The memories of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution at the close of election season
Caracas, 18 November, 2008 – Walter Benjamin famously reversed Marxism’s traditionally forward looking temporal politics (“let the dead bury the dead”) when he wrote, in the 12th of his Theses on the Philosophy of History:
In the course of three decades [social democracy] succeeded in almost completely erasing the name of Blanqui, whose distant thunder [Erzklang] had made the preceding century tremble. It contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.
Benjamin reminds us of the importance of our revolutionary heritage in the formation of our present struggles. We are driven by ghosts – who we know – towards the future, which we cannot. Class hatred, love of a possible humanity; these are fed on the memories of what we have crossed to get here, not by the prospect of future obstacles or battles.
Benjamin’s intervention resonates today in Venezuela, as the Bolivarian Revolution readies itself for its first electoral test since the failed constitutional reform of December, 2007. Worse than the loss in terms of legislation which would have fortified and encouraged the transition away from capitalism, the failure of the reforma came about because the Chavistas were unable to mobilize for the yes vote. Memories of this self-imposed defeat have been weighing heavily on the minds of militants and speeches of candidates as the regional and local elections to be held on 23 November approach.
In a rally held today at Caracas’ Poliedro stadium, though, another memory was promient, as militants of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV for its initials in Spanish) took a moment to remember a fallen comrade of the Bolivarian Revolution. Today marks the forth anniversary of the death of Danilo Anderson, one of Venezuela’s leading judicial prosecutors, who was assassinated in what remains a point of intense point of contention in Venezuelan politics. In fitting fashion, at today’s rally the PSUV’s candidates in Caracas, President Hugo Chávez requested the assembled party members and militants to rise, and after a few words of remembrance, to raise the roof for a minute of celebration in honor of Anderson.
Anderson, initially an environmental prosecutor, was killed when two charges of plastic explosives exploded his SUV while on his way home from postgraduate studies in the Chaguaramos sector of Caracas (www.counterpunch.com was one of the few western media sources to cover the incident at the time. You can read Toni Solo’s original article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/solo11272004.html ). At the time, Anderson was the chief prosecutor in cases against key opposition figures of the 2002 coup and the failed recall referendum of August, 2004. Among the defendants were:
- 8 metro police accused of murder in the Puente Llaguno massacre (the direct trigger for the April coup);
- Private television stations that both fomented and colluded in the April coup;
- Opposition mayor of Baruta (a posh and very anti-Chavista sector of Caracas) Henrique Capriles, who led an attack on the Cuban embassy during the coup;
- Signatories of the infamous ‘Carmona decrees’ – named for the president of the national chamber of commerce who was installed as president after Chávez’s kidnapping on April 11 – which not only rolled back Chávez’s economic reforms but also rescinded all civil liberties;
- The NGO Súmate, the body funded by the (US based) National Endowment for Democracy, which spear-headed the 2004 presidential recall referendum.
In other words, Danilo had enemies that spanned the entirety of the Venezuelan opposition and on to the heart of US hemispheric designs. With his death, official investigations into the 2002 coup all but came to a standstill. More importantly, the Bolivarian Revolution lost one of its most dedicated, courageous and brightest minds.
The subsequent investigation into the murder of Danilo Anderson continues to be a major controversy in Venezuela. While the physical authors of the crime were eventually prosecuted and sentenced, Chavistas maintain that the true masterminds remain at large.
“Danilo Vive! La Lucha Sigue!” (Daniel Lives! The Struggle Continues!) echoed beyond the honorary minute today, and Anderson’s memory punctuated the rest of the afternoon’s speech by Chávez as a stark reminder of the enemies facing the Bolivarian Revolution. Just as importantly, Anderson as martyr and as symbol of a continuing struggle reminds us of the intensely democratic and deeply legal nature of the Bolivarian Revolution. Rather than rounding up the leaders of the 2002 coup and incarcerating them without trial in some Guantánamo-esque scheme, the government initiated investigations and followed constitutional procedure – even when that entailed the acquittal of officers involved directly in the temporary overthrow of Chávez.
To say that the struggle continues while invoking the spirit of Danilo Anderson thus entails an announcement of the Revolution’s continued fidelity to legality, to legislative means of social transformation, and – within these boundaries – to an untiring antagonism towards the opposition and their desire to block Venezuela’s current attempts to build a socialism for the 21st century. And in this context it is worth rehearsing the long and violent path the Venezuelan opposition chose before considering electoral competition as a means to end the Chávez presidency. The attempted coup of April 2002. The lock-out carried out by anti-Chavista state oil industry executives from December 2002 to January 2003. The infamous plan guarimba in which major thoroughfares of the Capital were blocked and police and Chavistas were attacked by roving opposition thug units. Continued collusion with the US government in the so-called ‘student movement’ of 2007 and in the major oppositions parties…
Also circulating throughout Caracas these weeks has been the specter of post-election violence in sister countries Bolivia and Nicaragua. In both cases, US-backed opposition movements launched violent protests against the government when the vote failed to go their way resulting in injuries, deaths, and damages.
The fear of this sort of thing happening in Venezuela again was piqued over this past weekend. Opposition candidate for governor of the state of Carabobo Alada Makled was arrested when police discovered hundreds of pounds of cocaine, airplanes and a clandestine airstrip in his ranch. On Saturday, an arms cache capable of arming a small army was discovered in a house in the upscale Baruta district of Caracas. Opposition leader (if one can really speak of the ever-fractious Venezuelan opposition having a ‘leader’) Manuel Rosales continues to refuse to respond to congressional subpoenas concerning his misallocation of funds in his current role as the governor of Zulia – one of the country’s richest states. In short, despite the continued deepening of Chavista hegemony, the opposition remains a threat that echoes less and less hollow on today’s grim anniversary.
In the midst of this abundance of memories, the revolution presses on. At today’s rally, Chávez argued that the real work of the revolution will begin after the victory at this Sunday’s polls. “After this electoral stage, we need a revolution within the revolution,” and he emphasized the need for revolutionaries to stamp out the corruption, bureaucratism and careerism that has persisted within the revolution. While the opposition remains something of a destabilizing force in the country, they enjoy absolutely no legitimacy amongst the vast majority of Venezuelans. Their constituency is static, as has been evidenced in every election, and they have failed to present any coherent vision for Venezuela in the course of their fractious and lackluster campaigns.
The real work of the Bolivarian Revolution, in other words, is that of constructing socialism for the 21st century, and socialism, it is worth underlining, does not grow out of the ballot box alone. The ‘deepening’ of the revolution called for by radical sectors of Chavismo and echoed by Chávez today can only take place with the further development of parallel institutions such as the communal councils, the centers for endogenous development, and the Bolivarian misiones. That is, 21st century socialism – if socialism is to mean anything in the 21st century – must come from the base, not from the experts and bureaucrats of the state apparatus. This effectively means, that the ‘red machine’ assembled today and mobilizing this election season has to find a way to keep up their momentum past Sunday’s elections and transfer their offensive against the conservative and statist sectors within Chavismo.
Sufficient revolutionary momentum, in this regard, cannot simply come from the vague hope for economic and political models in the distant future down the road. As Benjamin advised us decades ago, revolutionary energy hungers for stronger sustenance. In Venezuela, today’s dark anniversary reminds the Bolivarians of the exact nature of their enemies. It will be memories of fallen comrades like Danilo Anderson and that of the generations subjected to the slow systemic genocide of capitalism that will allow them to overcome their more intractable, intra-Bolivarian foes.