The Post-Occupy/Post-Arab Spring Co-opting of Media and Social Media for the Ends of Destroying Democracy and Promoting the Interests of the Upper Class/1%
By Benjamin Balak
Where does one even start to answer the question everybody is asking: What is going on in Venezuela and Ukraine?!? So in the spirit of punk (and French postmodernism), I’ll just stick a bunch of things together (bricolage). I provide a number of good sources at the bottom for you to get a fuller picture.
So is it a bunch of democracy-loving students engaged in non-violent resistance being violently oppressed by totalitarian governments? No it is not. But it is hard to see the big picture without getting into the long history of Venezuela and Ukraine and many other places. Hell, you need to look at the past 500+ years to really get the picture–oh yeah, that is why education is important but a good real-world education is almost impossible to get and requires many years.
I’ve been having lots of arguments with relatively rich and some very rich ex-students and their friends from Venezuela and have been trying very hard to be as civil as I can because I’m honestly trying to be open and understanding. Knowing that the Venezuela has eradicated hunger while here in the US 20% of kids are hungry today, it breaks my heart and makes me both sad and angry to hear a Venezuelan blogger complain about not being able to bake a cake due to milk shortages!? The economic problems in Venezuela are also not what they seem but on that later. I guess I’ll get some hate for this but the truth is ugly and complicated.
Disclaimer: let’s put Ukraine aside for a moment–I know less about it’s internal politics and will make a special post about it soon. Watch this for now.
In attempting to be “fair and balanced” (pun intended), I tried to watch the mainstream media and anti-government Venezuelan rhetoric too to see if perhaps I’m the one being misled… no, it was BS propaganda to anybody aware of the long and medium term facts of economics and politics–sorry.
I watched Jehane Noujaim’s documentary The Square (2013) about the revolutionary struggles in Egypt in order to catch the current romantic feel of heroic youth uprisings that seem to motivate all the Web 2.0 gushing about Venezuela and Ukraine. Well the Egyptians really did have a genuine uprising against a US supported dictator by poor and rich, secular, and religious youth and they lost their heroic battle, were successfully played by the military, and crushed with the continued support of the US. In the film, an exiled father of one of the revolutionary tells him:“The rich don’t need freedom. The rich are already free.” Now stop for a second and ask yourself: how does this fit into the “struggle for freedom” in the streets of Caracas these past days? It doesn’t!
Why? Because it is entirely orchestrated and run by rich Venezuelans. The majority poor aren’t involved in this at all. A significant minority in Venezuela are critical of their democratically elected government and have been exercising their right of expression and political participation but have not been able to gain power by legal means though Henrique Capriles came close in the previous presidential elections. His moderate minority is also overwhelmingly rich and upper middle-class urban people and he deserves credit for NOT supporting the radical right-wing takeover of the opposition by, most notably Leopoldo Lopez, a billionaire from an old power-family who has been taking violent actions against the Chavez government since the previous CIA backed coup against democracy in 2002. He is and continues to be a rich oligarch thug who deeply resents not being able to rule over his domain like his ancestors before him. Despite his wealth, US support, global financial support, and a sophisticated propaganda machine, he only won the hearts of rich people and it looks like all he accomplished is to break up the legitimate opposition. The violent clashes were rather small and mostly located in their rich neighborhoods and private schools and much of the violence came from Lopez’s followers themselves. Oh yeah, and more innocent civilians are murdered by the government of Colombia (a close ally of the US and Lopez and friends) every week than have died in Venezuela’s riots–double standards?
YES Venezuela has some serious economic problems. These are complex issues I’ll try to tackle in a future post but let’s say that at the very least, we should know that over the past decade, Venezuela has accomplished a tremendous feat of poverty-reduction never seen anywhere in recent times. The lives of a vast majority of the poor population have improved dramatically while everywhere else on Earth over the same time, the opposite has happened–even in China. Furthermore, they accomplished this despite aggressively hostile global economic players who have been funding coups and radical groups and even engaging in direct economic sabotage that are, at least in part, responsible for Venezuela’s economic woes. So whatever legitimate problems they have with street violence, food-prices, and inflation, the Bolivarian democratic regimes in South America have been the first good thing to happen to the vast majority of the people there since the European conquest 500+ years ago and would not have been possible without the leadership of the Venezuelan people and Chavismo–something for Venezuelans to be very proud about!
The Postmodern Twist:
People in supposedly free countries not knowing what is being done in their name is not new: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky should be required reading (here’s a very short intro about their Propaganda Model). BUT I think it has gotten more dominant especially in the current media coverage of Venezuela and Ukraine. Today, there even is a twist within a twist in that people are posting their outrage about how “the media” is not “covering” the situation. They then post blatant propaganda in support of a what is in actuality a well-engineered propaganda campaign by oligarchic elites to undermine democracy (wow! despite my training in postmodern philosophy, my head spins).
But it gets crazier! The power-elites (aka the 1%) and the military-financial-complex (more on this soon–check this out) are using the well-meaning non-violent work of liberals such as Gene Sharp to execute their coups. No need to send death squads (trained at School of the Americas in Georgia), or militarily support nasty dictators and juntas (like in Egypt among numerous examples). Today they can use well-meaning naive and propagandized students to spark the process of post-colonial oppression: it’s colonizing version 3.0!
Question: ok ok we get it, but what IS going on in the Venezuela?
Answer: An attempted “Soft Coup”:
I’ve adapted this from TeleSUR which is funded by the left governments of America including Venezuela and even Cuba! Not disinterested and independent but a good summary of work by the (IMHO well-meaning) philosopher and political scientist Gene Sharp. Also, consider my previous bla bla, history, provided links (see below), history (yes; again), and judge for yourself if this is not a damn good model for the current goings on:
How to overthrow a government through non-violent methods
(in this context, non-violent implies not organizing guerrillas or invading from abroad):
- creating climate of opinion focusing on deficiencies
- disseminate discontent
- promote shortages, criminality, internal fractures, sabotage
- ethical and political fracture
- media campaigns accusing government of being totalitarian (and/or communist) and contrasting opposition as fighting for freedom and human rights
- promote conflict and street mobilization
- promote struggle for globalized political and social demands
- create state reaction and consequently public discontent in order to radicalize the confrontation
- Armed actions to justify repressive measures and create climate of ungovernability
- Smear campaign among state forces to demoralize security forces
- Increased street actions
- Occupation of institutions
- Force resignation of government (especially figure -head)
In case of failure to overthrow government, rinse and repeat:
- escalate stage 3, 4, and 5
- seek international intervention: sanctions and/or military
- develop prolonged civil war
Tell me this doesn’t sound awfully familiar!?!
Collection of links:
- Greg Wilpert (venezuelanalysis.com) on The Real News about the economic problems in Venezuela: Parts 1 & 2 on Punkonomics.org
- #LaSalida? Venezuela at a Crossroads: The protests this week have far more to do with returning economic and political elites to power than with their downfall. by George Ciccariello-Maher (The Nation, February 22, 2014)
- Venezuela: it’s the opposition that’s anti-democratic By Jerome Roos (Roarmag.org, Feb 21, 2014)
- Democracy Now February 21:
- Excellent analysis of media coverage: http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10381
- The opposition is responsible for most of the violence: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/55915
- Punkonomics interview with George Ciccariello-Maher from July 2013 (shortly after the presidential elections)
- (author of We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, 2013, Duke University Press, Amazon kindle)
Benjamin Balak earned his BA in international economics from the American University of Paris (France) in 1991 and did graduate work at the University of Kent at Canterbury (UK) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned an economics PhD in 2001. Since then he has held positions at Washington & Lee University and at Rollins where he has been promoted and tenured. His areas of specialization are in the history, methodology, and rhetoric of economics, and in comparative economic systems and cultures. He has presented in numerous conferences, published several journal articles and book chapters, written a book on the rhetoric of economics, and taught a wide variety of interdisciplinary and economics courses. His recent work is increasingly focused on the teaching of economics which he regarded as highly problematic and adversely affecting the current economic conversation: Real-world economic literacy is singularly important for having functioning democracies at a time of epochal economic change. He has spent more than nine years experimenting with technologically-enhanced pedagogy to breathe life into the teaching of economics and to place it in historical perspective. A computer geek and gamer since the late 70s(!), he has been using computer games to teach economics and is researching the topic with the help of students.
Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this piece and on Punkonomics.org do not represent Rollins College in any way shape or form.