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Whispering Venezuela?

Michael Albert critiques the U.S. anti-authoritarian Left's silence in the face of U.S.-sponsored destabilization efforts in Venezuela, encouraging U.S. leftists to join in critical solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution at its hour of greatest need. 


My title, I grant, is odd, but then so is my subject.

Many sincere and committed anti authoritarian leftists have been largely silent (or even critically dismissive) for quite a long time about Venezuela. Even during attempts to overthrow the entire Bolivarian process there is much silence. Why are so many leftists so reticent about Venezuela?

In answer, I have heard that “Generalities won’t clarify, and beyond generalities, I know nothing to say.” I have also heard, “the trends are results of Bolivarian flaws. Since I have nothing positive to say, I think it is wise I say nothing at all.”

Why do many otherwise incredibly well informed leftists know nothing beyond generalities about Venezuela? Why do many anti authoritarian activists have nothing supportive to say?

I believe the subtext of both these and many other standoffish or dismissive reactions to Venezuela is alienation from and sharp but often ill informed or misinformed criticism of Venezuelan events. What befuddles me, especially now, is why this condition exists at all, and, given that it does exist, why it leads to silence, or to whispering.

To my eyes, Venezuela has sought a libertarian, non violent, and even participatory path more so then any other large scale project in the world. I would think that would merit major attention, assessment, lesson learning, and support, and certainly not silence much less hostility.

Neighborhoods organized, albeit with great difficulty, into councils, and councils into larger communes. Isn’t this what an anti authoritarian, non violent, participation-advocating left wants?

Grass roots missions to solve social problems? Expanded education and health care? Democracy defended and plebiscites repeatedly taken and enacted? Do these and many other positive trends mean the Bolivarian project is flawless? Of course not. Do they mean that concern and criticism are unwarranted? Of course not. Do they mean the Bolivarian effort will succeed without doubt? Of course not. But the alternative to being a mindless sycophantic booster need not and should not be being silent or derogatory.

And in any case, why should Venezuela’s project being less than perfect deter people from feeling outrage at the right wing and corporate opposition in Venezuela and at U.S. machinations seeking Venezuela’s collapse? Why should the Venezuelan project being less than perfect prevent support for the best of Venezuela’s efforts as well as constructive criticism of whatever one finds wanting?

I think no serious progressive person would say the Venezuelan project being less perfect than some abstract textbook conception ought to terminate our support for it. Ought to silence our voices for it. Yet Venezuela being less than abstractly perfect often has had just that effect. Or so it seems to me.

It behooves us, I think, to ask why.

I can abstract away from specific people and offer some possible answers, but I have no idea if my answers actually apply. To decide, people who have a hands off or aggressively dismissive mindset will have to interrogate their own motives.

Is it that some folks believe the flaws of the Bolivarian process are so damning that however well motivated it may be it is going to fail, intrinsically, and since it is going to fail, they don’t support it? This too, seems unlikely. After all, the probability of failure is only enhanced by lack of critical and wise support. If people fear failure, why wouldn’t they work to avert that outcome, even if they feel averting it will be very hard? Isn’t the duty of the revolutionary to make the revolution — and to defend efforts in that direction? Surely it is not, instead, to support only sure things.

Unlike the above two unlikely possibilities, is it that some whisperers and dismissers feel, “wait just a minute, Venezuela doesn’t match my understanding of revolution, or even of a project moving positively. Venezuela is instead, to my eyes, just another statist, authoritarian, aberration.” Thinking this, such a person will understandably decide not to support Venezuela, though perhaps also not to criticize at a time when doing so would fuel violent right wing agendas. But, I have to wonder, is thinking this due to first hand knowledge? Is thinking this due to extensive examination? Do non supporters have convincing data? Do they have something actual to point at?

What policies and commitments of Venezuela give them an impression that the endeavor isn’t in a positive direction or, worse, the impression that it is contrary to positive aims? It can’t be the councils, communes, or grassroots missions, so what is it?

When the anti Leninist left is dismissive, I wonder if it occurs by way of a kind of analogy to past history. Anti Leninists know that once upon a time, many very wonderful leftists lent their support to the Bolshevik project. The Russian revolution was under attack, after all. But even at those moments, its destiny was written in its own policies. The Leninists crushed vehicles of popular expression. They established the infrastructure of what became a gulag state. Supporters not seeing that reality, then, blinded by their hopes, were making a severe error. I suspect non supporters of Venezuela fear making the same mistake. They don’t want to let hope  that the Bolivarian process is good outweigh purported evidence that it is bad. So they refrain from supporting Venezuela believing that by withholding support they are like the prescient early critics of Leninism, and, then, additionally, by being silent rather than pubnlic, they aren’t ratifying reaction. But what is their purported evidence?

This is where a conundrum arises. For I just don’t see what gives this analogy weight. For example, can any whisperers or dismissers who believes they are wisely refraining from supporting authoritarian centralism point to new Bolivarian laws that are reactionary and repressive, other than regurgitating manufactured nonsense from mainstream propaganda? Can they point to structures being constructed in Venezuela that are reactionary, or to structures that are participatory and being crushed? Can they point to Bolivarian concepts or values that themselves auger authority and repression? What am I missing? I certainly see problems, but nothing that remotely warrants dismissal.

For example, one can point to corruption. But it certainly isn’t being ignored by the Bolivarian process much less becoming policy. One can point to over reliance on oil — though just exactly how those pointing to oil dependence would have significantly reduced that dependence is quite unclear. One can even make a case that Venezuela’s transformation has been too slow, too respectful of old laws and property relations, and too hesitant to alter media relations, but that would be the opposite of what those who refrain from supporting the Venezuelan project seem to fear. Do people realize that if they believe any of this is a compelling reason for them to not support Venezuela, to be consistent they would then never be able to support any effort to transform any society because in the muddy and muddled world we inhabit, any such effort will include errors by activists and also elements of corruption. Habits from the past can’t be dispensed easily. But shouldn’t the response to such problems be to provide assistance and when quite confident of a critical assessment, also cautious commentary that might help correct serious errors, if those errors do indeed exist?

I have written quite a lot about Venezuela during its Bolivarian experience. This has included raising numerous questions and criticisms, as well as offering reports of admirable undertakings to try to clarify and learn from them, and even offering some suggestions. But none of what I have seen or heard about Venezuela seems to me to remotely justify being silent about U.S. machinations or about those of Venezuela’s reactionary opposition, or, for that matter, about errors or wrong headed or incomplete views of its Bolivarian leadership. 

Toward Venezuela, now is a time for aid, support, listening, learning, and, when quite confident, also providing humble and hopefully helpful advice for overcoming problems.

It is not the place of revolutionaries to watch world historic endeavors from the sidelines, either castigating aggressively or whispering unobtrusively due to thinking those endeavors aren’t perfect, include errors, don’t yet evidence complete and absolute freedom. Yes, someone looking on from the side, that way may, when the dust clears, in the socially worst case, be able to intone over the grave of the effort they rejected, “see, I told you so…I got it right. They failed.” What a sad kind of self affirmation that would be. And I have to wonder, in a vastly more preferable scenario wherein the rejected project persists and proceeds, will those same critics say, down the road, “I was horribly wrong,” or will they forget that they ever refused to lend a hand?