Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 20, 2007

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl goes to Venezuela

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

Psychoanalyst on a dubious mission

After the outcry generated by Joaquin Villalobos’s hatchet job on Hugo Chavéz, you’d think that the Nation Magazine would be more circumspect. Unfortunately, they have seen fit to publish another atrocity on their website. The author is Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, a 61 year old psychoanalyst from New York City who has written biographies of Anna Freud and Hannah Arendt. Her connection to Arendt prompted a Venezuelan study group called Hannah Arendt Observatorio to send her an invitation. Her write-up on the trip is titled “Reading Arendt in Caracas”, a salute to “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” a book that Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi described as “reminiscent of the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India.”

Much of Young-Bruehl’s piece is focused on the student opposition to Chavéz, who are distinguished from the “disaffected middle-class opposition party supporters” that had opposed him in the past. After making this distinction, Young-Bruehl allows that the universities they hail from are overwhelmingly “middle class and white.” I know that consistency is the hobgoblin of foolish minds, but this is ridiculous. For a class analysis of the university system in Venezuela, I recommend George Ciccariello-Maher’s Counterpunch article “Behind Venezuela’s “Student Rebellion“:

But, as Metropolitan Mayor Juan Barreto recently emphasized in a response to the mobilizations, Caracas boasts 200,000 students, whereas these demonstrations have not managed to mobilize more than 5,000. And these mobilizations had been largely concentrated in the wealthy East of Caracas, with no student protests in the sprawling barrios that house half of the city’s population. Who are the rest of these students? It is here that we see another piece of the puzzle, and another crucial sector which opposes the policies of the Bolivarian Revolution.

As a response to the entrenched elitism and conservatism of the existing Venezuelan university structure, and lacking the political weight to attack the long-cherished tradition of university autonomy head on, Chávez’s government opted for a different strategy. Rather than attempting to change institutions like the UCV, the government has funneled resources into the creation of new, alternative educational institutions like the Bolivarian University (UBV), among others. In all, the government has created 8 new free universities and plans 28 more (11 national, 13 regional, and 4 technological institutes) as a part of the recently-baptized Mission Alma Mater. And this isn’t even to mention the vast network of already existing educational missions which stretch from preschool to post-graduate education, and whose participants are currently demanding that they, too, be recognized as “students.” As it stands, these new universities reach approximately 1.5 million students, and the educational missions a further 3.8 million, together representing more than 8% of the Venezuelan population, a figure which will only continue to grow.

Let’s do the math. Only approximately out of forty students from the universities that Young-Bruehl herself describes as “white and middle-class” took to the streets against the government. Meanwhile, nearly 6 million students from the barrios attend new universities built with oil revenues. We can assume that they were not interested in toppling the government. We can also assume that Dr. Young-Bruehl had little motivation to find out what this riff-raff had to say. She is obviously more comfortable with members of her own social class. Hannah Arendt Observatorio is led by one Heinz Sonntag, who is described as finding the Venezuelan universities quite comfortably Marxist. As we shall see, Young-Bruehl uses a by-now-familiar tactic to attack the Bolivarian revolution by invoking “socialist” or “Marxist” opponents of the government.

She must have taken her cues from Nation Magazine contributors Christopher Hitchens and Marc Cooper who also wrap imperialist propaganda in leftish phraseology. Sonntag took an anti-Chavéz position in a debate at the U. Cal/Berkeley in 2003. He said that the mass media used Chávez’s “inflammatory” rhetoric against him. He added, “The way in which these criticisms were received brought the first disappointments with the regime. Instead of giving coherent explanations or accepting responsibility for their wrongdoings, Chávez and his followers attacked the media, committing the additional error of personalizing these attacks by focusing on certain journalists and media owners.”

This is what Malcolm X called turning the victim into the criminal. The private media in Venezuela was not involved with “criticisms.” It was closely allied with the abortive military coup in 2002. It is obvious that Sonntag, despite Young-Bruehl’s assurances about his Marxist proclivities, had gone over to the counter-revolution. Sonntag is just one of a number of self-proclaimed “Marxists” or “socialists” who have made common cause with the section of the bourgeoisie that wants to turn back the clock. They are not necessarily old men like Sonntag. Some are quite youthful, like the student leaders who Young-Bruehl is so smitten with. George Ciccariello-Maher has them nailed down pretty well:

That the “student leaders” are tied to the opposition is far from controversial: for example, spokesperson Yon Goicochea is a member of Primero Justicia and the aptly-named Stalin González belonged until recently to the strangest of opposition organizations, Bandera Roja. BR is a nominally Marxist-Leninist group which made the unlikely transition from a respectable guerrilla organization to the attack dogs of the far right, claiming to use the opposition as a vehicle to topple the fake communism of Chávez and institute a true dictatorship of the proletariat.

Teodoro Petkoff, who shares Heinz Sonntag and Stalin González’s nominally socialist credentials, is described as “a guerrilla fighter” who “did a few stints in prison.” In the 2006 election campaign, he ran for president as a democratic socialist, according to Young-Bruehl. Nowadays, the term “democratic socialist” can mean practically anything. Norm Geras has cheered the US invasion of Iraq in the name of democratic socialism, for example. In my own view, democratic socialism is a redundancy since socialism is by necessity rule by the people, something that Hugo Chavéz gives every indication of supporting. Indeed, it is probably the spectacle of ordinary people asserting themselves that gives people like Heinz Sonntag the willies.

Notwithstanding Young-Bruehl’s assurances of Petkoff’s leftist bona fides, there is another part of his CV that she conveniently omits. Petkoff was economics minister under Rafael Caldera in 1996, a government that imposed a harsh neoliberal regime on the poor. The August 16, 1996 Caracas Daily Journal describes Petkoff’s unsuccessful attempts to persuade the poor that austerity measures were good for them in the long run:

Heralded on Wall Street as the agent of free-market reform, Planning Minister Teodoro Petkoff is finding it more difficult to win over people on his own turf than big-time foreign investors. Petkoff, the flamboyant spokesman for Venezuela’s economic reform program ‘Agenda Venezuela’ , heard the ills of community leaders Friday but had little luck in quelling them. “He is giving us the same responses we are hearing on TV,”said Father Thomas Mulcahy of the Santa Cruz Paris in the Propatria barrio. In an event sponsored by the Foreign Journalists’ Association (APEX), Mulcahy and other social workers met with Petkoff at the church.

While the State of an economic turnaround, the estimated 80 percent of Venezuela living in poverty remain in a perpetual down spiral, said Mulcahy. Lack of funding for schools, poor health facilities and a frighteningly high crime rate are the reality for the barrios surrounding Caracas. “I’ve been robbed in the middle of the afternoon right outside the church … this is the worst I’ve ever seen things.”

Mulcahy, who has worked with Venezuela’s poor for 24 years, said. Running water can stop for up to three months at a time, the social workers complain. The closest hospital, Los Magallanes de Catia, is in dire straits for lack of State funding and the neighborhood’s last remaining pharmacy is about to close shop.

But Petkoff, an ex-communist guerrilla turned economist and politician, remained staunch that President Rafael Caldera hasn’t forgotten the poor… “What he’s talking about we just don’t see up here,” said Oswaldo Borjes, who teaches construction trades to unemployed youth.

Next on Young-Bruehl’s itinerary is a meeting with the students at Simon Bolivar University where she had “an intense conversation about why Hannah Arendt had distrusted revolutions that try to solve problems of social injustice without first achieving a stable, constitutional republic.” Now it must be said that Hannah Arendt was definitely committed to stable, constitutional republics–including ones that saw the wisdom of States Rights. In 1959, Arendt wrote an article titled “Reflections on Little Rock” that warned about the consequences of forcing segregation on the South. Her article betrayed the same kind of sanctimoniousness found in Young-Bruehl:

Another issue involved in the present conflict between Washington and the South is the matter of states’ rights. For some time it has been customary among liberals to maintain that no such issue exists at all but is only a ready made subterfuge of Southern reactionarieswho have nothing in their hands except “abstruse arguments and constitutional history.” In my opinion, this is a dangerous error. In contradistinction to the classical principle of the European nation state that power, like sovereignty, is indivisible, the power structure of this country rests on the principle of division of power and on the conviction that the body politic as a whole is strengthened by the division of power.

When poor Black people in Little Rock or Caracas decide to stand up for their rights, white, middle-class philosophers and psychiatrists get terribly upset.

I must strongly urge that people have a look at Reuven Kaminer’s very fine critique of Hannah Arendt on MRZine titled “On the Concept ‘Totalitarianism’ and Its Role in Current Political Discourse.” I offered Reuven some suggestions on background material on Arendt and her husband Heinrich Blucher, who was my professor at Bard College from 1961 to 1965. Like the students that welcomed Young-Bruehl in Caracas, I too had a head filled with middle-class, anti-Communist prejudices that Bluecher helped to reinforce back then. It was only when I left Bard College, faced the military draft, and began working as a welfare caseworker in Harlem that I began to wake up to the true nature of American society. That required unlearning a lot of the cold war mythology that I had picked up from Heinrich Bluecher.

Let me conclude with Reuven’s clarion call to action:

Marxists present their own counter-narrative regarding the crises of wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions that characterize the last century.Hannah Arendt argues that the content of the century is the assault launched by totalitarianism against freedom.This overarching metaphysical description is characteristic of bourgeois ideology in that it completely ignores the central social and economic crisis of our time.The crisis of modern society is the internal contradiction of capitalist society whose relations of productions are an objective obstacle to human progress.The content of the century is not a parable of good and evil (which is, of course, a generalized form of Christian myth) but the long and tortuous efforts to overcome and overthrow capitalism-imperialism.Humanity is still faced, to this very day, with the choice between socialism and barbarism.

27 Comments »

  1. Louis Proyect: Elisabeth Young-Bruehl goes to Venezuela

    After the outcry generated by Joaquin Villalobos’s hatchet job on Hugo Chavéz, you’d think that the Nation Magazine would be more circumspect. Unfortunately, they have seen fit to publish another atrocity on their website. Author Elizabeth Young-B…

    Trackback by www.buzzflash.net — August 21, 2007 @ 4:39 am

  2. My eyes misted over reading the conclusion you quoted: “Humanity is still faced, to this day, with the choice between socialism and barbarism.” How neat and how abstract! Your post of Aug. 20 gave us twenty or so paragraphs devoted to Venezuela. These concerned infighting amongst Marxists but also pursued a feud with the Nation, an organ of slight interest internationally. So much for abstractions. You said nothing at all about the concrete news out of Venezuela on Aug. 15. Chavez proposed constitutional changes that would allow him to remain in power indefinitely – doubtless in order to fight off barbarism.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — August 21, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  3. Actually, term limits are anti-democratic. If the Venezuelan people wanted to re-elect Hugo Chavez for another 2, 3, or 4 terms, why should they be stopped?

    Comment by louisproyect — August 21, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  4. You criticize Arendt by saying, “Now it must be said that Hannah Arendt was definitely committed to stable, constitutional republics–including ones that saw the wisdom of States Rights. In 1959, Arendt wrote an article titled “Reflections on Little Rock” that warned about the consequences of forcing segregation on the South.”

    But, hasn’t the lack of progress on real racial inequality in the US actually vindicates Arendt’s stance, namely that top-down change forced down from above will not lead to the desired results?

    Comment by Ninja Turtle — August 21, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  5. The student movement against Chavez reminds me that the class dynamics of the education system of other countries is a lot different than in the U.S. In fact, it seems like Venezuela’s education system is a lot more early 20th century Russia’s than 21st century America’s in the sense that higher ed. (high school and above) is very much dominated by the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie.

    Venezuela’s revolution of the poor, the workers, and the indigenous people is provoking a counter-revolutionary movement among the children of the corporate lawyers, bankers, officers, CEOs, and other connected with the old regime. It’s outrageous that the Nation is taking their side, but then again, they are liberals, what do you expect? Phil Ochs had it right when he sang about them.

    I wonder if Jon Stewart of the Daily Show reads the Nation? He’s always making fun of Chavez, although he had Gabriel Kozloff author of “Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S.” on last night for more serious and substantive discussion.

    Comment by Binh — August 21, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  6. “She must have taken her cues from Nation Magazine contributors Christopher Hitchens and Marc Cooper who also wrap imperialist propaganda in leftish phraseology.”

    Cooper’s still fighting the Pacifica war. I figure the only reason he attacks Chavez is that someone on a Pacifica station once said something positive about Chavez. This is how petty & pathetic Cooper has become.

    Comment by Adam Payson — August 21, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  7. Thank you for this! I read that piece yesterday and was apoplectic in my cubicle. The Nation just keeps getting worse. Anything with Hannah Arendt’s name attached should be read with caution, as that wonderful article on MRZine so adeptly points out.

    Comment by praxenakis — August 21, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

  8. In response to the “vindication” of Hannah Arendt’s theory on social change forced from above that Ninja Turtle alludes to:

    Arendt’s theory is only vindicated if one is willing to completely invalidate the rights of blacks to not be “governed from above”, or from the side, or wherever else Arendt or Ninja Turtle and other anglo apologists for institutionalized race relations want to “govern” us from. It is an unfortunate reality that the ruling classes of the south- and, as Malcolm X used to comment, if you live south of the Canadian border, you’re in the southern states- have succeeded in co-ordinating the energies of liberal ruling class whites and ruling class blacks in this country, and hence, the hard work of the fifties and sixties has been nearly completely inverted. But all that is truly “vindicated” by this reality is the marxist assessment of the situation, which is that only a social transformation led by the multiracial working class majority and its allies will begin to resolve the problem of institutionalized race segregation in the United States.

    Orthodoxies are something else. When I was in D.C. a few weeks back visiting the Lincoln memorial, I heard a high school history teacher telling his students that old saw that the Civil War was about “state’s rights”. As though the “rights” the Confederate states weren’t fighting to maintain wasn’t the “right” to retain an agrarian production system based upon chattel slavery. What it really comes down to is that many whites to this very day, the late Hannah Arendt and our friend Ninja Turtle included, have a hard time believing that people of color have rights they are bound to respect, in the words of the unlamented Roger Taney. It’s much easier to fret about “being governed from above” then it is to think dialectically about governance.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux Perez — August 22, 2007 @ 12:43 am

  9. Sorry louis, but your “revisionist history” of the Venezuelan student movement is a bit shallow. The student movement mobilized hundreds of thousands…of Venezuelan students and citizens opposed to the closure of RCTV all across the country. I “saved” a whole load of coverage of their so-called tiny-all-white-movement at my blog.

    The white-hands protests were popular AND MASSIVE. Don’t believe me. Go here. I’ll take the posts down again in another week or so… but I’ve got it all saved. History will not be “revised” by the likes of you.

    Comment by Farmer John — August 22, 2007 @ 1:06 am

  10. The only reason why we have presidential term limits in the United States is because of a misguided effort by the GOP to exact revenge against Franklin Roosevelt (who was dead by the time that presidential term limits were enacted as a constitutional amendment), who had managed to get himself elected president four times. I see no compelling reason why the electorate, whether in the US or Venezuela should be prohibited from electing and reelecting as president whomever they see fit, as many times as they see fit. As has often been noted, the Republicans in the US probably shot themselves in the foot over this. Eisenhower probably could have won a third term.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — August 22, 2007 @ 1:48 am

  11. Very good piece, Louis.

    In thinking of lesson plans for the upcoming schoolyear, I took a look at Origins… a bit before casting it aside as an unworthy usage of class-time. Perhaps I’ll use the essay you’ve cited above instead – very good stuff.

    I don’t read MR nearly enough.

    Anyway, after their various shopping mall protests in support of CoupTV, Uncle Sam’s little Vanilla Revolutionaries in Venezuela seem to have gone underground – probably in shame after having embarrassed themselves before the entire nation! Since then, they’ve not found that much to squawk about. I’m sure they’ll soon be whooping it up – abetted by Uncle Sam’s welfare checks – against the proposed constitutional changes.

    The Nation will almost certainly take the Washington Post line on them, so what better time for to resurrect them!

    Comment by John Brown — August 22, 2007 @ 3:19 am

  12. “It is highly unlikely that there can be 6 million of them in college right now.

    But of course, you didn’t take dialectic materialism into account!

    Bwa ha ha ha ha

    This entire post was nothing but a collection of adhomenim attacks masquerading as “leftist intellectuality”. (Whatever the hell that would consist of.)

    What it did show was the ability to distort, toucher and disavow reality in the face of bankrupt Marxist ideology.

    Comment by Warren — August 22, 2007 @ 3:23 am

  13. “It is highly unlikely that there can be 6 million of them in college right now.”

    Venezuela has more than 90 institutions of higher education. Granted that many have student populations well in excess of 40,000 (and one close to 200,000), you do the math.

    Comment by Zach — August 22, 2007 @ 8:04 am

  14. There’s a rather good take-down of Petkoff in Tariq Ali’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

    I must admit, however, 6 million university students is a very intimidating concept, and I speak as a lecturer. The Nuremberg rallies were quite bad enough.

    Comment by MFB — August 22, 2007 @ 11:40 am

  15. Communist propaganda?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Venezuela

    The standard of education in Venezuela is one of the highest in the region. Of Venezuelans aged 15 and older, 93.4% can read and write, one of the highest literacy rates in the region. The literacy rate in 2003 was estimated to be 93.8% for males and 93.1% for females. Although the Venezuelan education system is overextended and underfunded, the Venezuelan government remains committed to the idea that every citizen is entitled to a free education.

    Nine years of education are “compulsory” education. The school year extends from February to November. The student population and the education budget have increased, but many children do not attend school because they are undocumented aliens or because of “poverty”. An estimated 20% of the population is without any formal education. The Ministry of Education of Venezuela’s efforts are aimed at adapting the curriculum to the demands of an increasingly technological society, expanding compulsory education, and upgrading teacher qualifications.

    Many children under five attend a preschool. Children are required to attend school from the age of six. They attend primary school until they are eleven. They are then promoted to the second level of basic education, where they stay until they are 14 or 15. Public school students usually attend classes in shifts. Some go to school from early in the morning until about 1:30pm and others attend from early afternoon until about 6:00pm. All schoolchildren wear uniforms. Although education is mandatory for children, some poor children do not attend school because they must work to support their families.

    Venezuela has more than 90 institutions of “higher education”, with more than 6 million students. Higher education remains free under the 1999 constitution and was receiving 35% of the education budget, even though it accounted for only 11% of the student population.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — August 22, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  16. Although it doesn’t say, that wikipedia article probably uses this pdf as its source: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/profiles/Venezuela.pdf (top of page 8).

    Comment by John — August 22, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  17. This is not about “facts”. It is about politics and you have a fucking nerve, Mr. Farmer John, lecturing us about democracy. As a supporter of the war in Iraq and the Zionist occupation of the West Bank, you are the epitome of hypocrisy. Counterpunch has a much better reputation on accuracy than an anonymous blogger like yourself will ever achieve. In fact, most of your shitty blog consists of information that is available elsewhere on the Internet. I don’t mind the fact that you are a rightwing stupid-head. I only wish that you were capable of putting together an analysis of Venezuelan politics. Your blog is a collection of links that any moron could put together. If people wanted to read rightwing bullshit about Venezuela, there are far more intelligent sources. I would recommend “The Devils Excrement” on Salon.com for one: http://blogs.salon.com/0001330/. This is written by a Venezuelan who is at least capable of coming up with his own analysis, as opposed to a Free Republic drooling imbecile like yourself.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 22, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

  18. the article begs for a close textual analysis which, I regrettably, lack the time to perform

    of course, yours is quite fine, but, in a way, too serious, because there are some really bizarre things in the article that border on parody

    for example, there is a passage where Young-Bruehl suggests that the children of the oligarchy are so ravenous for knowledge of past social movements that they have been inspired by . . . yes, the 1962 Port Huron statement of the SDS!

    also, the origins of the Observatario are interesting in itself, at least as related by Young-Bruehl

    it appears that some Caracas intellectuals created the Observatario after Chavez began to more closely align himself with Iran (after a history of verbal support for the Palestinians) and made his admittedly tasteless remark about “Christ killers” in 2005

    at the time, efforts to tar Chavez as an anti-semite went nowhere, as there is nothing in his public political life to support it, but, even so, it did apparently inspire Zionists within Venezuela to awaken from their slumber and suddenly discover that he possessed authoritarian tendencies as profiled by Arendt about 50 years earlier

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 23, 2007 @ 12:52 am

  19. Louis writes above in response to a comment, Actually, term limits are anti-democratic. If the Venezuelan people wanted to re-elect Hugo Chavez for another 2, 3, or 4 terms, why should they be stopped?

    Actually, the Athenians, the world’s foremost experts on outright democracy, thought term limits – and very short terms – more democratic than doing without them.

    But they also thought that filling offices by lot rather than by election was even more democratic, since they could see no way the process of election would not give unacceptable advantage to the rich and the mighty.

    Case in point? General Chavez.

    None of which is to say he will not do great and noble things with his undemocracy.

    And none of which is to deny the people can sometimes prudently prefer the rule of a benevolent semi-dictator to that of a bitterly obstructionist and reactionary legislature.

    All the same, the demos are not always right. If they were, white majorities would never have tolerated, much less fought to maintain, the enslavement of Africans in the Americas.

    And both the legislature and the Constitution Chavez is subverting are of his own creation, anyway.

    Could the Bolivarian Revolution, already firmly in control of the whole government, not proceed successfully without a quasi- (or outright, eventually) dictatorship of El Numero Uno?

    Are not the cemeteries full of indispensable men?

    Comment by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus — August 23, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  20. “Case in point? General Chavez.”

    Not General, Lieutenant is more like it.

    ‘Actually, the Athenians, the world’s foremost experts on outright democracy, thought term limits – and very short terms – more democratic than doing without them. ”

    Really? Does ‘outright’ democracy entail the right to own slaves?
    Advertising the long-ago surpassed political achievements of a 3,000 year-old civilization as the pinnacle of democracy is plainly ridiculous. The Athenians might have been the forefathers of democracy, but the political system they created would hardly be considered democratic in our times.

    Comment by Pepito — August 23, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  21. You’ve got to love people who cite a slaveholders’ democracy where only the male minority could vote as a shining example of how to do things right against anyone who has the gall the support Chavez and the Venezuelan revolution!

    Pilger’s documentary on Latin America, which starts in Venezuela with Chavez, can be viewed here:
    http://leninology.blogspot.com/2007/08/pilger-war-on-democracy.html

    And on a side note, the abolition of term limits will be voted on by THE PEOPLE before it can be ratified. Any guesses by how big a margin it passes? I’ll wager 60% vote for it.

    Comment by Binh — August 23, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  22. And both the legislature and the Constitution Chavez is subverting are of his own creation, anyway.

    Not quite. Or have you forgotten why the legislature is full of Chavistas? A hint: it has something to do with the opposition parties and the advice that they took from the US. Advice that they declined to follow during the subsequent presidential election, one that they lost handily. And the constitution? A lot of people had a role in its creation.

    Personally, I have concerns about the removal of term limits from a different perspective, primarily because it presents the prospect that the Bolivarian movement will become sclorotic, a form of leftist Gaullism, and we all know what happened there. But to hear people from political backgrounds who either recognized the 2002 coup plotters as the new government of Venezuela, or were, alternatively, silent, all of a sudden insist that term limits are the essential feature of democracy, is a bit much, especially as, in the US, they oppose them for the Congress, or, in Britain, would have permitted Tony Blair to govern indefinitely.

    This is, however, a common strategy when it comes to Venezuela, the elevation of questions of related to political philosophy and administration, ones in which there have been disagreement within academia and the society at large for decades, if not centuries, one in which some countries have made one choice, and other countries another, into ones that, by definition, become signs of autocracy when implemented by Chavez.

    And, that was clearly the purpose of Young-Bruehl’s visit to the Observatario, indeed the creation of the Observatario itself, and the publication of her article in The Nation, to indict Chavez for authoritarianism precisely because he doesn’t organize society according to their principles and values, and allow the oligarchy to preserve their influence for their benefit and the benefit of their children. Young-Bruehl and the invocation of Arendt by both her and the Observatario are the means by which this project is legitimized.

    Does anyone doubt that the removal of Chavez would result in a violent upheaval in Venezuela, as he has displayed the consistent support of about 60% to 65% of the populace? Strangely, this subject is missing from Young-Bruehl’s article, and for good reason, as it would require her to acknowledge that her new found radical friends would happily attempt to implement the most severe sort of Pinochet repression to retain power, a real violent, bloody repression, not the imaginary wish fulfillment kind that they perpetually accuse Chavez of, something that her inspiration, her good friend Hannah, wouldn’t have looked upon too kindly.

    Indeed, one suspects that the Hannah Arendt Observatario would probably change its name to something like the Strauss Observatario or the Kirkpatrick Observatario, as many of its members elevated themselves into positions of power within the new government. In this hypothetical, though, I don’t think that they would be there long, Chavez purchased all those rifles from Russia to make sure that people would be able to effectively resist.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 23, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  23. Sure, the boycott gave him the legislature. But now he’s got it and he does well to use it.

    And the very popularity that suggests he can keep winning repeated terms as president suggests his majority in the legislature will remain adequate to his needs for a good while, through future elections in which the oppostion is not quite so stupid as to keep up a boycott.

    As you know, people in America support or oppose changes to our Consitution as they support or oppose decisions or interpretations from our Supremes, generally on short term considerations of whose ox gets gored rather than longer term.

    The GOP wanted term limits when Newt was new so as to force out Kennedy and the long-time Democrat leaders. George Will at the time, for instance, wrote vigorously in support of the idea in about every other column.

    As soon as the same suggestion would have forced them out of office, as well, the GOPsters who took office favoring the idea simply stopped talking about it.

    As for me, I think they’re a good idea for both houses of the American Congress, as well as the president and VP.

    And when HC and his supporters wrote a term limit into their Constitution for the presidency some years back, that was a good idea, too.

    Comment by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus — August 24, 2007 @ 7:48 pm

  24. Louis, I am new to your site having arrived via research of Young-Bruehl’s pure propaganda piece in the Nation. Marc Cooper, writing as a Nation editor, effusively endorsed Y-B’s piece on Aug. 25 in a web letter. This is no small issue to both of us, and I hope that you can update yourself on such madness from the Nation and Cooper. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070827/young_bruehl

    Comment by gerald spezio — August 28, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  25. Louis’s view that “democratic socialism is a redundancy, since socialism is by necessity rule by the people” is not only very anti-Marxist, but also anti-historical, and in itself a crucial theoretical error.

    As Hal Draper for example describes in his book “The critique of other socialisms”, Marx was very aware that bourgeois society generated all kinds of socialisms; and while Marx was supportive of some, he rejected other kinds of socialisms absolutely. The depiction of socialism as “sugar and spice and all things nice” by Louis is naive, not to say puberal and imbecile. In addition to that, what democracy means is anyone’s guess. We can of course say “rule of the people, by the people, for the people” but this does not tell us a great deal, since that goal can be pursued in all kinds of ways; even despots and dictators are not averse to throwing an election every now and then to endorse their own rule.

    In another famous (although flawed) essay, Hal Draper identifies the “two souls of socialism” – on the one hand, socialism “from above”, and on the other hand socialism “from below”. His essay suggests, that socialism need not be democratic at all; it need not even necessarily represent the will of the people, i.e. it could be a dictatorship “over” the proletariat. Of course, Hal Draper did not draw the logical conclusion, i.e. that Stalin was a socialist, be it a despotic socialist. He wanted to argue that the Soviet Union was not socialist, but a form of “bureaucratic collectivism.” In that sense, Draper contradicted his own argument.

    The Soviet Union was socialist allright – a hundred million people living there thought so – but it was a heavily bureaucratized (and rather despotic) socialism. The Trotskyists and neo-Trotskyists felt that “if this is socialism, nobody wants it” and so they starting to argue that the USSR was not socialist at all – even although that idea flies in the face of the facts. No wonder, then, that there hardly exists any workable theory of socialist society even today. The socialists want a reading of history where only their opposition does nasty things, and where socialists are only “sugar and spice and all things nice.” But that is not how it is, in the real world.

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — December 6, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  26. […] One of the books was Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography of Hannah Arendt that was written in 1982. I had mixed feelings about her value since I knew her only from her hatchet job on Hugo Chavez. (https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2007/08/20/elizabeth-young-bruehl-goes-to-venezuela/) […]

    Pingback by Heinrich Blücher: street-fighting man | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — May 17, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

  27. […] review, Young-Bruehl has targeted the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela as inimical to human freedom. I wrote about her trip there back in 2007 and noted that she held a meeting with the students at Simon Bolivar University where […]

    Pingback by The Hannah Arendt industry | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — February 1, 2014 @ 9:53 pm


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