Hugo Chávez united the workers of the world

Andrew Chirwa, the president of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, delivered this keynote address on 5 March 2021 as part of the Hugo Chávez Memorial Day.

On this day, 5 March, in 2013, a great revolutionary finally succumbed to cancer and passed away. He was only 58 years old. The socialist world will forever be grateful to the people, government and doctors of Cuba who did all they could to try and defeat the cancer and other opportunistic respiratory infections which finally killed this great revolutionary. Today, we are assembled on this platform to celebrate the life and times of this great socialist revolutionary. 

Commandant Raphael Hugo Chávez Frias was born on 28 July 1954 and died on 5 March 2013. Comrade Hugo Chávez was president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013, apart from a very short time in April 2002. 

Today we will look to five areas of Comrade Chávez’s life that demonstrate that he was a true visionary leader of the working class.

Chávez, the internationalist 

Chávez knew that his primary theatre of revolutionary struggles was, of course, Venezuela, but, he was alert always to the fact that Venezuela alone in Latin America and the world could not succeed to establish a sustainable socialist project if the rest of Latin America and the whole world remained chained to capitalism. 

Comrade Chávez’s internationalism made him instrumental in the setting up of the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Bank of the South and, of course, the regional television network TeleSUR.

It is not true that Chávez did this great international work because he was using oil to achieve narrow Venezuelan interests. Chávez was always aware that the United States’ imperialist interests and stranglehold on Latin America could not be defeated in one country alone, no matter how revolutionary its people and leaders of such a country could be. 

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For example, Chávez was well aware how the US economic blockade on Cuba was in fact economic genocide performed on Cuba by the US government and its capitalists. He knew Venezuela would suffer the same fate.

After the collapse of the Union of the Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union in 1991, a fundamental lesson no socialist or communist could ignore was the historic fact that to defeat capitalism, the working class and all oppressed peoples of the world needed to be organised in a world revolutionary movement to overthrow the world capitalist system. No single country on its own could achieve and sustain socialism, let alone advance to communism. 

The reason is very simple: capitalism is a world system; to defeat it, it must be fought at a world level. While revolutions against capitalism must and can start in one country, the working class and all oppressed and dominated peoples of the world must also rise up everywhere and fight to destroy the world capitalist system.

14 October 2007: Hugo Chavez gestures during his weekly Aló Presidente, or Hello Mr President, programme in front of an image of Che Guevara in Santa Clara, Cuba. (Photograph by Sven Creutzmann/ Mambo/ Getty Images)

Chávez understood this international character of the struggle for socialism very well, and so he moved swiftly to unite the desperate peoples of Latin America, so that together they could defend themselves against the rapacious imperialism of the United States in the region. 

This is one powerful lesson we must learn and celebrate about Commandant Hugo Chávez: our struggles for emancipation, while being fought at a local and national level, are bound to fail if we at the same time do not forge a global movement against the world capitalist system! 

The everyday struggles of the masses and the impoverished

Even without achieving socialism, it is possible to fight mass poverty, unemployment, extreme inequalities and the indignities these capitalist evils cause millions of human beings to suffer on Earth. We cannot completely win these fights under capitalism, but we can reduce the levels of suffering. 

Chávez demonstrated in practice that there is no excuse for allowing the wealth of any country to benefit a tiny minority and their imperialist backers. He embarked upon an ambitious nationalisation project, crucially of the Venezuelan oil resources. 

People love ideas, stories, poetry reading and writing books. But people don’t eat ideas. They eat food, need houses to live in, must have clothes to wear, their children must go to schools well fed, and everyone needs water and good health. Chávez understood that with or without socialism, the majority of the Venezuelans who are the working class and indigenous people needed these basic things of life. 

Chávez did not wait until Venezuela achieved socialism to redistribute wealth. He went ahead and did it inside the Venezuelan capitalist system.

14 Mar 2008: President Hugo Chavez attends a rally with members of his new Venezuelan Socialist Union Party in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photograph by Reuters/ Miraflores Palace/ Handout)

In the shortest time, destitution, illiteracy, hunger, homelessness, access to clinics and hospitals were improved, and he improved the quality of lives for millions of Venezuelans such that even the UN could not pretend not to see that Venezuela was changing for the better. 

To struggle every day to improve the quality of life of the working and impoverished masses is the revolutionary responsibility of every socialist activist whatever the ideological and political system of the country in which we live. The masses in fact may only listen to us, and fight with us for socialism because they will know by our example while in a capitalist system what good things we can achieve together with them, when we defeat capitalism and create socialism. 

Chávez taught us to dedicate our lives fighting even for the smallest victories for the working masses and the impoverished inside capitalism, without losing sight of our goal for a socialist society through the socialist revolution.

Daily contact with the masses 

On radio, television and Twitter, Chávez was not afraid to directly speak with and to the people of his country. He was not happy and comfortable to hide behind official press statements and one-way, “Address to the Nation” or “Letter from the President”, hide-and-seek tactics.

To learn what was happening in his country, he did not just depend on his intelligence, security and military establishment: he had direct personal conversations with his people. 

He enjoyed listening, learning and directly talking with the masses through the mass media means of communication and rallies. This way, he knew exactly what the burning questions of the day among all the classes of the people in his country were.

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This is why his election victories saw him successively increase his votes for most of the time he stood as president of Venezuela – the masses knew him, and he knew them very well. In fact, this is what annoyed the US and the world capitalist system: here was a socialist and he was winning elections!

To counter the capitalist lies about Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez instigated the birth of several newspapers and powerful TV, TeleSUR, a regional Latin American television broadcaster. Without a dedicated revolutionary media and press, it is almost impossible to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the working and impoverished masses – capitalism will always reach them first!

Consistent discipline and sacrifice 

Hugo Chávez was a career soldier who, in fact, became a revolutionary while serving in the Venezuelan army and – believe it or not – hunting down Marxist guerrillas opposed to the government he was serving! 

He read everything he could lay his hands on, on the history of Latin America and its revolutionary traditions and the world communist movement including, but not limited to, Simón Bolívar, Simón Rodríguez, Ezequiel Zamora, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and many others. 

This rich literature and knowledge armed him with both revolutionary and theoretical strategic tools to navigate the complex political and economic world system in which Venezuela was immersed. 

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Ultimately he worked hard to unite the disparate Left parties and movements in Venezuela into what later became the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, in short PSUV. This is the party in power in Venezuela today. 

Without this self-education and preparation and how Chávez used this to build the PSUV, it is possible that by now the US with its crippling sanctions and sponsorship of sabotage and insurrection would have completely destroyed the revolution in Venezuela. 

Without revolutionary theory, it is impossible to have a revolutionary movement. Chávez understood this, and he armed the working class, through his daily contact and mass media, with a thorough knowledge of the capitalist class system in Venezuela and US imperialism and its intentions in Venezuela.

Chávez combined revolutionary theory with revolutionary practice and fought and lived for the success of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. 

We must learn the obvious fact that without the weapon of revolutionary knowledge, it is impossible to wage a successful revolution. Our first duty, therefore, is to learn, to educate ourselves, through both theory and concrete participation in the daily struggles of the working masses and the impoverished.

Principles, discipline and courage

Today, we have many socialists in our trade unions and social movements who preach their Marxism at work and in workshops but are patriarchal savages in their homes. We have so-called socialists who steal money from their organisations to enrich themselves. Laziness, hatred of hard work, fear of suffering and hardships – these are the most important characteristics of so-called socialists of today. Love of comfort, luxury, a good time, idleness: this is the quality of revolutionary life many so-called socialist revolutionaries live or aspire to live today.

We have socialists who, with just a little money, all the socialism evaporates from their heads and they start singing from the capitalist bible. We have so-called socialists who hate working-class democracy and worker control. We have so-called socialists who are such hopeless cowards they hate any talk of the idea of the dictatorship of the working class as the most complete and thorough democracy. We have so-called socialists who think that capitalism can be destroyed through elections!

4 March 2014: A worker passes a mural of Hugo Chavez at the military barracks where the former Venezuelan president is entombed in Caracas. (Photograph by John Moore/ Getty Images)

Chávez was the opposite of this. He was a fearless, principled, consistent and courageous revolutionary. He was prepared at all times to lay down his life for the struggle for a full life for the working class, the indigenous people and all the people of Venezuela, and therefore, for the working class of the world. He was never afraid to pick up arms against the capitalist system. He was not a thief. He was always ready to make the highest sacrifice, including sacrificing his own life. 

He understood that to defeat the ruling class he had to set up working-class and popular-power structures among and for the masses. Through a referendum, he had the old Constitution amended to allow for the birth of the Constituent Assembly, which became the centre of power. Together with a loyal army, it is this assembly today that holds Venezuela together. Chávez was a democrat.

The Venezuelan revolution cannot be defended just via conference and congress resolutions of solidarity. We need to fight capitalism directly in our countries – this is the best way to increase the world socialist forces against capitalism. 

This is a lightly edited speech delivered by Andrew Chirwa on 5 March 2021. 

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