Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 24, 2014

James Bloodworth and the real nightmare threatening Venezuela

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 2:20 pm

James Bloodworth: enthusiastic over Predator drones and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

A few days ago someone asked me for my views on Venezuela:

As to the Bolivarian Revolution in general, I’ve become more critical about a lot of aspects and negative side effects (e.g. lackluster and halfhearted performance on fostering cooperative industries and community efforts to self-govern in general, official corruption, crime, well-intentioned belligerence towards opposition media that was easy to portray as attacks on press freedom, etc.). In short, I felt there were areas in which Chavez went too far, and others not nearly far enough.

As to the recent events (the currency issues and protests/demonstrations by the opposition, and the government’s retaliation, I was wondering if you had an opinion on them, or were planning to write about them anytime soon?

I have to confess that I haven’t been paying that much attention to Venezuela for the past three years since the Arab Spring began. After Hugo Chavez fell in line with Cuba and took up the cause of Qaddafi and al-Assad, I felt totally alienated. With respect to Cuba, my sense of disappointment was so acute that I abandoned a project to complete a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal to Sam Farber’s idiotic new book. For some leftists, the Venezuelan and Cuban benediction of the Syrian torture states was the green light to begin operating as a Baathist propaganda outlet.

Even if Venezuela had not joined the Baathist cause, I probably would have begun paying less attention to what was looking less and less like “21st century socialism” and more and more like an institutionalized welfare state. For some on the left, the appearance of “communes” and ritualized condemnations of capitalism and imperialism was enough to make them believe that Venezuela was on the brink of a revolution. After nearly 15 years of Chavista rule, I simply stopped believing that the ruling party was ready to abolish private property, at least in the commanding heights of the economy. With a state-owned oil sector that could serve as a source of revenue for socially useful projects such as free health care and education, why would the government attack a bourgeoisie that seemed reconciled to the status quo? After all, without a Soviet Union to rely on, the agenda for socialist revolution in the periphery was put on hold for the foreseeable future.

It has only been with the recent escalation of street battles and a steady stream of propaganda in the liberal press that I have decided to pay closer attention to the unfolding events. When a FB friend who has been involved with solidarity with the Syrian revolution began writing on behalf of the anti-Maduro protests, I asked him for a reference to an article that took up their cause but only one that was written by a leftist. He referred me to an article that appeared in The Independent by one James Bloodworth with the lurid title of The left has a blind spot on Venezuela. When will it acknowledge that Chavez’s socialist dream has turned into a nightmare?

Since the FB friend is Pakistani, I felt some disappointment given Bloodworth’s support for Predator drone strikes in Pakistan. Anybody who is okay with wedding parties being blown to bits from behind a console in an air-conditioned bunker in New Mexico is not to be trusted when it comes to the fate of Venezuelans.

Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 6.38.14 AM

This was not my first encounter with Bloodworth. Back in September 2011, he wrote an article for Jacobin on The Cult of Che that obviously fit in with the social democratic orientation of its publisher, a 23-year-old fellow named Bhaskar Sunkara. Not much long after Jacobin got settled in ideologically, it became a virtual fountain of Baathist propaganda, no doubt inspired by contributing editor Max Ajl, a graduate student filled with loathing for Syrian revolutionaries and deep nostalgia for Muammar Qaddafi.

As it turned out, Bloodworth used the same talking points as Sam Farber on Cuba. In my article on the twosome titled Was Che a Stalinist, I called attention to Bloodworth’s highly questionable endorsement of a character who practically defines Islamophobia:

When asked by [Norm] Geras what he was reading at the time, Bloodworth responded, “Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I’m quite embarrassed that I haven’t read this already.” One suspects that if Bloodworth had been asked to name his favorite blog, he might have answered Pam Geller’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

Turning to Bloodworth’s article, I realized how out of touch I was with current events in Venezuela. He stated:

Unfortunately, supporters of the Chavez/Maduro government appear to be marooned in 2002, when a right-wing coup temporarily overthrew the then president Hugo Chavez. They are still of the belief that the media in Venezuela is overwhelmingly right wing and that the government is surrounded by hostile forces seeking to undermine the socialist revolution.

Gosh, I did not know that. I guess I was marooned back in 2002. After pacing around my apartment wondering what had gone wrong, I decided to take a look at the situation of the Venezuelan television stations that were known to me not only as bastions of anti-Chavista sentiment but activists in the coup. What had happened? Had the government marched in and nationalized the TV stations? Was an iron-fisted Leninist dictatorship unfolding? I was reminded of what Lenin said about the bourgeois press as recounted by John Reed in Chapter XI of The Ten Days that Shook the World:

We Bolsheviki have always said that when we reached a position of power we would close the bourgeois press. To tolerate the bourgeois newspapers would mean to cease being a Socialist. When one makes a Revolution, one cannot mark time; one must always go forward-or go back. He who now talks about the ‘freedom of the Press’ goes backward, and halts our headlong course toward Socialism.

Gosh-darn, had Venezuelan Bolsheviki marched in with their jackboots and seized the TV stations? Why hadn’t anybody clued me in? Maybe that 21st century socialism thing was finally kicking in, like time-released medication.

Well, the reality is more complicated. Bloodworth refers to the Venezuelan status quo as “an ostensibly socialist one.” What happened to the anti-Chavista press actually has much more to do with the capitalist marketplace than Bolsheviki terror.

In one instance, there was a clear-cut case of state intervention. RCTV was denied a license renewal in 2006 because of its key role in supporting the coup 4 years earlier. As might be expected, enemies of Hugo Chavez screamed bloody murder. After the coup was defeated by a mass mobilization, Chavez returned to power—something that RCTV decided was not newsworthy. Instead of carrying news reports about Hugo Chavez’s reinstatement, they aired Pretty Woman on a nonstop basis, hoping evidently that would get the masses’ minds off the fate of the nation. Frankly, I find the prospect of watching Julia Roberts continuously tantamount to the torture meted out to prisoners in Guantanamo.

Such cavalier disregard for the mandate of a licensed television station led John Dinges, Columbia University journalism school professor, to comment:

What RCTV did simply can’t be justified under any stretch of journalistic principles…. When a television channel simply fails to report, simply goes off the air during a period of national crisis, not because they’re forced to, but simply because they don’t agree with what’s happening, you’ve lost your ability to defend what you do on journalistic principles.

The other two pro-coup television stations went through a somewhat different evolution. Simon Romero, a typical NY Timesman with a vitriolic hatred for the Venezuelan government, explained how CEO Gustavo A. Cisneros decided to take his Venevisión in a new direction in a July 5, 2007 article. It turns out that the bottom line mattered more than ideology:

Three years ago, the media mogul Gustavo A. Cisneros was a leader of Venezuela’s opposition and his television network, Venevisión, regularly lambasted President Hugo Chávez.

So antagonistic were relations that Mr. Chávez accused him of conspiring to topple him. Government agents raided Mr. Cisneros’s ranch, fishing camp and offices.

The tensions were resolved only after former President Jimmy Carter, a longtime friend of Mr. Cisneros, brokered a meeting between the men in 2004 before a referendum to determine whether President Chávez should be recalled from office.

Today, as more details of that encounter emerge, Mr. Cisneros, who sits at the helm of a family fortune estimated at $6 billion, has become a target of the same opposition he once championed. Venevisión, critics say, is now positioned to benefit from Mr. Chávez’s recent decision to push the station’s main rival, RCTV, off the public airwaves.

Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas program at the Carter Center, said the meeting was part of a broader effort by Mr. Carter to ease tension between Mr. Chávez and private media groups

Mr. Carter put Mr. Chávez at ease by discussing their shared military background, according to people briefed on the meeting. (Mr. Carter had attended the United States Naval Academy; Mr. Chávez is a former lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan Army.)

At the meeting, according to Mr. Cisneros, Mr. Chávez compared his social programs to those of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I thought the reference to FDR was quite telling. Once you get past the anti-Communist hysteria about the Bolivarian revolution, you will discover that decisive sectors of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie see Chavista rule as quite compatible with their capital accumulation goals.

While the pro-Chavista left pins its hopes on a possible socialist transformation of Venezuela, I tend to see a continuing balancing act between the interests of the masses and the big bourgeoisie. The Financial Times, one of the more sophisticated and class-conscious foundation stones of the bourgeois press, advised its readers on December 3, 2008 that “Boligarchs” were quite comfortable with “socialist” Venezuela:

A new business elite is profiting since the industry shutdown and failed putsch of 2002, reports Benedict Mander

Ten years ago, Wilmer Ruperti was just another ambitious businessman. Now, as Hugo Chávez marks a decade in power as Venezuela’s president, Mr Ruperti is a billionaire shipping tycoon and one of the richest men in the country.

Many of Mr Ruperti’s peers claim that his success is owed to more than his business acumen. He has been branded a quintessential “boligarch”, one of a new breed of Venezuelan business magnates. They are said to enjoy close relations with Mr Chávez’s “Bolivarian” government, named after Simón Bolivar, South America’s 19th-century independence hero.

Mr Ruperti says he has been castigated for his role in breaking the infamous oil industry shutdown in 2002-03, which was engineered by Mr Chávez’s opponents, many of them business leaders, who were trying to topple his government.

After making oil tankers available to the government, thereby enabling the president to survive the opposition’s attempt to cut off his key revenue source, oil exports, Mr Ruperti was well positioned to win future shipping contracts with the state oil company, PDVSA, at a time when others were excluded.

“It was a big decision. Normally I don’t gamble like that,” says Mr Ruperti, who admits it paid off. “But really I was just complying with my contract.”

The final television station to be separated from the opposition was Globovision. Without a trace of irony, Huffington Post—a snarling enemy of President Maduro—described how the station succumbed to the Venezuelan version of the Bolsheviki:

The last remaining television station critical of Venezuela’s government is being sold to an insurance company owner who is apparently friendly with the ruling socialists, its owners announced Monday, following an unrelenting official campaign to financially strangle the broadcaster through regulatory pressure.

Excuse me? An insurance company owner “friendly with the ruling socialists” decides to buy a takeover-ripe TV station and presumably run it as a profit-making venture? What exactly does this have to do with dictatorial rule? Isn’t the right to buy and sell enterprises sacrosanct under the free enterprise system?

It is hard to say whether RCTV or Globovision was more of a disgrace to journalism. The station once played interviews of distraught prison mothers 269 times over four days and added the sound of gunfire to the reports. I think that this would be too much even for Roger Ailes.

The insurance company owner is one Juan Domingo Cordero. He paired up with Raul Gorrin, another insurance tycoon. Like the Boligarchs alluded to above, they have thrown in their lot with a government that is committed to protecting their interests as well as those of the ordinary working person or peasant. Good luck, I say.

It is hard for me to get worked up over a tycoon buying a TV station or newspaper. Ever since I was a young man, a lifetime ago, I have seen the same sort of takeover in the USA, always at my expense.

–Martin Peretz bought the New Republic and turned a once proud liberal magazine into a mailed fist for the state of Israel, contra funding in Nicaragua and other sordid causes.

–Rupert Murdoch bought both the Village Voice and the NY Post in NY and destroyed their journalistic integrity. What would have happened to me if I decided to throw Molotov cocktails to protest this turn of events? I wouldn’t have been thrown in jail. I would have been thrown under the jail.

Now there’s not much point in me recapitulating all the points that have been made about those trying to remove Maduro from office. All you need to do is go to Democracy Now, Counterpunch, or ZNet and you will get expert analysis from those who cover the Venezuela beat.

I will only say this. I have seen over and over again “democratic” opposition to Marxist “tyrants” in Latin America, who except for the case of Fidel Castro, were never much more than the continent’s version of FDR, including Hugo Chavez. In every single instance when the opposition prevailed, the country was thrown into a real nightmare alluded to in Bloodworth’s title. The opposition in Venezuela is no goddamned different from that in Chile under Allende or Argentina under Peron. It resents the fact that poor people of color have gotten invited to the dinner table, even if their share dwarves in comparison to the Boligarchs. But if they are successful, the pie will be redivided along the lines of the status quo ante.

Don’t take my word for that or Greg Wilpert’s. Take that of an article that appeared in the March 7, 2013 Bloomberg News, the service created for investors who rely on it for hardheaded advice on how to improve their bottom line:

Isabel Rojas, a 72-year-old retired seamstress, was one beneficiary of Chavez’s policies. Rojas said she was given free housing in the Valles del Tuy neighborhood southwest of Caracas after the apartment she lived in was deemed in risk of collapse. After retiring in 1986, she said she began receiving a 2000 bolivar ($318) per month pension for the first time in 1999 after Chavez took power.

‘Valued the Poor’

Rojas said in an interview that she was impressed as much by Chavez’s words as his deeds.

“He valued the poor just as much as the rich,” she said. “Everyone had the same value.”

Venezuela has the lowest rate of income inequality – the smallest gap between the rich and the poor – of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a March 5 report by UN-HABITAT, the United Nations Human Settlements Program.

The report, called “The State of Cities in Latin America and the Caribbean 2012,” uses the so-called Gini coefficient to measure inequality. It said Venezuela has the region’s lowest figure of 0.41, followed by Uruguay, and that the index has fallen “significantly” since 1990. The coefficient rates countries on a scale of zero to 1.0, with a higher number indicating greater inequality.

Call me cynical but my take on the middle-class protests in Venezuela is that it is less interested in democracy than it is in ratcheting the Gini coefficient back towards one. I remain a committed Marxist but when it comes to Maduro versus Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader who was a key figure in the 2002 coup attempt, I’ll stick with Maduro—warts and all. Or I should say Boligarchs and all.

7 Comments »

  1. “When a FB friend who has been involved with solidarity with the Syrian revolution began writing on behalf of the anti-Maduro protests, I asked him for a reference to an article that took up their cause but only one that was written by a leftist.”

    This is the reverse side of the coin whereby US anti-imperialists (I hesitate to say leftists, because I don’t that a lot of them are) embrace any country that rhetorically opposes US interests.

    I agree with your overall economic analysis, but there is a real urgency requiring the defense of the Maduro government, not because it is socialist, because, of course, it isn’t, but because the right, if it comes to power, is going to kill a lot of people. Chavista governments have been elected again and again, and the only way to overcome that base of support requires the terrorization of the populace. The overthrow of Maduro and the imposition of Chilean and Honduran style violence will be a disaster for the left all across the spectrum in the Americas. First, the constitution will be immediately thrown out (remember the coup leaders, the corporate oligarchy and the labor leaders all shouting “Approved, Approved, Approved” as each clause of the old constitution was briefly repealed in 2002), then the police and the paramilitaries will start carrying out detentions and killings.

    No doubt, the people of Venezuela perceive the peril, and I hope that they are arming themselves to fight back in the event the government falls. They are smart enough to avoid the mistakes made in Spain in 1936 and Chile in 1972-73, where people were actively discouraged from organizing in self-defense.

    One last note: the characterization of the Venezuelan government as violent and dictatorial is one of the most absurd propaganda campaigns in recent memory. Chavez had numerous opportunities to impose martial law and suppress his political opponents over the years, for example, after the 2002 coup, after the 2003 effort to sabotage the oil industry, and never did. Today, there is an article from a European in Tachira in western Venezuela, where opposition youth have shut down the city for days, and he was amazed at the lack of any aggressive police response.

    Comment by Richard Estes — February 24, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

  2. Hi Louis
    I agree overall with your analysis, High Rank Military and Oil Business People are well payed and have privileges and that seems a natural consequence because those are basically the Institutions that keep this government floating, and sure must be corruption. But on the other hand I don’t think the media inside the country is most pro-government because the other none oil business elite and the middle class don’t like the government and are angry because they’re the most affected by the currency controls. There is a lot of fox-news-like anti-government newspapers left like “el Nacional”.

    Now, about what you’ve said about Venezuela just trying to be a big Welfare State, well, you’re right, that’s basically the best thing this government did, but i think that they’re really trying to build socialism, what THEY think socialism is, and that seems rather a obvious statement, but are you really sure how a country with the historical conditions of Venezuela should go forward to socialism? I am sure many people inside the party (which has a lot of divisions, I just read for example that the marxist tendency from the PSUV asked for a expropriation of industries) asked themselves that questions, looked at the conditions and that’s the way they come up to. A mess, but wasn’t the Soviet Union the biggest mess of all?

    My point is, that it should be worth putting attention to it and not dismissing it so easily as you just said “”21st century socialism” and more and more like an institutionalized welfare state””, because at least with Chavez, they were trying to go sincerely to socialism by peaceful means not as my own country for example, Bolivia or Ecuador, which are social-democratic in the classic sense.

    From my point of view, the Venezuelan government never intended to abolish private property because that would immediately erode a lot of political support from neighbors and the revolution would have turned violent, which was something most people didn’t want. Same goes for closing the bourgeois press, but i agree that was a mistake, they should have been tougher with them when they had the chance and enact and a law limiting the powers of such Press just like Ecuador did this year (you should take a look at the Communication Law that they applied last year, something a lot of third world countries could do and it’s been demonized in the Western Media.)

    I would have wished too for a more vigorous Defense of the Left against all that awful Propaganda, but well, we’ll see what happens.

    I found really unfortunate that in Venezuela is a consensus among the Left that Assad and Yanukovych are good guys and everything is fault of that evil US Empire, even among young ones. Can you please give an advice of good blog post from you or some article that could open their eyes to some people?, the online news site aporrea.org is the main site for columns for chavists of all sorts, and I would like to translate it and post it there.

    Comment by Jorge — February 24, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

  3. […] James Bloodworth and the real nightmare threatening Venezuela (louisproyect.org) […]

    Pingback by Meet Venezuela’s Useful Idiots | pundit from another planet — February 24, 2014 @ 11:56 pm

  4. Jorge, see http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3121

    Comment by menasolnetus — February 25, 2014 @ 12:25 am

  5. Maduro decisively won the most recent local elections. I don’t think he is in trouble, the middle class can always call out big rallies in Venezuela. Severe poverty and poverty has been sharply reduced in the last 15 years and the population knows that.

    Comment by jeff — February 25, 2014 @ 5:08 am

  6. This might be of interest, from the capitalist horses’ mouth: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-02-25/venezuela-is-no-ukraine

    Agreed, “Bolivarism” is basically a Latin American FDR, minus the big transnational corporations that swung behind the original in 1936. The “national” bourgeoisie hate Bolivarism just as NAM, Chamber of Commerce and the old guard of the Republican Party hated “class traitor” FDR, who however had a big world war to silence and bribe them with. But where the Venezuelan oil industry – purged by Chavez after he came to power – plays the role of that countries’ main “transnational” support for the regime.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — February 25, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

  7. […] If any confirmation was necessary of the inadvisability of applying a litmus test to Syriza based on such considerations, I refer you to a column by James Bloodworth that appears in today’s Independent. Bloodworth, a long-time opponent of the Bolivarian revolution and Bashar al-Assad, likes to speak in the name of the left but is basically a liberal, not to speak of his shoddy journalism that plays fast and loose with Venezuelan statistics. […]

    Pingback by Against Manichaeism | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — January 30, 2015 @ 10:03 pm


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