing more then identity politics narcissism. War, poverty, racism, ecological destruction all have one major cause our current economic system. Hundreds of millions have starved to death in the past 20 years. In other words to do nothing constitutes a great crime.
Today Venezuela which one of the few beacons of hope in the world is under assault. It is the target of an NED backed color revolution. It is the target of a CIA covert war. It is the target of Columbia's drug trafficking death squads. It is the target of an international media disinformation campaign involving the press, social media, and Celebrity sell outs. It is the target of subversion from within. It is the target of Economic warfare. The people of the world must act to help defend the Venezuelan revolution. The people of the world must also embrace the Venezuelan example. It is long past time that we had a direct say in how our countries are run. Enough of politicians who talk of peace and make war who talk of wealth and bring poverty. Only by building real democratic structures will we begin to have any say in the future.
I definitely recommend George Ciccariello-Maher's "We Created Chavez: A People's History of The Venezuelan Revolution. I was only able to scratch the surface. You could also search for articles he has written online.
For a more in Depth Summary see this book review
Here is an excerpt from his book that describes La Piedrita
And a great interview with George Ciccariello-Maher on the Bullet Points podcast a great Podcast I loyally follow
The best source for news on Venezuela is Venezuelanalysis