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Indybay IMC Interviews Al Giordano on Venezuela, the media, and anarchism
Like most gringos, I know very little about Venezuela. Since things seem to be heating up there, I figured it was time to lay at least some of my ignorance to rest. So I asked an expert.
Al Giordano is the publisher of The Narco News Bulletin
reporting on the drug war and democracy “from somewhere in a country called América.” That is, the América with an accent, South of the Border.
A former political reporter for the Boston Phoenix, Giordano has also written for The Nation, The Washington Post, American Journalism Review, Evergreen Review, IndyMedia, and scores of other periodicals. He is also a veteran radio, TV, and Internet journalist.
A year ago, Giordano, Narco News, and Mexican journalist Mario Menendez, won a precedent-setting decision from the New York Supreme Court after they were sued by the National Bank of Mexico (Banamex, a subsidiary of Citigroup) for publishing photos and evidence of cocaine trafficking by the bank’s owner. The Court ruled in Giordano's favor, establishing, for the first time, that Internet journalists have the same First Amendment rights as the New York Times under U.S. law. The precedent applies to IndyMedia, too.
The court order appears on the website of the Bay Area's own Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which had filed an amicus brief in defense of Narco News and Giordano:
When he won that landmark case, Giordano, who was at the time in the Amazon Chapare region of Bolivia investigating the assassination of coca growers' union leader Casimiro Huanca, chose to give his exclusive interview on the Court victory to New York City IndyMedia:
The quality of Giordano's journalistic work from Latin America has been praised by many of the leading media critics and journalists in the world:
He spent part of this year in Venezuela, where he reports he was inspired by that nation's Community Media movement, with 25 Community TV and radio stations that have broken the monopoly of the Commercial Media, to form the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Narco News, widely credited with breaking the information blockade on last April's coup d'etat in Venezuela, is again in the thick of it: A bulwark against the Commercial Media's disinformation on the battles in that Latin American nation of 24 million people. With 120,000 readers a day, Narco News continues to refuse commercial advertising. Giordano owns no property, no house, no car, and no credit card. You can read Narco News' coverage of the Battle of Venezuela, and other reports from Latin America, at:
This week, he granted an exclusive interview with San Francisco Bay Area IndyMedia, in part to offer his response to some stories posted on Indybay by a group calling itself “anarchist” regarding the situation in Venezuela. Giordano, as can be seen in his passion for “social anarchism” in this interview, asserts, “The only respectable anarchist position is to fight tooth and nail against these coup attempts.” He also said, “When I have something important to say, I like to grant the interview to IndyMedia, because it is the one place North of the Border where I know my words won't be censored. And SF Bay IMC has been, for the past year, one of the leading lights on breaking the information blockade from Venezuela.”
* * * * *
Indybay: So Al. You're the closest thing we have to a guy on the ground there. We need your input. Care to enlighten us as to what's really happening?
Al Giordano: In fact, we (and that “we” includes IndyMedia) have an enormous network of friends and allies on the ground there who are the ones Venezuelans proudly call Community Journalists. The independent media movement in Venezuela is the most advanced in the hemisphere, probably in the world. There are 25 Community TV and Radio stations in Venezuela, many of which began as "pirate stations," one dating back to the 1960s, that were legalized under the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999. There are movement also includes important print and Internet publications.
The Popular Revolutionary Assembly has one of the best online centers of information I've ever seen at: http://www.aporrea.org It updates every hour or more often for 24 hours a day. In recent days it has been invaluable. Anyone who has been reading the Aporrea site for the past two weeks has witnessed, time and time again, how the people from the grassroots are leading and pushing Chávez to resist the coup, not vice versa.
Indybay: How does their work compare to the corporate media?
Al Giordano: There's something very racist in the reporting of simulators like the British journalist Phil Gunson, a freelance mercenary who has published knowingly false stories recently in Newsweek/MSNBC, the Christian Science Monitor and the daily newspaper of coup-plotters everywhere, the Miami Herald. There's something positively sleazy about this guy and his work. I observed him in action down in Venezuela during a presidential press conference - him and this little clique of boy reporters from England and the U.S., and their snobby superiority complex, who would be more comfortable with Chávez as their gardener than as president of an oil-rich nation of 24 million people.
You can see the frustration on their faces of having to report on this dark-skinned hawk-nosed soldier who is smarter and more popular than they are, and who during a five hour press conference answers all their snotty questions in great detail - Imagine Bush or Gore or Clinton ever doing that! - and he beats them on the facts and they have to call him "president" in their reports. And the press conference itself is broadcast on national TV, and the Venezuelan people get to see just how snotty and clueless the U.S. and European press corps, as a group (because there is always the occasional good one or two in their midst; they know who they are), get completely beaten at their own game by Chávez.
If your sympathies are with the working class, and you distrust the commercial media correspondents as I do, it's great entertainment, and it's part of the educational process underway there. You can see them, these divine caste "reporters," wince as it happens because they know that Chávez is not the buffoon they try to portray him to be. He's smarter than they are. In fact, if anything, he's very suave and smooth, which is why his five-hour live TV shows every Sunday - "Alo Presidente!" - are the most popular or at least one of the most popular programs in the country. Whole families gather every Sunday to watch the show, on which he takes live phone calls.
I could just see the Gunsons and others like him sitting there, thinking to them selves, "if this guy were my gardener or chauffeur, he'd be a lot of fun." Oh, it's a sad thing, what happens to U.S. and British and Spaniard correspondents when they enter lands with oligarchies, because they start to think of themselves as landed gentry. They move into the wealthy neighborhoods and live behind walls, they send their kids to private schools with the other oligarchs, and from that perspective flows their reporting. They also develop very unhealthy parasitic relationships with US and European Embassy, and multinational corporate, spin-doctors. But back to Gunson, because he's got this coming.
Gunson, interviewed last week on NPR, gave an example of this inherent racism and snobbery when he said, and I quote: "I think it's important to point out that last night what we saw was perhaps the worst example so far of something, a phenomenon that we've seen before, which is concerted attacks on different media organizations by mobs that are clearly organized by the government. For example, the mobs in most places were led by deputies, by congresspeople, belonging to the ruling party." Gunson said that, not me. The idea that the people - who Gunson calls "mobs" - would only protest at Commercial TV stations if "organized by the government" has a racist ring to it. He suggests that the people aren't smart enough or organized enough to think of it or do it themselves.
But anyone who has been reading the Aporrea website and following the Community Media coverage in Venezuela, as I do, watched the process in the days before the TV station protests last Monday night, December 9th. For days the popular organizations, from the neighborhoods and towns, were writing open letters to Chávez and the government, demanding that he do something about the constant stream of lies and bile being spread by the Commercial TV stations as the media invented a so-called "strike" that was not happening in the majority of Venezuelan neighborhoods or towns! The people were seeing one portrayal on TV that did not reflect the reality on their streets, where shops were open, where people were working, and working hard, as is another trademark of poor Venezuelans. They have to work hard in order to eat!
I sometimes think these First World reporters have no life experience to understand that reality. For days these community groups had called upon Chávez to revoke the licenses of the simulating TV stations that, after all, do use the "public airwaves" and therefore ought to have public responsibility and be open to all the public, not just the paying class. And Chávez did nothing at all to the TV stations, so the masses came down from the hills and surrounded them, as they had last April. In both cases, in April and in December, the surrounding of the TV stations marked the turning points against coup d'etat. The TV owners cry "intimidation" and the racist simulators like Gunson claim these "mobs" of poor and working people were pushed to do it from above. But the reality is that at all moments they are the ones running the show, pushing the government, pushing Chávez, pushing the media, as the people should do in every land.
Gunson sees some Congressmen and women in these demonstrations and says, from his little pea brain, "aha! they're the ringleaders!" He profoundly misunderstands the dynamic at work in Venezuela. The congress members were dragged by the masses to come with them, not vice versa! If you believe in Authentic Democracy, it's a wonderful process to watch and participate in. The saddest thing of all - and this is where I feel a tinge of pity for Gunson, for T. Christian Miller of the *LA Times*, for Juan Forero of the NY Times and the other professional simulators - is that the correspondents are missing the story of a lifetime because of their upper-class fear of the people.
The real story is going on in the barrios, in the hills, in the poor and working neighborhoods and towns. It is a revolutionary process, sweeping away decades of a caste system and its injustices. It's part of what I think Tony Negri meant when he referred to "self-valorization" in his book "Marx After Marx," so wonderfully formed by the Northern Italian autonomy movement of the 1970s. The first step to economic self-valorization by workers is the process of psychological self-valorization.
Indybay: Since you lack that upper-class fear of the people, you must be privy to the real story. So help us out up here. Tell us what's really happening in the barrios, the hills, and the poor and working neighborhoods and towns. What has changed that has brought about this upheaval.
Al Giordano: What has changed most markedly among Venezuela's poor majority is the same thing that changed among the indigenous communities of Chiapas and much of Mexico beginning in 1994: the people's view of themselves. When I first walked through the popular barrios of Caracas and talked to every stranger in sight my first thought was: "This is just like what I lived in Chiapas."
I had known Chiapas before and after the Zapatista uprising and therefore had a yardstick by which to measure what had occurred. And the same thing has occurred with the masses of Venezuela. They're not available any more to sign up for duty as slaves. And this is what drives the former ruling class crazy. The gardener, the cook, the maid, the nanny, the tutor, the chauffeur, and of course the farmer and factory worker, no longer have to pretend that the master is god.
The self-valorization process in Venezuela - like that in Chiapas - has caused a personality crisis for the upper classes. It's hard to maintain the illusion that one lives on Olympus with the gods - and if you've ever spent any time among the oligarchies in Third World outposts, you know about this attitude I'm describing - when you no longer have adoring minions, or when the plebes stop faking the adoration.
And this is only the first stage of self-valorization; the psychological transformation. Karl Marx (who once cried out “I am not a Marxist!”) and Tony Negri referred more concretely to the economic stage; to the worker as his and her own subject and no longer the object of the ruling elite. Which is why you hear the crazy oligarchs screaming so loudly about the "Bolivarian Circles," because that is the mechanism by which the Venezuelan revolution begins to do what the oligarchs find unforgivable: to organize this new positive self-image among the people into neighborhood and economic entities.
Indybay: What exactly are the Bolivarian Circles?
Al Giordano: To hear the oligarchs and the Commercial Media screech about the Bolivarian Circles, you would think they are armed paramilitary organizations of vampires coming to drink their precious children's blood. I went and spent time with these Circles. Do you what they're really doing? The old guy in every neighborhood who loves the architecture, the history, you know him, these guys even exist in San Francisco and New York, the one who goes and spends hours at the library researching the construction of the local church? Well, this guy is now in the Bolivarian Circle. And for the first time he has an eager audience of children and adults and elders all excited to study and learn the history of their barrio. And the lady who understands herbs and natural medicine is holding very popular workshops and training sessions to help everyone understand it. She's the Bolivarian Circle, too. So is the neighborhood baseball team, and kids who do rap or theater. They're the Bolivarian Circles, too. That's what they are "armed" with: library books, herbal remedies, boomboxes and baseball gloves.
And, you know, the upper classes have a point in their fear of this, which is why the Commercial Media preys on this fear: the family using herbal remedies is no longer spending a week's pay on expensive pharmaceuticals. It's healthy without them. There's a self-led reorganization of the economy from the bottom up. Everything is changing.
So the Commercial Media yelps "Beware! Vampire Bolivarian Circles are coming to kill you!" This is why the most popular chant in Caracas today is "Chávez Makes Them Crazy!" Because the people watch these former ruling class members railing all their fears on TV, and they really do have psychological problems with the loss of their illusory power over others.
Meanwhile, the psychology of the majority has never been healthier or more positive than it is today. The concept of “Psy-war,” thank you, Venezuela and Chiapas, is no longer a strictly top down phenomenon. If there's any gringo reading this who is spending hundreds of dollars on a shrink to cope with the post-9/11 insanity up there, I say, save your money and go to Venezuela, to the popular neighborhoods, you probably just need a good dose of "self-valorization" yourself!
Indybay: How does Community Media fit in?
Al Giordano: Many thousands of people are now involved in Community Media. If only we had this connection with the masses at all the IMCs and other "independent media" in the United States! To me, they are our teachers in how to make independent media popular with the masses, and how to deflate the convocatory power of the corrupt Commercial Media.
For me, as a veteran journalist, I feel like their student: the Venezuela Community Media people have showed us a new way to fight. This is where Phase II of Zapatismo has popped up and been developed. Phase III is coming in Brazil. Narco News will, next year, be making a major move to cover the process in Brazil, too, where the sleeping giant of América has awakened.
Indybay: Neither the Bolivarian Circles nor Community could have arisen in a vacuum, could they?
Al Giordano: You have to look at these things historically, how one process builds on another. We had 13 years of unchallenged globalization and then, surprise!, the Mexican indigenous movement carved out the stage from which to challenge it. And the final chapter of that process has not been written yet. I think 2003 will be a very interesting year in Mexico. The guy with the pipe and the pen is beginning to speak again. Zapatismo, beginning in 1994, caused a ripple all over the world, including in South America.
Consider this: The 1998 election of Chávez in Venezuela would not have been possible without Mexico's Zapatismo. Marcos - with his belts of bullets, his uniform, and often photographed with a gun - showed through his actions and behavior that being a soldier does not always equal being "bad" or authoritarian. His communiqués - remember, it's not just him, he is the talented and humorous pen and voice of a group - over the past eight, coming on nine, years have been the spear of an educational process. Suddenly, four years into that process, in 1998, Chávez pops up with his red beret and uniform in Venezuela and, wham!, in Caracas and other cities we begin to see the manifestation of what Peter Lamborne Wilson predicted, back in 1996, would be an "urban Zapatismo."
Indybay: But this past year has different. Things seem to be coming to a head. What changed?
Al Giordano: This past year, three key things happened:
1. The April coup in Venezuela: It was turned back by urban Zapatismo tactics, led from below, by the masses. Chávez was being held incommunicado at gunpoint by the coup-plotters. And here's the fatal flaw in Gunson's claim that the "mobs" are organized from above. It was during those days in April, while the figurehead of the revolution was cut off from communication, that the masses first surrounded the TV stations and Commercial newspapers - nobody can blame that on Chávez. He was tied up at the moment, probably literally.
For almost 48 hours, nobody, but nobody, in the English language news world except for Narco News was predicting his return to power. All the "experts" - including many left academics - thought it would go the way of Chile 1973. The people - including the primarily poor rank-and-file members of the Armed Forces - literally rose up and by the time he was restored we were living in a new América, healed, finally, from the 29-year-old wound of the 1973 Chile coup.
2. Last October, Brazil - clearly emboldened by this turn of events in neighboring Venezuela - elected Lula da Silva of the Workers Party. Now, Lula is very seasoned. He's been at this for decades. He and his team are as ready to govern as any new president in the hemisphere has been in modern history. He is a man with a plan. How is it that he can, right now, play Bush like a Stradivarius? And he plays the Euro against the Dollar to create spaces for Brazil. And he begins to make, as his first major move, an open play for a joint currency with Argentina. And he doesn't even take office until January!
The seeds of a South American Union are beginning to sprout. It was Chávez in Venezuela who first brought Simón BolÌvar's dream of a united Latin America back into the datasphere, the international public discourse, as a possibility. And the globalized economic forces, led by Washington and Wall Street, have placed him and Venezuela under a savage attack.
In order for Lula and Brazil to have the elbow-room to concretize this process, the Venezuela process must survive. What do you think will happen if Chávez is toppled by coup - whether military coup or economic coup or media coup (by coup I mean a non-democratic imposed solution that doesn't come from the Venezuelan masses) - from outside or above? Lula and Brazil will begin to have to absorb all the attacks that currently go toward Chávez and Venezuela. The Brazilian process is only possible because Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela survive. If the forces of money and power from above blast through Venezuela, they'll march straight into Brazil and again in Argentina and everywhere else. That is what is at stake here.
3. The third big event of 2002 was November's "surprise" election of Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador. Again, the positive military symbol, exorcising, like Marcos and Chávez before him, the ghosts of the military juntas of the late 20th century. And as with the processes in a straight line from Chiapas to Venezuela to Brazil to Ecuador, we see a very strong indigenous component at every step, and increased coherency as it builds.
Indybay: I like your version of the events, Al. Not being on the ground there myself, I have to rely on what I hear. So far, of all of them, you sound the most trustworthy and clearheaded. Thanks. I needed that.
Perhaps you would also permit me to avail myself of your technical expertise as a professional journalist. recently this:
appeared on the A-INFOS listserv. Personally, I'm skeptical, if only because I've never heard of these people before, and there are an awful lot of faux anarchists out there. What do you think?
Al Giordano: Somebody claims to be an "anarchist" and we have to take them seriously? What have they ever done? Frankly, I find it offensive, since I am one of many who have paid a price again and again and again for being a true-to-life anarcho-syndicalist of strong Situationist tendencies. But I've gone to jail for it. I've been sued for it. I've lost jobs because of it.
This "libertario" group is nothing more than a few dilettantes who have never accomplished anything. Serious revolutionaries and anarchists down here laugh at them, and suspect their motives. I don't think this group is showing any leadership, intelligence, or analysis, at this hour of moral crisis and I can't help but wonder about their motives.
If you're in the White House "situation room" and watching your coup in Venezuela fall apart, in part because of actions on IndyMedia like the hundreds of signatures adding up on DC IndyMedia against the Bush coup plot, what do you do? If you're the White House, and you've failed to divide the left from the right, you try to divide it from the left. Don't you? It seems very transparent to me.
If you'll recall, the same kind of group pops up from time to time to attack the Zapatistas in Mexico. It's a standard element of disinfo campaigns. It pisses me off, too. How dare these non-entities use the word "anarchist" to try and divide us on a basic issue: Are we for a coup d'etat or not? Once one makes the decision that, no, we're not for a coup d'etat, whatever differences in shades we have with the elected government - and of course you, I, and most other people have differences with any government! - become irrelevant.
The issue right now is the coup: yes or no. I distrust protagonists like those in this libertarios group who want to confuse people right now. In many ways, they are worse than the overt coup-mongers, because they are less honest about their true agenda. And I say that as one who has, in the battles among tendencies, always sided with the true anarchists against the statist. But that is not the issue at hand in Venezuela today.
Indybay: So you don't think that post was constructive?
Al Giordano: I think the post by these so-called "anarchists," and their timing, is a cowardly act of aggression against the progress of all Latin American social movements right now. If Venezuela falls to a U.S. coup, it's going to turn the clock back 30 years in the entire hemisphere. We'll be right back in Santiago de Chile, September 11, 1973. Pinochet rounded up and shot all the anarchists, too, you know. Remember that the Chile coup led to Operation Condor and military dictatorship terror in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia among other places. The cancer spread all the way to Mexico. THAT is what is being attempted right now. The people whining about Chávez today are like those who whined about Allende in the early 70s . . . he wasn't politically perfect enough for them. Well, look what they got. Chile 1973 wasn't about Allende, and Venezuela 2002-2003 is not about Chávez. It's the entire social process in all América that rides on this one.
Indybay: Just as there are more than one kind of so-called anarchists, there are more than one kind of real anarchist. Personally, I don't think every faction grasps current events with the same degree of clarity. What's your take on that?
Al Giordano: If you put aside some of the personal bile in Murray Bookchin's dialectic of "lifestyle anarchism" vs. "social anarchism," he in fact made a very good point. There is this kind of incoherent version of anarchism that relates more to punk rock (and I like punk rock, but that is an aesthetic, not a political, taste), nose rings, dyed hair and other superficial fashion statements than it does to Workers Councils or Bolivarian Circles.
I mean, I recently got an email from a colleague, the economic libertarian Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam who addressed me as "fellow anarchist." And Alex of course was joking because he's not an anarchist and certainly not an anarcho-syndicalist. The word “anarchist” is often poorly used. Some other prominent left intellectuals have gotten into problems by trying to define themselves as anarchists but then backing away from the term. I don't back away from it. I am an anarchist, and it goes way beyond my lifestyle - which, as Flores Magón said, "The true revolutionary is an illegal par excellence. The man who adjusts his actions to the Law can be, in the end, a good domesticated animal; but not a revolutionary" - and I guess after 27 arrests, various border problems and getting my ass sued by billionaire narco-bankers I feel very much a Magonista. You know, he was an Authentic Journalist, too.
But anarchist thought and action have to confront the single biggest shift of our times in State Power. State Power has shifted from governments to economic institutions. I addressed this on page one of my 1997 work, "The Medium is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media." I said, basically, that Media has become The State. It has supplanted Churches, Governments and even Productive Industry as Tyrant Number One on this earth. After five years of keeping that document off the Internet, I finally broke down and published it last year on Narco News:
And it was the masses in Venezuela surrounding the TV stations that convinced me to do that, and also to add some footnotes with some changes in my thinking, the major one being that the only solution right now to this tyranny of media and economic power is a class struggle from below. The thoughtful anarchist might not use the same words as I do, and that's just fine, we're pluralists, but she and he does recognize that "The State" is today in a different form than simply "Government." Globalization is The State. Money is The State. Commercial Media is this larger, more powerful, form of The State's number one police force. So the entity that previously was "The State," the governments of formerly sovereign countries, are now subsidiaries of that global State.
And, yes, governments are always horrible. They can't help themselves, it is in their genetic coding. And at this crucial juncture, some confused "lifestyle anarchists" who are still stuck in this outmoded view of where State Power really lies, can't understand that in the larger war against this Globalized Media-Economic Beast that is conquesting all life on earth at great expense for the majority of people, The State has morphed into a much meaner and more powerful global entity.
Indybay: I don't think it's just "life style anarchists" who misunderstand where the real power lies on this planet. A lot of "social anarchists" also have trouble seeing the strings on which the governments dance. And a lot of what passes for "life style anarchism" isn't even anarchism, even when practiced by otherwise real anarchists. It's nothing but subcultural chauvinism. It stems from pride, a mind clouding emotion, and not from the cold, clear logic of rational analysis.
Other people, myself for one, say that the dichotomy between "life style anarchism" and "social anarchism" is a false one in that it is self imposed unnecessarily. We can go beyond "life style anarchism" without leaving it behind, much as we can go beyond "anarchist syndicalism" without leaving it behind either. We must build on our past, not discard it arbitrarily. What do you think? Can modern anarchists retain our culture(s), of which we are justly proud, and still grow as internationalists to the point where our political analysis is consistent with the undeniable facts on the ground? Can we synthesize what we know already with what we are learning today? Or is the best we can come up with is a handful of bohemian enclaves, scattered across the globe?
Al Giordano: Hakim Bey was, I think, very unfairly labeled a "lifestyle anarchist" by Bookchin. That was very sad, because it personalized and cheapened what was otherwise a very solid dialectic - "lifestyle anarchism" vs. "social anarchism" - put forward by Bookchin. Unfortunately, as ever, personal rivalry got in the way of a cleaner analysis. But in the late 1990s, Hakim Bey wrote an essay - I'm sorry, I don't have it here in my nomadic newsroom, I've lost or given away almost every book I've ever read - I think it was in the last chapter of his book *Millennium*, published by Autonomedia. And in that essay, Hakim Bey surprised a lot of people by pointing out a great truth: that in an age when the State has become this global economic machine, previous enemies - religions and governments, among them - may become tools that can be used against this larger State.
I don't expect any interlocutor to be a Saint or perfect. I like to find the truth from whomever states it, the part of what they say that rings true to me, or that helps me understand the situation better. And Bookchin's analysis helped me to understand a frustration I have with a certain type of person who calls himself or herself an anarchist but ends up being a sap for the ruling class.
When I used to volunteer at Blackout Books, the late anarchist bookstore on New York's Lower East Side, I was shocked to find that most of the people who came to committee meetings had not read the books on the shelves! I basically volunteered there so I could read the books for free. I had no money, no job, I've never owned property, I had left the Boston Phoenix, had left journalism, and was trying to understand and put words to my instinctual revulsion at what had happened to journalism in my lifetime. For me, it was like going back to school.
One of the works that definitely changed my way of thinking was part of Sylvere Lotringer's Semiotext(e) series: "Nomadology: The War Machine," by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Later, when my girlfriend's patience ran out and I was homeless and jobless with $800 to my name and headed to Chiapas, the thinking in that book was crucial to helping me understand the Zapatistas. "The war machine," said Deleuze and Guattari, "is exterior to the State apparatus."
Indybay: What, exactly, can anarchists learn from the Zapatistas?
Al Giordano: The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is a “war machine.” It doesn't call itself anarchist, but as many good anarchists have observed, it has very strong anarchist tendencies. At the same time, the Zapatistas speak of "nation" and carry the Mexican flag. Their major battle of 2001 was on behalf of an Indigenous Rights Law. Despite the inherent contradictions, this does not generally upset the lifestyle anarchists. They still have their Marcos tee shirts. And good.
Indybay: That's Marcos. What about Chávez?
Al Giordano: Chávez makes some of these people uncomfortable, especially when he has taunted the former ruling class by calling them "anarchists," some self-described anarchists have claimed (I think they are incorrect in thinking it's about them; they're not exactly at center stage in Venezuela) that this was an attack on "anarchists." There is also (at least in this Libertario magazine bunch) a transparent willingness to play along with the former ruling class game. They pop up at moments like this to get attention for themselves and destabilize the situation.
Hey, when the battle is joined, in times of crisis, people really show their true colors. Remember that in Spain the anarchists fought against fascism. They didn't claim neutrality during an hour of moral crisis! I have read the "analysis" that this group claims to offer. It's quite rote. They claim to offer reporting on what is going on in Venezuela, but they're not reporting any news. They just complain. Somebody called them "beautiful losers." I'd say that shoe fits.
And the arguments they use against Chávez could be used against Marcos and the Zapatistas, too: use of uniforms, national flags, appeals to government. But the Zapatistas don't upset these types because, well, the neoliberals are still in power in Mexico. These types of "lifestyle anarchists" get most upset about one thing: Winning. That Chávez has won, that he is popular, that really bothers them. They are positively insulting toward the poor, toward the masses. One professor affiliated with them wrote to me his view that the poor of Venezuela had no real political development or consciousness. Huh? Has he left his office lately?
Indybay: Are you saying that, win or lose, Chávez is being driven from below, by the ordinary working people themselves, that the Bolivarian Circles are the wave that is sweeping society, and Chávez is surfing it?
Al Giordano: The Bolivarian Circles are very similar to the Workers Councils of Paris 1968. There's also a Situationist tendency in some of what we see in the Venezuelan revolution. One of my best writers recently put that word, revolution, in quotation marks, but I don't. The surrounding of the TV stations, the confrontation with "the spectacle," Chávez's own willingness to confront the corrupt Commercial Media and legalize Community TV and radio, these things are showing the entire world a way out of this media mess. I love it.
None of this means I think that a Chávez government or a Lula government or a Lucio government or any other government is all honey over cornflakes. But the insistence that any movement be "perfect" or "correct" is the quickest route to a permanent state of defeat. What we've seen in Venezuela is that the government (the classic concept of the state) has taken very key actions, like legalizing Community Media as a Constitutional right, and smashing to bits the previous corrupt two-party system, has opened a space for more anarcho-syndicalist and self-valorized activity to gain a foothold in society, where previously it had none.
And this is the change that will outlast the Chávez government. Even the "squalid ones," the former ruling class, admits this over and over again in its discourse: that the damage is already done and every month that goes by and these tendencies (non-governmental tendencies, popular and cultural tendencies) grow, the door slams on tyranny from establishing a foothold ever again.
Indybay: When I see the army occupying police stations to keep the police off the backs of the people, I can't help but wonder. It's a fairly mind boggling sight, for a gringo, anyway. How do Venezuelan feel about that?
Al Giordano: Today, in Venezuela, the uniformed Armed Forces build housing and infrastructure. It's interesting; one of the key demands of the “opposition” is to prohibit the army from building houses! The poor cheer when the military enters their neighborhoods, because they're usually coming to build some houses. Not, like before, when they came to round up the dissidents and repress the social movements.
Chávez's reform of the military, his purge of the "School of the Americas" trained coup-plotters, his opening the spaces for Community TV and radio, his political movement's creation of and support for the Bolivarian Circles, this, no one can deny, is a revolution by any standard. I'm not going to hold it against him or them that they did it via an electoral path. To the contrary, the Venezuelan "war machine" has drawn a new map for how to navigate government power to fight the larger global State. In April, the battle forever changed the military. In December, the battle forever changed the oil apparatus and economic structure. Next up: the revolution in Media.
So when Washington or Wall Street or the multinational oil companies come, as they do this month, to destroy this process, there is no neutral ground for the serious social anarchist. One either fights against the coup, or is part of it. The only respectable anarchist position is to fight tooth and nail against these coup attempts. Who was it that said, "the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral at times of moral crisis." People who sit on the sidelines today, make themselves deservedly irrelevant tomorrow. I don't want to share a foxhole with people like that. I say to them, "see ya across the barricades. I'll be on the side with the masses."