Clive Crook is right, “elected autocrat” really is a confusing category. But Crook does not go far enough. The issue isn’t that Chávez gets elected despite being an autocrat. (If only!) The problem, instead, is the kind of insight that you half grasp and then suppress for fear of its logical ramifications: that to many Chávez supporters, autocracy is a feature, not a bug.
I keep going back to that Reuters report on Fonden – which I still think is possibly the single most devastating document I’ve read against the Chávez way. As I re-read it, what amazes me the most – and let’s be clear, every paragraph in it is amazing – is the absolute lack of pushback from the left.
The basic outlines are not in dispute: Chávez has handled over $100 billion in clear contravention of article 314 of the constitution his supporters wrote and he championed. That’s $3,450 for every man, woman and child in the country spent in secret, with no oversight, no project evaluation, no follow up, no impact analysis, no accountability and no mechanism to quantify, much less combat, corruption.
Now, it’s not immediately obvious to me why this is the kind of issue that should only matter to the right. Ideologically, if I’m devoted to the well-being of the oppressed, it seems to me I should be relatively more incensed by the kind of runaway graft and mismanagement that seems to have attached itself to Fonden.
Prima facie, there’s nothing specifically right-wing (or left-wing) about having your stomach turned by a boondoggle that wastes billions in what remains a poor country, or by a guiso that stuffs the pockets of a handful of bolibourgeois while children go to bed at night hungry.
Yet nobody in Aporrea touches it. Le Monde Diplomatique pasa y gana. James Petras slept through the whole thing. Danny Glover never got the memo. There’s just no pushback at all. Nobody within the government camp even thinks of it as an issue worth talking about, much less a problem in need of solving.
It literally keeps me up at night, this question. And the only semi-coherent answer I can bring to it is that to demand accountability is to assert – ever so obliquely – the possibility that Chávez may err. Just as good catholics do not hold God accountable, because they start out from the assumption that God does not make mistakes, chavistas would find asking Chávez to submit his plans to public scrutiny borderline insulting to a leader who long since burst the banks of fallibility.
Fonden’s whole attraction is that it allows them to throw themselves uncritically at the leader’s discretion. Its lack of accountability is its main attraction. And then I think back to Briceño Guerrero’s rift on the sub-conscious longing of the oppressed for a Good Master, and I shudder:
Accepting a lord and master affirms one’s existence, one’s difference through servitude, guaranteeing one’s cultural identity and safeguarding the channels of creativity. Hegel missed this harmonic variant in his master/slave dialectic, even though history is strewn with examples of it.
The last two hundred years, marked by ideologies and wars of “liberation”, have obscured the fact that the master-slave relationship is not always and necessarily disgraceful. The good master and the good slave have been forgotten. The good slave accepts his lot without rancor and without any sense of sacrifice or injustice; he longs not for the advantages of the master, he wouldn’t know what to do with them, he has other tastes. The good master respects the slave’s culture, his idiosyncrasy, his creativity, he recognizes him as other, he doesn’t butt into his private life and he doesn’t mistreat him.
The master-slave relationship, and the consequent stratification of society, may be in the future – it already has been in the past at various times and places – the most adequate solution to the problem of coexistence in society. These days the clamor of the ideologists and propagandists of equality, the agitation for democracy, hides the virtues of slavery; but he who wants to truly know the reality of this world must dare to look beyond the prejudices of his century. In pre-columbine America, in Africa, Asia, in Europe itself there were successful and satisfactory forms of servitude, far superior as a form of coexistence to the gulag or the worker-owner relationship, whether the owner comes in the guise of a private business or a socialist state.
I must recognize, however, that our good slaves often have not found the good masters needed to build a successful system of servitude on a society-wide level. But they doggedly seek him and at times they find him, at least as an individual solution. There’s nothing exceptional about the loyal maid, who’s like part of the family; the noble farm-hand, who you can depend on always, onto death, even without if you don’t pay him; the devoted and efficient secretary, who remains a celibate spinster through love of her boss, willing to give him her savings and even help him with his erotic adventures; the volunteer body-guard, loyal and sleepless watch-dog, untouchable, undoubting. Isn’t there something profoundly human, moving, beautiful in all of this?
The good slave is anti-western because he rejects the work-salary nexus. The good master is anti-western because he prefers the loyalty-protection nexus, but these terms are poor, insufficient to sketch out the relationship. The good master is like a good shepherd, the good shepherd looks lovingly over his sheep; he will gives his life for them.
In our violent uprisings, one of the motivations is the longing, the painful nostalgia for the good master, the absence of that hard, soothing, paternal shelter, of that trusted destination that the western world has only limpid and inefficient substitutes for, cancerous placebos called political leader, revolutionary leader, manager, commissary, dean, congressman…
We are not impressed by the mean-spirited western slander against slavery; we understand that the path of submission to a good master is not sterile but bountiful for our survival and actualization, so we seek it with indefatigable tenacity.
It was necessary to write at length on this much-maligned path. These days anyone can understand rebelliousness, because it’s fashionable. Only a chosen few understand submission. Believing themselves free and rebellious, most assiduously serve unworthy masters.
Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported.
Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.Donate