Hugo Chavez 1954-2013: Con los pobres de la tierra / Quiero yo mi suerte echar / El arroyo de la sierra / Me complace mas que el mar. (With the poor people of this earth I want to share my fate. The stream of the mountain pleases me more than the sea.) - Jose Marti.
THE REVOLUTION Will Not Be Televised is a remarkable documentary. It was made by a crew of Irish filmmakers who were, fortuitously, already filming in Venezuela in 2002 when the upper and middle-class opponents of President Hugo Chavez, with covert backing from the US Government, staged an abortive coup d’etat.
TRWNBT captures with remarkable immediacy the authenticity and power of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution.
One of the most interesting aspects of their documentary, for me, was the contrast it revealed between the courage and confidence of Chavez’s most fervent supporters – the Chavistas from the Caracas slums – and the indecision and timidity of his Cabinet colleagues. Had Chavez relied solely upon these university-educated, mostly social-democratic professional politicians to defeat his opponents, the coup would almost certainly have succeeded.
Chavez’s story, and the course of the Venezuelan Revolution itself, bears vivid testimony to the crucial political relationship between a radical policy programme and popular mobilisation. Above all else, Chavismo proves that you cannot have one without the other.
The other thing a radical/revolutionary government cannot do without is the active support of a significant fraction of the armed forces.
Watching TRWNBT closely reveals that, although the mass mobilisation of the Chavistas and their non-violent siege of the Presidential Palace were crucial to the moral invalidation of the coup, it was the presence of the Presidential Guard (and their lethal weaponry) on the Palace grounds that forced the plotters to capitulate.
The Guard itself was only willing to act against the new regime because the military officers who had captured Chavez had not felt secure enough to assassinate him as soon as the coup got underway. Clearly the Officer Corps harboured serious doubts about the loyalty of the rank-and-file. If the coup was ultimately defeated, no one wanted to be fingered as the man who gave the order to shoot Chavez!
The loyalty of the Venezuelan armed forces, both to Commandante Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, makes it the single most important political force in contemporary Venezuelan society. With Chavez gone, its future disposition towards his nominated successor, Nicolas Maduro, will be crucial.
There was a time when Chavez’s point-man in the military, Diosdado Cabello, was looked upon as the Commandante’s ultimate successor, but Maduro, a former bus driver and union organiser, has proved to be the more adept (and certainly the more popular) politician. Cabello (now president of the National Assembly) has pledged his loyalty to Maduro – but there is much that could test it in the months ahead.
The fatal weakness of the right-wing Venezuelan elites was their historical failure to completely transform the country’s armed forces into unthinking enforcers of their will (as their counterparts had done so successfully in Brazil, Argentina and Chile). They will now be calculating how long Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution can survive without its military strongman.
In testing the military’s loyalty to Maduro, the Right will be able to rely on most of the privately-owned Venezuelan news media. TRWNBT brilliantly investigates and exposes the role of the private media in laying the groundwork for, and actively assisting, the 2002 coup.
Recall the New Zealand news media’s dramatic falling-out-of-love with the Clark-led Labour Government of 2005-2008, then multiply it by ten, and you will have some idea of the level of bias directed against the Chavez government. Better still, imagine the mainstream private news media serving up the hate-filled commentary threads of Kiwiblog as “news” and “current affairs”. Now you’re close.
The very fact that Chavez was able to flourish in this overheated political environment, winning election after election, is, in my opinion, his greatest political legacy. In spite of everything his opponents threw at him he never lost his natural ebullience, his political passion, or his earthy sense of humour.
Watching him sniff the air above the podium in the UN General Assembly, the day after George W Bush’s speech, and tell the world he could still smell the sulphur. Priceless!
Could we ever produce a Chavez-type radical populist here in New Zealand?
It certainly wouldn’t be easy.
Imagine Hone Harawira blended into Willie Apiata, with the ideological fervour of Jane Kelsey and Annette Sykes. Now make him a colonel, rather than a corporal, with a regiment of fiercely loyal soldiers, all imbued with notions of revolutionary social, economic and political change and just waiting for the word “to overturn the cities and the rivers/and split the house like a rotten totara log”. Send him into South and West Auckland on a mission to build a movement capable of smashing the neoliberal order in New Zealand. See him spread his revolutionary Aotearoan Socialist “circles” across the entire country. Watch him win the next election, and the next one, and the next one.
That was Hugo Chavez.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.