Opinion and Analysis: International
Venezuela: Shunned by the Left?
About a month ago I had a discussion with a prominent progressive media publisher. During our chat he told me he thought Z diverse progressive media institutions that aggregate content from around the internet routinely ignore Z content or reprint it only when they can link to it from somewhere other than Z.
I replied the problem had a long history and had to do largely with positions we had taken over the years that have annoyed others. In the early days Z elevated race, gender, and power to importance equal to economy and class. Then, that was a sacrilege. Similarly, our views on the Mideast were also reviled, back then. These reasons have pretty much disappeared, however, as the views are in the first case nearly universal, and in the second, quite acceptable.
Not long after, it became our views about fund raising that isolated us. That still exists, but again, given changed times – it is not so great a factor, any more. Next our commitments to self management, equitable remuneration, and what we call balanced job complexes as preconditions of alternative media irked others.
The media publisher agreed that perhaps the commitments are part of the problem – but he wasn’t attuned to all that. He was confident, however, about another factor. He felt my trips to Venezuela, my articles about Venezuela, and in general Z’s continuing coverage and commentary regarding events and projects in Venezuela, were devestatingly harmful to Z’s image on the left. Our interest in Venezuela had lead, he felt, to a kind of ghettoization. This took me by surprise. I thought such a dynamic would be just too sectarian and, really, too politically ridiculous, to be true.
Time passed, and about a week ago I had a discussion with a notable writer of ours, and in the course of it I indicated that I thought there were only three media venues which did really serious and sustained coverage of Venezuela – which wasn’t quite fair, because I should have said four. I mentioned Venezuela Analysis, Green Left Weekly, and Z, and I should have included Center for Economic Policy Research (for Weisbrot’s excellent efforts). My apologies if I have left out other venues. The writer thought, however, that this was absurd and that, instead, most of the left was supportive of Venezuela – often blindly so – and highly engaged with it.
Sunday Feb 16 I decided to look and see, albeit informally. I went to the top page of as many English Language sites as I could think of, and I counted the number of articles linked. Then I counted the number of articles which in any way addressed Venezuela. At a moment of great upheaval in Venezuela, I anticipated that surely progressive outlets would be trying to understand unfolding events, explain them, and also counter currently rampant mainstream nonsense. I expected perhaps five to ten times the coverage of Venezuela in these outlets when I looked, Sunday, as one would see at less chaotic moments. The experiment was therefore going to be muddy, I thought, as a means of assessing average coverage, since coverage now would be far greater than average.
Below is what I found.
The first number is the total number of article links I counted on each top page, on each site. In some cases this was two or three days of links, in other cases it included links that went further back but remained in place due to being highlighted. I wasn’t so meticulous that I would swear I wasn’t low by one or two in the count in some cases.
The second number is the number of links to articles that address Venezuela. My apologies in advance if in some case I missed one due to a title that didn’t reveal the focus. I don’t think there are any errors like that, but if there are, it wouldn’t effect on the overall tally.
I should add that in a few cases, incredulous at what I was finding, I did look further back, to consider a longer time span. In the cases I examined there was nothing until I got to Chavez’s death – and of course everyone covered that. But here I just wanted to address what was apparent Sunday.
Here are the sites I examined and the results – the number of articles linked from the top page / the number addressing Venezuela at all.
Alternet 86 / 0
CeaseFire 11 / 0
Center for Economic Policy Research 12 / 0
Counter Punch 40 / 0
Democracy Now 20 /0
Dollars and Sense 25 / 0
Institute for Policy Studies 25 / 0
In These Times 40 / 0
Labor Notes 6 / 0
Le Monde Diplomatique 10 / 0
Libcom 8 / 0
Monbiot Blog 20 / 0
Monthly Review 34 / 0
NACLA 6 / 0
The Nation 20 / 0
New Internationalist 13 / 0
New Left Project 23 / 0
New Politics 30 / 0
New Statesman 30 / 0
Open Democracy 35 / 0
Other News 20 / 0
People’s World 20 /0
The Progressive 12 / 0
Real News 26 / 0
Red Pepper 20 / 0
ROAR 10 / 0
Socialist World 35 / 0
Tom Engelhardt 7 / 0
Toward Freedom 18 / 0
Transnational Institute 11 / 0
Truth Out 50 / 0
Waging Non Violence 12 / 0
I admit, even though I was expecting striking results, I was flabbergasted that it was so uniform and extreme. I would expect that in coming days it will get somewhat better. Indeed I just saw a piece on Counter Punch – on Tuesday. I then went to the three sites that I had said did cover Venezuela regularly – and I found this:
Green Left Weekly 17 / 2
ZNet 63 / 18 (one of these is a Weisbrot interview, which will probably show up on CEPR soon)
Venezuela Analysis 16 / 16
So what can we make of this? Are sites literally rejecting Venezuela related content? Yes, surely to an extent they are, or else, for example, lots of material from Venezuela Analysis or Z would show up on the sites that not only run their own content but also post best of the internet content – just as Z aggregates considerable content from Venezuela analysis in addition to running its own content on Venezuela. Are sites not soliciting on Venezuela? Obviously. Might sites be rejecting submissions? That is harder to judge. We can’t know for sure, but I would say, probably – though the difficulty also owes to a lack of submissions, no doubt. And are regular columnists ignoring what is occurring in Venezuela? Yes, obviously.
So, even assuming there will be some pieces in coming days, how do we explain this?
How does it come about that what is at the very least a country trying to move non violently and without legal violations toward more justice and equity – and I would say, as they claim, toward a kind of democratic and even self managing socialism, is at the very least, largely ignored. Why isn’t there extensive interesting in Venezuela setting up and supporting neighborhood and workplace councils and federated communes which I think nearly everyone acknowledges are being built. Why not in its having achieved a great many social, political, and economic gains for the public which again, I think virtually no one contests. Why not in how it is universally reviled by corporate media and by typical capitalist countries worldwide, which, again, virtually no one contests? Why, at a time of incredible focus on events there, is the left largely silent about events there?
What processes could possibly lead to such an overwhelming but counter intuitive result?
Of course, one answer is that all or at least some of these sites have decided that what has occurred and is occurring in Venezuela is of no real consequence and therefore doesn’t warrant attention. It is not important to provide information and analysis to help counter propaganda and to protect the Venezuelan project from lies. It is not important to try to learn lessons from Venezuelan efforts. In this view, as a shorthand, Venezuela would be like, I guess, North Korea. There is nothing there for progressive journalists and outlets to respectfully address or defend.
This is so ludicrous, in my view, that I hesitate to give it the slightest credibility by taking it seriously – yet I have heard it from serious people, with otherwise very insightful and in my view even highly exemplary views and practices. Of course they don’t explicitly say Venezuela equals North Korea – but they do say about Venezuela what they say about North Korea – there are no significant political lessons to be learned so there is no reason to investigate, learn, etc. They seem to think that if there is some valid criticism of Venezuela – and I suspect few of them have as many criticisms as I do – then their dismissive stance is warranted. Yet that is obviously ridiculous. Criticisms don’t warrant dismissal, but evaluation. So, for me, the question becomes how do folks come to adopt a dismissive stance? On what basis?
Since the idea that progressives who might write and progressive media institutions who might publish about Venezuela have seriously considered the situation and come to the conclusion that a country such as Venezuela should suffer the mainstream media lies that afflict it, and should suffer the both internal and external crimes perpetrated against it, and that in the rich and varied complications of the Venezuelan project there are no lessons worth finding and discussing – is just impossible for me to take seriously, I have to go a bit further.
Put differently, could it be that progressive writers and media institutions explicitly think the creation of tens of thousand of councils and dozens of communes, the enactment of all kinds of social programs in a country that is undergoing a continuous struggle for change against entrenched corporate and political power, and that is trying to build new institutions on a grand scale, including successes but also mistakes or even incomplete or wrong headed attempts, doesn’t have embedded in its experiences lessons to be learned, also staggers my imagination. So I have to look further.
Imagine asking someone who says “Venezuela deserves to be invisible in alternative media, or at least it doesn’t bother me that it is invisible there,” why he or she says that. I can think of a few explanations for this dismissiveness that could plausibly make sense to some folks.
1. I have looked closely and I believe Venezuela is of no interest for the left. Naturally we give it no space. Of course, I don’t write about it. And of course I am not concerned that others don’t write about it. And yes, I think others should see it as I do – and your survey suggests they do.
2. I have looked closely and I believe Venezuela is a mixed bag, and since I don’t want to publish/write or say anything bad about Venezuela for fear of abetting imperial designs, I don’t publish/write or say anything at all. And I am happy that others do likewise.
3. I don’t need to look at Venezuela closely. I know that a country in which a purportedly left project is undertaken but where the locus of the project is significantly the national government, much less a single key leader, has no informative lessons to spread, and – this time based on ideology rather than on looking – is therefore of no interest for a serious leftist.
4. We/I just haven’t had time to publish/write about it, yet. We are hard at work to provide useful commentary. Your research came too soon.
I think pretty much everyone on the left should think about their own interpretation of the list I offered at the outset and possible explanations. You might add other explanations that you see. But the inattention is too overwhelming to ignore, at least in my view. My brief response to the four possible explanations follow.
“Venezuela doesn’t warrant attention.”
I have to say that I think this is incredible, but I do understand it, I think. There was a time when Stalinists or fellow travelers who were often just good-hearted folks in the dark felt that the USSR was a great cauldron of radical innovation to be protected and learned from, emulated and aided. The truth was different. Couldn’t this be a time like that?
I suppose it could be – though as far as I can see, it isn’t. There is no evidence and tons of counter evidence. Venezuela is actually a capitalist country with a federal leadership that is seeking to change that fact but without violating laws, without violence, etc. Therefore, at the very least, both Venezuela’s successes and its failures should be of profound interest as information to use to assess different options, obstacles, etc.
If we go the next step and consider the actual events and changes – the free elections, the lack of top down repression for over a decade, and, I would say, the attempt to avoid such repression even in situations of horrible attack, as well as the construction of alternative institutions and redirection of existing ones – I think Venezuela warrants serious solidarity and support, defense, etc. But this view isn’t necessary to reverse dismissiveness. One can be highly critical, and not dismissive. Silence is rarely if ever a road to insight.
“Venezuela is a mixed bag. I don’t want to say anything critical that might abet imperial intervention.”
This explanation, too, seems to me well outside the range of sober and informed reasoning, though it does try to address being silent despite having some worthwhile things to say. But, again, I think I get it.
Consider decades back. The U.S. is blasting Southeast Asia to bits. Inside the U.S., the antiwar movement is hard at work. Astute participants know that North Vietnam is certainly not an exemplary beacon of a better future for humanity – far from it. But they don’t want to abet U.S. imperialism, so they don’t talk disparagingly about internal North Vietnamese social relations. I get it – I was part of it. The comparison, however, is so false that it is hard to credit this as a real underlying explanation of dismissiveness.
Why? Because, again, Venezuela is a society in internal struggle and not even remotely claiming to be at a destination, and, as a result, discussion of its events, choices, and their logic that is critical of some aspects and supportive of others, would be helpful all around, not harmful. Lessons for others, for future endeavors, would emerge. So too would, one hopes, insights for Venezuela. In any event, in addition to having potential insightful benefits, such honest discussion would be far less of an aid to imperial designs than silence. Actually it would obstruct them. In contrast, silence, now, really does aid imperial designs.
“I know what is going on in Venezuela – or what isn’t going on – without looking because of my understanding of people, history, and societies.”
Sad as it makes me, I think this explanation operates for many people. Again, I understand it, but I have to say, this is the possible explanation that bothers me most. First, consider this analogy to show the type of reasoning could have some basis at some times. Take the Russian revolution and anarchists like Emma Goldman. She had a world view and an understanding of people, history, and society which told her, just due to her knowing the role of the Bolsheviks, Lenin, etc., that she should expect to see something very far from desirable in the Soviet Union, even with some positive programs. I think this expectation exists now for many who dismiss Venezuela. And they think they are like anarchists rejecting the Soviet revolution – wise and informed, as compared to other people who are deluding themselves with false hope.
The first problem is that people like Emma Goldman certainly had expectations, but they looked to see if they were borne out. To simply move from ideology to conclusion without looking is sectarian and arrogant. The second problem is that such exemplary anarchists in the past were not silent. They investigated. When they unearthed problems they spoke of them, wrote of them, tried to learn and convey lessons from them. The third problem, is that Venezuela is not even remotely Bolshevik Russia. It is not a dictatorship. It is not a country in which popular organizations are being or have been destroyed by the government.
This basis for dismissal goes, at least in my view, something like this. “I know that a government can only do harm, overwhelmingly, plus sometimes provide some little bandaid programs of good, not least as a cover for the harm they do. A government cannot possibly be at war with capital, with patriarchy, with racism and especially with authoritarianism. A government cannot be trying – at all – to mobilize a populace to become self aware, militant, and eager for self management and equity. That is simply impossible. It cannot exist even as a hope, or as a contending effort, within a government that also has authoritarian elements. So any report of the Venezuelan government creating or aiding grassroots organizations, any report of their creating and seeking to aid councils and communes, any report of their massively enlarging education and health care for the poor, any report of their wanting to respect law and especially to empower a populace so that it becomes able to replace central authorities, must be lies or wishful thinking without basis. I don’t want to abet lies. So I look away.”
I do think that view exists and I find it horribly mistaken, even when manifested by close friends and allies. Indeed I will still find it to have been horribly mistaken even if, against my expectations, the constant machinations of capital in Venezuela and pressure from without finally succeed in provoking the government into repressive acts on a grand scale. One of the saddest ironies of history, in my view, is when people of truly libertarian commitment, favoring self management, think that by ignoring massive social processes they are actually abetting justice or even just doing no harm.
But I should be clear. The Venezuelan government, like all of Venezuelan society, and no doubt like each workplace and neighborhood, is conflicted. And I don’t just mean that there are opposition and Bolivarian factions in struggle – which there are, of course. I mean that among what are called the Chavistas there are those who are more committed to participation, democracy, and even self management – and those who are more authoritarian and dismissive of such concerns. Sadly, the international community of leftists that ought to be helping the former surpass the latter in support, are instead being silent, which doesn’t help.
Finally, I think the blame for the dismissal by much of alternative media and its audiences of Venezuela as a project that deserves informed criticism and support, and as a process to learn from and explicate, has another cause. It is that the Venezuelan government regards the U.S. left, and I think also but less so, the world left – at least outside Latin America – as irrelevant, unimportant, and certainly not worth any of their time. They do not think in terms of trying to clearly communicate their intents and choices, in a deep manner that could inform real assessment and thus real solidarity. They do not think in terms of trying to convey information and analysis suited to others drawing lessons that could inform activity elsewhere. I think this is a shame, and has horrible effects.
“We/I just haven’t had time, yet. We are hard at work to provide useful commentary. Your research came too soon.”
This is, of course, a perfectly valid explanation for a lack of coverage on Sunday, when I happened to look for it. For a monthly print periodical, for example, how could they have content in an issue that was prepared before the events? They couldn’t. But I was looking at sites online, and they typically update content regularly, and very often daily, and have quite a few days worth visible at any moment. Some publish only material they generate, and this explanation could apply in those cases. To know if it does, one would need to look and see – do they have coverage of other very current events, say the Ukraine, the Olympics, etc.? If not, then of course they are correct claiming this explanation – assuming if we looked back in time, over a year or two, or five, we would find ample coverage. For those that aggregate links from diverse sites, however, this explanation seems to me irrelevant.
My own hope is that all the obstacles to serious assessment and explication of the complexities of Venezuela will be overcome, lessons will be learned, and a profound process will be prevented from falling into the hands of authoritarian elements, or overthrown.
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