Checking in on chavismo‘s cheerleaders

Yesterday we started looking in on some of the Americans who, not that long ago, were slavering fans of chavismo. Where, we asked, are they now? What, if anything, do they have to say about what’s happened to Venezuela as a result of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution? Has any of them exhibited even the remotest hint of regret, remorse, repentance for cheering on Hugo’s socialist shake-up?

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Greg Grandin

Among those who signed a 2014 letter to the U.S. Congress in defense of the Chávez regime was NYU historian Greg Grandin. Writing in The Nation in March of last year, Grandin “explained” current developments in Venezuela by turning to one after another of his fellow signers of that letter to Congress. (We took note of Grandin’s piece, incidentally, last June.)

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Miguel Tinker Salas

Grandin cited with approval, for example, Miguel Tinker Salas‘s insistence that “we have to keep perspective” about developments in Venezuela. There followed another attempt to change the subject: why focus on the horrors of Venezuela but not, say, Mexico? Tinker Salas rejected U.S. media reports suggesting that Venezuela “is once again on the verge of a precipice” and mocked “[s]ensational headlines [that] focus on the lack of toilet paper and condoms.” Grandin likewise took comfort from anthropologist Naomi Schiller’s observation that “[t]here have been few periods where Bolivarianism hasn’t been deeply embattled.”

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George Ciccariello-Maher

He further cited George Ciccariello-Maher, who offered the novel observation that by focusing on Venezuela’s present shortage of basic goods “we run the risk of losing sight of…the historically poor, the revolutionary grassroots, those who knew shortages and insecurity long before wealthy elites raised these as banners.” Ciccariello-Maher further suggested that instead of turning back from the precipice, Venezuela needed to charge forward faster than ever, putting its faith in the new phenomenon of “self-governed communes,” which produce their own manufactured and agricultural goods. We looked at those communes back in January, noting the ominous similarity between them and Stalin’s collective farms.

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Eric Draitser

But of all these cheerleaders for chavismo, who’s still waving the pom-poms? Well, there’s Eric Draitser, for one. Who’s he? He’s the founder of a website called StopImperialism.com and is a regular contributor to both RT (Putin’s English-language TV channel) and Press TV (Iran’s English-language TV channel). Writing in April in the bizarre, far-left Counterpunch (a publication whose apparent purpose is to make The Nation look sane), Draitser spurned the “corporate media” which, he wrote, “would have you believe that Venezuela is a dictatorship on the verge of political and economic collapse; a country where human rights crusaders and anti-government, democracy-seeking activists are routinely rounded up and thrown in jail….In fact, the opposite is true.”

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Reality check: a photo of one of those Venezuelan grocery lines

In Draitser’s world, chavista socialism hasn’t destroyed Venezuela’s economy; what’s happened, rather, is that the political opposition has “undermined, targeted, and destabilized” the Bolivarian Revolution and has used “the sacrosanct terminology of ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ and ‘human rights’ to conceal” its “grave crimes against the people of Venezuela” and its “iniquitous agenda, shaped and guided, as always, by its patrons in the United States.” It’s no surprise that Draitser’s piece first appeared on the website of TeleSUR, a Caracas-based joint initiative of the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Bolivia.

Hugo’s fans: where are they now?

The headlines don’t mince words. “Socialism in Venezuela: No toilet paper, TV, or long distance call service.”  Venezuela nearing total ‘collapse.’”  “Venezuela’s Collapse Brings ‘Savage Suffering.’” “Venezuela has a crazy new plan to save electricity.” (The “plan” is to change the country’s time zone.)

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Nicolás Maduro

It was only a couple of years ago – but seems much, much longer – that celebrity fans of chavismo in the U.S. were still proudly proclaiming their support for the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Consider the March 2014 letter written by a bunch of Hugo’s stateside admirers to members of the U.S. Congress, chiding them for the passage of H.R. 488, a bill expressing support for Venezuelans “as they protest peacefully for democratic change and calling to end the violence.” The letter fiercely defended the chavista government, stating that it “may have legitimate reasons for arresting and detaining” many opposition members, and accused the U.S. Congress of “politicization of human rights.” In a classic change-the-subject gambit, the letter asked why the Congress was exercised about human rights in Venezuela and not, say, in Colombia or Peru? And in conclusion, the letter warned that “Congressional resolutions steeped in hyperbolic rhetoric that portray Venezuela as a repressive government or even a dictatorship threaten to undermine the integrity of the U.S. Congress in the eyes of our Latin American neighbors.”

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Hugo with Danny Glover

Who were the signatories of this missive? The big names were actor Danny Glover, director Oliver Stone, and aging hippie Tom Hayden. But there were also several academics, some of them pretty big names in their fields – George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel; Arturo Escobar, an anthropologist at Chapel Hill; Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Miguel Tinker Salas, a historian at Pomona; Sinclair Thomson and Greg Grandin, both historians at NYU; John Womack, Jr., a retired Harvard historian and economist; Gilbert M. Joseph, a historian at Yale; and Gerardo Renique, a historian at CUNY.

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Dan Kovalik

Where are these champions of chavismo now? Where, c’est-à-dire, are the schmoes of yesteryear? A few quick Google searches suggest that, of all these admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution, Kovalik is one of the two or three buffoons on the above list who’ve weighed in most recently on Venezuelan affairs. And what did Kovalik have to say? Scribbling in the Huffington Post in December, he lamented the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections: “Ultimately, it is the impoverished people of Venezuela who suffered the biggest loss in the recent elections, for the Chavista revolution has been focused on improving the once-neglected poor of Venezuela.” Kovalik was, at that point, still making great claims for the economic results of chavismo: “the Chavista government has done a laudable job in greatly reducing poverty and in reducing economic inequality.”

Then there’s Grandin. We’ll get around to him tomorrow. 

Giving May Day new meaning?

It’s May 1, which before the fall of the Iron Curtain was a day on which the peoples of the Communist world were constrained to celebrate the very system that oppressed them. In many countries today, May Day continues to be officially observed, complete with red flags, banners inscribed with Soviet-era slogans, and the Internationale played by marching bands – all supposedly in the name of honoring workers and the labor movement. 

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Ilya Somin

In today’s Washington Post, Ilya Somin – a law professor at George Mason University and Cato Institute scholar who was born in the Soviet Union and was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was five years old – argues that instead of propping up this ragged old Communist institution, we should turn May 1 into an international “Victims of Communism Day,” memorializing the millions who perished at the hands of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and other Marxist tyrants. Noting, correctly, that people in the West tend to be far less aware of the crimes of Communism than of the crimes of Nazism, Somin writes:

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A recent May Day march in Oslo, Norway

The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total [of people killed by Communism] at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so.

An excellent proposal. Not only do the victims of Communism deserve to be remembered; but such an annual act of recognition would go a long way toward countering the shameless, untiring efforts of the useful stooges among us who continue to whitewash Communism and its atrocities.