It’s hard to do justice to Nick Cohen’s absolutal brutal mauling of the PSF (pendejos sin fronteras) set in The Guardian (of all places) in just a quote or two. The phrase “read the whole thing” might as well have been invented for this piece.
But this gives you a taste:
For years, the top radical tourist destination, the political equivalent of the Pattaya Beach brothel, has been Chavista Venezuela. Hollywood stars, the leaders of the British Labour party and Spanish “popular resistance”, and every half-baked pseudo-left intellectual from Noam Chomsky to John Pilger has engaged in a left orientalism as they wallowed in “the other’s” exotic delights.
Venezuela stroked all their erogenous zones. Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro were anti-American and “anti-imperialist”. That both allied with imperial powers, most notably Russia, did not appear to concern them in the slightest. Venezuela, cried Seumas Milne in the Guardian, has “redistributed wealth and power, rejected western neoliberal orthodoxy, and challenged imperial domination”. What more could a breathless Western punter ask for?
Never underestimate the power worship of those who claim to speak for the powerless, or the credulity of the supposedly wised-up critical theorist. For those who yearn in their dark hearts for strong men, who can crush all enemies, Chavismo reeked of machismo, and provided the great leaders they could adore.
Time was, five, ten years ago, when we did quite a lot of PSF-whacking on Caracas Chronicles. We’ve stepped away from that because, frankly, the intellectual ferment long ago drained out of the exercise.
It’s been years since there was a serious argument to be had about the Bolivarian Revolution. The symbolic bookend to the debate, for me, came when Noam Chomsky broke with Chávez over his treatment of judge Afiuni.
That was almost five years ago. It’s been half a decade without a real debate on offer. The only people left to argue with are either plainly on the payroll or or just way, way off in ideological cloud-cuckoo land (or both.) Honestly, it doesn’t seem worth the trouble.
And yet, Nick Cohen column is still needed because the two-bit intellectuals who’ve spent the last 15 years aggrandizing the Venezuelan dictatorship have, by and large, never really come clean.
Where exactly is David Sirota’s letter of apology for praising Chávez’s economic miracle? Who can point me to the place where Mark Weisbrot owns up that he’s spent 17 years providing intellectual cover to a government that’s blighted 30 million lives? What’s it going to take, exactly, to get Jeremy Bigwood to apologize for his role in lending credence to this absurd charade? Tariq Ali? Greg Grandin? Seumas Milne? Oliver Stone? Hell, Jeremy Corbyn?
These people never come clean…they just walk away from the crime scene, whistling, hoping no one will notice, and start writing about something else. Not for them the long, arduous process of reassessing exactly how they got duped by people who, in retrospect, gave every imaginable signal of being hucksters. Not for them the reckoning with their historical responsibility as intellectuals who provided real material assistance to a criminal regime.
The sheer failure to come to terms honestly with their role in bolstering this catastrophe should blight their careers for yeas to come. And Nick Cohen deserves real praise for helping make sure it does.