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

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Oct 08 2004 - 01:40:53 EDT

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    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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