Aug 29, 2007 4:46 pm


It was something of a surprise for me to find that John Pilger and I apparently agree on something. From Oliver Kamm’s always informative blog, I learn that Pilger appeared recently in the Guardiancomparing Chile under Salvador Allende with Venezuela under Hugo Chavez – an analogy which was the basis for an opinion piece I wrote in February in the Baltimore Sun entitled ‘The Allende School for Subverting Democracy’.

On inspection, however, there is no agreement at all. My piece argued that Chavez has simply updated and improved Allende’s methods for subverting democratic institutions in his quest for dictatorial powers. Pilger, in contrast, thinks of these men as true democrats, presiding over functioning democracies superior to that of his adopted home, Britain. (Interestingly or otherwise, Pilger has not felt sufficiently repelled by the British democratic deficit to contemplate making some other place his home; easier to be a “dissident journalist” under the Brown jackboot). He also believes Allende was destroyed by the same “misinformation” and allegedly malign American meddling now directed at Chavez – Soviet era agitprop I dissected in a January 1999 essay in the Review (Melbourne).

In the event, Kamm quotes a rebuttal that followed Pilger in the Guardian from Alan Angell, a lecturer in Latin American politics at St Antony’s College, Oxford, but this too is problematic, as Angell:

1. Repeats the usual mantra of the centrality of American opposition in Allende’s fall – on which see my Review piece.
2. Depicts the distinction between Allende and Chavez purely in terms of Allende’s failure to amass dictatorial powers – surely irrelevant as a rebuttal to Pilger’s absurd paean to their common democratic virtue;
3. Wrongly implies that Venezuela under Chavez is suffering more than Chile under Allende – to give one example, 323% inflation, Allende’s singular economic achievement in the last twelve months of his government, surely trumps Chavez’s “over 30%” inflation cited by Angell; and
4. Criticizes Chavez for “a poor record in establishing institutions which curb the abuse of executive power” – when in fact the issue is subversion of democratic institutions, not a failure to strengthen or introduce them (see the fine English-language Caracas Chronicles for a diary of Venezuela’s anti-democratic odyssey under Chavez), although once Chavez has done away with these entirely, Angell’s criticism will undoubtedly have merit.

Why Angell’s diffident critique? His last line provides a clue – “It is a caricature to imply that all those who criticize Chávez are supporters of the old Iran-Contra death squads.” Greater fear hath no academic than this, that he antagonizes the Marxist-Leninist left by endorsing its critics.

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