Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Hugo's Crime.

    The passing of Hugo Chavez has provoked the standard chorus from the familiar rabble of independent minds. It was another instance of the conformity of the non-conformists. It was to be expected. Chavez had committed the unspeakable crime of not bowing to Washington, not just surviving its bungled putsch, but marching onwards further left. Dippy Toby Young fell back on the writings of Christopher Hitchens to dub Chavez a cross-breed between General Peron and Kim Jong-il. Meanwhile Rod Liddle decided on the word 'pillock' to label Chavez supporters. That was before little Rod managed to cram every hysterical accusation ever made against the man into an article of around 150 words. That's to be expected from the Right. Yet the liberals found much more grounded points, namely those often mentioned human rights violations: specifically, encroachments upon the independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the press.

    Over at The Guardian Nick Cohen sqawked at Seamus Milne about human rights in Venezuela. He was right to refer to the highly questionable, to say the least, encroachment by the party-state on the judiciary to shunt Judge Maria Afiuni into a cell in 2009. Mr What's Left also referred to the canceling of RCTV's free license to broadcast terrestrially, even though the station maintained its right to broadcast via satellite and cable. When confronted with the fact that RCTV had supported a military putsch to overthrow Chavez and, install a right-wing dictatorship, Mr What's Left soon went on the defensive. Babbling Cohen dredged up the attempt by Chavez in 1992 to overthrow an appallingly violent government - that had slaughtered 3,000 people in 1989 - with a privatisation agenda. Although Cohen seemed to want to praise Chavez for the move he had made to establish universal health-care and education in Venezuela. By the end it was apparent that the self-proclaimed last liberal failed to take these accomplishments seriously.

    You can easily spot the contrarians, they come in herds. The independent minds behind the Euston Manifesto love a good parade. The difference between these sorry liberals and the reactionnaires are emblematic. As with the French Revolution, the Right finds trouble with the very idea of 1789 whereas the liberals barf over 1793. So here we find the problem for the conservatives was Chavez by his very existence, for liberals the problem was the man's persistence. He proved you don't need to compromise, a most overrated fetish of liberalism. If Chavez had been overthrown properly in 2002, or better yet killed, before delivering on serious reform then the liberals and, indeed, sections of the Left would have a clean martyr. The coup of '92 would be forgotten, instead pages could be filled with ink about the glorious changes that would have been enacted had Chavez lived longer. To some extent this tune will be played by the Left should Venezuela descend back into darkness. Likewise the reactionists will toot and tweet that the death of Chavez has saved the country.

    We should be big enough to recognise the greatness of Hugo Chavez without losing sight of the flaws in his government and its achievements. It's possible to remain responsible and pragmatic leftists in a way which puts the liberals to shame. The left-wing critics of the late Comandante are the sort who prioritise conviction over responsibility. That's what differentiates them from the Chavez supporters who are much more pragmatic. It's correct to be scrupulous given the record Chavez developed for siding with despots. He even went as far as to side with Gaddafi amidst the Libyan Civil War and later sent oil to fuel Assad's war on his own people. And yet it's also important to keep in mind that there are no angels to save us. Demanding perfection from the most imperfect of situations amounts to a different kind of politics to anything serious. It's more the sort of politics that can be heard whenever someone makes a nebulous call for 'world peace'. Not only is it impractical, it's well distant from any theoretical concerns.

    Furthermore, the willingness to get one's hands dirty is a rarity in a world where the major political battles have been won by the Right. It's especially underrated in a discourse where radicalism is always portrayed as one step away from totalitarianism. Chavez was daring enough to try and defeat neoliberalism militarily, and when that failed the military man took up the ballot box as his weapon of choice. He was smart enough to recognise the opportunity of pursuing constitutional reform and then he was emboldened after the failed coup d'etat in 2002. Against all the odds the Comandante seemed to strive, almost unstoppable. No wonder the man thought he may be Simon BolĂ­var reincarnated. It was heroism in the struggle that Chavez demonstrated in his tenacity at the helm of a class war government. The liberal apprehension is at the prospects of success and not imminent defeat. The ambiguous legacy of Chavez actually doesn't even enter into the picture.

    What should we take from all of this? Firstly, it's important to remember that the battle is still raging for Latin America's future. The same fight has yet to culminate elsewhere. Believe it or not the socialist tradition is a tragic creed, as Terry Eagleton is right to remind us, in its awareness of the long horror story that lies behind and ahead. Resistance is by virtue of its condition uncomfortable. It requires commitment and sacrifice, for Progress often comes at a huge price. Its arrival may be hastened if we are willing to fight for it. Responsibility, not conviction, is revolutionary in its acceptance of the contours of resistance and the willingness to exercise power in full knowledge of the consequences. More than ever we could do with heroism on the Left. It's stoical fortitude that the liberals lack in particular, while it's a preserve for all serious radicals. This is what divides liberals from radicals on Chavez more or less. And we shouldn't concede any ground to liberalism on this front.

No comments: