(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 30, 2013
There Is No Such Thing as Defeated People
R Arun Kumar
WHAT will happen to
Ciccariello-Maher presents four important arguments in the book – (i) the lessons learnt by the guerilla movements from their failures (ii) the entire discussion that took place in Venezuela on spontaneity versus organisation, horizontal versus vertical organisation structures and the role of organisations, State, etc., (iii) the changes in the class relations in Venezuela, particularly in the working class, how the progressive forces understood them and (iv) the existence of 'dual-power' in Venezuela today.
Chavez had acknowledged many a times that his interest in politics developed from the events of 1989, the Caracazo, where hundreds of protesters fighting the neo-liberal policies were brutally shot dead by the then regime. Chavez stated: “The Caracazo was the spark that ignited the engine of the Bolivarian Revolution”. It had inspired him to lead the failed coup in 1992 and changed his future vision for Venezuela, as he saw his defeat only, “por ahora”, 'for now'.
this book, takes us even beyond
Caracazo, indeed to 1958, so that we can understand what led
to Caracazo, which
provided the ignition for the Bolivarian revolution. It is the
period when the
first democratic government was established in
analyses the splits, failures and
the lessons learnt by the various guerillas and states that
contributed to the growth of socio-political consciousness of
people. He particularly discusses at length the feature of vanguardismo
that was prevalent in almost all the guerilla groups of this
period and shows
how it had isolated them from the people and ultimately
resulted in their
defeat. According to Ciccariello-Maher, some of the guerilla
this mistaken approach and sought to correct it by giving up
the path of armed
struggle and joining the existing revolutionary parties or
own parties. Initially, it is the Communist Party of Venezuela
(PCV), which was
the fountain-head of these guerilla movements. So naturally,
debates and splits also hurt it the most, weakening it
considerably. Some of
the guerillas during this course drifted to the right in
Venezuelan politics, a
phenomenon not strange to us in
As some of the guerillas
were working in urban areas,
they had considerable influence among the barrios.
After giving up the
armed struggle, they indulged in extensive ideological debates
which included the forms and paths of organisation and the
Ciccariello-Maher argues that those guerillas who had reasoned
their failure to
the vanguardismo and foquistas (adventurists)
among the people in the barrios to rectify this
lacunae. From this
sprang the community councils, precursors to the social
movements that we
witness in many parts of
For Ciccariello-Maher, it is this work through the community councils that brought the people out during the Caracazo. Ciccariello-Maher, does not buy the argument of spontaneity and horizontal-structureless organisations. This, however, does not mean that he is a great fan of the vertical, hegemonic organisations. He provides the historic basis not only to negate the argument that Caracazo was a result of spontaneity, but also to show that the rudimentary organisations existing in the barrios were also responsible for providing the launching pad for Chavez. This is a fact so obscured, that many of Chavez admirers too, often, wonder how Chavez had sprung from defeat and imprisonment to claim presidency in 1998. Ciccariello-Maher tries to provide some answers.
Ciccariello-Maher also shows how the former militants of the guerilla movement contributed to the growth of various organisations and movements among the students, women, peasants, indigenous and Afro-indigenous groups. They worked in an atmosphere where neo-liberal policies were pursued vigorously by the successive governments, as both the official parties did not differ in their intent for implementation. In spite of their limitations, the persistent work these organisations had carried out among the masses certainly developed political consciousness among the Venezuelans. They had extensively used the existing cultural symbols in their campaign, even those associated with the State like the National Anthem. The word pueblo, people, too was given a more revolutionary meaning – not the manso pueblo (docile people) but the montaraz pueblo (fierce people).
Analysing the class
It is these chapters that offer an important lesson to all the people in the third world, where there is a substantial growth in the informal economy and unorganised work force. Ciccariello-Maher has an interesting argument and does not agree to ignore such an important section of the working force by terming them lumpen. The discussion around worker take-over of factories also shows us the intense ideological battle involved, not only at the peripheral level (on the question of taking over) but also at the core (the necessity for developing workers' consciousness for such a step).
He argues that it is always the people, specially those from the barrios, organised in the community councils that pushed Chavez further in the process of Bolivarian process of revolutionary transformation. Chavez, in spite of all his charisma and popularity, encountered stiff resistance even from within his supporters (and later his party comrades) whenever steps were initiated for further empowering the people, worker take-over of factories, nationalisation of certain sectors of industries and most importantly implementing land reforms. It is only due to the pressure from below, the montaraz pueblo, that helped in the radicalism of Chavez and pushed the socialisation process further. The community councils that the Venezuelan Constitution recognises, the revolutionary Labour Law and the Law on Land Reforms were all a result of this process.
The community councils,
in which people of that
community sit together to decide on many things concerned with
according to Ciccariello-Maher, are true expressions of
peoples’ power. Tracing
the commonalities between the revolutionary situation in
Ciccariello-Maher states that the role of Chavez becomes important here, where he used his State power not against the people, as was a common feature during earlier regimes, but in favour of the common people. Even here too, Chavez did not act on his own, but the people constantly pushed him to act. Here, Ciccariello-Maher once again brings in the discussion amongst the various former guerillas, their understanding of the State which determines their attitude towards Chavez and the Bolivarian process. He does not agree with those who are sceptical of Chavez as just another representative of the State. He does not subscribe to the anarchist view on State and wants them to understand that through creative usage, the State can be used to better the lives of common people. Of course, the pressure from below, for this is indispensable.
We Created Chavez is a thoroughly
researched book. Ciccariello-Maher
gives us many details about how the popular movements (the We in the title) had acted during every step in
the course of the
revolutionary transformation of
Though the book is
published only in May 2013, three
full months after the death of Chavez, it does not talk about
the 'now' in
We love to read some books and read some others to learn. This is one book from which we would love to learn.