Supreme Venezuelan leader, grand caudillo of the Bolivarian revolution and aspiring nemesis of the US Hugo Chavez is sounding a softer note as he returns to Venezuela from cancer surgery in Cuba. We need to persuade the middle classes they are needed, he said, denouncing efforts by overzealous underlings to push the Bolivarian revolution too far.It’s not clear what’s at work. From the time of Lenin forward, communist leaders have known how to vary their rhetoric to circumstances; Lenin’s New Economic Policy was hailed as a “Russian Thermidor” back in the 1920s by those who thought it was a permanent relaxation of Soviet rule. Chavez, worried about his re-election chances, may want to broaden his support and confuse the opposition.It’s also possible that the Castro brothers have finally convinced him that socialism doesn’t work. Raúl Castro, whose process of reform and self-criticism in Cuba Chavez praised, is laying off state workers and trying to gin up Cuba’s economic performance. Cuba’s reforms are still mild — and there has been little relaxation politically — but more than sixty years of socialism have taught Cuba some bitter lessons. Chavez, noting that even an oil bonanza can’t make socialism pay in Venezuela, could be having second thoughts.And of course it’s also possible that a brush with serious illness has made Chavez a more thoughtful and reflective human being.We’ll see, but nothing seems to have shaken Chavez’ determination to remain president of Venezuela for the foreseeable future or to fight any changes that would weaken his grip.