Hugo Chávez always said that a key book he had read during his prison years was Beyond Capital by his friend István Mészáros. The book was brought to him by Jorge Giordani, who later became Venezuela’s chief minister in charge of economy under Chávez, the position that Giordani still holds today.
The last time I was able to be with Chávez was on the occasion of the Forum of São Paulo during his electoral campaign last year. At the closing ceremony at the Teresa Carreño Theater, he had a copy of Mészáros’s book with him and told an old Venezuelan man, who had recently managed to learn to read, that one day he should read Beyond Capital.
The intellectual restlessness of Hugo Chávez was always impressive. Given the conservative bent of a majority of the Venezuelan intelligentsia — the largest university in the country, the Central University of Venezuela (or Universidad Central de Venezuela, UCV, in Spanish), is controlled by the Right — when I was asked who was the most important intellectual in Venezuela, I used to say: “Hugo Chávez.”
In any conversation with him, Chávez immediately took interest in what people were saying, asking for reading suggestions and other information. In his TV program Aló Presidente, he mentioned that he was reading authors like Gramsci and Rosa Luxemburg, beyond, as always, Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. He read during his constant air travels.
His restless theoretical curiosity was always tied to the concrete reality of Venezuela and Latin America. He was able to move from abstract theoretical thoughts to immediate problems confronting his country. With the loss of Hugo Chávez we lost a leader of working-class origin — his physiognomy is very much like that of many common people in his country — and a restless, creative mind like few others.
And that is not even to mention the ebullient friendliness with which he won over all of us, from the beginning of his government — from his first visits to Brazil, for the Social Forum in Porto Alegre, to his last, during which he signed with Dilma an aviation business agreement between Brazil and Venezuela.
Even in the last months of his life, his face never betrayed a hint of suffering. His vitality was extraordinary — he was among the most energetic people I have met. His loss is incalculable, though what he left behind already allows us to say that his legacy is irreversible.
Emir Sader is a Brazilian sociologist. Follow Sader on Twitter @emirsader. The original article “Chávez, leitor de Mészáros” was published by Blog da Boitempo on 6 March 2013. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).