We’re all Chavez, and the battle continues

It was raining tonight in Bolívar Square in the old part of Caracas. Like it did, back in October last year, during the closing rally for Hugo Chavez's presidential re-election campaign. They had painted the streets red as they marched down the city, braving the rain, pooh-poohing those who were plotting a ballot box counter-revolution. Of course today, El Commandante Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, one of the greatest socialist and anti-imperialist of our times, is no more.

There may be genuine differences of opinion within the left when it comes to a critical analysis of the revolutionary project Chavez pursued in Venezuela. However, there is clearly no doubt as to the positive impact it has brought, nor its relevance to left movement in the 21st century. Tonight's the night to mourn the comrade's passing away, to celebrate his life's work and to resolutely stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan people to defend their revolution.

The usual suspects are already at work trying to paint this as the fall of a populist dictator. If you look hard enough, there are nuggets of insight among the trash that gets passed around in corporate media. Greg Grandin writes in The Nation on Chavez's legacy and takes to task those accuse him of authoritarianism

There are at most eleven political prisoners in Venezuela, and that’s taking the opposition’s broad definition of the term, which includes individuals who worked to overthrow the government in 2002, and yet it is not just the right in this country who regularly compared Chávez to the worst mass murderers and dictators in history. (..) Over the last fourteen years, Chávez has submitted himself and his agenda to fourteen national votes, winning thirteen of them by large margins, in polling deemed by Jimmy Carter to be “best in the world” out of the ninety-two elections that he has monitored.

Then of course, there are brazen attempts to discredit the fantastic progress made. Venezuela has already expelled US diplomatic staff for alleged involvement in a coup plot. Mark Weisbrot who had done an excellent job in debunking the false rumors of economic collapse in Venezuela has also commented on what he sees as Chavez's legacy

Chávez is seen as part of this continent-wide revolt at the ballot box that transformed South America and increased opportunities and political participation for previously excluded majorities and minorities. Continuity in Venezuela is most likely following Chávez’ death, since his political party has more than 7 million members and demonstrated its ability to win elections without him campaigning in the December local elections, where they picked up five state governorships to win 20 of 23 states.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera echoes this in his piece over at Guardian when he says Chavez kept his promise

In Venezuela, they put Chávez back into the presidency after the coup. This was the key event in Chávez's political life, not the military rebellion or the first electoral victory. Something changed within him at that point: his discipline became ironclad, his patience invincible and his politics clearer. For all the attention paid to the relation between Chávez and Castro, the lesser known fact is that Chávez's political education owes more to another Marxist president who was also an avowed democrat: Chile's Salvador Allende. "Like Allende, we're pacifists and democrats," he once said. "Unlike Allende, we're armed."

The lesson drawn by Chávez from the defeat of Allende in 1973 is crucial. Some, like the far right and the state-linked paramilitary of Colombia would love to see Chavismo implode, and wouldn't hesitate to sow chaos across borders. The support of the army and the masses of Venezuela will decide the fate of the Bolívarian revolution, and the solidarity of powerful and sympathetic neighbours like Brazil. Nobody wants instability now that Latin America is finally standing up for itself. In his final days Chávez emphasised the need to build communal power and promoted some of his former critics associated with the journal Comuna. The revolution will not be rolled back. Unlike his admired Bolívar, Chávez did not plough the seas.

Rabble.ca's Derrick O'Keefe says

The rich and powerful of the world did not hate Chavez because he was a dictator. Deep down the sentient among them know he wasn’t.They hated him because he was symbolic of a threat to the dictatorship of Capital, a figurehead of a continent alive with social movements and millions of people conscious of their political power.

But the final word must belong to the people. The ever-resourceful venezuelanalysis.com had recently published an excellent set of interviews with revolutionaries and activists on the ground in Venzuela on what they though will the impact of Chavez's absence. Juan Valeri, a school teacher said :

We are seeing though, that the process of change in Venezuela can’t depend on one person, one supposes that it depends on the people. So organised people, movements and so on- we should organise ourselves, take on our responsibility, and recognise our historic role, and the need for communication and action together. (..) The slogan, ‘Chavez somos todos’- We’re all Chavez- now it’s not mere words, it expresses what I’m saying, the consciousness of the people that with this process, there’s no going back."

Jairo Calderon, a student and communist party organizer, interviewed in the article same article echoed this:

The party (Communist Party of Venezuela- PCV) has always been with Chavez, despite all the attacks we’ve received- from the right wing, and within the revolution. We still support Chavez, whether he’s here or not, it’s not that he’s indispensable, but we’ll keep working.The idea of ‘con Chavez todo, sin Chavez nada’, it’s a joke, people make revolution, not one person. Our work is to make sure people don’t get demoralised.

Carmen Camacho is a co-ordinator for the adult literacy and continuing studies mission, one of the many mass movements that have transformed Venezuela.

Even though those of us who make up Mission Ribas are very young, we have the political, intellectual, and economic capacity to support and develop this revolutionary process. We know the president won’t be around forever, but his thoughts, ideas, his spirit to go on, are eternal.

Organizers at Mission Ribas, the adult education and literacy programme. Image Credit: venezuelanalysis.com

In her words and those of millions like her, the struggle continues, the revolution lives on. As Evo Morales said in his emotional statement, "oligarchies are surely celebrating when the peoples that fight for their freedom and dignity and work for equality are suffering. But it does not matter, the only thing that matters is that we are united, we fight for liberation. What is needed is a lot of strength, a lot of unity. The best tribute to Chavez is unity. Unity to fight, to work for the equality of all peoples of the world".

From tens of thousands of miles away, the slogans from Bolivar Square are ringing loud and clear: "Chávez vive, la lucha sigue" (Chávez lives, the battle continues), "Viviremos y venceremos! (We shall live and overcome!). Indeed, together, we shall.