I was last in Caracas 4-5 years ago. I was a member of a delegation that had arranged to visit the various Missions of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and see for ourselves what was happening.
Hotel rooms were scarce. At the hotel desk I agreed to something I would never ordinarily do—share a room with a stranger. I opened the door and laid back on the bed was this fit-looking black guy with dreadlocks, appraising me.
He was a cop from Chicago, from the ‘bad’ part of Chicago. His name was Jeff. He had two grown up sons, both in prison for murder, and a baby girl with a younger woman. He showed me a photograph of her. Real proud.
He was checking out Venezuela as a place to live. He knew what was about to come and he wanted out of the States. Anywhere really, but preferably somewhere cheap.
We had nothing in common but a certain experience of power, but that was enough and by the end of the week we were like blood-brothers.
He had a disconcerting habit of walking up to cops in the street and introducing himself as a brother from Chicago. He was a friendly, open guy.
It was good to have a cop for company in Caracas. Never saw any violence, but lots of signs of people getting ready for violence. Entrances to apartment buildings were guarded by young men with guns. Doors to apartments that I saw were armour plated with multiple locks.
Remnants of the old order deeply resented ‘what had been done to our country’. They lay behind the failed (US backed) coup against Chávez in 2002. They never forgave him for surviving that. But my impression was of massive support for Chávez and the revolution, especially from among the poor (and that’s most of them).
The revolution is not something they supported—as if it were a mere government policy—the mass of the people were and are the revolution. The main connection between the people and the government are the various ‘Missions’, in education, housing, health care, literacy, in every area of social life. The Missions are made up of practical measures for people to improve their lives and their communities. With this control over their lives comes dignity and this human need drives most revolutions.
The woman in the photograph here is but one example. (I forget her name.) She had dropped out of high school because she had to work to support her family. One of the Missions organized such people and gave them the means to go back to school and finish their education. This she did in her 80s. Here she is, sharp as a tack, telling her story, part of a group of such people of all ages and backgrounds. What they all had in common was enormous pride at their belated achievement.
But all of this is common knowledge to anyone who cares to look beyond the West’s demonization of Chávez and his ‘dictatorship’.
Here I want to draw attention to the Bolivarian revolution as an emotional phenomenon. Indeed, all revolutions, I suspect, are driven primarily by emotions. (I will write about the emotions of the French revolution another time).
We see this in the enormous grief at Chávez’s death. He was loved and respected by millions of people like the woman in red above.
Many of us in the West live like battery hens, withdrawn into ourselves, in emotional isolation, but clucking and cooing at each other, and occasionally pecking. (I will be writing, by request, about the emotional lives of hens before too long. But not, I must add, revolutionary hens. Too controversial).
But revolutionary people are a different kind of bird. They take flight, twisting and turning and breathing as one. Like this:
Chávez opened the emotional cages and no one is going to stuff the people back into them again. Although some will try.
Chávez is dead but this collective emotional being—revolutionary democracy—lives on.