Revolution in Venezuela

On April 22, I wrote Two Candidates for Revolution: Venezuela and North Korea, in which I wrote,

Venezuela is a good fit for existing theories of revolution.
North Korea requires a novel approach.
I will develop this in articles to be posted in a few days.

With the recent events in Venezuela, it’s time to write some more. The theory of revolutions has spawned a lot of literature, but it has not been  useful for the most-asked question, which is, when will it occur? But The Anatomy of Revolution, by Crane Brinton, is a perennial favorite. Instead of trying to squeeze it into social theories, Brinton relies on a broad analogy, supported by good writing that makes the reader his own observer, with Brinton as the helpful tour guide. His broad analogy is “fever”, when a person may experience delirium, excitement, and heightened emotions.

All revolutions are not the same. Colonial revolutions are entirely different. But the references of Brinton’s book, mostly to the Russian and French,  are actually apropos Venezuela, which has a broad, active political spectrum. One can almost see, in the remnants of the National Assembly, arising ofJacobin clubs. The Venezuelan locus is urban, as it was in France.  But a principal drag is the reported popularity of Maduro in rural areas.

Brinton remarks on the role of economic decline as a cause, but expresses skepticism at the importance given by others. In the examples of his book, popular conditions were only a little more miserable than in preceding years. But  in the early 60’s, J.C. Davies. in  “Towards a Theory of Revolution” described the “J-curve”, actually an inverted J, of a period of rapid economic growth followed by sharp reversal.  Though Brinton gives the J lukewarm endorsement, it fits Venezuela to a T.

Brinton’s tone is tolerant to phenomenological analogies, while avoiding scientific scorn. His analogy of “fever” is very appealing, and inspires my own. We want landmarks for timing. Staying loose, we can see some possibilities:

  • The Role of Force, (page 86, Vintage ed. 1965).  Critical is whether the authorities will respond competently. One sign that they may not is that at the level of the street, the enforcers are themselves urbanites, stressed by the same factors as those in rebellion.
  • The Rule of the Moderates, Chapter 5. In Brinton’s revolutions, this occurs after authority has transferred to the revolutionaries. Let’s adapt this to before the revolution, with the now dissolved National Assembly.
  • The Accession of the Extremists, Chapter 6. With the same adjustment, this corresponds to popular disillusionment with the fragmented National Assembly, with similarities to the opposition in the early stages of the Syrian civil war. The theft of arms can be identified as an early step by the “extremists.”

As noted, the accession of the extremists would be facilitated by rural sanctuary.  But “melting away” of the rebels into the countryside may be hindered by rural majorities of Maduro supporters. Open sources do not illuminate. This exhausts Brinton analogies. Here’s a new one, the development of the tornado.

A tornado is a self-organizing system that seems useful as a companion analogy to Brinton’s “fever.”  In both tornado and revolution, energy/unrest is drained from the environment, resulting in a more stable arrangement of air or people. Various theories have tried to pinpoint how a tornado forms. But in the same manner of frustration as predicting revolutions, there is no one way. The most common way a tornado forms is from a mesocyclone high in the sky, the funnel descending to earth.

A similar storm, the gustnado, forms from the ground up. But if it reaches the cloud base of a mesocyclone, the two phenomenon become a true tornado.  The disturbances in Venezuela are at ground level.  The mesocyclone high in the clouds is missing. Might the genesis of it be civilian or military?  The National Assembly shows no signs. Open sources describe the higher levels of the military as corruptly involved with Maduro’s establishment. But generalities cannot speak for everyone.

The mesocyclone could arise in two ways. It could grow out of the wreckage of the National Assembly, as the more radical members divest themselves of moderate connections. Or it could arise as the “man of the moment”, a kind of new Simon Bolivar.

Watch for the mesocyclone.