By Emily Williams
No friend to publishing (see our earlier coverage here) Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has nevertheless started to implement his four-part color coded “Revolutionary Reading Plan.” Announced in May, the goal of the project as stated by the Venezuelan government, is “the democratization of books and reading, with a new conception of reading as a collective act under the fundamental values and principles of revolutionary socialism.”
To this end, the government is encouraging the formation of Revolutionary Reading Squadrons: state-sponsored book clubs, formed in schools, unions, libraries or neighborhood centers, led by a designated Promoter of the Revolutionary Reading Plan, and following a set list of 100 books the government has drawn up. The books are chosen for their ability to, among other things, “strengthen our Latin American and anti-imperialist identity” and “develop a new ethics based on socialist education and culture.”
In all four phases, meetings will be led by a “group leader” who will direct analysis and discussion of the book. They are instructed to follow a specific sequence of reading selections, initially enticing readers with literature, and then progressing through to books with an overt ideological agenda. In all there are four phases to the curriculum:
In the first, dubbed Red Squadrons, readers are introduced to books like the letters exchanged between revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar and his lover Manuela Sáenz — the idea being that readers will be able to readily identify and empathize with Bolivar, not for his politics, but his humanity. In the first phase, at least, leaders are to encourage reading aloud.
In the second phase, readers move up to the “Green Squadron” where they will work on “deconstructing the capitalist worldview through reading and discussion of texts about our true symbols”.
Third comes the Orange Squadron, which focuses on “consolidating the reader as an individual and collective subject of the socialist and revolutionary project”.
Fourth and last are the Black Squadrons, which are devoted to “sharing textual tools for cultural resistance against the ideological cultural attacks of the imperialists.”
All groups will also be required to conduct a critical reading of the country’s newspapers, “to discover the strategies and psychological operations the bourgeois media uses against our revolutionary progress and our commander.”
The books chosen for the program include some classic (if fiery) literary works like Doña Bárbara by Rómulo Gallegos and poetry by César Vallejo, Rubén Darío and José Martí, writings by revolutionary figures Simón Bolívar, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, as well as a number of contemporary and openly ideological texts by Chávez or members of his administration.
The 100 books selected as part of the reading plan will be produced by state-sponsored publishers with a first printing of 25,000 copies each and distributed across Venezuela.
In an interview with the government-sponsored weekly Todos Adentro, Rosa Fernández, director of the Foundation for the Distribution of Cultural Goods, a state entity helping to carry out the Revolutionary Reading Plan, explains: “The [Revolutionary Reading Plan] furthers President Chávez’s aim of precluding books from becoming commercial objects, and making them instead an instrument of companionship for our citizens.”
Fernández is hopeful about the possibilities the plan offers to further reading in Venezuela — after all, she noted, the poet José Martí famously said we must “be educated to be free.”
READ: The official Venezuelan government page describing the program.