My writing cost me a friend this week. It happens. Not often, but it always hurts. Then I remind myself that the world does not throw itself at the feet of those who write as I do. I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
The topic was Venezuela, where parallels with Syria – another graveyard for friendships lost – are striking. Russian intervention in Syria broke the nice little rhythm Washington et al had going in the middle east to the ever popular tune of Human-Rights.1 So too does Sino-Russian gauntlet throwing over Venezuela make this latest attempt, at Washington sponsored regime change, different from the scores of others in Latin America alone.
I see both as indicative of a wider shift in global power, a shift I welcome since US hegemony in a world of post-USSR unipolararity has delivered one nightmare after another. But I also see a world more dangerous than ever as a result. I know of no precedent for a superpower sitting back as its economic strength – in this case fiscal/military clout premised on dollar hegemony and an arms-spend dwarfing that of all other nations2 – ebbs slowly away; in this instance to Eurasia. The December arrival of Russian warplanes in Caracas, and a string of nations led by China and Russia refusing to go along with this latest chapter in the lengthy tome of America’s “pro democracy” charades, make it incumbent on us all to get up to speed on Venezuela.
But how? Glad you asked. Here are three single session reads relevant to the current crisis.
Shortest of the three is from Global Research, a first rate go-to for counter views that are simple without being simplistic. If you’re looking for BBC style ‘balance’ the first three words of its title, Hands off Venezuela, may put you off. The next four, Divided UN Security Council, give a clue as to what follows: the response, at a UN Emergency Meeting of January 26, by Venezuela Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza to the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Oddly enough, the Guardian did not cover that response.
My next read is longer. A review by Greg Grandlin of the Hugo Chavez autobiography, Down From the Mountain, London Review of Books ran it in June 2017. It demands at least half an hour but I recommend it for its sidestepping of the usual attitudinal bipolarity re figures demonised by Washington. While Grandlin hasn’t a good word to say about Washington – which is fine by me – he avoids Chavista adulation. Instead we get a sympathetic but critical appraisal, tucked into an efficient resume of modern Venezuelan history, with BTL comments of a high enough standard to supply their own ‘balance’.3
(BTW, internationalists do not defend the imperialised world’s Assads, Gaddafis and Maduros because they think the sun shines from their arses. Maybe it does; probably it doesn’t. They do so through unwavering recognition that imperialism at large, USA in particular, are always the biggest part of the problem, never part of the solution.)
Read three, like read two, combines a focus on one man with a useful resume of recent history in Venezuela, while shining a powerful beam on Washington’s regime change MO. The man in this case is Juan – Juan Who? – Guaidó, brazenly anointed by Washington – imagine Russia trying such a stunt! – as the new president of Venezuela. The Making of Juan Guaidó appears on Max Blumenthal’s Gray Zone, and features factual reportage by Dan Cohen with editing by Blumenthal. Not enough editing if you ask me. The piece does turn into a list in the second half but that’s me nitpicking. This is still an incredibly valuable read on CIA skullduggery and the bigging up of Washpliant non entities, of whom Juan Guaidó is the latest in a very long line.
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- Allow me a little leeway here, a little nuance. The attempt to overthrow Assad was not All About Oil or even Oil Pipelines but, overly reductive as those readings are, the fairy tale our corporate media are by their silence peddling – This Has Nothing To Do With Oil – is risible and intelligence insulting.
- For reasons outside my scope here, America’s fiscal hegemony, military supremacy and titanic debt are tightly interlinked. Yanis – Global Minotaur – Varoufakis is good on this.
- I’ve twice wrapped balance in inverted commas. That’s on account of my suspicion of the word in this context. In the slit window purview of liberal media, balance is struck by interviewing a Tory and a Labour ‘moderate’ on Topic of the Hour. But if, with those media blinkers removed, we see a world of profit-led madness, such balance is akin to meticulously presenting the cases for and against slavery, child abuse or Hitler.
- I read the first half thoroughly then skimmed the rest, stopping every now and then to follow some of the links. Invaluable, but a bit of a telephone directory in places.
Really sorry for your loss Phil… hopefully, the friendship will recover once the dust settles… I also had to catch up on what was really happening in Venezuela after reading your last posts. Even tough I’m entirely TV and radio free, I had somehow swallowed a large chunk of the anti-Maduro narrative and was happy about a regime change taking place since everything pointed to Maduro being a total ass. Looks like the situation is slightly more complicated…
Thanks Alain. I love your honesty, and the implication – which in my thrice weekly Hour of Darkness I seriously doubt – that now and then my writings do change someone’s views. Of course, Maduro may well be a total ass but two things on this. One, the idea his leadership has everything to do with Venezuela’s very real suffering, US sanctions nothing at all, is an insult to the intelligence. (Or is it? Plenty of educated fools buy it.) Two, see my point, in parentheses below the main paragraph on my second reading recommendation, about internationalists defending imperialised states regardless of the calibre of their leaders.
In all of this, I can’t overstate the importance of having a materialist perspective. (Not in the sense of greed but in the epistemological sense of looking for the material drivers of history. See the brilliant Robert Newman video of my previous post.) When leaders are demonised by ‘our’ media I don’t automatically embrace them as “of the people”. But I do dismiss the self-serving pieties offered as cause for that demonisation. Instead, I look to what such leaders have done, or proposed doing, to threaten “our” Profits.
Re lost friends, well, I can’t say how serious this one – a Brit who is now a naturalised Columbian – is. Serious or not, I can’t think of a single instance where someone taking issue with my writings as “extremist” has offered a sustained critique. That encourages me, even as the loss of a friend saddens me. The more so as I have friends I love dearly while profoundly disagreeing with their worldview, and allies I broadly agree with who act in ways I thoroughly dislike. C’est la vie, huh?
Look upon the experience as a positive one. Historically, we seem to be in what might loosely be described as ‘choppy waters’ in which we all need to know who we can and cannot rely on.
An approach which seemed to be tacitly (and unarticulated) employed in assessing fellow travellers when in transit (on leave etc) from BAOR units in W. Germany to the UK in the 70’s during the IRA mainland bombing campaign.
Re your first paragraph, Dave, yes, these are polarising times. Not just Syria and Venezuela, but Trump and Brexit, have put me in sharp confrontation with friends.
Re your second, nothing tested the mettle of British socialists, back in the day, like the Provisional IRA did. That said, your allusion went over my head. Could you say more?
Apologies for seeming enigmatic. Can’t vouch for other fellow squaddies at the time , except to note the observation we seemed to share a similar set of behaviours in transit during that period.
I was in the military hospital at Rinteln – recovering from an operation on a burst appendix – on the night of the M62 coach bomb taking military personnel back to Catterick Garrison. A couple of weeks later, taking advantage of sick leave, I passed through various transit points via London. In those days the short haircut and distinctive suitcase gave you away. The transit staff inevitably picked us out to crawl about under coaches to check for anything that shouldn’t be there.
Not they had to look very far as the unspoken drill, one I noticed in every trip back and forth between W. Germany and the UK from that time till demob, was the first order of business was to seek out fellow squaddies and congregate together on the basis that hanging together with people you could count on was the most rational behaviour. Shit happens and it does not have to be anything dramatic like an explosive device. Road and rail accidents, false alarms in crowded places causing panic, football hooligans (remember them), nutters. The last thing you need is being close to anyone whose only thought is to trample over you or leave you in the lurch for their own benefit.
Consequently, the next stage of the unspoken drill was assessing the nearby civilian fellow passengers behaviours. Performing a sort of mental triage of who to avoid and who might be useful in a tight spot or bad event.
A habit of silent behaviour and assessment which, once attained, is difficult to break. Hence the link to the observation that it’s always useful to know who you can and cannot rely on when things get bad or go belly up.
Thanks for the clarification Dave. Your unusually wide life experience, and gritty but sophisticated worldview, make you – and I may have to copyright this phrase – truly a man for all seasons.
Thanks again Philip. I am sorry you have lost a friend, but if you cannot air your own appraisal of the situation based on perspectives and information you have been able to gather from so many varied sources, then perhaps Dave H is right. Sometimes bad experiences leave us bereft and doubting ourselves, so I would say “never ask permission to be yourself” and get on with those who want to get on with you.
Have read Global research article, still trying to find the second and have already come across the third but didn’t print it off or reblog(typical of me)so hoping to find it somewhere.
Thanks Susan. I don’t want to overegg the loss. I’m really not after the sympathy vote and this, like those others, was more by way of a momentary wince than real sorrow; far less cause for doubting the path I’m on. In any case, even on its own terms, I can’t gauge how lasting a rift this will be.
I’m always interested in balance. I broadly agree with a comment Josh Frank made, apropos the spat between CounterPunch and C J Hopkins. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the specifics, Frank’s comment that “you can’t be a left writer and have thin skin” is on the nail.
That said, I don’t want a hide so thick that such losses hurt not at all. Every now and then we hear folk saying they don’t give a brass monkey’s what others think of them. Mostly they’re lying or deluded but, on the rare occasions they are neither, we are in the presence of an individual in truly bad shape. Barely human in fact, since homo sapiens is above all a social animal. So yes, losing a friend over my political writings always hurts a tad, and may it ever remain so.