Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Alphabet of Decency: B is for Bolivarian Socialism

This week, the Spanish courts have found two cartoonists guilty of mocking the Spanish royal family and fined them EUR3000 each. FFS. This isn't really just a quirky local custom - the Spanish royal family has an important constitutional role, and yet is protected by exactly the kind of lese-majeste laws which are apparently a stumbling block to Turkish membership of the EU. And yet nobody seems to care all that much.

Obviously, we are not big fans of "the shameful silence" style of argument, but it does seem a bit rum, given that it was not eighteen months ago that the Decentsphere was absolutely as hot as chilli-and-wasabi bruschetta for defending the inalienable rights of cartoonists. If I were them I'd have put up a couple of lines on "those Spanish eh? bloody hell. defend the cartoonists, that's what I say", just for the sake of appearances.

But the reason this has been impossible is that the embarrassment of doing so is greater than that of not doing so, because practically every Decent blog on the web has already got a great big "ATTABOY THE SPANISH ROYALS!" post up. Why? Because King Juan Carlos told Hugo Chavez to "shut up". Chavez' offence was to call former Spanish Prime Minister Aznar a "fascist". Which isn't technically true, by the way, but I dare say that if someone who had been a member of the Falange's youth organisation were to go around the world trying to drum up support for a coup against me, I too would stretch a point. Nonetheless, "shut up!" said King Juan Carlos, bravely speaking truth to power. And Chavez is a fucking fascist, because ... well, among other things, not so long ago he passed a law preventing people from insulting the Presidency, not unlike the Spanish lese-majeste laws.

What is it with the Decents and Chavez? The question about why so many people on the Left are so bloody, bloody single-minded about Israel is actually quite a good one and rather embarrassing in the cases of a lot of anti-Zionists. But at least there are some reasonable answers: "I'm Jewish and have family there", "It's always on the front of my newspaper", "I have some vague idea that it's within the US sphere of influence". Even people for whom the true answer is "It's a fashionable cause and I will join anything going, me" make a reasonable stab at explaining why they've prioritised Israel's human rights abuses over undeniably worse atrocities elsewhere in the world.

But Venezuela? None of the Decents are Venezuelans. None of them have any reason at all that I can see to be so mad for Chavez to fall on fundamental grounds. The only reason that you ever see (ref, Nick Cohen, among others) is that he "acts friendly with people like Mugabe and Ahmadinejad". Not does anything much in concert with them, mind. Just shakes their hand. It's so unserious that it's not even worth my while listing all the mucky paws that George Bush and Tony Blair have shaken while in office; I'm not going to dignify that posture with a tu quoque.

And there's "failing to separate yourself from Fascists, Islamonazis, homophobes, etc", and there's actually campaigning for actual fascists to win. Fact: Harry's Place campaigned aggressively for a "no" vote in the last Chavez referendum. Fact: in doing so, they regularly cited and provided publicity for a campaign that included Carlos Andres Perez. Fact: Carlos Andres Perez ordered troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing 2,000 of them, and ordered the bodies buried in unmarked graves. It was referred to as the "Caracazo" and it's the defining event in Venezuelan politics.

Now Chavez ain't all that and a bag of chips. He's a developing world strongman out of central casting. Many of his laws against the press are indefensible. Maybe he does want to rule forever, although he has always been scrupulous in standing for re-election and allowing popular votes of confidence to be held against him. It's ludicrous to call him a "despot", an "authoritarian" or a "dictator". His economic policies are indeed dependent on high oil prices, but they are nevertheless developmental. And, most importantly there is no progressive alternative to him. The Venezuelan opposition does not contain any major figures who can be reasonably identified as democrats or liberals (no, not Teodoro Petkoff). It is 100% made up of rightwingers, many of whom were identified with the Peres government. Practically, a vote against Chavez is a vote for the Vestey family (I know at least one of our readers regards this post as the nadir of Decency, where Harry's Place actually defends, from the left, the Vesteys, against land reform in Venezuela).

So what is it with them and Chavez? Is it really only that he insults the Americans? I rather think it is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Over-compensation. Chavez is the kind of person who had their alter-egos swooning a few years ago so now they have to make up for it.

11/15/2007 01:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like anonymous says, perhaps it's in the nature of disillusion. A lot of the justification for NuLab and its neo-liberal relatives is the "grown-up" idea that anything like socialism is totally unworkable in "the real world". This has become an article of faith, so if Chavez (even with his many faults) shows the world an example of socialism not actually being a hell on earth, and even being fairly democratic, he must be denounced and destroyed and shown to history as a villain. Much easier than actual thinking.

11/15/2007 03:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the Decents are fighting their own past (a very strong theme). Its possible to take a balanced view of Chavez though: yes, he shoots his mouth off, yes, he's not a democratic as we would like, that's certainly a problem (and could get worse), but he's also passed some good social reforms, including universal health care and education, restrictions on working hours, a minimum wage etc. All pretty standard social democratic measures. Land reform - absolute standard progressive stuff, actually supported by the United States in parts of the world.

What the Decents will never bring themselves to say is that, whatever happens to Chavez, a fair few of those reforms are 1. worthy in themselves, 2. Here to stay, 3. It was the left that won them.

After all, it's the Decent default position to attack any left wing movement, organisation or person outside the general leadership of the British Labour Party, unless they are endorsed in some way by the Labour Party. In fact its more than a default position - its reflexive.

However, Harry's Place defending Vestey surprised even me, I didn't realise they had gone so far the other way. Truly risible. There was no serious discussion of the issue and simply smearing land reform with Mugabe was as dimwitted as it was transparently propgandistic.

11/15/2007 04:32:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I wrote about the cartoons case a few months ago. Much of the comment said that there was a huge difference between the two cases because in the Spanish cases, you didn't have death threats and violence and murder. But although that's true, it wasn't true when the controversy started. There were a huge fuss about Muslims trying to prevent freedom of speech before anybody had issued any threat to anyone. That's important.

As far as Israel is concerned, I don't think it's that good a question. I think the reasons people bang on so much about Israel can be summarised thus.

1. There's no similar injustice which has been underwritten to such an enormous extent (or anything neven remotely close) by the governments of the west. Others may be tolerated, turned a blined eye to (China and Tibet, Morocco and Western Sahara) but nothing on this scale.

2. There's no similar injustice which has people who would normally be opposed to it, rushing to defend it with all their might. That this is accompanied by frenzied (and I frenzied) and hysterical screams of anti-Semitism merely, in my view, serves to sicken people and strengthen their determination not to put up with that sort of thing.

Personally I'd rather say less about Israel and more about other things, but when the situation just gets worse and worse, and when so many people are not only going to support the wrong people but do so in such incredibly obnoxious terms, how is that possible?

(One of the defining characteristics of many of the Decents, incidentally, is their denunciatory hysteria. They're extraordinarily unpleasant.)

11/15/2007 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Sorry to double post (breakfast intervened) but something on the Chávez-Juan Carlos incident.

Now Chávez, who does have a big mouth, probably should not have said what he said about Aznar - though Aznar's political antecedents are not happy ones and to my knowledge he has not such much, or at all, in criticism of the regime he supported. But you shouldn't mouth off like that at international conferences.

However, that doesn't put Juan Carlos in the right. The king - democratically elected by nobody, one should point out, unlike Chávez - addressed Chávez in a way in which one should not address another head of state. "¿Por qué no te callas?" is a put-down, in the informal second person ("te") rather than the formal third ("usted"). Which is OK for everyday conversation or an argument in a bar but not for an international occasion requiring some degree of courtesy and respect. It's boorish. (Zapatero's "exijo, exijo" - "I insist, I insist" - would have been more to the point. Actually I do wonder whether Zapatero would have bothered at all if the King hadn't been sitting next to him, since he loathes Aznar and with good reason.)

But in fact, it will have been perceived in Latin America as worse than boorish - more like colonial arrogance. As Chávez will have known (and as I suspect most Decents will not) Juan Carlos came to the conference fresh from a ceremonial tour of Spain's colonial enclaves in Africa, Ceuta and Melilla. This was a provocative act and caused much justified anger in Morocco, whatever hypocrisies (see above post) that Moroccan nationalism may entail. If European kings talk to Latin American presidents as if the latter were their employees, this will be resented in Latin America and with good reason. If they do so just after completing celebrations of colonialism - what are people supposed to think?

It's true that Juan Carlos is liked on the left here, because he behaved well in 1976 and 1981. But it's also true that he seems to be becoming more of a crotchety and intolerant old man and that he is protcted from criticism, constitutionally, in a way which he should not be. This, itself, is an issue because the basis on which the country came out of dictatorship is under scrutiny, especially (but not solely) as regards the pact not to bring up the past, which effort is being strenuously resisted by Aznar's party, legitimately because they think it'll just be used as a partisan stick with which to beat them, and illegitimately because they have an awful lot to hide.

11/15/2007 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Nick's latest piece in the Standard suggests the Empire might be up for rehabiliation.

11/15/2007 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

when so many people are not only going to support the wrong people but do so in such incredibly obnoxious terms, how is that possible?

this is actually my explanation of why "The Leftissssses" are so "Obsessed" with "singling out" Israel - the whole thing has the self-organising dynamics of an internet flamewar, and the cause of each side's behaviour in the whole debate is that of the other side.

11/15/2007 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Cloud Nine of course got very good reviews from everyone else - Nick has this knack of slating popular and acclaimed plays.

I see, by the way, that he lives in a country called "Gordon Brown’s Britain", presumably territorially overlapping with the UK, but with significant economic and criminological differences (which don't show up in the data).

11/15/2007 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the defining characteristics of many of the Decents, incidentally, is their denunciatory hysteria. They're extraordinarily unpleasant

Very unpleasant, I agree. It's pretty difficult sometimes even having a discussion with them without them ejaculating denunciations at some point or another. Sometimes that's funny, at other times really annoying and unpleasant, simply mirroring all those people from the little groupuscules that they love to hate.

11/15/2007 08:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seal of Dacre! "We must stop apologising for the British Empire".

As for Chavez, Zapatero got it right, pointing out that whatever else he might be or have been, Aznar was the democratically elected representative of the Spanish people. The King, OTOH, cares less for that sort of thing.

Chris Williams

11/15/2007 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

the whole thing has the self-organising dynamics of an internet flamewar

If I say "I consider China's treatment of Tibet atrocious, it's the suppression of a whole people on grounds that are historically tendentious and ethically indefensible" I am unlikely to be assailed by Western would be-leftists saying "you hate the Chinese, you wish to see them destroyed and murdered, you are outwith the bounds of civilised political discourse".

Which is nice.

11/15/2007 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this would seem to raise some wider questions:-

1) What is the overlap between Decency and NuLab? When we're studying the dynamics of Decency how much can we learn from studying the dynamics of NuLab?

2) Do the main beliefs of Decency derive from:-

a) hours of careful analysis of international problems

b) fighting their own past (or some other knee-jerk process)

c) being a conduit for political PR operations

d) following the party line, because the alternative to being in the Party is stacking supermarket shelves and being in the Party means continuous manifestations of loyalty.

11/15/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I think it has more to do with having a memory, including this:
"Joe Stalin was a mighty man, a mighty man was he,
He led the Soviet people on the road to victory.
All through the revolution he fought at Lenin's side, And they made a combination till the day that Lenin died."
The Ballad Of Stalin © Ewan MacColl, c.1952.

11/15/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recall one description of Aaro as a man "posing as a left-winger in order to attack the left".

Why do Decents hate Chavez? Hey, they probably don't, he's just a stick to beat their "former comrades" with.

What's the motivation for this? I dunno. In Cohen's case, it looks like a strange and slightly narcissistic addiction to the moral high ground. Never mind that most attempts to clamber up there end up with him tumbling down and falling on his arse like a fool.

11/15/2007 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the post-but-one, I condemn Ewan McColl for the mawkish "First Time I Ever Saw Your Face", never mind paeans to Uncle Joe Stalin.

By the by, Roy Harper's "The Black Cloud of Islam" is an early example (1991) of Decency in music. Go check out the lyrics.

11/15/2007 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He did write "Dirty Old Town", though, which has to be worth something.

So anonymous: are you saying that its all Ewan McColl's fault? Too many folk singalongs as a kid, that kind of thing.

11/15/2007 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The conservative party, PP, which became the governing party in Spain in 1996, was founded by Fraga Iribarne, who was Minister of Information and of the Interior (in charge of the hated political police) during the Franco regime. He had signed the death sentence of Grimau, a leader of the anti-fascist underground who belonged to the clandestine Communist Party, the major force in the anti-fascist resistance. He is proud of his fascist past, having recently written a prologue to a book that denies the existence of the Holocaust. He has repeatedly said that Franco was the greatest European and Spanish leader of the 20th century. His main disciple is. Aznar, who had been a member of the fascist youth and who had campaigned against the establishment of the new democratic constitution. Aznar also criticized the democratically elected municipal government of Guernica (the town destroyed by the Nazi air forces allied with Franco's Armed Forces) for changing the name of its main square from Caudillo's Square to Liberty Square (during the fascist regime all main squares of any town, city, or village had to be named after General Franco, referred to in Spain in the official rhetoric as Caudillo).

11/16/2007 05:48:00 PM  
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