Written by George Ciccariello-Maher
Sunday, 30 March 2014 14:51
Not everyone who calls themselves anarchists are worthy of the name. Before expressing our solidarity, we should be clear who it is we are supporting.
Source: ROAR Magazine
When it comes to the Venezuelan protests of recent weeks and months, misinformation reigns supreme. Just as liberals and progressives have been misled by desperate hashtags like #SOSVenezuela and simplistic comparisons to Occupy, so too has the radical left been tempted by the some self-described Venezuelan anarchists, and El Libertario in particular.
This is not a critique of anarchism in general or even of all Venezuelan anarchists (I will discuss others below). I have always been very close to the anarchist milieu and, while frustrated by certain anarchist blindspots, I am influenced by anarchism as a doctrine of revolutionary struggle that understands the inherent contradictions of the state. The liberal, middle-class anarchism of El Libertario, however, represents not the fulfillment but the betrayal of this revolutionary anarchist vision. Condescending toward the poor and utterly absent from concrete struggles, it has instead allied itself—as it does today—with reactionary elite movements.
In a recent piece published in English both by Libcom.org and ROAR Magazine, El Libertario figurehead Rafael Uzcátegui (not to be confused with the former guerrilla of the same name), put forth a highly misleading but also revealing account of the recent protests to provide an “anarchist perspective” for the “poorly informed.” Unfortunately, the piece leaves us even more poorly informed than before, and lacks any anarchist perspective whatsoever. (While this is not the time to fully dissect Uzcátegui’s book, translated into English as Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle, let’s just say that—as the title suggests—it’s more Debord than Magón or Bakunin.)
What is misleading is that Uzcátegui repeats mainstream misrepresentations of how the protests started, claiming police repression when the police only acted in response to a February 6th attack on the governor of Táchira’s house. He uncritically reports arrests and torture allegations, despite the fact that most of these were never actually reported to the competent agencies, and some are under investigation. While rightly mentioning the role of intelligence officials in deaths of both protesters and Chavistas on February 12th, he fails to mention that the officers responsible were promptly arrested and charged (the number of officials arrested for excessive force has now reached 17).
He invokes a common refrain that there is no press freedom in Venezuela while noting that it was the most important Venezuelan newspaper, Últimas Noticias (which is sympathetic to the government) that released a crucial video investigation showing the actions of security officials on February 12th. He critiques president Nicolás Maduro’s suggestion that a coup plot similar to the one that briefly overthrew Hugo Chávez in 2002 might be in the works, but leaves out El Libertario’s own ambivalence toward that coup when it happened (see below).
What is revealing, however, is the fact that Uzcátegui positions El Libertario as “simple spectators” and condescendingly blames “low levels of political culture” for the absence of a truly independent left. For anyone who has spent even a week in Venezuela, and especially for those of us from the US who have lived there extensively, this last statement is utterly incomprehensible, since the political culture of Venezuela, the constant flurry of vibrant critical revolutionary activity, is at times overwhelming. But this, alongside Uzcátegui’s demonization of popular revolutionary organizations (colectivos) as “militia groups” speaks volumes about El Libertario’s opposition to popular struggles and the self-activity of the poorest Venezuelans and support for middle-class notions of social change that are ultimately complicit with the right.
Who Are El Libertario?