Richard Gott on Venezuela
I recently read Gott's 'Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution', an updated version of his 'In the Shadow of the Liberator', a book which was published in 2000. The chapters move between Chavez's life, the history of the Bolivarian revolution, and discussions of diverse aspects of Venezuelan history and society, in a quite entertaining manner.
The strength of the book is the way it opens up whole areas of Venezuelan history which have been off-limits to non-specialist outsiders: for instance, there are fascinating discussions of Zamora, the nineteenth century peasant leader, and Samuel Robinson/Simon Rodriguez, the educationalist and comrade of Bolivar, both of whom are big influences on Chavez and many of his supporters. There is also a reasonably detailed discussion of the more recent Venezuelan left - there is some fascinating detail about La Causa R, now renamed Homeland for All, a left split from the Communist Party which based itself in the southern industrial heartland of Bolivar state and tried to develop a distinctively Venezuelan form of socialism. La Causa R's ideas can be seen in many aspects of the Bolivarian revolution.
The weakness of the book is the way that, like much of the writing of the enemies of the Bolivarian revolution, it focuses too much on Chavez and his role in events of the past few years, at the expense of the millions of ordinary Venezuelans who have been involved in the radical overhaul of their society.
Another, not unrelated weakness of Gott's book is its insistence on the Bolivarian revolution as a revolution sui generesis, which cannot be assimilated to the tradition of revolutionary socialism. In this respect, the book is already badly outdated: it is a year since Chavez declared himself a socialist, and 2005 has seen many cases of groups of workers and peasants forcing the government to expropriate capitalists and make way for collective ownership of farmland and industry.
Gott's apparent indifference, if not antipathy, to the role of independent working class and peasant activity in the Bolivarian revolution makes it easy for me to believe he has a Stalinist background. His book is still well worth reading, though, perhaps in combination with some of the reports on the workers' and peasants' movement which can be found at venezuelanalysis.com (see their labor and land reform article archives).