Saturday, April 02, 2011

That Social Democrat curse: we must all be on the left

We suffer politically in Venezuela from a curse that we cast in the 1958-1960 era, when we got rid of our last right wing dictatorship while trying to make sure Fidel Castro Communism would not take over us.  We failed at both since right now we suffer of a new attempt at a fascist neo-totalitarian system while Fidel Castro has succeeded in turning Venezuela into a Cuban protectorate.  But I digress.

"A" left celebrates its newly found "unity" today in Barquisimeto
The curse that Venezuela suffers is that no political party has dared to call itself anything beyond "right of center", and even when it happened, very reluctantly, it doomed from the start any chance of success to reach power.  AD of course already inherited its ADECO appellation from being linked to Communism (AD-COmunista).  When Rafael Caldera became serious about reaching power he self styled his COPEI into "Social Christian" even though its origin was way more into a conservative religious place.  Since they both were "center left" all new parties defined themsleves as further to the left (MAS: Movimiento al Socialismo; Causa R: radical left, PPT: more leftist secession of CausaR, etc, until Chavez and his outright XXI century socialism, a.k.a. communism light so far, Castro inspired).

Why such a self imposed restriction?

I suppose it would deserve a treatise but this will be for others to write.  The executive summary originates from the AD propaganda of the late 40ies which became a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts: El Pueblo's wisdom which can only base its values on solidarity and sharing.  I suppose that up to a point AD thought it was a way to let its message reach a mass which was going directly from near stone age tribalism to oil wealth modernism; but the system stuck its gears and it was made worse when COPEI and Caldera decided to reach power on a faster track by becoming an AD light, sort of.  The only serious attempt at a more liberal approach to economy or society came under the second presidency of Carlos Andres Perez of AD and it cost him his presidency through the hands of AD who dumped him under the pretext that he misled them into his reelection.

I do not mean to make a judgment call on 60 years of Venezuelan politics.  Considering myself a social democrat European style (more accurately an old fashioned Liberal US before Reagan and daily Kos made it a bad word), I should be elated that no political party in Venezuela was right wing.  But I am not, not at all.  The fact of the matter is that it was all a lie all along as AD right wing practices could only reconcile themselves to its original left wing ideology by transmuting the whole into crass populism of which Chavez has been the most strident expression.  On this respect one could argue the case that Chavez has merely been the most Adeco Venezuelan president.  After all his rule is based on social largess and outright corruption, just as AD and COPEI rules were (though very far from the summits reached by chavismo).  Amen of chavismo adding its attempt at making Venezuelan a single gigantic PSUV tribal unit.

If we are in the dire straits we are today it is that since 1958 Venezuela has never had a real debate on society and economy.  It has always been a given that any Venezuelan government would be stationary (Caldera 1, Leoni to a point) or would be lurching further left than the original Betancourt (CAP 1, Lusinchi, Caldera 2).  The only two opportunities where a feeble attempt at re-discussing our national agenda was hinted at were under CAP 2 and early Herrera. But these failed fast becasue these presidents never truly intended to open a debate and CAP 2 just wanted to impose his vision regardless of its consequences.

Thus Venezuela never had a major debate such as it happens in normal democracies.  For example we can cite the Great Society of Johnson or the Reaganomics of Reagan and we could attribute the current failures of the GOP and Dems this decade at not being able since Bush second term to really start the needed, cyclical debate (1).  Or we can cite in Europe Thatcher, de Gaulle or Gonzalez who won their debate and set their societies for decades.

But in Venezuela circumstances were that the fear of Castro and our military past never allowed for such a debate and never allowed for a true center right democratic party such as we see elsewhere routinely gaining and losing power through elections.  Populism under the disguise of social democracy has always been our lot, Venezuela having reached the dubious record of having at least three political parties registered simultaneously at the International Socialist organization....

If I have allowed myself to extend on this very brief and rather un-nuanced survey of Venezuelan "ideologies" in past decades it is to make sure you can understand better what happened in Barquisimeto today.  Namely a series of democratic leftist groups (belonging to the International Socialist or not) have decided to try to form a common umbrella organization such as to be able to run a single candidate for the opposition primaries.  The event was apparently more successful than expected since the stadium chosen was quite filled up with not unimpressive images. 

The groups from the atomized opposition to Chavez include the PPT now finally in the opposition for good, but also PODEMOS (a member of the I.S.) and Causa R (who could have gotten a seat at the I.S. had it wanted to) plus minor players.  However the ecumenical aspect of the meeting was respected when other groups such as Primero Justicia sent delegates to welcome the initiative, and thus not making quite clear the real objective of the day.

It is too early yet to figure out if what I predicted long ago will come to materialize: three major opposition tendencies fighting it off in the primaries and then uniting behind the eventual winner, but a first step to move for a true democrat socialist left front has been taken today.  If all works out, a vocal Falcon today could maybe become the unity candidate for that "frente progresivo" (progressive front) including at the very least PPT, PODEMOS, Causa R and possibly MAS, and other smaller groups.  Leaving AD, UNT and ABP to form a more traditional Social Democrat group and PJ as the lone centrist group as attempts to form a more neo liberal group seemed doomed to fail yet again.  Even though of course they will all call themselves "progressives".....

Still, chavismo is not fooled and an amazingly virulent partisan note was posted in what is supposedly the Venezuelan News Agency, ABN. That "press agency " is becoming increasingly a propaganda  embarrassment and I wonder if anyone really reads them regularly.  At any rate, if you read Spanish take the time to read that note where all opposition participants at Barquisimeto today are described as deserters and all right wingers, as chavismo cannot tell (pretends not to know?) the differences between the multiple groups of the opposition alliance.


1) Tea Partiers and GOP do not seem able to really open the debate because the type of debate I am discussing here must be free of any religious component to be real and avoid becoming an imposition, with all the rejection that comes with it, and hence the difficulties to impose it.  Long gone are the days where Regan could use the religious right to win and drop it afterward to enact his reforms.  As for the Democrats they have lost long ago a sense of state since their 60ies social vision has now become the norm of the US, no matter how much one might disagree with that.  Obama cannot really go further to the left, the more so in time of crisis, while of course the Democrats cannot admit of past errors.  Hence the US dead-lock that will probably last through another presidential term....


  1. chavismo adding its attempt at making Venezuelan a single gigantic PSUV tribal unit.

    I have missed the obvious, that's exactly what is occuring. It is tribal, a march back to easier understood times? I don't know jack about Venezuela except what I read in blogs, but I damn sure know Potlatch.

  2. Anonymous3:13 AM


    To paraphrase Orwell: “left wing good, right wing bad” - with a sheep-like accent. This is a very interesting topic, as is your analysis as it applies to Venezuela. If you have lived in a communist dictatorship for some years and managed to emigrate, your instinct is to look for some political identity as far from the “left” as possible in the country of your exile. If you arrived in Venezuela under those circumstances in the 60’s you could be forgiven for thinking that the only show in town was AD. It is very frustrating when nobody understands what you are talking about when you denounce the socialist deception.

    If you say you are a socialist, no questions are asked. You are OK, perhaps a little eccentric but in a nice way. If you say you are a right winger, suspicion is immediately aroused. Something is wrong with you: you must be an intolerant bigot who doesn’t care about fellow humans, probably a wealthy person resentful of having lost the family fortune.

    Europe is full of this. After all, it was invented there. “The people” were taught to be suspicious of anything non-socialist, I suppose as a way of protecting the franchise. When Pinochet visited England, he was put under house arrest (after being allowed into the country as a VIP visitor). Right wing dictators are bad. No such exemplary justice is shown the numerous equally bad left wing dictators that visit the country regularly (some Chavez-like Libyans have been turning up recently).

    A political debate is needed. But I wish the debate could be held without preconceived ideas about right and left.


  3. Well Daniel, in the bit about all governments having been slight variations of the same populist theme, I can only but agree. In the argument that no self respecting Venezuelan politico would be caught dead defining himself, his policies as right wing, you're also spot on.

    However, and I am very glad you brought this up, I think in practice, there's been plenty of examples of policies traditionally associated with right wing ideology, since Marcos Perez Jimenez "Plan Nacional", to Romulo's kicking communist arse properly in the early 60ies, to CAP supposedly neoliberal policies in the late 80ies, early 90ies. I think many Venezuelan politicos are right wing, certainly many more that would care to admit. Their rhetoric and their praxis just couldn't be further appart, but hypocritical, as they all are, they rather stay safe in the confine of projecting this false image that they are more to the left, and more populist, than Chavez.

    Ramon Guillermo Aveledo admitted to Reuters not three days ago, that should the opposition reach power, it would consider privatising vast swaths of public Venezuelan companies. Perhaps the chavistas, and other oppo, weren't paying enough attention. What I think is that it is disgraceful that the debate has been framed along the lines of who is more leftist, when in over 60 years, we have suffered from such governments, and people still think that the fucking left is the solution.

    An absolute disgrace if you ask me. But those who, like me, think that the left is useless in 99% of what it does and represents, have no chance to either enter politics, gaining a following, or to try and change the overlying hypocrisy by associating to an established political party, such as PJ.

    We have had notorious figures, rightly or wrongly associated with the right, such as Uslar Pietri, that never got a chance at governing, although thousands benefitted from his education policies while at Medina Angarita's regime. In fact, Romulo Gallegos and Uslar Pietri shared a similar vision towards oil, education, and curiously, Gallegos' foremost disciple (Betancourt), hated Uslar, although both his professor and Uslar shared many ideological positions. Pandering to populism has always been a curse in modern Venezuela. Let us hope that in post modern times, we'll be done with it and try instead formulas and methods that have consistently improved the lives of millions in other countries.

    To conclude, I wouldn't put you down as a lefty in a million years... :)

  4. You are right, you would need more than a treatise to flesh out your summary! Which I liked, very concise and representative of the dynamic from '58 onwards.

    However, I have to ask what you found so virulent about the ABN note you linked to?

    Unless the article the link points to changed, it seems a straightforward piece of who was there and what they said.

    Perhaps the reference to Miquelena as an "empresario from the '40s" might be considered "colored", but other than that I didn't see anything virulent.

    Or am I missing something?

  5. Robert

    The general tone. Though admittedly "virulent" might have been a tad too strong.

  6. AB

    Oh, but I am! The thing is that a social democrat or a US Liberal in the classical sense are NOT lefties! We are in the center left in that we think that spending must be significantly dedicated to improve social situations and even up chances at the starting block. What differentiate us from "lefties" is that we are Keynesian in that we understand that on occasion we must spend more than what we take in though in the overall trend we must break even. Lefties have no such qualms and they will spend whatever they "feel" they must spend even if it is against any economic wisdom. Also, true Liberals will never waver on human and civil rights whereas a lefty will have no qualm about trampling a few of those if it serves what they "feel" is the common good.

    Thus when you have a regime like Chavez, even a Liberal like yours truly can sound quite right wing.... :)

  7. Excellent post, one that goes into essential analysis that is often lost from sight in day to day recounting of events.

    Framing the debate.Oh yes.Any limitation that goes beyond insults and respectful dialogue is framing the debate.All ideas must be allowed in order to have any real debate whatsoever, and that includes communism and religion.They are ideas, and they represent a great deal of truth for large segments of populations and therefore must be included in the search for practical solutions.

    Limitations only frame the debate in such a ways as to establish a strong status quo which lock in solutions in such a way as not to be efficient problem solving.ANY ideology that cannot be open is subject to this extreme conservative way of thinking that defines both the far right and left.

    I see no effective debate going on anywhere.There is some debate in the US but it is too polarized to get us anywhere.In Europe debate has generally been framed by leftist thought, but is now opening up in some places because of the excessive debts.

    In Venezuela framing is extreme.The only debate allowed, is how to give away as much money as possible to the poor.There is no debate on how the poor can contribute..This to me shows a fundamental lack of respect towards the poor and does not allow for creative solutions that might in the long run be beneficial.

    The basic way in which the debate is framed in Venezuela gives a great advantage to populists like Chavez who are always ready to make the most grandiose promises.

    What is the basic problem in Venezuela that produces this phenomena?

    My opinion :

    1.People are too into group-think and popularism( fashion, popular ideas of any kind) .When people are too different in Venezuela, they are not listened to or respected because emotionally most Venezuela are more interested in relationships and popularity rather than in ideas.

    2.the idealization of victimization- which basically means that people do not see their own responsibility in creating their own lives, and expect handouts from stronger people in order to survive, while at the same time not seeing this as morally reprehensible.People are not brought up to see independence as a moral obligation.

  8. Anonymous12:21 PM

    One of the funniest (read: most sociopathic and delusional) things about Chavez and his cronies is that if we were to listen to their descriptions of Venezuelan politicians before Chavez, we would get the feeling that every one of them was a blue-eyed, pasty white, blond, militant right-wing billionaire who spoke spanish with an obvious english accent and who spent most of their free time planning new ways to show how much they hate the poor.

    While at the same time, Chavez spends most of his time talking as if his name was Guaicaipuro Torosentado, and as if 90% of all diehard chavistas over 45 weren't diehard Adecos 25 years ago.

    In fact, it's quite probable that the only two people in Chavezdom that didn't grow up in a devout Adeco household were Chavez himself (his father was Copeyano) and "Chuckles" Izarra (openly Communist, I think).

  9. "We must all be on the left" will be true in a country where the pervasive curse is inequality.

    In Venezuela, the rhetoric has been on the left, as Daniel points out, but inequality persists and grows.

    People become convinced that only somebody REALLY serious about it will bring them relief.

    Democracy is sacrificed in the hope that economic and physical security can somehow be achieved.

  10. Daniel,
    derecha, izquierda... los extremos siempre se tocan :0

    But as Alek, I pictured you more to right!

  11. Anonymous2:10 PM

    Venezuela is a poor country with a rich government, that is, I believe, the true origin of our disgrace.

    Any country (meaning its people) that solely depends on its natural wealth, not the one produced by its citizens, but the one given by nature, is bound to end up like Venezuela has, in dire misery.

    The absolut control that the government has on the economy castrates any liberal entreprise that could benefit an independent voice.

    Being dependent on our oil resources makes of Venezuela a very fragile state, as in every civilized society the country should live off the wealth of its citizens not the other way around.

    The "Rule of Law" will always bend to the strongest, in this case Chávez and his acolytes have discovered what the Adecos and Copeyanos only suspected, that by destroying every other source of independence, one can destroy the roots of society and create a race of starving slaves.

    Truly yours,
    Rómulo Guardia

  12. Liz

    Pues para que veas... Y no te digo lo que me saca la piedra Fox News con el gafo ese que el otro dia que las mareas dependian de dios......

  13. Well, Daniel, I suppose this last statement of yours is more of an emotional reaction than a debatable point :)

    The truth is I never thought you were more right wing because you state over and over again that you are not.

    Maybe some have not followed your comments or maybe your writing slants more to the right than your thoughts do...hmmmm

  14. cochonette de feu

    let's see if i make myself clearer.

    i am pro choice, pro gay rights, pro affirmative action, against church in state, pro science (and evolution teaching, forbidding creationist garbage), pro government with plenty of services depending from it (canadian style health care, e.g.), with the provision that taxes can support it even if 50% of my income goes to different taxes, i think that income spread should be limited to one order of magnitude at most, anti military, etc, etc...

    so, can i still be considered right wing after that? how long until the GOP were to expel me of its ranks?

  15. Jaja, muy bueno eso, Danielito!

  16. Oh Daniel dear,
    not all right wings believe in God as not all lefties are atheist.

    Como te dije los extremos se tocan.

  17. In the Spanish world it is all left wing politics that is promoted in a populist manner. There are is no Tea Party unless you want to count old Carlists and SkinHeads. Even the Falange are very much trade unionist
    What is right wing are the Elitists or wantobes who get elected spewing this populism and maintaining corrupt police states to keep themselves in power. They still think in terms of the patrons and the peons! If you think this is racial forget it, the Philippines is a whole other DNA and is just as bad. The common link is 400 years of Spanish culture. The French culture is far more egalitarian even to excess. Even last names like mine with two capital letters will set some french off. But for the typical Latino, they have to chose from what ever political choice is put in front of them.

  18. so, can i still be considered right wing after that? how long until the GOP were to expel me of its ranks?

    Yes and never. In your heart you're a knuckle-dragger, you can never leave.



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