Friday, September 22, 2006

Chavez isn't repressive enough

Comrade Chavez has certainly stirred up a hornet's nest with his latest speech to the United Nations, the text of which you can read in translation here, at the site of Kiwi blogger Connectivity. Noam Chomsky won't be complaining about big Hugo's performance - his book Hegemony and Survival has shot up the bestseller lists - it's at number 4 on Amazon, and rising - after the Venezuelan President gave it a plug.

It is possible to make various criticisms of Chavez's speech, and of his politics in general, but who can deny the enormous educational value of his words, for millions of ordinary people struggling to find an explanation for the actions of the Bush regime? Chavez's understanding of imperialism may be somewhat deficient, and his own practice as President may be inconsistently anti-imperialist, but he has undeniably made a big contribution to reintroducing the word - or, rather, the concept - of imperialism into political discourse. For that he deserves our thanks.

The most outrageous response to Chavez's speech came from John Bolton, Bush's rep at the UN, who said that it was "too bad the people of Venezuela don't have free speech." Bolton's statement makes no sense even by the standards of the hypocritical bourgeois democracies of the West, which grant their citizens the right to free speech but deny them the means to use it effectvely by protecting the capitalists who own the mass media. Venezuela's right-wing opposition enjoys complete freedom of speech, even when it exercises this freedom of speech to incite murder and mayhem. One could justifiably complain that Chavez's government has let its supporters down by not intervening against the TV stations, 'news' websites and newspapers that call for the murder of peasant leaders involved in land occupations, claim that Cuban doctors have come to Venezuela to infect children with Aids, and beg George Bush to invade the country.

To its credit, though, the Chavez government has made progress in giving real freedom of speech to ordinary Venezuelans, by investing massively in community-controlled media and beginning the process of building a new, revolutionary state which operates from the bottom up, not the top down. The job is far from over, though, if Chavez wants to turn the rhetoric of his UN speech into reality.


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