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The American Left and Venezuela: The Nation Rallies Its Troops in Support of Maduro

We did not have to wait long to see how The Nation, the flagship publication of the American Left, would respond to the events in Venezuela. And no one has put it as well as one of its contributing editors, Marc Cooper. He posted the following on his Facebook page:

Here we go again. After winding up on the wrong side of Ukrainian history this week, The Nation magazine … now calls for the Venezuelan government to take a MORE radical line and rather stupidly argues that the current student protests are simply a mechanism to return the "elites" to power. As if Chavismo has not created a new elite! This piece also brims with the usual claptrap about the revolutionary and democratic process. Yada yada yada, What a lack of courage and honesty! And people wonder why the U.S. Left is impotent and irrelevant?

Cooper is referring to the article on The Nation's website by George Ciccariello-Maher, an assistant professor of political science at Drexel University. (God help the students subjected to his teaching.) Ciccariello-Maher wants his readers not to “be excited by people on the streets,” as Nation writers always are when the event is something like Occupy Wall Street. The thousands protesting against the Castroite tyranny emerging in Venezuela are not, he writes, “simply the latest act in an upsurge of world-historic proportions.” Rather, “these protests have far more to do with returning economic and political elites to power.”

The collapse of the economy as oil prices fall, the inability to obtain common goods like toilet paper, the rampaging inflation that is destroying the ability of middle-class and working-class folk to buy goods -- all this is evidently not anything to be concerned about. What Chavismo has created is, to the Nation writer, a movement of “radical social movements against a repressive, neoliberal state.”

To the Left, as this article makes clear, repression exists in an actual democratic polity, when people are free to speak their minds, opposition political leaders are allowed to challenge the power of the existing leaders in free elections, and when freedom of the press exists. The closing down of opposition newspapers, the arrest of journalists, and the suppression of TV networks that reported the actual news and not Chavista propaganda? Not repression. That is simply seeing to it that the truth as defined by the Left is the only thing the rulers allow the citizens to hear.

This outlook stems from the philosophical double-talk of the influential Frankfurt School scholar, the late Herbert Marcuse, from whom the New Left learned that there was supposedly something called “repressive tolerance.” According to Marcuse, the people’s forces fighting for socialist revolution had the right and duty to suppress propaganda made by the capitalist ruling class. Once the voice of the right-wing was forbidden -- right-wing defined as anyone opposed to leftists -- then the people could learn the truth.  Or as The Nation journalist-professor puts it:

For decades, armed guerrillas, peasants and workers, women, Afro- and indigenous Venezuelans, students and the urban poor struggled against a system that -- while formally democratic -- was far from it in practice.

You know that Lopez is a monster of the ruling class. The proof? He received funding for the building of a democratic civil society in Venezuela from the bipartisan U.S. institution funded by Congress, the National Endowment for Democracy! The NED, as long-time readers of The Nation know, is a decades-long bugaboo of the American Left. After all, it also funded opposition to the dissidents in Eastern Europe during the waning days of the Cold War. What better proof could you want?

In this manner, Ciccariello-Maher becomes another one of those journalists described in the Daily Beast by Michael P. Moynihan, one of “Venezuela’s Useful Idiots.” As Moynihan writes, “All over the internet, one finds a seemingly inexhaustible supply of useful idiots and Sandinista nostalgists willing to contextualize the disastrous Bolivarian Revolution.” Moynihan presents wonderful examples of how other writers are rationalizing the growing repression of the would-be totalitarians anxious to copy the regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba.

He cites a Huffington Post writer who tells his leftist audience that the Venezuelan economy is doing well. The reality is that capital is fleeing the country, the shelves in the supermarkets are bare, and inflation is skyrocketing. But to say the opposite is anti-revolutionary. Who cares what the reality is? My favorite anecdote in his article is the report about the headline in the British Guardian that informs its readers: “Venezuela's hardliner reappears as Nicolas Maduro expels US officials.” The "hardliner" here is not Maduro, but none other than the now-jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

The British paper’s editorial actually attacks Barack Obama as a neo-con, who in their eyes is supporting “regime change” in Venezuela. If only that were the case.

Returning to The Nation article, one must note the description of Chavista armed thugs, called “the radical sectors of Chavismo,” who ride through the streets on motorcycles, wear red shirts, and are “poor-looking or dark-skinned.” Rather than goons spreading terror to dissuade protestors from gathering, they are described by Professor Ciccariello-Maher as “popular grassroots organizers” who are “the most direct, organic expressions of the wretched of the Venezuelan earth.” He calls them representative of “the most independent sectors of the revolution … those most familiar with the repressive force of the state.”

Don’t be confused. He is referring to those who held power before the coup led by the late Hugo Chavez, who represents real democracy. Nothing the state now led by Maduro does is, of course, repressive.