Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cheese not on the Shelves

The Impostume returns, not overly impressed, from The Bolivarian Republic Of Venezuela. In Zizek's Did Someone Say Totalitarianism there's an apposite, if typically having-and-eating-one's-cake critique of the function that the other supposed to struggle has for the Western leftist, in terms as much of the 'good example' of Cuba as well as the familarly indefensible (and hence so much more appealing to SZ) Eastern Bloc. And obviously a country which appears to have a monarchical succession, a Castro dynasty, seemingly, recalling Brecht's term for the USSR as a 'workers' monarchy', is a dubious model of Socialism. But even so, as a (perhaps atypically impoverished) proverbial Western Academic Marxist, I always desperately want to believe in such places - and especially in Latin America, the only place outside pockets of Western Europe where socialism even exists as a positive idea, irrespective of whether it's an actual reality. That there must be somewhere where we're winning, even if that 'we' wouldn't go down all that well in the barrios. Or even when you have these peculiar alliances springing up, the decidedly odd idea of a petrol-fuelled anti-imperialist front made up of Iran, Belarus, Venezuela and Ken Livingstone's wildly neoliberal London.

Mind you, it's funny how even here, critiques of socialisms actual or alleged always centre on what you can and can't get in the supermarket.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, he is talking about difficulty locating milk - not premium ready-meals, MP3 players, or foot spas.

5:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the wish to believe in the socialist Latin American dream, like Kundera's army of Leftists ever seeking new struggles, but to remain a man of principle you cannot defend Chavez and Castro. Castro is a despicable dictator whose anti-AIDS policy is deeply homophobic and would rightfully bring condemnation from teh Left if carried out by a Western nation. Chavez is also aping his tinpot master by clamping down on dissent, even among former-allies. To look for a better alternative to rampant free-marketeering is noble, but the answer is not here.

3:37 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Anon one: you're quite right, I was mainly trying to wind up Carl.

Anon two: I dunno: Cuba has a dodgily homophobic record but has been a great deal more progressive in recent years, and I'm certainly not aware of any 'anti-AIDS' policy. I have problems with Castro, and with Cuba's all to evident lack of socialist democracy, but 'despicable' strikes me as a little strong.

On Chavez. Well, full disclosure here: I'm a member of a Venezuelan solidarity group (obv my doing so contributes sod all, but just for the record) and am very conflicted about it. When people keep referring to someone who has won more elections than any other political leader worldwide as some sort of hardline antidemocrat I'm more than a bit suspicious. Lots of the government's policies I think are laudable, especially compared with the inaction of eg the WP in Brazil - nationalisations, workers control schemes, literacy programmes, giving a sense to people in the slums that they actually exist as political actors rather than as byproducts. There are other things that do worry me - not least the fact that the Venezeulan rich and their oh-so-free press haven't been expropriated and shipped off to Miami. And the stuff Carl mentions about corruption, petropolitics and so on is entirely believable and depressing. Nonetheless I don't think I'll be joining any 'neither Washington nor Caracas' front just yet.

5:33 pm  
Blogger Qlipoth said...

"There are other things that do worry me - not least the fact that the Venezuelan rich and their oh-so-free press haven't been expropriated and shipped off to Miami."


6:37 pm  
Blogger Doloras LaPicho said...

I wonder why that Carl person amnesties the local capitalists for hoarding consumer goods in protest at price controls, which is what is really keeping milk etc. out of the stores. As for "clamping down on dissent"? By that, do you mean his suggestion that parts of his coalition who aren't actually socialist shouldn't be in the United Socialist Party? I can't understand how - on one hand - Chavez is trying to wipe out the opposition, and on the other hand he's also being democratic by suggesting that parts of his coalition should join the opposition.

I wonder what these people would have thought of Russia in 1923, which was significantly less democratic and more impoverished and bureaucratic than Venezuela 2007, but which we are supposed to believe was still a beacon of hope for the future.

I am a supporter of the revolutionary process in Venezuela, not because it's a worker's paradise, not because poverty or corruption have been eliminated, but because of what it points to - the idea that popular power can make a difference. Love Chavez or hate him, but the Bolivarian movement is inspiring and continues to inspire.

10:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean "clamping down" by removing anyone with their own clout from the government and finding a bunch of weak yes men (has PM Broon been taking lessons?) and forcing them into an opposition he can squeeze all effectiveness out of with Enabling powers and populist promises. One former minister reports it as a "hypocritical authoritarianism that tries to sell the world certain democratic appearances."

Of course if you're willing blinding yourself you could always call the opposition 'reactionary'. His political empowering of the slums is positive in so far as they feel engaged, but not if behind it lies a creeping dictatorship.

3:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank goodness. I often fail to read all relevant posts.

All the best

Neil (Anon 1)

9:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the decidedly odd idea of a petrol-fuelled anti-imperialist front made up of Iran, Belarus, Venezuela and Ken Livingstone's wildly neoliberal London. "

I think people sometimes seem to be somewhat confused about the relationship with Iran - various lefties will point to it as evidence of Chavez's untrustworthiness, that he's just playing a hollow and unprincipled anti-imperialism. All such analyses miss the cornerstone of Venezuelan foreign policy: OPEC.

After the Gulf war OPEC was in disarray (what with Iraq and Kuwait having both been members and all...).

Since Chavez's initial election, back even when he was still talking about the 'third way', Chavez has diligently and rather successfully worked to put OPEC back together and raise oil prices to a more equitable level (thus allowing him to embark on his more radical programs).

So, maintaining good a relationship with all the OPEC countries is essential - if the alliance broke then individual ones would start undercutting each other and there'd be a race to the bottom. (This consideration may have informed the invasion of Iraq - which, had sanctions been lifted in a few years, could have resumed its OPEC position effectivley rather than as US client).

Venezuela depends on OPEC, and thus on a good relationship with the other OPEC countries. Of all of these Iran is much more receptive than those more enmeshed in the US empire.

Of course, this isn't ideal, but the revolution is dependant on Oil incomes so they must be maintained. This is just yet another example of the fundamental challenge of all revolutionary breakthroughs - the revolutionary state is thrust into a geopolitical system with its own logics and imperatives that it must, at least temporarily, adapt to. It has to choose between revolutionary realpolitik or drowning, principles intact.

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