Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bolivarian Revolution and the Orange Revolution?

i am working on a post about comparing venezuela and chavez with ukraine and the miserable failure that both the orange revolution and yushchenko are turning out to be. i guess my mistake was to have believed in the or in the first place!

for now, reproduced below is a portion of an interview with writer/activist/filmaker tariq ali about the situation in venezuela from the democracy now! website.

but a few things about my orientation toward the bolivarian revolution and venezuela under chavez:

the opposition in venezuela is absolutely hysterical. chavez is not immune to criticism and there is much to be criticized, but the opposition is absolutely hysterical, as is the guy who writes on venezuela at publius pundit.

second, and i will write more about this later, if the orange revolution was going to succeed, then it would have had to result in efforts the likes of which are going on in venezuela. ukraine needed a chavenko, not a weak or "pinko" yushchenko--which, by-the-way, if you know any spanish dialects, is not necessarily meant to be a homophobic comment, but a manner of speech meaning "weak."

when chavez called the orange revolution "pinko," he wasn't necessarily intending to be homophobic, as some suggested. talking in this way is like when someone says, "i got gipped at the store," and what they mean is, "i got cheated/i was robbed." the person saying it usually doesn't realize the origin of the phrase--i got gypsied--and probably did not mean to be putting down roma. chavez might be homophobic--but i don't know that and no one else listening to that speech should assume that. the blogosphere went ridiculously wild over that comment. i feel i can comment on this because i speak pretty good spanish--though mexican spanish--and have some really close friends in minneapolis from various parts of latin america with whom i converse only in spanish.

the result of the orange revolution has been weak. also, when chavez calls idiots like lukashenka a friend, it is clear to my mind that he is merely playing realpolitik, which is in practice if not by definition the policy of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. i don't like one bit chavez's turn toward such realpolitik; however it is absurd, hysterical, to claim that what is happening in venezuela under chavez is the same as in belarus' under lukashenka, or russia under putin, or even cuba under castro (though it is clear that chavez has real affection for this latter figure on this list). to claim that venezuela is belarus', russia, or cuba and that chavez's comments about having friends in these places are proof of this is. . .hysterical. hyperbole.

ok, more on these themes later. . .i am bringing them up because the successes of the bolivarian revolution in venezuela teaches us what an opportunity was lost with the weak outcome of the orange revolution.

here's the interview:

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the film that was made in the palace during the attempted coup. Tariq Ali, your response?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I was there a year later, Amy, when they were celebrating the victory and the defeat of the coup, and I saw the first viewing of this film in Caracas with 10,000 citizens of that city, and they were going absolutely wild. And, of course, what the film showed is that it was popular support for Chavez, both amongst the poorer sections of the community and amongst rank-and-file soldiers, which made the coup impossible for the United States and the Venezuelan oligarchy. And this, of course, has been Chavez's big, big strength in that country. He has now won five elections in a row, and he’s probably going to win the next one, too, with a big majority.

And what people do not seem to understand, within the establishment in the United States and its state media hacks, is that you can have political leaders today in parts of the world who are extremely popular because they give the people what they promised to give them. And politics elsewhere has become so isolated and alienating from the population that people just don't expect this anymore. And I think this is what explains the popularity of Chavez. And, of course, using oil money to push through mega-spending on health, on education, on building homes for the poor, free universities for the poor, this is not permitted in this world. He does it, and at the same time he challenges U.S. foreign policy in a very sharp way.

AMY GOODMAN: What about those who say he’s increasingly authoritarian?

TARIQ ALI: Well, they’ve been saying this from the first time he won the election. You know, if he were increasingly authoritarian, how come that not a single private television station or newspaper, who denounce him day in and day out, have been touched? I mean, I cannot imagine, by the way, Amy, any Western country, this country or Britain, where you had the bulk of the media against you, which denounced you, which slandered you, and the governments would just sit back and take it. I think, you know, it’s crazy to say that he’s authoritarian. Some of the criticisms made by him from within the Bolivarians is that he’s not tough enough with the opposition. So it’s exactly the opposite.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of his speech at the United Nations?

TARIQ ALI: Well, that was a historic speech. I mean, the images weren’t fully shown. But in other parts of the world, they were shown, and you saw the bulk of the delegates applauding him. It was like a breath of fresh air. And he took on the Bush administration's foreign policy, and lots of people came up to him afterwards from the Arab world, from other parts of the world, and said, “You say something which we can no longer say. We are just too frightened.” And that is what gives it its support.

I mean, I think he went over the top a bit. I’m personally opposed to attacking Bush personally, in personal terms. Whether he’s an alcoholic or what is not significant. But I think the administration has been attacking Chavez so hard, trying to get rid of him, telling lies about him, as we saw in that clip from the White House press secretary, that he’s a very spontaneous guy and lost his cool a bit. But overall, the speech had a tremendous impact, and it made him a cult figure globally. And then, of course, it made Noam Chomsky a bestseller in this country, Amy, which is the other side of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, I think Noam Chomsky´s book Hegemony or Survival has hit number five on the New York Times bestseller list, the one that he held up.

TARIQ ALI: But, you know, this is a very interesting development, that a foreign head of state comes to the United Nations, denounces the American government, advises U.S. citizens to read Noam Chomsky, and they flock out and buy his book.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times had to issue a correction, by the way, because they reported twice that afterwards Chavez said he wished he could have met Noam Chomsky, but unfortunately he was dead. And that’s what the Times reported twice.

TARIQ ALI: It was not true, because Chavez was talking about Galbraith.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that he wished he could have met Galbraith, but that he had not said that about Chomsky.

TARIQ ALI: He wished he could have met John Kenneth Galbraith. Yeah, but he certainly knows Chomsky is alive. I think Chomsky at the moment is probably on his way to Venezuela, as we speak. But there’s no question about that, but that’s very interesting, because this is a president -- the other thing about him is he genuinely reads books. There are very few politicians who do. He reads books.

AMY GOODMAN: Evo Morales, the Bolivian president?

TARIQ ALI: Evo Morales, I have met once. I met him in Caracas. Incredibly honest, sincere, devoted politician. The first Native South American to be elected president of a republic.

AMY GOODMAN: Indigenous.

TARIQ ALI: Indigenous American. And I think that’s had a mega impact. I’m nervous about the situation in Bolivia, because there's a lot of talk going on. The oligarchs there are incredibly unhappy and [inaudible] with the army. But again, if they try and topple Evo, you will have a very, very fierce resistance, because he came to power on the basis of gigantic social movements, which I try and explain in this book, that it’s not that these people suddenly emerged. They have been part of social movements, both in Venezuela, where the first big revolt against neo-liberalism took place in 1989 and 3000 people were killed -- that´s what produced Chavez -- then in Bolivia, where you’ve had giant social movements taking place.

And what they’ve also done is broken the isolation of the Cubans. You know, there’s no doubt about that, that Cubans are less isolated now than they’ve been for a very, very long time. And the human capital that Cuba, this island of 12 million people, has produced in terms of doctors and teachers now flooding into Venezuela and Bolivia to help people there. So there are good things going on.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s happening in Cuba now with President Castro sick?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think he is ill. I think, you know, of course, Fidel, being a total atheist, has no illusions about where he’s going to end up after he dies. He knows he’s going to be six foot under the ground. There’s no hell or no heaven. He doesn't believe. He’s never been a believer.

The question is: what will happen to Cuba? And the big question dominating discussions behind the scenes is: what will Miami do, what will Washington do? My own view is that they will try and flood the island with money and buy it. That’s what they will do, after all 12 million people. But from that point of view, I think the Cuban leadership has really to push through certain reforms themselves -- they’ve been very lax in it -- but, I mean, you know, proper reforms, not neoliberal reforms, but actually make available to the population a media which reflects criticism and discussion, opens up the country to diverse thought processes. It’s important for that government to do it, and I have said this to them, and at the same time, opens up the economy to a certain extent, learns some of the lessons, positive lessons, from Venezuela, etc., and try and keep Miami at bay.

It would be a total disaster for Cuba if Miami really reentered Havana, because with it would come everything that existed before, and all the gains that the revolution has made, which even people hostile, like Colin Powell, admit that Castro has done a lot for the people of his country, that would go if it became a neoliberal island. And so, the Cuban leadership now needs to discuss how to stop that happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali, thank you for joining us. His book is Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope.

read the whole interview here.

get ali's book here.

and two other decent books on chavez and the bolivarian revolution in venezuela here and here.

if only the orange revolution had been modeled on the bolivarian. . .


Leopolis said...

You say 'the orange revolution has been weak'. The OR was a demonstration against election fraud. It ended in January 2005 and achieved its purpose -- to hold free and fair elections. Yushchenko, not the OR, made promises. Yushchenko as president has been weak. But he is not the OR.

Unlike the "Bolivarian Revolution", no one in Ukraine claims that the OR is an ongoing revolution, as in Cuba. Only Moscow is afraid of an "orange virus."

Stefan said...


i have read your various descriptions of the OR as an internal struggle within ukraine against election fraud. i have taken them to be only a useful heuristic device for discussing particular aspects of the orange revolution--how it was in large part made in ukraine, consistent with ukraine's post-soviet experience, and was not entirely nor even mostly the result of western and especially american engineering/machinations. however, i don't agree with your view as a more encompassing statement about what the event called the OR was.

i do not think that the OR was only a demonstration/manifestation against election fraud and for free and fair elections. millions of people in ukraine thought they were demonstrating for the start of a process that would radically transform their country, and with the success of the OR demonstrations and the inauguration of yushchenko, they thought they were embarking upon that process--even if they only had the vaguest sense of what that process would entail, and even if the promises for such a process were also quite vague. those (broken) promises for a radical transformation are part of the significance of the OR as an event, part of its "thick" description (if you know what i mean, a la clifford geertz), for these promises are what motivated people to join the fight--people were motivated to stand up and fight against a fraudulent election because they thought they were, by taking to the streets, setting the country on a path/process of radical change. the focal point of their energy and the start of that process was to be a free and fair election; but much more was (supposed) to follow.

so, there were (at least) two (major) potential results of the orange revolution--a more radical v. a moderate one. a stronger outcome v. a weaker outcome. an ongoing (revolutionary?) process of pushing ("bad") oligarchs out of power and building homes and repairing roads and healthcare and education and the judicial system, i.e., really changing things in the country v. a demonstration against a fraudulent election that once was over, lead to a mere shift in power alliances within the well-entrenched elite, shifting power from the more corrupt and rapacious among them to some of the less corrupt and rapacious. we know which version took the day.

so i meant that the result of the orange revolution turned out to be weak--at least from the perspective of those who expected it to result in the latter of the options listed above, in a process of really, or radically, changing the country. and any of us who thought it would result in anything like an ongoing, revolutionary process of change were totally foolish. because the orange revolution was a) indeed "made in (post-soviet) ukraine"--i.e., in the context of the bankruptcy of the post-soviet, ukrainian left and thus of an overriding lack of faith in (and hence ability to imagine) any alternative to neoliberalism, or the current vogue for deregulated capitalism and western-style democracy, among what could be a truly progressive community in ukraine and in much of ukrainian society in general; and in which those who still believe in social democracy have mostly to look toward political leaders who may still talk the talk of social democracy, but who either are shameless oligarchs fishing for votes or are unreformed stooges of the soviet past; and in which the grassroots actually is totally disorganized--and b) since yushchenko and team did in fact have a great deal of american support (just how i see this as a factor, i will mention below), the OR could not have led to anything other than the weaker outcome.

so you are, in fact, right: in reality, the OR turned out to be just a demonstration against election fraud, and i add to the thought, that led to a (quite temporary!) shift of overt political power to the more liberal or less corrupt/rapacious gang within a well-entrenched elite. however, the virtual side of the OR--i.e., that part that has failed to materialize actually, i.e., what i think most people wanted and expected and were motivated by, i.e., an "orange" revolution that would result in a process of really, radically changing the country--is also part of its meaning and what it was about.

interesting that yushchenko and gang constantly struggled to control the energies of the orange revolution, to keep it from becoming a process of radical change, to contain the grassroots energies and keep the tendency toward and expectations for populism at bay, i.e., to keep the OR from growing into anything other than a protest against election fraud. during the OR demonstrations, they did so by keeping tymoshenko on a tight enough leash and through the negotiations that were met with a large degree of grassroots bewilderment (i am thinking of a photo of graffiti i took in kyiv: no compromise!). this effort to control the grassroots energies and to define for the grassroots the meaning/purpose of the OR materialized again immediately after the end of the main demos, when yushchenko and bezsmertnyj took it upon themselves to declare the end of the OR and tried to clear the tent camp before the inauguration--another move that was met with by grassroots dissatisfaction/bewilderment. and after that came yu and ljubi druzi's machinations against tymoshenko' s populist tendencies and her grander, stronger, pocessual understanding of the OR.

this says to me that the energy was there in the grassroots for a much more radical result of the orange revolution. yu and team utterly squandered that grassroots energy and rage--it was their intent to do so, anyway; they had no intention of a populist remaking of the country; they instead thought/still think that they could/can remake the oligarchs into a national bourgeoisie--and thus they worked to render the legacy/result and therefore the longer term meaning of the orange revolution rather weak. just a demo against election fraud that got them into power, forget all the other things people thought that they were demonstrating for.

and you are right about moscow--moscow should stop worrying, because yushchenko and gang have done a fairly good job themselves of containing the seed.

they should have proceeded to take action to promote consolidation within the grassroots itself and between their new government and their newly-forged, grassroots base. instead, yushchenko moonlighted abroad and left his cronies to squander all the good will at home, and he showed his true face with the memorandum of understanding in the fall of 2005, by which time the new elite had already begun to profoundly alienate itself from its grassroots base that wanted a different outcome, an orange-revolutionary process of change. it was then that one was right to say that, from the persepective of the stronger outcome, that the OR was dead--or rather, this is when much of the grassroots really began to realize it, or realize that they had been had. but you are right that this version had never come to pass, anyway; this version was stillborn.

if the OR was going to have its more radical or strong result, it would have had to follow a similar trajectory to that of the similarly election-based bolivarian revolution in venezuela--the new orange government could have learned a lot about consolidating a newly energized grassroots and ties between the radicalized grassroots and the elected government by using venezuela as an example.

but such is not what ukraine was prepared for at the time. it lacked the political leadership and will for such an endeavor. so i suppose one should be less critical and more content with the outcome, then.

Anonymous said...

No one in the course of the Orange Revolution spoke of the things you mention here. They did not talk about any kind of ongoing revolutionary process of transformation, as you suggest. As far as one can tell, there were zero preparations for such a thing to take hold in Ukrainian society. You are quite right yourself, when you mention that, only the most vague of statements suggested things may go the direction of social democracy and anti-neoliberal globalization.
Just look at who Yushchenko is! Who in their right mind would believe that this man would lead a government that sought a real alternative to global capitalism and western-style democracy?

Furthermore, in the course of the OR, the highly vague rhetoric about social democracy/justice/programs mixed with other, highly contradictory rhetoric. How do you combine the neoliberalizing, privatizing, dismantling the welfare-state EU with a drive for a state-centered process of progressively rebuilding a real social democracy in Ukraine?

The Orange Revolution succeeded wildly. It was a demo against election fraud--the excuse--that landed a new-old elite in power.
It is a new-old elite that is impotent in relation to its fellow elite adversaries because of its naive belief in liberal politics/liberalism.

Here, I agree with you.

Meanwhile, the people of Ukraine, who were so callously used in those heady days in Kyiv, still languish in their immiseration without a single, tangible sign in the past two years of things getting better for them.


PS--I'm glad to see that you are, finally, beginning to see the Orange Revoluion as a weak social phenomena from a progressive and grassroots perspective. It is not leading toward a real alleviation of everyday people's suffering--just as its critics initially predicted.

Stefan said...


i have one question for you--do you have contact with people in ukraine? have you spoken with people in ukraine, who live there and struggle to make a living, who have told you nothing has changed for the better in the socioeconomic situation?

just curious. i am not at all saying that i disagree with your point on this front. this is the same thing all my family members and friends, especially in the countryside, have told me.

just curious, what is the source of your information. . .


Stefan said...

given what people expected and thought that they were demonstrating for, the OR is also describable as the revolution of broken promises, the revolution of lies, etc.

and i don't think this is the talk of someone who can be accused of expecting the world to have moved in the immediate aftermath. there was much more that was actually possible. all that potential was utterly wasted.