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Not a Political Blog

February 3, 2017

As large swathes of our global population seem set on following populist trail guides along paths toward nationalist stupor, I find myself vacillating between fits of arrogant condescension, bouts of resigned despair, and sessions of gleeful mockery.  None of it satisfies.  In the end, I neither participate in nor hinder the gloomy march.  That passivity breeds discomfort in my soul because I know that inaction enables.  An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force.

I ought to do something.  We ought to do something.  And the first thing is to go talk to people outside of our own bubbles who experience the world differently in order to seek some deeper understanding into what the hell is happening. But, this is not a political blog and I’m not sure I’m much of a political thinker.  So my only action in these pages will be to reprint the below post from March 2013.  I’ll leave it to any readers who might accidentally wander by to figure out why I thought of it now.


Saying Goodbye to Comandante Chavez

While working in Caracas from 2006-2009, I would regularly tune in whenever Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would address the nation, which he did constantly and usually for hours on end.  I seldom paid close attention for more than 30 minutes or so as the actual content of his comments often either bored me to death with minutia or simply pissed me off.  But even after drifting into other activities, I would leave the television on and let the voice of President Chavez serve as my background music; and I do mean music.  I loved his voice and grew to find his cadence and tone soothing.  His voice relaxed me.

Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci

One Saturday in early June of 2007, I was semi-listening to Chavez address a huge crowd of followers that had been called into the streets in demonstration of support for something that I no longer recall.  My half-hearted awareness became rapt attention when I realized he was extensively quoting Antonio Gramsci, the early 20th century Italian writer, philosopher, and Marxist thinker.  Chavez spent a full 40 minutes explaining Gramsci’s theory of revolutionary change in great detail to his flag-waving devotees.  I kept wondering who other than breathless undergraduates even read Gramsci anymore, let alone attempted to impart to tens of thousands of gyrating sycophants the particulars of Gramsci’s missives on the growth of popular power via the establishment of a working class cultural hegemony.

As Chavez went on and on, the mass of red-shirted supporters in front of him jumped from cheer to cheer, seemingly oblivious to the lesson in political development theory they were receiving.  They waved banners with pictures of Chavez, Simon Bolivar, Salvador Allende, and others and held their breath for each time the Comandante referred to himself in the third person so they could burst into a mass orgasm of applause and roars.  I was engrossed.

Back in my college days when I was buying my own personal copies of Das Kapital and Mao’s Little Red Book and arriving early to hear visiting Sandinista ministers rail against imperialism, I had played at study of Gramsci.  I learned enough to be impressed with my own efforts and even cited Gramsci in a paper I wrote which attempted to objectively and unemotionally describe the ideology of Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas separate from their bloodthirsty actions:

“Antonio Gramsci has also written about the need for a proletarian attitude.  He stresses the importance of a revolutionary proletariat developing its own ‘superstructure’ prior to taking power.  He argues that understanding of proletarian ideology does not appear from ‘haphazard and sporadic germination’ but through experience.  Shining Path agrees with these arguments and sees the long period of democratic revolution as a time when the peasants and petty bourgeoisie will come to recognize Maoism as the ‘correct’ ideology.”

And now here was Chavez matter-of-factly offering up Gramsci’s complicated ideas to his generally lower economic strata and relatively less educated followers, literally Venezuela’s proletariat and peasant classes.  Most remarkable was his seeming sincere belief that his masses deserved to be treated as being fully capable of comprehending the ideas he was illuminating.

Now that he’s gone, I’ll remember Hugo Chavez’s willingness to lie and cheat and divert blame to accomplish his goals.  I’ll remember his anti-democratic actions and his systematic centralization of political power in his hands alone.  I’ll remember his readiness to cynically manipulate people and information whenever it suited his political and ideological ends.

I’ll also remember him as a tireless advocate for the right of the poor, ignored, and uneducated to be heard and to exercise influence over those who govern them.  Even more, I’ll remember his success in convincing those same marginalized folk to enthusiastically buy into his vision and to learn to act on it.  As Venezuelans rightly begin to cast off the excesses and drastic inefficiencies of Chavismo in the course of these coming post-Chavez years, I hope they nonetheless retain the newly politicized underclass that Chavez engendered, an underclass capable of effectively asserting its weight and demanding the attention of political leaders.

I’m sorry to see you go this way, Comandante.  You should have lost power through an eventual electoral defeat resulting from your own increasing missteps and political overreach, not due to this merciless disease.  Your mistakes and conceit should have done you in, leaving you to bluster away into revolutionary oblivion while those who followed you in power selectively picked up and ran with your few, but substantial, achievements in political empowerment.  Mostly, I’ll miss the calming effect of your voice in the background.

Farewell, Comandante


From → Ideas

  1. Wonderful stuff, you political blogger, you! I am afraid I cannot see many recent electees (is that a word?) quoting early 20th C political theorists.

    • Unless of course it is unaware and inadvertent quoting of Il Duce:

      “”Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.””

      ((Note: This is not a political blog.))

  2. How apt. Thanks. I won’t bang on (especially after reading your beautifully worked piece) but I will mention that I just finished reading ‘Animal Farm’ again. Must confess, I found the contemporary parallels (you just change the brand name) deeply upsetting.
    Many of my US blog friends have ‘had’ to write. JHubner, snakesinthegrass2014, others. It has even triggered a very welcome return, the always interesting JDB:

    A relentless gentle force can still have an impact, I believe, like a mellifluous voice in the background.

    • Not sure I’m allowed to still interact with you after the recent VIP phone call, but I’m going to choose to ignore that. Thanks for the direction to compatriot catharsis seekers. I will seek solace in their fellow travels.

      • I think this is a rare occasion where you might choose NOT to follow the example of your fearless leader. That is, continue to maintain cordial relations with antipodeans. Hm. Cordial doesn’t seem right. Perhaps, gin and tonic relations.

  3. Great post and splendid writing. The parallels are all to close for comfort right now. I hope our own “marginalized folk [who] enthusiastically buy into his vision and to learn to act on it” eventually become immune to the relentless over-reach that’s made to them. – Marty

  4. It may not be a political blog, but a very humanist one for sure. We need real voices in times like these. Regardless of political side, a human voice giving a relatable point of view. Whether you agree or not with the POV, at least there’s no yelling or name calling. This is how we get through.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. A fine post victim of the fury – especially for a non-political blogger 🙂
    I’m also torn about how to participate, especially when like you said, inaction can enable.
    I appreciate the way you chose to add your voice

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