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Book review - We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, By George Ciccariello-Maher
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was a favorite whipping boy of the Bush administration and of much of the U.S. media. He was excoriated for “repressing press freedom,” in spite of the fact that Venezuela’s thriving private media were, generally, explicitly and stridently against him; he was also often characterized in the United States as a dictator, in spite of being elected repeatedly by large majorities. More favorable narratives showed how his “Bolivarian Revolution” reduced poverty and increased popular participation in Venezuela.
George Ciccariello-Maher’s “We Created Chávez,” however, looks at the Bolivarian Revolution not from the top — how Chávez changed Venezuela — but from the viewpoint of the political activists who, through decades of organizing and struggle, laid the groundwork for Chávez’ electoral victories, saved his presidency when he was briefly overthrown in a military coup, formulated most of his policies and consistently pushed him to the left during his tenure. The strength of the popular movement made him an exceptional figure among even progressive Latin American presidents, who generally have found it necessary to make significant accommodations with the rich, military leaders or more developed nations to stay in office.
Starting with the 1958 uprising that overthrew dictator Marcos Perez Jiménez, Ciccariello-Maher shows how the resulting elite-controlled democracy explicitly excluded parties that advocated for the poor and working class. It wasn’t long before the government violently repressed new strikes and demonstrations. Many of the activists who had participated in the 1958 uprising decided that guerilla war was the only alternative and were eventually repressed, co-opted or defeated.
At the same time, changes in Venezuela, particularly mass migration to the capital Caracas, created slums that, with the help of these same activists, began to organize for “self-defense” both against the drug trade and the heavy hand of the police, creating virtually autonomous neighborhoods within the capital. These communities of the poor and marginalized became crucial bases of support for the organizing that eventually led to Chávez’ election.
Reading “We Created Chávez” reminds one that there is a political discourse that has almost disappeared in the U.S., where progressives have been in a defensive posture for the past 35 years. That the legitimacy of “democracy” should be measured not just by the outcomes of elections, but by the degree to which it actually serves the people; that effective community organizing may mean resistance against both drug dealers and a corrupt, repressive government; and that even a progressive leader in office needs to be constantly pushed by mass mobilizations independent of any party structure — all are important ideas that have nearly vanished from our own political discourse.
Chávez, as Ciccariello-Maher describes him, was not in the process of becoming a dictator during his tenure, as the U.S. government would have it, but rather was a leader whose popular support had allowed him to occupy a strategic position for the movement. He was forced to compromise with more conservative elements of the government, especially the bureaucracy and elements of the military. At the same time, the popular movements pushed him into more radical positions. Ironically, it was his response to these popular demands — not his compromises with the state bureaucracy — that earned him so much opprobrium in the U.S.
After giving a general history of the Bolivarian movement, Ciccariello-Maher writes about some of the main elements of the popular movements, spending a chapter each on women, peasants, people of color, unions and the marginal workers in the “informal” sector. This last group — street vendors, casual laborers, drivers and the like — are among the revolution’s most militant supporters. While this sectional approach does ensure that often neglected groups have their contributions recognized, it also breaks up the narrative and, because there’s no timeline or glossary to help navigate through an alphabet soup of acronyms and events, may be confusing to readers unfamiliar with Venezuelan politics. Sometimes it seems to become a catalogue of names and positions, rather than an analysis of history.
Although the book has a lively style, Ciccariello-Maher is an academic Marxist and assumes a certain degree of familiarity with radical theory, to the degree that readers who aren’t familiar with terms like “war of position” and “war of maneuver” may also feel lost. In this sense, the book could greatly benefit from a glossary that includes such theoretical terms. It may also bother some readers that the author is an unapologetic partisan of revolution and makes no bones about his belief that there’s a necessity for people to defend themselves, with violence if necessary, against landlords, thugs and a repressive government.
However, the book is a fascinating look into Venezuelan politics and clearly shows how it was the strength of the mass movement that created Hugo Chávez, not the other way around. Written before Chávez’ death, the author doesn’t directly address the question of what will happen without him; however, the degree of popular mobilization he describes is reassurance that the revolution will continue.
CommentsIn response to Michael Wold's review of George Ciccariello- Maher's book Viva La Revolucion, well no, not so much. I have spent a lot of time in Venezuela over the last 30 years with the family I married into, listening to peoples' opinions, attending public events, and trying to figure out what makes the country tick. I have never heard any Venezuelan, pro-or anti-Chavez, suggest that he rose to power by a broad popular revolutionary movement who then pushed him to the left after he became President, or that such a movement ever existed. Chavez rode a wave of public anger at political corruption and won as a third party candidate in 1998. 21st century socialism only emerged after he was President and his ability to politicize the poor became evident. Major technical assistance from Cuba (medical and security personnel) also helped. Wold's opinion of Hugo Chávez seems to be based partly on Chavez becoming a 'favorite whipping boy' of the Bush administration. It's more complicated: political discourse and popular participation exist in Venezuela - as long as you support the government. The shutdown of Venezuela's "thriving" private media by government is now almost complete. The irony of their recent offer of "humanitarian asylum" to Edward Snowden could not be lost on Venezuelans who have become used to the government spying on opposition leaders, journalists and even Chavez loyalists. Journalist Isabela Lara writes from experience: "Snowden, who cherishes privacy and freedom of speech, should be aware that in Venezuela one cannot have any expectation of either". As to Wold's claims that the Bolivarian Revolution has reduced poverty, if he could spend one morning in Caracas, he could see the almost unbelievable rates of violent crime and disorder; food, water and electricity shortages; and housing chaos, with squatters occupying unfinished skyscrapers and vacant apartments with complete impunity. He would likely soon hear complaints about the rampant political corruption, which sadly, Chavez failed to eliminate. Highly respected by whom? A lot of people despise those Dan Rather respects?Two things interest about this piece of gossip. 1. The July 30 deadline on Chavez existence. The deadline naturally is elastic. If Chavez survives July 30, then the “highly respected source” can reset the deadline for the demise for either August or September like he or she reset the Feb deadline for July 30. The “source” is getting a lot smarter because in Feb, its gossip about the demise was retropective, that is, an event in the past. This time, the gossip is prospective. So, this new gossip cannot be instantly dispoved.2. Use Dan Rather to spread the gossip. Dan Rather was fired or forced to resign from his job as anchor for CBS Evening News for telling lies while he was on the air. If Chavez survives July 30, Capriles and his team will not look — more than now — like habitual liars. Rather Dan Rather will look like the liar. Clever of Capriles to falsify this way. We must give this Devil his due. After Dan Rather is used up, there are plenty of US journalists who will spread any lies for Capriles’ money.In sum, this seems like the same old tactic of Capriles to change the main subject of the campaign discourse to the cancer’s persistence or severity or the recovery from it. This change of subject could help or hurt either Chavez or Capriles. Before now, this subject has mostly helped Chavez. Capriles bets the compassion of most Venezuelans for Chavez at this difficult time for him will fade. 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VA:F [1.9.22_1171]please wait...VA:F [1.9.22_1171](from 0 votes) home insurance quotes senior life insurance Richard.I for one am not as forgiving as some others you’ve spoken to on this issue.Lets flush your BS turd by turd , shall we ?“Jews have been in the region for thousands of years and you need to know that they were living side by side with the arabs without any problems for hundreds of years.”Yes, but not until after WW2 did allied powers and the UN legally gave the Israelis their place to live and their legal refuge did the Palestinian movement originate and begin to attack the Jews and claim that they wanted back what was never theirs to start with. The Palestinians homelands consist of many regions surrounding Israel, but were never part of Israel itself.Since then, the Palestinians have been an invented people whos whole purpose has been for nothing other than to eliminate Israel, they have become a genocidal society.“Your problem seems to be Hamas. It is my problem too when an organization kills innocent people in buses etc. but I will have a bigger concern if it is a state which kills kids in schools and in their homes.”What a bunch of sh*t. You have your nerve to accuse Justin of bias and then you go and ramble off a line of crap like that.First of all, Hamas has bombed innocent Jewish children in schools and their homes also. They are a state “also” in the sense that they receive funding from the largest “STATE” sponsor of terror that there is, that would be Iran !Not only that, its the Palestinians who have strapped bombs to their own children and also used them as shields and also disregarded fliers dropped by Israel warning of impending attacks.So pleeeease dont give me this bleeding heart crap that Hamas and Plaestinians care so much about kids. Hamas and Palestinians go as far as to use them as weapons !Second of all, in addition to Hezbolla, long before there was Hamas there was the PLO which was chaired by Yasser Arafat. Their purpose and methods were and are much the same except in the movements youth the PLO did not have the funds or the weaponry we see Hamas with today. As of today the PLO has become the richest terror organization around , funneling much of its money into projects whos interest is only to destroy Israel. They may have been the first to reckognize Israel as a state but that still did not stop them from attacking.Today the PLO still exists with a new leader since Arafats death, that would be Mahmoud Abbas. Same gang, different leader, new face, same evil and also a problem in addition to Hamas.Hamas and what I mentioned above is not the only problem the Jews have. More than anything it would be Iran (and being surrounded by hostile Arab nations).Without Iran Hamas would not exist. Iran and Hamas have the same goals and that would be too eliminate Israel.Both have sworn to do so. If we took out Iran tommorow we would be cutting the head of the serphant that has financed and instigated much of the hatred we see towards Jews in the Arab community today. Israel needs to deal with Iran before they obtain nuclear power. This is why its so important that Hamas and any proxy powers Iran invests in be eliminated.Hamas is just another radical muslim movement like Al Queda and others all spawned of the “Muslim Brotherhood” that wishs to kill anything that is not Muslim. Americans, Jews, you name it, it doesnt matter as long as they are not Muslim they want it dead. Hamas like many other radical Muslim groups has sworn to move westward after eliminating Israel and continue its murdering agenda in America and all things that would be western. That is why they must be stopped now and that is why America has Israel as its #1 ally in the GWOT in the middle east.Thirdly.Itis the Palestinian people who voted for Hamas that are just as guilty as Hamas. They had a choice between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. They chose Hamas because of its radical agenda to rid the world of Jews and because they had the funds that the PA did not have to improve infrastructure by building schools, hospitals, provide jobs etc… funds, all of which were actually coming from Iran.The election was bought and paid for. 70 % of the Palestinians who voted for Hamas knew exactly what they were doing so I dont want to here this bullsh*t anymore how freaking innocent the Palestinians are and its only Hamas that is the problem. Palestinians had a choice, they hate Jews as much as Hamas,they made their bed (or coffin), and now they must lay in it.They voted Hamas in to power knowing that them and Hamas had the same goal of killing Jews and the pay off for Palestinians was an improved economy etc…But, Hamas screwed the Palestinians and only intended Gaza to be a launching pad for their missles and they have not come thru on any of their promises to the Palestinians. That is no ones fault but the Palestinians.“the Forget the BS that this is allowed because it is war, it is not right. A kid is a kid and did nothing wrong whether he is Jewish or Muslim or whatever.”No one is saying its allowed except for the Palestinians and Hamas when they use children as weapons.Jews do not place their kids in front of incoming missiles, or send them across the border as suicide bombers, or take food from them to pay for weapons.Get it right !!!! and stop this bullsh*t that Jews intentionally kill children.If some man where pointing a gun at my child and using his own child as a shield to prevent me from stopping him, in order to save my child I will kill both of them !WOULDNT YOU RICHARD ????They are only trying to stop the bombs that kill their own children but when they return fire Palestinians put their kids in the way as shields or deterrents. On the other hand its the Palestinians and Hamas who launch bombs that have no means of targeting anything accurately and they do not care where that bomb lands, whether it kills kids or not. That is why there is no need for a bomb that has accurate targeting.Do the Palestinians and hams treat the wounded enemy ? Do they send aid, food, and medical supplies into Israel ? Do they warn civilians of an impending attack ?Absolutely not !!!!Now, WHO IS THE MURDERER ???“But everyday we are seeing hundreds of them being killed by Israel.”No, they are being killed because the monsters wont get them out of the way but instead put them in the way by placing them in and around viable targets such as weapons warehouses/factories and outposts“What is Isreal supposed to do? their problem is Hamas, so go and kill Hamas activists, go hunt them and kill them one after the other.”I answered to this crap up above.Israel needs to take out the 70% of the Palestinians that want terror groups running their people along with Iran who funds the whole operation.“Isreal did that in the past and I think that is legitimate defense. They kill people who threaten them not innocent people.”Israel has been tolerant in the past. But this tolerance is what has allowed the movement to return time after time. Many of Hamas are blended into Palestinian society making it difficult to weed them out.Israel has only done before what it needed to do to bring the attacks to a manageable level. Enough is enough !!!“What is happening now is mass murder and this is quite bad if you condone that.”No, murder is with intention. Israel is defending itself from murderers.LEARN THE DIFFERENCE!!!!“I am sure Isreal has the ability to hunt the gunmen down rather than drop bombs.”That’s what they are doing, they hunt down the bad guy but when they cant get to them because of other bad guys they bomb them.Simple enough ???? “Palestinians don’t even have an army.”OH REALLY ???How can you say such an ignorant thing ? (don’t answer that)What the hell do you call Hamas ? Have you not seen the thousands of troops marching the streets showing off their arms all saluting like n*zis ???“Your argument who was there before is irrelevant really I am not even to respond to that.”How convenient that you call it irrelevant and don’t want to respond to it.Its also bullsh*t.Order of existence and statehood is almost exactly what this is all about. It is one of the most relevant topics their is in this war. Which is why the Jews are fighting for their right to what has always been theirs !!Palestinians are an invented people made up of Arabs from surrounding Arab states whom all have the same thing in common which is to kill Jews. Only after the Jews were granted their home did the Palestinians gather from surrounding states to make who they are today.“And your example on Mexicans is also quite far from the reality in the middle east I am quite astonished that you are making that comparison.”Common sense would astonish an idiot like you.Actually its the best analogy/comparison there is if you want to show a parallel that draws out how the Jews/Israelis are justified in defending themselves.Mexico would be defeated long ago had they tried such a thing with us. Since much of Mexico today still believes that what is ours is there’s the comparison of them attacking us is perfect.“Now think about someone who comes and drags out of your house (saying he lived there before you) . What would be your reaction???”Actually the Israelis could claim ownership to Gaza if they wanted to.There are no ‘occupied’ territories. There are DISPUTED territories. Israel owns the land that it won in the 1967 War. They are building houses on their own land. This bothers some Palestinians whose only claim is that they try to steal it and reproduce like roaches.If Israel owned the land then they should claim it as their’s. Israel won’t claim the land because they don’t want it as part of their national territory because then the Palestinians would become a real competitive political bloc in the Parliament. If Israel is to be a democracy, and they “owned�? the West Bank and Gaza, then Israel would have to accept another 4 million Palestinians into their society. Did you know that 3 out of 4 Israeli Arabs say they would rather live in Israel than anywhere else in the world ? Citizenship for all the people’s of the Occupied Territories, would probably go a long way toward ending the violence. It would also bring to an end the problem of settlements. But the only reason Israel does NOT own the Occupied Territories because it claims NO ownership because it does not want the risk of one day Palestinians being a majority of that country.” Israeli latest actions are also a crime and all that should be punished.”Once again, they are only defending themselves.” But you will never see that because you are either very biased or you think that an Israeli soul is worth something but a Palestinian one is not.”Palestinians are a genocidal people who’s purpose is to kill Jews. They worship death as a means to glorification.Jews worship life and the pursuit of happiness.The Palestinians have screwed themselves. They should of stayed put in 1948 and not take up arms against the Jews in support of the Arab communities rejection to the Jews being given Israel.Now that this has been going on for 60 years the Palestinians are not welcome back in their states of origin, nobody wants them, no one wants to be connected to them for fears of the reaction from the international community and surrounding Arab states. This is why they cannot be disbanded.They are stuck where they are at with no choice but to elect into power organizations that will use means of terror in order to get the Palestinians a home. They have no trade, no commodity to offer the world market.The only way the Palestinians can survive is to try and kick an innocent people, the Israelis, out of a home that is rightfully theirs.Should they be given Gaza, or be allowed to assimilate into Israeli society ?Absolutely not !!!The problem is the deep seeded hate for Jews that is a learned behavior and handed down to generations in Palestinian families.Ten years from now a ten year old Palestinian boy will of had instruction on how evil and rotten the Jews are from his parents and peers. His parents will of taken advantage of anything Israel offers for there own benefit but will still have lingering resentments and prejudice towards Jews that has been ingrained in them for decades, and will reflect that upon their children.This is why I’ve brought up in other debates the example of how long it took before Americans/whites even began to give the black man break.Even after civil rights movements and laws of equality were passed the black man was still subjected to hate and racism.Some also say that if these Palestinians had some hope or means to live above substandard lives they would lose their bigoted tendencies.B. S. This is just saying that if they receive payment they’ll stop terrorizing you. Its extortion.In today’s world there are just as many people who are well off and have great financial means that are just as bigoted and racist as those in poverty.The idea of letting Palestinians have Gaza or assimilate into Israel is very nobel but Israel would just be setting itself up for more of the same except this time it would be worse as the trouble would grow within and be coming directly from within the community making it even more difficult to weed out and deal with should any uprising begin.Radical Islam has a well documented habit of permeating societies and being very patient until it finally decides to strike.Europe would be another example of how the movement works.They migrate, obtain citizenship but claim no loyalty to the country they became a citizen of and instead impose their culture and beliefs upon that society or blend in and pretend to be a part of that society all the while planning an attack. car insurance quotes car insurance free quotes car insurance quotes in New York City NY
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