[News] Venezuela - Rebuilding the Hegemony of Chavismo (Part 1)

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 2 11:52:52 EDT 2019


  Rebuilding the Hegemony of Chavismo: A Conversation with Gerardo Rojas
  (Part I)

By Cira Pascual Marquina – August 2, 2019

/Gerardo Rojas is a Barquisimeto‐based Chavista intellectual and blogger 
<https://gerojasp.wordpress.com/>. His work as an organizer began in the 
early 1990s, when he was in middle school. Later in that decade, Rojas 
participated in the occupation of a building in the barrio where he was 
born, which became a community center and later, in 1998, the first 
community radio in Venezuela. Rojas was one of the founders of Voces 
Urgentes <https://vocesurgentes.wordpress.com/> in 2002, a communication 
collective, and participated in the organization of one of the first 
urban communes, Ataroa Socialist Commune, in 2007. More recently, he was 
vice minister at the Ministry of Communes. /

*In recent years, you have focused on the issue of communal and popular 
organization, examining the correlations of forces and bringing to the 
forefront a debate about the pending tasks for the popular movement. One 
of the tasks you identify is to resurrect Chavez's core proposal, in the 
face of hegemonic currents in the government. The government currently 
proposes that the way out of the crisis will be achieved with more 
capitalism instead of more communes and more socialism.*

For me, Chavismo is the synthesis of Comandante Chavez’s thinking, which 
was itself rooted in the interests and experiences of the popular 
movement and of the working people but also grew out of the revolutions 
of the world, and the thinking, theory and imaginary of the Left.

Three elements synthesize his thinking. The first is /The Blue Book/ 
[short book written in 1991 by Hugo Chavez, in which he presents his 
views on history and democracy]; the second is /Alo Presidente Teorico 
N° 1/ [2009 speech]; and the third is the /Strike at the Helm/ speech 
[2012]. In those three milestones, we find no more and no less than a 
clarion call for self‐government, direct democracy, social control of 
the public sphere, and development at a territorial or local level. Yet 
we also find the outline of a national system that would bring all this 

With those elements at hand, it is not hard to see what line we should 
pursue in our struggle, a path for popular action that goes hand in hand 
with a governance model committed to participatory and protagonist 
democracy, which for us is nothing other than Bolivarian socialism. That 
is a synthesis of Chavez’s legacy.

When one reads /The Blue Book/, which precedes Chavez’s electoral 
victory [1998], one is surprised to find direct, participatory democracy 
and self-government at its core. We are talking about the 1990s – that 
is when Chavez wrote it. Direct democracy and self-government, were 
always at the core of the Bolivarian Revolution. However, with time, 
experience, the practice of governing, the emergence of internal 
contradictions, together with advances and setbacks, the proposal gained 
precision and became a fully outlined integral project.

Later, in the /Alo Presidente Teorico N° 1/ speech, we can see Chavez 
consolidating the mature proposal. The discourse touches upon various 
experiences of popular power, beginning with the /Mesas Tecnicas de 
Agua/ [barrio-level organizations for getting access to running water] 
and /Comites de Tierra Urbana/ [Urban Land Committees, formed in the 
early days of the Bolivarian Process to struggle for urban land titles]. 
However, in that speech, we find an important leap forward in the 
proposal regarding territorial organization and popular self‐government. 
The new proposal comes out of historical experiences, and also from a 
tangible, immediate experience: the /pueblo/ had already demonstrated 
its capacity to organize in communal councils, opening up the real 
possibility of efficient and transparent self‐governance and collective 
control. The potential to go further, now crystallizes in the proposal 
of the commune.

In addition to the /Alo Presidente Teorico N° 1/ landmark speech, we 
also have the last political address of Chavez, the testament which he 
leaves us before he goes to Cuba to address serious medical problems. 
That is the speech known as /Strike at the Helm/, which he delivered in 
the first cabinet meeting shortly after the 2012 elections and was 
publically broadcast nationwide. There Chavez severely criticized his 
ministerial team and their administrative methods. But he didn’t just 
question the ministers, he also made some concrete proposals, based on 
the collective experience so far and also based on his own analysis, and 
taking into account the correlation of forces at that moment.

Many who talk about /Strike at the Helm/ limit its scope to the “Commune 
or nothing” slogan, and that of course is key – it is one of the 
sentences that best synthesizes Chavez’s thinking – but “Commune or 
nothing” was essentially already there in /Alo Presidente Teorico N° 1/, 
where the communes were conceived as the base for the territorial 
development of socialism. However, the commune as expressed in /Strike 
at the Helm/ transcends the earlier, merely local proposal, and its 
scale now becomes national. Thus, Chavez now introduces mechanisms of 
political, administrative, and institutional coordination regarding the 
key issue of planning that range from the communal territory (the 
“commune” as expressed in the popular power Laws 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5852>) to the national scale.

In this speech, Chavez talks about the diverse modules, territorial 
units, and stages of popular development. He talks about weaving 
socialism into the fabric of the whole country, with the commune as the 
base, and the emergence of an economy based on social property. So 
there, in /Strike at the Helm/, Chavez acknowledges problems and makes 
contributions which, as I just said, take for granted the commune as a 
project on a national scale... He also envisions the project growing 
from the communal council to the commune, then to the communal cities, 
and even later to the developmental districts and developmental axes all 
the way up to the communal state. In other words, Chavez imagines a 
process that goes from the local to the regional and then to the 
national, recognizing that planning is very important.

The coming together of the local projects of popular power (the 
communes) with the regional and national governments must go through a 
democratic debate in which there is planning process and people agree on 
the objectives. That is why the /Homeland Plan 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7091>/ [2012] is also a key to 
understanding the communal proposal. It is a guide for a collective 
process of planning and action, where revolutionary imagination and the 
political project feed into a plan.

*Would you say that within the government, there is an excessively 
pragmatic and superficial use of Chavez’s thinking?*

Yes. Today Chavez’s thinking is presented in a fragmented way by the 
hegemonic sectors in the government. His ideas are not presented in a 
timeline that is rich, that advances, but that is also contradictory at 
moments. Instead, Chavez’s thinking is deployed with particular 
interests in mind and in specific conjunctures. Above all, /Strike at 
the Helm/ is cast aside because, as I was saying earlier, it is Chavez’s 
political testament. Additionally, the /Homeland Plan/ is being made 
invisible. In fact, a new Homeland Plan was developed without evaluating 
the original proposal. There was absolutely no public evaluation of the 
first Homeland Plan, but the government moves onto the next plan without 
reflection and input!

Obviously, the country’s situation is radically different from the one 
that existed when Chavez was alive and the /Homeland Plan/ came out. We 
are now facing a multifaceted crisis, but that is not an argument not to 
evaluate the first plan. On the contrary! The problem is that 
contextualizing and reevaluating that effort would lead back to some key 
ideas, from self‐governance and participatory democracy to social 
control and political and territorial reorganization. In all that, we 
have a basis from which to build and we have the tangible experiences... 
that, in the context of this wretched crisis, recognizing that we have 
very few resources and many weaknesses, is tremendously important! I 
think this kind of reflection (and the action that would ensue) is one 
of our outstanding tasks. Postponing that task or sidelining it is one 
of the most evident shortcomings of the Bolivarian Revolution today.

*We should talk about the subject of the revolution. As you mentioned, 
Chavez went through a theoretical‐political evolution, but there was 
always a focus on poor people’s participation in the questions that 
impact their daily lives. That is evident very early on, in the proposal 
for substantive democracy (direct or participatory democracy) that is 
envisioned in /The Blue Book/. Toward the end of Chavez’s life, the same 
concern reemerges in the idea of a new communal society. However, today 
we find that the government's discourse is based on the idea that the 
people will be saved by private investment or the "revolutionary 
bourgeoisie” that Agriculture Minister Wilmar Castro Soteldo’s 
champions. This amounts to a /Strike at the Helm/ to the right! *

 From /The Blue Book/ forward, the /pueblo/ and direct democracy became 
central to Chavez’s thinking. With the project of a profound, 
substantive democracy we have in effect a guiding principle to rebuild 
the hegemony of Chavismo. In this way, it would be possible to bring 
together more and more people, to build a collective subject with our 
main ideas clearly defined: the fight against corruption and the 
exercise of direct democracy together with the defense of the Venezuelan 
people as subjects that are part and parcel of a historical emancipatory 
struggle. Currently, the recovery of our historical memory as a 
fundamental base for revolutionary thinking is important, as Chavez’s 
early writings show.

So here are three keys. First comes the reconstruction of ourselves as a 
collective subject, a /pueblo/ with a history and a defined popular 
identity: Venezuelans but also Latin Americans. That was, is, and will 
always be fundamental to constructing hegemony, because from there we 
can project an identity. Second is the fight against the corrupt 
political system, against the Fourth Republic [the 1958 to 1999 period], 
which also comes early on in Chavez, and brings us to the present and a 
necessary critical reflection about the old mechanisms that are quite 
evidently [coming back] now.

Third is democracy, and when we talk about democracy, we are talking 
about integral democracy, democracy in the economic, social, and 
political spheres. Obviously, there can be no real democracy if there is 
no economic democracy. Without that, we encounter again the farce of 
representative democracy, against which emerged one of the early 
struggles and debates in which the revolution naturally favored the 
constituent /pueblo/.

Those are the main teachings from the early days of the revolution. 
There, the subject was the /pueblo/. Early on, the key was to add not 
subtract, and one of the sentences that Chavez repeated most in his 
discourses was his call for the “defense of the /pueblo/,” the /pueblo/ 
that has a history and a present of struggle, the /pueblo/ that has an 
identity and gets together to transform its own reality, and that 
questions the historical interests of the dominant class. That class 
included the landowning oligarchy, which in some cases is the same that 
we are struggling against still today, as well as the bourgeoisie, with 
its corporate and media interests.

Overall, it was a question of the /pueblo/ combatting the powers-that-be 
both inside and outside the state. This is tremendously urgent to think 
about today, because recovering it goes hand in hand with the issue of 
corruption. At least in his public discourse, Chavez was adamantly 
against corruption and self‐critical. He called for a fight against the 
corruption in the bureaucracy and called for the government and the 
people to put the breaks on this.

For us, as I was saying, the /pueblo/’s identity and the construction of 
hegemony are key. Initially, part of that construction was the very 
recognition of the /pueblo/ (for the first time) in the political 
discursive sphere. The /pueblo/ as a subject brings together campesinos, 
women (paraphrasing Chavez, “the Bolivarian Revolution will be feminist 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/video/13321> or it won’t be”), and barrio 

But, of course, in the process of building hegemony, the Bolivarian 
Revolution added sectors of society to the project with rather diverse 
interests. Today, an important part of the government is occupied by 
those other sectors, and they seek the restitution of the logic of 
capital. Here we should acknowledge the obvious: capitalism was never 
totally displaced, but we did advance towards the constitution of a 
social state of justice with rule of law, and they want to revert it.

Certain sectors of our government, the hegemonic ones, aim to minimize 
or eliminate all the social, economic and political advances made 
previously. For instance, they reject the objective of social inclusion 
from an economic point of view. Mind you, inclusion should be understood 
not in a superficial sense; we are talking about inclusion as the 
construction of power, of popular power, with transfer of the means of 
production to the people, which was clearly established by Chavez in 
/Strike at the Helm/.

Today, I would say that the main contradiction, more so than the 
contradiction with the opposition, is actually within [Chavismo]: this 
is where people have to assume positions. It is in this area where there 
is a dispute regarding how to proceed and how to build a social base to 
continue with the revolution.

In 2015, or perhaps before, the hegemonic bloc that involved the people 
was left behind. That was when the government began to close in more and 
more on itself, leaving the /pueblo/ out. Today we can say that the 
space of power is reduced to a handful of people, and their tendency 
goes against the original Chavista proposal.

What can we say about those people? They have de facto power, and the 
people that surround them manage a lot of money which was captured 
through privileged access to subsidized dollars or contracting services 
with the state... So we are talking about the making of a new “national” 
bourgeoisie that comes out of the profits produced by oil production. We 
must be critical about the ambiguous class character of the government, 
but we should also be self‐critical to the degree that we weren’t able 
to take charge of the spaces of power. That is true to the degree that 
we didn’t call for another way of doing politics at the highest levels.

*I agree with your assessment. However, you have also talked about the 
survival of the Chavista way of doing politics. Where do you think that 
it is still present in Venezuelan society today?*

That is important. We should recognize that there is a Chavista way of 
politics that is alive and well, and it expresses itself in communal 
work, in local organization, and in direct popular participation to 
solve daily problems. These are ways of doing politics that are not 
supported by the government, that are invisibilized or made visible in 
the worst way possible. The latter is done to reduce the revolutionary 
potential of Chavez’s way of doing politics.

Let me give you an example: recently state media did some coverage of 
the Altos de Lidice Commune 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/14478>, and they reported that a 
pharmacy opened there. But when you go to the commune, you discover that 
there is no pharmacy there. Instead there is something much larger and 
more important: an integral communal health system, an initiative that 
brings together popular canteens [solidarious lunch canteens, known as 
“comedores populares”], primary attention to the most vulnerable at 
home, the coordination of at least four or five Barrio Adentro 
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/tag/barrio-adentro> [public health] 
ambulatories, etc. We could say that this initiative amounts to popular 
power recovering Chavez’s Barrio Adentro initiative. What is there, in 
Altos de Lidice, is not a mere pharmacy, it’s a system. If you go to the 
so-called pharmacy, you won’t be able to buy anything. On the other 
hand, you will be given free medication (which is received through 
fraternal donations mostly from Chile and Italy), if a request is made 
by the doctors, who are integrated into the communal system.

So the state media reports that a pharmacy opened in Altos de Lidice, 
implying that it is the outcome of governmental policies, when what we 
are witnessing is really the outcome of popular, autonomous 
organization, which produced a lot more than a pharmacy. It is a 
grassroots initiative to build a communal healthcare system.

Chavismo is alive in a subject that is present everywhere, in every 
corner of the country. But we can say also that this subject is 
dispersed and facing political blackmail. In this very harsh reality, we 
may ask ourselves everyday how to raise our voices, we may ponder if our 
criticisms could amount to treason or if we could be accused of treason. 
But Chavismo, this popular subject, is alive and well. Now the issue is 
how to make it visible, how to bring it together, and how to develop a 
collective line of action.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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