[Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso Books, 2007).]
ZNet Book Interview with Gregory Wilpert
Friday, September 21, 2007
Can you tell ZNet, please, what Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso Books, 2007) is about? What is it trying to communicate?
Changing Venezuela by Taking Power is an explanation and analysis of the policies of the Chavez government of Venezuela. It first explains why Chavez came into office and why his political program increasingly radicalized over the course of the first six extremely contentious years of his presidency. The main part of the book takes a look at the Chavez government’s policies, its achievements and its shortcomings. These policies are divided into four main chapters, dealing with, first, what I call “governance” policies (involving constitutional reform, the military, and participatory democracy), then, economic policies, social policies, and foreign policies. Each of these four chapters presents a brief analysis of the ways in which the government’s policies succeed or fail to reach their stated goals of increasing social justice and democracy in Venezuela. The concluding chapter then takes a closer look at the main opportunities, obstacles, and prospects of the Chavez government for the near future. Since the book only covers the Chavez’s first term in office and since he introduced substantial new policy directions for his second term, the book also includes an epilogue that discusses these latest developments and brings the discussion up to May 2007. Finally, since so much of what is discussed in Venezuela has to do with the concept of 21st century socialism, the appendix presents my interpretation of what 21st century socialism might look like.
As the book’s title suggests, it is also an indirect polemic with John Holloway’s notion of “Change the World without Taking Power.” In effect, I try to show that it is possible to change the world for the better by taking (state) power and that the Venezuelan experience even shows that such state power might be necessary if we want to achieve social justice now, rather than in a century or so.
Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
Writing this book was a particularly long and arduous process for me. Not only is this my first book, but (presumably just as many authors who aren’t paid to write books) I had to balance regular work commitments and family life while working on it. I first started working on it shortly after launching the website Venezuelanalysis.com in September 2003. I originally thought I could simply use the articles I wrote for that site and compile them into a book. However, after a little while I realized that this was not all that feasible and began writing the book in parallel to the work I did for the site. As a result, only very little of what appears in the book is also on Venezuelanalysis.com. The book’s content thus comes from my own research and writing while working on the site or from things I learnt from others who wrote articles for the site. Also, over the years I had the opportunity to interview many high-level government officials, to gain insights into their policies and their thinking. The one interview I was not able to get for the book, though, was with President Chavez himself, which is quite disappointing because I really wanted to talk to him about his belief system. Obviously, Chavez plays a very crucial role for the policies of his government and too many interviews with him simply cover old ground, about his upbringing and his experiences as president. What is really needed is an in-depth discussion with him about his political belief system.
What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will
contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you
have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave
you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering
if it was worth all the time and effort?
(click here to view interview)