The New Bolivarians in Power

11 December 2006
Hugo Chavez’s triumph in the presidential elections is an important victory for the Venezuelans, but the main struggle is still to be fought, with the Bolivarian revolution spreading all over the continent, writes Kagarlistky.

Few took it seriously when almost ten years ago the Venezuelan Colonel Hugo Chaves set forth his Bolivarian project. Some people perceived Comandante Hugo as an eccentric populist leader and a master of demagogy. Left intellectuals presumed that Marxism and Socialism had been discredited and that was why such euphemisms as “Bolivarianism” were reintroduced into political language. But in today’s Venezuela the “Bolivarian project” is a less popular term than “Socialism of the XXI century”. The whole continent of Latin America has woken up to the left ideas. This trend could be compared in its scale to the process launched about two hundred years ago by El Libertador (the Liberator) Simon Bolivar.

Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Latin America from the Spanish colonial rule, was one of the sons of the European Enlightenment and the Great French Revolution. He formulated the idea of the continental revolution.

It was not the early Marxist theory to formulate the idea of the world revolution. For those who assaulted the Bastille it was plain that Reason is appropriate to all human beings, and freedom is a universal principle. On this basis the ideas of the French Revolution had to be disseminated all over Europe and the world. Simon Bolivar, who was brought up in a colonial society, had a bit different perception of those revolutionary ideas. For him the ultimate goal of freedom was national liberation. But this referred not to some isolated states but to the whole continent. Independence of Our America could only be guaranteed by its internal integrity.

Legacy of Simon Bolivar influenced immensely all sorts of Latin American revolutionaries and radicals in the XX century when the continent was already a part of Uncle Sam’s sphere of influence. The US informal hegemony in the region resided upon the local oligarchy. The “revolutionary condottierism” of Ernesto Che Guevara was a tribute to the Bolivarian idea of the continental revolution. But unlike Colonel Chaves, Comandante Che Guevara lost his battle – in the mid XX century his contemporaries in Latin America were not ready for radical change.

In early 1970s the Soviet propaganda on the tip from film director Roman Karmen started to call Latin America “the flaming continent”. It was a proper epithet grasping the nature of the revolutionary wave that swept over the continent in 1970s – but social activism of the epoch failed to revolutionize the old system, and reactionary doctrines soon came to dominate political life. The left movements were defeated. Despite the declarations of solidarity made by the Latin American left forces all the countries of the continent pursued the social struggle separately. But again Latin American military dictators and oligarchs interacted better than the national revolutionary movements did.

The situation drastically changed in the XXI century. Forty years of neoliberal reforms carried out all over the continent by military dictatorships and civil regimes gave rise to political and social conflicts from Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego. Traditional oligarchy was gradually losing ground while the new Western-type entrepreneurs lacking social responsibility and sense typical at least of some of the old Latin American elites failed to manage the situation.

The gap between the rich and the poor as well as between more and less developed countries in Latin America is still far from being filled. But this is overcome by numerous positive aspects that unite the sisterly nations of the continent.

Hugo Chavez’ triumph in the presidential elections in Venezuela is only one manifestation of the general political tendency in the continent – more and more Latin American nations give credit to the leftist presidents. The left forces come to power through free elections in compliance of democratic rights and freedoms. An attempt to overthrow Chaves through the military coup, as they did with Salvatore Allende in Chile in 1973, has failed – masses are much better organized and can stand up for their interests. Reelection of Chavez as President consolidates the idea that democratic process is subversive to the oligarchy – the opposition candidate Manuel Rosales hasn’t even tried to dispute the results of the elections. For the elections were undoubtedly free and fair.

Time will show if the Bolivarian project has the potential and political longevity. For now it’s only the beginning: numerous leftist presidents don’t save the day given the fact that real social change takes place only in two countries – Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela and Evo Morales’ Bolivia. In the near future this short list might also include Rafael Correa’s Ecuador. Herewith the “leftist” governments in Brasil, Uruguay, Chili are not much different from the rightist, while the policy of Argentinian reformist government has got stuck halfway. Sandinista Daniel Ortega who has been back in power in Nicaragua is little hope for his country. The relative success of the radical Administrations is a challenge not for the rightist and conservative leaders of the continent but for the allegedly “leftist” presidents who spend their time bringing it home to their voters why they can’t do anything for them. Chavez and Morales bring to naught all these excuses with the very fact of existence of their regimes.

For all its strong sides the Bolivarian project is very contradictory in itself. Consider the Venezuelan bureaucracy that despite all the changes managed to stay unchanged, i.e. inefficient and corrupt. And it is essential that Latin America’s most developed and strategically important nations – Argentina, Brasil and Mexico – become involved in the revolutionary process for it to cover the whole continent. For the time being these countries’ ruling elites manage to resist the wind of change.

It is an important victory for President Hugo Chaves that once again proves that observation of democratic procedures can go in line with the revolutionary changes. But the main struggle is still to be fought. And it won’t take place in Venezuela but will spread all over the continent as it was two hundred years ago.

Published by Eurasian Home ©

About the authors

Boris Kagarlitsky

Boris Kagarlitsky is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. Boris was a deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990-93, during which time he was a member of the executive of the Socialist Party of Russia, co-founder of the Party of Labour, and advisor to the Chairperson of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia.  Previously, he was a student of art criticism and was imprisoned for two years for 'anti-Soviet' activities.

Boris' books include Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System (Pluto Press, February 2008, Russia Under Yeltsin And Putin: Neo-Liberal Autocracy (TNI/Pluto 2002) and New Realism, New Barbarism: The Crisis of Capitalism (Pluto 1999).