Re: (OPE-L) Changing the World by Taking Power

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Oct 08 2004 - 00:33:11 EDT

sorry, the "ok" was missent -- meant for response to another non-opel sender

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: glevy@PRATT.EDU 
  Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2004 5:48 PM
  Subject: [OPE-L] (OPE-L) Changing the World by Taking Power

  An interview with Tariq Ali entitled "Venezuela: Changing the World by
  Taking Power" (from The title of the
  interview is not accidental: it contains a short response to John H's
  book.  In solidarity, Jerry
          Interview with Tariq Ali
      Venezuela: Changing the World by Taking Power

  Tariq Ali, the world reknown activist, writer, and filmmaker,
  talks about Venezuela, Brazil and the state of the Latin
  American Left. According to him, one of the greatest errors
  the global justice movement is committing is to ignore state
  power, which is why Venezuela is so important for the left.
    By: Claudia Jardim and Jonah Gindin -
  Published: 22/07/04
  Tariq Ali is a veteran political activist, filmmaker, and
  author of numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction. He
  was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and now lives and works
  London, England where he is an editor of the British
  journal New Left Review. His most recent political texts
  include The Clash of Fundamentalisms (Verso, 2002) and Bush
  in Babylon: Recolonizing Iraq (Verso, 2003). Claudia Jardim
  and Jonah Gindin talked with him during a recent trip of
  his to Caracas, where he participated in the presentation
  of a statement of solidarity from numerous Brazilian
  intellectuals (see: Brazilian Intellectuals and Artists
  Declare Support for Venezuela's Chavez).

  "You cannot change the world without taking power", says
  Tariq Ali, who asks the Global Justice movement to come and
  see Venezuela's reality before making judgments based on
  Credit: Claudia Jardim - Alia2
  How do you explain the explosion in social movements
  against neoliberalism in Latin America?
  I think the reason for this is that Latin America was used
  as a laboratory by the United States for a long, long time.
  Everything the US wanted was experimented in Latin America
  first. When they wanted military-on the political
  level-when they wanted to crush popular movements by
  unleashing military dictatorships they did it in Latin
  America first: Brazil, Argentina, Chile; three of the most
  brutal dictatorships we have seen. Then, after the collapse
  of the communist enemy, they relaxed on the political front
  but they got Latin America in a grip economically, and they
  said 'this is the only way forward.' We can summarize it
  like this: the laboratory of the American Empire is the
  first to rebel against the Empire. So many many different
  and interesting processes are happening in Latin America
  and I think where the left is weak is in its inability to
  bring these together and to refound the Latin American
  What began to happen in Latin America is a process of
  de-industrialization; foreign investments coming in. In the
  most classic examples were Chile under Pinochet, then Brazil
  under Cardoso and Argentina under successive governments.
  They de-industrialized the country, they thought that the
  country could function in a bubble-an economic bubble
  created by a false boom, a boom which was largely fuelled
  by foreign investment, foreign moneys coming into banks
  where there were low interest rates. So people used to use
  this to invest, but whenever the investments got risky they
  used to take them out-international capital. They had
  absolutely no motivation for building Brazil or Argentina
  so you gradually began to have the rise of a new social
  movement which arose from below: peasant movements,
  landless peasant movements, unemployed working class
  movements which began to challenge this initially on a
  micro-level, in villages, in one town, in one locality, in
  one region. And then gradually it began to spread.
  The result was continent wide protests...
  You had an uprising in Cochabamba in Bolivia against the
  privatization of water. You had a struggle of the peasants
  of Cuzco in Peru, against the privatization of electricity.
  On both struggles the government made repression first and
  then they had to retreat. Then you had an unbelievable
  collapse in Argentina, where within three weeks I think 4
  or 5 presidents came and fell. That began to demonstrate
  very graphically the crisis of neoliberal capitalism. Then
  you had Brazil. In Brazil you had a situation where Cardoso
  had de-industrialized the country completely. There was no
  national bourgeoisie left, there were no national
  traditions within the capitalist sphere left, and the
  country began to suffer.
  Do you see the US Empire absorbing this energy by trying to
  propose a softer version of neoliberalism?
  I don't think they are, at the moment, prepared to do that.
  They will only do that if they feel threatened. And they
  don't feel threatened at the moment. And one reason-I have
  to be very blunt here-they don't feel threatened is because
  there is an idealistic slogan within the social movements,
  which goes like this: 'We can change the world without
  taking power.' This slogan doesn't threaten anyone; it's a
  moral slogan. The Zapatistas-who I admire-you know, when
  they marched from Chiapas to Mexico City, what did they
  think was going to happen? Nothing happened. It was a moral
  symbol, it was not even a moral victory because nothing
  happened. So I think that phase was understandable in Latin
  American politics, people were very burnt by recent
  experiences: the defeat of the Sandinistas, the defeat of
  the armed struggle movements, the victory of the military,
  etc., so people where nervous. But I think, from that point
  of view, the Venezuelan example is the most interesting one.
  It says: 'in order to change the world you have to take
  power, and you have to begin to implement change-in small
  doses if necessary-but you have to do it. Without it
  nothing will change.' So, it's an interesting situation and
  I think at Porto Alegre next year all these things will be
  debated and discussed-I hope.
  Without adequately addressing state power, what alternative
  to neoliberalism is the Global Social Justice movement
  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[1] in Brazil has an alternative, they say 'take the
  land and give it to the poor peasants, let them work it.'
  But the Holloway[2] 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

  Brazil's Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) has been
  pressuring the Workers Party (PT) to deliver on its
  promises of delivering land to Brazil's poor.
  What do you make of the impasse that has been reached
  between the grassroots and the government in Brazil?
  I think the problem in Brazil is the following: the PT[3]
  captured the aspirations of the people, especially the
  poor. They captured them, but they couldn't deliver
  anything-so far, they have delivered nothing. In fact, the
  repression against the MST in the first year of Lula has
  been much higher than in any single year of the Cardoso
  government. The farmers and the police have victimized and
  killed far more MST militants. Now, this will end badly.
  Why has it happened? It's happened because, in my opinion,
  the PT had not prepared itself in a serious way to even
  think about any real alternatives. Publicly they said, 'yes
  we'll give land to the landless, yes will do this, yes we
  will do that,' but they had not made any real preparation.
  And Lula, I'm afraid, is a weak leader. A weak leader who
  is so excited at being in power, that he forgets why he is.
  The same thing happened to Lech Walesa in Poland when the
  big mass movement Solidarnosc threw him up and he finally
  was elected. What did he deliver? Nothing. And he was voted
  out by the people, and that will happen to Lula.
  Refounding the Brazilian left...
  I think that, in my opinion, what we need in Brazil is a
  movement to refound the Brazilian left. And this movement
  must include, broadly speaking, those people inside the PT
  including many members of parliament and senators and
  grassroots members, a very key component that should
  include the MST and it should include that layer of
  Brazilian socialist intellectuals who are now very
  disillusioned. These three components are very important to
  refound the Brazilian left, it's foolish to do it by just a
  few people walking out and declaring 'we're a new party.'
  You need a new different sort of a movement and a different
  sort of a party than the PT. In these conditions the bulk of
  the Brazilian working class is now an informal working
  class-it's not the case as it was when the PT was founded.
  And so you have different priorities. You have to refound a
  Brazilian left which is in accord with these new priorities
  and realities of Brazil today, not some mythological
  picture of the past.
  Before the elections in Brazil, I was in Ribeirao Preto at
  a festival, and they asked me 'if you were a Brazilian, who
  would you vote for?' And I said I would vote for Lula with
  the majority of the poor of Brazil. But I said my big worry
  was that Lula will forget who has voted him into power and
  he will cater to the policies of those who did not vote for
  him-the IMF and the World Bank and the international
  financial institutions. They did not vote for Lula, but
  they're the people who's policies are being carried out.
  And I said that would be a tragedy, and people gasped but
  that's exactly what's happened. And for me the relation
  between Lula and Cardoso is the relation between Thatcher
  and Blair. Blair followed Thatcher, Lula is following
  Cardoso. It's intertwined, and this is the tragedy of
  Brazil and in four or five years time there will massive
  disillusionment; the right will probably win again and we
  will have to start the fight from the beginning.

  For Tariq Ali Lula is "a weak leader who is so excited
  at being in power, that he forgets why he is." Lula has come
  under fire by the MST lately for having shunned his
  commitment to reducing landlessness.
  Credit: Dida Sampaio - AE
  In Colombia, for example, there has been a huge
  militarization that is very similar to cold war U.S
  strategy in Latin America. Where does this fit in with a
  new strategy that, as you have pointed out, is largely
  Colombia is exceptional at the moment, and of course
  Venezuela where they tried to push through a new coup
  d'état which failed. They will do that if nothing else
  succeeds. Where they feel democracy doesn't serve their
  interests they will return to the military-that's obvious.
  But at the moment the problem is: how to devise a society
  in which you can push through projects, social-democratic
  projects for the poor. That's the key in my opinion, that's
  why Venezuela is very important. Before Lula was elected a
  possibility emerged, an image emerged of the following:
  Argentina had collapsed, in Venezuela there was Chávez that
  if you had a Bolivarian federation, of Brazil, Argentina,
  Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba, together you could
  produce a completely different way of looking at the world
  and a different form of society, which would not be
  repressive, which would not be vicious, which would
  transform the everyday lives of the poor. That has not
  happened because.Kirchner, in my opinion, is better than
  Lula; he's trying to resist on some levels. The big
  disappointment has been the Brazilian PT, big
  disappointment. But that doesn't mean we stop thinking like
  that because in a small way it's what I said at the press
  conference today: 10,000 Cuban doctors, thousands of poor
  Venezuelan kids going to Cuba to learn to be doctors. Here
  you take advantage of each other's strengths, not each
  other's weaknesses. So it's very good that Venezuela and
  Chávez are taking advantage of the strengths of Cuba,
  rather than their weaknesses. The social structure they
  have created, health, education that's something that
  Brazil could do as well, but they don't do it.
  In the wake of strong opposition to the Free Trade Area of
  the Americas might the US use bilateral trade agreements to
  achieve its economic goals in Latin America?
  I think the United States, you have to understand, always
  acts in its own interests, and its own interests are to
  stop a regional force from emerging in Latin America
  without the presence of the United States; to stop a
  regional force emerging in the far east-China, Japan,
  Korea, without the presence of the United States; to stop
  Europe from becoming a strong political economic power. So,
  the United States will permit concessions where it suits
  their interests, as long as they feel that this doesn't
  threaten them politically or economically. They can make
  many concessions, but by and large they prefer bilateral
  deals. 'Deal with us. Don't deal with us as a collective,
  deal with us one-to-one. That's what suits us.' That's
  always been their policy.

  Tariq Ali says that Venezuela is an example which the
  Americans wish to wipe out. "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'"
  Credit: Claudia Jardim - Alia2
  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
  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.

  We are an overflown river" says the banner at a Pro-Chavez
  rally outside the Presidencial Palace in Caracas.
  Credit: Jonah Gindin -
  The mainstream private media plays an important political
  role in Venezuela. How can this disinformation be
  What we lack in Latin America is means of communication, we
  need a satellite channel like Al Jazeera, and I said we'll
  call it 'Al Bolivar' if you want. But you need one which
  reports regularly-what the right is saying, what the left
  movements are saying, which gives an account of what it is
  the MST wants, which challenges Lula, but which does it
  quite independently, without being attached to any state.
  And I think this satellite channel could be very important
  for the whole of Latin America, to challenge the BBC World,
  and CNN and have a Latin American channel. And the
  Venezuelans, and the Argentineans, etc. it's in their own
  interests to do it.
  What do you think opposition and US strategy will be in the
  event of a Chávez victory come A-15?
  Well, I think the only strategy left then is to try and
  overthrow him by a military coup. So the fact that the
  military seems to be supporting him, and after the previous
  coup it was a warning to him as well: you can't simply rely
  on the military without educating people. I think without
  the military in Venezuela, they can't do anything-they
  cannot topple him. I think the opposition, quite honestly,
  if they lose this referendum-which was their big demand for
  years, 'oh, he's not allowing a referendum,' forgetting that
  he has given you a constitution according which you want
  this referendum, without this constitution you couldn't
  have had this referendum-so if he wins this referendum the
  opposition will be fractured, I think they will be
  completely demoralized, it's foolish.
  Do you think opposition strategy might be to claim there
  was fraud in order to deligitmize Chavez´victory?
  Well, look: we have to fight that when it happens, but I
  think this is why the process should be transparent, and I
  think lots of observers will be coming. And if that
  happens, the government has to go immediately on the
  offensive, and say 'this was a clear victory, you want you
  go into the whole country and talk to every single voter.'
  One hasn't got to be defensive about that. Go completely on
  the offensive and say, 'this isn't Florida.'
  In any case, one shouldn't worry permanently, be paranoid,
  you know one should depend on the strength of the people.
  If the people vote him in, and he wins the referendum they
  will be big celebrations all over the country. And it will
  be obvious, what has happened.

  [1] Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Tera-Landless
  Rural Workers Movement, Brazil.

  [2] John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power:
  The Meaning of Revolution Today, Pluto Press: 2002.

  [3] Partido dos Trabalhadores-Workers Party, Brazil.
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