Pedro Calzadilla: The Bolivarian Revolution repoliticized historians

Pedro Calzadilla, director of the Simón Bolívar Study Center.

The appointment with the historian Pedro Calzadilla was at the headquarters of the Simón Bolívar Study Center, which he currently directs, located at the foot of Waraira Repano, in the San Bernardino Urbanization, a few meters from Cota Mil, to be precise.
He was Minister of Culture of President Hugo Chávez from 2011 to 2014, when President Nicolás Maduro appointed him Minister of University Education. He is part of the contingent of Insurgent History researchers with whom he founded the National History Center and of which he was president at different times. Before assuming the Simón Bolívar Study Center and forming part of the 2021 Bicentennial Presidential Commission for the celebration of the 200 years of the Battle of Carabobo, he was coordinator of the Network of Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity.

When he talks about Simón Bolívar or Hugo Chávez, he sometimes confuses the names because they are part of the same story, but at different times. "Just as children confuse them, the same thing happens to us," he adds gracefully, and as a historian he credits Arañero de Sabaneta with having put together "an explanation of the historical process", although he warns that "it is not that It is completely new, but I could put together the pieces in a different way and I made sense of everything ”.

—Chávez is not that he spoke to us about history, but rather that he created a way to interpret it, to find it intelligible.

"What unites the past with the present?"

—In the republican history of Venezuela there are two historical projects. One, the one that Germán Carrera Damas calls the National Project, which can be called the Desnational Project, because he referred to the bourgeoisie project with the term of Nation. He also said that there was an alternative that emerged as a contrast. This category never developed it. With the Bolivarian Revolution, the Simón Bolívar National Project was revitalized. This is the cable that connects that historical time with the present. By recovering it and designing a historical option, the other historical project is finished outlining: that of the people, the humble, the poor, the workers, the majority, which today is called the left or socialist, before it was simply called the Popular Project. They are two historical projects in conflict, which from 1830 on, one remained in power. During the Independence there was also that struggle. Both were born in the time of Independence, they swelled the independence movement and then they took different paths.

—How will our history be read in the future?

—Today we are experiencing a stage in the history of that popular, democratic, social, revolutionary project, today socialist. I imagine that 100 years from now this historical time will be studied as the moment in our history when Bolívar's project took power for the first time. He was able to build a majority and become hegemonic, he achieved the support system, alliances, the "historical bloc", in Gramsci's words, allowed him to take power and advance in the transformation.

—There are historians who try to minimize Bolívar.

—Bolívar is a symbol, a place of memory, the center of gravity of the identity of a people. It is one of the few cases where a historical figure is capable of bringing together an entire town. That historical struggle of two projects, of two models, that evolve from independence until today, that have been fighting for power since then, also had Bolívar as part of the dispute. His memory constituted a place of development of this struggle. The oligarchy confiscates Bolívar early. It is generally said "they turned it into marble", but it is much more complex. It was not only to turn him into a statue, but they also kidnap his image and reference. I am talking about ten years after the separation of Venezuela from Colombia, the oligarchies chose to erase the memory of Bolívar and failed. They realized that any political project happened to have it close by and they built the so-called “cult of Bolívar”. A system of worship that, while exalting the hero, executed an operation to legitimize the order that emerged after the year 30. It is a Republic that was born “against the thought and will of Bolívar, against everything that Bolívar meant to himself, against Bolívar's heart ”, as the maestro José Manuel Briceño Guerrero said. That worship process ends up making it a symbol of the Fourth Republic, which is why it is a familiar image.

—The oligarchies also find it difficult to say "Homeland", just as certain poets invoke it to deny it or give it an individual meaning.

—The commitment that goes beyond the individual is one of the conquests of the Bolivarian Revolution. Many colleagues scoffed at the idea of ​​"social engagement." The left always said that the historian had to write from the commitment of his time. On the other side, the dissolution of all convictions and certainties was emphasized ...


- ... the crisis of ideas, paradigms, everything was nothing and everything was worth. The "compromise" was an invention of the Marxists, the revolutionaries, but it turns out that many of them when they saw the predominance of the established order at stake, of the Fourth Republic project, which was crumbling, then they did go out to "compromise." Now the vast majority of historians believe that there is an obligation of the historian with his time, to commit to a political project. They had always been politically committed, but they did not say so explicitly. If something made us coincide in the Revolution, it is that we all ended up committing ourselves. That history does not have to commit its time was put aside.

"They despised politics."
—But not only in history, also in art, literature. They proclaimed themselves apolitical. Politics used to be despicable to them, but it turns out that now we are all in political combat. It was the re-politicization of the country as perhaps only happened in times of Independence.

- Why did the Venezuelan left put Bolívar aside in the XNUMXth century?

—The Marxists, for a long time, did not understand Bolívar. And the cultural revolution that Chávez does, he does in the first instance against the cultural tradition of the left. I say "cultural" and not "political", because here it is a cultural issue.

"Cultural theme?"

—It is cultural because the political project anchors it to the identity referents of Venezuela and breaks with the Europeanism that underlies an orthodox Marxism that saw the European referents of Marxism and other revolutionaries of the world as the nourishing source of its ideology. Chávez understands that we have an arsenal of examples of struggle, of heroes and heroines who founded this country. But also, they did it with an extraordinary sacrifice. How can this heritage not be part of a national redemption project? Chávez weaves together today's challenges to that historical example, which is not simply a bookish issue. No. Bolívar is in the heart of the Venezuelan people, even since he lived. The town celebrated it with festivities on October 28, Saint Simon's Day. He was a being loved by his people and from a moment on he embodied hope. After his death and betrayal, they took the soul and spiritual battery out of a people. This is what could have happened with the death of Commander Chávez, by the way. However, the oligarchies realize that without Bolívar it is difficult to sustain the cohesion of this people. So, they go down the most complex path, but the most efficient for them, which is not about facing or ignoring it, but having to grasp it, rework it, incorporate it, and turn it into a powerful anesthetic force of submission.

—José Ignacio Cabrujas maintained that they made Bolívar unattainable.
—Chávez in conversations with Ignacio Ramonet in the book My First Life told him: They put it everywhere. Where you looked, you saw it. It was a way to make it invisible, not to be noticed.

"That he was a ghost without scaring anyone."

—With Chávez, Bolívar starts playing on the side of the people from which he had never left, but which had not incarnated in a social, political project. A first attempt was made by Ezequiel Zamora, who puts the dominance of the oligarchy in check. It is not by chance that he is in the Tree of the Three Roots, because it gives historical continuity to the project.

The moments of the insurgency.

The historian Calzadilla configures four moments of popular insurgency in which "the poor got out of control of the elites." The first moment is Independence, which begins with Boves, "the rebellion of the poor," and continues with José Antonio Páez y Bolívar. Zamora is the second moment. "In the mid-twentieth century, after the death of Juan Vicente Gómez, with Acción Democrática there is an insurgency of the poor in a different way, and we are living the fourth moment."

—The history before Chávez was not so present.

—If you compare what happened in the XNUMXth century in Venezuela with other countries, history is really being written in our country by the hand of the politics of the ruling class. We are born as a Republic as a result of a social trauma. It was a war in which we got our guts out among Venezuelans themselves, in a first stage, and then faced against an empire. There was not a human being who did not have a direct history, a victim, a wounded, a dead. The rich lost property, wealth. The death of a relative is forgotten faster than the losses of the treasury. A dismantled ruling social class. They fled. The entire stocking was flipped over. Of course, later the inequalities are restored. The story has a very great weight from the beginning. The Republic was born with the need to explain and acknowledge what happened. Then the story becomes official in a process of civilization of national memory. The collective memory is ordered to the institutional routine. And although the story continued to carry weight, it never had it as it does now.

"Why do you have it now?"

—The Bolivarian Revolution is not only a name to house a symbol, appropriate yourself and make use of it, but it has a certain depth in a trajectory, in a struggle, a collective effort of hundreds of years of work. Since its inception it has been a cultural revolution. That is why cultural identity is fused with political identity. This must be borne in mind because Chavismo crosses these two movements. Therefore, one thing strengthens the other and one moves in the direction of the other. Being Chavista is also a way of being Venezuelan. There is Venezuela and Chavismo. That is not a thing that is decreed and can only happen in certain circumstances. And Chávez's leadership provoked it.

—Whoever declares himself a Bolivarian reaffirms himself as a Chavista, from the left. Manuel Caballero took the other side of the street and published Why I am not a Bolivarian.

"That's one way." Confront and attack Bolívar. Say you didn't have genius of any kind. The other way to discredit him, undermine him, but above all to weaken the Bolivarian Revolution, was to say that "Bolívar is the great historical figure, but ... he was not a revolutionary, but a conservative." "Bolívar did not die poor." "He was an exceptional man, but beware, he was a dictator ... he had the idea of ​​being an emperor."

"A lot of contradictions for being a hero."

—They said and say that he is "elite", "murderer", the "thief" they have not said, although that at any moment arises, not to put him in the public square, but to undermine his image, dull its brightness. It is the opposite of what we claim. He was a revolutionary, he built the Simón Bolívar National Project in the Angostura Congress, which is today's project, ours, that of "the sum of happiness", a country without enslaved or enslaved, of established and practiced equality. That is ultimately the Republic that Bolívar is defending.

"Bolivar or Chávez?"

—Bolívar in 1819 and Chávez recovers the project.

—History is not science fiction, the historian sees the past ...

"Look to the future, too."

—How does the historian envision the future? Is this confrontation going to be eternal?

—In our hands we have, and we did not have, a historical project recovered, rearmed, structured, turned into power. It is no longer a book to dream about, but rather it is in power, that anchors its roots in the past, in ancestrality, is realized in the present and is projected. This project has been underway for more than 200 years. We are just in a stadium. How much more? I do not know. But what I do know is that in history 20, 30, 40 years is an instant.

"Is there any antecedent to this imperial bloc?"

"In Independence." The decision to be free and sovereign had to be defended on the battlefields. The war is not waged by the Republicans, but by the Empire to break that will. In 1999 the people made a political decision through a Constituent Assembly and then came the violent reaction against that project. Different, of course. In both cases they criminalized the ideas, demonized the model. Bolívar embodied all evils, just as they did with Chávez, as they do with Maduro. Economic and financial blockade, diplomatic blackmail. The European powers in coalition against Venezuela. I'm talking about independence. It is not a carbon copy, but it is the same reaction.

—When Cipriano Castro that coalition of foreign capital was evident.

—It does not have the same significance as the above, but there is a nationalist reaction. The defense of sovereignty brings together the alliance of the entire country and is an example for today. The only thing one would expect from a compatriot is that they at least come out to repudiate imperial aggression, as some opponents who are in the National Assembly and part of the political opposition are doing. One thing is the internal disagreements and another thing is to join the voices that applaud any aggression or blockade against Venezuela, which also affects the vast majority. But also, silence sometimes says more.

-The silence?

"Silence is an accomplice."

- 100 years after the Battle of Carabobo there was a dictatorship, 100 years later there is a Revolution.

—Not only was there a dictatorship at 100 years old, but the fiercest that Venezuela has had and it is the most shameful stage in terms of the sovereignty transaction. Gómez distributed the country to foreign transnationals.

—But it keeps the image of the heroes alive.

—The Battle of Carabobo is a symbol of independence and the Arch, which is a national icon, symbolizes that moment. They do it when they are handing over the Homeland and they used our history as a tool to legitimize that order. It was the most profound ideological construction they did, to make believe that this Republic is Bolívar's creature, and that Gómez was the point of arrival or, as the Punto Fijo Pact said: “At last, Venezuela carries out its great historical plan, democracy! " And all the presidents of representative democracy, the first thing they did was mention Bolívar.

"It was the password."
—Other things have changed for 2021. It is a historical process, now yes, recovered. The Arc de Triomphe de Carabobo is already a national symbol, now we have to give it its proper meaning. Not an event is commemorated, but the meaning we give it, just when we are confronted with those who were allies of Gómez.

—There are those who maintain that history repeats itself.
"I don't think history repeats itself." What there is is social movements of the people that have behaviors that can experience similarities. If history repeats itself, we would not be here because the oligarchy would have managed to defeat this revolution. It does not mean that they cannot give way to something else, but so far they have not succeeded.



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