A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of listening to historian Enrique Krauze talk about his article, The Shah of Venezuela:
The ideas that keep Hugo Chavez in power, and their disastrous consequences
‘I don’t know anything about Marxism, I never read El Capital , I’m not a Marxist or an anti-Marxist,” Hugo Chavez said in 1995. He was telling the truth. Chavez was never, in any strict sense, a Marxist, nor was he familiar with the prickly side of Marx, or with his critique of power. Marx criticized the subordination of civil society to a single leader. He criticized the smothering of freedoms and political institutions, the “terrible parasitical organism” of the state, the cult of personality, demagoguery, and plebiscitary rule. And as if that were not enough, he criticized the political use of the past: “The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future…. In order to arrive at its own content, the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury its dead.” Point by point, Marx’s critique might have been written in response to Chavez’s plan for Venezuela.
But if he does not hail from a socialist or Marxist tradition, what are Chavez’s ideological and historical origins? Whether he knows it or not, Chavez is the grotesque progeny not of Plekhanov or Marx, but of Thomas Carlyle. It was Carlyle’s historical and political doctrine, condensed in 1841 in the series of lectures published as On Heroes and Hero-Worship , that envisioned and legitimated charismatic power in the twentieth century, the same power that Chavez, for all his outlandishness, represents so skillfully in the twenty-first century. The wishes of his progressive post-Marxist admirers notwithstanding, Chavez comes from a more anachronistic tradition of ideas that does not see history in terms of the struggle of classes or masses, or of races or nations, but of heroes who guide the “people,” who incarnate them and redeem them. There is a name for this tradition. It is fascism.
Krauze does an extraordinary job explaining Chavez’s origins and the nature of his appeal. It’s a very lengthy article but a must-read for any observer of Latin American politics, and anyone who wants to form an opinion on US foreign relations.
Go read every word.