Beatroot is often misunderstood. He has been called neoconservative and liberal both, and I always knew he was neither. The debates that have fired up this blog, and the blogs of his friends, he dismisses as old fashioned, in a world without left/right having meaning in the new world. I invited Beatroot to explain his position unedited except for making the title bold. Renegade Eye
Chavez – it’s not about ideology…
…it’s all about The Man
Two Fridays ago in Minsk Hugo Chavez met up, yet again, with ‘the last dictator in Europe’ and his Belarusian counterpart, Aleksander Lukashenko.
Chavez’s visit to Belarus was part of a tour including Iran and Russia to build up an alternative alliance of countries that he sees as opposed to US hegemony.
After the meeting between the Belarusian and Venezuelan presidents the Charlie Chaplin-esque Lukashenko said that the two countries shared:
" …absolutely identical" views on international affairs, which "is a reliable basis for close cooperation and mutual support in the international arena…”
(Critics, of course, would also point out other policy initiatives in common between Belarus and Venezuela, and for that matter Iran and Russia – the regimes’ liking for closing down TV stations and harassing media freedoms.)
For many on the right in the West, Chavez is the head of a dangerous new movement against US influence and capitalism in general.
Ironically, that view is shared by many on the Left in the West – Chavez is the new anti-imperialist, riding a wave of popularity among the oppressed in South and Central America against the satanic Uncle Sam and his allies.
Both Left and Right seem to believe we are heading for some kind of new Cold War, a regrouping of the old ideological battles.
But both sides are living in the past.
Chavez and Lukashenko are undoubtedly popular with some parts of the populations in their respective countries: for Chavez his popularity resides in the barios; Lukashenko draws his support from the old, the rural poor, the unemployed.
Putin and the current Iranian president can rely on support from similar sections in their own countries, too, alongside some in the new ruling elites backed by domestic Big Oil.
But if you scrape away some tough anti-Western rhetoric you won’t find much in the way of ideology to back it up.
Oil and hot air
Apart from Lukashenko (who has no natural resources at all), all the main regimes in this ‘new alliance’, in Venezuela, in Russia, in Iran, are built not on ideology, but on oil and the power of the rising price of oil. All four regimes are actually quite pragmatic, policy wise. It’s capitalism-lite, with a bit of nationalist rhetoric thrown into the mix.
While Chavez screams and shouts about America, he has been careful not to alienate its oil barons, too much.
America has painted Chavez as the new Castro, but 12 percent of US oil still comes from Chavez’s oil fields. Bush etc would quite liken to get rid of him, but as long as he doesn’t really challenge the basis of capitalism itself he is not that much threat to them at home.
In Venezuela, too, the real power of Colonel Chavez does not come from deep ideological roots within ‘the people’, but from the Venezuelan army.
So why do both the Left and Right in the West make him out to be the great new anti-imperialist? Why spend so much time discussing Chavez when he, like Lukashenko, Putin, are actually populist, nationalist pragmatists?
Quite simply, because Politics has lost its ideological bearings in the West. The old struggles at home – between organized labour and capital – have all but gone completely. And both sides are desperate to find some cause to reconnect with their own de-politicized populations. The western Left, particularly, finds itself without any meaningful ideological connection or cause in their own countries. Enter Chavez, stage ‘left’, to comes to the rescue.
The deal between the old socialist mayor of London – someone I voted for a longtime ago in another guise, Ken Livingstone – and Chavez, to bring ‘cheap oil’ to the ‘poor’ of London in return for technical advice and help in Venezuela, is a pathetic case in point. The poor of London have a standard of living that many middle class Venezuelans would feel comfortable with. That deal is just craven populism, with little meaning at all. It is a politico PR stunt. It shows the UK Left desperate for some radical gloss, which it thinks it can gain, not through meaningful struggle at home, but by rubbing shoulders with a not particularly ideologically committed South American ‘firebrand’.
That’s really just about as good as it gets for the western Left, these days.
The Cold War ideologies are no more; the old socialism and communism that provided the counter-weight to capitalism have become museum pieces.
And even the capitalists, without the Soviet bogey man, are not quite sure how to justify themselves any more. Watch how the rhetoric of environmentalism is the new dominant world view, popular not just with tree hugging Greenpeacers but with the UN, the EU, and many in national government. Capitalism can’t even defend its reason to be anymore – high growth, profit at all costs. Capitalists are even queuing up these days to put limits on themselves under the banner of ‘save the planet’.
It almost makes me nostalgic for the old free marketeers, when capitalists acted like capitalists and there was a real alternative among social institutions like the trade unions and labour clubs trying to create a real alternative. Now each side bows down to the god of environmentalism, to Gaia.
That a meeting between cocky little Chavez and a buffoon like Aleksander Lukashenko could be seen as significant shows that there is something pretty hollow about the politics of the old left and right in the West.
In reality the conflict is not about left or right, but between pro and anti Chavez. It’s not about politics but about a personality.
When are both sides in the West going to wake up (and smell the South American fair trade coffee) and try and win hearts and minds over to a new politics that has some roots at home, in London or Washington, Manchester or New York, and not in oil rich South America, ruled by a man playing to the gallery in parts of Venezuela and to the badge wearing left in the West? The Beatroot