Venezuela, France, U.S.: Responsibility Is Ours

When failures occur, progress requires taking responsibility for what one could have done differently and then making changes. After all, going forward, one can change what one does – but one cannot magically cause others, with opposite agendas, to change what they do. Nonetheless, instead of assessing ourselves to find where we can make changes too often we blame those we abhor, where changes are out of reach.

In France, fascists are racking up major gains. We blame the fascists for doing what they are conceived, constructed, and disposed to do, and for what we can easily predict they will do. We blame the voters, as well – for acquiescence to the thuggish appeals. But as the horrific votes mount up, even in poor regions, do we who have humane and much more than simply anti-fascist agendas acknowledge that it means we haven’t reached the people in those regions with even a rudimentary understanding of the forces arrayed against them and of the social and moral implications of their supporting fascist policy?

In the U.S., same question arises. Trump, another fascist thug, tramples truth, dignity, and reason, openly spouts racist drivel and blatantly fabricates nonsense, and we blame him and along with him everyone who buys his shenanigans. But do we ask how circumstances have gotten to the point where this is possible – and, even more important, what we could have been doing differently over the years, so there wouldn’t have been an audience for Trump-ish sentiments? This is serious. Much of his support is white working class folks, I think mainly over thirty or forty years of age. Isn’t that a constituency, indeed, arguably the constituency, that left organizers, writers, and activists of all kinds should have been addressing for decades? These folks are upset in considerable part about perfectly reasonable things – low income, subordination, health problems, alienation of all kinds, crime, and so on, and yes, they are also buying into taking it out on Muslims and blacks while celebrating a billionaire. So don’t we have to ask, how can the left have been so unable to reach people whose objective interests are to side with left projects, and who even feel many of those interests, so much so that a thug like Trump attracts them and Sanders doesn’t, even for a minute? To say they have the media is true. But why don’t we have more?

In Venezuela, after a decade and a half of left government policy, the voting electorate – in a very high turnout election – has supported the right wing opposition, thereby bringing on crisis and, if the opposition has its way, gutting redistributive programs and grass roots dignity and participation. Will our side mainly tally the score and only blame outside interference, economic warfare, etc., all of which has been quite real but also inevitably predictable, or will our side mainly acknowledge we made grave mistakes in how we dealt with corporate and other elite elements of society over the long span of our empowerment? And not only in dealing with technical matters like exchange rates, but in not reaching out with organizers day to day, over and over, to communities of opposition, literally in their neighborhoods and schools  – the young there, the poor there, even as their numbers and alienation grew?

If you are like me, the results in Venezuela, even knowing they were coming, pummel your humanity and reason. If the results don’t hurt intensely, well, they should, assuming, that is, that you are concerned with human well being in Venezuela, in the U.S., and in the whole world.

To reduce such hurt, all too often we do the opposite of what is needed instead of diligently proposing steps we can take that can that will yield better results, we ceaselessly bemoan admittedly horribly oppressive steps that others take. Yes, the economic disruptions the Venezuelan economy has endured are the major factor fueling discontent and harsh election results. But these disruptions have been a predictable response to the Bolivarian path forward. If success was possible at all, than it had to be achieved not via the disruptions not occurring, but via the Bolivarians handling the disruptions differently, both to weaken their effects and to inspire further gains. To say the economic disruptions won is technically true, but taken in isolation it does nothing to ward off future instances. Instead it tells the perpetrators you did you work very effectively. Your machinations succeeded. Be ready to do it again for your vile interests.

Complaining that the monster is monstrous may be needed in order to inform those who don’t know, but it is not itself a way forward. Finding our own flaws, painful as that may be, can reveal ways forward.

In Venezuela , France, the U.S., and pretty much everywhere else, self assessment is the real task, plus acting on carefully reasoned insights.

Lack of public consciousness is part of the mess we are in, so do we focus on organizing our resources and talents in a way that can redress that deficit? Or does each progressive media outlet, each progressive blogger and commenter, and each organizing project just persist in doing what it has been doing all along rather than finding new ways to improve and multiply our collective communications?

Commercial social media is demolishing focus and clarity, destroying attention span and sincere empathetic human communication, and spying on every nook and cranny of our lives. Do we work to create our own social media to take its place?

Finances are scarce across the left. Do we work together to find new mechanisms that can finance projects better than those now used, particularly so we all benefit rather than literally competing for donations? Or do we each operate in pristine isolation, barely different in this regard than how competing corporations regard one another?

Lack of hope is a huge problem. Do we offer informed hope by our tone and focus? Lack of solidarity fragments us. Do we foster and display solidarity in our mutual relations and create structures that will further it? Lack of organization constrains our reach and power. Do we create new multi-focus, multi-tactic, truly welcoming organization?

Lack of participation. Do we welcome participants? Lack of vision for a better future and a steadily enlarging understanding of what we can do to move toward that future. Do we develop and convey compelling vision and strategy? Lack of tools under humane and participatory control, not corporate control, for all of this. Do we create and sustain it?

Even in Venezuela, in power, or in Greece, for that matter, albeit in power for a much shorter period, much less in places like France and the U.S., do we sincerely look at ourselves not seeking to levy blame on others simply so we can somehow side step it, but seeking to find areas for improvement? Do we then act on what we find, however different what it calls for may be then what we are used to doing? Absent this, more of this, tireless, creative, attention to this, is it any wonder France, the U.S., and even Venezuela suffer what appears to be modern day goose stepping thugs in suicidal celebratory array?


  1. charles costigan December 10, 2015 8:32 pm 

    I was going to make a comment but by the time I had read all the other ones I forgot what the original thing was about. That may be significant or it may not… bollocksed If I know.

  2. avatar
    Ed Lytwak December 9, 2015 2:54 pm 

    Like Greece and Argentina, the Venezuelan Left has learned the extreme limitations of taking power through a representative system of government. Nation-State systems of representative governance are based on the assumption that the people are incapable of directly governing themselves and are structured to maintain the wealth, power and privilege of the patriarchy. The good news is that the Left has apparently taken this lesson to heart and still remembers how you can change the world without taking power. Democracia SI! Representante NO!

  3. Chris Reed December 9, 2015 12:26 am 

    Michael and others: Chris Hedges spoke to the issue of the abandonment of the white working class last week on Pacifica Project Censored. I have not read his latest book, but he made it a point that he actually visited the devastated and neglected coal fields of WVA. (I am from Kanawha County, the seat of state government). If you want to understand how we got here, there is no better place to start than Wva. When I here the nauseating drone that us ignorant hillbillies are voting against our interests, I just want to choke someone. As recently as 1980, Reagan had the lowest percentage after Mondale’s home state of MN and DC. Long time readers of Zmag and Counterpunch know the answer to this question-labor solidarity was jettisoned by the DLC and what we got in its place was an inch deep mile wide version of multi-culturalism which made hillbillies and “trailer park trash.” out to be the villains. Hedges elaborates a little more than I am doing here, but I believe that this is the gist of the situation. By the way, I also post a lot on Paul Street ‘s columns.

  4. Brit Bunkl December 8, 2015 9:54 pm 

    There was an excellent lesson from the book that you contributed towards, “Liberating Theory” – to avoid “monism.” I used to teach a class (by default at a New Zealand art school), “Radicalism and Rage” started by a feminist professor who had left. I would draw a line with the right side as right and let as left politics. When we as a class would determine where certain New Zealand parties lie, we would have to place x’s on the right for social issues and left for economic issues for many parties. For example the libertarian right (the Act Party who are similar to the Republicans and make up 1-2% of the vote) and the ruling National Party are left socially in some areas such as gay marriage and euthanasia. The New Zealand First Party is right wing socially – virtually anti-immigrant; and although led by a person of Maori extraction (the indigenous people of NZ), they are often anti Maori. However they are called centre left by the media. They are centre left economically but they have joined and propped up both left and right coalitions. The same is happening globally with right wing anti-austerity parties forming coalitions with left parties such as in Greece, but more virulently with the National Front of France and similar parties throughout Europe who are falsely blaming economic stagnation and austerity on immigrants.

  5. Brit Bunkl December 8, 2015 9:45 pm 

    There are many right wing politics. And left issues are often muddled between social and economic concerns. Many European nations “right wing” parties are extreme right on some social issues. On the other hand most have jettisoned neoliberal economics; and in some cases, such as in Poland, they are to the left of the “socialist” party’s economically through old fashioned progressive tax based, redistributive and protectionist social democracy. (Even the Nazis had military Keynesian social democracy with Goebbels purporting to prefer socialism over capitalism.) It is with patriarchy and immigrant based racism that they fall into the extreme right.
    Latin America’s right wing is right wing in every definition of the word –social and economic. But the tried and true method of “making the economy scream” and faux or petty scandals, both by design or luck rarely fails. Brazil is of course next…with public calls recently for military intervention at demonstrations against the centre left government.

  6. avatar
    David Jones December 8, 2015 5:06 pm 

    If only it were just Venezuela, France and the US facing a surge of the Right! Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Argentina… from center right to extreme, Populist/Nationalist parties with varying economic messages are filling the vacuum when social democracies have no answers to capitalist crisis.

    Of course the Right has no answers either so when their fences and walls and nostalgia for what never was fails to make their culture pure and safe there will be another vacuum to fill. Hopefully in the interim, the left, such as it is, will be doing some soul searching about its relationship to liberalism and democracy. And consciousness.

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