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Post What is "Bolivarianism"?
Created by John Eipper on 02/09/19 4:36 AM

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What is "Bolivarianism"? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 02/09/19 4:36 am)

Regarding "the Bolivarian experiment" in Venezuela, Gary Moore (February 4th) asked an important question: What is Bolivarianism?

As I've written before on WAIS, Chávez's political thought is a mix of ideas and concepts in an effort to satisfy, and justify, his egocentric and autocratic military vision and thirst for power.

According to his own way of thinking, his political doctrine was based on Bolivarianism and 21st-Century Socialism. These are two apparently unrelated concepts, but different sides of the same coin.

Briefly, Bolivarianism is a sort of "ideology" inspired by Simón Bolívar, Venezuela's historical hero. Bolívar's political ideas have been used in the past by many other national leaders of diverse ideological tendencies. Although there has not been an accepted general-universal definition of the concept, it is said to be based on these tenets:

--Exacerbated patriotism and sovereignty

--Social justice and freedom

--Anti-imperialism and independence

--Strong leadership

--Regional integration

In Bolívar´s time (beginning in 1800), patriotism and anti-imperialism were needed to justify the independence war from Spain, as well as social justice and freedom to obtain support from the population, particularly the lower social classes and the enslaved. Also, strong leadership was necessary to command the independence army. Regional integration, a later and more mature political idea, was unfortunately condemned to fail. There have been many controversies about Bolívar's thinking and his transcendence in modern Latin American societies, particularly because many politicians and historians have created a legend for political purposes, although for many others this view of Bolívar is exaggerated, distorted, and manipulated.

Anyway, Chávez needed a local a historical myth, a hero, and he also used him to motivate his revolution. To politically sustain his eclectic "ideology," he called it a "Bolivarian Revolution," probably because he certainly believed in the myth. For simple and elemental minds it is easier to believe in legends and myths.

It is not difficult to connect the Bolivarian postulates to Chávez's doctrines and political actions, the results of which have ruined the country.

Gary also asked, "How was (is) Bolivarianism like Marxism-Leninism? How different? What were its specific points of strength? And specific points of self-destruction?"

There are no simple answers to these questions.

Fidel Castro once said, "ustedes hablan (Venezuela) de la lucha por la justicia, por la igualdad y por la libertad y la llaman Bolivarianismo. Aquí (Cuba) la llamamos socialismo."

Briefly paraphrased, "what you call Bolivarianism we call Socialism."

I believe this statement is far from true. Bolívar was not a socialist. He was more a liberal and capitalist, a landlord heir of a wealthy Spanish colonial family, and I am sure he was not trying to impose some sort of proto-Marxist revolution through his wars of independence. However there might be some points of overlap with socialist ideals, particularly with what Chávez called Socialismo del Siglo XXI, but this is a longer discussion that I'll address in a later post.

I hope my comments so far will satisfy Gary's curiosity.

JE comments:  Bolívar can be all things to people of any political bent.  The Cubans have something similar with their hero (who was martyred to boot), José Martí.  Imagine a "Washingtonian Revolution" for the United States.  The only problem here:  "Washington" is now a synecdoche for the government establishment--the Swamp if you will.

¡Gracias, Nacho!  A question:  do you think the post-Chavista era will diminish Bolívar's stature?  Meaning, his name has now been inextricably linked to a discredited regime.

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  • Can There Be a 21st-Century Marxism? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 02/10/19 3:55 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Thanks to José Ignacio Soler (February 9th) for answering my questions on Chávez's "Bolivarian"
    ideology in Venezuela, and especially the question of similarity to Marxism-Leninism.

    As I gather from Nacho's Castro quote (essentially: "You call it Bolivarianism,
    we call it socialism"), he is saying that (at least to Castro) there is little difference,
    except for convenient labeling. Another example, Sandinista Nicaragua, seemed
    to work differently: the Marxist-Leninist labels were kept intact, down to the
    big wall portraits of Lenin in State Security offices that solidarity visitors seldom
    saw; but the program itself, with its collective farms like the Soviet sovkhoz/kolkhoz,
    and other touches, never got to solidify (as Timothy Brown can recount from the
    halls of power). I don't know what kind of gloss President Daniel Ortega uses now,
    after confusing ups and downs, but in the euphoric 1980s even the veneer that
    barely obscured the symbols in Nicaragua was itself a page from the old Leninist
    "United Front" playbook. That was effective enough to cause tortuous journalistic
    protocols requiring that the regime be called only "Marxist-led," and not "communist."

    Maybe the deeper question I'm getting at in all these cases is that of
    delusion. To what extent does the grand vision represent a delusion that
    is doomed to fail (thus raising a warning flag against future dives off the cliff),
    and to what extent might a "21st Century" retooling actually deliver some
    of the promises?

    JE comments:  Couldn't we say that Chávez's "21st Century" label did little more than sound good/trendy?  Perhaps he was referring to TV (Aló Presidente) and Twitter instead of marathon speeches and broadsheets.  At the same time, an attempt to place a 21st-century spin on socialism is a tacit acknowledgement that the 19th- and 20th-century versions didn't work.

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    • Heinz Dieterich and "21st-Century Socialism" (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 02/14/19 3:45 AM)
      In his latest WAIS post about Bolivarianism, Gary Moore (February 10th) made some interesting remarks which made me suspect that I was not clear enough about the differences between Bolivarianism and 21st-century Socialism.

      As I said previously, they are different concepts but two sides of the same coin. Let me explain further.

      There are several books about Simón Bolívar and his legend, the patriotic symbol and his cult, which I would recommend to interested readers. The first is in Spanish, El culto a Simón Bolívar by a good friend and highly reputable historian, Germán Carrera Damas.  The second is a book by John Lynch, Bolívar, a Life, which explains much better than I could that Bolivar's political thinking was not even close to any sort of "socialist" ideology. He may have been a extraordinary military and political leader, perhaps a liberal humanist and progressive politician, a visionary, but he was still an aristocratic landlord, a slaveholder and firmly of capitalist values.

      Chávez interpreted Bolivarianism for his own objectives:  national autonomy, participative democracy, a self-sustainable economy, political ethics, a more equitable distribution of oil income, and a fight against corruption and poverty. (It should be easy to see the dramatic irony of his ambitious goals in contrast to the results achieved.) Anyway, this was only the first side of his "coin"; the so-called "Bolivarian Revolution" was eventually replaced and absorbed by "Socialismo del siglo XXI," two or three years after reaching power.

      Chávez embraced this new political idea influenced by the friendship of the author of this ideology, the Mexican-German Heinz Dieterich Steffan, as well as Fidel Castro´s strong leverage in his frequent visits to the island.

      Our editor John E is right when he commented that "to place a 21st-century spin on socialism is a tacit acknowledgement that the 19th- and 20th-century versions didn't work." I agree with him. In fact, 21st-century socialism is just a revision of Marxist-Leninist socialist theories, to "adapt Socialism to the new world" (in Dieterich's words).

      If I understood correctly, Dieterich's economic theory requires coordinated central planning, a "value measure" of production (a complex concept very difficult to apply or explain briefly), and the "equivalent interchange" of products (based on the equivalent value-measure of products, another idea difficult to implement), together with political and social instruments such as "regional democratic developmentalism" (regional integration), intensive participative democracy (frequent elections, referendums, etc.), and "grassroots popular organizations" (communes, cooperatives, "Bolivarian circles," neighboring committees, etc.).

      Dieterich's ideas were not only adopted by Chávez, but also by Lula da Silva in Brazil, Correa in Ecuador, Morales in Bolivia, in to some degree also by Ortega in Nicaragua, and no surprise, by many socialist extremist and radical groups in Europe, France, Spain, Italy, etc.

      It just so happens that very recently, a couple of days ago, I listened Mr Dieterich saying in an interview, among other things, that 21st socialism is a failure in Latin America.

      Finally, John also asked whether a post-Chavista era will diminish Bolívar's stature, meaning, that his name has now been inextricably linked to a discredited regime. Well, my guess is that the myth will survive. Bolívar is deeply rooted in Venezuelan patriotism, although perhaps future generations will use and abuse his name, the cult, and the legend, in a more discreet and cautious way.

      JE comments:  Dieterich is an interesting figure, who was extremely close to Chávez but never formed a close relationship with Maduro.  In a recent interview (perhaps the same one Nacho Soler references above), he predicts the military will oust Maduro--or more precisely, it will cease to protect him and let the Venezuelan people do the ousting.  Of more concern, at least to this Gringo, is Dieterich's appeal to Russia and China to broker a transition.

      A question for the WAISitudes:  In what country will Maduro take exile?  Cuba?  Bolivia?  Russia?  Possibly Spain?  He no doubt has enough money squirreled away for a comfortable retirement.

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