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Simon Bolivar and the Original Bolivarian Revolution

By Marcus Pabian, April 2010 In the lead up to the December 1998 presidential election in Venezuela Hugo Chavez declared he would lead a "Bolivarian Revolution". Chavez explained that his ideas were drawn from the writings and ideas of three famous people in Venezuelan history: Simon Bolivar, known as `The Liberator' for freeing Venezuela, Colombia and Upper Peru from the Spanish colonial state between 1811 and 1825; secondly, Simon Rodriguez, an early socialist and mentor to Bolivar; thirdly Chavez cited Ezequiel Zamora, a peasant leader who fought against the land-owning oligarchy during the Federal Wars of Venezuela which raged in the 1840's and 1850's following liberation from Spain. But Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution was not mimicking Bolivar's revolution. The original Bolivarian revolution was a bourgeois revolution organised by and in the interests of the creole bourgeoisie. Like the English who had settled in America to enrich themselves, those Spanish settlers who had settled in Latin America also sort their own independence from the mother country as a means to greater riches (the creole bourgeoisie). Over time the interests of the oligarchy in the mother country and the economic elite in the colonies mature into conflicts as they develop different economic interests. The local elite want complete control over laws, an end to sending tribute or taxes back to the mother country, and control over who they choose to import goods from. Simon Bolivar was the fifth son of one of those rich families based in Latin America, in fact his family was one of the richest of the creole elite; owning haciendas, mines and slaves, and investing across the Caribbean. Spanish colonialism aggravated the indigenous people and the black slaves through brutally exploiting their labour and the natural wealth of the land. The galactic gap in lifestyle between the labourers and their masters bred justified class hatred, the Spanish colonial state was the main instrument of repression. The outbreak of struggles for national independence by Latin American countries united the anger of the under classes of slaves, freed slaves and indigenous people with the aspirations of the local economic elite to overthrow Spanish state control. *** Venezuela first appears on the radar of the monarchist Spanish Empire in 1498, when the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus reached the South American mainland, in a voyage paid for mainly by the Spanish crown. This was followed by a Spanish expedition in 1499 which named Venezuela after Venice because the housing of indigenous people stood up on stilts above the water. A devastating formula was soon applied to the people and wealth of Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela. The indigenous people of the island were enslaved to work and harvest valuable pearl oysters until both were almost wiped out.

Spanish colonisation of the mainland began in 1522. The opening of minor gold mines in Yaracuy spurred the slave trade in Venezuela ­ first indigenous then African slaves. The other major economic activity was agriculture, with livestock being raised on the grass plains. By the eighteenth century cacao beans for making chocolate in Europe were the main export produced by a large surge of slaves from Africa. Tobacco was the second biggest export. At the end of the seventeenth century the Spanish empire was broke and at the beginning of the eighteenth century the crown was transferred to a French-born relative of the late Spanish king Charles II. The new king Philip V was a member of the European royal dynasty known as the Bourbons who encouraged Philip to instigate a wave of reforms to refund the Spanish empire. This included reforming the administration of the Spanish colonies to increase the exploitation of wealth from the colonies, increase taxes on the colonies and tighten control over trade in and out of the colonies. In Venezuela the trading company `Compania Guipuzcoana de Caracas' was established in 1728 and authorised with a monopoly on foreign trade with Europe to under cut the Dutch traders who were selling a lot of Venezuelan tobacco and cacao. The company was privately owned by a group of people from Basque under the Spanish empire. This generated enormous profits for the trading company and enrich the white creole bourgeoisie whose large landholdings were used to cultivate the produce. Of course Venezuela was not a nation but a province ruled by a Spanish Viceroyalty; firstly by both the one based in Mexico and Peru and then later by one in what is today Colombia. Economically the province was not as important as those in Mexico and Peru where they were mining gold and silver. However, as the production and export of cacao and tobacco grew the Province of Venezuela became more important economically and in 1777 became the Captaincy General of Venezuela which created a unified government to organise political, military, financial and legal affairs. *** Six years later Simon Bolivar y Ponte is born in Caracas, on July 24, 1783. He was the fifth son of one of the richest families in the Spanish American colonies. As I mentioned before the family owned mines, slaves and haciendas (large agricultural estates employing slave labour), and had business interests across the Caribbean. Although presented as the liberator of Latin America Bolivar was not very involved at the beginning of the independence movement. Venezuela was then strongly influenced in two significant ways by the French Revolution which broke out in 1789 destroying the absolute monarchy which had ruled France. Absolute rule by the monarchy was overthrown and replaced by the establishment of liberal democracy and the supremacy of capitalist economic relations. The French Revolution revealed the power of the masses of workers and peasants whose participation in the revolution was crucial to its victory. The French Revolution issued the

Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen which declared that "the natural and imprescriptible rights of man" included "liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression". With its destruction of the monarchy the French Revolution inspired a rebellion in Venezuela in the year 1797 supported by the mixed race majority, known as pardos, who included slaves and freed slaves, and were led by Manuel Gual and José María España. Simon Bolivar is 14 years old and doesn't participate in this rebellion. But Bolivar's teacher, Simon Rodriguez who was schooled in the liberal democratic ideals of the anti-feudal revolutions was involved in this conspiracy against the Spanish crown. However, the radical ideas for social change taken from the French Revolution that were being promoted by the rebellion created an alliance between the Spanish colonial authorities and the creole bourgeoisie who feared too much liberty for the slaves and under classes. Together these two classes were able to put down the rebellion. Simon Rodriguez escaped and went into exile in the USA and changed his name to Samuel Robinson (a social mission named after him, Mission Robinson, is responsible for basic education). But this was in no way the end of the influence of the French Revolution. The influence of the French Revolution continued with the rise of Napoleon and the wars he led. The French Napoleonic wars to expand a new French empire included war with Spain which weakened the colonial Spanish empire. A weakened Spanish empire had less capacity to control the colonies and created an opportunity for rebellion. It also opened an opportunity for the British to win greater access to the Spanish colonies to sell its manufactured products by supporting rebellions against the Spanish colonial authorities. The French Revolution was broken from its radical roots in the mass organisation of the under classes by Napoleon who consolidated the bourgeois republic by dispersing the organised power of the under classes and this provided an inspiring example for the creole bourgeoisie to establish their own stable capitalist republics. After the failed rebellion in Venezuela Bolivar is sent by his family to study abroad between 1799 and 1802 in Mexico, Spain and France, further exposing Bolivar to the French Revolution. In Spain he became a very good horse rider and sword fighter. After returning briefly to Venezuela he travels again visiting the USA, Spain, Italy and France again, where in 1804 he attends the coronation when Napoleon crowns himself emperor, apparently Bolivar publicly criticises Napoleon as a tyrant and is almost expelled from Paris. After witnessing so such ferment and revolutionary social change across the world he reconnects with his teacher Simon Rodriguez. They travel to Rome and there Bolivar climbs a mountain called Monte Sacro in 1805 and in front of his tutor, he swears an oath to liberate the Spanish Americas, saying: "I will not rest my body or soul until I have broken the chains binding us to the will of Spanish might!" This oath was first published 80 years later in 1884.

While Bolivar was abroad, another attempt at stirring up the independence movement was made when Francisco de Miranda invaded the small Venezuelan city of Coro in 1806, but he failed to win the support of the people there. Miranda was a military veteran (a youth organisation named after him, Frente Francisco de Miranda, has trained revolutionary youth leaders in Cuba). He served as an officer in the Spanish royal army in Africa, then in support of the American War of Independence which was supported by the Spanish crown, then as a general in the French Revolutionary Army. Miranda dreamt of independence in South America and coined the name Colombia and designed the three coloured flag that has been adopted and adapted by Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. But following his failed military campaign in Coro Miranda retreated to London in 1806. Bolivar returns to his families' hacienda in 1807. The following year the Spanish king Ferdinand VII is forced to abdicate under the pressure of the Napoleonic war. In the years that follow Bolivar is invited by his cousin Joseph Felix Ribas to participate in a rebellion against colonial authorities, but Bolivar declines (a social mission named after him, Mission Ribas, delivers advanced education). On April 19, 1810 a revolution led by the creole bourgeoisie of the Caracas city council deposes the colonial Captain General. The new bourgeois regime claims to also represent the pardos (mixed race), and also to be governing in the name of the deposed Spanish king. Despite not participating Bolivar accepts a mission from the new regime to travel to Britain to get recognition of their independence, to get support for the supply of armaments to fight for full independence. The independence movement was also looking for a military leader, so Bolivar was also assigned to convince Miranda to return from London to Venezuela. Bolivar arrives back in December that year, having secured an agreement from the British that they will sell arms to the independence fighters, and with Miranda. But Bolivar does not get involved in with the independence movement, instead he returns to a private life. Miranda is made general of the insurgent land and sea forces. In July 1811 independence is declared by the first elected congress from the propertied class, but it would take ten years of war to defeat the Spanish colonial forces. In September, ten months after returning from Britain and taking it easy, Bolivar is approached by General Miranda who was the leader of the insurgent land and sea forces who asks him to join the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and takeover command of Puerto Cabello, the strongest fortress of Venezuela. According to Karl Marx, writing for the New American Encyclopaedia in 1858, Bolivar fails badly with this first major military responsibility. Despite a large garrison and artillery Puerto Cabello is taken over by the Spanish. This was a decisive loss for the independence forces and the congress then conceded to the Spanish and had Miranda sign the treaty of Vittoria, July 26, 1812, which restored Venezuela to the Spanish rule. Four days later Miranda was about to jump aboard a ship to go into exile in Britain when Bolivar and a group of soldiers arrested him and handed him over to the Spanish

who sent him back to Spain where he died in prison. Bolivar claimed Miranda had betrayed the independence movement. The Spanish colonial authorities then granted Bolivar his passport. Monteverde the Spanish military leader said "Col. Bolivar"s request should be complied with, as a reward for his having served the king of Spain by delivering up Miranda." A couple of months later Bolivar and his cousin Ribas regrouped the independence forces. Bolivar became commander-in-chief and his cousin second in command. In January 1813, six months after the return to Spanish rule Bolivar and Ribas launched an offensive, recruiting disgruntled pardos into their ranks along the way. The Spanish forces were only one-quarter Spanish, the other three-quarters were native Venezuelans who deserted the Spanish and joined with the insurgent independence forces in the middle of the battlefield shattering the Spanish forces. Within six months the Spanish had been driven from the western provinces of Venezuela and once again expelled from the capital Caracas. Bolivar declared himself "dictator and liberator of the western provinces of Venezuela". But after four months in power people became angry at the squandering of resources by Bolivars regime and the Spanish colonial forces were then able to regain ground and throughout 1814 they advanced. In August Bolivar fled Venezuela. In November 1814, he became commander-in-chief of the federalist independence forces in New Granada what is today Colombia, Ecuador and Panama. But he fled with a dozen of his officers in May 1815 on board an armed English brig, before a Spanish offensive. Up until the liberation of the colonies Bolivar is continuously zig-zaging between them, participating and in some cases leading the independence wars. After relaxing in Jamaica for eight months Bolivar travelled to Haiti, where the French colonial monarchist forces had been overthrown, and the first black bourgeois republic was formed. According Here Bolivar prepared an expeditionary force to launch another offensive against the Spanish forces in Venezuela. But this time he gained significant supplies from the Haitian president Petion on the condition that Bolivar free all the slaves of Venezuela. Bolivar also joined forces with a very capable military tactician and leader Louis Brion, who sort to make an investment in Venezuela. Brion had sailed from London with a corvette (a small military boat) with 24 guns, equipped in great part at his own expense, with 14,000 arms and enormous military supplies. The expedition set sail from Haiti in April 1816 and arrived at Carupano in May. Crucial to the success of the independence movement is the support of the pardos, and the slaves. On arrival in Venezuela in Carupano Bolivar decrees freedom for slaves on June 2, 1816, declaring: "absolute freedom for the slaves who have groaned under the Spanish yoke during the previous three centuries". But not all slaves, just those in Rio Caribe, Carupano and Cariaco. The decree demanded

slaves between the ages of 14 and 60 was to enlist in the army, those who didn't would be subject to servitude along with their families. Several hundred slaves joined the army though the decree was largely ignored by slave owners and not enforced by the army. Bolivar never spoke in favour of the complete freedom of all slaves, which only took place in 1854 during the Federal Wars of Venezuela, twenty years after his death. Bolivar's loyalty to the creole elite was also reflected in his treatment of Manuel Piar, the independence leader who conceived of and carried out the liberation of the southern province of Cumana, which gave the independence movement control of enormous resources. Piar was a pardo, who was critical of Bolivar, calling him the `Napoleon of retreat' for numerous cases of abandoning his troops in the middle of the night. The wealthy Louis Brion was suspicious of Piar and his leadership of the pardos. Piar was accused of fomenting disobedience of Bolivar. Bolivar approved his death sentence and he was shot in October 1817. We can see the alliance of independence forces led by the white creole bourgeoisie in Venezuela that were able to defeat the Spanish drew support from freed slaves, the pardos, rich Europeans, the Haitian revolution, and the tacit support of the British government which allowed recruitment of over 7,000 to a British and Irish mercenary legion (although only 2000 took part; the others died or deserted) and the supply of uniforms, arms and credit. The British legion even had 1,100 soldiers in one of the most decisive battles in the war, the battle of Carabobo in 1821, among 6,000 infantry. The battle of Carabobo was the last major battle, after which Venezuela was considered independent although the final military actions against Spanish positions took place in 1823 in Maracaibo, and the final forced surrender of Puerto Cabello in 1824. Ecuador's independence was won in 1822. Upper Peru was liberated in 1824, and renamed Bolivia in 1825. This broke Spanish domination of the area. In 1824 Bolivar as president of Colombia called for a congress in Panama of the independent republics of Mexico, Peru, Chile, and present day Argentina to unite them. He said that if: "America does not call itself to order and reason there will be very little guarantee of the stability of the newborn governments, and we will bequeath to posterity a new colonial status." Bolivar was exactly right. The USA had introduced the Monroe Doctrine the year before on December 2, 1823 which boldly declared that any act by a European country to colonise land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed (quote) "as dangerous to our peace and safety" (end quote) and as acts of aggression requiring US intervention. At this time Bolivar made his famous observation that: "the United States seems destined by Providence to plague America with miseries in the name of Freedom".

The unity congress was held but ended without agreement. Four years later Bolivar died on December 17, 1930 in Colombia, depressed and poor. *** According to Hugo Chavez in his introduction to the writings of Bolivar in the this first wave of US intervention and its forging of an alliance with the landowners in the independent republics led to their turn against Bolivar and his idea of unity. Despite Bolivars treatment of Miranda and Piar, Chavez argues that Bolivar had become more revolutionary throughout the wars. One example of this he cites in the land reform: On December 14, 1825 in the city of Sucre (capital of Bolivia) he decreed: "Every individual, whatever their sex or age, will receive on fanegada (44 hectares) of land" (a new currency being developed by the ALBA countries is named after this city). And, indeed, Bolivars call for unity against US domination was progressive and against becoming a neo-colony. The current Bolivarian revolution does take from the ideas of Bolivar but it is occurring at a completely different stage of history. When Bolivar led the original Bolivarian revolution the world was revolting against feudalism, and giving birth to capitalism as a progressive change from feudalism. Chavez's Bolivarian revolution is occurring in an epoch when the world is gradually revolting against capitalism and giving birth to socialism. Chavez doesn't resurrect all of Bolivar's ideas which were aimed at the development of an independent capitalist republics. Chavez mainly resurrects three of Bolivars ideas from that time: a union between the people and the army; opposition to foreign domination; and, unity of Latin American countries. Chavez has used all these ideas to struggle for the interests of working people not the creole bourgeoisie. This commitment to the working people has led him to conclude that it is necessary to beyond the idea of reforming and instead rid Venezuela of the rule of capitalism. Chavez states that the aim of the Bolivarian Revolution is to complete the struggle for independence begun by Bolivar, to become free from imperialism. But Chavez found out the hard way that the Venezuelan capitalist elite are more tied to imperialism that independence and so he has concluded that to be truly independent it is necessary to establish a socialist republic. The unity Chavez calls for between the people and the army is also meant to serve the cause of socialism. While Bolivar used this idea as a means to struggle for a capitalist republic, Chavez uses it to win support for the idea of the army being loyal to the interests of the working people not the creole bourgeoisie. The unity between working people and the majority of the armed forces is what defeat the coup which overthrew Chavez. Since the coup the purge of pro-coup leaders from the armed forces they are now completely loyal to the working people and they has been used to help construct a socialist state, suppressing the sabotage and resistance of the capitalist class.

The unity of Latin American countries Chavez calls for was a call for an alliance against US domination as Bolivar had conceived of it, but since the revolution in April 2002 Chavez has taken the idea of unity to a much higher level. Chavez is integrating the Cuban and Venezuelan socialist revolutions and offering material solidarity to other underdeveloped capitalist countries to win support for revolutionary socialist ideas and values among working people in those countries.

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Simon Bolivar and the Original Bolivarian Revolution

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