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Venezuelan Referendum pt II

September 29, 2009

In applying the dialectical method as a means of examining the Bolivarian Revolution one is struck by the self contradictory nature of Chavez and his program. The essence of Bolivarian policies are aimed in two directions; alleviating the social, economic, and political inequalities that exist in Venezuela and the move to a participatory democracy that is based on popular participation amongst citizens at all levels of governance. One contradiction of the Bolivarian process that arises is the need for a strong centralized authority to implement reforms and policies that move in the direction of egalitarianism and popular participation. This is popular empowerment from above (centralized authority) as opposed from below (mass social movements). The contradiction lies within the need for power to be concentrated in a vertical hierarchy in order to end up with a horizontal distribution of governmental and political power.

Within this contradiction lies another, namely in the individual of Chavez himself. The movement that Chavez has led in office these past ten years, what he has called the Bolivarian Process, has undeniably gained and held a popular mandate. But the movement itself is heavily dependent on Chavez, as no other major leaders have emerged. Without other independent centers of leadership and vision the Bolivarian project is in danger on becoming overly dependent on Chavez. A program with the stated goals of egalitarianism and participatory democracy clearly needs to free itself of being of any one sole leader, however inspiring or intelligent he or she may be. As has all too often been the case in the past when individuals assert their special and unique importance as leader of the ‘revolution,’ the regime holds power develops authoritarian tendencies. Often this is accompanied by leader worship or the cult of the personality. The case of Fidel and the Cuban Revolution, whatever one’s opinion on the matter, is a case in point.

These internal contradictions bring up us back to the original questions at hand in this essay, the implications of end of term limits in Venezuela. It now becomes apparent that term limits are viewed by both supporters and opposition as a mechanism for disrupting the progression of the Bolivarian Revolution. Importantly, both sides view the disruptive potential as centered around the contradiction inherent in Chavez currently indispensable leadership. While the supporters of the referendum understand that this will allow Chavez to continue at the helm of the Venezuelan state and hence allow the Bolivarian process to expand and deepen, there is far too little emphasis on the potential negatives. While the referendum affects all levels of government it is ostensibly focused on the office of the president. With the constitutional possibility of seeking a third term in office, Chavez is ensuring the continuation of the process while at the same time undermining it by placing constraints on the emergence of new leaders and divergent opinions. This dialectical opposition is at the heart of the referendum.

In the end I support the passing of the referendum and the movement towards twenty first century socialism in Venezuela. But in supporting the Bolivarian process we must always be aware of the potential dangers that lay within it. One simply has to look at the history of rulers throughout the ages to see that those who have power concentrated in their hands have a hard time freely giving it up, especially when this means empowering the masses. Although the empowerment of the Venezuelan masses traditionally excluded from any such position is a major cornerstone of the Bolivarian process, the placing of a single person at the pinnacle of power for multi-decade period will engender its share of risks. It is our task as supporters of the Bolivarian process to constantly provide a constructive critique of Chavez and his program with the interests of the people of Venezuela and the world in mind.

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