Venezuela: A Dictionary of Euphemisms of the Liberal Opposition

The anti-Chavez political discourse which has had some resonance in Venezuela and overseas, especially among liberals, politicians, progressive activists and social democratic academics, has been articulated by Venezuelan academics linked to NGO’s, financed by overseas foundations and posing as ‘center-left’.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely
the defense of the indefensible…Thus political language has to consist
largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness…Such
phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up
mental pictures of them.

– George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” in Why I Write


The Venezuelan political process in the post-referendum period
(after December 2, 2007) has experienced a wide-ranging debate, in
which both critics and supporters of the Venezuelan road to socialism
have participated. The extreme right-wing and the US State Department
have focused exclusively on what they call the popular reaction against
President Chavez’ ‘authoritarianism’, ‘radical agenda’ and have sought
to exploit the moment to discredit the President by sabotaging Chavez’
efforts (backed by France and most of Europe and Latin American
regimes) to negotiate a prisoner exchange between the FARC-EP
guerrillas and the Uribe regime in Colombia. Two weeks after the
referendum, the Federal Government fabricated a case linking the
Venezuelan government to an attempt to finance the Presidential
elections in Argentina. The US and right-wing propaganda offensive has
failed to ignite any response within Venezuela and has thoroughly
backfired. All of the major US allies in Europe (except England) and in
Latin America (except Mexico and Chile) have repudiated the US attacks
on Chavez.

The anti-Chavez political discourse which has had some resonance in
Venezuela and overseas, especially among liberals, politicians,
progressive activists and social democratic academics, has been
articulated by Venezuelan academics linked to NGO’s, financed by
overseas foundations and posing as ‘center-left’.

A critical textual reading of the center-left writings reveals a
narrative replete in political euphemisms, hedged in the language and
rhetoric of the social movements but which when de-constructed reveals
a basic hostility to class analysis and social transformation. As
George Orwell once wrote, political intellectuals are the masters of
euphemisms, using language that obscures the meaning of reactionary
politics: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful
and murder respectable, to give an appearance of solidity to pure
wind.” (George Orwell, Why I Write)

The center-left academic ideologues in Venezuela have mastered an
entire repertory of euphemism which they have trotted out for specific
political goals: To unite technocrats and incrementalist liberals in
the Chavez government with the liberal opposition to block any
egalitarian social transformation of property relations and transition
to socialism. As one of Cuba’s most illustrious intellectual statesmen
and former Culture Minister, Armando Hart has stated: The battle of
ideas is an integral part of the struggle for socialism.

A first step to demystifying the center-left rhetoric embodied in
their counter-revolutionary narrative is to apply critical analysis to
some of the key political euphemisms they use to attack the Chavez
government and its policies. Euphemisms are abuses of language used by
anti-Chavez professors to obscure ideological and class interests and

For purposes of this essay, I have selected an essay by Edgardo
Lander, a prominent Venezuelan sociologist and critic of the
revolutionary tendencies in the Chavista government. His essay, “El Proceso político en Venezuela entra en un encrucijada crítica,”
is an excellent example of the use of political language to obfuscate
political realities, relying on euphemisms to give ‘an appearance of
solidity to pure wind’.

In the post-election period, the center-left critics demanded a
return to ‘pluralism’ as an antidote to ‘authoritarianism’. ‘Pluralism’
is a euphemism for a class society (multiple classes = plural), in
which the capitalist class dominates the electoral system (‘plural
parties’ = domination by capitalist financing). ‘Pluralism’ is a common
euphemism used by bourgeois academics because it is a vague, abstract
concept that obscures the issues of property ownership and
concentration of the means of production and communication. In reality,
there is nothing ‘plural’ about capitalist democracies, by any measure
of power and wealth. The existence of multiple classes, politicians and
parties tells us little or nothing about the social relations,
concentration of power and inequalities of access to the state.

The academic critics of Chavez write of ‘the independence of the
Central Bank’. This vague and abstract notion, begs the question of
independence from whom and for what interests and purposes? Central
Banks that are not accountable to elected officials, respond to the
financial markets or more precisely to the international and local
bankers and investors. This is obviously the case in almost all
capitalist democracies where the selection of the heads of the Central
Banks is based on their ties, histories and close favorable relations
(‘confidence’) with international finance capital. In contrast, a
Central Bank, subject to the control of elected officials, can be
influenced by voters, public opinion and social movements pressuring
for favorable monetary policies.

When liberals object to the increased access of the popular classes
to the government and to the loss of middle class monopoly of
government budgetary allocations, they resort to calls for ‘open
politics’. This is namely the re-opening of the front doors of policy
makers to liberal and social democratic academic advisers. ‘Open
politics’ is a refrain frequently voiced by the US imperial state when
their foundation-funded NGO’s and political networks pushing for
‘regime change’ find the going tough because of greater attention to
thwarting their destabilization operations. The question avoided by the
academic critics is ‘open’ for whom and ‘for what political interests’?
In the case of Venezuela, the real ‘lack of openness’ is largely a
function of the opposition’s monopoly control over 90% of the
electronic and print media and the ideological predominance of
opposition academics in the public and private universities and
class-rooms (including the Central University of Venezuela). In
contrast, the trade unions, business associations, civil society
movements of all tendencies have flourished during the Chavez decade —
in what is perhaps the most vibrant expression of ‘open politics’ in
the Western Hemisphere.

In these conditions then what does the call for ‘open politics’
mean? It is simply a ‘defense of the indefensible’ — the maintenance of
private monopoly control of the mass media against any attempts to
expand and deepen popular access and control over the means of
communication. The academic liberals cannot openly state: “Do not
democratize the media; we uphold the right of big private conglomerates
to control the media, including their right to incite and defend
military coups.” Instead they resort to vacuous euphemisms like ‘open
politics’ — in effect disarming the popular government and undermining
its attempts to open access of the mass media to the popular classes
and their interests.

On of the most insidious forms of US, European and ruling class
efforts to undermine autonomous mass movements is the funding, training
and proliferation of the misleadingly self-labeled ‘Non-Governmental
Organizations’ (NGO). The liberal academic critics (LAC) of the
democratically elected Chavez government echo and mimic the rhetoric of
the NGOs — accusing Venezuela of lacking popular participation and
discouraging ‘open and democratic debate.’

The LAC never consider the anomaly that the leaders of the NGOs are
never elected, their proposals for overseas funding are never debated
or voted on by their self-designated beneficiaries and that they shape
their activities to induce foreign elite donors to fund their hard
currency salaries and 4X4 vehicles, lap-top computers and their ‘staff
secretaries’ etc.. The greatest enemies of democratic accountability
are the NGOs who are never criticized or even mentioned in the
polemical writing of the LAC in the Venezuelan ‘political process’. The
pervasive influence and proliferation of NGOs is no minor factor in the
‘political process’ least of all in Venezuela. Worldwide there are over
100,000 NGOs receiving over $20 billion dollars/Euros from the imperial

Unlike the self-appointed NGOs and their leaders and liberal
academic advisers, President Chavez has consulted the electorate a
dozen times in free and open elections. His programs are funded by
Venezuelan taxpayers and subject to the approval or rejection of
elected legislators. The liberal academics rather than openly
expressing their objection to the increasingly radical organized mass
support and debate concerning President Chavez’ socio-economic
programs, resort to euphemisms about the ‘plebiscatory’ style of
governance’ –- forgetting about the authoritarian dictated lectures in
their class rooms fostered by administrators ‘elected’ by a ‘cabal of
professors’ with lifetime tenure.

Several of the most favored euphemisms by the liberal academic
critics are ‘anti-statism’, ‘civil society’ and ‘market economy’.
‘Statism’ evokes and is associated with an unresponsive powerful
vertical structure which oppresses and impoverishes people, and is only
answerable to arbitrary bureaucrats. While there is no doubt that
several state agencies in Venezuela are inefficient and fail to carry
out government programs (especially re-distributive policies),
nevertheless public ownership and fiscal policies, especially energy
policy has led to a vast increase in funding of public services
(health, education and food distribution) for the 60% of lower income
Venezuelans. Opposition to ‘statism’ brings together a strange amalgam
of far right authoritarian liberals (Hayek, Friedman), social
democratic neo-liberals (Blair, Giddens, Lula, Sarkozy and their
Venezuelan followers) and libertarian anarchists. The main sources of
financing of the think tanks, journals and research of the critics of
‘statism’ are the Ford Foundation, the Ebert Foundations and an
alphabet soup of acronyms of other ruling class institutions.

The demonizing of the ‘state’ is what brings together the
ideologues of the far right and the center-left. In the name of
anti-statist ‘freedom’, the unrestrained, deregulated and voracious
activity of private national capitalist monopolies and
multinational banks and corporations can flourish. The state is the
only institution potentially capable of countering, controlling and
confronting the giant private corporations. The fundamental issue is
not ‘anti-statism’ but the class nature of the state and its accountability to the majority of working people.

The most vacuous, deceptive concept manipulated by the
‘anti-statist’ liberal academic critics of President Chavez is ‘civil
society’ as in ‘supporting civil society against the state’.

‘Civil society’ is a euphemism for class society; it
is a concept that occults fundamental class divisions, conflicting
class organizations and exploitative relations. Bastardized versions of
Gramsci’s Prison Writings, where his fascist censors forced
him to adopt an Aesopian language, has been adopted by liberal
academics to write about a homogenous (class free) ‘civil society’
against the (oppressive) ‘state’.

In Venezuela, ‘civil society’ is far from homogenous, as is evident
from its deep class divisions, political polarization and the chasm
between the majority popular strata supporting the (Chavez-led) ‘state
and the upper class. The opposition’s ‘civil society’ discourse is a
rhetorical device used by the NGO bureaucrats and liberal academic
elites to obfuscate their practice of class collaboration, their
support for private capital against public ownership and to attract big
grants from their imperial sponsors.

One of the most commonly expressed euphemisms is the reference by
liberal and social democratic critics of Chavez policies to ‘market
economics’. This is another effort ‘to give an appearance of solidity
to pure wind’. Markets have existed for thousands of years throughout
the world under a great variety of societies and economies — from
tribal, feudal, slave, mercantile, competitive and monopoly capitalism.
There are local markets based on small-scale producers and world
markets dominated by less than a thousand multi-national corporations
and financial institutions. The use of ‘market economy’ evokes false
images of transactions by equal producers/nations recalling a
past, which never existed. The real existing ‘market economy’ is
dominated by competing and co-operating large-scale multi-billion
dollar monopolies, which penetrate all unregulated economies. Their
power and exploitation can only be countered by nationalist or
socialist states accountable to organized class movements and central
planning. Any honest and truthful discussion must pose the issue of
economic strategies and the role of the state and market in its
appropriate world-historical setting: imperial capital, national state,
class-based social movements and institutions.

When questions of democracy and participation are seriously
discussed, the focus should not be exclusively on the states but should
also include influential associations in society. There is no
discussion or mention by Venezuelan liberal democratic theorists of the
plurality of authoritarian, non-participatory and elite-dominated
business associations, civic organizations, private media
conglomerates, traditional parties and trade unions. Their leaders are
re-elected repeatedly (some for life) without dissent or competition
nor even consultation with their constituents.

The liberal academics, apart from ignoring the
profoundly authoritarian vertical structure of the dominant
institutions in ‘civil society’, fail to even pose the question of how
this plurality of dictatorial elite institution is compatible
with democracy. The liberal academics’ analytical and moral blindness
to the deep-rooted arbitrary rule over culture, economy and society by
this anti-democratic elite is the other side of the coin to their
one-sided preoccupation with the democratic deficit in elected public
institutions and pro-Chavez parties, trade unions and neighborhood

The profound lack of clarity by Chavez critics and the exponents of
liberal ideology is intimately related to their foreknowledge that
speaking clearly and precisely would unmask their defense of the capitalist
markets; their opposition to ‘statism’ as opposition to public
ownership; their support of authoritarian elite institutions is their
defense of ‘civil society’; their opposition to the mass-based support
for Chavez’ radical initiatives is presented as ‘popular autonomy’.

The methods of the liberal academic critics are as
revealing of their reactionary politics as their ill-disguised ruling
class loyalties. They use a microscope to detect flaws in the fabric of
the pro-Chavez social movements, voters and policies of the Chavez
government and a telescope to describe the large-scale, long-term
blatant intervention and collaboration of the US imperial state and its
Venezuelan allies.

The liberal demands are unilaterally directed at one side in the
political process. Profound criticism is directed at the Chavez
organizations, not to the students and academics who were bankrolled by
the US state agencies. Apparently academics accepting finances from the
National Endowment for Democracy shouldn’t be asked to ‘critically re-think
their collaboration with a foreign imperial power committed to
destroying democratic institutions. Liberal academic critics rely on
subjective gossipy anecdotes to feed their anti-Chavez animus, instead
of open public facts. The speculate on ‘Presidential ambiguity’
regarding the referendum result, instead of listening and watching
President Chavez immediate and forthright recognition of the
referendum’s defeat.

The political language of euphemism is designed to make lies sound
truthful, to make ruling class exploitation respectable, and to give
liberal-democratic rhetoric the appearance of solidity. This brief
inventory of euphemism is designed to unmask the ideologies of
anti-Chavism ‘lite’ and to encourage the advance of Venezuelan

James Petras, a former
Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a
50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless
and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed Books). His latest books are The Power of Israel in the United States (Clarity Press, 2006) and Rulers and Ruled (Bankers, Zionists and Militants (Clarity Press, 2007). He can be reached at: [email protected]. Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

Source: Dissident Voice