These days the political crisis in Venezuela has entered an extremely acute phase. In fact, dual power has been proclaimed in the country: there are opposing policies and institutions at the presidential, parliamentary and judicial levels. This crisis became a major event not only in the region, but also in world politics. The countries of the world are very clearly and revealingly split in their assessment of the current events. This controversy spilled out at the UN Security Council podium. In addition to its political (and military) outcomes, this crisis makes us recall the ideological legacy of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, called “Chavismo” after him.
By the way, from the point of view of the ideological symbols of Chavismo, the timing of the current events is extremely important – the current political crisis in Venezuela began on the eve of February. It was in February that several key events of recent Venezuelan history took place, which is something Hugo Chavez always emphasized in his speeches. On February 27, 1989, powerful riots, which Chavez viewed as the forerunner of his “Bolivarian Revolution”, erupted in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. On February 4, 1992, Chavez himself led a military riot against the then president of the country. On February 2, 1999 he took office as president. On February 15, 2009, amendments to the country’s Constitution were adopted by Chavez. This is what Hugo Chavez wrote about in 2009: “February, February again! For many years, I feel that my life is tightly connected with this month of flowering in the savannas and gusts of summer winds: February 27, February 4, February 2! And now February 15!” Therefore, it would be no exaggeration to say that February has the same meaning for Chavistas that October had for the Soviet Bolsheviks. And the fact that the Chavista power is on the verge of collapse on the eve of the sacred month of February makes the current developments ideologically rich and uncompromising for all opposing sides in Venezuela.
The developments in Venezuela could be called a symbol of the nearly complete collapse of the famous “left turn” in Latin America (following Argentina, Brazil, Chile), if it was not for the recent victory of the left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico’s presidential election. It showed that the causes of social dissatisfaction with either neoliberal or right-wing policies in Latin America have not disappeared, and it is too early to bury the “left turn”.
But Chavismo is another matter. It was the policy of Venezuela’s left-wing governments that was perhaps the most radical of all countries of the left turn of the early 2000s. It was also expressed in Chavez’s close relations with insurgent groups in Colombia, in the “military experience” exchange with them (even leaving out the tricky question of drug supplies). Chavismo is also associated with militarized forms of social organization of society. Let us recall, for example, Chavez’s “socialist battalions” which served as people’s guards to defend the “party”, its “liberation missions” in the regions and villages, etc. There were no such early Soviet or even Maoist forms of social mobilization in other countries of the “left turn”. Ideological rhetoric was also militarized. For example, Chavez’s election campaign on the abovementioned amendments to the Constitution in 2009 was named by him the strategy of “double tank assault”.
Chavez’s global media charisma (or anti-charisma, if you like) also made his extremely uncompromising statements against the “American imperialism” widely known in the world. Finally, his projects to reorganize not only the national, but also the world economy (the oil fund for raw materials supplies to poor countries at preferential prices, the idea of a common bank of “anti-imperialist” countries) also had a global reach. In this aspect, he can, perhaps, be compared only with Gaddafi among the recent “anti-imperialist” leaders. And in Latin America itself, only Lula in Brazil, with his support for the anti-globalization movement, gained a wide global reputation (although, I repeat again, through much milder forms of projects for “fair redistribution of world wealth” than Chavez). None of the leaders of the “left turn” – neither Morales in Bolivia, nor the Kirchners in Argentina, nor Correa in Ecuador, nor Raul Castro in Cuba – had a similar global dimension of their policies like Chavez.
Moreover, of all left presidents in the region (not counting, of course, Cuba), it was Hugo Chavez who most openly proclaimed a course towards the creation of “21st century socialism”. At the same time, he refused both the Soviet and the Chinese experience in socialism building. Chavez combined his “own” socialism with the ideas of the extreme leftist perception of Christianity in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and idealized early Christian communities (closely intertwined with the Latin American “theology of liberation” at an earlier stage). Another aspect of Chavista socialism is connected with the historical memory (or historical myth) of the Bolivarian ideology of Latin American independence and unity. Finally, the cult of military heroes from the Bolivarian and Venezuelan past also took its place in ideology and in social organization (and quasi-military discipline) as part of Chavista socialism.
Finally, the economic results of the Venezuelan socialism (regardless of who is to blame for this) turned out to be the most pitiable of all the countries of the “left turn”. By the way, Gaddafi used his oil wealth to create an efficient social security system and was overthrown not because of the economy, but because of political and tribalist protests (even if we put aside the external intervention). The advantages of Lula’s socio-economic policy counterbalance its disadvantages, it was under him that Brazil’s oil wealth was transformed into growing global influence. And with Chavistas in power, Venezuela, the richest country in terms of oil deposits, lies in economic chaos. It is a fact of life, and we are not asking who is to blame.
Therefore, regardless of who wins in the Venezuelan crisis, Nicolas Maduro or his opponents, the results of the Chavista policy today make it fully justified to ask whether there is any radical limit in left-wing politics in the modern globalized world. The limit when the transition efficiency and stability of the system is sharply reduced until the collapse. In any case, even if the enemies are to blame for the economic failure of the Chavistas, the Venezuelan experience should lead to a rethinking of both left and right nationalist alternatives to the modern global mainstream.