A story I have yet to see in the Anglo-American press is the apotheosis of Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan strongman died on 5 March 2013 after fifteen years in office leaving Venezuela with 25 per cent inflation, public debt at 70 percent of GDP, a shortage of basic consumer goods, a crumbling electrical grid with frequent power outages, widespread crime and a serious contraction of the oil industry — the source of 95 per cent of the country’s exports. Since 1998 U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude have fallen by half.
The press has so far focused on the economy, foreign affairs and the political campaign to elect a new president. The better stories have been asking whether Chavismo can survive without Chávez — if Marxism can survive without Marx, Leninism without Lenin, and Peronism without Peron then Chavismo may be able to survive without Chávez. His handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, who has the backing of the army, the poor and the country’s petrodollars may retain power. Or will Chavismo go the way of Stalinism, Maoism or Hitlerism?
The regime appears to be taking as few chances as possible — and just in time for Good Friday — ViVe, the cultural TV channel owned by the Venezuelan government has broadcast a children’s animated short film showing Hugo Chávez in heaven.
The film shows the ten people Chávez meets as he enters paradise: Indian leader Gaicauipuro, Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino, Chile’s Salvador Allende, Venezuela’s negro primero Pedro Camejo; Argentina’s Evita Peron, the “people’s singer” Ali Primera, Che Guevara, Chavez’s grandmother Rosa Ines, Ezequiel Zamora, and Simón Bolívar.
The title of this film: “Hasta siempre, Comandante”, has meaning beyond a farewell to El Comandante (Chávez’s popular name with the masses.) It was also the headline of the article in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, announcing Chávez’s death — and (coincidentally?) is the title of a leftist ballad celebrating the life of Che Guevara. Here is a link to a version ascribed to Joan Baez, whose closing stanzas proclaim:
Your revolutionary love
leads you to a new undertaking
where they are awaiting the firmness
of your liberating arm
We will carry on
as we did along with you
and with Fidel we say to you:
Until Always, Commandante!
The Russians did this sort of thing best — the idolatry of departed secular saints. The cry:
Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!
closes Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1924 poem “Vladimir Ilych Lenin“. The greatest of Mayakovsky’s works and the apex of the socialist realist style of poetry that flowered in Russia in the decade after the Revolution “VI Lenin” tells the story of the triumph of the proletarian revolution through the vehicle of the working class, which through toil and strife, guided by the laws of social development, revealed by its ideological genius Karl Marx, produces the “twin of Mother History” — the Bolshevik Party and its leader, VI Lenin.
The party for Mayakovsky is the symbol of the strength and wisdom of the working classes and is what has trained and mobilized the masses, and lead them out of their bondage. And over all this:
the compass of Leninist thought,
the guiding hand of Lenin.
Lenin’s life did not end with his death as the people and the party live on.
And even the death of Ilyich
became a great communist organizer.
Lenin will live in the hearts of the proletariat and will remain the rallying point for world revolution.
Proletarians, form ranks for the last battle!
Straighten your backs,
unbend your knees!
Proletarian army, close ranks!
Long live the joyous revolution, soon to come!
This is the greatest
of all great fights
that history has known.
Are we seeing the modest beginnings of Chávez worship? While Che posters and berets have lost their political meanings in college dorms and are mere fashion accessories in America — the glorification of a “Dear Leader” (living or dead) is central to the faith systems of peoples as far a part as Pyongyang and Caracas. Is it a substitute for God? Are we looking at worship? Or in this case is it merely of a silly aesthetically unpleasing government sponsored political advert? What is going on here?