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Uncovering the Tea Party’s Radical Roots | Common Dreams

Uncovering the Tea Party’s Radical Roots

by Ira Chernus

For decades, Democrats across the country have been holding Jefferson Day dinners, filling their coffers by honoring their party’s founder. Suddenly, along comes the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, snatches up poor old TJ, and says, “Sorry, he’s actually ours. After all, didn’t he say, ‘That government is best which governs least’?”
hamilton-et-jefferson
Neither Alexander Hamilton nor Thomas Jefferson would recognize or accept the notions and hysteria that now make currency among the Tea Party faction and the Republican Party. (Public domain)” />Neither Alexander Hamilton nor Thomas Jefferson would recognize or accept the notions and hysteria that now make currency among the Tea Party faction and the Republican Party. (Public domain)

Well, no, in fact he didn’t. But perhaps he should have. He often expressed skepticism, and sometimes outright criticism, of the growing powers of the federal government. So which side in today’s political divide is most entitled to carry the name of Jefferson on its banner? Exploring those questions led me to a surprising discovery: If we put the Tea Party’s claim to TJ’s mantle in the proper historical perspective, we come out not on the far right but on the far left.

It all began when I was re-reading Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution(trying to escape from obsessively tracking the DC rollercoaster.) As Wood observes, the Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians divided over basically the same issue that plagues us now: How much of a role should government play in people’s lives? (Though the clash back then was so fierce, and split American society so sharply, that it makes today’s politics look rather mild by comparison.)

But Wood takes us deeper into the substance of the issue. Jeffersonians were willing to limit government only because they assumed that there was “a principle of benevolence … a moral instinct, a sense of sympathy, in each human being.” They were founding an American nation upon the European Enlightenment’s belief that “there was ‘a natural principle of attraction in man towards man’ [as Hume put it], and that these natural affinities were by themselves capable of holding the society together.”This was exactly the point that frightened Alexander Hamilton most. He summed up his opponents’ view quite accurately: “As human nature shall refine and ameliorate by the operation of a more enlightened plan,” based on common moral sense and the spread of affection and benevolence, government eventually “will become useless, and Society will subsist and flourish free from its shackles.” Then Hamilton, the greatest conservative of his day, dismissed this vision of shrinking government as “a wild and fatal scheme.”

The Republicans who now control the House obviously have a very different view of what it means to be a true conservative. But that doesn’t mean they have become Jeffersonians. Not by any means. In many ways they would be closer to Hamilton, who scorned Jefferson’s trust in human nature.

The Tea Party et al. don’t defend their call for less government by claiming that we are all born with an innate sense of benevolence and sympathy toward all other people. On the contrary, they claim “the most sacred right to be left alone” largely because they don’t trust people outside their own familiar circle, so they don’t want those strangers meddling in their affairs.

Yet the current call for less government is a useful reminder of the worldview on which Jefferson and many of the Founding Fathers expected to build the United States. They assumed it was “natural to infer, that a disposition to do good, must, in some degree, be common to all men.”

And this, Wood goes on to write, “was the real source of democratic equality.” Every human being can be equally trusted to make wise decisions for the good of all (the reasoning went) because everyone, simply by virtue of being human, has a natural concern for the good of al—as long as that inborn sense of sympathy and benevolence is not corrupted by a misguided society. Let nature take its course and everyone will be taking care of everyone else so well that there won’t be very much for government to do.

In the mid-19th century Henry David Thoreau drew that line of thinking out to its logical conclusion in his essay “Civil Disobedience“:

I heartily accept the motto, — “That government is best which governs least” — and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

How would men (and women, to be sure) get prepared for such anarchy, which was really Thoreau’s ideal? He offered no simple rule, because there was none, in his view: “I would have each one be very careful and find out his own way.” he wrote in Walden. “Explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s own being.”

Within that private sea of our own being, though, Thoreau was sure that every one of us could find—each in our own way —the eternal, spiritual “solid bottom,” of the universe. “Next to us the grandest laws … all the laws of Nature … are continually being executed.” We can know those laws directly and be guided by them, as long as we “live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.” Then we will find government superfluous.

Thoreau concluded “Civil Disobedience” by “imagining a State” that would let a few people

live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

It would be a state of perfect Transcendentalist anarchy, where everyone would fulfill all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men not because they were following the government’s laws but because they were letting nature take its course within them, living deep and sucking all the marrow out of life.

Today’s right-wing extremists would probably run from Thoreau’s view of life even faster than from Jefferson’s. But there is no denying that their obsession with shrinking government stands in a long, distinguished line of American tradition where these two luminaries shine so bright.

Those same right-wingers would probably run fastest of all from another luminary, Walt Whitman, who was surely marching to his own drummer when he rhapsodized about his own transcendental moments: “From this hour, freedom! From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines.” Where the Tea Party would erect fences stronger and higher, Whitman would have every fence torn down.

And in his imagined freedom, shorn of all defences, Whitman found “the joy of that vast elemental sympathy which only the human soul is capable of generating and emitting in steady and limitless floods.” Even Jefferson could not have expressed the Enlightenment faith in benevolent human nature more eloquently.

Whitman gave classic voice to the link between the anarchic Transcendentalists and the Jeffersonians: Live free, follow your natural promptings, and you will spontaneously act upon the elemental sympathy for all that wells up from within you.

So it seems a fitting coincidence that I first heard this tradition voiced by friends at “Leaves of Grass,” my local countercultural bookstore, back in the late 1960s. They summed it up by asking, in Whitman’s words: “What do you need, Camerado? Do you think it is love?”, and answering, in the Beatles’ words, “All you need is love.”

These friends were imagining something not yet anywhere seen: a society blending personal freedom and spiritual seeking with universal sympathy, so that everyone could suck all the marrow out of life. Most of them thought they were the first to even imagine it. They didn’t know that they were only forging the next link in a historical chain of imagining—a chain of political mythmaking—stretching back to the American Revolution.

As for the size of government, I don’t recall it being a burning issue back then outside a small circle of political philosophy wonks. For the rest of us, it seemed just a matter of common sense. The innate sense of sympathy, as well as direct contact with the marrow of life, had been stunted for far too long by a society that valued profits and material goods above people. It would be many years before everyone’s genuine needs would be fully met by spontaneous acts of benevolence and love.

Until then, government should fill the gaps, since only government has the resource to make sure all are filled. But it should stay out where it does more harm than good—most obviously, back then, in Vietnam.

So if we drag the Tea Party and its fellow-travelers (kicking and screaming, no doubt) back into their proper historical context, we discover that the size of the government is not the crucial issue at all. They are here to remind us of something much bigger: a grand mythic vision that appeared at the very birth of the nation and has remained with us ever since, periodically blazing up in individuals or groups who have articulated it in clear and sometimes eloquent words.

So far the spotlight on the Tea Party has done much more to obscure than illuminate this mythic vision. But history has its way of playing unexpected tricks on us. Exhibit A: If it weren’t for the Tea Party’s vehement opposition, the U.S. would probably be dropping bombs on Syria right now, and very possibly sinking deeper into prolonged military involvement there.

So let’s give thanks where thanks are due, recall the patriotic far right’s true roots in America’s radical history, and do what we can to cultivate those roots so that they’ll give rise to a healthier plant in the future.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 LicenseIra Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Mythic America: Essays andAmerican Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He blogs atMythicAmerica.us.

https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/18


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The Orwellian Warfare State of Carnage and Doublethink | Common Dreams

I am glad to see this article. Lately I’ve been having a lot of conversations about the disgustingly obvious parallels between Orwell’s creations and our day to day life in the current era. What has been most disturbing to me is how casually the majority accept this state as natural and normal and even defend it vigorously against any dissent.

From constant surveillance to constant warfare, from false flags and their scapegoats being killed to the blind acceptance of created “enemies” we seem to have woken up right in the middle of Orwell’s 1984 novelscape.

The Orwellian Warfare State of Carnage and Doublethink

by Norman Solomon

People react as an explosion goes off near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions went off at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan) After the bombings that killed and maimed so horribly at the Boston Marathon, our countrys politics and mass media are awash in heartfelt compassion — and reflexive doublethink, which George Orwell described as willingness to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.

In sync with media outlets across the country, the New York Times put a chilling headline on Wednesdays front page: Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim, Officials Say. The story reported that nails and ball bearings were stuffed into pressure cookers, rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast.

Much less crude and weighing in at 1,000 pounds, CBU-87/B warheads were in the category of combined effects munitions when put to use 14 years ago by a bomber named Uncle Sam. The U.S. media coverage was brief and fleeting.

One Friday, at noontime, U.S.-led NATO forces dropped cluster bombs on the city of Nis, in the vicinity of a vegetable market. The bombs struck next to the hospital complex and near the market, bringing death and destruction, peppering the streets of Serbias third-largest city with shrapnel, a dispatch in the San Francisco Chronicle reported on May 8, 1999.

And: In a street leading from the market, dismembered bodies were strewn among carrots and other vegetables in pools of blood. A dead woman, her body covered with a sheet, was still clutching a shopping bag filled with carrots.

Pointing out that cluster bombs explode in the air and hurl shards of shrapnel over a wide radius, BBC correspondent John Simpson wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: Used against human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare.

Savage did not preclude usage. As a matter of fact, to Commander in Chief Bill Clinton and the prevailing military minds in Washington, savage was bound up in the positive attributes of cluster bombs. Each one could send up to 60,000 pieces of jagged steel shrapnel into what the weapons maker described as soft targets.

An unusually diligent reporter, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times, reported from Pristina, Yugoslavia: During five weeks of airstrikes, witnesses here say, NATO warplanes have dropped cluster bombs that scatter smaller munitions over wide areas. In military jargon, the smaller munitions are bomblets. Dr. Rade Grbic, a surgeon and director of Pristinas main hospital, sees proof every day that the almost benign term bomblet masks a tragic impact. Grbic, who saved the lives of two ethnic Albanian boys wounded while other boys played with a cluster bomb found Saturday, said he had never done so many amputations.

The LA Times article quoted Dr. Grbic: I have been an orthopedist for 15 years now, working in a crisis region where we often have injuries, but neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs. He added: They are wounds that lead to disabilities to a great extent. The limbs are so crushed that the only remaining option is amputation. Its awful, awful.

The newspaper account went on: Pristinas hospital alone has treated 300 to 400 people wounded by cluster bombs since NATOs air war began March 24, Grbic said. Roughly half of those victims were civilians, he said. Because that number doesnt include those killed by cluster bombs and doesnt account for those wounded in other regions of Yugoslavia, the casualty toll probably is much higher, he said. Most people are victims of the time-activated cluster bombs that explode some time after they fall, he said.

Later, during invasions and initial periods of occupation, the U.S. military dropped cluster bombs in Afghanistan and fired cluster munitions in Iraq.

Today, the U.S. State Department remains opposed to outlawing those weapons, declaring on its official website: Cluster munitions have demonstrated military utility. Their elimination from U.S. stockpiles would put the lives of its soldiers and those of its coalition partners at risk.

The State Department position statement adds: Moreover, cluster munitions can often result in much less collateral damage than unitary weapons, such as a larger bomb or larger artillery shell would cause, if used for the same mission. Perhaps the bomber(s) who stuffed nails and ball bearings into pressure cookers for use in Boston had a similarly twisted rationale.

But dont expect explorations of such matters from the USAs daily papers or commercial networks — or from the likes of NPRs Morning Edition and All Things Considered, or the PBS NewsHour. When the subject is killing and maiming, such news outlets take as a given the presumptive moral high ground of the U.S. government.

In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote about the conditioned reflex of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought . . . and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.

The doublethink — continually reinforced by mass media — remains within an irony-free zone that would amount to mere self-satire if not so damaging to intellectual and moral coherence.

Every news report about the children killed and injured at the finish line in Boston, every account of the horrific loss of limbs, makes me think of a little girl named Guljumma. She was seven years old when I met her at an Afghan refugee camp one day in the summer of 2009.

At the time, I wrote: Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.”

In the refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, where several hundred families were living in squalid conditions, the U.S. government was providing no help. The last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the U.S. government was when it bombed them.

War thrives on abstractions, but Guljumma was no abstraction. She was no more or less of an abstraction than the children whose lives have been forever wrecked by the bombing at the Boston finish line.

But the same U.S. news media that are conveying the preciousness of children so terribly harmed in Boston are scarcely interested in children like Guljumma.

I thought of her again when seeing news reports and a chilling photo on April 7, soon after 11 children in eastern Afghanistan were even more unlucky than she was. Those children died from a U.S./NATO air strike. For mainline American journalists, it wasnt much of a story; for American officials, it was no big deal.

Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, Orwell observed, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.

Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State“.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/17


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World is Unprepared as Climate Change Starvation ‘Disaster’ Lies Ahead: Report | Common Dreams

Millions of people will die of starvation across the world as agricultural yields are expected to tank and the price of food is expected to double by 2050 scientists warned in a new report released this week.

Corn in the hands of a farmworker in South Africa. Photograph: Greatstock Photographic Library/Alamy The culprit? Extreme temperatures, floods and droughts brought on by climate change, the scientists warned in this year’s US National Climate Assessment.

Lead researches of the study told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international CGIAR crop research centers, stated:

Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.

The Observer reports:

America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: “Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

“Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further”.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/04/14-0


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Why Would Anyone Celebrate the Death of Margaret Thatcher? Ask a Chilean | Common Dreams

Why Would Anyone Celebrate the Death of Margaret Thatcher? Ask a Chilean

by Dave Zirin

Never have I witnessed a gap between the mainstream media and the public, quite like the last 24 hours since the death of Margaret Thatcher. While both the press and President Obama were uttering tearful remembrances, thousands took to the streets of the UK and beyond to celebrate. Immediately this drew strong condemnation of what were called “death parties”, described as tasteless, horrible, and beneath all human decency. Yet if the same media praising Thatcher and appalled by the popular response would bother to ask one of the people celebrating, they might get a story that doesn’t fit into their narrative, which is probably why they aren’t asking at all.

Thousands have taken to the streets to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher.I received a note this morning from the friend of a friend. She lives in the UK, although her family didn’t arrive there by choice. They had to flee Chile, like thousands of others, when it was under the thumb of General Augusto Pinochet. If you don’t know the details about Pinochet’s blood-soaked two-decade reign, you should read about them but take care not to eat beforehand. He was a merciless overseer of torture, rapes, and thousands of political executions. He had the hands and wrists of the country’s greatest folk singer Victor Jara broken in front of a crowd of prisoners before killing him. He had democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende shot dead at his desk. His specialty was torturing people in front of their families.

As Naomi Klein has written so expertly, he then used this period of shock and slaughter to install a nationwide laboratory for neoliberal economics. If Pinochet’s friend Milton Friedman had a theory about cutting food subsidies, privatizing social security, slashing wages, or outlawing unions, Pinochet would apply it. The results of these experiments became political ammunition for neoliberal economists throughout the world. Seeing Chile-applied economic theory in textbooks always boggles my mind. It would be like if the American Medical Association published a textbook on the results of Dr. Josef Mengele’s work in the concentration camps, without any moral judgment about how he accrued his patients.

Pinochet was the General in charge of this human rights catastrophe. He also was someone who Margaret Thatcher called a friend. She stood by the General even when he was exile, attempting to escape justice for his crimes. As she said to Pinochet, “[Thank you] for bringing democracy to Chile.”

Therefore, if I want to know why someone would celebrate the death of Baroness Thatcher, I think asking a Chilean in exile would be a great place to start. My friend of a friend took to the streets of the UK when she heard that the Iron Lady had left her mortal coil. Here is why:

“I’m telling [my daughter] all about the Thatcher legacy through her mother’s experience, not the media’s; especially how the Thatcher government directly supported Pinochet’s murderous regime, financially, via military support, even military training (which we know now, took place in Dundee University). Thousands of my people (and members of my family) were tortured and murdered under Pinochet’s regime- the fascist beast who was one of Thatcher’s closest allies and friend. So all you apologists/those offended [by my celebration] -you can take your moral high ground & shove it. YOU are the ones who don’t understand. Those of us celebrating are the ones who suffered deeply under her dictatorship and WE are the ones who cared. We are the ones who protested. We are the humanitarians who bothered to lift a finger to help all those who suffered under her regime. I am lifting a glass of champagne to mourn, to remember and to honour all the victims of her brutal regime, here AND abroad. And to all those heroes who gave a shit enough to try to do something about it.”

I should add here that I lived in Chile in 1995, when Pinochet had been deposed but was still in charge of the armed forces. I became friends with those who were tortured or had their families disappeared so Thatcher’s connection to Chile strikes a personal note with me. I also understand however, that similar explanations for “why people are celebrating” could be made by those with connections to Argentina, apartheid South Africa, Indonesia, Belfast, Gaza, or Baghdad. The case could also be made by those in the UK affected by Thatcher’s Pinochet-tested economic dictates who choose not to mourn.

It also matters because the 48 hours after a powerful public figure dies is when the halo becomes permanently affixed to their head. When Ronald Reagan passed away, a massive right wing machine went into motion aimed at removing him from all criticism. The Democrats certainly didn’t challenge this interpretation of history and now according to polls, people under 25 would elect Reagan over President Obama, even though Reagan’s ideas remain deeply unpopular. To put it crudely, the political battle over someone’s memory is a political battle over policy. In Thatcher’s case, if we gloss over her history of supporting tyrants, we are doomed to repeat them.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote so expertly in the Guardian, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with loathing Margaret Thatcher or any other person with political influence and power based upon perceived bad acts, and that doesn’t change simply because they die. If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.”

Or to put it even more simply, in the words, of David Wearing, “People praising Thatcher’s legacy should show some respect for her victims.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Let’s please show some respect for Margaret Thatcher’s victims. Let’s respect those who mourn everyday because of her policies, but choose this one day to wipe away the tears.Then let’s organize to make sure that the history she authored does not repeat.

© 2013 The Nation
Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/09-7


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Hugo Chávez Kept His Promise to the People of Venezuela | Common Dreams

Published on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 by The Guardian/UK

Hugo Chávez Kept His Promise to the People of Venezuela

The late Venezuelan president’s Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to a wider Latin American philosophy

by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn’t hold regular cabinet meetings; he’d bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the program in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter. One session included an open discussion of healthcare in the slums of Caracas, rap, a self-critical examination of Venezuelans being accustomed to the politics of oil money and expecting the president to be a magician, a friendly exchange with a delegation from Nicaragua and a less friendly one with a foreign journalist.

Nicaragua is one of Venezuela’s allies in Alba, the organization constituted at Chávez’s initiative to counter neoliberalism in the region, alongside Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia. It has now acquired a life of its own having invited a number of Caribbean countries and Mexico to join, with Vietnam as an observer. It will be a most enduring legacy, a concrete embodiment of Chávez’s words and historical vision. The Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to the wider philosophy shared and applied by many Latin American governments. Its aim is to overcome global problems through local and regional interventions by engaging with democracy and the state in order to transform the relation between these and the people, rather than withdrawing from the state or trying to destroy it.

Because of this shared view Brazilians, Uruguayans and Argentinians perceived Chávez as an ally, not an anomaly, and supported the inclusion of Venezuela in their Mercosur alliance. Chávez’s Social Missions, providing healthcare and literacy to formerly excluded people while changing their life and political outlook, have proven the extent of such a transformative view. It could be compared to the levelling spirit of a kind of new New Deal combined with a model of social change based on popular and communal organization.

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d’état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez’s meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered.

All this talking and direct contact meant the constant reaffirmation of a promise between Chávez and the people of Venezuela. Chávez had discovered himself not by looking within, but by looking outside into the shameful conditions of Latin Americans and their past. He discovered himself in the promise of liberation made by Bolívar. “On August 1805,” wrote Chávez, Bolívar “climbed the Monte Sacro near Rome and made a solemn oath.” Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. Within his lifetime, the ties of dependency and indirect empire have loosened. From the river Plate to the mouths of the Orinoco river, Latin America is no longer somebody else’s backyard. That project of liberation has involved thousands of men and women pitched into one dramatic battle after another, like the coup d’état in 2002 or the confrontation with the US-proposed Free Trade Zone of the Americas. These were won, others were lost.

Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. Within his lifetime, the ties of dependency and indirect empire have loosened.

The project remains incomplete. It may be eternal and thus the struggle will continue after Chávez is gone. But whatever the future may hold, the peoples of the Americas will fight to salvage the present in which they have regained a voice. In Venezuela, they put Chávez back into the presidency after the coup. This was the key event in Chávez’s political life, not the military rebellion or the first electoral victory. Something changed within him at that point: his discipline became ironclad, his patience invincible and his politics clearer. For all the attention paid to the relation between Chávez and Castro, the lesser known fact is that Chávez’s political education owes more to another Marxist president who was also an avowed democrat: Chile’s Salvador Allende. “Like Allende, we’re pacifists and democrats,” he once said. “Unlike Allende, we’re armed.”

The lesson drawn by Chávez from the defeat of Allende in 1973 is crucial. Some, like the far right and the state-linked paramilitary of Colombia would love to see Chavismo implode, and wouldn’t hesitate to sow chaos across borders. The support of the army and the masses of Venezuela will decide the fate of the Bolívarian revolution, and the solidarity of powerful and sympathetic neighbors like Brazil. Nobody wants instability now that Latin America is finally standing up for itself. In his final days Chávez emphasised the need to build communal power and promoted some of his former critics associated with the journal Comuna. The revolution will not be rolled back. Unlike his admired Bolívar, Chávez did not plough the seas.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is a senior lecturer in law at Birkbeck, University of London and author of What If Latin America Ruled the World?

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/05-8