Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Politics as a paint-by-numbers exercise

While I don't often share the same political conclusions as Chris Trotter, his analysis is nevertheless often acute and thought-provoking.

Chris's latest blog post over at Bowalley Road is a case in point: while the idea that Obama's condemnation of the recent golpe de estado in Honduras somehow proves that the U.S. Democrats are now part of a new left-wing foreign policy axis in Latin America is difficult to swallow, Chris does make the telling observation that many on the left seem either unable or unwilling to come to terms with the fact that since the end of the Cold War the US is actually quite reluctant to support military dictators in the region.

Thus, whenever local reactionaries try to topple a democratically-elected leftist leader (as has just happened to President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras) the pre-programmed response of some activists is not to try to analyse the situation on its own merits but rather to immediately stage a protest outside the nearest US consulate or embassy - a kind of political "paint-by-numbers" exercise if you will.

To a certain extent, these people have become victims of the Latin American oligarchy's own propaganda machine - which insists that Zelaya is "another Chávez" and some kind of revolutionary. In fact he is nothing more than the scion of the establishment Partido Liberal who since coming to office in 2006 has alienated a few of his wealthy backers by enacting some mild social democratic reforms and seeking greater economic cooperation with countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia.

Efforts to gain a clear picture of the situation are admittedly not helped by over-excited journalists such as those of the Spanish liberal daily El País running stories with headlines like "Golpe contra el chavismo" - which just shows I guess that the Latin American oligarchy know how to pander to the anti-Chávez prejudices of the PSOE.

Then we have Joaquín Villalobos, a former FMLN guerilla turned El Salvadorean Gerry Adams wannabe writing in the same newspaper on Monday that

...Sin duda hay que rechazar el golpe, pero la comunidad internacional debe tener en cuenta que las políticas autoritarias en Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Venezuela se han convertido en una seria provocación para las fuerzas conservadoras y centristas de toda la región. Las expropiaciones de empresas, los cierres de medios de comunicación, la intimidación callejera, las arbitrariedades judiciales, las reelecciones perpetuas y los fraudes son como golpes de Estado graduales. La polarización ideológica chavista está debilitando sociedades amenazadas por miles de pandilleros y poderosos carteles. Centroamérica puede convertirse en un bastión del crimen organizado que dé refugio a mafiosos y terroristas en medio de un caos y una inseguridad endémica que genere millones de emigrantes.

So now apparently it's all the fault of the Chávez, Morales and Correa whose hugely popular policies of economic nationalisation and wealth redistribution have enabled them to be (shock horror!) repeatedly re-elected and thus provoked the poor oppressed oligarchs into mounting coups...

To come back to the original point though, it is never wise to believe the enemy's propaganda - and still less to assume that because a group of army coup plotters received training in the US that they therefore have the active support of that country's government.

It is also important not to place a + sign over certain political figures or movements simply because your opponents place a - symbol. This is the same mistake made by progressive leaders like Chávez who in their well-intentioned desire to oppose US imperialism bestow upon decidedly less progressive regimes (such as those of Iran and Belarus) the epithet of "anti-imperialist" simply because they oppose Washington.

Finally, at the practical local level while running around staging protests outside the US consulate or some other convenient target may help to boost morale among left-wing activists it serves little logical purpose beyond that.

I say this as one who once belonged to an organisation whose standard practice every May Day was to stage a picket outside the local McDonalds restaurant (it was a small provincial city and as such lacked any more tangible symbols of global capitalism). While it made us all feel terribly important at the time, looking back now it must have presented the most ludicrous and baffling spectacle to those working class punters who had their lunch hour interrupted by a bunch of mangy-looking students waving placards and banging kettle drums on the street outside.

The moral of the story? Simply that mindless activism and breathless articles cobbled-together from the bourgeois press is no substitute for careful and considered analysis.


  1. While Zelaya is obviously no revolutionary, I think it's indicative of the international (or at least regional) influence the bolivarian movement is having in Latin America that leaders like him elected on law and order platforms can begin moving in a more leftwards and anti-imperialist direction during their time in office. Your right that we shouldn't line up behind Zelaya simple because the reactionaries oppose him (in the manner of the Workers World Party or the PSL), but at the same time we shouldn't yet write him off entirely. From memory Chavez didn't run on an espescially radical platform...

    Incidentally I had a discussion recently with a leading member of the afore mentioned McDonalds hating group in some unnamed provincial city, where he argued that their previous election time policy of driving round town knocking over ACT placards (while mostly leaving Nationals and of course Labours untouched!) was them acting as the "militant expression of working class anger". Yeesh...

  2. A reply to Chris (and Tim) here from Socialist Aotearoa.

  3. Come on Alastair I find that pretty hard to believe. Which election was it because I never remember doing it, and I certainly don't think anyone would have any illusions about why they would do it.

    Nice argument in the main article. I agree completely. Also agree on McDonalds, but it was a consequence of a lack of alternatives.