[News] Thatcher is Dead—Long Live Chávez!

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 12 12:39:09 EDT 2013


Weekend Edition April 12-14, 2013
Venezuela Charts a Post-Neoliberal Future

  Thatcher is Dead—Long Live Chávez!


    /Mother/: O my son … an evil and pernicious death.

    /Rebel/: Mother, a verdant and sumptuous death.

    /Mother/: From too much hate.

    /Rebel/: From too much love.

                                                     – Aimé Césaire

Two deaths with diametrically opposite meanings, evident from the 
immediate responses they provoked. One was greeted by millions of 
mourners packing the streets of Caracas, waiting for days to catch a 
glimpse of their departed leader. The other prompted spontaneous street 
parties in Brixton and Glasgow and a barrage of comical send-ups about 
the impending privatization of hell 
But while revelers gathered spontaneously to celebrate the physical 
death of the Iron Lady of neoliberalism, Margaret Thatcher, voters in 
Venezuela are heading to the polls to drive nails into her coffin and 
bury her legacy by electing a revolutionary successor to Hugo Chávez.

*“Children of 1989”*

The Fourth World War started in Venezuela 
and it was a war against Thatcher and her ilk. In February of 1989, 
Ronald Reagan had only recently handed the baton over to George H.W. 
Bush, and Thatcher was gearing up to impose the Poll Tax, which would 
see epic riots in Trafalgar Square the following year. Meanwhile in 
Venezuela, a seemingly different sort of government was taking power 
with a surprisingly similar outlook. Centrist social democrat Carlos 
Andrés Pérez had been elected on an anti-neoliberal platform that 
promised debtor-nation resistance and derided the IMF as a “bomb that 
only kills people.”

Once in power, however, the bait was switched and Pérez did an abrupt 
about face, instituting the neoliberal Washington Consensus to the 
letter: sweeping privatization and deregulation and the certainty that, 
for the poorest at least, things were about to get much worse. But while 
the populations of the United States and Britain were busily swallowing 
the bitter pill of neoliberalism under the illusion that there was no 
alternative, poor Venezuelans unexpectedly spat it back out and set 
about burning and looting to make the impossible suddenly possible.

In what was deemed the “Caracazo,” mass popular rebellion in the streets 
smashed in an instant the deceptive myth of Venezuelan exceptionalism 
and its illusory stability. It destroyed the prevailing system of 
corrupt two-party democracy and tossed forth Hugo Chávez himself as a 
political crystallization of demands unmet and aspirations unrealized. 
As graffiti in Caracas 
puts it: “We are children of 1989 in revolution.”

*Slandering the Dead*

But Chávez is gone and the war against neoliberalism continues. If 
Chávez was rarely respected by the foreign press in life – indeed, here 
was a figure about whom /literally anything /could be said, written, and 
published – why would we expect anything different in death? Thus 
alongside the popular ebullitions of grief over Chávez and joy over 
Thatcher, there were the reactions to the deaths of Chávez and Thatcher 
in the nominally progressive /Guardian/.

Whereas the paper’s obituary for Thatcher 
was polite to a fault, that pinnacle of absurdity that is Rory Carroll 
had only one month earlier granted a veneer of respectability to those 
who would bid the late Venezuelan President “good riddance.” Carroll is 
still evidently smarting from the day that Chávez himself subjected the 
journalist to a stinging history lesson. Despite the fact that he tells 
this story constantly, however, he can’t seem to remember what actually 

The bastion of U.S. liberalism that is /The New Yorker/ has hardly fared 
better. Staff writer and apparent bully Jon Lee Anderson 
has found himself embroiled in a scandal that, while ostensibly about 
fact-checking, was in reality something far worse. /The New Yorker 
eventually corrected 
two of Anderson’s more straightforward errors, in which he erroneously 
claimed that Venezuela led Latin America in homicides, and his utterly 
baffling suggestion 
that Chávez came to power in a coup rather than an election. But there 
is little recourse to be had regarding Anderson’s most rhetorically 
slippery phrases, much less his overarching narrative in which 
Venezuela’s poor are “victims of their affection” for Chávez.

After all, when it comes to the late Comandante, no holds are barred.

If Chávez was and continues to be roundly slandered in the press, 
however, we can take some consolation in the fact that most Venezuelans 
simply don’t believe the hype. All reputable polls suggest that 
right-wing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski will be 
roundly defeated on Sunday by Chávez’s preferred candidate, the former 
bus driver and union leader Nicolás Maduro. Such decisive poll numbers, 
however, are but a reflection of the deep contradictions within 
anti-Chavista forces over strategy and program.

*The Anti-Chavista Double-Bind*

In fact, in light of such a certain defeat, much opposition posturing is 
little more than a performance for a foreign audience. Case in point: 
the opposition MUD coalition recently called a press conference to 
denounce <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/8495> purported 
irregularities in the electoral system, notably that: “a PSUV [United 
Socialist Party] member, was in possession of the password for the 
start-up and log-in and log-out of the machines.” But when pushed on the 
importance of this claim, the MUD’s Executive Secretary Ramón Aveledo 
conceded that the password “does not put the voting system at risk, it’s 
true, it does not put the electoral software at risk, nor the 
identification of voters, nor the vote count, nor the transmission of 
the results.”

What to make of this entire spectacle? If the goal was to discredit the 
electoral system, surely this task could have been accomplished less 
clumsily. The reality, however, is that these contradictory claims point 
to the contradiction that is the opposition itself. Not a majority, it 
cannot win elections, and unable to win elections, it is constantly 
tempted to abstain rather than competing in them.

It was this double-bind that led to the utterly hubristic coup against 
Chávez exactly eleven years ago today, which was reversed within 47 
hours by the same masses that coup planners had so thoroughly 
underestimated. By attempting a coup, the opposition effectively handed 
the mantle of democratic legitimacy to the Chávez government, and many 
anti-Chavistas have spent years attempting to shed the label of 
/golpistas/, coup-mongers, with only limited success. Since Chávez wiped 
the floor with Manuel Rosales 
in 2006, the majority of the opposition has accepted the results of 
elections, casting their lot in with the ballot only because the bullet 
had failed so miserably.

Simply choosing to contest elections, however, did not solve the 
challenge of electability, and while attempting to silence the 
abstentionists in their ranks, the anti-Chavistas have simultaneously 
sought to move toward the center, in words at least. Thus Capriles and 
others have painted themselves as social democrats by suggesting that 
they would not abolish, but merely improve popular social programs like 
the Bolivarian Missions. This claim does not square, incidentally, with 
the reality of Miranda State, where as governor Capriles promptly 
assailed the Missions, especially the controversial Cuban-staffed health 
centers of Mission Barrio Adentro.

Nor did it help when Capriles supporters recently occupied and 
vandalized an apartment building being constructed to house the poorest 
Venezuelans through Misión Vivenda. Those who for so long have denounced 
as “invaders” homeless Venezuelans who occupied an empty building or an 
idle patch of land now reveled in invading a government project to house 
the poor. And while Capriles has avoided criticizing Chávez directly, 
instead assailing Maduro for not living up to the deceased leader’s 
example, it has not helped that some of his supporters daubed graffiti 
reading “long live cancer 

And nor has Capriles, elite scion whose very surname attests to 
extraordinary wealth, had an easy time shedding the taint of the past. 
It didn’t help when, in the run-up to the election of October 2012, a 
document was leaked claiming 
to delineate the “Plan of Government” for a hypothetical Capriles 
administration. While denounced by some as a forgery, this plan was 
exactly what many would expect from Capriles: a return to the very same 
neoliberal savagery that sparked the Caracazo.

The past does not so easily become past.

*Thatcher’s Shock Troops*

But how mixed is the opposition’s message in reality? Perhaps it is too 
generous to take Capriles at his word. After all, Capriles must himself 
see the contradiction: if he critiques the electoral system as unfair, 
he discourages his own voters from participating, but if he encourages 
them to participate, he delivers them into the hands of defeat. While it 
is certainly fitting revenge that this election falls on the anniversary 
of Chávez’s triumphant return, we should never let triumphalism blind us 
to the persistent vultures that circle Venezuela’s socialist democracy. 
Amid a backdrop of domestic and international chatter seeking to 
discredit the democratic credentials of the Venezuelan electoral system, 
sectors of the Venezuelan opposition have begun to maneuver in ways that 
suggest something else might be afoot.

On Monday night, an encampment of hunger strikers from the far-right 
organization Active Youth for a United Venezuela (JAVU) were allegedly 
attacked <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/8559> by red-shirted 
assailants on motorcycles, to all appearances Chavistas. Some 
immediately wondered what Chavistas would gain from an attack so close 
to elections, and why the opposition-controlled Chacao police did not 
intervene. As it turned out, Chavistas from Chacao 
were indeed present, but insist that they themselves were attached by 
JAVU, effectively answering the question of why the police did not stop 
the attack: why intervene when your side is on the offensive?

Such an attack would not be out of character for JAVU, which while 
affirming the strategic nonviolence of organizations like the Albert 
Einstein Institution 
has nevertheless been more than willing to engage in violence in the 
(as has its parent organization, the admittedly violent Miami-based 
exile group, Orvex 
JAVU has since been linked to violently provocative attacks across the 
country, from assaults on Chavistas in Mérida to an attempt to set the 
Miranda Legislative Council on fire 
In Mérida, a smartphone was found containing JAVU’s manual 
for the coming days: they have no plans to recognize the electoral 
results and will instead “take the streets by any means.”

On Wednesday, even more troubling news emerged. First, Capriles publicly 
refused <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/8563> to sign a letter 
agreeing to respect the outcome of the election, insisting instead that 
he would respect that most flexible of categories: the “popular will.” 
Given that Capriles /had indeed /signed a similar letter prior to the 
October 2012 election, we should wonder what has changed aside from 
opposition strategy. This worrying refusal was immediately compounded by 
the release of a recorded phone call 
<http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/n226577.html> from Capriles’ own 
personal bodyguard, insisting that the opposition candidate will not 
recognize defeat (while incidentally revealing the bodyguard’s own 
delusional belief that Capriles would be the real winner).

Indeed, everything points to a possible post-election attempt to 
overthrow a newly elected Maduro administration. Another leaked phone 
recording <http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/8575> suggests that 
Salvadorean mercenaries with ties to death squads are currently in 
Venezuela and planning to disrupt the election, possibly with ties to 
Capriles himself. Seventeen people have been arrested for allegedly 
sabotaging the electrical grid and causing blackouts. When considered 
against a backdrop in which the Obama administration has cast doubt on 
whether the election would be “clean and transparent,” such signs are 
troubling to say the least.

*Post-Neoliberal Dawn*

Frantz Fanon once argued, somewhat notoriously, that “For the colonized, 
life can only spring from the rotting cadaver of the colonist.” To 
celebrate an enemy’s death by necessity carries within it, however 
negatively, a positive political program, and those who took to the 
streets to spontaneously celebrate Thatcher’s demise were invariably 
firing shots at neoliberalism itself.

But unfortunately for those gathered in Brixton, neoliberalism and its 
ideological partner, austerity, are today on the offensive in Britain 
and much of the global core. In no way does Thatcher’s death mark the 
destruction or even decline of her ideological legacy, and in this sense 
the celebrations are as catharthic as they are premature. It is across 
the globe that the greatest strides have been made to destroy Thatcher’s 
legacy in the intransigent insistence that there is, in fact, an 
alternative to neoliberalism.

As I argue in /We Created Chávez 
far less interesting than Chávez the man are the decades of 
revolutionary struggle that preceded him, crystallizing around Chávez as 
a symbol of and a mechanism for driving forward the struggle against 
neoliberalism and capitalism. Even in life, Chávez was far more than the 
sum of his acts, he was a vessel into which the popular sectors of 
Venezuela deposited their post-neoliberal aspirations. But the vessel’s 
shape was soon determined by its content, as Chávez became a socialist 
battering ram propelled by forces he did not himself control. To 
paraphrase C.L.R. James’ description of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Chávez 
did not make the revolution, /the revolution made Chávez/.

The Bolivarian Revolution has lost something powerfully important in 
this individual that was Hugo Chávez, but perhaps it is better that he 
departed us physically amid the upswing of the historic movement he 
embodied, and to which he can still lend his image to press forward the 
momentum of the struggle. This certainly seems preferable to death amid 
the decadence of a flailing system, the death of Thatcher, out of whose 
rotting corpse 
the post-neoliberal world must invariably bloom.

/*George Ciccariello-Maher*, teaches political theory at Drexel 
University in Philadelphia. He is the author of We Created Chávez: A 
People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution 
(Duke University Press, May 2013), and can be reached at 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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