Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hugo Chavez vs Genghis Khan

A week or so ago I published some criticisms that Guillermo Parra, the Venezuelan poet, blogger, and political activist, had
made of my view of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution. In trying to account for my support for the revolution he detests, Parra suggested that I am the victim of a romantic naivety: stuck down here at the bottom of the world in little old New Zealand, I have supposedly begun to project my unfulfilled political fantasies onto exotic Venezuela. Were I to visit Venezuela I would, Parra assured me, quickly become disillusioned with the revolution and join those noble souls who seek its reversal by coup or US invasion.

Well, it's true that intellectual, arty farty wankers like myself sometimes have a tendency to idealise sturdy men of action like Hugo Chavez, and it's also true that Kiwi socialists depressed by the conservatism of their own society can sometimes end up living a voyeuristic political life cheering on Third World revolutions from afar. But I'd like to think that my view of the Bolivarian revolution avoids the emotionalism and over-optimism which is a hallmark of romantic politics. I'd especially like to think I avoid signing up to any personality cult surrounding Hugo Chavez. As a Marxist, I dissent from the ever-popular view that great men (and very ocasionally the odd great woman) make history. I think that leaders are more often ciphers for complex sets of interests than epiphenomenal independent actors on the stage of history. My paper on Venezuela tries to correct the tendency of commentators on both the non-Marxist left and the right to conflate the Bolivarian revolution with Hugo Chavez.

I'd also caution Parra about automatically associating political romanticism with the left. Parra has written perceptively about the naive political romanticism of thirties poets like WH Auden and Stephen Spender, but he has perhaps forgotten that these same poets became equally romantic reactionaries by the time they reached middle age. Those of us not blinded by the right can see that Spender's alliance in the 1950s with the CIA was prompted by the same sort of naivety and misplaced idealism as his defence of Stalinism in the 1930s. The older man romanticised US imperialism as surely as the younger man had romanticised Stalin's state.

I think there is a strong vein of what we might call 'reactionary romanticism' in the political material on Parra's blog. On page after page we can see near-hysterical denunciations of opponents and replacement of analysis with emotion, rhetoric, and outright falsification. We can also see that Parra, who still calls himself a man of the left and a defender of democracy, has made some very unsavoury allies in his fight against Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution.

A particularly depressing example of Parra's lack of political judgement is the decision he has just made to reproduce on his blog an article which the Venezuelan oppositionist Aleksander Boyd published in The Times of London earlier this week.

Boyd's article reminds me of Raymond Williams' explanation of why he stopped reading The Times as a young man.
'I'd be halfway through the first page and already be composing six letters to the editor in my head', Williams said. 'I decided that I couldn't have these people in my house'. Boyd's litany of lies has already been demolished by Julia Buxton, so I won't bother to discuss it in any detail.

What I do want to do is draw Parra's attention to something else that Aleksander Boyd wrote - something that should make any true leftist and supporter of democracy very reluctant to treat Boyd as an authority on anything except the psychology of fascism and sadism. On March the 18th 2004 Boyd published an article called 'I Wish I Was Genghis Khan' on vcrisis, the anti-Bolivarian blog he runs from self-imposed exile in London. Here is an excerpt from Boyd's piece:

I wish I was Genghis Khan, I wish I had eaten my half-brother… Therefore the scum of this earth a.k.a. Hugo Chavez and followers would not be willing to piss me off. Ergo they would be extremely careful of not treading on my rights. Attempts to conquer commanded by me would encounter nothing less than total submission owing to the sheer fear that my presence would cause. That is today my surreal and unachievable dream. When I read the comments of CNE’s Francisco Carrasquero or the rulings of ‘top magistrate’ Ivan Rincon Urdaneta or the arguments of ‘people’s defender’ Isaias Rodriguez I wish I was Genghis Khan. I wish I was the Khan an order my hordes to capture them and pour melted silver into their eyes.

I wish I was the Khan so that I could get on my horse in Merida and when reaching Tabay learn that Hugo Chavez had already abandoned the country for more pleasant and truly democratic destinations such as Cuba.

I wish I was the deadly nomad so that the Colombian guerrilleros would go find other ‘havens of tranquility’. I wish the roar of my cavalry would cause the enemy tremble. I wish I could decapitate in public plazas Lina Ron and Diosdado Cabello. I wish I could torture for the rest of his remaining existence Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel in “El Nuevo Circo.” I wish I could fly over Caracas slums throwing the dead bodies of the criminals that have destroyed my country.

I had a bad dream last night, history had repeated itself. As my grandfathers did before me I had to engage in guerrilla warfare to get rid of insane individuals and as they did, such actions had taken an extraordinary toll on my family’s wellbeing. And I feel nothing but profound revulsion for Hugo Chavez and for everything he represents. I am disgusted to be defined as a human being when individuals like him belong to the same category. I wonder about the dynamics of creation and human thought; I wonder how the purest creature of them all (woman) can give birth to such lusus naturae.

I wonder how a freak who calls himself a patriot permits citizens from another nation to abuse his fellow countrymen. I had never set my hopes for a peaceful resolution very high, this morning however the apprehension turned into reality and fell like a ton of bricks.

There’s nothing left, with mentally unstable people one can not engage in dialogue. Only barbaric practices will neutralize them, much the same way the Khan did. I wish I was him…

Hard as it may be to believe, Boyd wasn't drunk, or mad, or taking the piss when he wrote this. It is no coincidence that he and his collaborators at vcrisis have felt no urge to remove 'I Wish I Was Genghis Khan' from their archive. Boyd's most famous article does no more than express the worldview and political tactics of a Venezuelan bourgeoisie which has spent the last seven years using coup attempts, economic sabotage, bombs, and murder to stop the process of political and social reorganisation known as the Bolivarian revolution.

Boyd speaks for a bourgeoisie which has killed hundreds of peasant activists in an effort to stop land reform; which firebomed buses carrying workers defying the national lockout it tried to impose; and which regularly appeals to George Bush to 'save Venezuela' by starting a new war. This is the bourgeoisie with which Parra chooses to align himself. It is also the class that Venezuelans have rejected in half a dozen elections over the past seven years. Venezuelans look likely to reject Boyd's politics again in this year's Presidential elections - the opposition's own polling gives Chavez a fifty percent lead over his nearest rival.

All this is hardly suprising, of course. For all his faults, who wouldn't prefer Hugo Chavez to Genghis Khan?


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I found this blog surfing.

Chavez is limited by the organizational structure of a capitalist government. Yet Venezuela needs to be supported against reactionary attack. The elections have been dubbed fair by international observers. The media in Venezuela is 99.9% hostile to him, yet they are free to say what they want, often lies.

Socialists should be encouraging the neighborhood groups, supporting the Bolivarian revolution. They are more important, than the individual Chavez.

This is an interesting well written blog.

5:59 am  
Blogger GJPW said...

Hello again,

My name is Guillermo Parra (not "Parma"). You have misspelled my name in your post.

Also, I am far from being a political activist. I am a high school teacher by profession. I have no interest in serving as your target practice or your guide to the Venezuelan opposition.



11:55 am  
Blogger maps said...

Apologies Guillermo, I've corrected the spelling.

Perhaps, if you don't want to become associated with the loopier parts of the Venzuelan opposition, you should correct the errors in the Boyd article you republished uncritically?

12:47 pm  
Blogger GJPW said...


Thanks for correcting my name. I agree with Boyd when he highlights the militarism and dictatorial tendencies of Chavismo. I will not defend Boyd here, since he can take care of himself. Suffice it to say I respect his efforts.

The Venezuelan crisis is extremely complex and cannot be understood merely as a peasant vs. oligarchy conflict.

It seems you & I will continue to disagree on the dangers or benefits of Chavismo. As I said before, I have no interest in convincing anyone. But I will continue to translate Venezuelan op-eds that denounce the militarism of Venezuela's current government. I've got personal & family reasons for this opposition but I don't need to bring them up here.

I don't really care if I'm considered an apostate to the left. I trust no ideology.

Since you mentioned Auden & co. are you familiar with Edward Upward? He's still alive and writing at 102! He has remained a Marxist and I imagine he might be sympathetic toward Chavismo today, as you are. He's a brilliant short story writer, well worth reading.



2:22 pm  
Blogger maps said...

You can vote for Upward in our poll to decide the best living writer! I must a profile of him soon - he's a fascinating man.

12:49 am  

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