Revolutionaries are easily distracted

In a recentish post, I attacked the contemporary left, which I argued had abandoned class politics on the home front to wage a kulturkampf against cultural conservatism. This post attacks the opposite problem in the left, that part which sees things only through the lens of "imperialism" and "injustice" and therefore blinds itself to many instances of profound injustice across the globe. 

Suzanne Moore, commenting on the much-married George Galloway and his recent claim that "we should unrelentingly struggle to persuade women [that abortion] is.. morally repugnant", said that "what with Jimmy Savile too, this week it feels as if we are seeing the face of patriarchy." She adds this: "The continuing support of the hard but impotent left for Julian Assange and their dismissal of the women concerned is not new. Women's rights have rarely been a priority for 'revolutionaries'." Her conclusion:
The reduction of feminism to a "chattering class" issue is absolutely part of the rightwing agenda. Only certain women can "afford" to be concerned and this is exactly the dead end of Tory feminism, which is strong on the right to have it all and totally blind to women who have very little. But open your eyes to see that the fight for women's rights remains real and globalised. Working-class boys have died in Afghanistan on the pretext of improving the rights of women, remember? A 14-year-old in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, has been shot in the head at close range because she wants an education. We admire this fight for basic rights as we talk to the Taliban. 
We are not in the same situation but the rights that women assume here – not to be abused or raped, to "aspire" to equal representation in public life and at work – are being chivvied way. We have a judicial and political system that is allowing this to happen and we cannot challenge it if we cannot name it. These words – patriarchy, feminism, misogyny – are indeed old. Retro, even. But they are vintage concepts, pre-loved because they are the real thing. Use when necessary.
When I first mentioned the welcome trend of left-wing feminists disassociating themselves from the misogyny of the Assange/Galloway camp, Kellie wisely commented:
The anti-war movement has been misogynist "in effect" for over a decade. It's interesting that some who have been so vocal about Western imperialism are now more able to recognise misogyny in the movement when it concerns events in Sweden and Britain than they were when it was about events in Afghanistan.
With the Malala affair, finally the commentariat seems to be lifting its head a little away from what's going on here, to the really brutal faces of patriarchy that the "anti-imperialist" left enables.

The "anti-imperialist" left is much invested in el Presidente Hugo Chavez: George Galloway was over in Venezuela campaigning for his re-election. Sarah sums up some of the responses to Chavez, including Carl's and Rob's. But I was very struck by this:

It’s interesting to note the response of the Guardian’s Jonathan Glennie to these concerns.  In response both to this post, and to Carl Packman’s observation that abortion is still illegal in Venezuela, Glennie brushes aside such silly shibboleths: 
@CarlRaincoat abortion, antisemitism – these are distractions – overturning hundreds of years of exploitation, that is the issue 
You can learn a surprising amount about someone from 140 characters.
Glennie, incidentally, argued that a little less freedom in Venezuela might be a good thing in eradicating poverty and inequality.

I have some sympathy for the notion that overturning exploitation and injustice should be our core, primary goals, and we must never lose sight of this. But to brush away racism and women's rights as a "distraction" is even worse than calling gay rights a "shibboleth". This sort of leftism makes me sick.

UPDATE: I may have been overly harsh in my judgement of Jonathan Glennie. In particular, I missed his earlier tweet "“@CarlRaincoat Having said that, raising the flag against anti-semitism in the left in Latin America is worth doing, i see it a lot…” However, I think the core point I was making remains valid. I will return to this topic in another post soon, and try to provide a more nuanced response to Glennie's Guardian blogging, some of which is persuasive but some of which remains problematic to me. See this conversation for a glimpse.


Jonathan Glennie said…
Dear Bob, you may wish to rephrase some of this having read my tweets to you, i'll admit my twitter shorthand was confusing, that is kind of the nature of twitter, all the best, Jonathan
kellie said…
Shorthand? What's "distractions" short for, with all of its syllables?
Jonathan Glennie said…
See comment left at Harry blog place:
Sarah AB said…
@Jonathan - I've added that comment to the post. I accept that you care about the issues, but I suppose i differ from you because I think if antisemitism is so institutionalised in Chavez' party (and assuming Capriles and his followers are ok on the issue) that would make it difficult to support him at all, not to mention all the other problems.

If I'd lived in London I wouldn't have voted for Ken (though I understood why others, also concerned, decided differently). I didn't come to that conclusion immediately, and it wasn't easy/obvious, but I thought it was better for the Labour Party to be sent a strong message in the hope it might clean up its act, even if it meant losing this particular election.

You were asking on Twitter, Bob, who people would vote for. I don't feel as strongly about the topic as Gene from Harry's Place does (and that must be partly because I know less about it). I tended to go along with Carl Packman's take on this - but would get off the fence on Capriles' side - and note that the existence/nature of the leaked document Carl refers to doesn't seem proven.

bob said…
I am adding here the comment Jonathan posted at HP, which Sarah has added:

Dear all, if you get down this far you might salvage yourselves from a misunderstanding. I can think of nothing more important than women’s rights, racism and anti-semitism. What I meant in my tweet conversation with Carl was that in the context of this particular election the issues of abortion and anti-semitism are irrelevant, a distraction from the key issues Venezuelans are deciding on. Or do you prefer the Venezuelan right wing’s policies on these issues? I was criticizing Carl’s piece for elevating them to relevant electoral issues in this particular context.

You may not have seen another of my tweet’s to Carl which said: “@CarlRaincoat Having said that, raising the flag against anti-semitism in the left in Latin America is worth doing, i see it a lot…” Last time I heard a left-winger say something nasty about Jews I threatened to leave the table, but she flew into a rage and left instead.

Sorry to puncture your outrage. I know it is more fun to despise people, but it is rarely that simple! This is a good lesson in the problems in twitterati debates. All the best, I often agree with blogs and comments on this site, believe it or not, although I find the tendency to fly into a rage a little bit lame sometimes! I have learnt over the years to listen hard and respectfully to other points of view, even when they seem jarring, in fact especially then. Jonathan
bob said…
The discussion thread at that post, btw, despite a lot of the usual shite, has some interesting stuff in it. I might copy some here later, as it gets deleted after time at HP.
bob said…
This is mettaculture replying to Calvin Tucker, the Stalinist Chavez advocate. I don't know anything about mettaculture, and have no idea whether to trust his account. This extract does not imply endorsement, but this is interesting:

‘10 April 2012
You have not got a clue. I know you went on a 21st C Socialist jaunt to Caracas and believe you know all about the barrios but you are being a useful idiot.
I have been to Venezuela four times in recent years and I know Brazil very well, so I am able to do the comparator ‘Venezuela needs a Lula not a Chaves’ that everyone I met in the barrios and everywhere else was capable of articulating.
[...]I volunteered teaching English and Mathematics in barrios in the North East of the Country. I saw none of the fantastically autonomously run barrios you dream of, just a bunch of red T shirt wearing slobs and thugs who swaggered around occasionally, officiously and threateningly, taking down details of people on clipboards just to you know take notes of them.
There was the odd basket ball court thrown in among the rubbish heaps with the semi feral dogs scavenging over them. I was very nearly shot twice and everyone I met knew someone who had been killed. People were giving up seeing the violence as inevitable, whereas in fact it has grown astronimcally since Chavez came to power.
Maybe he is taking a leaf out of Brazil’s book, decades too late, under Cardoso they created a new police force with academies and standards.[...]

Chavez is a soldier an authoritarian and a populist cuadillo. Look that word up Zin study Caudillismo. I know you speak almost no Spanish but try to understand this phenomenon in Latin America it tells you everything you need to know about populists of left and right and their clientalism and powers of patronage that blight the continent.
In 1992 your favourite date Venezuela was much less dangerous than Brazil where I was living at the time.[...]
I was barricaded into a place with guns and food during the election for Chavez to run as president for ever. The Chavistas were out in force writing down details of people in the barrios and organising rent a mob ‘ooh ah Chavez se va’ marches, where as most people are employed by the petrol economy had no choice but to attend.
I know you see this as a fabulous democratic vote to remove democracy but I can tell you for nothing what everyone told me ‘Chavez is crazy there is nothing he will not do to retain power and this time if he loses he has nothing to lose by having a coup’.
So we sat waiting for the count with our food and guns and our plan to sail to Tortuga if people were rash enough to vote against the vengeful demagogue and the inevitable coup came.
I sat through the fucking vote Zin I saw the tanks parked everywhere and the fact that the few people moving on the street for days were the men in red.

[...] don’t talk to me about community work in the slums. I am a Freirean lierationist ‘pedagoguey of the oppressed type’ and I have worked in ‘os communidades de base’ ‘los communitarios basicos’ and I know all about the other Latin American left the one that works from the bottom up through consitutional empowerment citizenship and participatory democracy.
[...]Clan Chavez is a whole new elite class and he has produced his own self re-producing oligarchy now with added protection racket features.

[...] I can even introduce you to some rubber tapper trade union types and let them tell you about caudillos like Chavez, but you won’t be listening as your Socialism is far more caught up with some weird projective insulation against what you actually spend your life doing in supporting globalised Capitalism that directly results in caudillo producers for your market.
Volunteer and teach English in a barrio don’t glorify it get stuck in the shit and teach the kids who are desperate to get out. It is a very rewarding activity...
bob said…
Here he is again:

What you seem to consider the pseudo Lula left, the PT of Brazil wields enormous influence as a successful model of democratic socialism.
The new Police force and other ‘Lulaesque’ policy turns by Chavez are actually evidence of the impact of Capriles and the need for the Chavistas to triangulate their stalinist shit with a bit of genuine bottom up next door style democracy.
Chaves has been trying on some Lula clothes in public as that was the official opposition line against him (and no I am not an apologist for Oligarchs in social democratic clothing either).
He has won but whether the Lula light window dressign will last is another thing.
[...]But if you think the misiones have really made a big impact on peoples daily lives where they are fucked and fucked again by a kleptocratic state run on patronage you are even more deluded than I thought possible.
[...]A friend of mine was shot (missed the heart lodged in the shoulder) in Caracas and mugged twice while there simply to get some official documents notarised and permits renewed. He did not have the money for a big bribe so he had to queue for hours every day at the ministry of fuck you over for no good reason. The money he had for the small bribes was all stolen. Finally someone took pity on him, what with the, bandages and all, and generously took in lieu of cash payment the new Crock sandals that I had given him. He left with the documents and barefoot. Fortunately I had also given him my Salomon sneakers.
There is a stall in Elephant and Castle where I can send money to Venezuela and it appears in a bank account at something like 10-12 times the official dollar or euro exchange rate.
Venezuela has copied that lovely Cuban habit of a dual exchange rate which means that despite the oil money, as everything is imported, unless you have a friend or relative abroad, or you steal, you are fucked.
[...]I respect the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira for its unwavering support for democracy against dictatorship and populist demagogues but I will stick with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (with reservations) the Partido Socialismo e Liberdade and the Partido Democrático Trabalhista all of these represent an anti-Stalinist reorganisation of the left into a democratic front.
Most of all I will stick with the liberation theology and the liberationist critical pedagogy of conscientização.
Fuck your misiones everything that is wrong with them starts with the word. No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption
[...] The first step in critical pedagogy for the oppressed is that they learn to know what they do not and how they are imprisoned by it.
In Brazil there are education programmes that can teach sugarcane workers to read and write in 45 days in Venezuela you might get given some sugar from the social funds of the misiones that are used clientalistically to buy votes.
Jonathan Glennie said…
You may also be interested in this blog where I argue that we should analyse Chavez like any other leader, with pros and cons. Why must I be a chavista or an anti-chavista? I am neither. He has done some great things and some bad things; the outcomes of his rule have been mixed. J
kellie said…
You know, I've been thinking that Jonathan's points deserve a detailed reasoned argument, and have been turning one over in my mind. But just now I took a look at the post of his that you linked to, the one where he writes that "the complete freedom of the press is not always a sign of a functioning democracy – in some contexts it can actually militate against progress for the majority poor". His evidence to back up this assertion is a link to an article by Mark Weisbrot that is so corrupted by the Assange virus as to be unusable. Weisbrot repeats so many legal myths about the Assange case that, for me at least, it is impossible to take him seriously on any topic, and consequently I find it that much harder to take Jonathan Glennie seriously as a journalist.
Waterloo Sunset said…
As blerrgh commentator (ok, I'm probably spelling that wrong) pointed out in an earlier thread though, while Zin might wank himself to sleep over authoritarians and is a fucking stockbroker, he still handed the Harryite's arses to them on that thread.

There is really no evidence the election was rigged at, y'know, all.

This from Modernity over at David Osler's blog is spot on:

Chavez’s win shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Latin America.

There is often dire poverty, weak infrastructure and precious little welfare state that people in the West take for granted.

People, largely, voted for improving living standards and what brought them about, Chavez.

So Venezuelans are not much different from anyone else in that respect.

Compare that to these extracts from Harry's Place's favourite blogger on Venezuela, Daniel Duquenal (for the record I was aware of this prior to Ken 'pornographer' Bell posting it):

They voted against Capriles because they were reminded that education matters, that to get ahead in life you needed to improve yourself, respect some rules, respect thy neighbor.

Now in Venezuela you will have all the trouble in the world to manage employees, to be served according to what you are willing to pay for, to demand that public servant do the job they are appointed to do. Because if you feel that you have rights then they will see this as a direct impingement on their comfort.

But when January rolls in things will be different. I do not know yet what it will be for sure, but one of the goals will be to create a more private and civilized sphere, away from the chavismo mental lumpen.

The utter contempt for the working class drips through at all times. These are the kind of people the Harryites ally themselves with.

Harry's Place is to "overturning exploitation and injustice" as Atzmon is to fighting antisemitism.

Or as previous Harry's Place above the line poster Terry Fitz is to anti-racism.

It's pretty obvious from the nature of the comments (sadly, as always, most of the evidence has been deleted) in the threads over there that a significant number of Harryites would support a Pinochet type.
bob said…
I pretty much never read below the line at HP. I did in this instance just to find Jonathan Glennie's defence of himself, as he didn't post it here. I agree with the description of the slime below the fold, but not of the above the line posters. Certainly, many of them would love a Pinochet style leader. But I'm not sure it's fair to call the BTL slime Harryites.

I also don't know who Daniel Duquenal is, and hadn't noticed a link to him. I saw Gene's repeated links to Francisco Toro (who I'd already read via James Bloodworth) and Rory Carroll. Sarah linked to a bunch of socialists.

Class contempt is a feature of many of the BTL commenters, but I don't think it's not the consensus even among them in the thread I did read. Mettaculture, who I quoted, takes a pro-working class posture, for example. Even if it was, though, it's not the case with Gene, Sarah or the other ATL commentators.

Btw, I realised I called Mettaculture "he". I should not have made that assumption.

Also btw, I see many positives to Chavez, and don't know enough about Capriles or Venezuela to know who I would have voted for if I were a voter there. My issue is with the Chavez-idolatry of the anti-imp left. Pinchet idolatry would be a worse crime in my book, but I don't encounter it much.
bob said…
WS - Has your Wordpress account been spammed, or have you reached new heights of irony? Check Everybody Loves and Bob's Beats!

All - Odd how Mehdi Hasan, the leftie decent people love to hate, has joined GG in the anti-abortion left. Very good article by Kenan Malik:
Waterloo Sunset said…
How bizarre. Doesn't seem to be at the email end- I've checked my sent box and there's nothing untoward in there.

I've changed passwords etc. Hopefully that should sort it. I suspect it's happened because I don't really use the blog any more.
Sarah AB said…
mettaculture is indeed a man.

Kenan Malik pinpoints some of the least convincing parts of the article well. But I thought it was in many respects a perfectly reasonable piece, less about abortion as such perhaps than about the way it is discussed.

I also don't feel equipped to say a great deal about Venezuela, but was interested in the spectrum of views the election generated. I think you would find a fair few BTL on HP who don't like Chavez but like Lula. Obviously there are plenty of people whose views I find vey uncongenial commenting there as well.
modernity's ghost said…
I think it very hard for us to understand the grinding poverty that is so often found in Latin America.

Things that we take for granted, cost money, everything costs, barely functioning infrastructures play havoc on people's lives, how they live, how they exist and how it costs.

If you ever want to see Thatcherism at work visit Latin America, private medicine, private security, pretty much private everything in places. Many times Western type prices, but developing countries wages.

It is corrosive poverty, which blights societies and everyone in it.

And what is missing from these debates over Venezuela is any sense of history.

Prior to Chavez, the previous governments and Presidents squandered Venezuelans vast oil wealth and the society was incredibly divided, levels of poverty and riches which it is hard to credit.

Chavez's use of oil wealth to build up social programmes was unheard of, and most welcome, that's why he's popular.

The rest of his foreign policy is idiocy, ignorance and bravado.

But Chavez is not judged on his bellicose speeches or gladhanding of Ahmadinejad, it is whether or not there is food on the table, shoes without holes and a little bit of hope at the end of the week.

I recommend visiting before judging the whole region by the precepts of foreign policy, you can't get an idea of what it's like until you've been there, and even then, it is hard to grasp the subtleties.

PS: WS, I am glad, and pleasantly surprised :)

Agreed, it is very jarring to see comparatively intelligent people on blogs not understand the basics, that politics is local and Chavez is judged on that basis. I can't stand him, but he has brought some hope people and that can't be denied.
Waterloo Sunset said…
Agreed, it is very jarring to see comparatively intelligent people on blogs not understand the basics, that politics is local and Chavez is judged on that basis.

Yep indeed. Actually, I think there's an interesting parallel with the Bradford result here.

Various people let their distaste with Galloway (and he's hardly my favourite person) cloud the issue to the point where they managed to convince themselves that it was a communalist result, simply because that was easiest for them.

Entirely missing the obvious possibility that Galloway got in because Bradford Labour are notoriously shit and corrupt and the locals wanted to give them a bloody nose.

Funnily enough, the further geographically commentators were from Bradford, the more likely they were to take the first analysis wholesale...

It also leads to the same conclusions. If the response to Chavez and/or Galloway is not to ask serious questions about why genuinely radical alternatives aren't gaining traction with the working class, it leads to the suggestion that the problem is those who voted for them first and foremost.

It's that which leads to support for Pinochet types- if the problem is the people, it logically follows that the only alternative is suppression of the democratic will.
kellie said…
More comment from me - For solidarity of words, against solidarity of power - on Jonathan Glennie's feminism and further to one of the links Bob has added above.
Sarah AB said…
Waterloo Sunset - I'm sure some did indeed think the result was communalist - but others identified the *campaign* as communalist.
BenSix said…
But Chavez is not judged on his bellicose speeches or gladhanding of Ahmadinejad, it is whether or not there is food on the table, shoes without holes and a little bit of hope at the end of the week.

This is true. Carl wrote a piece before the elections that assessed Chavez's demerits. It said almost nothing about his domestic policies but criticised his third-worldist support for brutal dictators and his apparent laissez-faire approach towards Jew hating colleagues. Now James Bloodworth has posted an article that chastises fellow socialists for being starry-eyed towards the man. He criticises his intimidation of his critics; his apparent disrespect towards unionists and his domestic policies with regards to Cuba.

These are consequential issues but it strikes me that a Venezualan is more liable to care about the fact that, say, they're twice as likely to be murdered as a Mexican. Our comfort can, I think, make it difficult for us to comprehend the priorities of people who are worse off.
modernity's ghost said…
" Our comfort can, I think, make it difficult for us to comprehend the priorities of people who are worse off."

Indeed, that's why it is important to visit Latin America, talk to people, real people, read the media & get a sense of the region.

I think Venezuelans are more concerned about food on the table, as much as anything else.

There's little reasons for socialists (or anyone else) to be ignorant of the region, flights are much cheaper than they were & travelling there not too arduous.

If you spend time watching TeleSur my feeling is it conveys a very false picture of Chavez & Venezuela, as does basing an assessment of Chavez mostly on his foreign policy.

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