Larger then life figures are a tricky thing for the left. Its easy to root for your favorite revolutionary from past eras – your John Browns, Emma Goldmans or Trotskys – but a bit more tricky for contemporary figures. We’ve been burned so many times before, putting our faith into people who end up failing us, proving themselves other then what we thought or betraying us in some way. And there is also the point that we shouldn’t have heroes, that the left doesn’t need heroes to put our faith in to win us change. As Eugene Debs so rightly put it;
I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.
So it is indeed a very rare thing when we can compliment a leader on the left, a political world leader at that, with very few caveats. And that is the case for the late Hugo Chavez.
For those of us living through the long Bush years, there was nothing better then seeing Hugo Chavez call our then president the devil from the podium of the UN general assembly, or refer to Fox News as a bunch of idiots to their faces, or just spit in eye of Washington at every chance he got. It was kind of bad as. But now Bush gets to live on, while Chavez is gone. There is no justice in this world.
It is truly a saddening thing to learn of the passing of late President of Venezuela at the age of 58. Not just the blow this is to the transformations inaugurated in Venezuela, not just for the victory this serves for the right-wing forces in that countries, not just for the victory this is for the circling jackals of the American Empire, and not just for the gleeful joy the charlatans of the mainstream media are greeting his death. But for above all else, this is a tragedy for the people of Venezuela.
Despite all of his many defects as an individual and his politics (his willingness to get chummy with certain scumbags like Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad being the main ones), Chavez was that exceedingly rare creature of a politician who actually cared about the poor and working people of his country, and honestly attempted to help them. The man had an ego big as the moon, but, to be a little kitchy, his heart was bigger. Using the vast oil wealth of the country to actual serve the needs of the people, Chavez launched an array of social programs in education, housing, health care and food. As Lance Selfa pointed out, “Chávez called this program “socialism.” It wasn’t workers’ power, as SocialistWorker.org would define socialism, but it did represent an alternative to the free-market “Washington consensus” that dominated the Americas during the previous generation.“
In the strict Hal Draper definition of the dichotomy between Socialism From Above vs Socialism From Below, it was always clear that Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution was far more on the former case then the later. But reality is always a lot more complicated then simple slogans. Chavez put himself at the services of the mass movement of the poor and working class of Venezuela and that’s where he always brought his strength and radicalism from. We lost a real proper ‘Tribune of the Oppressed’ today. What we had here was someone really unique, a Social-Democrat in the 21st Century. Not some silly modern European Socialist who just wants to reform for a kinder, gentler capitalism. No, Chavez literally aimed to bring about a transition from capitalism to socialism through the electoral state. And he aimed to do this through the mass participation of millions of poor Venezuelans.
The future for Venezuela will as always be determined by the Venezuelan people. It is they who put Chavez back in power after the failed US backed coup, it was they who pushed Chavez forward every step of the way, it was they who have been making the Bolivarian Revolution. I remain steadfast in the belief that socialism can only be the project and creation of the working class itself. But they have lost an important ally in Chavez today.