Dual Powers, Class Compositions, and the Venezuelan People

In: Historical Materialism
Jeffery R. Webber School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London

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George Ciccariello-Maher’s We Created Chávez is the most important book available in English proposing an anti-capitalist framework for understanding the Bolivarian process in contemporary Venezuela, as well as its historical backdrop dating back to 1958. The book contains within it a laudable critique of Eurocentrism and a masterful combination of oral history, ethnography, and theoretical sophistication. It reveals with unusual clarity and insight the multiplicity of popular movements that allowed for Hugo Chávez’s eventual ascension to presidential office in the late 1990s. We Created Chávez has set a new scholarly bar for social histories of the Bolivarian process and demands serious engagement by Marxists. As a first attempt at such engagement, this paper reveals some critical theoretical and sociological flaws in the text and other areas of analytical imprecision. Divided into theoretical and historical parts, it unpacks some of the strengths and weaknesses by moving from the abstract to the concrete. The intervention begins with concepts – the mutually determining dialectic between Chávez and social movements; ‘the people’; and ‘dual power’. From here, it grounds these concepts, and Ciccariello-Maher’s use of them, in various themes and movements across specific historical periods of Venezuelan political development – the rural guerrillas of the 1960s, the urban guerrillas of the 1970s, the new urban socio-political formations of the 1980s, Afro-Indigenous struggles in the Bolivarian process, and formal and informal working-class transformations since the onset of neoliberalism and its present contestation in the Venezuelan context.

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