Extremism is becoming the defining characteristic of the chavista movement. At no point does the ruling ideology draw the line – just the opposite: every part of the new elite seems to operate under the maxim that if a little extremism is good, a lot is better. The result is a kind of tournament within the regime, a dynamic of one-upmanship where each tries to out-extremist the other.
It’s a scary thing: the phrase “that’s going too far” doesn’t seem to be a part of the regime’s political lexicon. More and more, the regime has lost its feel for the ridiculous (el sentido del ridículo) – leaving it shorn of any way to judge how much is too much.
Examples? They’re a dime a dozen. Here are a few:
- The Armed Forces’ Polytechnic University awards an honorary doctorate to an aging Mikhail Kalashnikov for his lifetime contribution to the noble cause of figuring out how to kill people efficiently.
- A Cuban communist guerrillero who literally led an armed invasion against Venezuela’s democratically elected government is honored in a public ceremony by regime hierarchs (handily exceeding the DDefinition of supporting terrorism”) and the news is proudly splashed on pro-government websites.
- Thousands of Venezuelan kids go off to Cuba for paramilitary and ideological training, come home, and get 15,000 assault rifles bought with public money. Among their slogans – Commandante Chavez: Ordene!
- Practically alone in the world, Venezuela sets out a principled defense of North Korea’s right to develop ICBMs, essentially celebrating its missile tests as an anti-imperialist move in the eve of Chavez’s visit to Pyongyang.
- The National Assembly moves to further restrict the scope for NGO action, with the avowed aim of bringing them under control.
- A literally gun-toting president threatens to shut down opposition TV and radio stations, saying it is unacceptable for the media to criticize the government.
- Essentially all high-profile opposition elected officials still in office are prosecuted on trumped up charges or threatened with prosecutions if they do not behave as the regime demands.
- Even the Venezuelan Olympic Committee is taken over by a chavista aparatchik.
The point, I think, is clear: with the government firmly consolidated in power, all restraints on extremism have been lifted. The question then becomes: where does this road lead?
We need to be clear about this: Venezuela is not a totalitarian regime. But we also need to be clear about this: it is moving more and more decisively in that direction. Clearly, spaces for dissent still exist; just as clearly, the regime is working to close them down.
What’s terrifying is that there is no logical limit to chavismo’s power ambition. Nothing in the structure of the belief system limits its tendency to expand control into new areas of political and – more and more – social life.
There is no room in chavista thinking for the notion that some of spheres of human activity are and ought to remain outside of the political sphere. And there is certainly no space in chavista thinking for the notion that any part of the political sphere ought to remain outside the state’s control. It’s a way of conceiving politics that never says “enough,” that has no notion of “that’s not the state’s business,” that never sees a reason to stop expanding its reach, and that does not recognize any distinctions between the concepts of “nation”, “state”, “government”, “party” and “Chavez.” As far as the ruling ideology is concerned, to be for one of those is to be for all of them; to oppose one is to oppose them all.
What’s scary is not so much where we are now, but where the internal logic of chavista thinking points us. These days people are happy buying their hummers and plasma TVs and such. But the logic of blanket politization is afoot, and with it the mechanisms first for authoritarian and later for totalitarian control.
We’re definitely not there. Chavismo’s myriad internal contradictions might yet cause its collapse before we get there. But it’s not really possible to deny that we’re heading there. Not any more.