Uncle Hugo & the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela

    Update : Chavez wins vote to scrap term limits in Venezuela, Niko Price, AP, February 16, 2009. ‘Chavez called the victory — which allows all public officials to run for re-election as many times as they want — a mandate to speed his transformation of Venezuela into a socialist state. “Those who voted ‘yes’ today voted for socialism, for revolution,” he said.’ Look out for exploding cigars…

Three cheers and a loud huzzah! for ten years of Chávismo!

On the other hand — and at the risk of sounding like a cynical whining right-winger posing as an anarchist — maybe celebrations are a little premature? For example, some French @ called Charles Reeve done an interview with some Venezuelan @s Miguel and Isabel; it appears on the blog of the steenky communists ‘The Commune’, and is apparently the first English translation of the March 2008 interview.

It portrays Uncle Hugo and his government in a rather unflattering light.

the revolution delayed: 10 years of hugo chávez’s rule (February 9, 2009):

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s coming to power in Venezuela, and ten years of the “Bolivarian revolution”. This process has included waves of state intervention in the economy and fervent rhetoric against US imperialism. But while some on the left see this Chavista movement as the new “socialism for the 21st century”, groups such as ours have argued that it is actually more like an old-fashioned attempt at modernisation by a technocratic élite; that increased bureaucratic power over capital is not inherently progressive; and that the “revolution” in Venezuela allows for very little working-class control or initiative from below.

Here we present a translation of a March 2008 interview conducted by the French anarchist ‘Charles Reeve’ with two members of the El Libertario group in Caracas, the nation’s capital, which offers some stark insights into the reality of the situation. Looking at various aspects of the Venezuelan economy and living standards in the country, it argues that Chavismo and the mythology of the “Bolivarian revolution” conceal a raft of neo-liberal reforms and attacks on workers’ rights, and that we must break out of the dynamics of Chávez vs. the opposition in order to build an autonomous working-class alternative…

Note that, in 1995, Charles and Sylvie Deneuve published an essay titled ‘Behind the Balaclavas of South-east Mexico’, which argued that the Zaps were less the harbingers of a new, ‘post-modern’ revolution (see : Michael P. Pelaez, ‘The EZLN: 21st Century Radicals’) than “the new party of the Mexican Left”.

In Australia, the most vocal support for Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and the Bolivarian Revolution, has come from the neo-Trotskyist DSP. (Its splinter, the RSP, also supports Chávez: Support the Cuban & Venezuelan revolutions! Join the Cuba-Venezuela solidarity club!, implores the latest issue of its zine.) The DSP argues that the Venezuelan experience provides a dramatic example of ‘Socialism of the 21st Century’. To promote this new-fangled Socialism, the DSP has devoted a site to promoting solidarity with the Venezuelan Government, organised study brigades, and frequently invites speakers from the Venezuelan Embassy to address their meetings.

Recently, it has republished a tract from the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information (January 30, 2009), outlining the achievements of the last ten years under Chávez’s rule.


During 10 years of revolution, the Bolivarian Government has been breaking free from paradigms, beating obstacles, exceeding all expectations, facing empires, revolutionizing consciousness, beating foreign and internal propaganda, and even more, defending, as the engine and fuel of the revolutionary project, the deep conviction that the human being is the center and principle of the society.

The most representative achievements can be evaluated quantitatively through the Missions, infrastructure works and technological advancements, among others, but the qualitative analysis leads us to three big conclusions: with the arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution, the quality of life has been boosted for most Venezuelans, social inequalities have been reduced significantly and Venezuela has made important steps in the struggle to reach the real conditions of a developed country…

See also : Venezuela: Democracy, revolution and term limits, Chris Kerr, February 6, 2009 (Green Left Weekly, No.782, February 11, 2009) | El Libertario (English).

Oddly enough, one member of the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information is Eduardo Rothe. Rothe was interviewed by the French zine Rouge et Vert: Le Journal des Alternatifs (Number 222, April 15, 2005; translated from the French by NOT BORED! July 2005), and is a former member of the Internationale Situationniste, contributing some thoughts on ‘The Conquest of Space in the Time of Power’ to the 12th issue of its journal (September 1969).

Just as anarchists are critical of Uncle Hugo, Uncle Hugo is critical of anarchists: “Critical thinking is fundamental to a revolution, but that is very different to going around talking badly about a party that has not been born, collecting signatures to present them who knows where. Anyone who wants to be an anarchist, get out of here, you are not wanted, what is needed here is a creative, but disciplined active membership.” One, rather important difference between the ‘anarchists’ and Uncle Hugo being, of course, that Uncle Hugo is in a rather better position to eliminate the bad-mouthed anarchists than the undisciplined anarchists are of getting rid of Uncle Hugo…

Chávez does have his champions in the academy, of course, one of note being Slovenian “superstar” philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has embarked since 2006 is the exact opposite of the one chosen by the postmodern Left: far from resisting state power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarising the barrios, and organising the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling the economic effects of capital’s ‘resistance’ to his rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidised supermarkets), he has announced plans to consolidate the 24 parties that support him into a single party. Even some of his allies are sceptical about this move: will it come at the expense of the popular movements that have given the Venezuelan revolution its élan? However, this choice, though risky, should be fully endorsed: the task is to make the new party function not as a typical state socialist (or Peronist) party, but as a vehicle for the mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots slum committees). What should we say to someone like Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power, just withdraw, leave the state and the current situation in place’? Chávez is often dismissed as a clown – but wouldn’t such a withdrawal just reduce him to a version of Subcomandante Marcos, whom many Mexican leftists now refer to as ‘Subcomediante Marcos’? Today, it is the great capitalists – Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox hunters – who ‘resist’ the state. ~ ‘Resistance Is Surrender’, London Review of Books, November 15, 2007

The full text of Žižek’s polemic — ostensibly a review of football hooligan, wrecker (and philosopher) Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding : Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso, 2007) — is available here, as is a reply by meddling outsider David Graeber. Resistance is Utile: Critchley responds to Zizek (Harper’s Review, May 2008) is available here.

See also : Venezuelan Anarchists on Chavez, WSF (January 10, 2006) | anarchy is a (Venezuelan) fag! (October 2, 2007) | Viva Chávez? WSJ on the student opposition… (November 26, 2007) | No Todos Somos Chávez: Venezuela says ‘No’ (December 4, 2007) | Uh-oh… troubled times ahead for anarchists in Venezuela // Bombings in Caracas (February 26, 2008) |

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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12 Responses to Uncle Hugo & the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela

  1. grumpy cat says:

    Hi @ndy

    Since I am often so critical I thought I should take the time to say ‘hey, this is a really good blog entry… except…’

    Except Zizek also has made a number of critiques of Chavez as well… and Critchley’s book is awful… it’s some form of anarcho-reformism that is pretty gross.

    rebel love

  2. @ndy says:

    Hi Dave,

    I’ve not read many critical comments on Chávez by Žižek. This comment (a footnote to his essay ‘Against the Populist Temptation’) relates to a dependence upon oil revenue:

    Many people sympathetic to the Hugo Chavez’ regime in Venezuela like to oppose Chavez’ flamboyant and sometimes clownish caudillo style to the vast popular movement of the self-organization of the poor and dispossessed that surprisingly brought him back to power after he was deposed in a US-backed coup; the error of this view is to think that one can have the second without the first: the popular movement needs the identificatory figure of a charismatic leader. The limitation of Chavez lies elsewhere, in the very factor which enables him to play his role: the oil money. It is as if oil is always a mixed blessing, if not an outright curse. Because of this supply, he can go on making populist gestures without “paying the full price for them,” without really inventing something new at the socio-economic level. Money makes him possible to practice inconsistent politics (populist anti-capitalist measures AND leaving the capitalist edifice basically untouched), of not acting but postponing the act, the radical change. (In spite of his anti-US rhetoric, Chavez takes great care that Venezuelan contracts with the US are regularly met – he effectively is a “Fidel with oil.”)

    Dunno what Žižek is dependent on, but whatever it is, I want some:

  3. @ndy says:

    Oh yeah.

    This is kinda funny…

    Zizek Needs an Intervention
    Guy Benjamin Brookshire
    Super Collide
    January 7, 2009

    …Zizek is not successful because he is informative or enlightening. He is successful because he is entertaining. By way of contrast, Noam Chomsky may be many things, but fun isn’t one of them. Zizek can take detours from reason explaining why people should stop whining about the gulags, or why holocaust revisionism is less kooky than you think, but then he makes a point about Kung Fu Panda and the crowd goes wild. He is academia’s drunkle. Or as Mike Johnson has noted, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Villanch, pictured above, but Slovenian and marginally less interested in his personal appearance. Bruce Villanch is a regular on Hollywood Squares. Zizek is a one man Marxist Hollywood Square.

  4. grumpy cat says:

    Hey @ndy


    Many people sympathetic to the Hugo Chavez’ regime in Venezuela like to oppose Chavez’ flamboyant and sometimes clownish caudillo style to the vast popular movement of the self-organization of the poor and dispossessed that surprisingly brought him back to power after he was deposed in a US-backed coup; the error of this view is to think that one can have the second without the first: the popular movement needs the identificatory figure of a charismatic leader. The limitation of Chavez lies elsewhere, in the very factor which enables him to play his role: the oil money. It is as if oil is always a mixed blessing, if not an outright curse. Because of this supply, he can go on making populist gestures without “paying the full price for them,” without really inventing something new at the socio-economic level. Money makes him possible to practice inconsistent politics (populist anti-capitalist measures AND leaving the capitalist edifice basically untouched), of not acting but postponing the act, the radical change. (In spite of his anti-US rhetoric, Chavez takes great care that Venezuelan contracts with the US are regularly met – he effectively is a “Fidel with oil.”)

    and here

    Another case of acting multitude is the crowd that brought back into power Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. However, can we forget the obvious fact that Chavez functions as a Latino-American caudillo, the unique Leader whose function is to magically resolve the conflicting interests of those who support him? “Multitude in power” thus necessarily actualizes itself in the guise of an authoritarian leader whose charisma can serve as the “empty signifier” able to contain the multitude of interests (it was already Peron who was a militaristic patriot to the Army, a devout Christian to the Church, a supporter of the poor against oligarchy on behalf of workers, etc.)

  5. See the English section on El Libertario’s website. We have a lot of stuff about Venezuela & Venezuelan anarchists.

  6. @ndy says:

    El Liberatario,

    Cheers. As a general rule, I almost always provide a link to the zine whenever the topic of Venezuela arises; there’s one in the post above too.


    I just bought a copy of Critchley’s Infinitely… On page 5 he places Durruti in the same category as Lenin, Blanqui, Mao, Baader-Meinhof and bin Laden. That is, neo-Leninism.

    Žižek’s critique of Hugo Boss — at least insofar as the above passages are concerned — is not so much ‘critique’, I think, as it is tepid criticism. First, a possible over-reliance on oil revenues to fund his populism; secondly, and more significantly, on reflection, his status as Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. I think the problem lies in Žižek’s apparent embrace of this figure as a logical necessity for radical social change, to which there is no (credible) alternative. Still, an interesting essay, which asks many good questions.

  7. grumpy cat says:

    Hi @ndy.

    I thought you would find Critchley’s response to historical anarchism pretty ridiculous. I am already looking forward to reading what you think of the entire book…

    rebel love

    ps I haven’t had time to read this properly (two jobs and working seven days a week!) but this seems to be an interesting piece about Venezuela…Even if my first response is to disagree with it…

  8. @ndy says:

    Moaron Žižek:

    …In a damning article last year in The New Republic, Adam Kirsch, one of its senior editors, accused Zizek of moral corruption, asking whether his audience was too busy laughing at his jokes to hear what he really had to say. Under the cover of comedy, Kirsch argued, Zizek was trying to “undo the achievement of all the postwar thinkers who taught us to regard totalitarianism, revolutionary terror, utopian violence and anti-Semitism as inadmissible in serious political discourse”. What, after all, are we to make of Zizek’s apparently absurd argument in his recent book In Defence of Lost Causes (Verso Books) that Stalin, author of some of the most monstrous crimes of the 20th century, “saved the humanity of man”?

    Clearly bruised by Kirsch’s assault, Zizek denounces his US critic as “stupid”. He then sets about trying to clarify his apparently ambiguous attitude towards Stalinism. First, he readily acknowledges all the human suffering that occurred in Stalin’s time and trots out a series of “nice, horrible” stories illustrating the exceptional cruelty of the times. But, he insists, we should make more efforts to understand Stalinism. “One can argue that there was more violence than under Hitler,” he says. “But Hitler was a bad guy who announced he would do bad things and did them. The true tragedy of Stalinism is that it started as a popular explosion of emancipatory equality. We don’t have a good theory as to why this turned into an even worse nightmare.”

    What we often fail to understand, he argues, is how Stalinism was a counter-revolution, reacting against the extreme “post-human” utopian ambitions that were championed by Bolshevik leaders in the 1920s. Communist extremists predicted the day when workers would live in a perfect society with no need for emotions, or even names, and all sexuality and family life would be suppressed. But Stalin was far more conservative, reacting against experimental art and insisting on the sanctity of family life. “Stalinism reacted against these negative dystopias that were even more terrifying. Stalinism was, in that sense, a return to normal life. People forget that.” ~ The modest Marxist, John Thornhill, Financial Times, March 7, 2009

    Also: The Deadly Jester, Adam Kirsch, The New Republic, December 3, 2008.

    Kinda reminds me of the bullshit surrounding ‘Melbourne Conferences on Soviet and Australian History and Culture’ in July 2006. On the one hand, Communist apologists; on the other, liberal critics.

    The anarchists remain frozen out, as ever.

    …Shalamov tells us, ‘the eternally frozen stone and soil of the merzlota rejects corpses. The rock has to be dynamited, hacked away. Digging graves and digging for gold required the same techniques, the same tools, the same equipment, the same workers. An entire brigade would devote its days to cutting out graves, or rather ditches, where the anonymous corpses would be thrown fraternally together … The corpses were piled up, completely stripped, after their gold teeth had been broken off and recorded on the burial document. Bodies and stone, mixed together, were poured into the ditch, but the earth refused the dead, incorruptible and condemned to eternity in the perpetually frozen earth of the Great North …’

    Yesterday, when I read those lines — that is, not yesterday, but the day before that spring ten years ago in London — when I read those lines yesterday, that image burned itself into my eyes: the image of those thousands of stripped corpses, intact, trapped in the ice of eternity in the mass graves of the Great North. Graves that were the construction sites of the new man, let us not forget!

    In Moscow, at the Mausoleum at Red Square, incredible, credulous crowds continue to file past the incorruptible corpse of Lenin. I even visited the mausoleum myself once, in 1958. At that time, Stalin’s mummy kept Vladimir Ilyich company. Two years before, during a secret session of the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Party, Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev set fire to the idol, which, like all his peers, he had worshipped and venerated. And in 1960, in Bucharest, Khrushchev suggested to Peng Chen that Stalin’s bloody mummy be taken to China. It was finally removed from the mausoleum after the Twenty-second Congress of the Soviet Party. But in the summer of 1958, Stalin was still in his red marble tomb beside Lenin. I can testify to that. I saw them both. At peace, intact, incorruptible: all they lacked was the power of speech. But, fortunately, they did not have the power of speech. They just lay there, the two of them, silent, lit up like fish in an aquarium, protected by members of the Guards, standing motionless like bronze statues.

    Ten years later, in London, after reading that passage in Varlam Shalamov’s book, I remembered the tomb in Red Square. It occurred to me that the true mausoleum of the revolution was to be found in the Great North, in Kolyma. Galleries might be dug through the charnel houses — the construction sites — of socialism. People would file past the thousands of naked, incorruptible corpses of prisoners frozen in the ice of eternal death. There would be no guards; those dead would not need guards. There would be no music, either, no solemn funeral marches playing in the background. There would be nothing but silence. At the end of the labyrinth of galleries, in a subterranean amphitheater dug out of the ice of a common ditch, surrounded on all sides by the blind gazes of the victims, learned meetings might be organized to discuss the consequences of the ‘Stalinist deviation,’ with a representative sprinkling of distinguished Western Marxists in attendance.

    And yet the Russian camps are not Marxist, in the sense that the German camps were Nazi. There is a historical immediacy, a total transparency between Nazi theory and its repressive practice. Indeed, Hitler seized power through ideological mobilization of the masses and thanks to universal suffrage, in the name of a theory about which no one could be in any doubt. He himself put his ideas into practice, reconstructing German reality in accordance with them. The situation of Karl Marx, vis-à-vis the history of the twentieth century, even that made in his name, is radically different. That is obvious enough. In fact, a large segment of the opponents of the Bolsheviks, at the time of the October Revolution, claimed allegiance to Marx no less than did the Bolsheviks themselves: it was in the name of Marxism that not only the Mensheviks, but also the theoreticians of the German ultra-left criticized the authoritarianism and terror, the ideological monolithism and social inequality that spread over the USSR after the October victory.

    The Russian camps are not, therefore, in an immediate, unequivocal way, Marxist camps. Nor are they simply Stalinist. They are Bolshevik camps. The Gulag is the direct, unequivocal product of Bolshevism.

  9. @ndy says:

    An innocuous building
    for so monumental
    a task!
    behind iron gates
    & anonymous
    in white smocks
    toil like
    in electromicroscopic
    the vinegrated cerebrums
    of late soviet luminaries
    to determine
    what made
    their heads
    this is
    their mission
    in its 67th
    & final year
    long rumored
    now uncovered in
    Room 19 at the
    Brain Institute
    of Moscow
    former reputed
    of Marxism-Leninism
    historical materialism
    & militant atheism

    Row upon row
    of bowls of
    pickled gray
    the cranial
    entrails of
    Sergei Eisenstein
    Maxim Gorky
    Vladimir Mayakovsky
    the famous Pavlov
    but not his celebrated
    various generals of
    the Red Army &
    forgotten members
    of the Central
    their noodles
    excavated under the
    orders of
    the boss
    of all bosses
    Joseph Djugashvili
    who tells ’em
    in the cerebellums
    the secret to
    the data:
    mind is matter
    ideology is
    she is no witch
    tied with rocks

    That’s the theoretical premise
    of the Brain Institute
    from the organ
    its flesh
    its cells
    can be deduced
    the source of
    political clarity
    artistic creativity
    military technique
    will &
    which if found
    could be reproduced
    tested &
    thus advancing the
    formation of the
    new soviet man
    by leaps & bounds
    especially at the
    pinnacle of
    collective social life
    Lenin declared
    with that
    not as yet fully
    paralyzed brain
    of his still
    having become
    General Secretary
    has concentrated
    enormous power
    in his hands
    & I am not sure
    that he always
    knows how to
    use that
    with sufficient
    I propose to
    the comrades
    to find a way
    to remove Stalin
    from that position
    & appoint
    another man
    more loyal
    more courteous
    & more considerate
    to comrades
    less capricious, etc”
    Or that
    the last act
    of Mayakovsky’s
    tortured noggin
    was to
    pull its plug
    rather than submit to
    the muse
    of police art
    unaware that it would
    float in a jar of
    the people’s formaldehyde
    for six decades
    scrutinized under
    detection methods
    sibling to
    aka existing socialism

    Watch them
    bustle & scurry
    each night
    the locked doors of
    Room 19 & its
    vaulted booty
    with paraffin
    carefully eyed
    by dutiful
    Lydia Malofeyeva
    comrade chief deputy
    of brainkeeping
    no peeking
    no sneaking
    watch them put chunks
    of the tissue into a
    block of wax
    then sealing off
    a patina of brain
    with a motorized
    a veg-o-matic
    type device
    to finely slice
    the subject of slides
    hundreds of thousands of
    of head cheese
    for the big cheese
    under the close &
    quiet supervision of
    the latest & last
    incarnation of the
    Central Committee
    Gensec &
    their ultimate act
    of skullduggery
    still fresh in
    from Sakharov’s
    late pate
    (the technicians
    unsure which morsel
    is his
    engage in polemics
    piling up shavings
    since they are paid
    30,000 slides
    alone of
    Lenin’s brain
    how many cases
    of carpal
    syndrome &
    the unionized
    at the Brain Institutes
    to get Lenin’s
    reduced to its
    physiological essence?
    each synapse
    individually wrapped
    here is what
    is to be done
    there is state &
    revolution & the
    right of oppressed
    nations to
    all obviously assimilated
    by comrades
    as indicated by
    recent events

    In 67 years
    of rigorous
    scientific inquiry
    the earnest cadres
    they had absolutely
    nothing to learn
    at all
    thought maybe
    the political figures
    would have some type
    of specific
    brain structure”
    Leonid Khaspekov
    vicedirector of the
    Brain Institute
    says of the commissars
    “that their brains
    would differ greatly
    from those of
    other people
    but of course
    that’s hardly possible”

    The narcotic
    monotony of
    the tasks
    the automatic lullaby
    of the machine
    the routine
    accumulation of cells on
    the fixed aroma of
    the crypt
    measured the
    seemingly immutable
    its fog
    the historical
    the reverse of
    the pendulum
    the dystrophic
    conquests of the
    apparently eternal
    politbureau & its
    perennial catechism:
    they thought
    that maybe
    the political
    would have
    some type
    of specific
    that their
    would differ
    greatly from
    of course
    that’s hardly

    of course
    always been

    ~ Jon Hillson, Room 19

  10. [Glorious] Supreme Com[m]ander Chavez is the more important [socialist] leader after Comrade Iosef Stalin! He is true socialist democrat but also has hard hand, steel fist for the Enemies of the People! We will not tolerate insult or criticis[m]. Our [revolution] is pa[c]ific but also strongly armed to defend ourself against the oligar[ch]y, retrograde intel[l]ectuals and middle class, also Colombia and USA. Live our [glorious] Supreme Com[m]ander! He is our divine hope for our people!

  11. @ndy says:

    Glory to Chávez in the highest
    and peace to his people on earth.
    Lord Chávez, heavenly King,
    Almighty God and Father,

    we worship you, we give you thanks,
    we praise you for your glory…

  12. Dr. Cam says:

    There’s an interesting article about academic public speakers that mentions Zizek in that newspaper I gave you on Thursday, @ndy.

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