Friday, 16 March 2012

My first conference

This was the third Green Party Yorker column I wrote

It is impossible to escape stereotypes. Even if you know they are false, it is hard not to base your assumptions off them. Political parties are no different. One would expect a Tory conference to be full of suited affluence and intoxicated with the airs of the establishment, while Labour would once have been seen as a tough working class arena, but is now full of eerie professionalism. Thus on the eve of attending the conference of my party, the Greens, for the first time, I thought of bearded hippies without shoes arguing over animal rights and drug legalisation whilst lambasting those who dared consume meat or purchase non-biodegradable products.This common perception of green politics could not have been further from the truth, and simply highlights the great flaws that characterise mainstream political thinking.

Since New Labour's obsession with public image and spin, mainstream politics has become a world populated by increasingly similar politicos with slick, telegenic appearances and meaningless ideologies who give off pointless sound-bites and feel the need to kowtow to dominant trends of popular culture. This forced other parties to follow a similarly cringe-worthy pattern that has only served to dilute the very force of politics and alienate young and old alike.

The deification of appearances also entails worryingly anti-democratic inclinations. For anything that is not in alignment with the demands of stage-managed appearances is marginalised. The voices and concerns of ordinary members are pushed to the side, and the overall bent of the party is determined from the top down. Many grass-roots Labour and Liberal Democrats members remain significantly to the left of the leadership, while the superficial liberalisation of the Conservatives is hardly in line with the majority of members' views.
It therefore gave me a great sense of pride to see that my party had not given in to these currents. Though I stated that the stereotypes of Greens as aloof eccentrics was largely inaccurate, the fact that we are seen as so different to the dull chasm into which the mainstream parties have descended, should be worn as a badge of honour, not shame. Indeed the only Spin in my party conference was the name of the former chair of the university branch.

This was a party for ordinary people voicing real opinions and ideas, not the vacuous products from some monstrous PR machine. Every change to policy had to be voted on and anyone could speak out on any matter. The conflict over the questionable Brighton budget was indeed fiery and divisive, but it was a unique thing in modern British party politics. To question the very moral integrity of the central line would have been suicidal in a Labour or Tory conference.

As a result we produced policies that I'd like to think are far more reflective of ordinary British views that those produced from the politico-media establishment that controls popular perceptions. Proposals on economic democracy, defending the right to protest, decent housing for everyone and fair internships (many of which were badly worded, another sign of a vigorous democratic spirit) all represent the outcomes of true democratic processes. The very soul of the Green Party is an entity full of life and spirit, driven by the will of all its members, all of whom have an equal say.

And that is precisely why I joined the Green Party and why I feel it has so much to offer British, if not global, politics. For, above all else, it represents a vision of real democracy. Power lies in the hands of everyone by virtue of common humanity. Wealth, talent, prestige, charisma, control of information and so many other arbitrary influences that so corrupt our illusory democracy at the moment, that give far more influence to the few over the many, are disregarded completely. Yes, there was disagreement and division, and there were several decisions that I questioned. But for once I felt satisfied with the outcome, because I truly knew that it was achieved fairly and equally.

The great hope for the future is that this supreme democratic vitality, that is engrained to the very fibres of the Green party could be expanded to Britain as a whole, and maybe even beyond. Only our policies on pure proportional representation, media regulation so that no one has a monopoly of information, constitutional reform, and economic democracy, among so many others, are deserving of the title; “democratic”. Cynical attempts by our opponents to mock us as unprofessional or hippyish only serve to reinforce this ideal.

So if there was anything that I took away from conference it was a fuller understanding of what my party truly means. The next time I am asked what the Green Party stands for, I will not list our key policies, I will not give off the old cliché about combining social and environmental justice, and I will not make some over-used references to fairness or alternatives that are so prevalent in current affairs that they lose all meaning. I will simply say; “democracy”.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Death of the Ideal

 This was the second article of mine published in the Zahir, in Spring 2012.
Where are all the anarchists? I laughed when my friend first expressed this lament, but I am now beginning to see his point. I live on campus, study a politics related degree, and would like to think that I am active in the student political community, but have yet to meet a single anarchist. There is very little common ground between anarchism, the classic radical ideology, and my own ideas, yet still I find the lack of them, and other supporters of radical political ideals on campus, greatly troubling. There are certain stereotypes of university life that have been completely accurate, mainly on the social and alcohol-related side of things, but the political stereotypes of students holding radical, and refreshingly divergent, even unrealistic, ideals, has not materialised.

Of the political societies on campus, none have developed any thinking that I would describe as refreshing or different, they boringly stick to rigid, predictable ideals and party rhetoric. You generally either have annoying right-wing libertarians who 'troll' the other parties because they arrogantly believe that their views are objectively superior, or dull 'liberal-lefties' who spew out the latest Guardian hypocrisies. And even these groups are depressingly inactive, rendered impotent by a small membership, excess bureaucracy, and most of all, a large mainstream student body who simply don’t care.

Helping out at the refreshers fair, so many simply walked by the political stands, showing little interest, mainly out of a need to be polite, or, perhaps more admirably, simply telling the truth that they did not really care, or that they just followed their parents mainstream political opinions. All too often did I hear words like “but I've always voted for X” or “my parents vote for X and so do I” or the classic “I would vote/campaign for Y but they'll never get anywhere”. Instead they rushed off to buy twee, 'ironic' posters at the sale, or join the latest fringe sport fad.

Obviously I am not demanding that everyone has the same interests as I do and no one wants the likes of “Rick from the Young Ones” a hypocritical politico who holds radical views just to be trendy and will base his social preferences on his politics. Indeed this is not the impression I want to get across, I have met this ilk of person, those who will actually reject potential friends just because of their political views, and they are perhaps far worse than the indifferent students described above.

Nonetheless, forgiving the cliché, university is meant to be a time of independence and broadened horizons. A rare time when we are developed enough to enjoy life as much as anyone, but are largely free from the responsibilities of tax, family and society. Thankfully, we have not forgotten the physical or social side of this, eating and drinking excessively, without thought for the future consequences, is a part of growing up that should be celebrated, within reasonable limits. Yet the academic or philosophical side of this freedom seems to have disappeared. Holding political and ideological opinions that are perhaps too radical, too unrealistic is also an important part of character development. One learns more about oneself and eventually gains a greater understanding of life, why the world is as it is, and hopefully, begins to come to terms with reality. But if this is not achieved, if we always hold the same mainstream opinions, dictated to us by the media, society will lose the vital capacity to question established truths and people will become even more disconnected from political life, both of which have terrible implications for the future of an open society.

This is not to say that there is no hope. I have met fairly interesting politically minded students and enjoyed debates that have really made be re-evaluate my own views. But there are just too few of us. For most people here political debate is reduced to recycling dull mainstream rhetoric based on what they've read in the media. In politics seminars, no one has an actual opinion, the reading is discussed obviously, but no one declares a passionate view on the topic, they simply regurgitate the views of the authors on the reading list and hope they can get by saying as little as possible.

As a result there are no new ideas. I worry that when our generation takes up the reigns of humanity, we will not have any solutions, any new modes of thinking, to solve the great problems of our day. Instead we will just let ourselves be told what to do by those who claim, wrongly, to know better.

Indeed, I am writing this not to call for more views similar to my own or for those that criticise the mainstream, but just for something different. Fascist, socialist, anarchist, deep ecologist, theocrat, whatever, just something from outside the mainstream, something that evokes the spirit of free thinking that academia used to represent. Until then, I must ask again, where are all the anarchists?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ron Paul: I want to believe

This article orginally appeared in the Yorker

“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” -Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum.

As we're all aware it is a very difficult thing to get fired from Fox News for being too controversial. However, Andrew “Judge” Napolitano pulled it off earlier last month. In what is now a semi-viral internet clip, he fulfilled his professed aim of showing how to get fired in five minutes. Through posing a series of “What if?” questions, with overt references to general conservative discontent with the 2012 candidates, what started as an interesting, albeit seemingly paranoid, anti-establishment polemic, soon became yet another libertarian endorsement for Ron Paul, disguised as a radical attempt to expose a great 'Big Government' conspiracy.

For those of us who have been following the Republican nominations race with a decent level of interest, especially via online sources, this very peculiar feature of the campaign is nothing new. Any online article or news video that fails to include Ron Paul in its discussion of the front-runners will be followed by a series of comments decrying a media conspiracy to stop Paul getting elected. A worrying spate of articles on self-proclaimed 'radical' blogs and 'alternative' news sites follow similar themes. Paul is depicted as a libertarian saviour being crushed under the jackboots of a bipartisan cabal of corporate leaders, Pentagon officials and representatives of that great monster; “big government”. A video where Paul was cut off for 'technical difficulties' became irrefutable proof in the eyes of his online cultists and the revelations of racist articles published in his name were but fabrications of such nefarious plotters.

Equally concerning is how this mania has partially spread to leftists as well as libertarians. Buoyed by Paul's non-interventionism and indifference towards Israel, several pacifists and others have given him their support, and thus been taken in by the cult of conspiracy that surrounds him. Just as libertarians see Paul as stifled by big government sycophants, these confused leftists, such as Glenn Greenwald, see him as under threat from militaristic neo-conservatives. The enemies are different but the general themes of paranoia and conspiracy remain the same.

Of course, it goes without saying that such fears are unfounded. Ron Paul has never polled above 20% and has never been close to being in contention. Having stood on a highly similar platform in 1988 and 2008, and having expressed his views loudly for many years, gaining limited media interest for a failed novelty candidate, should hardly come as a surprise. There is no news about him because there is nothing new about him.
It is surely not too much to argue that Paul is losing because his policies are simply too extreme. Granted there is validity to the notion that the media simplifies political issues and is biased in influencing the way people vote. Yet even if Paul got the round the clock coverage his supporters think he deserves, would ordinary Americans really mandate policies such as abolishing all federal education, cancelling all foreign aid and effectively cutting off the welfare lifelines of millions of their fellow citizens? Indeed this is precisely the reason why the left is wrong to back Paul. Aside from a non-interventionism, that also entails abandoning developing countries to the largely Western-inflicted horrors of poverty, Paul is an anti-abortion fundamentalist and creationist. He is nothing more than yet another Texan republican, with a few added quirks and gimmicks.

But what is really wrong with the Ron Paul cult and its conspiracy, if he won't win, why does all this matter? Firstly, it masks real issues, by putting an inaccurate, yet strangely hegemonic, pro-libertarian perspective on global problems that really require non-libertarian solutions. For example the IMF and World Bank enforcement of free trade upon developing countries has wrecked their economies even further and caused horrible famine like that of Niger in 2005. Yet Paul portrays the IMF as part of his imagined global conspiracy and thus implies the solution is even more free trade, when in reality this is what causes the problems in the first place and the real solution is to all these countries to use protectionism to develop first and then open up their markets later on, as Ha Joon Chang has rightly argued. Similarly, Western military intervention and support for Israel is accurately and passionately lambasted by Paul, but whereas his solution is total non-interventionism that would probably lead to great chaos and bloodshed, a more pragmatic approach would be to use diplomatic channels of intervention to promote conciliation and development in troubled regions. Currently, Paul's fairly accurate, yet fatally flawed, diagnosis leads to an even worse prognosis, that marginalises more moderate solutions.

Perhaps the greater issue I have with the nature of Paul's campaign and its fanatics, is its paradoxically illiberal tone. Any comment expressed critical of Paul is immediately attacked by virtual hordes of his troops, often very harshly and even personally denouncing the author and thereby preventing a fair and free expression of opinion. Self-created paranoia from Napolitano and his ilk is undemocratic in that it discourages the discussion and compromise so necessary to democratic politics. It pushes supporters of Paul even further to the extreme and prevents them from considering the rightful views of others. By failing to realise the wise words of Umberto Eco those who would see themselves as the greatest defenders of liberty thus become its greatest danger.

Friday, 2 March 2012

A Better Bonus

This article was the second one I wrote for the Yorker's Green Column, published February 2012.

Surely these are good times for the Greens, no? This week bankers lost their knighthoods and were forced to reject vast bonuses whilst mainstream politicians from across the mainstream united in attacking the gross excesses of capitalism at a bank now owned by the state. As my party has somewhat critical views of excess consumption, I should be happy, shouldn’t I? Yet instead, watching David Lammy and Mel Phillips laying into Hester and Goodwin on the BBC's Question Time simply made me angry.

Firstly, there is the issue of hypocrisy. Lammy was a key figure for the rise New Labour, his young, energetic character provided a useful contrast against the tired politics of the Major government. This also means however, that he was part of a political movement that, in the words of its chief architect Peter Mandelson was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, and for years supported disastrous light touch regulation on large corporations such as RBS and encouraged a culture of risk and excess. After just under two years in opposition, Labour has got more Balls than just its shadow chancellor to make such statements. Melanie Philips, a commentator for the rancid Daily Mail publication, is also guilty. Had Mandelson expressed concern at the excess of the rich, no doubt the Mail would have accused Labour of socialism and class warfare. It was precisely this fear of media backlash against any intervention in the economy that forced politicians to avoid regulation, at great cost to us all. Indeed the political and media class is still guilty for urging negotiation to stop the excess on million-pound banker bonuses while demanding immediate coercive action to limit the 'excesses' of the poorest, most vulnerable members of our society.

Moreover, the whole debate essentially misses the point. No one made these complaints when bankers got offensively large salaries and bonuses in the 'good times'. This suggests that when the economy is growing that such hedonistic rewards are somehow deserved. That upholding and expanding a system that leads to great environmental and social injustice worldwide, that promotes the idea that making money is all that matters in this life, that 'greed is good', is of merit to society. Such an opinion is morally, culturally, economically and socially corrupt.

For me, one of the main ideas behind the Green Party, and its associated movements, is that we should limit consumption not just for the good of the planet, or to stop us all being wiped out by disasters that we caused, but for our own good as individuals. The problem is that currently the cultural expression of this excess capitalism is that one must always consume to be happy, that contentment with life is something that is always one purchase, one holiday, one subscription away. Vital to this is to create the illusion that everyone is happy but you. This can make individuals very unhappy and depressed, as has happened to me.

In the past, when we had a more social democratic form of capitalism, that limited such excesses, cultural depictions of wealth had a doubled edged sword. The Texan oil barons of Dallas had all the money in the world but lived desperately unhappy, unenviable lives. By contrast today's culture, linked to unrestrained consumerism shows the rich as leading glamorous lives, their fulfilment guaranteed by limitless consumption possibilities. Just watch any populist TV show today and you'll see what I mean.

It does not matter how much a contribution Stephen Hester can make to humanity, no one needs £1 million. This is why the Green Party would bring in a high pay commission to limit such excess, while the living wage would boost the incomes of those at the bottom who work just as hard. In doing so we would create a fairer, more equal society. The merits of this are sound. Studies show that once income reaches a moderate level, happiness is no longer proportional to wealth and greater wealth is just meaningless excess that makes both the top and bottom less happy. Indeed the Equality Trust has predicted that greater equality of wealth in the UK would halve social ills like murder and obesity rates and reduce by 2/3 mental illness. Just look at the US, they may be richer, but, with sky-rocketing crime, obesity and poverty, it would take a brave person to claim that they are happier.

Of course, the Green Party does not strive towards an abolition of capitalism or the creation of total equality in all things, but what we must stress is that none of us needs the wealth of bankers to be happy and successful. True happiness comes from valuing the relationships with fellow human beings in your life, it is a state of mind. People are not happier than you because they have more enjoyable experiences, but simply because they are a different perception on life, less concerned with base wants. Living a life at peace with the environment and your fellow human beings, measuring life and worth by other means than wealth, that is a bonus worth far more than anything offered by the banks.

A Tale of Two Occupations

This article was published in the Yorker's Green Party Column in Winter 2011.

Today, the NYPD broke up the Wall Street section of the global 'occupy' protests, the centrepiece of the movement. Meanwhile protests in other cities are slowly dying down and the authorities are close to reaching a similar conclusion in London. The end is nigh for Occupy, yet global capitalism still stands, so surely it was a failure? Yet such a statement suggests that the protests were distinctly 'anti-capitalist' and hence supportive of unpalatable doctrines like communism or Stalinism, and so the mainstream media and political establishment dismiss them as 'loons'. Indeed Tory MP Louise Mensch even made the incredulous comment that the 'anti-capitalists' were betraying their principles by visiting Starbucks. The problem with such an assertion is simple; the occupy protests are not anti-capitalist at all, in fact they are pro capitalist, only they support a different form of capitalism to the 'neoliberal' definition so routinely shoved down our throats.

If these protests were so anti-capitalist, than surely we would be experiencing a revival in communist and extreme socialist parties, surely the red newspaper, “Morning Star” would not be on the verge of liquidation. Instead, the wide levels of public support for the demonstrations as well as the general resentment towards financial greed suggests that ordinary people within the capitalist system are waking up to its labyrinth of lies and abuses. Such people do not want a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or to 'smash the state', all they want is a re-configuration of the present system to end its corruptions and injustices. Since the 1980s we have been sold 'free market' policies that would create a wealth that 'trickled down' for all. Not only has this failed to occur, but in many ways these policies have not created a free market at all. Instead they have linked politics and corporate power to the benefit of each. They have developed a monopoly on what defines 'capitalism' and the 'market' and so they have a monopoly on prosperity as well, hidden behind the façade of media manipulation and vacuous democracy. Hence the current wave of protests have united forces as opposed as Ron Paul and Slavoj Zizek.

Anglo-Saxon systems are so obsessed with acquisition above all else. That is why we have the travesty of a law that companies must pursue profit above all else, leading to unsustainability and high risk operations. We only need look abroad, to successful mixed economies like Norway, or even in some respects, Germany, to see that this does not have to be the case. The state can have a role in a prosperous capitalism, but only if we see growth as just one of an array of aims for our society to look toward. In fact, currently one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, Belgium at 0.7% of GDP, has no government with which to implement austerity measures. Cutting down the state even further will clearly only hurt the economy more. History shows the state has grown out of practical necessity, not ideology, to help achieve social progress and economic competitiveness in the 1900s and 1940s. It is, contrary to popular belief, the libertarian, anti-statists, whose ideas are based solely on ideology and not grounded in a concrete utility.

Any questioning, it would seem, of the economic status quo, down to its finest minutiae, faces similar accusations. Measures such as the Tobin Tax, breaking up the banks, tougher stances on financial sector bonuses, and a slower pace to the cuts, are all denounced as 'unrealistic' or met with blunt replies like 'you wouldn't understand' and 'what is your alternative then?' Again it is implied that any opposition goes against the natural or necessary state of affairs. However such ideas are not unrealistic at all. They have the support of several notable figures like the ground-breaking Cambridge economist Ha Joon Chang, and are only opposed by the money men, whose interest lies in the continuance of the present arrangements and who have betrayed our trust in the past.

By creating a social democratic state based around green investments in cutting edge technologies and an expansion of public transport, we can bring the opportunities of capitalism to everyone, not just the rich few, and can balance out the naturally unsustainable and exploitative aspects of it. By separating out the economy, we could avoid risk taking, and create slow, and stable economic growth. By putting people before profit we could stop the reductive nature of the present arrangements. The sexualisation of children, the marketing of virtue, the mimicry of all human life, as mere economic units, figures on a spreadsheet. Put simply, we could learn again, that there is more to life than money.

An economy is determined by the aggregation of individuals that are involved in it. So let it be the 99% that defines what capitalism is, rather than the oligarchy of the 1%. It is time to end the occupation, not of the ordinary people occupying, peacefully, the avaricious foci of the global economy, but the occupation, nay annexation, of our societies, our governments, our everyday lives, by the interests and agendas of a rigged system.

The Greek root of the word economy, oikonomia, meant household management. So perhaps it is time to get our house in order and begin the discussion of alternatives.

Growing Pains

This article was an unpublished contribution, aiming to fill the Green Party conference on the Yorker news website. NB- this was due to me having a better idea, not due to any perceptions of poor quality. 

It matters not, which of the main parties you vote for, what media outlet you subscribe to, or even where you work, you are being sold a lie, as have we all for the past 70 years. We have been told that economic growth is the path to happiness, the panacea for all our woes, and thus every policy should ultimately pertain to this goal above all other considerations. Even this week our news was dominated by it, arguments over economic growth fill the headlines, with both parties seeing it as essential to the electoral future. But is growth really worth all this trouble. Is it really the solution, the magic bullet? Not if you want sustainability.

As economist Tim Jackson argues in his book, Prosperity without growth: economics for a finite planet, attempts to create a continually growing economy create two sets of problems. Firstly, they often involve a lot of risk and instability, meaning any growth that does occur is soon followed by a much worse crash. And then, in trying to restart growth, the government adds to the problems with austerity measures, which is ironic given that recent growth figures actually show that Belgium's economy grew 0.7% against the UK's 0.2% and America's 0.3%, because it has no government to implement austerity programmes. The last recession was more or less the result of government endorsed risk taking by 'deregulated' financial centres so as to create more growth. In other words, blind pursuit of growth above all else actually, in the end, damages the economy more than if no growth were pursued at all.

Secondly, this stop start growth causes significant and irresponsible damage to the environment. The top 3 polluters in 2009 were the USA, China and India, or alternatively, the current economic superpower, and the two heirs to the throne, soon to take over. Rainforests are cut down, the atmosphere is ravaged by pollution, the planet heats up and so on, all to fulfil the decadent creed of growth. Yet it is again, completely short sighted as the environmental catastrophes caused will put a full stop to all growth, among other things, that is unless we begin to look at other ways of running our economies.

This is why the Green Party and its kin do not endorse this blind, foolish obsession with economic growth and deregulation. Of course we support capitalism, but a form of capitalism that is engineered to be responsible, sustainable and fair. We see economic prosperity as just one of many goals our society should aim towards, along with social justice and environmental sustainability, rather than just putting all our eggs in the unsustainable basket. Indeed many of the reforms sold as creating a 'free market' have in fact done the opposite, fixing the game for the rich elites and making it hard for smaller economic actors to survive.

Instead we would support a 'steady-state economy', an economy of stable size and stable consumption, and with measures in place to encourage a sustainable level of population. State-led regulation would help ensure that social exploitation was reduced and that individual elements of the economy were kept in check so as to avoid a huge boom in growth, and the inevitable bust afterwards. In this way competition and fairness would also be present in our economy and true meritocracy would emerge. Meanwhile environmental damage could be put under control and then ameliorated through gradual and rational policy-making. Greater emphasis would be placed on the other sources of happiness in our lives, such as our relationship with our fellow humans and the environment. Just because we would have no growth, does not mean no joy.

It is time to end our addiction to economic growth. It can only lead to short term thinking, which will ultimately undermine our society and our environments. David Cameron is right in a way, we should not just measure the good life via economic growth measures like GDP, happiness, the greatest human good, is determined by a variety of factors, not merely wealth and riches. For that is the truly depressing thing about the current growth hegemony; it makes a mockery of humanity, reducing the lives of billions of real people into economic units, dots on a graph, targets for marketing. There is no joy, no virtue, in our current direction. And perhaps, more importantly, no future.

Battlefield Venezuela

This article first appeared in the "Zahir" York Uni's cultural/comment magazine at the end of 2011. 

If we were to judge a man by the company he keeps, then the late Muammar Gaddafi would give us a very interesting impression. From Berlusconi, to Blair, and even GW Bush, the authoritarian leader had an erratic mix of acquaintances. However, of these easily the most controversial was Venezuelan socialist demagogue Hugo Chavez, who has stayed loyal to the old regime in Libya, announcing earlier this month that he would refuse to recognise the new government and labelling his fellow anti-westerner, a “martyr”. Such a comment is typical of Chavez, divisive and controversial and this combined with a long line of other stances, ranging from nationalising his country's oil supplies, to accusing the US of trying to execute a coup against him, has transformed, Venezuela into something of an ideological battleground for the West. It represents a clash of ideals between free market conservatives and liberals, for whom he is a dictator, constantly extending his constitutional powers and trying to silence media critics, and anti-American leftists, for whom he is a lone wolf, howling against the winds of neo-liberal hegemony, the victim of a constant negative media campaign from bias corporate networks. Godwin's law tells us that the longer an internet discussion goes on for, the more likely Hitler or the Nazis will be mentioned, but increasingly the same could be said of Chavez and his so called “Bolivarian Revolution”.

Of course, the danger is that we may lose sight of the facts in a duel of pre-formed opinions. By using Venezuela as a tool to criticise or defend socialism, depending on their views, both sides may be too selective in their perceptions, overlooking certain truths they do not like, or only subscribing to single sources. All too often have I heard a critic of Chavez only using reports from the right wing media, or supporters referring entirely to John Pilger's somewhat outdated 2007 film, the “war on democracy”. 
It is difficult to accuse Chavez of full dictatorship given his democratic electoral successes in 1999, 2000, 2006, as well as winning a 2004 recall referendum and surviving an undemocratic, shady coup in 2002. all these elections have been approved as legitimate by respected bodies like the OAS (organisation of American States) and the Carter Centre, while he does face a very hostile media, who routinely invoke Godwin's law against him. Illiteracy has gone down 10%, real GDP growth rates have boomed and extreme poverty has collapsed by a considerable 72%. Hence claims that Chavez should be the “next” leader to go after Gaddafi seem a little glib. 
Yet it is even worse for idealistic opponents of neo-liberalism to so blindly support Chavez, as do John Pilger or Sean Penn, overlooking the increasingly fascistic approaches of his regime, vowing to stay on until 2021, or closing down various media outlets, no matter how bias they may be, it simply does not bode well if a leader shuts down those that would criticise him. Most recently, and perhaps worryingly, he has reformed education to introduce socialist teachings so as to eliminate “capitalist thinking” in the young. Often forgotten by his sycophants, are his own attempted coup in 1992 and his 'enabling act' of 2000 and 2007 (although admittedly, this was just as prevalent under previous Presidents). And obvious, we have the aforementioned pandering to other 'anti-western heroes' like Gaddafi, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, that can only serve to undermine his claims to humanism.

To claim that Chavez only acts in this way, as it is the only way to fight “American Imperialism” is too apologetic. Other Latin American leaders have adopted a similarly socialist approach without courting controversy or tyranny. President Lula in Brazil, for example, turned Brazil into a potential future economic powerhouse, lifted 25 million Brazilians out of poverty and rarely made any enemies in foreign policy. Unlike Chavez he knew when to quit and stepped down with 87% approval ratings.

Quite frankly, many of the middle class champagne socialists that support Chavez in the West would not want to live in his Venezuela. Crime and gang activity are rife in Caracas, the capital. The murder rate has increased to 220 per 100,000 people a year since Chavez came to power, a total of around 70,000 more deaths due to violent crime. Stories pervade of policemen who sell bullets to young gangs and prisoners being randomly decapitated, despite the nation not having an official death sentence. Slums still number around 100,000, and decreasing approval polls, suggest Chavez is no longer seen as the saviour of the poor he once was. 

Therefore, it is time for both sides of the argument to realise the truth about Venezuela, rather than continue to ignore facts and trends that contradict their ideologies. Chavez is not the great Bolivarian Liberator he wants us to see him as, he is far, far, from perfect. Yet neither is he, as an article in last week's Zahir remarked a total “dictator”. For ultimately, seeing another nation purely as an ideological battlefield, overlooks the ordinary, everyday Venezuelans, for whom the debate is most important, and should, consequently, be least ideological.


In case anyone has wondered, I am still alive, and whiling my youth at the University of York. Instead of blogging I've been making contributions to campus media, which I will now put on here, as a useful compendium of all my work, both generally and as the spokesperson/secretary for the University of York Green Party.