We Created Chavez

Issue section: 
(382)

George Ciccariello-Maher

I've been looking for this book for years. There are a whole number published that chart the life and political development of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Some are just romantic stories, others bungle together analysis of the exciting social movements and consequent social policies, rather than looking at the deep contradictions facing the people.

We Created Chavez sets out to unlock the social forces at play over the past 50 years, and seeks to explain why activists today defend Chavismo, but also see the need go beyond it. Although written while Chavez was still alive, it is the most useful analysis that I've read in English that aids us in understanding the pollitical arena post-Comandante.

In 1958, following the overthrow of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the three main democratic parties in Venezuela signed the Punto Fijo Pact, taking advantage of the situation for themselves supposedly to develop stability in the nation. Yet within two years revolution was in the air as the new government fired on its people and many Venezuelans took up arms in the countryside.

Despite great bravery, defeat after defeat broke the back of the guerrilla movements and led to an array of alternative political currents, including jail-breaks and hostage taking.

It was the self-activity of the masses over substitutionist direct action that turned history. Ciccariello-Maher focuses on two defining historical ruptures: 1989 and 2002.

The events of April 2002, when residents of the barrios alongside sections of the military ensured that Chavez was reinstated following a coup attempt, are well known. But less well known are the anti-neoliberal riots of the "Caracazo" sparked by bus fare hikes at the end of the eighties. The revolt spread across the country for a week, paralysing the government in a watershed moment. The state set up secret mass graves and sprayed bullets into residential areas.

These events are arguably the game-changers of Venezuelan society rather than later electoral victories and military coups.

More than just a chronology of events, the author has produced a readable text by intertwining history from below with interviews with former guerrilla fighters, today's urban guerrillas, trade unionists and those organising themselves in the barrios long before the acclaimed Communal Councils and other circles. There are chapters that focus on Afro-Indigenous organisation, the women's movement, students, "New Unionism" and informal workers - all movements emerging from the ruptures of 89.

The strength of this book is its detail of historical content, the framework of history from below and the fantastic conversations that inform it. A short review can't cover some of the questionable conclusions regarding "dual power" and a "lumpen" informal workforce, but all I can say is, if you want a slightly better grasp of the Venezuelan people's today then do read this book.

We Created Chavez is published by Duke University Press, £ 16.99