Friday, July 23, 2004
Tariq Ali on Latin America. posted by Richard SeymourSlavoj Zizek has long argued that the Left should cease to be obsessed with keeping its hands clean and start to be in favour of victory. To get such a victory, says Tariq Ali , you have to take power - and Venezuela proves it:
Without adequately addressing state power, what alternative to neoliberalism is the Global Social Justice movement offering?
No, they have no alternative! They think that it is an advantage not to have an alternative. But, in my view that’s a sign of political bankruptcy. If you have no alternative, what do you say to the people you mobilize? The MST in Brazil has an alternative, they say "take the land and give it to the poor peasants, let them work it." But the Holloway thesis of the Zapatistas, it’s — if you like — a virtual thesis, it’s a thesis for cyber space: let’s imagine. But we live in the real world, and in the real world this thesis isn’t going to work. Therefore, the model for me of the MST in Brazil is much much more interesting than the model of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Much more interesting.
The Global Justice Movement is wary of Chávez’ populism, his military background, and what they fear may become a top-down ‘revolution’ that excludes the grassroots. How do you think the GJM and Chávez can be reconciled?
As long as the poor in Venezuela support this government it will survive, when they withdraw their support it will fall. But I think it will be useful if the Global Justice movement—and there are many different strands in it—came and saw what’s going on here. What’s the problem? Go into the shantytowns, see what the lives of the people are, see what their lives were before this regime came into power. And don’t go on the basis of stereotypes. You cannot change the world without taking power, that is the example of Venezuela. Chávez is improving the lives of ordinary people, and that’s why it’s difficult to topple him—otherwise he would be toppled. So it’s something that people in the Global Justice movement have to understand, this is serious politics. It’s pointless just chanting slogans, because for the ordinary people on whose behalf you claim to be fighting getting an education, free medicine, cheap food is much much more important than all the slogans put together.
What do you think of the Venezuelan example of participatory democracy?
I think it needs to be strengthened. I think it’s weak, I think the movement here needs to institutionalize on every level—the level of small pueblos, the level of the towns, the level of different quarters—organizations, which can be very broad: Bolivarian Circles, whatever you want to call them, which meet regularly, which talk with each other, which discuss their problems, which aren’t simply a response to calls from above. It’s very very important, because you know, Chávez is an unusual guy in Latin America—very special—and he is young and long may he live, but he has to create institutions which outlast him for the future of this country.
What is at stake in Venezuela? Whose interests? And can Venezuela survive alone? What does Venezuela mean to the US?
Venezuela is an example which the Americans wish to wipe out. Because if this example exists, and gets stronger and stronger and stronger, then people in Brazil, in Argentina, in Ecuador, in Chile, in Bolivia will say ‘if Venezuelans can do it, we can do it.’ So Venezuela, from that point of view, is a very important example. That’s why they’re so worked up. That’s why the Americans pour in millions of dollars to help this stupid opposition in this counry; an opposition which is incapable of offering any real alternative to the people, except what used to exist before: a corrupt, a servile oligarchy. That’s what Venezuela means, and I think that one weakness, till recently, of the Bolivarian revolution has been that it has not done more towards the rest of Latin America, because it’s been under siege at home. But I think, once Chávez wins the referendum, and then the local elections I hope, and the mayoralty of Caracas in September, I hope then a big offensive is made for the rest of Latin America too. From that point of view, the model of the Cuban doctors is a very good one. I mean, a Venezuelan doctor—in five years Venezuelans will come back [from Cuba] as doctors, they can help both their own country, and they can go to other countries to work in the shantytowns. They are small things, but in the world in which we live they are very big things. Fifty years ago they would have been small, today they are very big. And that’s why we have to preserve and nurture them.