FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hugo Chavez: A Revolutionary Life

by

Hugo Chavez was one of the most important public figures of the last twenty years. From the moment of the failed 1992 coup he helped foment until his death from cancer in 2013, his presence was felt around the world. Politicians, media outlets and capitalist power mongers despised his popularity and what they feared it meant for their future. Many of those around the world who are not among the powerful or working for their public relations machinery saw him as a hero and leader in the struggle against those very powers that repress the common people’s desire for a decent life and a more just world.

9780745334653

Chavez grew to understand this role and seemed to relish it the bigger he became. People cheered when he equated George W. Bush with the Devil at the United Nations and North Americans noted when he offered gasoline to the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration’s intentional neglect of those victims. His popularity in his home land of Venezuela exists still and is a good part of the reason his successor Nicolás Maduro has been able to hold on to his office despite severe and violent pressures from the wealthy right wingers of Venezuela and their foreign allies. That part of Venezuela’s history continues to be written as I write.

For the past few years Pluto Press has been publishing a series of biographies of selected revolutionaries. The series is called “Revolutionary Lives” and has included the life histories of French Jacobin Jean Paul Marat, Chilean socialist Salvador Allende, and socialist suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, to name three. The books are short, usually less than two hundred pages, and provide a leftist introduction to the subject and their place in history. One of the most recent biographies in the series is that of Hugo Chavez. Titled Hugo Chavez: Socialist for the Twenty-first Century, and written by Mike Gonzalez of the University of Glasgow, this brief work does a very competent job of presenting Chavez’s political biography.

Gonzalez describes Chavez’s growing political awareness during his early years in the Venezuelan military while simultaneously giving the reader a general description of the historical class and ethnic divisions found in Venezuela. Although Chavez studied Marx and other leftist writers, he kept the writings of Latin America’s liberator Simon Bolivar closest to his heart. In due time, it would be Bolivar’s name that would become the descriptor of the government Chavez would lead—the Bolivarian Republic.

Since the two are inseparable, this text is also the history of the new Venezuela and the movements that created it. Other books cover the popular and grassroots elements of the movement better (see George Cicciarello-Maher’s We Created Chavez for a detailed and well-written study), Gonzalez remains focused on Chavez’s role. In doing so, he introduces the difficulties faced by a movement so identified with one man and the possibilities for its future. Overall, Gonzalez refrains from injecting too much of his personal opinion of Chavez and Chavismo, although it is clear he believes it has so far fallen short of some of its stated goals. Although his argument is not very well made–perhaps because of the unknown nature of the future–Gonzalez seems to believe the movement Chavez is identified with needs to relocate itself back into the social movements and people’s organizations that originally identified with him and ensured his popularity.  In the chapter called “The Contradictions of Twenty-first Century Socialism,” Gonzalez takes on this subject, briefly discussing the creation of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSuV) and blaming its tendency towards patronage and corruption for the relative failure of Venezuelan socialism. There is little acknowledgement of the role played by US intelligence agencies or US capital and its NGOs in this discussion even when Gonzalez describes the 2002 coup. This seems to me a bit deceptive, given the history of the US and its private sponsors in Latin America.

Gonzalez intention in this book seems to be the presentation of an introductory political biography of Hugo Chavez. He succeeds in that task, providing the readers with the personal details of Chavez’s military and political life. In the telling Gonzalez provides enough political and historical context of Venezuela to create a short but complete picture of the man, the nation and the people he loved. Hugo Chavez: Socialist for the Twenty-first Century is a welcome addition to the growing bibliography examining the revolutionary upsurge in Latin America. If your library has room for only one book about Hugo Chavez, this is among the best of the lot.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail