Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 5, 2013

Hugo Chavez is dead

Filed under: obituary,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 10:39 pm

Hugo Chávez: poor boy from the plains who became leftwing figurehead

Venezuelan leader leaves legacy of literacy and healthcare for poor alongside crumbling infrastructure and dependence on oil

Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, has died after a long battle with cancer, according to his vice-president Nicolás Maduro. Photograph: George Tuley/AP

No one imagined it would end like this. A ravaged body, a hospital bed, a shroud of silence, invisible. Hugo Chávez‘s life blazed drama, a command performance, and friend and foe alike always envisaged an operatic finale.

He would rule for decades, transform Venezuela and Latin America, and bid supporters farewell from the palace balcony, an old man, his work complete. Or, a parallel fantasy: he would tumble from power, disgraced and defeated by the wreckage of revolution, ending his days a hounded pariah.

Instead, the 58-year-old leader, whose death was reported on Tuesday by his vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, succumbed to cancer at a hospital in Caracas, departing this world behind drapes of official secrecy. The boy from the plains of Barinas who loved to draw and sing and grew up to be an army officer, a coup plotter, a president and world figure, leaves an ambiguous legacy of triumph, ruin and uncertainty.

It was a surreal, slow-motion death. He announced his cancer in June 2011 to a stunned nation. The comandante, sick? He was indestructible: possessor, as Gabriel Garcìa Márquez once noted, of a body of reinforced concrete. Chávez drank more than 30 cups of black coffee a day, worked till 3am, talked on his weekly TV show without script (or interruption) for eights hours straight.

“We will beat this,” he told Venezuela, enlisting the country in his fight for survival, and, until late last year when he disappeared from view for treatment in Cuba and officials turned grave, the government insisted for a year and a half that, no matter how bloated and haggard he looked, he was recovering.

During 2012 Chávez would break spells of seclusion by appearing on TV clutching that day’s newspaper, like a hostage’s proof of life video. Many Venezuelans were convinced the cancer was a ruse, that he was faking it to wrongfoot opponents.

But he was dying. The type of cancer and its prognosis were official secrets, kept in the same vault as Fidel Castro’s medical records.

Death will return Chávez to the spotlight. His funeral promises to be a vast, tumultuous affair of weeping throngs and foreign leaders’ cavalcades. The millions of mostly poor Venezuelans who considered Chávez a champion since he was first elected in 1998 will be bereft.

“Uh, ah, Chávez no se va,” went the chant. Uh, ah, Chávez won’t go. A gleeful, defiant riposte to opponents who tried in vain to oust him. Now he has gone, but whither his “21st-century socialist revolution”, a unique experiment in power fuelled by charisma and bountiful oil revenues?

Read full article



  1. Regardless of public opinion here in America about Chavez, I respected him for assisting impoverished Americans by providing home heating oil through Citgo who otherwise would’ve been in the cold. This program helped many families with children, the disabled and sick and the elderly. The same people who criticized Chavez as a dictator in this country, are supporters of Obama and his authoritarian policies and so I ask will the REAL dictator please stand up!

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — March 5, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  2. I spent April 12th, 2002 standing alone in front of the Venezuelan consulate in New York City holding a sign “Stop the coup! Restore democracy in Venezuela”. A number of right wing Venezuelans and Colombians were milling about – they didn’t mind me much though…because they thought that they had won. Well, Chávez got in another decade any how. I hope to see more of his kind bubbling up around the world in the years to come.

    Comment by Lance — March 6, 2013 @ 6:21 am

  3. I find it interesting that I see no mention of Chavez’s death at “CounterPunch”; some sort of ideological tiff?

    I hope that Venezuela continues along the Left path – it would be a slap in the face to the impoverished majority if Chavez’s landowner opposition were to regain power.

    Comment by Strelnikov — March 6, 2013 @ 6:49 am

  4. Someone on a forum said it best:

    “The only sad thing about this day was watching pseudo leftists cry in their latte’s over a despot tyrant. Is this what the left is reduced to supporting populist tyrants who claim they are Socialist? If it is it’s a sorry state of affairs indeed. Chavez supported the likes of Iran who’s counterrevolutionaries killed off all the Communists of any type when the Islamic militants won out. How the hell does that make him some great socialist? Being anti-American does not equal Socialism! For that matter what kind of Socialist aligns himself with Tsar Putin? I suppose these same lefties will be mourning his death when he finally croaks or atleast the ones who aren’t dedicated Tories, Liberals or equivalent there of by that point.

    “Fuck i need some anti-nausea tablets after reading through all this because seeing all these pseudo leftists weep over a dictator is making me want to puke.”

    Make that two of us.

    Comment by Cliff — March 6, 2013 @ 7:23 am

  5. chavez as just died
    & ‘fore the stiffness
    of death sets in
    the liveried bellwethers
    of u.s. reaction emitts
    foul fumes outa
    both their blowholes

    Comment by jim sharp — March 6, 2013 @ 8:17 am

  6. The Venezuelan president himself, before he died yesterday, wondered aloud whether the US government – or the banksters who own it – gave him, and its other leading Latin American enemies, cancer.

    Another CIA assassination victim

    A little over a year ago, Chavez went on Venezuelan national radio and said: “I don’t know but… it is very odd that we have seen Lugo affected by cancer, Dilma when she was a candidate, me, going into an election year, not long ago Lula and now Cristina… It is very hard to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some leaders in Latin America. It’s at the very least strange, very strange.”

    Perkins, during his career as an “economic hit man,” gained first-hand knowledge about how the big international bankers maintain their empire in Latin America and elsewhere. Perkins’ job was to visit leaders of foreign countries and convince them to accept loans that could never be paid back. Why? The bankers want to force these nations into debt slavery. When the country goes bankrupt, the bankers seize the nation’s natural resources and establish complete control over its government and economy.

    CIA killed Hugo Chavez?

    The “asteroids” are the world’s most expensive and accomplished professional killers. They work on contract – sometimes to the CIA, sometimes to the bankers, and sometimes to wealthy private individuals. And though their specialty is causing plane crashes, they are capable of killing people, including heads of state, in any number of ways.

    Comment by Sana Askari — March 6, 2013 @ 8:42 am

  7. Hugo Chavez had more democratic legitimacy, both formal (victories in elections and referendums) and substantively (actual popular support, particularly amongst the working class/poor) than virtually any other president or prime minister anywhere in the world. To call him a “despot tyrant” and “dictator” is ludicrous. Your supposed critique of Chavez from the left is really just a repetition of the lies of the Venezuelan right-wing and the US government.

    No, Chavez/the PSUV haven’t been infallible or perfect revolutionaries. They’ve made mistakes and compromises (like every person or organisation that’s ever actually done anything). Their foreign policy (particularly outside of Latin America & the Caribbean) has often been dubious and seemingly based more on ‘realpolitik’ than principle. But how much influence do you think Chavez/the PSUV have over events in the Middle East? I would suspect very little. And to be honest, you can see why they’re adopting the “enemy of my enemy” approach, surely?

    The overall effect of the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ has surely been overwhelmingly positive. The likely alternative to it is a return to neo-liberalism, quite possibly enforced by a Pinochet-style dictatorship. Anyone on the left should know exactly which side of that line they’re on. They should also remember that the point isn’t just how to interpret the world but to change it. That we should be in favour of anything that actually does change the world for the better, rather than prioritising our supposed ideological purity. By all means, feel free to “ruthlessly critiscise” the flaws and shortcomings of the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ (or for that matter anything else), but don’t just dismiss it as if it’s worthless. Don’t talk about it as if they haven’t achieved infinitely more than we ever have.

    Comment by John — March 6, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

  8. “You cannot fight terror with terror”
    Hugo Chavez, October 2001

    With that, Chavez drew a sharp line between the US and South America in regard to the US response to 9/11. Unlike many other countries in the rest of the world, South American ones refused to participate in renditions and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. For that reason, the US sought his removal less than a year later. While his response to the Arab Spring was embarrassingly wrong, his abandonment of neoliberal US economic policy, his successes in alleviating policy and illiteracy and his opposition to US militarism and imperialism made him one of the most important, if not the most important, political figure of the last 25 years.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 6, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  9. How can any American critique an a alleged dictator’s record when we have one in effect and ruling us right now? The Obama regime the world’s experts on everything! What perfection! Our dear leader! Excuse me I need to throw up my unhealthy unapproved by Michelle Obama food now!

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — March 6, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

  10. Cutting poverty by 75% and founding a new set of Latin American regional institutions largely indepedent of the U.A. is not ambiguous.

    The Western political elite reveals how truly isolated they at this juncture in history. Even the right wing president of Chile was singing Chavez’s praises last month.

    And the Guardian is a piece of trash.

    Comment by purple — March 6, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

  11. For lack of time: fuck the Guardian and fuck the twin ultra-Lefts commenting above. Criticizing Chavez is not a problem. Parroting right wing propaganda and calling it a Left critique is a problem and an abandonment of any sort of marxist method of analysis.

    Comment by Leon — March 6, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  12. Cliff the cunt is worried about democracy in foreign lands? look around you you cunt.

    Comment by noname — March 6, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

  13. a good, brief post by Richard Seymour about Chavez, highlighting the backstory as to how the social movements made his ascension to power possible: http://www.leninology.com/2013/03/rip-chavez.html#disqus_thread

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 6, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

  14. The fellows who accuse me of USA-centrism ignore the fact that I don’t live there — probably because they suffer from it themselves. I guess the ICC in Venezuela, the Trotskyists in Venezuela, etc. are also victims of this ailment. These “Marxists” would do well to read what Marx had to say on Bolivar.

    Comment by Cliff — March 7, 2013 @ 7:17 am

  15. the achievements of chavez: http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/7568

    Comment by jp — March 8, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

  16. Cliff’s spouting a bunch of nonsense. He’ll probably be deleting Hugo Chavez’s name & copy and pasting the same paragraphs on blogs but with Castro’s name instead when Fidel dies.

    Chavez arguably empowered the masses through education of their collective strength & elevation of class consciousness more than even the Sandinistas.

    He arguably expropriated more from the expropriators on behalf of the Venezuelan masses than did the Sandinista regime as well, all the while surviving repeated UN monitored elections that the Sanidinistas couldn’t.

    Granted tremendous oil wealth was something the Sandinistas didn’t have the luxury of and if it weren’t for Uncle Sam’s mercenary army being way over-extended by heroic resistance in Iraq & Afghanistan then who knows what would have been the trajectory of the Bolivarian Revolution if the Pentagon’s resources weren’t spread so thin & so incompetently squandered, but then again, abject waste, military incompetence & profound underestimation of the resistance of its victims has been the hallmark of the history of imperialism, the constant that springs eternal hope in the breasts of all revolutionaries whose aim is to expropriate the expropriators.

    The single most progressive development since the demise of the USSR has been the Bolivarian Revolution which objectively redistributed wealth & elevated class consciousness, unlike the Arab Spring which so far hasn’t mussed up a single hair on capitalism’s head.

    The Occupy Movement, which was a harbinger of awakening class consciousness in the belly of the beast still has the potential to surpass even that but that page of history has yet to be turned.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 9, 2013 @ 1:57 am

  17. Chavez is to Castro what Barnes is to Trotsky. No comparison. Not that any of them had anything to do with the real Marxian project of the abolition of the law of value, (i.e. the regimentation of social life by the socially necessary time of reproduction).

    The best write up on the pathetic remains of the left clinging to the Chavismo lifeboat in recent memory is here: “Venezuela: the left’s heart in a heartless world” http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/12960/

    Comment by Cliff — March 9, 2013 @ 10:27 am

  18. It’s a bullshit analogy, particularly since abolishing the law of value is unthinkable in one 3rd world country. The political trajectory of the SWP under Barnes is more akin to the political trajectory of the CP in the USSR under Stalin. Both are Kaput!

    As far as likening Chavez to Peron, it’s a weak analogy since Peron didn’t Nationalize or expropriate anything and barely touched a hair on capitalism’s head.

    Objectively Chavez has made a big difference improving the toilers’ daily lives and from their perspective they’ll take those transitional advances by any means necessary.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 9, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

  19. Cliff is a bit of a troll who got himself banned from the North Star website. I might ban him here as well. It is particularly hard to take seriously someone recommending an article from Spiked Online, a website whose guru once said:

    Tuesday: I am in a quiet state of agitation. The headlines are dominated by the outbreak of violence in the Middle East and no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember the name of the right-wing Israeli politician, whose visit to the Muslim shrine (whose name I can also not recall), sparked the whole thing off.

    Wednesday: More violence in Israel. But things are looking up — the debate on sex education is in the news. That’s more my kind of issue. Now if only there was another nice controversy about something with a sociological edge.

    Thursday: I am feeling depressed. The violence in the Middle East dominates the news. The media have dropped the sex education debate.

    full: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/spiked-onlines-obsession-with-anti-semitism/

    Comment by louisproyect — March 9, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

  20. “It’s a bullshit analogy, particularly since abolishing the law of value is unthinkable in one 3rd world country. ”

    Gee, you don’t say? Marx and Trotsky on permanent revolution brother. I know you’ve been around a while. Why not do a refresher? The communist revolution is international or it is nothing. There can’t be socialism in one country and there really can’t be socialism in one presidency.

    “Objectively Chavez has made a big difference improving the toilers’ daily lives and from their perspective they’ll take those transitional advances by any means necessary.”

    Oh yea?


    The “Socialist” policy conducted in this country causes no less havoc than that of American “liberalism”. And there’s nothing surprising about this since it’s really a question, in both cases, of the same state capitalism; only the mask changes. In Venezuela, state capitalism is only more of a caricature than elsewhere and performs less well, since it has succeeded in weakening both private and state capital.

    Today, the country has to import practically all current consumer goods, which is a bit paradoxical for a country that says that it’s developed a continental “revolution” by exporting its label: “Socialism of the 21st century”. But things are even more ironic: playing up to the gallery, Chavez conducts permanent confrontations with the United States which is designated as the Great Capitalist Satan. Meanwhile, in the corridors, very tight links are maintained between the two countries. The USA is thus the main commercial client of Venezuela.

    The official figures themselves and those of ECOLA (Economic Commission of Latin America) and of the IMF, are all obliged to recognise the gravity of the economic crisis in the country: Venezuela and Haiti (one of the poorest countries in the world!) have been the only Latin American and Caribbean countries not to have had any growth in 2010. For Venezuela it’s the third year of a decrease in its Gross Domestic Product. The country has the highest inflation of the region and one of the highest in the world; for each of the last three years, it has been 27% on average and it is estimated that for 2011 it will go beyond 28%. That’s a rate of inflation that really hits the wages and pensions of the workers, as well as the social assistance granted by the state.

    Evidently, Venezuela is suffering from the world economic crisis. But the measures taken by Chavez are basically no different from those taken by the “right wing” and “reactionary” regimes all over the planet:

    * Oil revenues, which have increased considerably in 2011 following the Libyan crisis, are not enough to satisfy the voracity of the state; they are vanishing into “alternative” budgets to the national budget, directly and arbitrarily manipulated by the Executive (with the excuse of making more active “social investment”). This form of management by the regime has facilitated the creation of a vast network of corruption involving several levels of the public and military bureaucracy.

    * Whereas a good number of workers just about survive on a little more than the minimum wage (equivalent to about $150 per month), the highest levels of the state bureaucracy, civil and military, receive the highest of salaries and “profits” in order to guarantee their loyalty to the regime.

    * Military expenses continue to increase, with the excuse of countering the threat of invasion by “Yankee imperialism”; and this results in a firmer grip on the monopoly of energy resources.

    And, as with the other economies of the world, Venezuela’s state debt is exploding. This debt of 150 billion dollars, a little above 40% of GDP, is still manageable today but economic experts note that if it continues to rise at the present rhythm, there will be a risk of default of payment (the impossibility of paying back the interest on the debt) in three years time! Thus, Venezuela could find itself in a situation identical to that of Greece, a situation which demands the assistance of the EU and has given rise to a policy of unprecedented austerity.
    Chavism has recourse to the same “remedy” as all the other bourgeoisies of the world: austerity!

    Here’s the reality of the “socialist” policy of Chavez:

    – devaluation of the Venezuelan Bolivar by 65% in January 2011, after another of 100% at the beginning of 2010;

    – a permanent attack on wages and social assistance;

    – drastic reductions in food and health programmes;

    – increases in electrical charges with the excuse that it’s aimed at ending “the waste of electricity”, which will dramatically affect the cost of living;

    – increases in the price of fuel, VAT and various other taxes.

    Because of inflation wages have suffered a strong deterioration. According to the ECOLA and the International Labour Organisation, wages of Venezuelan workers have fallen, in real terms, more than 8% in the first 3 months of this year compared to the same period in 2010. As in many other countries precarious, temporary employment has increased in the public and the private sector; according to one recent study made by the Catholic university “Andres-Bello”, 82.6% of the Venezuelan workforce has a precarious job. In short, despite the determination of the Chavez regime to fake the figures, the reality is that poverty continues to get worse.

    At the social level, even the “Missions”, the social organisations invented by Chavism to give the illusion of a “conquest of socialism” through distributing crumbs to the most poverty-stricken sectors, have been reduced. Today, programmes for health, education, the distribution of food, etc., are about to be abandoned or severely reduced. It is a fact that the totality of the public services is deteriorating at a growing rate. To all this we can add the almost permanent shortages of several basic food products and the constant increases in the price of food and of other basic products.

    The most revolting thing without doubt is that fact that, as always under capitalism, this terrible daily reality is suffered by the proletariat and the poor whereas the big bosses of the regime and those close to them live in the greatest opulence. Any resemblance to certain Arab and African countries is not by chance!



    Louis: That’s called arguing against the source instead of responding to the argument itself.

    I’m hardly a troll. I hold positions that are different to the majority of the left but I am hardly alone.

    Comment by Cliff — March 9, 2013 @ 10:10 pm

  21. Of course it is arguing against the source. Spiked Online is a libertarian website and you are urging people to read its crap. I first ran into them about 20 years ago when they were the Revolutionary Communist Party and publishing Living Marxism. Now they are renegades from Marxism with a key contributor blogging as “Ferraris for All”. And you have the chutzpah to quote them against Hugo Chavez. What a fucking putz you are. And what are you doing in Cambodia anyhow? Make sure you remember to declare your income from the CIA when you do your taxes in April.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 9, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

  22. Hey Cliff. Let’s not dredge up the Catch 22 inverse of some Donald Rumsfeld quotes here, you know, in light of a Post-Soviet leader of an historically oppressed mass trying to do the Right Thing in the face of an armed to the teeth imperialism financing its militarism on the backs of austerity, lets talk about real actions “that get results” for the toilers, you know, results that generate a mouth full of something you don’t want.

    No Unrepentant Marxist would concede that the Bolivarian Revoulution was a Panacea — no more than they would even the Paris Commune.

    What we’ll say is, like the drowning all corporate lawyers in a sea of puke, is that it’s a start.

    Just my opinion.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 10, 2013 @ 1:59 am

  23. Karl, that would be great were I interested in perfecting capitalism. But I’m not. Capitalism is alive and well in Venezuela, which is why it’s been as much (or more) a victim of the crisis than anyone else, with the workers taking on the brunt of the damages. No support from me to Chavez for the same reason I didn’t support “African socialism” and Marx criticized Bolivar.

    Lou: Proxies are a good idea in many places (maybe even the US). In any case, they can’t hurt. And again has nothing to do with the argument. Ad hominem ad infinitum companero.

    Comment by Cliff — March 11, 2013 @ 6:01 am

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