Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 26, 2017

Venezuela reconsidered

Filed under: Counterpunch,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 2:48 pm

Chris Gilbert

Last Friday Chris Gilbert wrote an article for CounterPunch titled The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project  that like many I have read since 1999 try to put the late President into a Marxist context, in this instance claiming that “Hugo Chávez was an heir to Lenin’s political legacy.” Before replying to Gilbert, it might be useful to mention other attempts to ground the Bolivarian revolution in one strand of Marxism or another.

In the September 2011 issue of Dialectical Anthropology, Steve Ellner posed the question of whether the process of change in Venezuela resembled a “Permanent Revolution”. After reviewing five distinct stages of the process, Ellner asserts that “the sequence of events and the strategy that influenced them recall the concept of permanent revolution espoused by Leon Trotsky”. Like many other Marxists who have weighed in on post-Chávez Venezuela, there is little evidence that Ellner still expects Venezuela to have its own version of October 1917 any time soon, especially since the native versions of Kerensky and Kornilov have the upper hand.

Michael Lebowitz has written a number of books making connections between the process in Venezuela and what some might consider a Marxism influenced by István Mészáros, including one I reviewed for CounterPunch in August 2015 . In that article, I made a point that I will repeat later on in this article, namely that Venezuela’s woes today have much to do with its entanglement in global capitalist property relations. Even with the best of intentions and inspired by the best Marxism has to offer from either Lebowitz or Mészáros, there were objective constraints that made a socialist Venezuela very difficult if not impossible to attain.

Many on the left, including Jeffery Webber whose new book The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left I reviewed for CounterPunch last month, dismiss Venezuela as a failed populist but neo-liberal experiment. They too hearken back to Marxist theory but mainly as a yardstick with which to measure (or spank) the “pink tide” governments for abandoning Marxist principles. Perhaps if Hugo Chávez had been reading Jeffery Webber rather than István Mészáros, the situation would not be so bleak. (Needless to say, when you are dealing with tenured professors, the emphasis is on reading.)

Last but not least we have George Cicariello-Maher, who like Gilbert invokes Lenin to help us understand the process in Venezuela. Cicariello-Maher is passionately devoted to the communes in Venezuela that pose a “dual power” threat to the capitalist state just as the soviets did in 1917. It is a bit complicated when you consider that the millions of dollars that have helped to get the communes off the ground in Venezuela came from that very capitalist state.

Turning now to Chris Gilbert’s essay, it is an homage to Chávez at a moment when ultraleft sectarians are blaming his policies for the current crisis. Gilbert’s focus is not on the economic woes of the country that some leftists attribute to the Bolivarian revolution’s failure to transcend its status as an oil rentier state or its adoption of a two-tiered currency model that led to runaway inflation but on Chávez’s political acumen in pursuing a single-minded strategic orientation as a latter-day Lenin.

Continue reading

June 26, 2014

Left Forum 2014: panel on post-Chavez Venezuela

Filed under: Left Forum,ultraleftism,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

This is the fourth in a series of videos I made at the recently concluded Left Forum. I apologize in advance for a brief presence of my bald pate toward the middle of the event for about 10 minutes, which thankfully did not interfere with the audio. A fellow videographer tipped me off about this intrusion and I promise it won’t happen again.

Since the panel included Steve Ellner, I was especially motivated to cover this event. For my money, Steve is the sharpest analyst of Venezuela politics. Period. During the Q&A I commented that despite the fact that I fully supported the process in Venezuela, it seemed appropriate at this point to stop referring to it as “21st century socialism” since there is little likelihood that it will ever lead to the abolition of capitalism. It amounts to a Keynesian type economic program that is committed to the welfare of the masses, something that is inspiring in its own right. Unfortunately, Steve’s reply was not recorded but he made the point that nobody in Venezuela, either on the right or the left, feels that Venezuela is socialist. But what is equally important is the growth of working class institutions of economic and political power that will ultimately clash with capitalist power. This is what explains the sharp clashes in Venezuela now, a focus of the panel presentations that were on a uniformly high level.

This prompts me to say a few words about an article by Chris Gilbert, an American now teaching at a Venezuelan university, that appeared on Counterpunch yesterday. Like many others, particularly among the “Leninists” in the ISO, Gilbert expresses impatience with the Bolivarian process so much so that he invokes the Russian Narodniks as an example of the sort of thing that is necessary in Latin America, including Venezuela.

I am sure that Chris means well but he is a bit confused about the history of our movement, especially when he writes about Marx’s disgust with those who promoted reformism in his name:

Marx himself thought differently. While growing increasingly exasperated by the German Social Democratic party and its ambition to plod (and pact) itself toward a peaceful victory through the tireless accumulation of forces, he found a breath of fresh air in the character of Russian pistol-bearing narodniks whom he called “terrorists.” These folks knew how to live with brio and die with dignity. They had a revolutionary ethic and thought creatively. They read and studied Marx but did not take him to be the last word. Perhaps the twentieth-century figure most like them is the young Fidel Castro.

To start with, Marx was not unhappy with the German party contesting in elections and in other open and legal arenas but with the influence of LaSalle’s ideology on a wing of the party that reflected an opportunist tendency to adapt to the Junkers welfare state taking shape under Bismarck. There is not the slightest hint that Marx proposed “the propaganda of the deed” in Germany. His main goal was to reorient the German party for the need to struggle uncompromisingly against the bourgeois parties until the conquest of power was posed.

Gilbert links to Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marx and the Russian Road” but Shanin’s book based on an analysis of Marx’s letters to the Russian populists has zero to do with shooting Czarist officials. Instead it is an embrace of the idea that the precapitalist peasant communes could form the basis of a revolutionary government that could be the first step in a European-wide proletarian revolution. Marx explained that his focus on Britain’s economic history that proceeded from feudalism to capitalism as a basis for the socialist stage was not a universal template. He thought that the capitalist stage could be skipped entirely.

Chris seems to grasp this to a certain degree when he wrote:

 The narodniks of the People’s Will Party used violence because they did not see history as a linear universal progression in which all must follow the same route. They felt that the Russian people were sitting on potential socialism and socialist potentialities. The violence was the means to release these potentialities.

However, the Narodniks did not use violence in order to skip the capitalist stage. Instead, they did so as a way of inspiring the masses to take revolutionary action. Marx’s thinking was entirely different. He believed that socialists should be part of the mass movement, pushing it to revolutionary conclusions. In contrast, the Narodniks operated in small conspiratorial circles and had little interest in organizing strikes or running for the Duma. In fact it was their very elitist method that led to their legal party becoming a reformist obstacle to socialism—the Social Revolutionary Party of Alexander Kerensky. Terrorism and electoral opportunism went hand in hand.

Chris is fed up with the Latin American left that bases itself on Lenin’s critique of ultraleftism, directed against the immature Communist Parties that were trying to emulate the Bolsheviks. While I have no use for those who cite Lenin’s pamphlet to justify support for bourgeois candidates, it remains a good corrective to boneheaded tactics that isolate the left.

But it would be useful to remind ourselves of what Lenin had to say about the Narodniks, who had little to do with Fidel Castro who ran as an Ortodoxo candidate and who was active in the student movement. Even after he took up arms, the July 26th Movement used every opening afforded it under the Batista dictatorship to mobilize the masses, including repeated attempts to build general strikes through the trade union movement that required reaching out to the CP that had supported Batista in the 1930s and 40s.

For Lenin’s views on the Narodniks, I recommend a look at the 1902 article, aptly titled “Revolutionary Adventurism”:

The Social-Democrats will always warn against adventurism and ruthlessly expose illusions which inevitably end in complete disappointment. We must bear in mind that a revolutionary party is worthy of its name only when it guides in deed the movement of a revolutionary class. We must bear in mind that any popular movement assumes an infinite variety of forms, is constantly developing new forms and discarding the old, and effecting modifications or new   combinations of old and new forms. It is our duty to participate actively in this process of working out means and methods of struggle. When the students’ movement became sharper, we began to call on the workers to come to the aid of the students without taking it upon our selves to forecast the forms of the demonstrations, without promising that they would result in an immediate transference of strength, in lighting up the mind, or a special elusiveness. When the demonstrations became consolidated, we began to call for their organisation and for the arming of the masses, and put forward the task of preparing a popular uprising. Without in the least denying violence and terrorism in principle, we demanded work for the preparation of such forms of violence as were calculated to bring about the direct participation of the masses and which guaranteed that participation. We do not close our eyes to the difficulties of this task, but will work at it steadfastly and persistently, undeterred by the objections that this is a matter of the “vague and distant future.”

That has far more in common with Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement than the Narodniks of Lenin’s day or sad attempts to emulate them now.


March 14, 2014

Poverty reduction in Venezuela

Filed under: economics,journalism,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 12:17 am

As many of you are aware, Salon.com has been a source of vicious anti-Chavista propaganda for quite some time now. An article by Simeon Tegel titled “5 myths about the Venezuela crisis” is a prime example. What caught my eye particularly was this:

If Maduro and Chavez have a single claim to justify their combined 15 years in power, it’s that they have significantly benefited Venezuela’s poor majority. No one seriously questions that the percentage of Venezuelans classed as poor has dropped from around 50 percent to 30 percent over that period. The problem is that many other countries in Latin America, including staunchly free-market economies Chile and Peru, have registered similar progress over the same period. Just take a look at this graph by Argentine economist Lucas Llach.

Another liberal publication that has it in for Venezuela is the Independent newspaper that gave journalist James Bloodworth the opportunity to make exactly the same point as Tegel, even citing the same graph (since Bloodworth’s article appeared first, it was obvious that Tegel was up to a little plagiarism.)

Between 2007 and 2011 there was a reduction in extreme poverty in Venezuela by some 38 per cent. Impressive no doubt. But the percentage of people who escaped extreme poverty in Brazil during the same period was 44 per cent, in Peru 41 per cent and in Uruguay 63 per cent.

The graph both journalists referred to was actually produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). One of the things I have learned about statistics is that they are insufficient for telling the whole story, especially when it comes to questions of wealth and poverty—and Venezuela in particular. The problem with the graph is that it cuts off before 2012. After 2012, poverty reduction slows down in all of the cited countries except for the two that are demonized so frequently in places like Salon.com: Venezuela and Ecuador. (I suppose that I don’t have to remind you that Ecuador is another country that gets bashed by liberals like Tegel and Bloodworth at every opportunity.)

The latest report from ECLAC makes exactly such a case:

Six of the 11 countries with information available in 2012 recorded falling poverty levels (see table 1). The largest drop was in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where poverty fell by 5.6 percentage points (from 29.5% to 23.9%) and extreme poverty by 2.0 percentage points (from 11.7% to 9.7%). In Ecuador, poverty was down by 3.1 percentage points (from 35.3% to 32.2%) and indigence by 0.9 percentage points (from 13.8% to 12.9%).

Another statistic that does not enter Tegel and Bloodworth’s calculations is the GINI coefficient, a measure of income inequality. Bloodworth would probably have not mentioned Brazil if his editor had given him instructions to deal with GINI statistics. At  .546 it is close to Guatemala and Honduras in terms of inequality (a GINI of 1 would be perfectly unequal; zero would be perfectly equal.) At .447, Venezuela is the most economically equal country in Latin America. (http://www.quandl.com/demography/gini-index-all-countries)

I noticed Bloodworth’s favorable reference to Peru, proof supposedly that “Boring social democracy may be less romantic, but it has been far more successful at tackling poverty than the Chavez/Maduro model.” Did Bloodworth think that his readers would not bother to check who is the head of state in Peru? I know that my readers would.

It is none other than Ollanta Humala, a figure who has come in for as much redbaiting as Hugo Chavez over the years. The gold standard for redbaiting—Fox News—just about equated the two politicians in a 2011 article titled “Ollanta Humala of Peru –Hugo Chavez’s Secret Candidate”. After Humala’s election, The Australian rendered its verdict on the direction that Peru would take, a far cry from “boring social democracy”:

A FORMER lieutenant-colonel moulded in the image of the Marxist Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chavez was elected President of Peru yesterday, adding to the trend of the leftward political drift across Latin America.

Ollanta Humala, 48, narrowly defeated the daughter of an imprisoned former leader in an election campaign that laid bare the rift between the millions of chronically poor and the middle class. The affluent fear punitive taxes, in the style of Mr Humala’s Venezuelan mentor, and a reverse of economic reforms that made Peru one of the most successful economies in Latin America.

March 9, 2014

Honduras, Venezuela, and crime: the double standard

Filed under: crime,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 1:49 pm

Mary Anastasia O’Grady: don’t ask her to be consistent as it is a waste of time

Wall Street Journal, June 29 2009
The Americas
Honduras Defends Its Democracy
Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Hugo Chávez’s coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation’s constitution.

It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking.

But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya’s abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground.

Read full article

* * * *

Wall Street Journal, August 22 2010
The Americas
Chávez’s Next Big Problem: Crime
Rising street violence in Venezuela is beginning to hurt the president among his constituency.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

When a photograph of 12 chaotically strewn, naked corpses at the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas ran on the front page of the Venezuelan daily El Nacional 10 days ago, Hugo Chávez reacted with indignation.

But his ire was not directed at morgue management or, since the dead were most likely murder victims found in the street, at those responsible for public security in the capital.

Mr. Chávez was angry with the newspaper. He immediately blasted the wider press for its recent reports on Venezuelan violence, which has reached epic proportions. A Chávez-controlled tribunal soon issued a ruling prohibiting the publication of such graphic images. After an international outcry of censorship, the ruling was amended to apply only to El Nacional and one other newspaper.

Why, then, should the morgue photo cause alarm? Perhaps because in the runup to the Sept. 26 national assembly elections, the issue of violent crime in poor neighborhoods risks awakening voters.

Though the government has stopped publishing official crime statistics, the nongovernmental Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) has claimed there were 16,047 murders in 2009. This is up from 14,589 in 2008 and 4,550 in 1998, the year Mr. Chávez was first elected.

Read full article

* * * *


Honduras murder rate falls in 2013, but remains world’s highest

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:52pm EST

(Reuters) – The murder rate in Honduras, the Central American country with the world’s highest number of homicides per capita, fell last year according to a United Nations-affiliated report released on Monday, although the number of “atrocious crimes” ticked up.

Honduras has suffered a wave of violence in recent years, as Mexican drug cartels have expanded into the country, enlisting local street gangs and using the country’s often lawless Caribbean coastline as a pit stop for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America.

The murder rate fell by 6.5 percentage points in 2013, a security institute sponsored by the U.N. and part of Honduras’ national university said in its annual report.

Migdonia Ayestas, who leads the institute, told Reuters that violent homicides fell to 79 per 100,000 people last year from 85.5 in 2012.

“But we saw a noticeable increase in the number of atrocious crimes, including mutilations and decapitations, with bodies thrown into the street, which cause terror in the population,” she said.

The atrocities, which are a relatively new phenomenon in Honduras, bear the hallmarks of Mexican cartels, who engage in a grisly form of one-upmanship to instill fear in rival gangs.

Honduras, a country of some 8.5 million people, suffered an average of 19 murders each day in 2013, down from 20 the year before, the report found.

Neighboring El Salvador has regularly had the No. 2 murder rate for countries not at war, although comparable figures were not immediately available.

Putting an end to Honduras’ cycle of violence was the main theme in last year’s election, won by the National Party’s Juan Hernandez. He has vowed to restore order, adopting a militarized approach to taming the warring gangs.

Critics say a similar military-led move in Mexico, rolled out by former President Felipe Calderon in 2007, only served to increase the violence as the cartels splintered, creating dangerous power vacuums.

Others fear the possibility of rights abuses as soldiers do a job usually performed by police.

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.

March 8, 2013

Letter sent to NYT reporter

Filed under: journalism,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 7:27 pm

William Neuman

Dear Mr. William Neuman

I can’t say I am surprised that in comparing Venezuela’s economic statistics to other Latin American nations not on the newspaper’s shit-list you did not include Gini coefficients. As you may know, the higher the number, the higher the inequality. So here are the stats for the countries you deemed more “successful” than Venezuela, which has a Gini coefficient of 39.

Brazil: 51.9
Chile: 52.1
Colombia: 56
Peru: 46

I can’t say I blame you for omitting Gini coefficients. That is not the way to crawl your way to the top of the heap at the gray lady, a newspaper whose ace financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin had the distinction of writing a column not long after Occupy Wall Street broke out advising a banker friend that he had nothing to worry about.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect, a long-time NYT reader and critic

ps. You wouldn’t be related to Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, would you?

March 7, 2013

Brilliant take-down of the bourgeois press

Filed under: journalism,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 1:34 am

Idiot Joy Showland

Every Hugo Chávez obituary in the Western press

by Sam Kriss

Darth Hugo Destruktor Chávez, the outspoken and inflammatory Venezuelan leader, died yesterday in Caracas when the Invisible Hand of the free market reached down his throat and shook loose his gall bladder. He is survived by his four children and his millions-strong army of terrifying cyborg drones.

To his supporters and those implanted with his mind-controlling Chavismo-chips, Chávez was Emmanuel, the reborn Christ. To his detractors, he was Double Hitler. As ever, the truth is somewhere in the middle – while he was certainly born, he was not Christ; and while there was only one of him, he was most definitely Hitler.

Hugo Chávez exploded onto the world stage in September of 2005, when he took the stand at the United Nations General Assembly to complain at length about the air conditioning. However, he first came to prominence in the hitherto-unknown land of Venezuela in 1992. In that year, he and a band of avaricious raiders attempted to steal the Seer’s Eye, an enormous sapphire kept in the vaults of the Federal Legislative Palace. Thankfully, his plot was foiled, and the stone was destroyed before it could be used as a component in Chávez’s Ionising Doom Cannon, a laser weapon that would have been capable of extinguishing the Sun.

However, that which is dead cannot die, and Chávez escaped the dungeon dimension he was cast into to come to power in 1998. While not going so far as to actually do anything remotely dictatorial, Chávez was far from a democratic leader. Instead of competing honestly in elections, he provided services and raised the standard of living for the people of Venezuela, ensuring their gratitude and thereby gaining an unfair advantage at the polls. Much of the funds for this insidious election tactic of ‘making things better’ were rerouted from the newly nationalised oilfields: through this wanton kleptocracy, billions of petrodollars were withheld from deserving rich white people. Under his rule, the murder rate soared; a tend analysts have linked to his predilection for riding round Caracas slums at night and picking off pedestrians with a hunting rifle.

Absolutely nothing happened in April of 2002.

On the international stage, too, Chávez made some severe missteps. From his innumerable lazy Sunday morning lie-ins with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, in which he and the tie-hating weirdo spent hours curled up together on the sofa watching reruns of Friends, to his decision to travel back in time to 1939 and sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on behalf of both nations, Chávez maintained a policy of automatic support for tyrants, dictators, traffic wardens, accordion players, queue-jumpers, and other evildoers.

For all the vaguely defined suffering that I’ll assume he’s caused, Chávez’s death opens up new opportunities for Latin America. Freed from his yoke, leaders across the continent are now free to abandon his schemes for mutual assistance and non-usurious development lending. Only a broad network of grassroots citizen activists stands between the Venezuelan people and the rapprochement with financial imperialism that they definitely want, even if they don’t know it yet.

I’ve always thought that a good way to test the sincerity of anyone who claims to be on the Left is to find out their attitude to Hugo Chávez. Those who try to disavow him tend to be, in general, useless: they want a pure, ideal socialism, not socialism as a real material movement. Chávez wasn’t perfect. In some areas he went too far; in many he didn’t go nearly far enough. Nonetheless the immense good his Bolivarian Revolution has done for the people of Venezuela – and for people across Latin America and the world – is undeniable. What must be remembered, though, is that Hugo Chávez didn’t do any of this alone. His achievements were those of every doctor, teacher, worker, farmer and organiser who worked to improve the lives of those around them. The social movements he helped build and connect will long survive him. Descanse en paz. La lucha sigue.

March 6, 2013

George Galloway defends Hugo Chavez’s legacy against rightwing asshole

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 11:50 pm

March 5, 2013

Hugo Chavez is dead

Filed under: obituary,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 10:39 pm

Hugo Chávez: poor boy from the plains who became leftwing figurehead

Venezuelan leader leaves legacy of literacy and healthcare for poor alongside crumbling infrastructure and dependence on oil

Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, has died after a long battle with cancer, according to his vice-president Nicolás Maduro. Photograph: George Tuley/AP

No one imagined it would end like this. A ravaged body, a hospital bed, a shroud of silence, invisible. Hugo Chávez‘s life blazed drama, a command performance, and friend and foe alike always envisaged an operatic finale.

He would rule for decades, transform Venezuela and Latin America, and bid supporters farewell from the palace balcony, an old man, his work complete. Or, a parallel fantasy: he would tumble from power, disgraced and defeated by the wreckage of revolution, ending his days a hounded pariah.

Instead, the 58-year-old leader, whose death was reported on Tuesday by his vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, succumbed to cancer at a hospital in Caracas, departing this world behind drapes of official secrecy. The boy from the plains of Barinas who loved to draw and sing and grew up to be an army officer, a coup plotter, a president and world figure, leaves an ambiguous legacy of triumph, ruin and uncertainty.

It was a surreal, slow-motion death. He announced his cancer in June 2011 to a stunned nation. The comandante, sick? He was indestructible: possessor, as Gabriel Garcìa Márquez once noted, of a body of reinforced concrete. Chávez drank more than 30 cups of black coffee a day, worked till 3am, talked on his weekly TV show without script (or interruption) for eights hours straight.

“We will beat this,” he told Venezuela, enlisting the country in his fight for survival, and, until late last year when he disappeared from view for treatment in Cuba and officials turned grave, the government insisted for a year and a half that, no matter how bloated and haggard he looked, he was recovering.

During 2012 Chávez would break spells of seclusion by appearing on TV clutching that day’s newspaper, like a hostage’s proof of life video. Many Venezuelans were convinced the cancer was a ruse, that he was faking it to wrongfoot opponents.

But he was dying. The type of cancer and its prognosis were official secrets, kept in the same vault as Fidel Castro’s medical records.

Death will return Chávez to the spotlight. His funeral promises to be a vast, tumultuous affair of weeping throngs and foreign leaders’ cavalcades. The millions of mostly poor Venezuelans who considered Chávez a champion since he was first elected in 1998 will be bereft.

“Uh, ah, Chávez no se va,” went the chant. Uh, ah, Chávez won’t go. A gleeful, defiant riposte to opponents who tried in vain to oust him. Now he has gone, but whither his “21st-century socialist revolution”, a unique experiment in power fuelled by charisma and bountiful oil revenues?

Read full article


January 29, 2013

Letter to the New York Times ombudsman on Hugo Chavez

Filed under: media,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 3:31 pm

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

After reading the hatchet job on Hugo Chavez by Alberto Barrera Tyszka and Cristina Marcano in last Tuesday’s op-ed page, I decided to check the paper’s archives (I am a subscriber) to see if there is a general trend.

I was shocked to discover that a certain Francisco Toro blogs at http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/. He can best be described as having the same relationship to Venezuela that someone like the Miami expatriate community has to Cuba: frothing-at-the-mouth hostility. I suppose that the paper might excuse itself for offering him a blog to spout his propaganda if it didn’t have such a terrible record in its Venezuela reportage.

In doing a bit of digging on Mr. Toro, who received an MSc from the London School of Economics, I discovered that he resigned his from his reporting job in January 2003. Frankly, he should have never been hired in the first place. This is the letter he sent to his editor Patrick J. Lyons:

“After much careful consideration, I’ve decided I can’t continue reporting for the New York Times. As I examine the problem, I realize it would take much more than just pulling down my blog to address your conflict of interests concerns. Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I don’t think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands. For better or for worse, my country’s democracy is in peril now, and I can’t possibly be neutral about that.”

I don’t know. It seems to me that any newspaper trying to persuade the world that it is impartial would have questioned Mr. Toro’s credentials from the get-go. But then again, hiring him was not the first instance of assigning someone to cover Venezuela with a clear animus toward Hugo Chavez.

In 2003 Al Giordano of Narco News provided this background (http://www.narconews.com/Issue30/article584.html) on Juan Forero, Mr. Toro’s predecessor:

•  Also last April, New York Times reporter Juan Forero reported that President Chávez had “resigned” when, in fact, Chávez had been kidnapped at gunpoint. Forero did not source his knowingly false claim. Forero, on April 13, wrote a puff piece on dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona – installed by a military coup – as Carmona disbanded Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitution and sent his shocktroops house to house in a round-up of political leaders in which sixty supporters of Chávez were assassinated. Later that day, after the Venezuelan masses took back their country block by block, Carmona fled the national palace and Chávez, the elected president, was restored to office.

•  Forero – who, Narco News reported in 2001, allowed US Embassy officials to monitor his interviews with mercenary pilots in Colombia, without disclosing that fact in his article – was caught again last month in his unethical pro-coup activities in Venezuela. Narco News Associate Publisher Dan Feder revealed that Forero and LA Times reporter T. Christian Miller had written essentially the same story, interviewing the same two shopkeepers in a wealthy suburb of Caracas, and the same academic “expert” in a story meant to convince readers that a “general strike” was occurring in Venezuela. The LA Times Readers Representative later revealed that Forero and Miller interviewed the shopkeepers together. Neither disclosed that fact.

Now I understand that the NYT hires people like Toro and Forero for a reason. It has the same relationship to the U.S. State Department that Pravda had to the Kremlin. I suppose that the only solution to such incestuous ties is to work for the transformation of an economic system that allows—as A.J. Liebling once put it— freedom of the press to be guaranteed only to those who own one.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

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