What are the legacies of chavismo? Shameless demagogy, rampant poverty, duplicitous kleptocracy, strident chauvinism, ubiquitous propaganda, demonization of political opponents, a delusional police state pretending, like Castro’s Cuba, to embody the behests of History. Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) was the most strident voice of the new anti-western and anti-democratic front. By the end of his life (he passed away on March 5, precisely sixty years after Stalin’s demise), the Venezuelan comandante, compromised in his own country, was increasingly prone to engage in external adventures.
Not unlike Che Guevara–Che’s daughter Aleida is the author of a hagiography about Chavez–the Venezuelan leader dreamed of himself as the reincarnation of Bolivar, Jose Marti, Lenin, and even Evita Peron (a few years ago, Chavez proclaimed: “Evita died on July 26,1952. Only two days later, on July 28, 1954 I was born. Imagine!”) As the ridicule does not kill, Chavez launched a campaign to unearth Bolivar’s bones in order to demonstrate that El Libertador was poisoned bya reactionary conspiracy. In 2008, voicing his hostility to Colombia’s democratic regime, Chavez called the neighbouring country “Latin America’s Israel.”
In this crusade, the narco-terrorism of the FARC guerillas, colluded with Chavez’ delirious petro-populism. Combining grotesque bufoonery, political farce, and the most obscene demagogy, Chavez symbolized leftist opportunism in its most aggressive form. We deal with red Fascism, because Chavez’s methods and aspirations did not differ essentially from those of Mussolini; statism, cult of personality, tribalist collectivism, indigenista messianism, the annihilation of political rivals, and the persecution of any source of civic autonomy. As in Eastern Europe before the revolutions of 1989, civil society has become the main enemy of the dictatorship. Like Eastern Europe’s Leninist dinosaurs, Chavez indulged in endless, systematic lying.
The ally of the Castro brothers started his career as a demagogue of Peronista orientation. His affinities linked him to the far right; irrationalism, exacerbated nationalism, fascination with occultism, militarism, and political shamanism. Gradually, he absorbed the obsessions of the far left and discovered in the anti-imperialist rhetoric a self-aggrandizing platform able to catapult him as a prophet of the new tercermundismo.
Years ago, noted Venezuelan political thinker Carlos Rangel (1929-1988) wrote an illuminating book about Latin America’s revolutionary myths (“Del Buen Salvaje al buen Revolucionario,” translated into English as “The Latin Americans. The Love-Hate Relationship with the US.”) Rangel diagnosed the resentful grammar underlying the utopian Castro-Guevarist project. If we think of the youth years of Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin, it is hard not to notice precisely this contempt for the rule of law (“Rechtstaat”). The same can be said about the declassé young Hitler in a multi-ethnic Vienna, a city open to bourgeois modernity. These revolutionaries were in fact viscerally anti-conservative: they loathed pluralist values, procedural parliamentarism, and religion appeared to them as a form of mental enslavement. There is a whole literature about the socialist roots of Fascism.
We notice the emergence of a new International (exalting “el nuevo socialismo del siglo 21”) opposed not only to the United States (no matter who is the president, George W. Bush or Barack Obama), but hostile to the free market and to the economic, political, and cultural project based on the recognition of human rights.
We hear passionately humanitarian denunciations of the treatment of Islamicist prisoners in Guantanamo, but very little about the fact that on the same island, in Cuba, whoever dares to oppose the police dictatorship suffers ruthless persecutions. With his phantasmagorical ideas about “Bolivarian Socialism”, colonel Chavez epitomized the effort to regroup and resuscitate the leftist attempt to delegitimize and abolish pluralism.
In another book written by Rangel about Third World mythologies (with a foreword, as for the previous one by the late French political thinker Jean-François Revel) we find a seminal analysis of socialism as a doctrine intimately related to Fascism in terms of rejecting capitalism as “plutocratic,” “soulless,” and “mercantile”. Both politcal religions –Communism and Fascism- promised to accomplish hic ad nunc the perfect community. In the words of political philosopher Eric Voegelin, they tried to immanentize the Eschaton. This meant to condemn human beings to State-dictated happiness. As Rangel put it: “It was not at all an accident that Joseph Goebbels oscillated for a while between Communism and Nazism: he realized that both ideologies were equally compatible with his own inclination for a nationalist and authoritarian government that would save the country from what he saw as the decadent liberalism of the Weimar Republic.”
Colonel Chavez’ red Fascism was welcomed by the most diverse circles: from Iranian Islamiscist theocrat Ahmadinejad to the unreconstructed Sandinista Marxist Daniel Ortega. The frantic search for the New Man, anti-Occidentalism, anti-Semitism, and the utopian-revolutionary hubris made Hugo Chavez the real successor of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Guevara, and Fidel Castro.
Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland and the author of numerous books including “Reinventing Politics: Eastern Europe from Stalin to Havel,” “Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe,” and “The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century.” The views presented in his articles are his and do not represent any institution.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.