My online Poll
I have had a poll on the right hand column asking visitors to the site whether they welcome or do not welcome the recent defeat by referendum of changes to the constitution of Venezuela, proposed by the President, Hugo Chavez. Strictly speaking the referendum was on changes proposed by Chavez and the National Assembly.
The number of recorded votes was modest, 9, suggesting that traffic would need to become much higher before I post a similar question. The voting was 7 welcoming Chavez's defeat and 2 not welcoming it. A clear victory for the Anti-Chavez camp but from a very small pool of respondents. I was intially thinking that there would be more pro-Chavez votes. This blog does frequently cover Foucault and Derrida. Most students and academics working on them are distinctly left of centre. I thought such people might find Chavez's social programmes and anti-US stance to be attractive and be unconcerned about possible threats to property rights or political constitutionalism. maybe I have more left-liberal readers than vanguardist leftist.
Why the Left should Oppose Chavez
I'm definitely a liberal rather than a socialist, a capitalist libertarian though at he moderate end of that opinion. Nevertheless, I want to put a case to socialist about what's wrong with Chavez on the grounds of shared values around democracy and the restraint of state power.
It seems obvious why conservatives and free market liberals would think Chavez is a bad thing, given that he claims to be leading socialist revolution. The issue is then, should left-winger,including radical socialists support Chavez?
Chavez Fan of One-Party State Socialism
A very obvious point is that Chavez is a supporter of Fidel Castro and of the memory of Che Guevara. Oddly, one of Chavez's left-wing defenders in the British press, Johann Hari of the Independent, has strong condemned Guevara as a Stalinist. If Chavez admires Stalinists, if he purses a special relationship with a one party state which puts its critics in prison, then this must be disturbing.
Chavez's Failure to help the Poorest
Chavez has poured very large amounts of public money into subsidised shops, and other measures to benefit the poor of Venezuela. Supportrrs of Chavez who have checked the effect on living standards have found a shift towards the poorer part of society, but very concentrate on the less desperately poor. The poorest of the poor have not benefitted from this very substantial shift expenditure.
Chavez's Personal Control of Economic Resources
Budget surpluses in Venezuela derived from revenue go into a fund administered by Chavez outside the supervisionof the National Assembly and anyone apart from the President. One of the defeated referendum measures was to abolish the independence of the central bank by placing it under the direct control of the President. There is a clear pattern, economic resources and influenced, are to be directed in a personalised way by Chavez not by other parts of the state or any way of representing the population of Venezuela.
Chavez dictating to the Left
Chavez has pursued a policy of merging the coalition of left wing parties behind him into one party. This is being resisted by some of these parties, who do not want to disappear as an independent force on the left. The left, like everything else in Venezuela has to be under Chavez's personal control. Even Chavez' defence minister has abandoned him and condemned the proposed constitutional changes, many allies are being lost in Chavez' relentless desire to weaken any barrier to his own personalised power.
Chavez bypassing Local Elected Bodies
Some on the left are excited that Chavez wants to bring in direct democracy in some places for local government. This means democracy without secret balloting and is practice a way of putting Chavez's followers into power over their fellow citizens, like 'Neighbourhood Committtees' in Cuba which spy on, and politically control, their fellow Cubans.
Chavez' Attitude to Opposition
The first period of Chavez's presidency led to a computerised list of supporters of opposition parties being used to keep opponents out of public employment. We know that is the case because hard copies circulate in Venezuela and many people have seen the list.
Ending Term Limits
Some of Chavez's supporters claim that the proposal in the referendum changes to abolish term limits on the Presidency are not important, since other countries do not have term limits. However, this is misleading. In most republics, the president is term limited, and usually doe snot have executive power. Heads of government are not term limited, but in a situation where there is a separate head of state, and the head of government is appointed by the national assembly, term limits are not an issue. Chavez is state President and the chief executive who keeps trying to accumulate powers. All other elected offices are term limited. Chavez's failed attempt to be allowed, in principle, to stay President until death is therefore sinister and does indicate a wish for total power for life.
Chavez's dramatic expenditure of oil revenue at home and abroad, for political and social purposes, conceals and is linked to economic failure. Inflation is 20%, higher than the rest of Latin America. High impact spending, like subsidising oil for some New Yorkers is gesture politics which does nothing for Venezuela 's economy or for its poorest. Chavez' control of food prices had had the highly predictable result of choking off food production, as it becomes uneconomically priced, and the poorest are blighted by food shortages.
Chavez appears to be uninterested in accumulating private wealth. Clearly many senior people in the public sector are not so fastidious. The wealth of some officials is great and obvious, this maybe an unintended consequence of Chevez' policies, but it is the consequence of growing arbitrary state power in society and the economy.
Some of Chavez' supporters try to blame the referendum loss and economic problems on American sabotage. It's hard to see how the CIA can make people vote against Chavez in a referendum, unless the CIA and its allies have arguments which make sense to the people of Venezuela and connect with their life experience. Given that public broadcasting completely supports Chavez and his supporters control the state machine, blaming US manipulation for political defeat is a sorry argument. The economic problems in Venezuela are the predictable result of the mixture of extreme state controls and careless pumping of money into the economy. Even Chavez's supporters are unable to explain how the US has created these problems, the excuse comes up in a very rhetorical manner.