This is piffle. Old school sectarian piffle. I know, it’s a wall of text and I should give a wall of text in return, but it’s hard to take seriously when it’s clearly just “He’s not from my sect so he must be bad”. Ah well, I’ll give a fairly full response, but really this doesn’t deserve it.
There’s nothing much here about anything that’s happened since the coup in 2002, nothing about the communal councils, nothing about resistance to change by the entrenched mid-level state apparatus . . . it’s certainly true that Chavez’s background was military and that he attempted to use the military to fulfill policy objectives, but this “Bonapartist” wheeze, much like the right wing moan that he’s a “caudillo”, is so far from anything about the nature of the political process as it has unfolded under Chavez that it’s laughable.
Use of the military under Chavez has been marked by two major objectives, both antithetical to “Bonapartism”. The first was that in the early stages, Chavez’s hold on power was generally tenuous, but he needed to get results quickly on social programs in order to maintain enough popularity to continue his programs. The bureaucracy was generally opposed to significant reforms and tended to choke off attempts to deliver improved services–partly due to corruption, but to a fair degree from a combination of simple bureaucratic inertia and being made up of forces deliberately opposed to Chavez and anything left-ish in nature. He used the military simply because it was the only force available that he could be fairly sure would deliver the services he wanted delivered rather than simply undermining him. The second was something that future leftist governments in many places would do well to consider: Use of the military in delivery of social programs and in various other roles that were basically positive in nature and which brought military personnel in close contact with ordinary poor Venezuelans was done in part in a deliberate attempt to inoculate the military against fascist tendencies, making them less amenable to be used against the people. The idea was to create a military which, far from being usable as death squads, would value their positive role and their positive relationships with the Venezuelan people–whose instincts therefore would be to defend the people from attack, to make common cause with them. This is arguably a needed step if a revolutionary state is to be defended.
It’s clear that Chavez’s ideology has been evolving over time, and it underwent a sudden break after the 2002 coup. Before the coup, he was basically a reformist, someone who believed sincerely in a “Third Way” approach, hoping to help the people without starting a war with capital. After, he seemed to realize that since any sincere attempt to help the people would bring down the wrath of capital there was no point in making peace, and he rapidly turned towards socialism. Any analysis like the one above which emphasizes the first few years of his presidency is deeply lacking–all the more as frankly, the discussion of the constitution is deeply skewed to fit the desired mould.
If one looks at the state of grassroots mobilization in Venezuela, it is clear both that it has been powerful in its own right and that Chavez has generally worked to encourage it and create institutional spaces empowering it. Not 100% consistently, no, and many other supposedly Bolivarian politicians have opposed or worked to neuter the popular mobilization, particularly of the trade unionists who have in any case tended to lag other sectors. But compared to any other country on earth, progress has been huge, and Chavez has clearly been using the grassroots mobilization to help him defeat the bureaucrats and the bourgeois. This contrasts with Ecuador or Bolivia, for instance, where despite rhetoric, reforms have been limited to classic “welfare state” approaches. The frustration of attempts at worker control by fierce resistance both from opposition forces and elements calling themselves Chavista has been disheartening–but nowhere else in the world have there been any notable attempts, much less ones supported by laws and presidential rhetoric. No other state has seen anything like the communal councils, the rapid if flawed growth of co-operatives, the proliferation of community media, or the nationalization of significant industries that have happened in Venezuela.
In short, Chavez was by far the best the world had, and there is no doubt he was sincerely pushing towards a democratic socialism of some sort. It’s pernicious to denounce him as “Bonapartist” because he hadn’t yet broken the whole bourgeoisie and wasn’t part of one’s particular sub-sub-ideology.
“It’s pernicious to denounce him as “Bonapartist” because he hadn’t yet broken the whole bourgeoisie and wasn’t part of one’s particular sub-sub-ideology”:
What nonsense, Mr Library Guy! You make no serious attempt to refute the analysis of Chavez as a Bonaparte except to call it a “wheeze” and “pernicious.” You are clearly an uncritical fan of a very strange sort of “democratic socialism” – a “democratic socialism” that keeps the bourgeoisie in power and capitalism unchallenged, but puts opponents in jail, opposes independent trade unions (see http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/2365) and allies with the likes of Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi.Not a way forward for working class democratic socialists, but typically the stance of of breathless, Gott-like petty bourgeois hero-worshippers.
Good riddance. A truly despicable man. I was unconcerned by his support for secular nationalists like Gaddafi and Assad, better them than the Islamo fascists who are supplanting them, but support for Iranian fascism is enough to warrant a negative assessment.
It fails to grasp the nature of societies in Latin America. It is dismissive of key reforms which have benefited the working class and poor. But more importantly comes across as sour grapes from a distant land. It is out of touch and unconcerned with reality of life of many Venezuelans, not a sparkling example of internationalism.
PS: Jim, it would be far better if you learn to use WordPress, after all of these years, and especially the command when creating these long posts.
Typographically, they come over as diatribes, whatever the content.
I think what is most disappointing in these political obituaries is the missing elements:
The poor and working class in Venezuela.
Paul Hampton’s tired, partial and dated contribution manages about one sentence:
“These reforms have benefited some of the poorest sections of Venezuelan society – but also helped cement his rule.”
But it can’t help sneering.
I can imagine Tory politicians probably saying in late 1940s: “Labour is only introducing the NHS to cement its rule….” etc
Which would be equally myopic, silly and spiteful.
Far too many of these obituaries relegate the working-class to a sentence or a few passing words, without examining what changes took place to reduce poverty in Venezuela, how did it happen and what did it mean to the Venezuelan working class? etc
I have no problem with those who wished to write a critical obituary of Chavez, but the tendency to focus on foreign policy, be neglectful of the working-class, etc leads to the conclusion that the resultant, disagreeable and largely Western centric view of issues, is a poor substitute for thoughtful analysis.
Which is due to the utter laziness of both left and right.
How many not only know Spanish but are willing to immerse themselves in the data and the minutiae of how resources are actually distributed.
My own suspicion from what little serious analysis I have seen is that Venezuela actually has more in common with Peron’s Argentina, Israel in the decades of Ashkenazy Labour dominance and Mexico under the PRI rather than with real social-democracy,
In all three cases you had populist regimes rooted in a military-revolutionary elite which claimed to represent in a somewhat mystical sense the masses but which chose to redirect resources to the poor not through regular channels of progressive taxation and welfare systems but through elaborate and somewhat corrupt schemes of largesse and literal state capitalism favouring the unions and other institutions that were set up by the ruling party.
And while these regimes all had real successes and deserved at least some popular support they ultimately were founded upon sand and proved far easier to dismantle and destroy when their national bourgeoisie’s resumed full and direct control than boring reformist European social democracy has been (although that too is now coming to an end).
No one, certainly not me would argue that Chavez was a social democrat or even pushing towards that model, but the desire to shoehorn, by Western centric commentators, him into the Peron mold is partial, incomplete and exceedingly limited.
If Marxists claim that the working-class perspective is central to their belief, then surely the numerous improvements to the lives of Venezuelans should be appreciated and documented?
Lest the readers gain the impression that significant advances to the working-class in Venezuela, are of little or no consequence to those in the West.
I imagine that Chavez’s changes could be seen (by Latin Americans) as monumental as Clement Attlee’s creation of the NHS.
From afar these changes may seem inconsequential and irrelevant, but to the working class they are very, very important, Marxists not withstanding.
The idea of Marks/Engels was within his rule as was Lenin/Trotsky. and capitals rule.Like the man for his balls and ruthless determination for securing a better deal for his impoverished and ignorant capital status humans,capitals talk for exploit and profit.
Bonapartism is indeed the right frame of reference.
Having said that I am more than a little besotted with the original Bonaparte (or at least the icon as created by David and his own assiduous self-promotion rather than the actual emperor who left behind a million corpses in mass graves stretching from Cadiz to Moscow).
And Marx does make great play of comparing the original Bonaparte with his worthless nephew and epigone – the former was even somewhat against his will a truly progressive force (The Jacobins actually having been thoroughly suppressed by Thermidor when he was still a lowly artillery officer so it was never a choice between the true French Republic and the Empire) while the latter was a largely reactionary one,
So I can’t see any issue at all with calling Chavez a Bonapartist – hell the term he himself used most often was Bolivarian and Bolivar modelled himself slavishly on the original Bonaparte – as long as you remember that there are Bonapartes and Bonapartes and in varying degrees they combine both progressive and reactionary traits.