Venezuela: A Dictionary of Euphemisms of the Liberal Opposition

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible…Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness…Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

— George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” in Why I Write


The Venezuelan political process in the post-referendum period (after December 2, 2007) has experienced a wide-ranging debate, in which both critics and supporters of the Venezuelan road to socialism have participated. The extreme right-wing and the US State Department have focused exclusively on what they call the popular reaction against President Chavez’ ‘authoritarianism’, ‘radical agenda’ and have sought to exploit the moment to discredit the President by sabotaging Chavez’ efforts (backed by France and most of Europe and Latin American regimes) to negotiate a prisoner exchange between the FARC-EP guerrillas and the Uribe regime in Colombia. Two weeks after the referendum, the Federal Government fabricated a case linking the Venezuelan government to an attempt to finance the Presidential elections in Argentina. The US and right-wing propaganda offensive has failed to ignite any response within Venezuela and has thoroughly backfired. All of the major US allies in Europe (except England) and in Latin America (except Mexico and Chile) have repudiated the US attacks on Chavez.

The anti-Chavez political discourse which has had some resonance in Venezuela and overseas, especially among liberals, politicians, progressive activists and social democratic academics, has been articulated by Venezuelan academics linked to NGO’s, financed by overseas foundations and posing as ‘center-left’.

A critical textual reading of the center-left writings reveals a narrative replete in political euphemisms, hedged in the language and rhetoric of the social movements but which when de-constructed reveals a basic hostility to class analysis and social transformation. As George Orwell once wrote, political intellectuals are the masters of euphemisms, using language that obscures the meaning of reactionary politics: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” (George Orwell, Why I Write)

The center-left academic ideologues in Venezuela have mastered an entire repertory of euphemism which they have trotted out for specific political goals: To unite technocrats and incrementalist liberals in the Chavez government with the liberal opposition to block any egalitarian social transformation of property relations and transition to socialism. As one of Cuba’s most illustrious intellectual statesmen and former Culture Minister, Armando Hart has stated: The battle of ideas is an integral part of the struggle for socialism.

A first step to demystifying the center-left rhetoric embodied in their counter-revolutionary narrative is to apply critical analysis to some of the key political euphemisms they use to attack the Chavez government and its policies. Euphemisms are abuses of language used by anti-Chavez professors to obscure ideological and class interests and loyalties.

For purposes of this essay, I have selected an essay by Edgardo Lander, a prominent Venezuelan sociologist and critic of the revolutionary tendencies in the Chavista government. His essay, “El Proceso político en Venezuela entra en un encrucijada crítica,” is an excellent example of the use of political language to obfuscate political realities, relying on euphemisms to give ‘an appearance of solidity to pure wind’.

In the post-election period, the center-left critics demanded a return to ‘pluralism’ as an antidote to ‘authoritarianism’. ‘Pluralism’ is a euphemism for a class society (multiple classes = plural), in which the capitalist class dominates the electoral system (‘plural parties’ = domination by capitalist financing). ‘Pluralism’ is a common euphemism used by bourgeois academics because it is a vague, abstract concept that obscures the issues of property ownership and concentration of the means of production and communication. In reality, there is nothing ‘plural’ about capitalist democracies, by any measure of power and wealth. The existence of multiple classes, politicians and parties tells us little or nothing about the social relations, concentration of power and inequalities of access to the state.

The academic critics of Chavez write of ‘the independence of the Central Bank’. This vague and abstract notion, begs the question of independence from whom and for what interests and purposes? Central Banks that are not accountable to elected officials, respond to the financial markets or more precisely to the international and local bankers and investors. This is obviously the case in almost all capitalist democracies where the selection of the heads of the Central Banks is based on their ties, histories and close favorable relations (‘confidence’) with international finance capital. In contrast, a Central Bank, subject to the control of elected officials, can be influenced by voters, public opinion and social movements pressuring for favorable monetary policies.

When liberals object to the increased access of the popular classes to the government and to the loss of middle class monopoly of government budgetary allocations, they resort to calls for ‘open politics’. This is namely the re-opening of the front doors of policy makers to liberal and social democratic academic advisers. ‘Open politics’ is a refrain frequently voiced by the US imperial state when their foundation-funded NGO’s and political networks pushing for ‘regime change’ find the going tough because of greater attention to thwarting their destabilization operations. The question avoided by the academic critics is ‘open’ for whom and ‘for what political interests’? In the case of Venezuela, the real ‘lack of openness’ is largely a function of the opposition’s monopoly control over 90% of the electronic and print media and the ideological predominance of opposition academics in the public and private universities and class-rooms (including the Central University of Venezuela). In contrast, the trade unions, business associations, civil society movements of all tendencies have flourished during the Chavez decade — in what is perhaps the most vibrant expression of ‘open politics’ in the Western Hemisphere.

In these conditions then what does the call for ‘open politics’ mean? It is simply a ‘defense of the indefensible’ — the maintenance of private monopoly control of the mass media against any attempts to expand and deepen popular access and control over the means of communication. The academic liberals cannot openly state: “Do not democratize the media; we uphold the right of big private conglomerates to control the media, including their right to incite and defend military coups.” Instead they resort to vacuous euphemisms like ‘open politics’ — in effect disarming the popular government and undermining its attempts to open access of the mass media to the popular classes and their interests.

On of the most insidious forms of US, European and ruling class efforts to undermine autonomous mass movements is the funding, training and proliferation of the misleadingly self-labeled ‘Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGO). The liberal academic critics (LAC) of the democratically elected Chavez government echo and mimic the rhetoric of the NGOs — accusing Venezuela of lacking popular participation and discouraging ‘open and democratic debate.’

The LAC never consider the anomaly that the leaders of the NGOs are never elected, their proposals for overseas funding are never debated or voted on by their self-designated beneficiaries and that they shape their activities to induce foreign elite donors to fund their hard currency salaries and 4X4 vehicles, lap-top computers and their ‘staff secretaries’ etc.. The greatest enemies of democratic accountability are the NGOs who are never criticized or even mentioned in the polemical writing of the LAC in the Venezuelan ‘political process’. The pervasive influence and proliferation of NGOs is no minor factor in the ‘political process’ least of all in Venezuela. Worldwide there are over 100,000 NGOs receiving over $20 billion dollars/Euros from the imperial centers.

Unlike the self-appointed NGOs and their leaders and liberal academic advisers, President Chavez has consulted the electorate a dozen times in free and open elections. His programs are funded by Venezuelan taxpayers and subject to the approval or rejection of elected legislators. The liberal academics rather than openly expressing their objection to the increasingly radical organized mass support and debate concerning President Chavez’ socio-economic programs, resort to euphemisms about the ‘plebiscatory’ style of governance’ –- forgetting about the authoritarian dictated lectures in their class rooms fostered by administrators ‘elected’ by a ‘cabal of professors’ with lifetime tenure.

Several of the most favored euphemisms by the liberal academic critics are ‘anti-statism’, ‘civil society’ and ‘market economy’. ‘Statism’ evokes and is associated with an unresponsive powerful vertical structure which oppresses and impoverishes people, and is only answerable to arbitrary bureaucrats. While there is no doubt that several state agencies in Venezuela are inefficient and fail to carry out government programs (especially re-distributive policies), nevertheless public ownership and fiscal policies, especially energy policy has led to a vast increase in funding of public services (health, education and food distribution) for the 60% of lower income Venezuelans. Opposition to ‘statism’ brings together a strange amalgam of far right authoritarian liberals (Hayek, Friedman), social democratic neo-liberals (Blair, Giddens, Lula, Sarkozy and their Venezuelan followers) and libertarian anarchists. The main sources of financing of the think tanks, journals and research of the critics of ‘statism’ are the Ford Foundation, the Ebert Foundations and an alphabet soup of acronyms of other ruling class institutions.

The demonizing of the ‘state’ is what brings together the ideologues of the far right and the center-left. In the name of anti-statist ‘freedom’, the unrestrained, deregulated and voracious activity of private national capitalist monopolies and multinational banks and corporations can flourish. The state is the only institution potentially capable of countering, controlling and confronting the giant private corporations. The fundamental issue is not ‘anti-statism’ but the class nature of the state and its accountability to the majority of working people.

The most vacuous, deceptive concept manipulated by the ‘anti-statist’ liberal academic critics of President Chavez is ‘civil society’ as in ‘supporting civil society against the state’.

‘Civil society’ is a euphemism for class society; it is a concept that occults fundamental class divisions, conflicting class organizations and exploitative relations. Bastardized versions of Gramsci’s Prison Writings, where his fascist censors forced him to adopt an Aesopian language, has been adopted by liberal academics to write about a homogenous (class free) ‘civil society’ against the (oppressive) ‘state’.

In Venezuela, ‘civil society’ is far from homogenous, as is evident from its deep class divisions, political polarization and the chasm between the majority popular strata supporting the (Chavez-led) ‘state and the upper class. The opposition’s ‘civil society’ discourse is a rhetorical device used by the NGO bureaucrats and liberal academic elites to obfuscate their practice of class collaboration, their support for private capital against public ownership and to attract big grants from their imperial sponsors.

One of the most commonly expressed euphemisms is the reference by liberal and social democratic critics of Chavez policies to ‘market economics’. This is another effort ‘to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’. Markets have existed for thousands of years throughout the world under a great variety of societies and economies — from tribal, feudal, slave, mercantile, competitive and monopoly capitalism. There are local markets based on small-scale producers and world markets dominated by less than a thousand multi-national corporations and financial institutions. The use of ‘market economy’ evokes false images of transactions by equal producers/nations recalling a past, which never existed. The real existing ‘market economy’ is dominated by competing and co-operating large-scale multi-billion dollar monopolies, which penetrate all unregulated economies. Their power and exploitation can only be countered by nationalist or socialist states accountable to organized class movements and central planning. Any honest and truthful discussion must pose the issue of economic strategies and the role of the state and market in its appropriate world-historical setting: imperial capital, national state, class-based social movements and institutions.

When questions of democracy and participation are seriously discussed, the focus should not be exclusively on the states but should also include influential associations in society. There is no discussion or mention by Venezuelan liberal democratic theorists of the plurality of authoritarian, non-participatory and elite-dominated business associations, civic organizations, private media conglomerates, traditional parties and trade unions. Their leaders are re-elected repeatedly (some for life) without dissent or competition nor even consultation with their constituents.

The liberal academics, apart from ignoring the profoundly authoritarian vertical structure of the dominant institutions in ‘civil society’, fail to even pose the question of how this plurality of dictatorial elite institution is compatible with democracy. The liberal academics’ analytical and moral blindness to the deep-rooted arbitrary rule over culture, economy and society by this anti-democratic elite is the other side of the coin to their one-sided preoccupation with the democratic deficit in elected public institutions and pro-Chavez parties, trade unions and neighborhood associations.

The profound lack of clarity by Chavez critics and the exponents of liberal ideology is intimately related to their foreknowledge that speaking clearly and precisely would unmask their defense of the capitalist markets; their opposition to ‘statism’ as opposition to public ownership; their support of authoritarian elite institutions is their defense of ‘civil society’; their opposition to the mass-based support for Chavez’ radical initiatives is presented as ‘popular autonomy’.

The methods of the liberal academic critics are as revealing of their reactionary politics as their ill-disguised ruling class loyalties. They use a microscope to detect flaws in the fabric of the pro-Chavez social movements, voters and policies of the Chavez government and a telescope to describe the large-scale, long-term blatant intervention and collaboration of the US imperial state and its Venezuelan allies.

The liberal demands are unilaterally directed at one side in the political process. Profound criticism is directed at the Chavez organizations, not to the students and academics who were bankrolled by the US state agencies. Apparently academics accepting finances from the National Endowment for Democracy shouldn’t be asked to ‘critically re-think‘ their collaboration with a foreign imperial power committed to destroying democratic institutions. Liberal academic critics rely on subjective gossipy anecdotes to feed their anti-Chavez animus, instead of open public facts. The speculate on ‘Presidential ambiguity’ regarding the referendum result, instead of listening and watching President Chavez immediate and forthright recognition of the referendum’s defeat.

The political language of euphemism is designed to make lies sound truthful, to make ruling class exploitation respectable, and to give liberal-democratic rhetoric the appearance of solidity. This brief inventory of euphemism is designed to unmask the ideologies of anti-Chavism ‘lite’ and to encourage the advance of Venezuelan socialism.

2 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. sean birmingham said on January 8th, 2008 at 1:01pm #

    Far too many corporate dominated “news” organizations have labeled Mr. Chavez as a threat to the US, but in reality he is a beacon of hope for all oppressed peoples. And when I write oppressed, I do not necessarily mean those who are struggling under a repressive government, but rather those who are struggling under a government that could care less for the plight of the working-class. The United States was once a bright light for people desiring to escape from economic and social stratifications imposed by the wealthy—gone are those days!! America is now dominated by the “profit margin.” Those individuals, nations, or leaders who impede the furtherance of profit are deemed dictators, against democracy, rogue elements….etc. American democracy is a falsehood, a lie perpetrated on the populace in order to advance the cause of business.

  2. Keila said on January 10th, 2008 at 10:00am #

    Sean, I could not agree more!! I’m with you word for word.