Guardian

‘CiF’ writer dismisses ‘bourgeois freedoms’ in Venezuela, and the “distraction” of antisemitism


In South America there is a leader who tramples on civil liberties, foments antisemitism and supports some of the world’s most reactionary and murderous regimes.

Naturally, Hugo Chavez a darling of many on the Guardian Left.

While you can read a recent post written by a former Stalinist – currently Guardian Associate Editor – named Seumas Milne here, expressing euphoria over the re-election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a more interesting piece was published at ‘Comment is Free’ by Jonathan Glennie.

The post, ‘Chavez’s power-hungry style could further radical change in Venezuela (placed at the Guardian’s ‘Global Poverty’ section) is truly a leftist propaganda tour-de-force, framing the assault on liberal values under Chavez as thoroughly consistent with progressive sensibilities.

First, a bit of background:

A recent report by HRW concluded that “the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human rightshave allowed the Chávez government to intimidate, censor and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media and civil society”. 

The report includes the following details:

“Chávez and his supporters in the National Assembly have taken dramatic steps to ensure their political control over the Supreme Court, which has been packed with political allies since 2004…The Supreme Court’s record has only worsened in recent years, with justices openly rejecting the principle of separation of powers and publicly pledging their commitment to advancing Chávez’s political agenda”

“The government has targeted media outlets for sanction and/or censorship for their critical reporting on the government’s response to issues such as water pollution, violent crime, a prison riot, and an earthquake.”

“When Human Rights Watch released its last report at a news conference in Caracas in 2008, Chávez responded by having the group’s representatives forcibly detained and summarily expelled from the country.”

The human rights organization Freedom House corroborates these findings.

Further, as Carl Packman at ‘Left Foot Forward’ – a popular British left-wing blog – argued, the regime has demonstrated a consistent willingness to use antisemitism to advance its political agenda.

“The problems surrounding anti-Semitism in the [Chavez] camp have only been bolstered by the fact Capriles [his opponent in the election] is of Jewish extraction, despite being a devout Catholic today. An article that appeared on the website of Venezuelan National Radio in February of this year accused Capriles of belonging to a secret Jewish movement in Venezuela and working on behalf of Zionist ideology.” [emphasis added]

“…blatant anti-Semitism of colleagues Martín Sánchez of the Venezuelan Consul General in San Francisco and Gonzalo Gómez, an active member of the governing PSUV party, whose website aporrea.org is awash with anti-Semitic, and historical revisionism.

Packman then cites posts by the blog, Judeopshere, which translated some of the material found on apporrea.org:

Failed Zionists, Jews, Fascists, Murderers:

“[Zionists] coolly determined that killing thousands of Palestinians in a single operation [in the Gaza war] would facilitate the final dispossession of the ancestral lands of the village that gave birth to the Messiah, whom their predecessors murdered 2009 years ago.”

Hunting Jews:

“If we stop a moment and review the history, we should ask: Why has the supposed extermination of the Jews had and still has more notoriety than the actual extermination of African people? Why has the alleged extermination of Jews achieved major fame?… Does this have to do with a particular project which has sought to make Israel and the Zionist Jews the real owners of this world?”

Packer also writes that, last year, the state-run radio station “broadcast a reading of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  During the show, the journalist reading it expressed her admiration for “Jews and ‘non-Zionist’ Israelis” before praising “little pearls” of wisdom from the book which, she believes, explain why “Zionists have been able to amass a concentration of power and wealth.”

In 2008 on the same station, there was a broadcast which included the following: 

Hitler’s partners were Jews… like the Rockefellers, who were Jews [Editors’ note: The Rockefellers are not Jews]. These were not the Jews murdered in the concentration camps. [Those killed] were working-class Jews, Communist Jews, poor Jews, because the rich Jews were the ones behind the plan to occupy Palestine.”

Packer also notes that “Chavez’s former adviser and confidante Norberto Ceresole was also a known Holocaust denier” and that “Venezuelan attacks on Jews have risen significantly.”

Finally, what Latin American “anti-imperialist” could possibly gain respect on the Guardian Left without the requisite support for anti-American, anti-Zionist dictatorial regimes around the globe?

Sure enough, Chavez is one of Iran’s few allies in Latin America, was a strong backer of Gaddafi (even during the civil war), and still continues to support Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

None of this is evidently a problem for the ‘Comment is Free’ contributor.

Glennie – though he did at least acknowledge the report by HRW cited above – argues thus:

“…it is important not to mistake a negative report of this nature with an overall analysis of the progress in, and challenges facing,Venezuela, for two main reasons: first, because the state of political freedom is more complex than the report implies, and second because restricting the actions of some can sometimes be necessary to further change in highly unequal and politically polarised contexts.” [emphasis added]

Did you follow that? A more exquisite example of ideologically inspired rhetoric in the service of defending repressive regimes would difficult to find.

Glennie continues:

“Second, and somewhat more awkwardly for liberals in established democracies, the complete freedom of the press is not always a sign of a functioning democracy – in some contexts it can actually militate against progress for the majority poor.”

In Glennie’s tortured logic, freedom of the press can be anathema to genuine democracy. 

Again, Glennie:

“There are some who argue that democracy is important for poverty reduction, and others who suggest that democracy can actually throw up barriers to progress on social and economic rights….There are many examples where more freedoms are indeed crucial to progress for the poorest, but there are also certainly examples where clamping down on media and other freedoms can be justified for development purposes.”

Freedom is arguably – according to the CiF contributor – subservient to the more important goal of poverty reduction.

Glennie, sensing possible objections, then writes:

“This is anathema to most westerners who don’t understand the political complexities in countries very different from their own…”

“Unfortunately there is little doubt that many important constituencies will wield it in precisely that way, preferring simplistic condemnations to a mature analysis of the complexities of political change after centuries of inequality and repression.” [emphasis added]

Simpletons, we are – unable to understand the logic, and ageless wisdom, of such sophisticated revolutionaries.   

Glennie doesn’t address the regime’s other demonstrably right-wing political leanings but, in fairness, did admit there is a problem with antisemitism on the left in a personal Tweet.

However, he contextualized its manifestation in Venezuela with a subsequent Tweet:

The erosion of press freedom, an independent judiciary under attack, support of tin-pot dictators around the globe, and state-sponsored antisemitism? Right-wing propaganda or, at best, concerns animated by a false liberal consciousness. 

The status of individual rights in Venezuela represent, for Glennie and his fellow political travelers, mere distractions – irrelevant bourgeois freedoms which can justifiably be sacrificed in the quest to achieve a worker’s paradise.

Glennie’s attempt to undermine faith in Western democratic freedoms, as with his related Marxist-inspired anti-imperialist delusions, represent the genuine fault lines separating the genuinely progressive left from the political charlatans and mere posers.

And, finally, speaking of posers, a fellow Guardianista recently expressed his support for Glennie’s defense of Chavez:

The “blinding irrationality” of the socialism of fools: same as it ever was.

21 replies »

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how socialists of all types can overlook and excuse just about any deviancy if it furthers their aberrant fantasies. It has to a mental issue because I can’t see any other logical explanation. However, it’s worrying that such a large portion of the world are so susceptible to this affliction. Is it acquired at birth, or is it passed on by some vector during the development years? Has any research been carried out to determine its causes?

    • Ideologues of all stripes do the same, and it’s a basic aspect of human psychology. Pretending that it’s some sort of special socialist twitch that’s utterly confusing to the rest of us is just foolishness.

  2. John I am a socialist and have been for many decades.
    Over the decades I have supported and campaigned in support of a state for the Jewish people that is Israel with secure borders, and with Jerusalem as its capital. I see no contradiction whatsoever in being both socialist and zionist. In fact I find it hard to believe that you can be a socialist, or progressive, and not support the RIGHT of Jewish people to their own state Israel.

    To those who want to condemn me because I’m a socialist I reply the same as I do to those who condemn me because I support Israel’s right to exist, Go Screw Yourself!

    • In principle you are right Gerald. Indeed Israel’s beginnings were derived from socialist leanings and one can also argue that socialist values and economics enabled the country to absorb so many and provide despite the hardships. In my humble view, it is not so much about right and left, but about right and wrong.

      The problem today with the left is their application of an ” idealism ” that comes with this political thinking being applied in such a partial way that the results from it no longer provide real visible benefits . If anything, the results tend to be skewed political thinking and with strong anti-semitic content and overtones and on a road to nowhere. “Palestine” is the one issue that seems to unite the present left and Israel has become the symbolic totem of capital that needs to be changed.

      It is no coincidence that so many became disillusioned, particularly when a state of reality and truth strongly conflict with that idealism and the left does not adapt, preferring to remain loyal to a “the cause” – whatever that became. Some of course are able to see a clearer non-tainted view that value a more democratic and liberal outlook that allows for tolerance outside this thinking and yet retain a principled socialist position. But those who hold such views are declining in numbers and the left would argue, is not TRUE socialism.

      To think, that until Chavez, anti-semism in Venezuela was almost unheard of.What a damn shame he was re-elected!

      • Josh,

        True!

        You forgot to mention another main motive which is the “anti US”.

        But even Fiddel Castro which admits of being an Anti Semite stated recently that Chavez has gone way too far in his Anti Jewish campaign and slogans…

        • I don’t know about Chavez, but Castro made some candid comments recently about Iran going too far and reminding Ahmadinejad that Jews have the longest suffering history of persecution than any other people and that it was not acceptable.

      • Joshua the late David Cairns, a former Labour MP and Chair of Labour Friends of Israel until his early and untimely death put it very well;

        “This is a call for the left to recognise that, in good times and bad, Israel has undeniably positive attributes: a free and vibrant media; a robust, independent judiciary; strong trade unions; a generous welfare state; equality for gays and lesbians; and an unrivalled commitment to free, world-class education. It is to remind ourselves of the values that brought us into progressive politics, and to acknowledge that there is still only one country in the Middle East where those values are lived out every day. This is the progressive case for Israel.”

        Those who attack Israel and call themselves progressives or socialists are using those terms as masks and cloaks. Masks and cloaks to cover up their true selves, nasty little anti-semites. Sadly they have been with us for centuries, only in the past they didn’t use the mask and cloak of socialist or progressive in an attempt to cover up the vile and abhorent creatures they are.

      • Itsik you are mistaken. There are only a very small number of kibbutzim keeping the old socialist traditions, the moshavim never were socialists -the common use of expensive equipments and common marketing are things of the past and their purpose was to better exploit the resources – nothing socialistic..

        • Did they not also strive for a more ‘equal’ society with certain socialist elements?
          I think there were a few ‘socialist’ kibbutzim. It ultimately failed, but could one not say that they were precursors to the communes during the sixties and seventies?
          I could image that it was an empowering experience coming out of subaltern Europe. Suddenly manifesting your own destiny….

  3. I had a chortle when I saw Milne’s latest “revolutionary” nonsense yesterday. But Chavez’s use of anti-Semitic rhetoric – not to mention his megalomaniac tendencies – are no laughing matter.

    As Gerald above points out – Chavez is not representative of genuine leftwingers.

    • “Chavez is not representative of genuine leftwingers.”

      It disturbs me that so many who enter discussions on the I/P issue see it as a left/right issue. It isn’t (as Gerald eloquently sets out above). I am becoming more and more convinced that it’s a simple divide between those who love freedom and liberal values (whether from the “left” or the “right”) and – yes, I’ll say it – antisemites.

      It has long been accepted that “left” and “right” wing converge at the extremes. The political spectrum is less of a line than a circle. There is really no difference between facist and socialist dictatorships other than certain elements of rhetoric.

      This explains also why so-called “liberals” such as Milne can ally themselves with such fascits as Hamas, Hezbollah etc.

      • I would add that I simply don’t understand the American aversion to anything and everything “socialist”. I presume it is simply a hangover from the McCarthyist paranoia about Stalinist communism from the 50s and 60s, but it never fails to amaze me that Americans seem unable to distinguish between liberal socialism and rabid communism.

  4. “A recent report by HRW concluded”

    I hate to see HRW cited as a credible source. We know that they are not credible when reporting on the Middle East. You cannot really be selective and say they are credible when they say things you agree with and not credible when they say things you disagree with. Citing them in Venezuela only enhances the halo effect when they report from Gaza.

    Stan

    • Stan – I disagree. It is perfectly possible, indeed inevitable that people (or organisations) will be right about some things and wrong about others. It is childish (and increasingly prevalent in today’s popular media) to believe that an individual or group is either entirely a “goody” or irretrievably a “baddy”.

      The fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is an arrogant, vain **** does not mean that he is also not one of the most brilliant footballers in history. One can recognise the former without denying the latter.

      The fact that the Guardian is hopelessly biased when it comes to Israel does not detract from the quality of its reporting on, say, sport.

  5. Another great friend of hugo chavez is London’s now thankfully ex mayor ken livingstone. Where does one start in holding ken livingstone in contempt

  6. Dear all, I just posted this on a different website, Hurryupharry, I would be happy to engage in serious debate of this important subject, but your characterisation of my views is so inaccurate it is hard to see where to start at the moment! Your description of my piece on Chavez’s halo-effect as pro-Chavez is just proof of exactly what I am saying – we need to have a balanced analysis of Chavez, who does some good things and some bad things. Is that really beyond our collective intellect? All the best, Jonathan

    Dear all, if you get down this far you might salvage yourselves from a misunderstanding. I can think of nothing more important than women’s rights, racism and anti-semitism. What I meant in my tweet conversation with Carl was that in the context of this particular election the issues of abortion and anti-semitism are irrelevant, a distraction from the key issues Venezuelans are deciding on. Or do you prefer the Venezuelan right wing’s policies on these issues? I was criticizing Carl’s piece for elevating them to relevant electoral issues in this particular context.

    You may not have seen another of my tweet’s to Carl which said: “@CarlRaincoat Having said that, raising the flag against anti-semitism in the left in Latin America is worth doing, i see it a lot…” Last time I heard a left-winger say something nasty about Jews I threatened to leave the table, but she flew into a rage and left instead.

    Sorry to puncture your outrage. I know it is more fun to despise people, but it is rarely that simple! This is a good lesson in the problems in twitterati debates. All the best, I often agree with blogs and comments on this site, believe it or not, although I find the tendency to fly into a rage a little bit lame sometimes! I have learnt over the years to listen hard and respectfully to other points of view, even when they seem jarring, in fact especially then. Jonathan

  7. …we need to have a balanced analysis of Chavez, who does some good things and some bad things.
    Yes. And we need to have a balanced analysis of Hitler/Stalin/Mao (take your pick) all of them did some good things and bad things.
    Is that really beyond our collective intellect?
    No. It is only beyond your intellect to understand that when the “bad things” mean racism, dictature and oppression then the “good things” are going to lose their significance.
    Let’s not forget that under the rule of the Italian precursor of this Venezuelan pocket Mussolini the trains run on time, Stalin transformed the feudal Russia to an industrial powerhouse and Hitler built the most modern and effective road system and the living standards of the average Germans changed dramatically for good.
    I can think of nothing more important than women’s rights, racism and anti-semitism.
    Yes you can. You yourself wrote that the racist rhetoric of the Chavez camp is less important than their socialist message.
    Or do you prefer the Venezuelan right wing’s policies on these issues?
    Yes Mr. Glennie I definitely prefer the policy of the “right wing” Capriles’ stand on woman rights and anti-semitism. (That you call him right wing tells everything about your worldview)
    I know it is more fun to despise people, but it is rarely that simple!
    Correct. But Chavez and his apologists are a perfect example that “rarely” doesn’t mean “never”.
    I have learnt over the years to listen hard and respectfully to other points of view, even when they seem jarring, in fact especially then.
    Listening respectfully to racist points of view is despicable and disgusting. Diminishing their significance for the “greater good” is intellectual, moral and political blindness and bankruptcy.