Why ideology matters...

Yes, mrn, te salio un hermano intelectualoso…eso ya lo sabias, no? The point of this exercise, though, is not to drop Hannah Arendt’s name – fun though that is. The point is that understanding the nature of ideological thinking is really a key to understanding so, so much of the way chavismo operates.

Take, for instance, Chavez’s relationship with the past. To my mind, it is impossible to understand it without first seeing the way ideology structures the way he (and his followers) process the reality around them. In talking about April 11th, for instance, I’ve always found it amazing how the “uncomfortable” parts of the story simply disappear in the chavista retelling. Plan Avila never existed. There were no deaths on the opposition side. Hugo Chavez did not speak for almost three hours while a massacre unfolded mere meters from where he was sitting. These things did not happen.

It’s not that Chavista intellectuals and historians refute these realities. They simply refuse to acknowledge them at all. The words “Plan Avila” have disappeared from the official bolivarian story about the coup. They didn’t happen.

Is the psychological operation involved here really so different from a Pinochetista’s refusal to acknowledge that there were desaparecidos?

Such denial is not simple spin, not mere opportunism. This is a direct result of ideological thinking, of thinking that takes Chavez’s story of righteous social redemption as somehow deeper, more real, more true than what actally happens in the world. Ideological thinking has a horror of contradictions. To an ideologue, a single idea structures and explains the world, so no contradictions or peculiarities are acceptable. Since all of history can be calculated by inference, ideological thinking privileges “the story” – the ideologically mandated narrative – over and above the facts. Si los hechos no concuerdan con nuestras ideas, peor para los hechos.

What amazes me is that people who ought to know better, people who ought to have learned from the catastrophes caused by ideological thinking in the past, continue to toe the chavista line. Here in Italy I meet them all the time – Monde Diplomatique and Il Manifesto readers who think they can give me lessons on Venezuelan history, people for whom historical reality is no more than a slightly obnoxious chink in the power of ideology to explain the world. The suppression, the non-acknowledgement of uncomfortable realities is the sine qua non prerequisite for such thinking. One would think that 70 years after the Ukrainian famine, 50 after the Stalinist purges, and 1 after the trial of the Cuban dissidents, the international left would have developed a healthy skepticism against such claims, a base-level suspiciousness of revolutionary claims that seem too neat, too clean-cut, too perfect to be true.

Yet the siren song of ideology remains strong. Too strong to pass up for many. The Venezuelan government continues to push its “heroic version” of April 11th, and lefties abroad continue to buy into it uncritically. It’s not surprising. Western writers and “fellow-travellers” in Russia in the 1930s made the same damn mistake – with few but noteworthy exceptions, like Orwell. It’s not surprising that nothing has changed, that a pretty distortion still beats a messy truth so very often. Beautiful stories that can only be sustained by suppressing half of what really happen are the bread-and-butter of ideological thinking.

But it’s sad.