Hugo Chavez empowered and united

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The powerful voice of Hugo Chavez - a voice for economic justice, democracy, empowerment, national independence, continental solidarity, peace, anti-imperialism, and socialism - has been stilled.

While local and global elites sigh in relief and belittle his life in the major media, the untimely death of Chavez is also evoking a heartfelt cry from millions of abused, marginalized, and exploited people across the globe - none more so than in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.

In that cry one doesn't hear a note of despair and defeat, but rather an unmistakable affirmation that the irrepressible spirit, intellectual curiosity, and disposition to action that defined this man's life will find reflection in the lives of struggling humanity in the years to come.

The celebrations in the seats of power of the global elite over Chavez's death are very premature. The "masters of the universe" make the mistake of underestimating the consciousness and capacity of people in Venezuela and elsewhere to carry forward Chavez's legacy of challenging entrenched capitalist power and injustice. This misunderstanding is not unusual for a class that is steeped in notions of racial superiority, patriarchy, and class entitlement, and tucked away in bubbles of privilege and opulence.

Few of us leave an individual imprint on history. For most of us, our ability to affect history lies in joining with others in collective action.

But some individuals do play an outsized role shaping historical events - as part of the wider struggles taking place in society.

Hugo Chavez Frias falls into this category.

He was an early and unyielding opponent of neoliberal globalization - a system of political and economic capitalist domination that grew out of the dynamics and contradictions of capitalism in its current stage of development. This system of governance broke up traditional farming in the countryside and forced vast numbers of peasants off the land. It created massive slums rimming South America's major cities, rolled back social provisioning by the state, degraded the environment, generated ever wider inequalities, tore down trade and financial barriers protecting local economies, decimated and de-nationalized industry, and condemned millions to impoverishment and spiritual hopelessness.

Drawing inspiration from Simon Bolivar, Fidel Castro and other revolutionaries of Latin America, Chavez challenged in words and deeds this system of exploitation and oppression.

But his fight was not a lonely one. This great leader of indigenous and African descent (a fact that fueled the hatred of the elites even more) not only gave voice to the impoverished and rootless, but also inspired them to become political actors in their own right. Indeed, Chavez played a singular role in transforming a fragmented mass of people in Venezuela into an organized force challenging the profits and prerogatives of local and global capital.

If we left it here however, we would miss the other side of the dialectic. Chavez, like other great leaders, was as much a product of his times and the people he sought to influence as they were of him. Changing circumstances and an aroused people remade him as much as he remade them.

Chavez was a socialist, and one whose feet were very much in this century. While he was inspired by struggles of the past, he wasn't a prisoner of the received wisdom of earlier times. His socialism - its sensibilities, goals, theory, program, and path - were conditioned by the particular, novel circumstances of the 21st century.

At the core of his worldview and political practice were people's needs, people's empowerment, and people's unity at the national, regional, and global level. His politics grew out of the real movement of people and a sober estimation of the actual balance of class and social forces.

At times, his views raised the eyebrows of those on the left who considered problematic any deviation from what I would call their undialectical and rigid reading of Marxism.

In an interview with Tariq Ali, Chavez said,

"I don't believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don't accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day. Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property or a classless society? I don't think so. But if I'm told that because of that reality you can't do anything to help the poor, the people who have made this country rich through their labor - and never forget that some of it was slave labor - then I say: 'We part company.' I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth in society.

"Our upper classes don't even like paying taxes. That's one reason they hate me. We said: 'You must pay your taxes.' I believe it's better to die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very pure banner, and do nothing ... That position often strikes me as very convenient, a good excuse ... Try and make your revolution, go into combat, advance a little, even if it's only a millimetre, in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias."

As you can see, Chavez's theory and practice included intermediate steps and stages of struggle. It embraced the struggle for reforms, even minor ones that would meet in some, even small, ways people's needs, and at the same time act as a matrix for mass political participation, anti-capitalist education, and deeper and broader unity. And it rested on a creative and flexible application of theory to changing reality.

Hugo Chavez will be greatly missed in his home country and worldwide, but the way to honor him isn't to turn him into an icon and his words into sacred texts. We honor Hugo Chavez by embracing his passion and courage, his curiosity about the world, his tireless struggle for unity of diverse forces, his readiness to think independently and develop Marxism in fresh and creative ways, and his belief in the intelligence and power of an engaged people.

Photo: Fernando Llano/AP

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  • I LIKE THIS VERY IMPORTANT ARTICLE ABOUT CHAVEZ AND VENEZUELA. I HOPE THAT YOU WILL WRITE MORE ARTICLE AND FACTS ABOUT VENEZUELA.
    PLEASE WRITE ABOUT CHILE .

    Posted by jayakarki61@gmail.com, 03/25/2013 10:06pm (1 year ago)

  • The CPUSA and Sam could learn from Chavez. He did not abandon Marx, but rather understood the process of planting one's feet in the moment and at the same time projecting the next steps towards a socialist Venezuela.

    Hugo Chavez did not limit education to anti-capitalist. He and his party were preparing the people ideologically to see that socialism is on the agenda. His feet were not planted in cement. He does not argue against the concept of proletarian revolution, but rather the timing with regard to Venezuela.

    Let's not use the Venezuelan experience as the model for us. After all, don't we argue at every turn that our path will be based on our traditions and peculiar national character or does that change when it suits our opportunism?

    Posted by David Bell, 03/19/2013 10:50pm (1 year ago)

  • With the death of Hugo Chavez, a great man has passed on, as will be the case someday when Fidel leaves us. The fact that Chavez proclaimed himself a Christian shows us the fruit of Liberation Theology and the path which the Catholic Church must embrace rather than attempt to stifle if its hierarchy truly wants to revivify that increasingly moribund institution.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 03/19/2013 10:46pm (1 year ago)

  • Hugo Chavez was truly a man of the people - all people.

    Posted by joe grant, 03/19/2013 7:34pm (1 year ago)

  • Yes , thank you HUGO CHAVEZ . Check out the article "The Legacy of Hugo Chavez , The Communal State" at <www.wagingnonviolence.org>

    Posted by Ken. Parks, 03/19/2013 2:19pm (1 year ago)

  • Beautiful story about Chavez. A short but big life.

    Beautiful analysis of class and Marxism.

    There are leaps, but mostly it's incremental and understanding that, is what keeps us going...

    wage peace as we struggle for a better world.

    Posted by Gabe Falsetta, 03/19/2013 12:04pm (1 year ago)

  • Thank you, Sam, for your kind words. Commandante Hugo Chavez was the product of a revolutionary legacy from Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti and countless men and women throughout a national liberation struggle in Our America during the last 200 years. When he became a recognized leader [after an official governmental conference in Havana, April 2005, between Venezuela and Cuba to establish the Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America, (ALBA)], he became public enemy #1 of the US government. For this reason, like Fidel, his life and example will never be extinguished. Until victory always,

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 03/18/2013 10:36pm (1 year ago)

  • very good analysis sam. marxism leninism was never meant 2 b dogmatic. great tribute 2 an outstanding leader of the working class and other strata of the population. in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 03/15/2013 6:19pm (1 year ago)

  • There is no basic, antagonistic contradiction between the Atlantic Revolutions, of the 18th century, the Bolivian Revolutions, The African Diaspora Slave Rebellions, and the contemporary socialist revolutions of the Venezuelan and Cuban variety we witness today, through the stalwart leaders in democracy and socialism like Fidel and Hugo. Their people's triumphant struggles that they helped engender will live on and on in democratic and socialistic fame. The monopoly press makes much of the fact that president Chavez wanted to live(quoting him as mouthing "Don't let me die"in English.
    One can't help think that this press, in this, further demonizes our hero, as they are wont to do.
    But we know that our people's president wanted to live to give to others-as his life proves.
    We know that he would be very likely to quote that other immortal, but in North American-Joe Hill, and mouth-"Don't mourn for me-organize", for objective, creative socialism, to protect the working people.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 03/14/2013 11:38am (1 year ago)

  • Great tribute, Sam!

    Posted by mark walton, 03/13/2013 4:22pm (1 year ago)

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