Lula Watch: Focusing on the Latin American Left – Vol.4 – No.4

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Venezuela: Chavez and “Syncretic Socialism”

A contradictory and ambiguous mix of religion, anarchism, indigenism, communism, and post-Gramscian strategies of the World Social Forum (WSF)

1. In his first speech after the election of December 3, Venezuela’s president-reelect, Hugo Chavez, set the goal for his new mandate while hinting at the obstacles he might encounter. His goal will be to “deepen” the “Venezuelan way to socialism” since, according to him, the elections showed that Venezuela is “solidly red.”

He addressed the obstacles in a cautious and reconciling tone by saying that “no one should fear socialism” because “socialism is human, socialism is love.”
If Venezuela is so “solidly red,” then no Venezuelan would fear socialism. Chavez should have no need to reassure his fellow countrymen by praising the “human” and “loving” side of socialism. Alas, the historic track record of socialist “humaneness” speaks for itself. Just look at Communist Cuba, so admired by Chavez.

2. The Venezuelan president established a demagogic multimillion dollar welfare program using the massive oil revenues of the State. In addition, he set up mechanisms to control the press to such an extent that he received twenty times more media exposure than his opponent in the latest elections. He subsequently won the votes of many of the poorer sectors of society.

However, even with all these ploys, he would not have won the elections if he had openly proclaimed communist goals.

Instead, the Venezuelan president resorted to a kind of “syncretic” socialism. His program incorporated ambiguities and contradictory elements which range from invocations of Jesus Christ, the Virgin of Chiquinquirá [Patroness of Colombia, but very popular in Venezuela] and St. Michael the Archangel, references to native Indian religions and liberation theology, consequently affirming that the ‘kingdom of God’ can be found in socialism, mixing post-Gramscian ingredients and chaos theories taken from the World Social Forum (WSF) and, last but not least, his identification with the bloody tyrant Castro and his Cuban revolution.

3. Chavez’ “syncretic” socialism leaves behind the exacerbated rationalism that characterized so-called scientific socialism, which crumbled with the fall of the Iron Curtain. We are now living a time increasingly marked by what has been called “weak thought,” which casts aside cause-effect relationships and logic. In this context, Chavez’ formula of “syncretic” socialism has shown a considerable pull in Venezuela and other countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, where leftist candidates applied the same “syncretic” strategies and were elected.

4. All this notwithstanding, although Chavez is presented as Castro’s successor, he is not the most important element in the panorama. The Venezuelan president himself is but an instrument at the service of “syncretic” socialism, which is an ambiguous and contradictory mixture of religion, indigenism, communism, and post-Gramscian strategies of the World Social Forum (WSF).

American anarchist theoretician Michael Hardt talked about this new experiment at the World Social Forum meeting held in Caracas in 2006. With Italian Antonio Negri, he wrote Empire, the bedside book of the latest revolutionary generations.

5. Mr. Hardt has shown enormous interest in these experiments in socialism with self-managing and anarchic characteristics, such as the small urban “tribes,” that can be found in the outskirts of Caracas.

The anarchist theoretician explained that “Chavez is someone you know, an enemy of Americans like Castro and the Sandinistas.” Because of his high visibility, Chavez will wear out like a boxer who takes a number of successive blows. On the other hand, Hardt explains, the new self-managing movements in the suburbs of Caracas have an advantage in that they are like “uncontrollable viruses,” “hard to detect” and capable of “going across borders.” That would make them even greater “anti-imperialist” weapons than Chavez, Morales, Ortega and Lula.

6. To understand the complexities of the present panorama in Latin America as well as the manipulation of Hispanics in the United States, one must consider the new, “syncretic” revolutionary strategies to expand “viruses” that are hard to detect and neutralize, and are presently at work in Venezuela and other countries of the region.

Note: On the topic of “syncretic” socialism, we recommend reading the exclusive report titled “Foro Social Mundial de Caracas: ‘tomografía’ de las izquierdas” (Destaque Internacional, 2006, available in Spanish and Portuguese).

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