Venezuela and the postcolonial post-racism of the international left

Venezuela and the postcolonial post-racism of the international left

A recent exchange with a particularly unpleasant member of the international prochavista left resulted in me meditating on the rhetoric and arguments behind the leftist cheerleading of distant regimes.

The individual in question appeared to be a Leninist, which may explain her tone of argument. In a rather curious piece of rhetoric, she referred to an entirely discredited Libcom thread which led to a poster being banned and denounced by his NEFAC comrades, as well as making a bizarre claim that El Libertario were "right wingers who say they are anarchists in order to fool the left". The newspaper also attracted her ire for attacking Chomsky's sudden softness for Chávez. How dare us commit sacrilege against such an idol, after all!

We decided against continuing the correspondence with her, partially because it was being conduced via an intermediary, but mostly due to a sense of ennui amongst folk who have been shouted down for 11 years by disingenous hacks repeating the same, tired lies. However, there was one argument in particular which stuck with me, largely because it has some resonance with some so-called anarchists. She was in favour of Chávez, she said, because "it is clear that the vast majority of the poorest Venezuelans support the government's policies".

Of course, firstly, it is far from clear who supports el proceso and by how much. In the recent PSUV primaries for this year's parliamentary elections, only 38% of the party's members even bothered to vote, suggesting widespread disillusionment amongst card-carrying members. Another (nationwide) survey implied that there are now (marginally) more antichavistas than chavistas (32% to 31%), while 63% considered that "things are generally going badly" and 62% actually thought that their problems are getting worse. Hardly surprising then, that yet another survey puts the figure of expected abstention in November at over half: 51%.

Now, we all know that polls are not the most reliable of public barometers, and that we have to consider who commissioned them and to what end. Moreover, it is possible that many people's minds will change in between now and November: Chávez is certainly hoping that his presentation of the already-mooted meagre minimum wage increase (covered back in January here) as a Mayday gift to the nation's workers, as well as all the nationalist pomp and ceremony around the celebrations of the Venezuelan bicentenary, will push up his ratings. Noone is quite sure what will happen in November, hence the increased militarisation of chavismo. My point, however, is this: it is far from clear that "the great majority of the poorest Venezuelans" support the government; in fact, if anything, the evidence suggests that opinion on him is divided.

Moreover, even if that were to be the case that Chávez counted on the support of the vast majority of the country, that wouldn't in itself warrant an abandonment of criticism and struggle against the regime. History is littered with successful populist leaders who have managed to manipulate their subjects. That, more than anything else, is the art of politics, after all; the ability to simultaneously gauge and fabricate public opinion, the exact thing that we are struggling against.

So why would someone use a politician's popularity as an argument for unconditional support? One part of this is linked to the ugly, lazy dichotomies which some "anarchists" - especially towards the end which Libcommers have taken to calling "neo-platformists" - manoevre, often under the misnomer of "pragmatism". In said dichotomy there only exists two options in a stagnant, inertiatic world: either attempt to dodge the pink elephant in the room by refusing to denounce the populist leader (after all, wouldn't wanna offend these folk and their religious conviction in him) or risk complete alienation by confronting the sacred cow and criticising him. Like I say, this rather narrow view of world events confines every political landscape into a narrow, pre-prescribed set of events.

Moreover, it requires a sort of doublethink which already belies the proximity of said radicals to the populist ideology: after all, only a chavista could really believe that s/he is a part of a popular movement, and even then, it would demand a certain amount of self-denial (in the case of El Libertario's critic, her observations were based on a visit to Venezuela that, as a member of a prochavista organisation, was presumably organised in conjunction with the Venezuelan state). To my mind, accrediting popularity to a populist amounts to something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

More crucially however, such lines of arguments expose the post-colonial left as the ugly, patronising creature that it really is. It refers to a worldview - influenced by a clunky, poorly-digested comprehension of developmentalism - in which Westerners are superior in intelligence and education to those folk in Thailand, Venezuela and Africa, which is why Westerners can demand social revolution while the working class in ex-colonies can only demand literacy programmes and state-run healthcare. Once bolivarianismo et al have failed, then - and only then - will Latin Americans be able to criticise social democracy. Of course, by that point, the former colonial powers will have developed that much further, so the formerly colonised will have to continue pursuing them on an identical path of development.

However, contrary to the Sims-like world of the leftist cheerleader, the trajectory of developing countries is not identical to that of the developed world. It is not merely a simple question of charting various stages in an atemporal vacuum. Today's developing world has access to 21st century technology, an increased level of global self-awareness and analysis, an elite which lives in an opulence that is comparable - even superior in many ways - to the developed world's elite, etc. As a result, the capacity exists within developing countries for cogent analysis, criticism and even struggle against populism. Whereas populism and weak infrastructure can be an obstacle to autonomous political activity in, say, Palestine, in places such as Mexico and South Africa, continued poverty and scarcity have merely served to radicalise workers and social movements.

In Venezuela, there is an anarchist community, mainly based around - but not limited to - the El Libertario newspaper. More importantly, there is a growing number of strikes, demonstrations and social struggles over housing, food shortages, workers' rights, and many more issues. The assertion that the nation is united behind chavismo can be attributed to either despicable disingenuity or hopeless naivete, while the blanket recourse to blanket cultural relativism with regards to developing world populists represents a sort of noble savage-era condescension which borders on racism.

Posted By

Caiman del Barrio
May 16 2010 21:31

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Comments

slothjabber
May 16 2010 22:02

Bravo.

I think there's a whole host of nails being hit on heads there, especially about the idea that nationalist populism (if sufficiently anti-American of course) is a necessary stage of development for former colonies. See Zimbabwe, Iraq, or any other of the various shitty regimes that leftists seek to support.

Sorry. Just been on RevLeft dipping my toes in the muddy waters of Maoist filth, it's lovely to come back to LibCom where things are both serene and well argued.

Devrim
May 17 2010 06:47
CdB wrote:
More crucially however, such lines of arguments expose the post-colonial left as the ugly, patronising creature that it really is. It refers to a worldview - influenced by a clunky, poorly-digested comprehension of developmentalism - in which Westerners are superior in intelligence and education to those brown folk in Thailand, Venezuela and Fuckamonkey in Africa, which is why Westerners can demand social revolution while the working class in ex-colonies can only demand literacy programmes and state-run healthcare. Once bolivarianismo et al have failed, then - and only then - will Latin Americans be able to criticise social democracy. Of course, by that point, the former colonial powers will have developed that much further, so the formerly colonised will have to continue pursuing them on an identical path of development.

I am not sure that I like this line of arguing. It is one that Leo used to use on Revleft. I can see a certain amount of logic in the argument, but what it ends up with is shouting 'racist' at people, which I don't think is the way we should approach these things.

It is an interesting piece though, and I have enjoyed your stuff from Venezuela.

Devrim

Khawaga
May 17 2010 16:50
Devrim wrote:
I am not sure that I like this line of arguing. It is one that Leo used to use on Revleft. I can see a certain amount of logic in the argument, but what it ends up with is shouting 'racist' at people, which I don't think is the way we should approach these things.

It does end up shouting 'racist' at people, but "development" is inherently racist and simply an extension of colonialism and colonial attitudes to the locals. I've worked in that industry and it's filled with well meaning liberals that don't realize the deep seated racism that is the basis of "us" helping "them" by telling them how they should develop (I should know, I held exactly those same views some time ago). Leftist support for Chavez, Morales etc. is an extension of this type of thinking because the poor locals should "know better" than go against their saviour.

What CdB is writing could just as well have been applied to Nepal, Kerala or even the social programs of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Farce
May 17 2010 17:30

Also, in my experience, the kinds of dickheads who get really really worked up about Chavez still have soft spots for the mythical Labour left. They may want social revolution at some point in the abstract, but in the meantime we need to keep the tories out, and once Livingstone/McDonnell et al have failed, then and only then will British people be able to criticise social democracy. If anything, the Chavistas I've known have generally been more ambitious in their ideas about what should happen in Venezuela than anything they'll talk about here. Obv not all pro-Chavez leftists are the same, but overall I think it's misleading to counterpose their views on domestic and international affairs as if they were raving militants in a British context.

Devrim
May 17 2010 20:35
Khawaga wrote:
It does end up shouting 'racist' at people, but "development" is inherently racist and simply an extension of colonialism and colonial attitudes to the locals. I've worked in that industry and it's filled with well meaning liberals that don't realize the deep seated racism that is the basis of "us" helping "them" by telling them how they should develop (I should know, I held exactly those same views some time ago). Leftist support for Chavez, Morales etc. is an extension of this type of thinking because the poor locals should "know better" than go against their saviour.

What CdB is writing could just as well have been applied to Nepal, Kerala or even the social programs of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Yes, I can see what he is saying, and even that there is a certain amount of racism in the argument. The fact that I don't like it doesn't mean that I don't think it is correct. It just means that I don't want us to come across like the sort of people who shout 'racist' at those we disagree with.

Devrim

petey
May 17 2010 20:48
Khawaga wrote:
well meaning liberals that don't realize the deep seated racism that is the basis of "us" helping "them" by telling them how they should develop

this.

i see what devrim means (i think), but caiman supported his point here, and this post at least does not come across as just shouting 'racist'.

Alf
May 17 2010 21:06

Agreed that racism is an issue here, if not the main one, which is support for a bourgeois regime.

Caiman: on another thread you seemed to think that the ICC had denounced El Libertario as leftist. I think I found proof that this was not the case. In other words, El Libertario's stance against Chavism is worthy of our solidarity. Do you not think that the same applies to the ICC's section there, which has been fighting for communism in very difficult circumstances since the 1960s?

Khawaga
May 17 2010 21:16

Devrim, I agree that shouting "racist" at someone is not the way to go in a discussion as it would just shut it down rather than opening up debate. But it is extremely important to uncover the structural racism that comes from large parts of the liberal and Trotskyite left.

Joseph Kay
May 17 2010 21:18

Chavism

Chavismo

Caiman del Barrio
May 17 2010 22:40

I was careful to avoid "shouting racism", although I do think you have to put this in a post-colonial context.

Alf - the paraphrasal I mentioned came from the lips of an El Lib member. If that's not the case, then my apologies. I'm not gonna defend everything El Lib does. I have quite a few disagreements with them individually, although I believe the newspaper's an invaluable resource and actually extremely good on Venezuelan issues. I think it'd be fair to say that right now my involvement is limited to translation, the odd article and seeing some of them socially.

I would say however, that there seems to be an increased flurry of networking and contact between the post/antichavista left. I'm sure that if the Venezuelan section of the ICC were to contact El Lib in an official capacity with some concrete proposals, they would get properly considered.

EDIT: Farce - I was more referring to the Rises of this world and self-proclaimed "libertarians" in the CNT (for example). In the brief correspondence I quote in the article, the denouncer was also quick to disassociate herself from the old left.

More generally, I'm not sure how much of the old international left term chavismo as positive reforms. Most prochavistas term it as sort of revolution, no (ie they repeat chavista rhetoric verbatim)?

Alf
May 18 2010 04:46

Thanks for that response, Caiman. In any case, you are probably aware that we ourselves are having quite an in depth discussion regarding the history of anarchism and about some of the mistakes made in our characterisation of various anarchist tendencies - it is possible that in the past such mistakes have been made regarding El Lib. In any case, as you say, the way forward now is to develop contacts and discussion, so I will raise this at an international level.

Devrim
May 19 2010 05:40

I posted this to Revleft. It caused an immense 'shitstorm' with people raving about Libcom being 'racist' and myself receiving a warning for racism.

http://www.revleft.com/vb/venezuela-and-postcolonial-t135577/index.html?p=1751402#post1751402

Devrim

Khawaga
May 19 2010 06:44

Holy crap. Why do you even bother Devrim?

Devrim
May 19 2010 06:52

With RevLeft? We get a lot of interest from there, particularly in the US. I think that in general the posters there are younger than people on Libcom, and not so actively involved in politics. We have had a fair few people from there who are now involved in writing for our press and coming to our meetings.

Devrim

Yorkie Bar
May 19 2010 13:32

It's awesome that you're "the biggest racist defender on revleft".

Also, what sort of 'tard uses the phrase 'verbal warning' on a webforum?

Entdinglichung
May 19 2010 16:30
petey
May 19 2010 18:32
Devrim wrote:
I posted this to Revleft. It caused an immense 'shitstorm' with people raving about Libcom being 'racist'

they should talk! i clicked the link and was blocked by my school's filter. the reason?

Quote:
This Websense category is filtered: Racism and Hate.
JoeMaguire
May 19 2010 20:20
Quote:
He called Ahmadinejad his brother and the Iranian government a revolutionary government.

roll eyes

Boris Badenov
May 20 2010 02:44

Chavez embracing Ahmadickwad is the living embodiment of everything that's wrong with "the left."

Caiman del Barrio
May 20 2010 18:23
october_lost wrote:
Quote:
He called Ahmadinejad his brother and the Iranian government a revolutionary government.

roll eyes

Add on the fact that the self-proclaimed "chavista feministas" agreed to wear veils in order not to offend nuestro hermano antimperialista when he visited Venezuela...

Caiman del Barrio
May 20 2010 17:18

The Revleft thread's hilarious. Are these folk deliberately attempting to misinterpret this post?

jesuithitsquad
May 20 2010 17:35

It really is impossible to imagine anything other than intentional misinterpretation. Where's CRUD? He should be happy about the direction of this thread.

Farce
May 20 2010 20:50
Quote:
I wondered what libcom would be saying if Chavez was a blond European

They've got us there. I genuinely cannot find a single post on libcom where any of us criticise white European authoritarian populists.

slothjabber
May 21 2010 11:32

I wish I had a 'wiping tears of laughter from my eye' emoticon as I have to say Farce your post nearly made me wet myself. That's a cruel thing to do to a man my age, I have to avoid sudden shocks.

But well said anyway.

Caiman del Barrio
May 22 2010 01:24

Gotta love the way he specifies blond, as if Libcom's apparent racism even extends to white brunettes.