Two years have passed since the death of Hugo Chávez. His death, as I wrote at the time, was a great loss for the cause of freedom, socialism and humanity. I had known him for almost ten years and had an enormous respect for his courage, honesty and dedication to the cause of socialism.
For this he earned the hatred of all the forces of the old society: the bankers, the capitalists, the defenders of inequality, exploitation and oppression, the imperialists, the CIA and of course the so-called “free press” that is only the slavish mouthpiece of these forces.
The media campaign of vilification against Chávez had no precedent in modern history. Consequently, it was difficult for people in other countries to form a truthful impression of him. Even socialists and communists in Western Europe for a long time allowed themselves to be influenced by this barrage of barefaced lies.
What these ladies and gentlemen could never understand was the intense loyalty, love and affection that he inspired in the Venezuelan masses who adored him. This was the other side of the coin of the bitter hatred of the possessing classes. In essence this extreme polarization of attitudes was a reflection of the class polarization in society concentrated on a single person.
In the eyes of the masses Chávez represented the revolution, their own awakening to political life, the battles waged for more than a decade and that are still being waged, the feeling that for the first time ordinary working people and the poor were in charge. He was the man who stood up to imperialism and the oligarchy and tried to create a better, more just and more equal society.
The Chávez I knew was a man of great personal integrity and boundless energy. Once, when I was asked to meet him at 1am in the Presidential Palace I asked him what time he finished his working day and was told “at 3am.” I said: “and then you sleep?” He replied with a broad smile: “No, then I read.”
He was in fact a voracious reader. Indeed I have a strong suspicion Chávez must have been the only leading statesman in the world who read books. (One can scarcely imagine George W Bush reading a comic). He once told me: “I love books – all books. If they are good books I love them even more. But even if they are bad, I still love them.”
On the President’s own initiative huge editions of books like Don Quixote and Les miserables were printed and distributed to millions of people free of charge. It is not surprising that under his Presidency Venezuela was for the first time declared free of illiteracy by UNICEF.
And he had guts. The whole world will remember his speech at the United Nations where, speaking after George W Bush, he said: “Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly, as the owner of the world.”
The “free press” was naturally scandalised by this speech, which nobody but Hugo Chávez would dare to have made. But it cheered the hearts of millions of people who want to see their leaders stand up to Washington and its imperial pretentions.
Hugo Chávez died before completing the great task he had set before himself: the carrying out of the socialist revolution in Venezuela. Important reforms were carried out that improved the conditions of the poor and gave them hope for the future. But all history shows that it is impossible to make half a revolution. By failing to destroy the economic power of the oligarchy, the Revolution left itself open to a systematic campaign of economic sabotage that creates the conditions for a counterrevolutionary offensive.
Chávez always had tremendous confidence in the masses. He repeatedly attacked what he called the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy. On one occasion the President invited me to join him in his car passing along streets filled with cheering supporters. He pointed to them and said: “It is time that these people took control of the Revolution.” In his last published speech to the Council of Ministers he showed his impatience at the slow pace of developing the Communes as organs of popular power.
It is now up to the workers and peasants – the real motor force of the Bolivarian Revolution – to carry this task out to the end. Failure to do so would be a betrayal of his legacy. What is needed is not sentimental speeches, but to put into practice the socialist programme that Chávez always advocated: the abolition of capitalism through the expropriation of the bankers, landlords and capitalists. That is the authentic legacy of Hugo Chávez. That is what we must fight to carry out.
Hugo Chávez the man is no longer with us, but his ideas live on. We pledge ourselves to do everything in our power to step up the fight for socialism in Venezuela and throughout the world. That is the only way forward; the only way to honour the memory of Hugo Chávez.
London 5 March 2015