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Chávez backs Gaddafi?

datePosted on 19:02, February 25th, 2011 by Lew

Via The Egonomist, on twitter, the news that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has apparently expressed support, on twitter, for Muammar Gaddafi, whose mercenaries and loyalists are presently butchering Libya’s citizens.

The tweet, in Spanish, is as follows:

Vamos Canciller Nicolás: dales otra lección a esa ultraderecha pitiyanqui! Viva Libia y su Independencia! Kadafi enfrenta una guerra civil!!

My Spanish is no good (Pablo can no doubt translate), but it seems to largely match the following, from the Al Jazeera English live-blog:

4:27am: Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has backed Muammar Gaddafi on Twitter.
Chavez twitted:
“Gaddafi is facing a civil war. Long live Libya. Long live the independence of Libya.”

Without an understanding of the context this looks like a plain statement of fact: after all, Gaddafi is facing what looks very much like a civil war. But in light of Gaddafi’s recent speeches (and that of his son), which framed the uprising as a civil war started by malcontents, rather than as an expression of the Libyan peoples’ will; and urged loyalists to defend Libya from its internal enemies, the implication of Chávez’ message is pretty clear. He accepts Gaddafi’s framing wholesale; equates Gaddafi with his country and action against Gaddafi as action against Libya, just as the dictator himself did.

Gaddafi’s deep links to and close relationship with the Venezuelan leadership are well-documented. But one other factor suggests that the Venezuelan leadership buys the line that the unrest is not a response to Gaddafi’s oppression and the uprisings in nearby countries, but the work of foreign imperialists. Chávez’ reference to “Canciller Nicolás” presumably refers to Nicolás Maduro, mentioned shortly afterwards in the AJE thread:

5:01am: Venezuela’s top diplomat on Thursday echoed Fidel Castro’s accusation that Washington is fomenting unrest in Libya to justify an invasion to seize North African nation’s oil reserves.
Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister said:
They are creating conditions to justify an invasion of Libya.

All this is pretty speculative. It’s sourced from twitter, a medium not well known for its clarity, and being hours old it’s still yet to be properly analysed or verified. So it may all be a great misunderstanding. No doubt Chávez will explain himself in due course. But the information does emerge from Chávez’ verified, official twitter account; it does echo previous anti-imperialist positions taken by the Venezuelan leader, and it generally seems to ring true.

It seems — and I think — that Hugo Chávez, the modern, popular, democratic socialist leader who was supposed to be different to all the murderous authoritarians who preceded him, has just come out in solidarity with one of the most murderous authoritarians yet left, defending the slaughter of his people for having the temerity to demand control of their nation.

I will be happy to be proven wrong. But if that’s revealed to be true in coming days, it’ll be your move, Chávez apologists.


28 Responses to “Chávez backs Gaddafi?”

  1. Draco T Bastard on February 25th, 2011 at 20:35

    We Chancellor Nicholas: give another lesson to the far right pitiyanqui! Libya and its Independence Viva! Gaddafi faces a civil war!

    That’s the Google translation and does seem to be in support of Gaddafi and is less ambiguous of the Aljazeera translation.

    I suppose the next questions are:
    1.) Was it him using his Twitter account?
    2.) Was it someone who’s authorised to use the account?
    3.) Was his account hacked?

  2. Lew on February 25th, 2011 at 20:49

    DTB, in order:

    1. It doesn’t matter. Official head-of-state communications are rarely manned by the HOS themselves.
    2. If not, they’ve had 6 hours now to issue an angry denunciation of the staffer involved, and
    3. If so, they’ve now had 6 hours to issue a detailed retraction.

    Neither of the above has happened and, as I say, it rings true.


  3. Pablo on February 25th, 2011 at 22:13


    I am traveling in Sabah so cannot comment in depth but the translation is roughly correct (the first part refers to the foreign minister sticking it to the yanks). The real issue is that Chavez has adopted the path that Gaddafhi took, starting out as a supposed revolutionary socialist (albeit not by coup, as in Gaddafhi’s case) and slowly turning his regime into a personalist and increeasingly kleptocratic cult. What Chavez and his minions cannot see amid their idiotic bluster about the supposed US role in the revolt is that this is their future as well unless they change course soon. The way things are going they will fall by coup, probably within 5 years. It has gotten that bad.

    The Libyan crisis will result in “bottom up” regime change (as I have described before) but it will not be democratic in the near future. Tribal divisions will come to the fore and will result in internecine conflict between the current opposition (mainly along East versus West Libyan lines, which have significant ethnic as well as tribal divisions). That could even result in civil war, which has much wider negative implications.

    Gaddafhi will be lucky if he survives, and I will not be surprised if his sons flee rather than stand with him at the moment of martyrdom.

    You must admit, though, that the video of Gaddafhi giving a speech in a van while waving an umbrella and wearing an Elmer Fudd fur hat with ear flaps was friggin legendary. More proof that a complete nutbar can rule an oil rich country if he is ruthless and cunning enough at playing the divide-and-conquer game–and has foreign commerical interests as buyers of his resources. The parallels with Chavez are uncanny, and Hugo, by the way, has started to wear capes.

  4. Luc Hansen on February 25th, 2011 at 22:57


    I have to admit, you’re growing on me. I loved your last paragraph!

    I hope his sons (and daughter) do flee. It’s not their fault they were born into this nightmare.

    In Libya, currently, there does appear to be cross-tribal unity to get rid of Gaddafhi so I do hope your worst-case scenario of post-Gaddafhi civil war is wrong – as I’m sure you do, too.

    Lew, I think I would prefer to wait for official reaction from Chavez before condemning him. I don’t think I would count as an apologist (easy to sling that kind of term around, isn’t it?) but he was elected by popular acclaim and was entitled to strut his stuff, especially after surviving a US orchestrated coup. But he is blotting his copybook pretty fast, I would agree.

    The lesson to take out of all this, surely, is that we should no longer actively support dictators, especially supplying them with our armaments (not that Libya fits into this category, so far as I know). It’s hypocritical and counter-productive.

    The amazing thing is how countries that eventually do gain freedom from tyranny forgive us.

  5. Lew on February 26th, 2011 at 00:00

    Certainly, Luc, my whole line of argument is conditional on the stated support being genuine. As I say; I will be happy to be proven wrong.

    It is true he is better than most; it is true that he enjoys considerable support among his people. It is also true that Chávez has more than his share of those who gloss over his indiscretions and his increasingly autocratic tendencies in order to hold him up as the great saviour of socialism, and by extension of a political left which has elsewhere been largely colonised by neoliberalism. These are the apologists I mean. I am thinking mainly of people like John Pilger, who do otherwise good and important work, but too often find themselves defending various degrees of indefensibility.

    All that would be good if it were true, and that is why I will be happy to be proven wrong. But I’m neither surprised nor especially disappointed about this apparent turn of events, which simply confirm my existing pessimism about the inevitability of socialist projects tending toward authoritarianism.

    I also await with little confidence the response from those apologists. I fear that, if the support for Gaddafi is confirmed, rather than accepting the mounting evidence that Chávez is just another autocrat on the road to establishing his own dictatorship, condemning this tendency and distancing themselves from him, they will make excuses and evade the issue; minimise and weasel and generally prevaricate, couching continued support in situational special-pleading, exaggerated anti-American/anti-imperialist reasoning and other flavours of cognitive dissonance. When, to my mind, nothing should be easier for a leftist to do than to condemn a leader who endorses the murder of thousands of ordinary citizens bidding for change and democracy after two generations without it.

    Of course, I’d be happy to be wrong about that, too.


  6. Luc Hansen on February 26th, 2011 at 00:32

    Thanks for your response, Lew.

    I’d go a bit further than you in your last sentence. Of course it should be easy for anyone to condemn what’s happening in Libya, and other regions where the malevolent hand of the West has actively assisted oppression.

    I would say, when these dictators/autocrats take a country over by force, or win an election then turn anti-democratic, we should resile from actions that sustain these regimes eg buying their oil, even if others are lining up to take our place in the queue.

  7. Hugh on February 26th, 2011 at 03:25

    You can say a lot of bad things about Chavez but he has been reasonably democratically elected; Venezuela’s democracy may have its weaknesses but it is no worse than, say, India or Turkey. And Chavez’s rhetoric has always been in favour of populist uprisings. So to see him take the side of Qadaffi at this point is not just disappointing, it’s actually kind of stupid.

    It is obvious that Qadaffi is done and dusted. I can’t really see what Chavez gains by supporting him at this point – except, perhaps, acclaim from other non-democratic leaders with whom he has friendly relations, such as Castro or Ahmadinejad, that he will stick by them if they ever face populist uprisings.

    I had assumed, though, that part of the reason Qadaffi is enacting a scorched earth struggle is that he actually has nowhere to go. Which country would accept Qadaffi into exile? Not Saudi Arabia, the current destination of choice of exiled Middle Eastern autocrats; they have no love for him. I’d say even with this level of support Chavez wouldn’t accept him, let alone any less radical Latin American leftist leader. So who does that leave? I’d say Zimbabwe or North Korea would be his best bets. I guess if he ends up in the former he could hang with Mengistu Haile Mariam and compare notes as to what went wrong.

  8. Sanctuary on February 26th, 2011 at 09:52

    I can’t speak for others, but my support for Chavez has always been conditional. I suppose to a certain extent – internally to Venezuela – the idea that you can’t make an omlette without without upsetting some of the ruling chickens in the roost has informed how I filter what is reported by the western and especially American media. The propaganda against Chavez is unbelievable, and (like Lew here) it leads you to be hesitiant to believe anything you read coming from mainstream sources. A lesson, perhaps, for us all in how the west’s left was able to intellectually let the USSR get away with things for as long it did in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

    Large numbers of us might still gasp at the neo-fascist morality of a Paula Rebstock, but the reality for a place like Venezuela is the elites are all violent Paula Rebstocks and they will not willingly part with any of their wealth to educate, feed and otherwise allow the poor to better themselves. So really, I don’t shed much of tear when I see them being stripped of their possessions, humiliated, and run out of town anymore than I feel any of the current irrational nostalgia for the despotism of the Tsars. They’ve had their chances for peaceful change. They should be thankful if Chavez turns out to be just a Castro rather than a Stalin.

    But if history is to be any use at all, we should keep striving to seek the truth, and if Chavez is turning into just another looney tune tin pot dictator, all we can do is cry for the benighted poor of Venezuela who Chavez is letting down.

  9. Pablo on February 27th, 2011 at 00:17

    Sanctuary, Luc and Hugh, among others:

    I have gone from being a supporter of Chavez to an opposer of his regime. The big dream was that he would find a democratic way to socialism in the face of what has been rightly characterised as a venal, corrupt, murderous disloyal opposition that would rather conspire and coup than play as a loyal opposition. That was Allende’s dream, which I shared, but in Chile the disloyal conspirators won. Chavez, being a military man and having learned the lessons from the Chilean experience, has opted to abandon any democratic pretense and gone in a neo-Gaddafi direction: he has stacked his inner circle with acolytes and cronies, centralised all power within his inner cadre (under the banner of socialist reform), has clamped down on any dissent, and increasingly relies on Cubans for more than medical care and teachers (the two great achievements of the Boliviarian revolution, except that it was not Venezuelans who accomplished it). Are you all aware that Chavez’s praetorian guard are Cuban special forces? One indication of impending authoritarian demise is the reliance on foreigners for personal security in times of crisis–as Gaddafi’s behaviour clearly shows.

    What bothers me the most is that given the lame and corrupt/elitist/venal nature of his opposition and given the tenor of the times in which he emerged, Chavez had THE golden opportunity to demonstrate how a good-minded, failed coup mongerer with huge popular support could transform his beauty-queen and scotch obsessed country into a democratic socialist (as opposed to social democratic) model. The failed coup against him was actually a gift because it clearly showed that the opposition and US are not interested in democracy in Venezuela if it has socialist characteristics. That was the opportunity for him to demonstrate his democratic convictions in the face of the obvious bankruptcy of the opposition, but instead he used the coup as a justification for clamping down and personalising the regime. What has followed is the usual dictatorial progression–purges of independent minded officials, censorship, vote-rigging and constitutional manipulation, public services provided as patronage rather than as common goods, restrictions on rights of assembly and voice, and outright thievery of public monies. All of this while the national infrastructure deteriorates, the violent crime rate and unemployment have skyrocketed amid an exodus of white collar laborers. So much for the promise of the Boliviarian revolution.

    Chavez has failed his people miserably, and the fault lies with him and his minions, not the useful fools in the US foreign policy community who allow visceral “anti-communism” to sucker them into anything, however cretinous, that opposes it.

    That Chavez would side on anti-imperialist grounds with someone who uses his air force and anti-aircraft guns against his (admittedly clan-based and tribalist) citizens is clear indication that Hugo has no independent feedback loops factoring into his thinking. It also suggests that his days may also be growing short.

  10. TBD on February 28th, 2011 at 15:39

    The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is still a great documentary
    Much as it made me want to like Chavez, the reality is the man’s bad behaviour is something a principled liberal has to oppose.
    On the topic of blind support, it’s worth remembering when Robert Mugabe was going on his murderous rampage in 2005, affecting ten of thousands of black Zimbabweans, the words of Dr Pita Sharples. Sharples said Mugabe was being harassed by neo-colonialism, and that Maori supported Mugabe’s noble struggle: “It’s going to take a bit of tough and tumble before they do find the way.”

  11. TBD on February 28th, 2011 at 15:41

    The dearly departed Rod Donald was good on this:

  12. Lew on February 28th, 2011 at 16:22

    It’s true, TBD, but out of fairness you also need to report that reports of Sharples’ “support” for Mugabe were exaggerated, and he did expressly repudiate Mugabe’s violent oppression of his own people. Money quote:

    the struggle for liberation of which Dr Mugabe was a leading figure has turned into another struggle for liberation in which it was reported to us, that sadly Dr Mugabe is now the oppressor of his own people.

    Such a statement from Chávez would be very welcome. Until such emerges, that’s one hell of a false equivalence.


  13. TBD on February 28th, 2011 at 17:09

    Sharples/Turia’s support (and yes, support is the correct term) for Mugabe was consistent through months of unequivocal mass-murder/genocide. Rod Donald called Sharples out for being a Mugabe apologist in July 2005 (as per my link); Sharples only changed his tune in October 2007 (as per your link).

  14. Lew on February 28th, 2011 at 17:18

    TBD, my recollection differs, and the selected quote was just the one which came to hand — but regardless, this is not a thread about Pita Sharples so I’ll let it lie.

    You seem to turn every discussion in which you participate around to the failings of the māori party leadership. This is a worthy topic, and something I’ve been meaning to examine, but has been offtopic in almost every case you’ve mentioned it. Have you considered starting your own blog to write about it?


  15. TBD on February 28th, 2011 at 18:33

    Lew, I have considered starting a political blog of my own. For various boring reasons, I don’t have the time/energy at the moment to do something of a high enough standard. So at the moment, it’s the odd comment here or there on KP and other blogs I hold in high regard. I take your fair general point about making my comments ontopic.

  16. Scott on March 2nd, 2011 at 23:56

    This is hardly news – Chavez has, like a number of other leaders before him, including Mandela, accepted the Gaddafi Freedom Award, which I think takes the form of a glittering sword, and has also frequently praised the regimes in Iran and Belarus. Much like Morales in Bolivia, Ortega in Nicaragua, Correa in Ecuador, and to an extent Lula in Brazil, Chavez has tried to build closer ties with energy-rich ‘rogue’ states like Iran, Belarus and Libya and also with China to increase his country’s independence from the US and EU. Ortega has been a vociferous defender of Gaddafi in recent days. Lula and Morales received old Armouredinnerjacket rapturously when he flew in from Tehran to South America a couple of years ago.

    This cosying up to powerful or wealthy anti-US governments is an old strategy of left-wing governments of all ideological stripes – social democratic, Bomparatist-populist, communist, you name it – in the semi-colonial/Third World.

    Plenty of supporters of Chavez have criticised his ties with regimes like Gaddafi’s – I remember the Iranian workers’ movement making a statement which supported the Bolivarian revolution but condemned Chavez’s claim that the Iranian regime represented a ‘sister revolution’.

    I find Chavez’s characterisation of Gaddafi ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than Lew’s apparent desire to draw a line between some sort of ethical democratic socialist tradition, which we’re allowed and indeed encouraged to support, and a disastrous ‘revolutionary’ socialist tradition, which Lew, channeling Isaih Berlin and Karl Popper, has decided must inevitably lead from good intentions to ruin.

    I can’t think of a single social democratic government, anywhere, which has had a remotely ethical foreign policy. The dusty icons of social democracy – Attlee, FDR, our own Peter Fraser – were up to their elbows in sleaze and blood. I know it feels good to draw nice lines between virtue and evil and to feel pure rather than damned, but serious historical and social analysis shouldn’t only be about feeling good, should it?

  17. Hugh on March 3rd, 2011 at 02:20

    I can’t think of a single social democratic government, anywhere, which has had a remotely ethical foreign policy.

    Sweden. Norway. The Netherlands. Denmark. South Korea. A few others. I coulds go on, is what I’m saying.

  18. Lew on March 3rd, 2011 at 08:29

    Scott, there’s a fair bit going on in there. Your obvious lines of apologia are the following:

    1. So what? Everyone does it.

    This is bogus, because the case in point is not about Chávez expressing support for a dictator — as you say, this is a commonplace. The point is that he is expressing support for a dictator while that dictator is putting down an apparently organic popular uprising using tanks, anti-aircraft guns, the air force and foreign mercenaries, while urging ordinary citizens loyal to his regime to join in the slaughter. More to the point, the expression is not just of support for Gaddafi, but of support for these actions.

    It is true that a very few other Western political leaders have expressed support for dictators in faintly similar circumstances — Central America, for instance. And there are cases of this sort of conduct being prosecuted by Western political leaders themselves, such as in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. But I do not seek to defend those; and nor, I should have thought, would you.

    2. Nobody is squeaky clean.

    What Hugh said. But even if this were also true, my benchmark is not ‘squeaky clean’; it’s ‘not engaging in the wholesale slaughter of citizens’. Yes, there are examples of this happening previously, but again: I do not seek to defend this wherever it occurs, and nor, I should have thought, would you.

    3. The real world is messy.

    Indeed it is, but you mistake my explicit support for democracy over socialism (when the two conflict) for a sort of Manichean zealotry. In fact, as I’ve expressed many times, my views accord more with Churchill’s quip that it’s the worst, except for all the other forms. For all my defence of liberal democracy I am cognisant of its weaknesses and failures. I mean it when I say I’d love to be wrong about Chávez — and I still hold out some hope for Evo Morales — but I’m simply not prepared to countenance the massacre of civilians, or open support for the same.

    And nor, I should have thought, would you be, Scott.


  19. Colvin on March 3rd, 2011 at 09:17

    I’m disappointed in the original statements by Chavez. It’s worth noting that he has somewhat backed off from them. Chavez is clearly very suspicious of the Western media reports and probably suspected that a lot of lies were coming through. It’s worth remembering that Western media have lied a lot about Chavez, so it’s natural for him to not have much trust about what they say about someone who he is matey with. In this case though, it seems that the media etc are being fair in calling Gaddafi brutal or whatever. He is/has been committing mass-murder. US has helped fund people to overthrow Chavez undemocratically, so that is going to cloud Chavez’s judgement when there are uprisings against his allies.

    Those like Chavez do often fall into the situation of not having many allies, so end up becoming mates with those who don’t hold the same democractic principles as they do. This is unfortunate and I’m disappointed about the comments Chavez made. Hopefully he can see the error of his ways and continue help to get a peaceful resolution in the conflict. And support democracy…

  20. Scott on March 3rd, 2011 at 12:37

    The trouble with all this talk of ‘apologists’ and ‘apologia’ and of the need to throw out one’s shoulders and straighten one’s back and take a firm stand for democracy and righteousness on an internet forum is that it puts the psychological and moral needs of the people having the tremendously important discussion ahead of little things like thought and analysis. One has to prove one’s righteousness in a ‘will you condemn’athon. But what does one sacrifice, in a completely abstract discussion on a forum like this, by being either anti or pro Chavez?

    I gave examples of supporters of the Bolivarian revolution criticising Chavez’s foreign policy. I criticised Chavez’s foreign policy in print years ago.
    I wasn’t aware that I had to renew my subscription to the friends of democracy club by issuing a new condemnation regularly.

    The trouble is, as I mentioned in my previous post, that a little inspection shows that the club of the nice democratic left countries is vanishingly small, if membership of that club is to be determined by foreign policy. Attlee is out, after assisting in the recolonisation of much of Southeast Asia in the aftermath of World War Two and later following Uncle Sam into the Korean War with great enthusiasm. Peter Fraser’s role as an acolyte of McCarthyism and repression of debate over foreign policy in his own country makes him unacceptable.

    Helen Clark sent troops to help spot targets for the bombing campaign that killed, in its initial stages alone, 5,000 people in Afghanistan, and allowed SAS troops to turn hundreds of Taliban fighters over to pro-US forces who executed them en masse. Clark was in on the Aussie-engineered 2006 manoeuvre with removed Alkatiri from office at the point of a gun in East Timor. She ignored the calls of Malaitans and committed New Zealand to a neo-colonial occupation of that island after earlier acquisceing to IMF policies which wrecked the Solomons economy and destabilised the place.

    Where are we to turn for our democratic socialist saviour? Hugh appears to nominate South Korea as a tolerant social democratic society, which leads me to conclude that he is joking. He ought to try bringing a copy of Lenin’s On Imperialism, or any other Marxist tract, into the country. The Scandinavian states are generally able to avoid getting their hands as covered in blood as the likes of the US and the UK but they nevertheless depend upon the subjugation of the semi-colonial world which the US and its close allies and bodies like the IMF enforce.

  21. Hugh on March 3rd, 2011 at 12:49

    Scott, I thought you might try to trip me up on South Korea. It certainly isn’t socially democratic now, but it has been in the past under different governments, particularly when Kim Dae-Jung was in power. And although South Korea’s foreign policy has been extremely unethical in the past, under Dae-Jung it was highly ethical on all fronts with the possible exception of engagement with North Korea, which I would argue, while unsavoury, was more ethical than a policy of violent confrontation.

    But you know what, let’s presume you’re right. Even if you are, you’ve gone from “There are no social democratic governments with ethical foreign policies” to “One of the four socially democratic governments with ethical foreign policies you mentioned isn’t socially democratic”. That’s a considerable weakening of your position.

  22. Scott on March 3rd, 2011 at 13:30

    I don’t in any way concede that the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have progressive foreign policies, Hugh – they’ve just been over recent decades back room dealers rather than enforcers. I don’t see them repudiating the IMF and similar organisations. And in recent years we have begun to see one of the Scandinavian countries, Denmark, put boots on the ground in the service of imperialism.

    The Netherlands has a past as a colonial power and at first tried to hang on to its holdings in Asia then ended up backing the ‘unity’ of Indonesia at the expense of national rights in places like Irian Jaya and South Molucca. Sweden’s postwar wealth was based partly on its cosy relationship with Nazi Germany during World War, according to many observers. Denmark colonised and oppressed the Intuit people.

    Kim Dae-Jung’s election was received with great jubilation by Koreans sick of their country’s subservience to US imperialism, but he soon disappointed them by sending troops to Iraq. There were enormous demonstrations against that decision in Korea (I knew some participants), and Dae-Jung came to be seen, like Blair, as a poddle of Bush.

  23. Lew on March 3rd, 2011 at 13:40

    Scott, all of this so far is covered by points 1 and 2 above.

    None of the rest of the world’s historical failings gives anyone a pass for supporting a dictator’s massacre in the here and now. This was not a matter of those other countries, or which of them are or aren’t socially-democratic exemplars. The whole line of reasoning is also a false equivalence, since none of the states you cite as having blemished international affairs records are presently using the airforce to put down internal rebellion, or offering their public support to those who are.

    I understand your question, ‘who do we look to?’ and it is a good question. I make no claim to answering it definitively, but the point of the post was a partial answer: apparently not to Hugo Chávez, who seems to support dictators butchering their own citizens in service of certain goals.

    Not a very ambitious statement, I’d have thought. If you disagree, it’s on you to argue why: this was the challenge to apologists in the last line of the OP. So far you haven’t done so, except by recourse to the three fallacious grounds of argument I responded to.


  24. Hugh on March 3rd, 2011 at 14:08

    Scott, it seems to me that you feel it’s impossible to have an ethical foreign policy in a world in which the US exists. If that’s the case, I fail to see why you’d single out social democratic countries for unique criticism, since more right wing countries are no better.

    Lew, I think the answer to the question of “who do we look to” is actually pretty simple, at least to begin with – not a state. There isn’t and probably never has been a state that practices broadly progressive goals. The idea that a model for progressive action can only come from a territorial entity with a monopoly on the use of force is pretty short-sighted.

  25. Scott on March 3rd, 2011 at 15:29

    The question ‘Who do we look to?’ and the complaint about having almost lost faith in Morales show what’s wrong with Lew’s method here.

    Lew seems to want to find a democratic socialist government with an enlightened foreign policy to act as an abstract standard – a Platonist type or Weberian ‘ideal’ – against which to judge reality, and with which to critique unprincipled governments of left and right.

    Lew’s decided, and quite reasonably, that Chavez and Venezuela don’t rise to such a lofty standard; he had hopes in Morales as the man who would light the way but these hopes are dwindling, as Morales reveals himself to be rather less than perfectly enlightened.

    A cursory examination of earlier great hopes of the left – Allende in Chile, Peter Fraser here, Attlee in the UK – reveal that they, too, were rather less than perfect.

    Lew seems to be a social democrat rather than a revolutionary socialist, but his method is not fundamentally different from that of some of the people and groupuscules that occasionally give revolutionary socialism a bad name.

    We’ve all met the dogmatic self-proclaimed Leninist, who sees the government Lenin led as the gold template for all future left-wing governments, and who sees the outlines of 1917 in every new revolutionary crisis. This fellow is always being disappointed by reality, because he has created an idealised version of the messy reality of the October revolution and Lenin’s time in power. His template never existed in the real world.

    There are anarchists who operate in the same way, with reference to the anarchist society that existed briefly in Catalonia in the ’30s. Then there are radical environemntalists who revere a sentimental, idealised version of this or that neolithic or hunter gatherer society and proclaim it as a template for the transformation of the world.

    It’s instructive to look at the attitude of some important leftist thinkers of the past to matters like this. Marx was notoriously reluctant to lay down blueprints for what a socialist or communist society should look like. When he did point to rough models for such a society – the Paris Commune and the Iroquois Federation were two – he pointed to deeply contradictory entities, and emphasised their positive qualities without having to deny their negative qualities. He praised the democracy and grassroots organisation of the Commune, for example, but conceded that it had virtually no coherent economic policy.

    Despite what his latter-day worshippers and critics say, Lenin could be disarmingly frank about the shortcomings of the country he helped rule. He more than once called the Soviet Union a ‘state capitalist’ country, because he felt he had been unable to eliminate the need for a private sector, and he also admitted that aspects of the old Tsarist state had been incorporated into the new Bolshevik state. He knew that history was messy.

    Can’t we have a little more subtlety when we discuss contradictory, fluid societies like Bolivarian Venezuela? Chavez’s government has contradictory policies abroad and at home: this is not surprising, given the contradictions within the society and the contradictory world it faces. Some of Chavez’s foreign policy has been noble; some has been lamentable. We should be able to acknowledge the good without denying the bad. I don’t like the way Fraser locked up communists who criticised him and supported America’s crusade against communism in places like Korea, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to the free health care and state housing systems his government helped set up.

  26. Juan Manuel Santos on March 4th, 2011 at 06:09

    There’s a bit more context in this Venezuelanalysis article (just bits extracted).

    From this I take it he condemns the violence in principle but is unwilling to join the chorus against Gaddafi because he doesn’t take the western media reports at face value:

    He drew parallels with the media coverage of the coup against himself in 2002 with current treatment of information about Libya, saying that just as the media is accusing Gaddafi now, in 2002 he too was called a “murderer” of his people.

    “I can’t say that I support, or that I’m in favour of a decision taken by any friend of mine in any part of the world, because we are far away, but yes we support the government of Libya and the independence of Libya, we want peace for this country and for the peoples of the world,” Chavez said.

    “We condemn violence, imperialism, and interventionism,” Chavez said. “Everyone knows our position in favour of life…for peace… how we love all peoples, how we love the Arabic people, and how those peoples love us.”

    Chavez explained that since the popular rebellions began in North Africa and the Middle East, his government has preferred to maintain “prudent silence… because in the first place, there is a lot of misinformation, not just in the case of Libya but in the case of Egypt we were very prudent…because we’re used to the world media scene.”

    I have to say that I’ve been disappointed in Chavez maintaining such ignorance (whether wilful or not), in what looks like a case of him trying to hold on to one of his few international allies. I do think though that his own personal experience is clouding his judgement here.

  27. Lew on March 4th, 2011 at 22:20

    Scott, with due respect, no. You keep raising examples of isolated indiscretions as if I’m arguing that ‘rather less than perfect’ is what disqualifies a leader. That’s not my argument. My argument is that there are some decisions which, in context, must raise warning flags, and some tipping point of bad policy and bad actions at which a left-wing leader must no longer be credible.

    My response is not to a bad symbolic foreign policy decision in isolation. It is part of a context which includes Hugo Chávez’ use of state power to shut down and imprison his opponents, and in particular to shut down media outlets which are critical of his actions. Certainly, some of this is justifiable; it is well known that he leads a troubled nation with a deeply corrupt business culture. But it does give cause for some concern. And it is part of a context which includes his repeated (and ultimately successful) attempts to have the constitution amended to remove presidential term-limits, and systematic work to weaken judicial influence over his administration.

    These are undeniably authoritarian reforms which benefit Chávez. He may be laying the rails for some sort of leadership-for-life scenario, or he might simply be working to increase the degree of impunity he enjoys while he serves out the terms his people deem fit to grant him (in the absence of a credible opposition and media establishment), but either way it’s concerning. In that context, support for Gaddafi isn’t just an indiscretion, it’s a great flashing neon sign which reads: give this man power, and there is a real danger he will brutally abuse it.

    If the strong likelihood of such abuse is acceptable to you, in service of the great left-wing project, then by all means defend it. (You haven’t done so thus far.) But I think that Chávez has passed the tipping point and, absent some reversal, he’s lost to the democratic left.

    Juan Manuel, thanks for your assessment. Those statements speak to a concerning lack of perspective.

    (I’ve added another post on the latest developments.)


  28. […] doubles down Posted on 22:53, March 4th, 2011 by Lew Hugo Chávez’ statements of support for Gaddafi are very concerning in a leader with already-established authoritarian credentials, and […]

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