Monday, 18 January 2010

Kundera, communism and chavismo principles

Images, ideologies

Milan Kundera wrote in 1990 in his novel The Immortality about how imagology had been replacing ideology. The Lenin posters in communist regimes, he wrote, were not intented to increase the love for Lenin. The propaganda agencies of the communisty parties had forgotten their purpose and had become a goal on themselves. Social images, he said, are imposed by what we wear, by the gadgets we use. I would rather say imagology and ideology are much more intertwined than he thought and it has always been the case. Ideology has more often than not been used as a facade, an intellectual exercise where one pretends to show some pseudo-reasoning to win an argument. Because of that, movements supporting one or the other "ideology" have seldom promoted real debates. They just want to convince the weak and silence the rest. That is true for left-winged and right-winged ideologies, for religious and non-religious ones.

Friedrich Engels, one of the creators of communist theory and financier of Karl Marx, was a wealthy man, the son of an entrepreneur who used his father's fortune to, on one side, live in luxury, and on the other, finance Karl Marx and his movement. Karl Marx, who never was a worker and loved to wear fancy dresses, wrote down in Das Kapital an arguably intelligent analysis of the economic situation of his time and how workers were being exploited back then accompanied by proposals and predictions not very different from those of religious fundamentalists forcing an acto de fe on the others.

Socialism, which became formalized in the early XIX century, evolved into a pletora of theories among which Marxism was just one of the most important ones. Marxism was often used in the conflicts between workers and employers from then on, but also then in the conflicts between personalities fighting for power or wanting to differentiate themselves. Social democrats broke away with the use of violent revolutions and took the path to social reforms through debates within parliamentarian democracy. On the other side, communists went on to promote the use of force for change. Personal views and personality became de rigueur in communist regime. Leninism appeared. Stalinism came next and against it Trotskyism. Maoism and other personality-based -isms appeared. Lately, the cool "real socialism" tends to be the "anarco-socialism" in one flavour or the other. Noam Chomsky is a proponent of libertarian socialism and anarchism and although critical of many previous movements (not real communism, state capitalism, not the true ideals of Marx), he keeps betting on the next horse that pretends to be the "New Left". I have always found strange that Noam goes on to give good analysis of how the previous movements were bad but keeps trusting the newest one, even if it is just the most superficial one as in the case of chavismo.

One way or the other, the game has always been about using a word, an image, to portray oneself as the "real interpreter of truth" and the others as the falsifiers, more or less like religious fundamentalists do. Real debate, use of logic, questioning are not permitted.

Still, at least some people defending their "ideology" pretend to take some time to set out what their own theories are about and then explain them to the people they want to convince.

Venezuela and ideology light

In Venezuela things are a little bit different. Venezuelans read extremely little and their understanding of their own history is very patchy at best. Governments come and go and most Venezuelans just remember what they got or not from the petrodollar distribution of the past few years. Of course, they don't think in terms of petrodollars but on the products and services they can purchase or the favours or jobs they got from the government in power at the moment.

Very few thoughts are spent into learning from the past, planning for the future or analyzing what real principles or ideologies one is defending. I remember how a young communist got into the bus I was going in around 1990 and started to evangelize about "the Soviet Union, with a system that is creating so much social justice and prosperity for all"...he was telling people, mostly workers, about the wonders of the Soviet Union at the very moment it was falling apart. Although a Venezuelan local newspaper like El carabobeno often has more news about other countries, the vast majority of Venezuelans, not workers alone, just read about baseball games, if at all.

A former classmate of mine from university in Venezuela, someone who was "in love" with the process, told me that Chávez was a well-read person. I thought back then that if she as a graduate could say that, Venezuela was in worse shape than I had thought. Chávez has indeed read a lot for a Venezuelan citizen, but he has done it only in his quest to imitate the mythical figure of Simón Bolívar. His sycophants of the moments are the ones doing the book selection.

It is interesting to go through the list of books the president mentions. He rightly recognizes how social injustice engenders crime, as Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables. He just fails to link that to what is happening now in Venezuela. He went to jail and saw himself as a new Count of Monte Cristo. He had always read stories about Bolívar as most Venezuelans do, superficially, uncritially, but he really got into it as a Quesada into his cavalry books...not surprisingly El Quixote is a book the president praises a lot, although I have my doubts he read it to the end. Above all, Chávez, as many other Venezuelans, has cultivated the Bolívar complex. He has used it as few presidents before him. He really presents himself as the new true Bolívar.

If you feel unsure about what your ideology is, use more colour

Chávez initially claimed not to be a socialist. Once in power, he declared himself socialist or some sort of communist. As his movement rests completely on personality cult and petrodollars, the ideology-imagology mix is more imagology than ideology. Very curiously, his movement is a movement that claims to be socialist and yet minimizes the evils of the right-winged dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez, a dictatorship supported by the US where countless socialists and others were emprisoned, tortured and killed. Selective history, thus.

You will never see such a fixation with the red colour as in Venezuela since 1999. The emptier the talk, the more red they wear. Not in the Soviet Union of Lenin, Stalin or Brezhnev was there so much red, not in Cuba, not in Vietnam, not even in China, where red has always been associated with good luck. The only thing I haven't seen yet is red toilet paper.

That is how we can get a "Marxismo Bolivariano".

The opposition also tends to be rather superficial in its analysis of our past, present and future. A lack of historical perspective and deep and critical analysis of our situation has made them incapable of showing a platform with a set of ideals or using knowledge of the own culture to force the debate chavismo so much refuses. The opposition's lack of analysis also makes it heavily dependent on figures. The opposition politicians are less dividing than Chávez, but none has a real weight, as none has a real set of principles and a plan for the country to oppose Chávezs imagology. As I showed in previous posts, there is a legion of parties. Most of those parties would find themselves in trouble trying to explain how their principles or programmes or ideologies differ from each other. They exist mostly as platform for their politicians.

There are a couple of dozen parties representing the "moderate right", at least 10 more representing social democracy, some claiming to be the true representatives of "Bolivarianism", one is a cheap copy of the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Spanish PSOE and so on. Instead of using a given colour, Venezuelan oppos tend to use the Venezuelan flag, even more than Norwegians or Swedes do. But unlike Norwegians or Swedes, their parties have little that could be called a programme.

Money and faith

Venezuela has seen a special marriage between believers and pure profiteers: old communists and socialists on one side and simple adventurers on the other side joined forces early on to support Chávez in his quest to redeam the nation. Since then the pool of high-ranking supporters has constantly changed. From all this we have seen how a collection of boliburgueses and a couple of hard-core believers as Aristóbulo Istúriz manage the few things Chávez is not directly managing and how a group of old Paris-visting Marxists such as Britto García and Juan Barreto as well as foreign apologists do the propaganda work. Every time someone abandons "the Process", out of real remorse as Olavarría did in 1999 or out of more frivolous calculations, as Miquelena (2000) or Baduel (2008), officialdom says "another one drops off his mask". There has been a lot of mask dropping in the last 11 years. Some Boliburgueses who have become too notorious have been sent to embassies (so they don't drop off their masks, they just go low profile abroad) and some others have been dropped altogether, as in the case of Berrueco or "revolutionary" Arné chacón.

Miguel and other bloggers have already written about the monologue Hugo of Sabaneta gave last Friday at the National Assembly in place of the due report on work done. As I wrote earlier, in a strong presidential system as in Venezuela, there is no chance to demand an answer from the president. He just spends hours on a monologue or selects puppet interviewers who ask him what's-your favourite-colour kind of questions do you hate Americans? Is it true that crime has increased during your time in office?

Hugo of Sabaneta knows his popularity is suffering very badly -collapse of the electricity grid, the worst crime levels by far in South America, inflation, corruption, etc- so he moves forward and attacks on different fronts. Among other things, he declares he is "a Marxist".

In the latest monologue Chávez declared "for the first time I assume I am a revolutionary"..."and I assume Marxism". He said marxism "is the most advanced theory in the scientific interpretation, firstly, of the concrete reality of the nations".

After that he said he had never read Das Kapital, but he intended to do so now, as he got the book from minister Alí Rodríguez. I wondered if he even managed to read the Manifest or old communist explained it to him during lunch time.

Interestingly, on 1:50 you see some people at the National Assembly who arenot applauding at all. If you know who they are, let me know! It would be interesting to find out why they are not applauding, even if the others are doing it with less enthusiasm than before.

Hugo Chávez has had his Gramsci phase (2007, 2009), his Trotsky phase (2007, 2009), his Mao phase (2008 and every time he has been to Asia). Gramsci, Trotsky and Mao were all communists but he claims now he says for the first time he is a Marxist.

3 years ago he said (1:39 onwards in the other video) the PSUV won't take over the Marxism-Leninism because Leninism is a dogma and times have changed and the situation is not the same. You can watch him in this video often looking at Barreto, one of those corrupt Boliburgueses and frequent Venezuela-France travellers who is supposed to be under investigation right now.

I suppose back then it was Barreto one of those providing the president with his usual book reviews.

The new flavour

Now, three years later on somebody else must have told the president that now he has to say that he is a "Marxist". I know Leninism is not Marxism, but I would like to know what flavour of Marxism the president is after now and whether he considers there is something of Marxism that may be out of date now.

Chávez's sycophants are talking more about Marxismo bolivariano. They had previously referred to bolivarianismo or socialismo bolivariano. They still haven't explained what that "Bolivarianismo" really is, how it fits with the reactionary parts of Bolívar's thoughts and what Marx thought about Bolívar.

Yesterday Chávez ordered the expropiation of big supermarket chain Exito. He will use more and more the Marxist label to justify taking over more more businesses and get cash and to spread more fear before the September elections. Expect more of that. Don't expect people like the foreign minister of Spain, PSOE-member Montesinos, to say anything bad about the regime's treatment of human rights. Expect them to be looking for more juicy deals with Venezuela, as the ones Juan wrote about some months ago.

Venezuela badly needs people who can set aside personal interests and have the courage to promote a real debate on how to attain sustainable development. Venezuela needs above all people who are tenacious enough to keep working on that development until we attain it.

1 comment:


    Please share this link with those who might be interested.

    P.S. The book is waiting for a reviewer


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