Venezuela is not Weimar, but…

by Israel Centeno    /  April 24, 2014  / No comments

Lessons from post-war Germany and the future(s) of Venezuela.

German Bolshevik Future

German poster from 1919. Text: Text: Germany's ideal future under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

After following the crisis in Venezuela these last few weeks, I’ve once again become interested in the Weimar Republic, the chapter of German history that’s understood as a key moment in 20th century world history.

  1. Night Watch, a column by Israel Centeno
  2. From his lonely watch post Albert Camus asked who among us has not experienced exile yet still managed to preserve a spark of fire in their soul. “We’re all alone,” Natalia Sedova cried in exile on hearing of her husband Leon Trotsky’s affair with Frida Kahlo. In his novel Night Watch, Stephen Koch follows the incestuous love affair of David and Harriet, wealthy siblings watching the world from their solitary exile. Koch’s writing, Camus’s theories, and Trotsky’s affair all come back to exile and lead me to reflect on the human condition. From my own vantage point, my Night Watch, I will reflect on my questions of exile, writing, and the human condition.
  3. Israel Centeno
  4. Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.

Defeated in World War I, Germany became a democratic republic that, in the beginning—despite being a product of the contradictions of the time and notwithstanding the drives of the extremes—sought, by common consent, to strengthen a system of government in which public management would be financed by political parties, trade unions, and business chambers. This was done with the aim of establishing a modern democracy. However, numerous factors can be listed in the reasons for the Weimar Republic’s failure, as well as the rise and fall of republican will in post-war Germany.

While the geopolitical background of those events was exceptional, let us consider the internal factors (which are in no way divorced from the conflicts across the world nowadays) in order to create analogies and analyze the crisis in Venezuela today.

Though there were promising periods in the Weimar Republic, the political crisis was never fully overcome. Several factors contributed to the rise of militarism and paramilitarism in the country: The confrontation between the nationalist bourgeoisie and the extreme left, which was unwavering in its determination to recreate the experience of the Soviets; the interests of the small states; social democracy’s fear of a Bolshevik revolution and problems implementing necessary and urgent social reforms; the economic crisis; unemployment; inflation; and, as a result of the inability of the political leaders to understand the loss of hope and social tension, the birth of anti-politics. This resulted in community-based initiatives that gave way to militarism and paramilitarism, which, eventually, after military coups and the flourishing of armed gangs, broke down the Republic’s fragile institutionalism. The paramilitary and national socialists legally gained access to power in order to destroy the republic.

The horror that followed is well known in history.

For more than fifteen years, people have been talking about anti-politics in Venezuela, blaming it entirely for what has happened, what is happening, and what is about to happen in a sometimes vague and hard-to-interpret reality. Anti-politics has been blamed for institutional dismantlement, as if it were a spontaneous phenomenon, as if it were the other face of politics. And it is. Nevertheless, it seems nonsensical to lay the blame on citizens when generalizing about the subject.

Like Germany’s Weimar Republic, Venezuela’s society has come to distrust those with power and their inability to understand and respond to citizens’ yearning for change and the relaunch a modern state that would bring about integration through respect for differences. Conversely, we can also emphasize the main difference between Venezuela and the Weimar. From its conception, chavismo has been the ambassador of anti-politics, the figure and counter-figure, the demiurge, even in the opposition, existing in a favorable environment for its vision of power and, later, its exercise of power, managing th Manichean landscape and its contradictory and irreconcilable categories with ease, in a new language that gives a name to the landscape and a legend of absolute values in a volatile and vicious context, bordering on chaos, always on the point of collapse.

The power seated in the government palace seeks to legitimize itself through what Nicolás Maduro calls the “street government” but, in truth, it summarizes the actors and promoters of the tragedy: The military and the paramilitary are the main characters in the Bolivarian story. This has been facilitated to a great extent by Cuba’s support, interference, and control of intelligence and counterintelligence.

The conflict and struggle of foreign interests, in a profoundly dependent country that is deeply in debt, has many mourners.

It’s occurred to me that the things that could restore the meaning of the political struggle in Venezuela are also the things that are unashamedly confused with the protests demanding a halt to the causes of the financial disaster, as well as a change in political direction. They would blur the premises imposed by Miraflores Palace and Havana, in which Venezuelans have been divided into two ideological categories: Instruments of the revolution or instruments of the counterrevolution. This means that a dynamic could be implemented in which social administration and society would agree to reestablish the values and meaning of a true, unqualified democracy, with independent institutions, freedom of expression, and a comprehensive program that would repair the cracks and reunite the country.

About the Author

Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.

View all articles by Israel Centeno

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