Cheering Chávez: John Pilger

This week we’re discussing Australian-born, Britain-based journalist John Pilger, whose decades-long oeuvre is one long attack on the Western democracies and love letter to various despots around the world. Among the objects of his affection is Hugo Chávez, whom Pilger unabashedly depicted, in a 2006 documentary, War on Democracy, as a hero of freedom.

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John Pilger

Pilger was still at it in February 2015, when he described Venezuela in an interview as “a source of inspiration for social reform in a continent ravaged by an historically rapacious United States.” What about, um, Venezuela’s ongoing economic collapse? Wasn’t that the fault of its misguided socialist “reforms”? No, Pilger explained: it was caused by (what else?) American “quislings and spies” and by the U.S. government’s sordid “machinations”: “Washington wants to get rid of the Venezuelan government because it is independent of U.S. designs for the region and because Venezuela has the greatest proven oil reserves in the world and uses its oil revenue to improve the quality of ordinary lives.” The U.S., Pilger maintained, was driven by a mad compulsion to bring down the Bolivarian Republic, because the latter represents “the threat of a good example”: Venezuela, you see, was prospering, and this was something the U.S. simply could not forgive.

pilger_venezuelaIn another interview, given this past March – by which time it was even clearer that Venezuela’s economy was circling the drain – Pilger continued to laud chavismo. Sounding for all the world like Lincoln Steffens oohing and aahing over the Soviet Union, Pilger gushed nostalgically about the glories of life under the late, great Hugo. “Venezuela was undergoing imaginative, historic, even epic changes,” he recalled. “Children were learning about history and the arts for the first time; Venezuela’s literacy programme was the most adventurous in the world….What struck me was the pride ordinary people felt – pride in their revitalised lives, and in the previously unheard of possibilities that lay ahead and in their government, especially Hugo Chávez.” What bliss it was in that dawn to be alive!

Ah, Chávez, Chávez, Chávez! Pilger is one of those Western intellectuals who, from the safe distance of their own free countries, adore alien despots who tyrannize people other than themselves in countries far, far away. “I have never known a national leader so respected and held in such affection as Chávez,” Pilger said. “He was an extraordinary man, who never seemed to sleep, who was consumed by ideas.” (Ideas such as shuttering Venezuela’s largest TV network for being insufficiently deferential to him – an action, by the way, that our “Journalist of the Year” lustily applauded.)

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Clement Attlee

In his March interview, Pilger went on to make a curious comparison. Venezuela during those early days of chavismo, he claimed, “bore similarities to Britain under the reforming Attlee Labour government of 1945-51.” Indeed it did: that “reforming” Attlee government, like the chavista regime, ultimately proved to be an unmitigated economic disaster: while West Germany, which had been almost leveled during the war, pursued a free-market policy and soon enjoyed an economic boom, Attlee nationalized one-fifth of the U.K. economy, vastly expanded the welfare state, and hiked taxes dramatically – thus subjecting Britons to continued scarcity, austerity, and rationing.

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Hugo Chávez

You might think that the lesson here would be not to copy Chávez’s or Attlee’s policies. Not in Pilger’s world. He likes socioeconomic systems that produce what he sees as virtuous poverty instead of pernicious wealth. Not, again, that he wants to live under those systems himself – he’s stayed put in nasty old Britain since 1962 and has raised both of his children there, sending his daughter to study alongside the scions of evil capitalists and imperialists the University of London (where she did a Ph.D. “on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists”) and his son to the University of Sussex and (surprise!) to the University of Michigan, in beautiful, execrably privileged Ann Arbor, in the heart of the Great Satan itself. No, it seems clear that Pilger wants the world’s rabble to live under the ideologically laudable systems of places like Cuba and Venezuela and China and Saddam’s Iraq, while he and his long-suffering progeny are forced to endure the burdens and terrors of the always despicable West.

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