Feeds:
Posts
Comments

In their classic 1988 book Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky demonstrated how corporate media select topics, place emphasis, set boundaries, ask questions and shape content in accordance with broad capitalist imperatives. It’s a largely unconscious process driven by conformist human beings, and infinitely more effective than the heavy-handed methods of past communist regimes.

During the 20th century, ballooning marketing budgets played a crucial role in the marginalization, and ultimate extinction of influential labor-based/progressive media. Today’s mass media subservience to elite power structures is an inevitable consequence of the pursuit of profit. Advertising revenues continue to flow to any given publication, radio or TV station on the condition that its reporting and general content supports a business-friendly status quo.

News/ad-consuming audiences are literally a product for sale, though we more closely resemble victimized bystanders. Above all, the oppressed and impoverished of the world are done a grave disservice as a consequence of writers being selected for a proven disposition to respect traditional authority and elite power. Capitalist society in this context represents a filtering system in which the most powerful are overwhelmingly the least radical. Needless to say, the hierarchy of journalism is no different.

THE PROBLEM IN REVOLUTIONARY VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s socialist national project is well underway and making ever more significant strides, in spite of an entrenched, privileged minority in opposition, relentlessly spurred on by the corporate media and its vociferous attacks. As the anti-capitalist character of the Chavez government revealed itself, it became starkly clear that democratic opinion was not being reflected in the established private media. Influential newspapers dropped their pretenses of varying “liberal” tendencies, and increasingly appeared to be acting from an agreed playbook.

The single most popular TV station (RCTV) has already been relegated from the free airwaves to satellite-only broadcasting, ostensibly for having materially assisted a US-led coup in April 2002, but principally to minimise the effect of a daily programming schedule rife with machismo, the objectification of women, consumerism, violence and general idiocy. That decision not to renew RCTV’s license, which expired in 2007, was entirely down to government prerogative. Other options exist in Venezuela: revoking an active license can be done under certain circumstances, broadcasters can be suspended, and the national government reserves the right to expropriate any privately-held enterprise.

Alongside its general entertainment, RCTV featured regular streams of distorted news reports reflecting badly on the Chavez government. This continues to be the raison d’être of Globovision, a 24-hour channel dedicated almost entirely to news and political opinion. In contrast to competitors such as Televen and Venevision, who sensed the winds of change and made boardroom decisions to enforce some degree of impartiality, Globovision persists in its role as the shrill, irrational, almost comical incarnation of opposition hatred and hysteria. This was presumably also a boardroom decision, albeit an infinitely less responsible one.

It appears that Globovision has no genuine interest in self-preservation, let alone in providing any kind of platform for the majority opinion in Venezuelan society. Overseen by a director who works at the highest level with opposition politicians and imperial agents, “Globo” will continue to dress itself up as the last bastion of free speech in the face of hurtling communist totalitarianism. Presumably, they hope their siege mentality and inevitable fate will immortalize the brand and spark mass revolt. This is quite simply a capitalist institution in the throws of pathological extremes, revelling in its status as the leader of a twisted niche market.

Globovision’s free-to-air license will come up for renewal by the sitting government in 2015, though unlike in the case of RCTV, Chavez has all but assured the nation he will not wait patiently for that moment. Presidential bravado aside, three official charges of impropriety await the channel: early reporting of exit polls in two states in 2007, fear-mongering reports in the immediate aftermath of a recent tremor, and a prime-time guest permitted to opine that Chavez is headed for a popular lynching, Mussolini-style. If any of these charges stick, Globo will find itself banned from the airwaves for 72 hours (with another offense within the subsequent five years sufficient to revoke a license). If guilty of two or more, its license might be immediately revoked.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

If Globovision’s free-to-air license comes to a premature end, one might end up wondering if it was worth the time, effort and controversy. After all, satellite TV is a staple presence in the vast majority of middle/upper-class homes, let alone in a surprisingly large number of hillside “barrio” residences. The channel would continue in precisely its present form, being viewed by more or less the same audience. Notwithstanding these facts, opposition propaganda is already repeating the same idiocies as graced the RCTV affair: Globo is in danger of “closure” for political reasons by an autocratic government permanently threatened by freedom of expression.

Capitalist media can never be relied upon to report in the public’s best interest, without routine omissions of facts or relevant context. The profit motive can only coincidentally coincide with human interest, and usually directly contradicts it. A truly socialist society must be served entirely by grassroots-based organs, connected in local and regional networks, and firmly under the democratic control of workers and society at large. The eventual demise of Globovision, RCTV, Televen, Venevision and all privately-held media is a necessary condition for the establishment and maintenance of true democracy. The only debate in truly revolutionary circles is how, and at what pace to make the transition.

It isn’t that Globo represents a thorn in the side of a government eager to maintain an electoral majority — one would be a fool to bet against Chavez being re-elected in 2012 with over 60% of the vote. Rather, responsible citizens should consider the extent to which Globo is psychologically damaging a sizeable proportion of Venezuela’s population with day-and-night doomsday reporting (whether related to seismic tremors, the exchange of Venezuelan oil for Cuban doctors, crime stories or the economy). Any significant ingestion of Globovision’s perceptions and analyses should invoke increased anxiety and stress as an absolute minimum.

The government has rightly designated Globo the head of domestic “media terrorism”: a political party masquerading as a selfless provider of news and opinion. Guests are typically frequent regulars, trained in the art of repeating platitudes with authority and professionalism, but unable to provide in-depth analysis and often visibly on the verge of exasperation. Phone-in callers attempting to defend the government are treated as ignorant practical jokers, while coverage of Chavez is brief and sporadic, shamelessly avoiding inconvenient truths at any cost.

Those who claim Venezuela’s greatly-expanded state media is far more deserving of the “political party” accusation should recognise that most revolutionaries here are not in favor of comprehensive and uncritical pro-government media controlled by the government itself. Nevertheless, with 80% of all privately-owned domestic media (not to mention the foreign press!) using their airtime and columns to denigrate government personnel and actions, there is no other medium-term option than to take advantage of state privileges and resources, responding to attacks and promoting revolutionary achievements in what has been termed the guerra mediatica (media war).

A common view is that Globovision and RCTV, or particularly the exposure they grant to opposition figures, actually play a positive role in mobilizing the revolutionary base. Therefore it should be of strategic benefit to wage a war of attrition, progressively weakening certain media where justified, but permitting them to continue as viable commercial entities for some time into the future. This avoids major controversy — something of a priority with elections of some kind every year — while upholding some semblance of justice. Which other country would permit TV stations that barely stop short of calling for rebellion and assassination of the democratically-elected president?

Satellite-only transmission would imply a reduced likelihood of undecided/apolitical voters stumbling across and persisting with Globovision, but quite possibly only to a marginal degree. However, the immediate threat of less viewers would be accompanied by a corresponding fall in advertising revenues, and presumably a disproportionate reduction in the value of the company. It all adds up to a potent initial sanction, as RCTV shareholders are likely to be discovering to their discontent.

However, this revolution must be awake to the dangerous possibility that later stages of this “media war” might tend towards a slippery slope of curbing legitimate free speech. For those who understand that for-profit media is anything but free, priorities should be clear: the focus should always be on managing the downfall of corporate media institutions, while tackling the difficult process of strengthening and empowering popular media. Anything else, and particularly the unchecked dominance of state-controlled media, must inevitably lead towards an uniform, suffocating, unsavory future.

[T]his vote was about the specific issue of term limits, and that made it significantly harder for the Si side to win. Quite a few people support Chavez as President but nevertheless believe that term limits are a good idea, whereas on the opposition side (which has no indefinitely re-electable charismatic leader) there was complete unanimity on the No option. –”RichardCheeseman”, online comment

The 55% majority which secured Sunday’s referendum to remove term limits in Venezuela did not appear particularly impressive in comparison to the 63% that re-elected Chavez back in 2006. It should be recognised, however, that Chavez’s support was partially split. Allegiances have in fact changed very little in the last few years.

Given that the opposition had established a reliable capacity to attract no more than 4.5 million votes in the four previous elections, the sudden jump to 5.2m might be seen in those quarters as cause for celebration. But will the opposition be able to rely on this increased figure in next year’s legislative elections, or the general election in 2012?

It seems unlikely. As many as 700,000 of those who defended term limits last Sunday might still back Chavez for a third term, even though they would prefer him to pass the baton. Add those 700k votes to the total “Si” tally, and you arrive at a figure of around 7 million — slightly less than voted for Chavez in the 2006 general election, and a reasonable estimate of what he could expect against an opposition challenger in 2012.

The balance of evidence suggests that Chavez’s appeal has hardly waned, while the counter-revolution’s fortunes have barely improved. Now that term limits have been eliminated for all elected officials, voters are presented with a dramatic possibility: the revolution continuing in its present form and towards its stated objectives, indefinitely. That’s what Fidel Castro meant in his brief message of congratulation to Chavez: that this victory, “because of its magnitude, is impossible to measure”.

Though it is reasonable to expect a slight diminuition of support for the still-unravelling aims and policies of the Bolivarian revolution in its early years, there is every chance that the wider trend will tell a different story. This is not only to do with a growing population, increasingly less victim to the “truth” as told by private media enterprises. It is also a logical consequence of the positive trends in most indices of development, and the ability of state and local media to publicise them. More than anything, it must be due to the realisation of grassroots political power, in the truest sense of the words.

CLEARING THE PATH AHEAD

Sunday’s result identified a rigid core of support which should guarantee smooth democratic progress during the coming years. This would include the retention of a legislative majority in 2010, the re-election of Chavez in 2012, and the passing of proposed constitutional amendments/reforms along the way. That’s even if all the extra 700,000 votes gained by the opposition’s recent “No” campaign have been irreversibly (and inexplicably) converted into counter-revolutionaries.

One kind of election which doesn’t fit neatly into this analysis would be that of regional officials, whose poor performances on ‘bread and butter’ issues were shown to be punishable by crushing defeat even in the most staunchly Chavista areas last November. One suspects, however, that this lesson has been learnt. All governors/mayors should now be plotting their resources with a clear emphasis on society’s daily needs, but also — with the reward of further re-election in mind — based on a long-term plan to prepare the ground for broader revolutionary goals.

2007 also supplied a useful test case, in which 69 proposed constitutional reforms, presented in just two blocks after a confusing campaign, resulted in nearly 3 million of Chavez’s biggest supporters abstaining from the vote entirely. This experience will surely never be repeated, and future reforms or amendments are unlikely to be as controversial as the one just passed. The benefit of relentless campaigning focused on a single, simple issue is now evident, and smaller handfuls of proposals will be equally manageable.

CHALLENGES AND CHANCES

Looking further into the future, a 45% share of the vote amid low abstention might end up being the historical high point for any opposition campaign in 21st century Venezuela. Despite warnings of Venezuela’s precarious position due to crashed oil prices, we’re actually likely to see a rebound to $100/barrel in a matter of years, if not months. So, even if we concede that Venezuela’s development and prosperity is still overwhelmingly dependent upon its oil revenues, the imminent decline of world production suggests that Venezuela will have a very bright future — and every opportunity to take revolutionary support to unseen levels.

Venezuela has shielded its citizens to a remarkable degree against the gathering storm. Mortgages are now extremely accessible for all, and unemployment is at a record low, partially as a result of heavy restrictions on the ability to sack workers. A large proportion of the workforce is informally self-employed, yet still eligible for benefits and pensions. The minimum wage is raised on an annual basis, and already the highest in Latin America. A national network of subsidised food stores enables the population to avoid price inflation in a large percentage of their expenditure. None of this will be taken for granted as the most powerful economies crash, leaving millions of ‘first-world’ citizens jobless, indebted, and desperate.

Venezuela, with its vast oil/gas reserves and mission to achieve its full agricultural and industrial potential, can easily be described as one of the most promising future world powers. A broad array of measures to reduce domestic crime will eventually demonstrate concrete results, and the tourism industry should grow dramatically as a result. As expanding national production gradually reduces dependence on imports in general, exports in turn will rise. In effect, two of the country’s greatest inherited problems have easily applicable (though far from immediate) solutions.

But the greatest means of increasing support for socialism in Venezuela is the development of real popular power, which will in itself solve many day-to-day issues, and shape communities in a democratic fashion. Once the working day is reduced to permit greater leisure time and political participation, the new “communes” will begin to exercise influence beyond the sum of their parts (the local “communal councils”). A new geometry of power aims to put elected officials directly at the mercy of the grassroots, forced to carry out the popular will, rather than their own manifestos. This is ultimately what will define the new, revolutionary Venezuela.

Chavez, in Sunday’s victory speech, emphasized that term limits are a useful means of hindering the successful transformation of a country. In particular, any effort to phase out a capitalist, market-based economy could be severely compromised by forced changes of leadership. It should be noted that many other countries do not feature term limits — but their populations are generally more docile; their political hierarchies and media systems more adept at blocking the ascension of potential radicals.

When a newly-elected Chavez introduced the possibility of a second presidential term in the 1999 constitution, few could have imagined how important it would be that he serve a third. A perfect replacement candidate cannot exist even in theory, since he or she would lack all the experience Chavez has accumulated throughout a turbulent decade. The decade ahead of us, which he has designated the third “historical period” of the revolution, may be more turbulent still. It could have immense, era-defining implications for the continent and the world, and so we can be grateful that the roadmap has now been made immeasurably clearer.

bannerelpueblosi2

It could have been better. But it could have been infinitely worse.

This Sunday, just over six million voters established themselves as the most solid base of democratic support ever witnessed for Venezuela’s socialist project. Meanwhile, just over five million Venezuelan voters established themselves as the proportion of the electorate which does not fully understand the importance of — or outright opposes — the socialist project.

This crucial difference of 55% to 45% represents the best estimate so far of the closest the opposition will ever come to defeating the Bolivarian revolution itself (not its policies) in electoral terms.

What was the importance of the question posed in Sunday’s referendum? Broadly speaking, it separated those who would support the current process indefinitely (barring a change in its fortunes) from those who wouldn’t. The result proved that six million Venezuelans comprehend the historic importance of the socialist mission.

That’s enough to retain a majority in the legislature and defeat the opposition presidential candidate in 2012, after which a trend of gradually rising revolutionary support will be very likely to assert itself. They can hope for domestic disaster in the face of the global depression and floundering oil prices. Neither will be the death of this revolution — of that I’m 99% certain.

THE EVE OF A MASSIVE VOTE

Sitting here with a cold beer from the store down at the bottom of my apartment block (the “Dry Law” obviously being flouted just as subtly as the state ignores certain campaign laws), the ambience around is pretty normal. Thursday’s gran finale for the Chavistas almost certainly wasn’t as big as 2006, but a handful of testimonies suggested that barely anybody knew another revolutionary planning to vote “No”.

I’m expecting between 6.5m and 7m votes for the affirmative, and between 4.5m and 5m for the negative. It would have been idiotic for the government to manufacture signatures, and so it is believable that over 6.5m people signed the symbolic and otherwise meaningless petition.

So although the atmosphere isn’t anything to write home about, that is a logical consequence of holding a second nationwide vote within a matter of months. The good news is that weather will be clear and dry across the country tomorrow, and Venezuelans have a general expectancy that every subsequent electoral event will feature more efficient procedures. In addition, nothing gets Chavistas in the voting lines like a referendum on Chavez. As such, analysing results for 2007 and 2008 is a bit of a waste of time, unless you are an opposition blogger looking to perform some highly optimistic gymnastics. The real parallel is 2006, the general election in which Chavez destroyed his opponent with a majority of 63%.

Though the voter roll is marginally bigger now, it would be a miracle to improve on that result. But all the indicators (including a large amount of the polls) suggest tomorrow will bring an easy victory for the “Si”.

Regardless of the margin of victory, Chavez will have lots of breathing space to make a serious dent in crime statistics and bolster national production of basic foods before the next general election in 2012. The revolution is reaching a stage of early maturity where progress in such areas must surely start to become noticeable. As with any deep-rooted problem, the foundations of the solutions will themselves solve nothing. But measures are indeed being implemented across the board to combat crime and infrequent scarcity of certain food products.

With all this in mind, Chavez must believe that 8m votes are possible in 2012. Before then, one expects the working day will have been reduced to a maximum of 6 hours. Venezuelans will appreciate their luck as they watch industrialised economies flounder amidst global depression and the onset of increasing oil scarcity. The productive development of allied countries in the region (aided in small part by Venezuela’s wealth) will show growing returns.

In short, we shouldn’t be disappointed if the “Si” should win with only 55%. Any apparent dip in Chavez’s popularity at this stage is easily recoverable. But if the “Si” wins with 60% or more, we can celebrate the fact that Venezuelan revolutionaries are practically immune to private media distortions, and so the immediate path ahead will be even easier. We’ll be assured that our increased efforts, whether practical or theoretical, will reap commensurately greater rewards.

THOUGHTS ON THE REVOLUTION

After just over a week getting reacquainted with Caracas, here are some thoughts.

1. Campaigning in the street: the PSUV and other pro-revolution groups are all over the goddam place. The opposition are nowhere. Despite that campaigning can be as cheap as you choose, the oppos either don’t have the manpower, or the willingness to invite ridicule (or confrontation) in the “popular” areas of the city. Those manning the Chavista campaign points are mostly middle-aged, but not retirement age. It isn’t unthinkable that the “NO” campaign might at least try to compete — they’ve got plenty of students, right? This is, after all, Venezuela’s last chance to avoid a generation of dictatorship!

2. With that last point in mind, you’d at least assume the gran finale march for the “NO” would be a show-stopper. It wasn’t anything of the sort. Watching the images on TV, you almost feel sorry for the sunglasses & cap brigade. They’ve never had to agigate, let alone march, for anything in their lifetimes. Now they’ve got to turn out at least once every election to convince themselves Chavismo isn’t taking over the country. Since this election will be the second in nearly three months, you better believe many of the marchers on Saturday were grudgingly going through the motions. Didn’t the sudden and welcome arrival of “the student movement” mean they could stay home and watch the groundswell on Globovision? Nope.

3. No way are all these random attacks (on opposition interests, and a synagogue) the work of Chavismo. This referendum is going to be won by a clear margin — 60% to 40% is a pretty good bet, if you know the numbers from previous elections. Simply put, Chavismo isn’t desperate. It’s winning. We don’t hate Jews or any other religious group. I’d say 95% of revolutionaries here will tell you straight up that Jews living in Venezuela have nothing to do with the policies of Israel, and 5% might give an unambiguous answer (owing to ignorance, not bigotry). So who is behind the majority of these small-scale attacks? Who benefits? Who is shaping up to lose an important vote? Whose campaign leaders went to Puerto Rico for a shush-shush meeting in early January?

4. Next Sunday’s victory for the “SI” will be the biggest setback for the opposition in the revolution’s history. They will be heartbroken to realise that despite defeating a set of reforms in 2007, and gaining important regional posts in 2008, the electoral map of red vs. blue (Chavez vs. the opposition) has barely changed since 2006. I expect a slightly smaller majority than the 63% of 2006, but that isn’t surprising: the early years of serious revolutionary change (in particular nationalizations and the increasing tempo of class conflict) will gradually turn away a small section of earlier support. However, we can expect developments in the next decade to convince an ever-greater majority of a fast-growing population. In effect, Sunday’s result may be the last downward trend, in terms of approval for Chavez, that we’ll see this century. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be close.

5. Of course, despite being a massive setback for the opposition, it’ll be far from the end of the battle. One-way flights to Miami will increase notably, but there will never be a dramatic exodus. Pace of revolutionary change in Venezuela, it seems, will always be steady (though not necessarily slow). And of course Venezuela is not an island in which dissidents can feel trapped. What might be the opposition’s broader plans, after losing this referendum? A recall referendum to put Chavez at the mercy of a popular vote at the mid-point of his term would be so unlikely to succeed (requiring 3m more votes than the opposition has ever turned out) that one can rule it out. A period of calm until Chavez’s possible reelection in 2012, however, is out of the question. There will be National Assembly elections and quite probably a small set of constitution reforms to vote on. In short, voting will have to be recognised as as annual event, whether some believe it to be a hindrance to revolutionary change or not!

I’m staying temporarily with some people who are generally inclined to believe that the defacing of at least one Venezuelan synagogue (that I’ve seen) and today’s news that another has been forcibly entered and vandalised, mean that Chavez should not have thrown out the Israeli ambassador. Perhaps he should not even have uttered a negative word about the state of Israel; we didn’t get that far in our one and only conversation on the matter.

If Chavez had supposed that his action (even if not anti-semitic in itself) would provoke an anti-semitic sector/give them legitimacy to indulge in religious discrimination and criminal acts, would that render him culpable for today’s news? This is, of course, assuming that the criminals are even revolutionary — and how revolutionary can they really claim to be? Revolutionary maybe, socialists almost certainly not. Their apparent contempt for the reputation of the revolution suggests they are more closely alligned with the opposition.

No-one could not have assumed any such vigilantism would result from what Chavez must have seen as (and it was) an important step towards defeating the Israeli PR machine and its global propaganda effort to diminish the crimes carried out against Gaza. But even if it was entirely predictable, one would have to weigh the positive results of Chavez’s outspoken stance in a global sense, against the negative effects suffered by Jewish members of Venezuelan society.

I’d suggest that the vast majority of synagogues in Venezuela remain untouched, and that there has not been a single reported case of aggression or discrimination against any Jews here. And yes, they are as likely to dress traditionally as in any other country. Chavistas, the immense majority of them, have absolutely nothing against any faith or any regular citizen of any race, nationality or persuasion. It’s an incredibly easy-going society, led by a president who repeatedly calls for humanitarian values, morals, conscience, enlightenment, and peace.

trabajador_asesinado_21

You may have already read in the sidebar that 863 workers in the Mitsubishi plant in Anzoategui state voted to occupy the factory premises and reinstate 135 subcontractors that had recently been laid off. It was an overwhelming vote in solidarity with the subcontractors, in which only 25 voted against the occupation, or abstained.

From Marxist.com:

In the afternoon of Wednesday, January 29 (Venezuelan time), two workers were killed by police in the state of Anzoategui, Venezuela. The workers killed are Pedro Suarez from the Mitsubishi factory and José Marcano from nearby auto parts factory Macusa. They were killed when regional police of Anzoategui was attempting to evict hundreds of workers who had been occupying the Mitsubitshi (MMC) factory.

As well as demanding the reincorporation of the 135 as full contracted workers in the Mitsubishi plant, the employees were also overwhelmingly supporters of the revolutionary process in Venezuela, and had identified their actions with the wider (yet still young) struggle against private ownership of production. Many of them have pledged themselves as active campaigners for the constitutional amendment vote on February 15th.

So, when a judge decreed that the workers be immediately evicted from the Mitsubishi plant, and police forces arrived fully armed and ready for a fight, the workers were not about to roll over. They had received comprehensive support from others in already-occupied factories, as well as those in Ford and Toyota plants who are currently considering similar actions.

These deaths, combined with the numerous other wounded, illustrate that despite revolutionary governorship in Anzoategui state (Tarek William Saab), many regional police are still detached from popular sentiment and a law unto themselves. They were prevented from causing even more injury and deaths by the National Guard. The judge, while in all probability not sympathetic to the workers’ cause, was likely following the letter of the law. Clearly, there is something wrong with a law that prevents the will of such a majority overcoming the rights of an exploitative and extremely slim minority.

Equally, there is something gravely wrong with a police force that can bring arms to bear against an unarmed crowd, let alone such a clear example of democracy. We can hope for successful convictions, but the long-term solution is a truly popular police force, which identifies with citizen rights just as the armed forces have been encouraged to do since the arrival of Chavez in the presidency.

Changing the law to permit (and thereby encourage) such actions on a national scale is an eventual necessity, though today it may well result in the emergence of mercenary forces and greater loss of life. The only option for now appears to be a gradual advance of revolutionary influence, not only on the legal system, but also in terms of policing, PSUV communications, and the tactics of workers themselves.