There have been many times where the penetrating analysis of James Petras has come in essential to my personal development. In a world where, even on the supposed “revolutionary left” we have a tendency to put things into black and white, good and bad, up and down, red vs. blue, ad nauseum--Petras has usually been able to smash such shortcuts to intellectualism and come through with a more nuanced and real analysis. Even in times where I personally disagree with the work he puts out -- such as his August offering proclaiming the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela a mere reformist upsurge -- his take comes from neither bloated dogma nor a need to denounce.
Petras’ newest article reminded me clearly of the frailty of human thought when we are exposed to unrelenting propaganda about the various movements that resist imperialism, in particular American imperialism. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army—FARC-EP—have recently seen Colombian special agents enter the Venezuelan capital of Caracas and kidnap a man who has unofficially been FARC’s foreign minister and face to the world -- Rodrigo Granda. In so doing, President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe has violated the sovereignty of Venezuela and committed what amounts to virtually an act of war. No less than this, the president himself has announced that he personally paid off members of the Venezuelan security apparatus to help with this Mossad-like operation.
The emotional response was a typical one for so many of us. Firm and true friends of Hugo Chavez and of Venezuela’s revolutionary process, many of us feared this would be turned into another opportunity to heighten tensions between Bolivarians on one side and imperialists on the other. Further, though not stated so explicitly, years of unrelenting propaganda about the FARC’s imperfections has made it so that the various left-wingers feel a need to distance themselves from just such an army. But Petras has reminded us that there is a basic problem with our collective line of thinking -- and it bears expansion.
Uribe is not targeting Hugo Chavez as much as Manuel Marulanda; the FARC has been the top enemy of the Colombian and American regime for a long time—far longer than the people of the slums near Caracas have even heard of a paratrooper named Chavez. After the demise of the USSR led to the surrender and collapse of nearly every radical, peasant-based guerrilla movement in Latin America, one of the only groups to weather this storm was the formerly pro-Soviet FARC-EP. In a country where more unionists have been murdered than in the rest of the world combined, where governments work openly and covertly with both paramilitaries and drug traffickers, the massacres that never make it to your front pages have not crushed the FARC movement, though realities on the ground have deeply distorted and taken away the shining revolutionary beacons so treasured by armchair radicals in the first world.
Petras has illustrated succinctly a case for why Granda should be given the fullest international solidarity. But the need for too many would-be revolutionaries to hold any who speak of revolution (such as the FARC) to an ideal of purity unattainable precisely because it is only an ideal is sadly the reason we will have a hard sell defending the rights of revolutionaries who have dirt under their trigger fingernails. Many first world leftists, unfortunately adopting the very same chauvinism so reviled in words, need to set a standard that must be lived up to in order to garner solidarity. Unless, of course, the movement in question has no affiliation with an anti-capitalist vision. Oddly, when a movement says that revolution is their aim, we completely dissociate ourselves from them if their methods or program is as inconsistent as reality itself tends to be.
If we believe in the right of resistance, then we support the rights of FARC vis-à-vis the Colombian state. However, it should only take a couple of analogies to make the point clearly, the main point we had been missing in our various denunciations of this snatch and grab of (FM) by Colombian mercenaries as “an attack on Chavez.”
When Israeli Mossad agents infiltrate Syria and shoot down top ranking leaders of the Palestinian resistance—whether this is someone from Hamas or someone equally as abhorrent to left intellectuals on Turtle Island or in Europe—we are quick to condemn this. It is not difficult to see what is at stake by not making such a statement against such state led perfidy: the conditions created by Israel give rise to resistance to Zionist policies and the left sees the targeting of such forces as attacking the leaves of the tree, not the root. Further, while critical of the measures adopted by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, the right of an oppressed people to resistance is an absolute.
In the imperialist heartland, we see ourselves not as agents of solidarity, but hawkers of radical tabloids with happy pictures of the better day ahead to sell-- and the nasties of struggle along the way in places such as the homelands of Bolivar need to be silenced, less they make our collective image one of imperfection and hardship. We tailor our politics not to the principle of anti-imperialism, but to the needs to sell a product, market a style, to wear a revolution and not participate in one. Perhaps this all seems a bit harsh -- but the confidence in the justness of our global cause has become such that with groups so maligned and vilified as the FARC we treat their issues as hands off, something regrettable, a liability. We never seem to realize that the liability is not in the imperfections of militarized struggles, but in the inconsequential but wholly damning silence we take.
As Venezuela continues along and defends its sovereignty while expanding initiatives of self-determination throughout the country, the struggles elsewhere on the continent become stronger; strength and confidence are the best guarantors against corruption and losing the course. The same is true of the opposite: if Colombia can crush any movement it wants with impunity and can hold show trials against revolutionaries in Bogota, then it won't be long before reaction gets stronger in Caracas, and does more than kidnap visitors.
Revolutionaries who want to defeat the monster of US imperialism need to stop throwing it a bone in one corner, hoping it won't then take its whetted appetite and come back to where the bone came from. It would be best to keep the vision of a united front: whether your inspiration is Chavez, Marx, Guevara or Simon Bolivar himself.
Macdonald Stainsby is a freelance writer and social justice activist in his late 20's, living in Quebec and studying in Concordia University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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