Comandante Chavez, hasta siempre. Todos somos chavez.
The word authoritarian is thrown around in leftist circles quite frequently; and, for good reason. The presence of authoritarianism is quite prevalent throughout all class societies; whether it manifests as a genocidal “National Socialist” party or the United Fruit Company.
However, there also exists an equally prevalent hatred for an abstract conception of authoritarianism; this detest for authoritarianism, as an abstraction, became especially obvious following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In the hours following the Comandante’s death, anarchist circles such as r/anarchism and various online groups were pouring out condemnation of Chavez as an authoritarian tyrant, not fit for the support of socialists. This presents an interesting question to the socialist left:
What does it mean to be ‘authoritarian’ and in what way do we apply this to our critical theory?
Before I attempt to answer this question with some relevance, allow me to be frank. I brutally detest this condemnation of Chavez as an ‘authoritarian’. Even on the most objective level, looking at the facts of Venezuelan democracy, we know this condemnation to be baseless. Venezuela has begun to establish a proletarian democracy in the truest sense of the phrase. Local and direct participation from the masses of working people are developing Venezuelan anti-capitalism in a way never seen before. Tens of thousands of cooperatives and community councils have been established as the power organs of this Bolivarian Revolution, yet, the bourgeois individualists are not satisfied. This is because the Chavistas realize, as revolutionaries before have, that the democracy of the working class must exclude the democracy of the exploiters. The national and international bourgeois who seek to exploit Venezuela’s rich resources must be crushed and the revolutionary democracy must reflect this necessary exclusion.
Why should we socialists give a single damn about how the bourgeois are being systematically crushed in Venezuela? This appeal to some ‘individual liberty’ being stolen from the Venezuelan bourgeois is straight from the depths of liberalism.
So, can we conclude Chavez was an authoritarian?
Absolutely. To the bourgeois who seek to create a fortune subjecting millions of Venezuelans to deplorable conditions, Hugo Chavez was a ruthless authoritarian. To the petty bourgeois who did not wish to embrace the class struggle but remain indecisive about the brutality of imperialism, he was the devil incarnate. This the paradox of authoritarianism.
Truth be, all class systems are authoritarian in some way. As Marx pointed out, in the early stages of socialism, the class system will still exist. However, the Dictatorship of the Bourgeois will be replaced by the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The influence of the capitalist class will be ripped from the power organs and replaced by the interests of the toiling and oppressed peoples. This important distinction is one that is either misunderstood or blatantly rejected by many ‘anarchists’.
The idea that we can somehow successfully resist authoritarianism in the abstract is simply infantile. When one begins to understand the class nature of society, one understands that the class struggle pervades every crevice of socio-political existence.
Many will point out how proper anarchism resists all forms of illegitimate authority, especially within state organs. This is no doubt true, but the material reality of the situation is often reflected through history. Take for example, the anarchist movement in the Spanish Civil War. Were these anarchists authoritarian? In some sense, no doubt. The anarchists were violently hostile towards the fascist capitalist class as well as its allies within the clergy. But is this authoritarianism “bad”? From a Marxist position, absolutely not. More power to them! The bourgeois were rightly crushed and the interests of the Spanish worker were finally realized through the power organs established by the anarchists of Spain. Understanding how authoritarianism is also subject to the class nature of social relations is essential to move beyond this infantile naivety which rests not in proletarian theory but bourgeois liberalism.
With this understanding, let us return to the original question.
Answering the Question
“What does it mean to be ‘authoritarian’ and in what way do we apply this to our critical theory?”
If we are going to be intellectually honest we must conclude that we socialists of the Left are indeed authoritarian. We wish to rid the world of capitalism, imperialism, and all manner of alienation against the interests of the propertied classes. To those privileged classes, we are the epitome of authoritarianism. Thus, to be an ‘authoritarian’ is a fact of the conditions; a fact of the class struggle.
There are plenty of discussions to be had about possible ethical differences between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘non-authoritarian’ socialists but at the end of the day we are socialists. We are united against the hegemony of Capital and stand strongly with Labor. Our differences in ethical preferences cannot supersede our solidarity as revolutionaries.
Instead of of dividing ourselves between ‘authoritarians’ and ‘non-authoritarians’, I encourage the socialist Left to have fruitful discussion about praxis and the ethics of such revolutionary action without creating more enemies. There is nothing wrong with having a preference towards one form of socialist action than another. It is, however, wrong to make enemies of fellow socialists because of these preferences, which, are usually determined by material conditions more so than free will.
For ‘anarchists’ to condemn Chavez as a tyrant and likening him to a dictator is frankly embarrassing What good does it do to draw even more arbitrary lines in an already sectarian and marginalized movement? The fact that a socialist thread does not meet your narrow and dogmatic definition of “socialist” does not make it “bad” or “authoritarian”; it simply reconfirms the fact that as individuals we all hold personal preferences.
It pains me to see the anarchists who once fought for the liberation of the working class to be tainted by bourgeois liberalism to the point of petty sectarianism.
comrade, work and fight for the revolution
We must ask ourselves, where do we stand? For what class do we fight? Are we socialists or ‘anti-authoritarians’ in the abstract? Above all else, I am a socialist. My allegiance will forever be with the working class and oppressed peoples of the world. To crush the capitalist as a class and begin an era of liberation from every type of alienation.
If you are truly against authoritarianism, as it exists abstractly, you must dedicate yourself to the class struggle. Only once the capitalist property relations that condemn the vast majority of the world to poverty and alienation are removed can the class system begin to dissipate. Only once the class system has been forever banished and tossed onto the trash heap of history can authoritarianism, as an abstraction, truly be non-existent.
Hecho en memoria de Comandante Hugo Chavez Frias. Viviras en nuestros corazones para siempre. Hasta siempre, Comandante. Descansa en poder.