Colombo, Elections, Politics and Governance

Chavez, the Cynics and the “Big Lie” of the Presidential Campaign

[Editors note: The author and the commentator Doomed to Repeat had a length exchange of ideas on the author’s previous post Sarath Fonseka – A potential De Gaulle or Chavez? This article refers to the specific comment by Doomed to repeat published here.]

Dear “Doomed to Repeat”,

Despite my disagreement with your ‘anti-dialectical’ approach to a world in transition, I must say, I enjoyed reading your comments for their rather simplistic clarity. I’ve heard exactly the same kind of sentiments from my beer-loving middle-class friends who love discussing politics (or any other subject under the sun) as a pastime. After all, the world is full of petite bourgeois cynics who’re quite satisfied with their own comfortable lifestyles and least bothered about intervening in changing the world. When asked, for instance, “Whom do you recommend us to vote in this election?” they often try their best to dodge the question. For cynics, the outcome isn’t that important.

Those who want to make a positive contribution to the changing world will want to penetrate beneath the surface appearances. As Hegel correctly pointed out, the surface phenomena at a give time in history are always contradictory; because, the present is invariably a mixture of a ‘dying reality’ and an ‘emerging reality’. Thus, understanding what is “NEW” in ongoing changes needs serious analysis.

For Hegel, history is not “doomed to repeat”. True, history does repeat, but on a higher plane. Thus, the dialectical principle of “negation of the negation” doesn’t mean a return to the original status like a circle. One cannot explain development or progress through that model. Dialecticians’ model (as Lenin pointed out) is spiral, not circular. Therefore, the apparent backward movement in fact takes place on a higher level. In other words, the seeming return to the starting point is in fact a delusion. To identify the growth and progress in history one has to look deeper beneath the superficial appearances.

For cynics the human society will always be the same whatever we do to change it. It is this approach that has led you to paint a whole lot of statesmen – from Hitler to the leaders of Burmese Military Junta, and to Hugo Chavez – with the same brush and brand them all as “power-hungry dictators”. But serious thinkers want to go beyond the confusing phenomena and find out the fundamental forces at work.

Let me invite the serious reader to have a look at the Wikipedia’s account on Chavez rather than listening to what I say. But, always remember, I do not mean here that he is a perfect politician at all. How can anybody be perfect in a world that is still in the midst of evolution? Those who are interested in knowing more about the ‘Chavez phenomenon”, the following quotations will be of some guide for further reading. So, let the encyclopedia speak:

“As the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez promotes a political doctrine of participatory democracy, socialism and Latin American and Caribbean cooperation.[1] He is also a critic of neoliberalism, globalization, and United States foreign policy.[2]Domestically, Chavez has maintained nationwide Bolivarian Missions, whose goals are to combat disease, illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty, and other social ills. Abroad, Chavez has acted against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, and has advocated cooperation among the world’s poor nations, especially those in Latin America….Chavez’s policies have evoked controversy in Venezuela and abroad, receiving everything from vehement criticism to enthusiastic support. During the presidency of George W. Bush the government of the United States stated at various points that Chavez was a threat to democracy in Latin America.[3] Many other governments sympathize with his ideology[4] or welcome his bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements.[5] In 2005 and 2006 he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.[6][7]

Since 2005, Chavez is an outspoken proponent of what he calls a socialism of the 21st century as a means to help the poor. Since 2003, the Venezuelan government has set price controls on around 400 basic foods to counter inflation, which has led to “sporadic food shortages”.[53] Food processing companies said that regulated prices had not kept pace with inflation, so that they were producing regulated food at a loss. Chavez has also nationalized a number of major companies, including in the telephone, electric, steel, and cement industries, and encouraged cooperatives…..Chavez would acknowledge the role that democratic socialism (a form of socialism that emphasizes grassroots democratic participation) plays in Bolivarianism.[40] Because his Bolivarianism relies on popular support, Chavez has organized the “Bolivarian Circles“, which he cites as examples of grassroots and participatory democracy. The circles are forums for a few hundred local residents who decide how to spend the government allowance for social development. They usually decide for neighborhood beautification, mass mobilization, lending support to small businesses, and providing basic social services….

From 2003 onwards the Chavez government has pursued a series of Bolivarian Missions aimed at providing public services to the previously underserved poor by bypassing existing public institutions.

Chavez again won the OAS and Carter Center certification of the national election of December 2006 with 63% of the vote,[42] beating his closest challenger Manuel Rosales who conceded his loss on 4 December 2006.[43] After his victory, Chávez promised a more radical turn towards socialism.”[44] [See: Wikipedia: Hugo Chavez]

The Wikipedia’s portrayal of Chavez doesn’t come anywhere near the image of a “power-hungry dictator” at all, does it? Clearly, Hugo Chavez seems to occupy a leading position in the fast evolving socialist consciousness in the midst of the disintegrating global profit-system that dragged the humanity through two world wars, and more regional wars. Chavez’s recent call for an International Socialist Movement [Fifth International] addressing a highly successful conference of leftist political parties and mass movements, I think, is more significant than any of you’ve cited as dictatorial.

Let’s come to the trillion-dollar question now: How realistic is it to expect General Fonseka to emerge as Asia’s future Chavez if he became Sri Lanka’s president? I think there’s a potential for this. Unlike the Rajapkasa-regime, he’s not controlled by a readymade bunch of sycophants, murderers, thugs and fascists. He doesn’t have established political parties to control him. If/when he becomes the executive president, it would, mainly, be the poor masses he’ll have to derive his strength from, not the establishment. The state institutions will remain divided for some time to come.

Also remember, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign-theme is almost entirely devoid of answers to living costs, jobs, the Tamil issue, corruption, thuggery and so on. Any prudent observer will see the sudden price-cuts in the midst of an election as a third-grade trick. Mahinda-campaign’s real theme depends heavily on a Big Lie – that Sarath Fonseka is financed and supported by the LTTE. His think-tank, as well as his close supporters, knows very well that this is a lie. Naturally, the ‘intellectuals’ occupying Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election platforms look like ‘cats that crapped on rocks’, while the politicians shamelessly keep insinuating lies on lies about a possible ‘SF-LTTE link’.

The Mahinda-campaigners are making a big mistake here. While Sarath Fonseka brings out substantial issues of poverty, peace and corruption with short-term answers to them, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign is increasingly getting entangled in a transparently hollow slogan, which is a Big Lie.

True, this tactic will work well in attracting the most gullible, extremist layers of the Sinhala community. But the somewhat enlightened Sinhala Buddhists – who are disgusted with the corrupt administration – will soon begin to see Mahinda-campaign’s mischievous tactic. Above all, it’s that section of the Sinhala Buddhists I’m addressing. All progressives must help them to bring down the government. Their candidate – Sarath Fonseka – is the only one who can do it. Does SF have the capacity to become a Chavez? If Chandasoka could transform into a Dharmasoka after killing hundreds of thousands, and if Angulimala could change into an enlightened Arhat then SF also has the potential to rise above all partisan interests. The global and local conditions, along with his personal circumstances, are ripe for such metamorphosis. [My usage of the Chavez-image, you must realize, is merely a journalistic short-cut to point at the correct direction without words; nothing more.]

Dear “Doomed to Repeat”, I know you’re not a fully-fledged cynic though you yourself have called you that. The way you end your letter is testimony to our similarities. You wrote:

“I would never say that we should just give up and go home. Despite the odds against achieving anything close to a socialist paradise (assuming we could all even agree on what that would look like), we ought to work towards it, each in our own way, because it’s the right thing to do. We must have compassion for all mankind, and must act accordingly.”

I fully agree with those sentiments. And to achieve what we both aspire we must test Sarath Fonseka’s potential at this juncture. Please remember, I’m not after money or jobs. That’s not my nature. I’m merely expressing my sincere thoughts, because I love my country where I was born and bred. If SF fails in his duty I shall continue to challenge him in the same spirit, I assure you.

I firmly believe the progressive candidates who are already in the fray for their own propaganda purposes should pull out towards the end and recommend their following to back Sarath Fonseka; for, bringing down the existing regime is the primary task here.