Interview with Professor Pedro Calzadilla

Venezuela, the new lenses of insurgent history

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Pedro Calzadilla
Foto: REDH
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Professor Pedro Calzadilla has occupied many political positions in the Bolivarian Revolution, and is now the coordinator of the Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity. We met him in Caracas in the garden of the House of Insurgent History for this interview that took place in the first weeks of August. The garden, that had been abandoned for years, is now a meeting place open to the public, well-kept and with a kiosk. “A few decades ago,” explained Calzadilla, “in this house there was a vault that contained important documents of the Liberator Simon Bolivar, now transferred to a state archive. We are a few meters from the house where our Father of the Fatherland lived his early years and from the Bolivarian Museum, where there are testimonies of other Independence heroes from the early nineteenth century”.


Why is it called the House of Insurgent History? What is the history that has emerged?


This building is a dependency of the National Centre of History, a Foundation created by Hugo Chávez eleven years ago, whose mission is to bring the battle of ideas to the field of memory and history. The Bolivarian Revolution has produced a deep refoundation of the historical conscience of our people. Comandante Chávez urged the people to seek liberation politically, but also cultural, thus providing a solid basis for the process of liberation. In this revolutionary approach centered on the refoundation of our history, a new awareness has emerged that has allowed us to redefine ourselves, as a conscious people, and to redesign the project for the future. The battle for memory and history has become a harsh confrontation with those who oppose the Bolivarian process. For these twenty years, the right has grasped the depth of our revised roots, now anchored in the present, and they have taken on the task of damaging them, of appropriating them or changing their meaning, re-semanticizing them. This is no surprise: the battle of ideas is part of the clash between those who consider the past as a tool of present freedom and those who consider it an instrument of domination. Therefore, the full name of this building is La Casa de la Historia Insurgente Bolivar-Chávez. With the term ‘insurgent history’, we refer to that set of ideas, concepts, principles, interpretations that accompany the Bolivarian Revolution, and which Chávez has situated as the means of recovery of the historic path of the Venezuelan people. The history that emerged is not only an academic proposal, but also a political and concrete one: it says that the present cannot free itself unless a new system of ideas and values is constructed to act in the process of liberation coming from the history of rebellion and independence.


What space do the studies on gender occupy in the insurgent and rebel history of a revolution that calls itself socialist and feminist? Why do we not find the name of Manuelita Sáenz?


We keep two masculine references because historically this was the case. Nevertheless, the vision of insurgent history rejects and replaces machismo, understood as an exercise of power in the construction of a system of ideas and cultural values that justifies and stimulates the domination and exploitation of men over women. We say that insurgent history is feminist, as the Bolivarian Revolution affirms in its central postulation and its political realization. Therefore, one of the central lines of our research refutes the broad ideological and cultural machista apparatus that operates in the present but also in the interpretation of the past. Gender studies, linked to the libertarian political project of the Bolivarian Revolution, have a broad space for debate and publication, as is indicated in the seminar that has just ended on this theme.


What does it mean for you to be an intellectual in the Bolivarian Revolution and what is the task of the Network today?


I immediately understood that the Bolivarian Revolution, an authentic and profound project of liberation of Venezuelan society, was also an intellectual project. It has obliged my generation and later ones of social science professors to question ourselves, to revise everything, absolutely everything, the whole range of ideas, principles, values, concepts that we teach in the universities and that were induced from outside, even when they appeared to be revolutionary. I was a professor of history in the Central University of Venezuela, and it was only through the questioning of the interpretative paradigms that we employed, that we realized that Chávez was teaching us to use our own lenses to decipher reality, leaving aside the lenses lent from outside. He was not inviting us to take chauvinist positions, but to assume the general challenges of all of humanity. The Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity is an extraordinary space, launched by Fidel and Chávez in 2004, developed in meetings held in Mexico, Havana and then in Caracas, with the presence of some 500 international intellectuals, with the leadership in Venezuela of Professor Carmen Bohorquez, to whom the Network rendered tribute just recently. It also had its initial moment in Italy. It is not a rigid organization, but a place of confrontation, sometimes polemical, on the great issues and challenges that concern humanity. Now we are looking into how we should proceed, both in general and organizational terms; how to take maximum advantage of this great potential, consisting in meeting points, but also tensions and disagreements, in the different countries and contexts in which it acts.


How do you explain the attack against the Bolivarian Revolution by certain intellectuals, especially Europeans, who call themselves leftists?


The Bolivarian Revolution has unmasked the positions and interests of a certain center-left thinking that is quite complacent, accommodating and functional to the capitalist system. The Bolivarian Revolution has demonstrated that the process necessary for the structural transformation of capitalism is a real option, even without sacrificing democratic guarantees and freedoms. There are no more excuses, but precisely for this reason, the revolution becomes a “dangerous” example, since it shows to the world the possibility of a different future than that imposed by the unjust order of capitalism. For this reason, we ask the European intellectuals, those who have the responsibility for thinking and orientating, to pay attention to the signs coming from the depths of Venezuelan reality. We ask them to look beyond conformism, coercion and the dominant ideas that at times even come masked as counter-culture.



(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)
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