[OPE] Venezuela and Human Rights Watch

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Mon Sep 22 2008 - 16:12:34 EDT

I'm not sure that calling caudillo's like Castro or Chavez "authoritarian" makes a whole lot of sense. They're certainly high testosterone, dominant people - yet they're not true dictators insofar as they are not above the rule of law. But under the circumstances, you couldn't very well expect much else from them (let's recall there were some 638 attempts to kill Fidel Castro, and at least 3 attempts to kill Hugo Chavez).

What you can validly say is that some of their policies have been very authoritarian. If the US did not regard Cuba and Venezuela as completely hostile regimes, and didn't try to block them or subvert them, these leaders would be much less authoritarian in their domestic policy, I assume, because there would be vastly less external military threats. Of course, to the extent that Cuba intervened in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua etc. external military threats are also to be expected.

If resources are not allocated via individual market or barter decisions, but by government decree, then allocative decisions become much more directly political, and involve the assertion of authority much more directly - people will accept that, if they think they will be better off, but if they're not better off, they will think it's "authoritarian" (in the USSR there are still many people today who cherish the memory of Stalin - they will freely admit he was authoritarian, but "he did what needed to be done" - the same with Honecker in East Germany, or Mao in China etc.).

If people face the dillemma of surviving or dying, things do become very "authoritarian" and the amount of free choice they have is very limited. You can talk a lot about human rights, but if people are literally dying of hunger and disease, very "authoritarian" decisions may have to be made to put a stop to that. Both in Cuba and Venezuela, also, rich people for instance took an enormous amount of money that ought to have been used for developing the country out of there (capital flight), and if you want to put a stop that, you are necessarily going to have to be "authoritarian".

The problem is really to know at what point the exercise of authority becomes counterproductive, but the assess that, reference to principles only is not much use, you have to look at the specific situation - in what circumstances will autonomous individual decisions have a better result, and in what circumstances will exercizing collective authority have a better result? In what situations is the assertion of authority really necessary? At what level should decisions ideally be made? Does an adequate framework exist for evaluating all that?

Personally I am inclined to think that traditional Marxism does not provide any sufficient framework for evaluation, which is reflected in the development of a broad spectrum of Marxisms, from the libertarian to the authoritarian kind. Marx himself never developed a systematic social or experience-based ethics, or an ethics of resource allocation, or a theory of socialist jurisprudence, or a theory of organisational efficiency. All I am saying really is that there are few methods of resource allocation which are absolutely evil - instead, you have to evaluate their merit on their results, with a clear picture of what an optimal allocation would look like, and you have to be sufficiently flexible to change policy as necessary. If there's e.g. a lot of empty land and the state authority cannot farm it, why not let private enterprise farm it, provided the entrepreneurs obey the law? Why is there anything wrong with that?

In Western capitalist societies, people take the built environment and the social/natural infrastructure largely for granted - they just assume it will be there to facilitate their individual lives, and if it is not, they complain. But in a socialist society, this is no longer possible, because people have a collective civic responsibility for the upkeep of the built environment and the social/natural infrastructure. This requires a new moral sensibility, but I expect that this will really only emerge out of crisis situations - it's often like, "you don't know what you've got, until you lose it".

Here in Holland people often complain about government regulations, but if you are actually involved in administering them (which I am in a very modest way I suppose, insofar as I deal with public records management in my job) you get a very different perspective on this. Because you realise empirically that all sorts of people have used every opportunity to do things which are very anti-social or downright criminal, and if there's no firm hand to ensure they stick to the law, things become a total mess - people cannot live together in a community, if their neighbours are being plainly anti-social, it becomes an unlivable situation.

Basically, my experience is that many people empirically just want to be a socialist when it suits them, a liberal when it suits them, and a conservative when it suits them - they will just use collective provisions and individual rights available to their own advantage - privatising the gains, socialising the losses. To find workable solutions to that problem, I would say, is one of the great challenges of our epoch. That's also one reason why I would not dismiss the experience of Soviet-type societies so lightly, because all kinds of things were discovered there, from which we can still learn.


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Received on Mon Sep 22 16:19:23 2008

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