The man was captivating. It happened to me the first time I saw him in Mar del Plata, in 2005. He was standing before a packed stadium, quoting Eva Peron, talking about Francisco de Miranda. It was raining, there was a sea wind, and he was there for a master class in history. I started to be a military man, he had already faced everything an empire unloads when he wants to get ahead. That day I became a Chavista, without knowing it yet. I was not the only one, we were thousands. There was something in his words, the historical time he carried, the certainty he offered. Seeing it in Caracas was powerfully impactful: I remember the crowded avenue, the wait, the joy. When suddenly, from the top of a truck, he appeared, and the fervor was unanimous, fascinating. It was him. The man, already a myth.
A leadership of this magnitude was necessary to channel Venezuela's organic crisis into a revolutionary outlet. The country was a superposition of fragments, defeats, accumulated struggles, mobilized wills without knowing where, a radicality unleashed in '89. The left in its different forms was small: "There was no mass work, the popular struggles were frozen," explained Chavez. Were there subjective and objective conditions? It was necessary to find someone who gathered around him the scattered and rabid. He said it would be him. It was.
He built himself up as president, head of state, head of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), of a historical movement, of a political party, a mass pedagogue, political strategist, theoretician. A charismatic leader, as sociology says. Those who frighten political cultures like the European ones, they happen every few decades on our continent and they break history, they give political name to the class struggle, they carry out refoundations.
You cannot understand Chavismo without the roles of leadership. Both in the order of government, civic-military, and driver of the movement. He was the one who balanced the parties, the different looks, could contain the worst tendencies and push towards the progress of the project more and more towards the left. And he won elections, until the last, in a condensation of mysticism rarely seen. His last victory summoned a continent. The right, the empire, could not deal with it.
This is rational, a political analysis. Chavez was more than that: he embodied figures of absent father, brother, love, desire. He remains among the people. Candles, prayers, altars, passions, all that is Chavez.
Chavismo: An Organizational Path
His death brought a vacuum. It could not be otherwise. The need to build another leadership that did not exist was immediate. For the logics of Chavismo in its different dimensions, and for the violence of the war that had been rehearsing and which unleashed with fury. The strategy of the enemy would have been another one in case of him being alive. They thought that a push would suffice and they were wrong. Chavez continued as a unifying element, a resistance force that continues to this day.
How how could he be replaced? How to rebuild a leadership of government, state, movement, international, in the Fanb *armed forces,* in mass pedagogy? These were tasks that Nicolas Maduro had to assume, and, it is known, driving is not decreed, it is won and it is exercised. Not in any context but in this, marked by the frontality of the attacks that pushed the economy to its limits and unleashed three attempts to assault political power by force in four years. Maduro inherited a historical accumulation at the same time as problems that had been created before, and took advantage of Chavez's absence to tear even more pieces of what had been achieved. Corruption, for example.
Maduro is not Chavez. It is absurd to pretend otherwise. Nor is there Madurismo, an operation designed by the enemy to break what was not broken. It can be said that Maduro was strengthened in his leadership capacity within Chavismo. The clearest case was his call to the National Constituent Assembly when the country seemed to enter the paths of confrontation without return. It was he who redirected that scenario in a democratic way, once again demonstrating his capacity as a strategist in the confrontation against the other. Maduro is better than the enemy leadership in the conflict, and Chavismo all closed ranks around him to ensure unity and strategic battles. Soldiers, as Maradona said in the critical days.
How much can be asked of the leadership? Maduro is not Chavez, Chavismo is a lot of simultaneous actors, parts of a whole. Downloading good and evil in a single person entails a reduction in analysis, which became part of the Chavista political culture. What should each part do? What role should parties, movements, communes, FANB, intellectuals play? Chavista architecture is not explained or maintained with an analysis scheme focused on leadership. An error that feeds the same official communicational logic, which centers all achievement – and ignores all problems – around Maduro, as a permanent electoral campaign, a need almost to force the installation of its leadership.
It is necessary to build leadership, the one that brings authority with it. Particularly at a time when there are vacuums of authority in Venezuela, lack of order within a hidden war, which has unleashed the negative tendencies that Chavismo had cornered – the bad never disappears altogether: speculation about the need of the other, save yourself if you can, transcended injustices. That authority is needed in a society that was formed in the Chavez way, combining strength with understanding, the first with the enemy, the direction that surrounded it, the second with the poor people, the maker of the strategic process.
Maduro consolidated his leadership in Chavismo ranks, a heterogeneous movement, multiclass, ranging from the peasant, the Indian, the outcast of the city, to the new entrepreneur. His appointment as the next presidential candidate was not publicly questioned. It is also true that his authority has been beaten downstream, in the commoner without political passion, in those also within Chavismo who have moved away, disillusioned, look for ways to face economic regression. For the same reality of the incapacity demonstrated until the moment of reversing the economic trend, because Maduro has been the central target of the national/global communication attacks, because a distancing between the president and the management has been effected with everyday language. The streets speak more and more another language, or the other way around. That distance weighs more as the material conditions worsen.
Chavismo needs leadership, authority. The country, too. It was due to a titanic traction capacity that it was possible to advance in a revolutionary process that almost nobody had predicted. That unifying and guiding capacity was Chavez. That absence is not replaceable with the same formula he did for Chavez. Some of the answers are in the president, others in the many Chavismos that we are.
Are we all Chavez?