Disinformation and the Bolivarian Revolution

This article is syndicated from Bread and Roses, but Mostly Roses.

I need to talk about Venezuela. I promise not to make a habit of this, because I hate when American leftists go on and on valorizing leftist politics in other countries. (Exception: Evo Morales, because he’s so beautiful.)

However, there’s hella disinformation runnin’ ’round about a certain president of the Republic of Venezuela that I have to be tacklin’. Point in case, my friends in the Brown Democrats have recently started publishing a magazine called the Brown Contemporary in response to the conservative rag on campus the Brown Spectator. I was excited at the prospect of this, because I hoped we could get some actual progressive and genuine left-wing people up in that magazine along with the usual Demhacks. I even signed their group constitution, because I want to write for the damn thing. So, I was sorely disappointed to see that the coverstory of their first issue was this: “Passing the Torch: Chávez–the new Castro?” by Michael Lezcano, Brown ’09 accompanied by the unfortunate image above.

Lezcano’s basic argument is summed up in his statement: “All indications suggest that Chávez is next in line to become the standard-bearer of the Latin American communist movement.” He backs this up with some pretty dubious information, citing Chávez’s reverence for Trotsky and claims of support for a “worldwide socialist revolution.” Furthermore, Lezcano claims that Chávez seeks to use his ever-expanding power for the “ambitious effort to transform Venezuela into a command economy by nationalizing private corporations.”

While Lezcano is right to raise concerns about about Chávez’s increasing power (I too have noted the personalist authoritarian populist streak in the Bolivarian Revolution), we will see that Lezcano is off base in his assertion that Chávez is a communist who wants to establish a command economy and that his model of socialism follows Castro’s economic model. While Chávez considers himself a follower of Trotsky, he also considers himself a follower of American liberal Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, going so far as to call himself a “Galbraithiano.” Any good Trotskyist will tell you that their ideas are flat out incompatible with those of JK Galbraith. Chávez is a voracious reader who is down with a lot of thinkers’ ideas. Like all of us, he follows Walt Whitman in being a person with contradictions.

While he has certainly called for “21st century socialism,” this hardly means the end of the market and establishment of a command economy. Dig what leading Latin American Studies scholar Greg Gandin wrote in the Nation:

“[C]apitalism remains alive and well in Venezuela. Indeed, despite what Chávez has branded ’21st Century Socialism,’ Venezuela’s elite are only getting richer. Banks and credit card companies report huge increases in deposits and loans. The stock exchange has risen almost 130 percent this year and overall economic growth is expected to exceed 10 percent, giving Venezuela the highest growth rate in the Americas. . . .As Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has noted, ‘The private sector is actually a larger share of the Venezuelan economy today than it was before Chávez took office.’”

What? A socialist who actually knows how to make the economy grow? That’s impossible! As I noted on Monday, the Bolivarian Revolution’s way forward has a whole lot more in common with market socialism (in which workers control the means of production within the market economy while the government runs a strong welfare state) than any old statist command economy model (which even Castro will tell you doesn’t work in his more tender moments–check out the chapter on Cuba in Lee Iacocca’s book Where Have All the Leaders Gone?).

I also must militate against Lezcano’s argument that Chávez’s left-wing ideals “could potentially pose a very real threat to peace in the region.” Following the good Dr. King, I would remind readers that “peace is not merely the absence of. . .tension, but the presence of justice.” With this in mind, I would argue that the two biggest threats to peace in Latin America are United States aggression and extreme poverty and inequality. Lezcano is on point in stating that “our country and its policies may reveal why Chávez’s anti-American rhetoric is so popular.” However, the cluster bombs he cites are just the tip of the iceberg. Time and time again during the 20th century when reformist governments came to power (both moderate ones like Arbenz’s in Guatemala in the ’50s and radical ones like Allende’s in Chile in the ’70s), the United States intervened militarily (either directly or using proxies) to overthrow these governments, justifying it by raising the specter of Communism. Just think of Lyndon Johnson, the most progressive president we’ve ever had, saying of the moderate reformist government in Brazil, “They’re just giving the country to the communists,” and you’ll get the picture. By these standards, even John Edwards looks like a communist.

That’s only part one of how the U.S. threatens peace in Latin America. Part two involves U.S.-initiated trade agreements (which actually are more like imposed trade or controlled trade than free trade) that have exacerbated the inequality that the lack of reformist governments has perpetuated.

For more info on all this, State Rep. David Segal and City Councilman Miguel Luna had a swell piece in the Projo earlier this year breaking it all down.

In his attacks on Chávez and other reformist leaders in Latin America, Lezcano is acting as the heir to a long tradition of red-baiting which has justified U.S. intervention in Latin America for the past hundred years or so (before that, it was German-baiting…I kid you not). I think that it’s really important for progressives, like my friends at the Brown Contemporary, to challenge this discourse which has been damning to progressive movements in other countries. Our nation can do better, but first it has to stop talking shit about governments and movements in other countries trying to make dints in poverty and inequality. Simply put, we have to realize that progressive politics are incompatible with the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine.

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