Chávez and Chavismo: Revolution from the Barrio
The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez was many things—baseball player, soldier, coup-leader, elected revolutionary, political symbol. So too Chavismo, which first surfaced as an epithet slung at the poor by a wealthy, white Venezuelan opposition, before coming to embody many of the hopes and aspirations of the poor in Venezuela and beyond. Powered by the “Bolivarian” revolutionary social movements that pre-existed its titular leader, Chavismo was an experiment in radical democracy, establishing communes that governed both alongside and apart from the Venezuelan state—integrating into the political process, in the barrios and in the countryside, poor and previously disenfranchised Venezuelans. After Chávez’s 2013 death, however, that vision seemed to falter. A combination of economic crisis, imperialist aggression, and a regional shift toward the right seemed to mark the end of what was once called Latin America’s “Pink Tide.” Yet, electoral victories in Mexico, Bolivia, and Colombia, as well as the recent return of Brazil’s Lula to power, may suggest otherwise. How, and why, did Chávez emerge, what class and social forces sustained him, and what kind of state did Chavismo envision and begin to create? What were its successes, and what were its failures? How was it both empowered and imperiled by Venezuela’s rich reserves of oil? And what is the legacy of Chávez today? Is Chavismo still a compelling vision for socialism and revolutionary politics in the 21st century?
In this course, we will explore the prehistory and emergence of Chávez , the foundations and development of this thought, and how that thought was radicalized by the heated crucible of Venezuelan politics. We will see that this radicalization meant walking a fine line between his own central position in the Venezuelan state and the decentralizing vision of grassroots revolutionaries. In the process, we will ask pressing questions about the politics of oil, global economic dependency, international solidarity, and what grassroots and democratic alternatives truly exist for the “darker nations” of the Global South.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
February 02 — February 23, 2023