It takes more than an individual to upset the international chessboard as dramatically as it has been in the past decade.
Forces unleashed by the logic of capitalism have drawn a new geopolitical map, in which the United States has lost its former place as the world's centre of gravity and the ultimate arbiter of the key issues of the economy, politics and war.
Yet, though changes of such magnitude were obviously not the work of one person, the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s hallmark was a profound intuition of this impending change.
Chavez combined this with the will to intervene with a program and a strategy to shift towards consolidating a world suited to human needs.
And, assuredly, his role not only carried decisive weight in the early course of these changes, but will go on to transcend them.
No one foresaw as Chavez did the dynamics breaking apart imperial power, nor acted with such lucidity and courage to be a force leading this dynamic. This is why Venezuela is now in the centre of the world stage.
This mantle now falls on the government over which Nicolas Maduro will preside after winning the April 14 presidential elections.
It is a historical burden for the workers and people of a relatively small country with a low population, and an economy still underdeveloped and dependent. But it nevertheless carries a huge weight in the shaping of the future international relation of forces.
That is the fruit of Hugo Chavez’s international policies over the past fifteen years.
Practice and theory
Few understood the trail that Chavez’s explosive intervention blazed, much less travelled along it.
The key lies in one central concept, two instruments of international policy and the energy that infused him with the political courage needed to break with capitalist diplomacy.
The reason that few, notably within the left, understood or accompanied Chavez, is to do with an event as resonant as it is forgotten.
In 1920, the Second Congress of the Third International (led by Communist Party of the Soviet Union) did something that is still unknown to many: it changed the central slogan with which Marx and Engels drew the strategic direction of the First International: “Workers of the world unite.”
Chaired by Lenin and Trotsky, the Communist International replaced that with another war cry: “Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite.”
This change incorporated the concept of an anti-imperialist front and the notion of countries subject to the domination.
Chavez, regardless of whether he studied these documents, was guided by this strategy: to unite at all levels and throughout the world, the whole wide spectrum of classes, sectors and governments in one way or another confronted with imperialism.
Chavez dealt largely with two transnational instruments: with one, ALCA (the US-proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, ALCA inuits Spanish acronym) he collide head-on. The other, ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) he built from scratch.
I remember the final press conference of the Caribbean Conference of Presidents on December 13, 2001. Chavez announced the creation of an organisation whose acronym, he said, came to him while he was looking out to sea as the day began: ALBA (Spanish for “dawn”).
I sensed that this proposal, of tremendous strategic import, yet lacking articulation, was an impassioned plea to the world to understand and act. Only one president responded: Fidel Castro.
Chavez often told me, with his famous sense of humour, the story that portrays the reality of those times: “The next day Fidel sent a little letter asking me to send him the ALBA documentation. What documentation?! There was nothing!”
But not long after, Cuba and Venezuela founded ALBA ― on the principles of cooperation and solidarity.
Before that, Chavez had already begun the crucial battle against the neoliberal ALCA proposal. And he did it, from the middle of 2000, in a united front with a president ill-disposed to the revolutionary course that Venezuela was already pursuing: Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
A quote from an April 2001 article in Le Monde Diplomatique conveys the climate: “The basic reasons that big Brazilian industry is opposed to lifting all customs restrictions in the continent are pretty obvious and you don’t have to be a specialist to understand them: ‘As regards exports, Brazilian industry is at serious risk of losing domestic market share.
'Brazilian products will face foreign competition, which may be better and cheaper than national [producers],' recognizes O Estado de Sao Paulo (4/4/2001), the most powerful Brazilian newspaper.
“What is clear is that [Cardoso] invited Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to an emergency meeting in Brasilia; Chavez, as was to be expected, did not hesitate to change his schedule immediately to attend what would be his eighth meeting with Cardoso since taking office in 1999 (...) the formation of a Brasilia-Caracas axis will leave its mark even if the [the vacillations of Brazilian government leaders], obstruct the construction of a bloc around this axis and directed against Washington’s demands.”
This article was followed by another whose title says everything: “Brazil-Venezuela bloc frustrates advance towards ALCA.”
Chavez worked tirelessly on this raw material. Together with other in the region, eventually struck the hardest blow the US had suffered in strategic terms since its defeat in Vietnam: the crushing of ALCA in the famous Mar del Plata meeting in Argentina in 2005.
With a conception deeply rooted in the slogan “Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite”, he was the architect of this critical strategic defeat of imperialism.
These same concepts would guide him to devote enormous efforts to the Group of 15, the revival of OPEC, the Non-Aligned Movement, Petrocaribe and whatever international body offered the slightest chance of joining forces against the imperial enemy both outside Venezuela and within it.
That policy took a quantum leap forward with the creation of ALBA, now with eight member-nations. It led in 2008 to the creation of the SUCRE (Unified System for Regional Compensation ― ALBA’s nominal trade currency. “Sucre” also means “sugar”’ in Spanish).
This is an integral component of that project, destined to be a building block of a new design for the international financial system.
Meanwhile in Venezuela, the strategic instruments of revolution took shape: grassroots communal councils and, key to everything, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
A ancient dictum says that a country’s foreign policy be an extension of its domestic policies. Venezuela reversed this: since 1998, Chavez’s actions on the international terrain, and the new regional and international relations of forces to which this gave rise, have facilitated and promoted the revolutionary radicalisation internally.
While urging the consolidation and growth of ALBA, Chavez forced the South American Community of Nations to transform itself into the Union of South American Nations.
Then came CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which unites all nations in the Americas except the US and Canada) ― a real conquest with potentially momentous consequences. It was followed by Venezuela’s incorporation into Mercosur (the Market of the South, lead by Brazil and Argentina).
The impact of an anti-capitalist force within institutions dominated by capitalist pettiness, remorselessly bogging them down or throwing them off course, was a touchstone in the strategy of the anti-imperialist front. It is revitalising structures best described as paralysed and dying.
That is why ALBA lies at the heart of this strategy: the key to the “socialism of the 21st century” is a union that, depending on the clarity and the courage of its component parts, shapes yet higher forms of unity.
This in turn helps shape the “Latin American-Caribbean Nation” ― taking the decisive step towards the socialist confederation of our country.
This road was laid by Chavez.
The Fifth International
This, much as it is, is not all. Chavez always stressed the difference between the unity of governments and the unity of peoples.
With hands tied, as he was obliged to operate through various forms of the anti-imperialist united front with disparate governments, he sought to give flesh to a global instrument that could truly fulfil the slogan “Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite.”
And so on November 21, 2009, Chavez issued his call for revolutionaries to build the Fifth International.
It is a paradox that, having made so much ground with heads of state suspicious and obstructive at every turn, he could advance no further among left parties and revolutionary cadres.
The contradictory and eloquent man who rescued from oblivion and disgrace such crucial concepts as “revolution”, “socialism”, “party”, and “international”, was not understood by those who in theory should be ahead of the leader.
The same thing happened to him in his first step towards revolution in the 1992 military uprising: informed by generalities, the left abandoned him in Venezuela and the world.
It is equally telling that, notwithstanding this, Chavez, accompanied and driven by millions of people, was behind the most significant event of the last half century: the rebirth of socialism.
The same now applies: those men and women who understood and accompanied Chavez, will raise his flag and carry it forward, towards the emancipation of Latin America and all humanity.
Let there be no hint of mysticism or grandeur: our dead comrade made history because he felt the deepest needs of the people, because he sensed, with great flashes of insight, the course of the greatest world crisis in history, and because he knew how to respond to it.
The PSUV, the revolutionary government, the Venezuelan people and revolutionaries from around the world must now take over the tasks of the hour. They will have to overcome the shock of Chavez's death and pursue the course of the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist strategy.
We will not allow our souls to rest in the pursuit of the struggle for socialism.
[Luis Bilbao is a member of the Union of Militants for Socialism (Argentina). Bilbao lived in Venezuela and as director of the Latin America-wide magazine America XXI helped in the creation of the PSUV and the process of building UNASUR.]