An Affective Picture of Chavismo Part IV – Neither Depoliticized nor Fools

Reinaldo Iturriza

… and this land will be free and this homeland will be great… worthy for them and for those who come after them… it will not be the homeland of fools…

Hugo Chávez, June 12, 2004

… we are no longer the boba homeland, we are the Caribbean homeland… no longer the homeland of fools that they handled as they pleased… Caribbean people is that we are…

Hugo Chávez, November 19, 2010

… because they believe these people are idiots… No, these people are not the idiots of the past, this is not the naive homeland of the past, this homeland has awakened, and this is one of the greatest changes that has occurred here in these… thirteen years, a cultural change….

Hugo Chávez, September 14, 2012

I am constantly surprised by the astonishing lightness with which people talk about the supposed depoliticization of Venezuelan society, a phenomenon that, according to some, is also on the rise. With a frequency that leads to suspicion, opinions of this type are usually associated with the idea that in order to approach the “real” Venezuela one must dispense with the version of the facts that present Chavismo and anti-Chavismo.

This is problematic for at least two reasons: on the one hand, it implies a profound ignorance of the cultural change that took place in the country since the emergence of Chavismo during the 1990s, and which became even more profound during the first decade of this century; on the other hand, it implies an equally profound ignorance of the variety of nuances present in the broad Venezuelan political spectrum.

As a result, what is intended to slip in as a view from a different perspective, that “reveals” to the public what no one else is capable of seeing, is no more than an extremely simplistic, almost always self-serving, version of reality.

Such an imposture has been around for a long time. For example, since the first years of the Bolivarian revolution, the discourse against “polarization” was in vogue, mainly on the lips of liberal academics of the most traditional formation, for whom conflict, far from being the motor of politics, is what politics should channel, neutralize, and postpone. Then, as now, Chavismo was valued as a monstrous event, not the result of a historical conflict, but rather as an almost pre-political subject, extremely pernicious, which rather than fuelling the conflict abused it, hindering the “normal” functioning of the democratic system.

With its origin in a certain anti-Chávezism, this discourse henceforth was made almost invariably its own by those who, for one reason or another, decided to separate themselves from Chávez or were kept on the sidelines.

Officialism, a concept that summarizes the uses and customs of the most conservative lines of force in Chavism, was never very skilled in dealing with differences within the movement. While Venezuela was shaken, as it continues to be, by the historical conflict between two gigantic poles of force, the ruling party tried at all costs to avoid the rigors of internal conflict, demanding discipline here and there, ignoring popular criticism. On the other hand, it felt comfortable arguing with the most objectionable part of the anti-Chávez political class.

In short, in the midst of that conflict, officialism was always satisfied with a mimicry of polarization, since its job is to limit itself to waging, solely and exclusively, the fights it can win: the politics of nonsense. And if it arrives at the conclusion that the fight with the owners of the capital is too uphill, then very simple: it seeks to establish agreements.

The problem of officialism is to do nonsense politics in a country that is no longer foolish, but Caribbean, and having to deal with a people that is no longer just an idiots.

Unable to translate the legitimate popular malaise, the popular disgust with regard to foolish politics, officialism appeals, among others, to the manic resource of the depoliticized people (ungrateful, undisciplined, etc.), and much more now, in times of popular withdrawal from politics. And vice versa: every manifestation of solidarity, every demonstration of perseverance against all odds, every demonstration of resistance capacity, every act of popular nobility, is interpreted as pure and simple backing just like that.

Beyond officialism, the issue is when one tries to understand Venezuela by ignoring the deep historical roots of polarization and, what is worse, the existence of this mimicry of polarization, of this foolish policy, which is rejected by the bulk of the social base of Chavismo, and in general by Venezuelan society.

Dispatching all of the above is the quickest way to avoid understanding at all what the popular majorities feel and think.

This leads to conclusions as absurd as the fact that any manifestation of support for the Bolivarian revolution or of firm rejection of imperialist aggressions are expressions of uncritical support for government management. Conversely, the popular withdrawal of politics or the severe criticisms of the government or Chavista leadership mean tacit agreement with the anti-Chavista political class.

It is a grave misunderstanding to interpret this profound disagreement with nonsense politics as depoliticization. Even in the act of political disaffiliation (those who no longer recognize themselves in political identity and eventually express their rejection of politics) a manifestation of political will is present.

If one really wants to understand what the Chavista people feel, it must be understood that they are neither fools nor depoliticized.