Neoconservatism’s ideological guru has some Kool-Aid he’d like to sell you. But be warned…there’s a lot of backwash in that there jug:
Early on in Hugo Chavez’s political career, the Venezuelan president attacked my notion that liberal democracy together with a market economy represents the ultimate evolutionary direction for modern societies — the “end of history.” When asked what lay beyond the end of history, he offered a one-word reply: “Chavismo.”
The idea that contemporary Venezuela represents a social model superior to liberal democracy is absurd. In his eight years as president, Chavez has capitalized on his country’s oil wealth to take control of congress, the courts, trade unions, electoral commissions and the state oil company. Proposed legislation that would limit foreign funding could soon constrain nongovernmental organizations as well.
And people who signed a recall petition against Chavez in the run-up to a 2004 referendum on his rule later found their names posted on the Web site of a pro-Chavez legislator; if they worked for the government or wanted to do business with it, they were out of a job and out of luck.
Chavez’s success in attracting attention — cozying up to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, signing an arms deal with Russia, visiting Iran and incessantly criticizing the United States — has popularized the notion that Chavismo embodies a new future for Latin America. By preserving some freedoms, including a relatively free press and pseudo-democratic elections, Chavez has developed what some observers call a postmodern dictatorship, neither fully democratic nor fully totalitarian, a left-wing hybrid that enjoys a legitimacy never reached in Castro’s Cuba or in the Soviet Union.
Latin America has indeed witnessed a turn to this postmodern left in some countries, including in Bolivia, where Evo Morales, Chavez’s kindred spirit, won the presidency last year. Nonetheless, the dominant trends in the hemisphere are largely positive: Democracy is strengthening and the political and economic reforms now being undertaken augur well for the future.
Venezuela is not a model for the region; rather, its path is unique, the product of a natural resource curse that makes it more comparable to Iran or Russia than any of its Latin American neighbors. Chavismo is not Latin America’s future — if anything, it is its past.
And believe it or not, that’s just the beginning. There’s more, alas; I’ve only shoveled about a third of his regurgitations here. But this is a representative sample, so let’s go.
First, the “end of history” is utter bunkum. Fukuyama secretly knows it, too, but he’s chosen to retread it rather than retract it and start over with fresh thought. And no wonder: it’s late in the game for him, he’s an NED man, and his original gambit was a flat failure. He’s out of ideas (not that he was that long on good ones to begin with.) Plus there’s the little matter of his signature on that PNAC letter for all posterity. He can scrub like Lady Macbeth all he likes, but that damned spot won’t ever come out. His big public mea culpa didn’t win him the accolades and redemption he was hoping for (poor baby!), so now he’s chosen to go after the very man who’s proven his oldest thesis wrong in the most definitive manner. Oh, those Public Intellectuals and their sensitive egos!
What’s particularly funny is that he’s attacking Chavez for something said years ago. Has it been rankling him this long? Oh, get over yourself already, Francis! Grow a skin. Grow a spine. Grow a set, for gawdsakes.
And even more funny is that he’s deliberately misrepresenting it in the usual right-wing, media-driven mode of “Chavez is antidemocratic!” Once again, we get the same old predigested pablum which contends that Chavez is a communist and has consolidated power by “undemocratic” means, oppressing his poor widdle freedom-loving opposition (the same that so loved democracy, it let its only begotton son, Pedro Carmona, abolish its institutions while Washington blessed the farce with covert support and mucho dinero, some of it from Fukuyama’s own NED).
Fukuyama is covering his ass with more embarrassment here; you can tell he’s read nothing but the usual tripe that’s served in the US media–which is to say, English translations of the mainstream Venezuelan media. That media is ultra-corporate, even fascist in some parts, and has a seething hate-on for Chavez and all he does. It wilfully ignores those things which are inconvenient to it. It’s also completely blind to the history which is still in the making, which is entirely to be expected. How else to push such an absurd thesis than to disappear the facts down the Memory Hole?
In fact, Chavez consolidated power by strictly constitutional, democratic means–the people picked him (and candidates on his list) repeatedly because he responded to them, giving them what they wanted and needed. Hell, they even picked the people who rewrote their constitution, then ratified the end result overwhelmingly–again, in a democratic vote. They voted for Chavez because he promised–and kept his word!–that Venezuela’s vast oil proceeds would go toward the public good, rather than into the pockets of the oligarchy as before. Whose fault is it that the people like Chavez’s concrete and practical radicalism better than they do Fukuyama’s derivative old ivory-tower theories?
Little does Fukuyama suspect that his notions have already been tried on for size in Venezuela, and simply did not fit. The documentary Venezuela Bolivariana (which you can watch here) places the purported “end of history” in the context of some very inconvenient forgotten history–and shows how, far from being an end, the fall of the Iron Curtain was in fact a historic beginning for real socialism. As early as February 27, 1989, the same year that the Berlin Wall fell, the people of Venezuela violently rejected what is laughably termed neoliberalism, which then-president Carlos Andres Perez forced down their throats. It was a stunning example of how quickly “liberal democracy” can turn to far-right totalitarianism. When the price of gasoline shot through the roof and bus fares went up by 200%, poor Venezuelans wound up looting, Katrina-fashion, what their already inadequate wages could no longer buy. It was a combination of protest and survival. This went on for five straight days. More than a thousand died when the government set their own army against them to enforce a policy that nobody wanted. (The precise body count remains unknown, probably because it would make the Perez regime look even worse.)
The riots were brutally repressed, but the anger remained, as did a quiet resolve to carry on the fight.
On February 4, 1992, Chavez–then an army colonel spearheading a clandestine Bolivarian movement–responded to that still-seething popular discontent by launching a coup to bring down Perez. The coup failed, but nevertheless succeeded in awakening the consciousness of the people even as Chavez sat in jail.
Meanwhile, in 1993, Perez was impeached for misuse of public funds. The decision was handed down to raucous cheering from the poor whom he had betrayed, whose loved ones he had massacred.
A year later, Chavez was pardoned by Rafael Caldera and released from prison. Determined to bring real change and not just a change of face, he toured the country no fewer than four times. It was an unprecedented process: a candidate actually hearing out the people, and turning their concerns into the platform that won him the presidency in 1998 (and smashed the old, false-democratic Punto Fijo system for good).
But none of that appears in Fukuyama’s article; one who believes in the “end of history” surely can’t be bothered to read and digest so many facts. Too much history for him, I guess!
Now Chavismo, if I can risk defining it in a nutshell, is radical democracy harnessing money and markets to serve the people, rather than the people and democracy being harnessed to serve money and the markets, as in “liberal democracy”. That is why it work
s. A people-first policy, wherein democracy is the servant rather than the yoke, enables everyone to improve their situations in ways that must make Fukuyama’s ahistoric eyes bulge with envy. It is a direct refutation of neo-cons’ pet theory–the theory that the marketplace will just automatically deliver everything if government and people get out of its way. Chavez has seen that it does not do any such thing; rather, the market is what is in the way of the government and the people. Left unchecked, the market delivers little and merely sucks up profits from a “client state” and then pulls up stakes, leaving a trail of unemployment, economic collapse, political instability, broken pipes, contaminated water and masses of unserved consumers in its wake. Only those who reject the “free market” gospel and apply their own solutions manage to prosper.
Actually, the proper word for Chavez’s process is Bolivarianism. And it is a lot more complex and interesting than the straw-Chavismo that Fukuyama sets up to make feints at. It is also known as the “Tree of Three Roots”, because it is a single ideology growing out of the lives and works of three historic Venezuelans: Simon Bolivar, Ezequiel Zamora, and Simon Rodriguez. And, just like a tree, this process is no closed, static system; it is organic and alive. If it is hardy and well adapted to its environment, it will grow and thrive. And as we can see in Venezuela Bolivariana, it is doing rather well in its native soil. (My only quibble with the movie is that it’s already a little out of date; it doesn’t show how the whole Venezuelan economy has picked up under Chavez. Things are moving fast down there! Thankfully, Oil Wars has many excellent posts and pictures to fill that void.)
But “liberal democracy” is certainly no end to history in itself, let alone a vehicle for Better Things, as Fukuyama is still wishing it were. Rather than being a means for human self-perfection, it’s a soporific, a vehicle for self-deception. People thinking “we have democracy and free markets, therefore whatever goes wrong after this must be the fault of those who fall through the cracks, because this system is perfect”, are deluding themselves. Forty years of “liberal democracy”, which Venezuela had, actually deepened the problems that Chavez has set out to eradicate. People had the vote, yes–but they did not have real democracy, which may be defined from a practical standpoint as responsive leaders who work on the people’s behalf. Rather, they had plutocracy in a democratic guise: government by, of and for the money. And when the people didn’t do the money’s bidding, the mask fell and shattered. Guess what was behind it.
There is nothing liberal OR democratic about “liberal democracy”, when it comes down to that. It’s just the latest and flashiest form of feudal serfdom, in which the serfs are deluded into thinking they have a say when in fact, it’s still the oligarchy running the whole show. “Left” and “right” are rendered meaningless when the plutocrats have bought out both. Vote for one or the other; you’ll end up with only minor variations on the same theme. The serfs are just dragged along on a Technicolor magic carpet ride, where not much is real–but gosh, it all looks so pretty. In such a society, mass-media celebrity culture is injected as an anesthetic; we’re supposed to care about rich bitches and their messy love lives, instead of minding our social institutions, which are increasingly under attack from the moneyed interests. While the face in power changes every so often, the situation remains the same, if not worse. It is a kind of moral decay that has less to do with sex, drugs and rock’n’roll than it does with simply pushing those addictions to the masses, to distract us from the real societal problems we face. This dope-culture uses religion, even puritanical religion, to the same ends as it does all the other addictive and abusable substances–witness the explosion of cults in the United States, which were promptly exported abroad. The Moonies and Pat Robertson stand as particular cases in point. (So does the so-called New Tribes mission, which Chavez had the good sense to kick out of Venezuela.) God, like everything else in “liberal democracy”, is a commodity, and whoever sells the most God-junk, wins.
Chavez isn’t deceived by all this flummery, and he wants to make sure that no one else is, either. So, with the old political parties discredited and the old system slowly crumbling, he’s pushing through reforms that work, before the old enemy gets a chance to regroup and regress. Already his social welfare missions have reaped success; illiteracy is a thing of the past now, as in Cuba (which donated the methods and materials by which that success was achieved.) The people can now all read their own Constitution, analyze it, and make it work for them.
And, as a final fuck-you to neoliberalism, Chavez’s economic policies have met with such success as his predecessors and opponents can only dream about. Privatization has been halted and reversed; idle lands are being seized and redistributed to farmers; the dependence on imported goods is shrinking; oil money is now being put to good use everywhere, from infrastructure to microcredits to eye surgery. Amazing as it seems, governmental “interference”–tightening the reins on big business, taxing the rich, and investing the profits of nationalized resources in the poorest sectors of society–is proving not to be a fiscal sinkhole, as the IMF would have us believe, but the real rising tide that lifts all boats. It makes sense; you can’t expect a small fishing-boat to float when you suck the water out from underneath it and divert it all to the big yachts and supertankers. (And no, “trickle-down” economics won’t supply enough water either!)
Chavez was right–though painfully blunt about it, as is his manner. Fukuyama has lost out in the Marketplace of Ideas, and it is all because his glorious idea is destined never to make it beyond being a poncy paperweight in the drawing rooms of the elite.
Isn’t it time we called an end to the End of History?