One of the best books about the Third Reich, Hitler’s Nazi Germany, is “They Thought They Were Free – the Germans 1933-45” by Milton Mayer (1955). Using some enlightening excerpts I will compare Nazi Germany to Bolivarian Venezuela; the political strategy of Adolf Hitler to that of Hugo Chávez.
A philologist who lived through Nazi Germany recollects in the book: “You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote.” These are things that the citizenry of Bolivarian Venezuela are all too familiar with. Chávez constantly repeats that it is democratic socialism, popular democracy. And voting, yes, they can vote. If they vote wrong he will let them vote again until they vote right. And if that is not possible, as in the last parliamentary elections, he uses a crisis as an excuse to create an enabling act so he doesn’t depend on the parliament. Just like Hitler.
The book continues: “What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security.” Chávez has for long governed by surprise, taken decisions himself (God knows how), and presented them on live TV, to the surprise not only of the citizenry, but also of his own cabinet.
Further: “And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.” Replace Hitler with Chávez and it is equally applicable.
The excerpt continues: “This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.” It’s chilling reading if you have followed the recent events in Venezuela.
Jumping a bit now: “The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway.” Hitler did not have TV, so he couldn’t have done what Chávez is doing: An hour-long political entertainment TV shows every Sunday, Aló Presidente. In it, the president is diverting the audience with political rhetoric of the populist kind, giving them a feeling that they are part of the government process. It is all about diverting, of course. In reality they are further and further from it, just like the Germans.
The following longer excerpt is worth reading slowly, over and over again, especially for all Venezuelans:
To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.
Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.
Resist the beginning. Consider the end. Venezuela, it is not too late! But in a week it may be…
Chávez has confiscated businesses, industries, farms, without any uprising. But the past weekend something went wrong. At the farm El Peonío the workers threw out the military and the action failed. That gave time for a popular resistance to form. Since Chávez was at the same time attacking on many fronts (to hurry up and finish his consolidation of power in the lame duck session), too many Venezuelans were angered at the same time. This is a decisive moment. This is an historic opportunity to throw out the golpista Hugo Chávez.
However, out of respect for democracy and the rule of law, it has to be done constitutionally correct. Just like Manuel Zelaya, ex president of Honduras, was deposed in a constitutional way last year, for doing much the same things as Zelaya has done in Venezuela.
So is there a constitutional way to depose Hugo? I’m not a legal scholar, but I can read, and it seems to me that a case can be made.
What would be the strategy?
Step 1 is for people to take to the streets, do the cacerolazo at night, paint slogans on cars, and similar actions. The purpose of this is not to make Chávez change his mind; he won’t. The purpose is to show those having the power to depose Chávez that they have popular support. This step is crucial! If you want Hugo gone, you MUST show up in overwhelming force on the streets!
Step 2 is to surround the government with unarmed, peaceful civil disobedience, demanding Chávez’ resignation. He won’t resign, but that’s not the point. You will win if you just don’t give up – ever. Keep this principle in mind and you will win:
Things aren’t always what they seem to be.
You just have to keep doing the right thing,
and the circumstances will change before your eyes.