14 Nov 2007
Went along to an excellent meeting at SOAS for Greg Wilpert's launch of his book 'Changing Venezuela by Taking Power'. This was organised by the ever effecient Pablo Navarrete.
Pablo runs a very useful Venezuela blog at Red Pepper.
Greg edits Venezuela Analysis the main source of information on this astonishing country which is going through rapid social change.
The new Ambassador Samuel Moncada also put in an appearance, I have had people for weeks saying 'there is a new Ambassador, Derek, you will really like him!' I liked Toro Hardy cos he looked like Simon Boliver on the cigars called 'bolivars' but the new guy seems great, very political, dynamic and grassroots...I think he will be doing a lot more out reach so look out for him.
Greg said that as a sociologist working at a Caracas University he had not been that interested in the situation until the 2002 coup but the amount of disinformation in the international press made him interested.
'We all know about Chomsky's analysis of the media bias, but it is only when you experience it yourself that it hits'
So he set up V analysis...his book looks at the successes and contradictions of the Bolivarian Process.
Chavez was not that radical on being elected. The elite gave him a list of cabinet ministers, he ripped it up, they were out of power and launched vicious attacks on him.
He moved from 'third way' to 21st century socialism along with lots of others under the pressure of the opposition attacks. he also reads very very widely luxemburg, negri, CLR James, etc I have picked up anyway as some of his texts.
Greg argued that there are four key contradictory areas:
The economy...vast efforts are going into making the economy less oil dependent and more socialist, small scale workers management socialism...high oil prices push up the exchange rate and squeeze out the non oil sector..this is the famous Dutch disease.
Foreign policy...Chavez is working for a multi polar world, with more centres of power than just the US, this is working well however the danger is that he supports repressive regimes like Iran.
Social policy...the missions are working to remove poverty but they are ad hoc, a strong institutional welfare state is necessary.
Democracy...there is a genuine push to direct participatory democracy, a real break with state socialism and the failure to deepen democracy in countries like the USA and UK...yet some measures in the new constitution strengthen the President.
personalism...all parties and there are many are based on a 'personality', patronage/corruption where people rely on friend ship circles and lack of professionals to run services are seen by Greg as enduring problems with the Venezuelan system...they predate Chavez.
Greg was very candid 'when you have a friend you criticise them...this is not to be confused with disloyalty'.
Greg, the audience and the new Ambassador debated all these and more issues.
some great things in the new constitution...female and male 'leaders' for politica parties, open source principles of copywrite, anti-homohobia legislation, ecological demands.
Venezuela is the best hope of radical politics and putting lots of energy into finding out more and solidarity...
Joined Hands Off Venezuela.
Useful pint afterwards where I discussed commons regimes, social sharing with Greg, Greg also revealed he was a Zen practioner and I urged him to go to the dojo in Caracas...must admit I have been too busy to do much zazen lately.
going to write a full review of his book for 21st century socialism.
Posted by Derek Wall at 1:27 pm