May 4, 2004

Democracy or Revolution?

For six years now, Hugo Chavez has been promising Venezuelans a Democratic Revolution. The crux of the political crisis in Venezuela lies in the fact that this is a contradiction in terms.

Revolution will not share power, it cannot share power. Reaching an accomodation with opponents is precisely the opposite of a revolution

Democracy, particularly in the way it's been understood in Venezuela for half a century, means powersharing.

Revolution assumes that there is a single acceptable understanding of political reality, only one approved understanding of the reasons for the problems in society, and therefore a single acceptable political stance.

Democracy assumes that reasonable people may disagree on matters of politics, and that it's healthy for a society to have a multiplicity of competing understandings vying for favor at any given time.

Revolution divides the world up between good guys and bad guys, between the people and the enemies of the people, between those who subscribe to the revolution's sanctioned understanding of political reality and the "unreliables" who don't.

Democracy accepts that political differences need not imply imply differences in honesty, virtue, or integrity. It sees those who disagree politically as opponents or adversaries rather than enemies.

Revolution demands total control over all branches of the state, at least, and of society as a whole in extreme cases.

Democracy accepts the variety of political views in society, and sees as normal and healthy that different branches of the state should be under the control of various groups in society.

Revolution sees consultation and negotiation with the enemy as treason.

Democracy sees consultation and negotiation with adversaries as the bread-and-butter of political life.

Revolution demands unquestioning loyalty.

Democracy demands citizen participation.

The phrase revolución democrática is, strictly speaking, meaningless. The government has to choose one or the other. For years the question of which way the Chavez adventure would go seemed up for grabs. Today, after the Referendum shenanigans and the approval of the TSJ law, Chavez's choice has become crystal clear: he's devoted to his revolution, and to get it, he's willing to destroy our democracy.