Chavez always was more nationalist than anything else, nationalist of the crass variety, the one where "we are better than any other and all of our problems are provoked by others". The lack of Jews in Venezuela and the long tradition of faux-pas of the USA in Latin American history pushed him obviously into a primal form of anti USA, a noted offer in a country that was a solid ally of the US, but never an unconditional one. But as his regime developed a simplistic anti US policy was not enough and once Chavez survived the 2002-2004 instability he surrendered to the Castro-Cuban influence.
Chavez certainly adopted some leftist standards in his speeches from the start for one very single reason: since 1958 no Venezuela politician had ever succeeded in Venezuela with a personal responsibility and business platform. That once in office something else was practiced is another matter: but to reach the presidency in Venezuela you always needed a populist discourse, which meant borrowing cliches from the left. At heart Chavez was always an authoritarian first, a nationalist second and a leftist third. Even the decision to use democracy to destroy it was a decision that did not come easily to him., so reluctant he was to tame his power pulses.
It was in 2004 when truly started the alleged leftism of the regime with massive expropriations and cute inventions such as "cooperatives" schemes now long forgotten. Also, it was in 2004 that terms such as "socialism of the XXI century" started to be forged. After his 2006 reelection Chavez finally proclaimed himself a socialist.
In spite of his professed admiration for leftist icons like Fidel, or leftist military juntas like Velasco Alvarado, the socialism of the XXI century was never very convincing and was really nothing more than an extreme form of populism, á la Peron if you want an historical reference. Under Chavez what we saw was a massive corruption that resulted in the creation of a new economic elite associated with the regime while the real improvement in the social conditions of the masses was of cosmetic quality, certainly not sustainable as the economic record has made it perfectly clear now when Venezuela more than ever in its history has become dependent of a single crop from the earth, oil.
But Chavez was not changing his positions anymore. He had created a clientele system where his power was based on getting according to the merits they gained at the service of a revolution that never truly existed. Ideology in such situation is really not needed and whatever was in place by 2006 remained, simply used as a mask to hide the true nature of the regime: an authoritarian presidency for life which rests upon a limited elite willing to do all the dirty work for the Supreme leader. The perversion of Chavez system, his final paradox was that the loud nationalist surrendered the control of the country to Cuba to the point of going to die when necessary.
Thus the problem for his successors is what to do with the "ideological" mess left behind. With the Cuban influence and decades of young Venezuelans gone to Cuba for "training", including Maduro himself, there is certainly going on an attempt to radicalize further the regime towards a communist hue. After all, even Fidel himself recognized in a noted interview to Venezuela pro Chavez journalists that "XXI century socialism" was nothing more than XX century communism.
Unfortunately the XXI century adjective makes a shift towards communism nearly impossible. Venezuela is not an island like Cuba, and the world is globalized even if the regime has made our internet one of the most expensive and less functional of the continent, on purpose. Also, that client nature where people, contrary to Cuba, expect more than just food, combined to a powerful corrupt class that likes to show off its wealth makes it difficult to radicalize the discourse in a Communist way. Even the pet project of Chavez where the country was going to be divided in "Comunas" has left everyday language. The struggle inside chavismo is thus a decision between XXI communism and XXI century fascism. Fascism is a more applicable system to today's Venezuela, even if the F word is supposedly representative of the democratic opposition in official propaganda. But historical fascism has had never any problem of accusing the other side of their very own vices. We should also not forget that fascism and communism meet in their totalitarian extremes and Castroite Cuba could find many ways to accommodate comfortably a XXI century fascism.
We can look at how close to fascism chavismo is today by simply looking at this oversimplifying folk encyclopedia Wikipedia. In a lengthy entry they cite, for example, a handy top 10 list to describe historical fascism (cited from Emilio Gentile). Certainly, XXI century fascism is going to be different, adapted to current reality but for the sake of it, let's look at that top 10 of historical fascism and not coincidences:
1) a mass movement with multiclass membership in which prevail, among the leaders and the militants, the middle sectors, in large part new to political activity, organized as a party militia, that bases its identity not on social hierarchy or class origin but on a sense of comradeship, believes itself invested with a mission of national regeneration, considers itself in a state of war against political adversaries and aims at conquering a monopoly of political power by using terror, parliamentary politics, and deals with leading groups, to create a new regime that destroys parliamentary democracy.Well, clearly we see a lot of that in current Venezuela. Chavismo is multiclass because it goes from the poor to the nouveau bolibourgeois rich; it has a party militia although it is not efficient and tied to the army as a "reserve"; it has a self attributed mission of national regeneration; the "state of war" agaisnt poltical adversaries has become a tired cliche; parliament has been annulled; etc...
2) an 'anti-ideological' and pragmatic ideology that proclaims itself antimaterialist, anti-individualist, antiliberal, antidemocratic, anti-Marxist, is populist and anticapitalist in tendency, expresses itself aesthetically more than theoretically by means of a new political style and by myths, rites, and symbols as a lay religion designed to acculturate, socialize, and integrate the faith of the masses with the goal of creating a 'new man'This is not as clear though some of the anti are included, and the nascent Chavez cult might be unto something.
3) a culture founded on mystical thought and the tragic and activist sense of life conceived of as the manifestation of the will to power, on the myth of youth as artificer of history, and on the exaltation of the militarization of politics as the model of life and collective activity.From the Bolivarian cult (frowned upon by true commies which has explained the lower reccurence in current discoruse) to the alliance of "pueblo y ejercito", we can check this one also.
4) a totalitarian conception of the primacy of politices, conceived of as an integrating experience to carry out the fusion of the individual and the masses in the organic and mystical unity of the nation as an ethnic and moral community, adopting measures of discrimination and persecution against those considered to be outside this community either as enemies of the regime or members of races considered to be inferior or otherwise dangerous for the integrity of the nationChavez always claimed that politics was all that mattered, even in his integrationist schemes for Latin America. In his reelection of 2012 in fact politics and him at the helm was the core of his campaign since he could not run on his material record. If the ethnic element is impossible to introduce convincingly in such a mixed blood country as Venezuela, it remains that chavismo has promoted antisemitic feelings in Venezuela while promoting racial preferences for those closer to their african or native origins.
5) a civil ethic founded on total dedication to the national community, on discipline, virility, comradeship, and the warrior spiritAll of these have been attempted or established with varying measure of success.
6) a single state party that has the task of providing for the armed defense of the regime, selecting its directing cadres, and organizing the masses within the state in a process of permanent mobilization of emotion and faith
7) a police apparatus that prevents, controls, and represses dissidence and opposition, even by using organized terror
8) a political system organized by hierarchy of functions named from the top and crowned by the figure of the 'leader,' invested with a sacred charisma, who commands, directs, and coordinates the activities of the party and the regime
9) corporative organization of the economy that suppresses trade union liberty, broadens the sphere of state intervention, and seeks to achieve, by principles of technocracy and solidarity, the collaboration of the 'productive sectors' under control of the regime, to achieve its goals of power, yet preserving private property and class divisionsMore than any communist approach to the means of production in theory under control of the workers, chavismo has clearly had a policy of state capitalism which has become simply a state control over the economy where the capitalist concept of efficiency was ignored to benefit the necessary corruption to secure support from the new elite. If private property and preservation of class division are banned form the official speech it remains that these are worse than ever: private property is only the one of those close to the regime and class division is a strictly enforced reality but through politics rather than economic criteria (the Tascon list is still alive and well, and used actively since April 14 in public administration for purging "undesirable" elements).
10) a foreign policy inspired by the myth of national power and greatness, with the goal of imperialist expansionCertainly today it is the most difficult item to execute but Chavez has never hidden his desire to resurrect a "Gran Colombia" and has sponsored all sorts of internal organizations based more on politics and his interests than actual national needs.
In the last two weeks, in fact, since Chavez last trip to Cuba, signs of increased fascist outlooks are there. We cannot say yet whether this is on purpose, whether the excesses are still mostly due to disarray and inability to come to grip with the departure of the overwhelming leader, though I personally think that there is an open fight between the two totalitarian options within chavismo even though both claim to operate in the name of the people and under a leftist cover. We have already characters that operate clearly along fascist lines, such as Diosdado Cabello at the National Assembly or Cilia Flores, the partner of Maduro, who is already busy placing her relatives and friends to key positions. We have some lefties who are acting in totalitarian ways like minister Molina threatening his employees, looking strangely fascist, arm band included.
Certainly an official "XXI century fascism" appellation is not possible. But let's entertain the thought that if Maduro et al. manage to survive their fraudulent election and retain office, their only way to remain on top will be though a mechanism of repression and social organization that will be closer to fascism than anything else since communism will even be less likely to be applied once the Castros die. Since they cannot call it XXI century fascism they will call it "chavismo".
The irony here is that what Chavez was unable to codify will be codified by his heirs who will be only too willing to put their excesses and abuses under the name of their former leader. Chavez crimes after his death will be worse than those he committed while alive.