Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 1, 2019

Caracas Chronicles, Part I of an Ongoing Series

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

I just got back from Venezuela and I’ll be writing a lot about the country next week. Virtually everything you read or see about the country in the U.S. media is a lie. And to be clear, I don’t mean skewed or misleading or incomplete, I mean a lie.

For example, people in Venezuela are not starving — at least very few are, if any — nor is the country a dictatorship. But that’s exactly what you would believe from reading the likes of the atrocious Hannah Dreier, who failed upward from the Associated Press to ProPublica, that beacon of investigative reporting, and who has been a chief propagandist for the rancid old oligarchy.

I was all over the barrios of Caracas, especially San Augustin.

Continue reading

January 28, 2019

Thoughts on the Venezuelan Crisis

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

Today a very old friend, who is a retired CUNY professor and very knowledgeable about the left, asked me for an analysis of what’s happening in Venezuela. In many ways there are people much more familiar with what’s happening on the ground like Greg Wilpert or Claudio Katz but the purpose of this post is not to duplicate that effort but to put Venezuela and other “pink tide” states into a theoretical framework.

But there’s some business I need to attend to first. On January 24th, a group of 70 “experts” called for the USA to stop interfering in Venezuela. Among them are some of the most distinguished anti-imperialists, including Noam Chomsky, Greg Grandin, and William I. Robinson. However, there are a couple of others who have been guilty of repeating Assadist propaganda for the past 7 years like John Pilger and Tim Anderson. If you are a principled opponent of military intervention, this means opposing the US-backed Saudi blitzkrieg in Yemen as well as that of Russia’s in Syria. When hospitals are bombed in Yemen, people like Pilger and Anderson are the first to cite Doctors without Borders but when hospitals were bombed in Aleppo or East Ghouta, the Doctors without Borders were smeared as “regime change” operatives just like the White Helmets. This kind of cheap lawyering on behalf of mafia states does immense harm to the left and the people who organized this open letter must have been out of their minds to recruit Tim Anderson whose fealty to the Kremlin and to Bashar al-Assad allowed him to march side-by-side with neo-Nazis.

That’s Anderson in the blue shirt holding a flag on the left. The white-haired guy in a blue shirt to his right is Jim Saleam, the head of the Australia First Party that supports a “predominantly white nation resistant to… watering-down of its culture”.

Leftist opinion on the crisis in Venezuela tends correctly to blame American meddling and the local bourgeoisie for trying to make the people “cry uncle” as Reagan infamously described his intervention in Nicaragua. Falling oil prices helped make the Venezuela government more vulnerable to reactionary forces. Some leftists wrote about how “rentier states” like Venezuela will never break out of the cycles of underdevelopment as if a country relying on commodity exports such as oil, bananas, and meat could ever compete with industrialized countries. Cuba certainly is a rentier state as well but it has not suffered the same kind of crisis as Venezuela except for the “special period” that ensued when the USSR went capitalist.

There are any number of socialist critiques making the rounds that are hard to argue with. For example, the ISO published an article in September 2017 making the case for self-emancipation in Venezuela:

The country is currently run by two ruling classes. First, there’s the “bolibourgeoisie” made up of state bureaucrats drawn from the Bolivarian movement that has developed since the consolidation of the Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in power. Then there are the good old capitalists who have always controlled the production and distribution of goods in Venezuela’s economy.

With the exception of some degree of localized communal production, these two ruling classes dominate every aspect of Venezuelan society. There is no real self-emancipation happening, which is the cornerstone of socialism.

You get the same thing in Left Voice, an online newspaper put out by a group that emerged out of Nahuel Moreno’s Trotskyist movement, except that it is much tougher on Maduro:

Under the illusion of defending the Bolivarian revolution, which was never a revolution, Maduro has consolidated power and taken away the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people, such as the violent repression of protests, the persecution of activists and the subordination of unions to the government. “Socialist” Venezuela is nothing but a mirage embellished by official demagoguery. Venezuela is not and never was socialist, so we can and must criticize Maduro and Chávez from the left. In response to the economic and political crisis, the Maduro government has further squeezed the working class and implemented austerity.

Stop and think about this for a minute. If the communes promoted by Hugo Chavez had anything in common with the Paris Commune, would this have turned the tide? Don’t forget that the Paris Commune was defeated because it faced overwhelming military odds. Sometimes, no amount of democracy can compensate for unfavorable relationship of forces. Furthermore, let’s say that the Venezuelan communes were not only the most democratic and “self-emancipated” institutions since 1917 but also managed to manufacture atomic weapons just like North Korea, thus guaranteeing the country’s ability to ward off attacks.

How would this have made a difference when the price of oil was plummeting? Any country that hopes to break from capitalism will have to survive in a world where market relations prevail. In Cuba, this means putting up with tourist hotels, self-aggrandizing petty proprietors, prostitution, and other ills that capitalism breeds, even if they are outweighed by the benefits of planning, a monopoly on foreign trade, and public ownership of the means of production.

Unlike Cuba, Venezuela never had the benefit of being able to liquidate the bourgeoisie. When the USSR collapsed in 1990, it meant that countries would have to go it alone. The first country sacrificed on the altar of perestroika was Nicaragua. Hugo Chavez clearly understood that his options were limited and tried to navigate between the desire of ordinary people for a better life and the demands put on him by a powerful ruling class that adopted a two-prong approach. One wing of the ruling class sought to gain from its partnership with the Chavistas while the other hoped to rule in its own name. That is what is going on right now with the budding coup.

In a perfect world, the Latin American revolutionary movement would have emerged after the collapse of the Guevarist guerrilla movements of the 60s and 70s. It would have worked collectively to turn the “pink tide” of the past ten years into a “red tide”. The Venezuelan communes would have been replicated in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Instead of each country seeking its own particular national development based on agro-exports and oil, a true Bolivarian revolution would have integrated the industry of Brazil and Argentina with the less developed nations whose commodities would have provided badly needed foreign revenue.

This is not that far removed from the ambitions of the Second International during Lenin’s time. However, WWI made it far more difficult for the left to triumph, especially since the entire left, except for the Zimmerwaldists, chose militarism rather than class struggle.

What prevents the Latin American left from moving in this direction? To some extent, it is a function of the revolutionary left remaining trapped in the nationalist framework of the “pink tide”. Coordination is lacking and sectarian fetishes keep groups divided ideologically, as if how to characterize the USSR in the 1930s was a litmus test.

Up until Lenin took that train ride back to Russia in 1917, he never considered Russia to be capable of building socialism. He was for a revolution against feudalism that could motivate workers in the West to overthrow capitalism. In other words, he was for a world revolution. In 1920, Lenin gave a speech on the 3rd anniversary of the revolution that categorically denied the possibility of building socialism without the USSR being linked to more advanced and liberated nations to the West:

Three years ago, when we were at Smolny, the Petrograd workers’ uprising showed us that it was more unanimous than we could have expected, but had we been told that night that, three years later, we would have what now exists, that we would have this victory of ours, nobody, not even the most incurable optimist, would have believed it. We knew at that time that our victory would be a lasting one only when our cause had triumphed the world over, and so when we began working for our cause we counted exclusively on the world revolution.

Just three years later, he adopted the same cautious tone in an article titled “On Cooperation” that defined socialism in the USSR as a network of peasant cooperatives similar to those that the Chavistas promoted. The big difference between the USSR and Venezuela is that the Bolsheviks “expropriated the expropriators”, a bold act that prompted a counter-revolutionary invasion that cost up to 12 million lives, most of them civilian, and $35 billion. If Chavez had followed “20th century socialism”, he would have expropriated the expropriators as well. That would have eliminated the internal threat but accelerated the external one. The USA would have wasted no time imposing crippling sanctions to make the country “cry uncle”.

What did Karl Marx think about a revolution in Russia? Toward the end of his life, he became increasingly convinced that the country was ripe for revolution. So persuaded was he of this eventuality that he began to study Russian to keep up with the developments in the country. Just two years before his death, he began corresponding with Vera Zasulich, a one-time Narodnik who had become a Marxist. However, she had qualms about whether Russia had to go through a capitalist phase before socialism was possible, a view held by Georgi Plekhanov who was regarded as the most advanced Marxist thinker in the country.

Marx said it was not necessary and even anticipated what Lenin would state in 1923 about socialism resting on communal peasant farming: “My answer is that, thanks to the unique combination of circumstances in Russia, the rural commune, which is still established on a national scale, may gradually shake off its primitive characteristics and directly develop as an element of collective production on a national scale.”

A year after Marx wrote this letter to Zasulich, he and Engels co-wrote a preface to a new edition to Capital that fleshed out the relationship between Russia and advanced nations in the West:

The Communist Manifesto had, as its object, the proclamation of the inevitable impending dissolution of modern bourgeois property. But in Russia we find, face-to-face with the rapidly flowering capitalist swindle and bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina [commune], though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of Communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West?

The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.

In other words, in 1920 Lenin was simply repeating what Marx and Engels had written in 1882. If the Russian Revolution detonated revolutions in Germany, England, France et al, then a “communist development” would be possible. Marx never wrote much about what a socialist revolution would look like until 1871, when the Paris Commune became the first state ever governed by the workers themselves. Marx’s focus in his book on the Commune was not on “socialism” as much as it was about the proletariat in power. Clearly, the failure of the Commune to be replicated anywhere else in France, let alone the rest of Europe, sealed its fate. Its importance was an example of working people acting in their own interests without a ruling class. As such, it had to be destroyed. Marx ends “Civil War in France” with a judgement on its historical significance: “Working men’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priest will not avail to redeem them.”

The key word is harbinger.

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

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.