Arendt-ians v. Chavistas in Venezuela

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl in The Nation:

[O]n a day-to-day basis, the danger is more that the Bolivarian Revolution will operate increasingly like a perverse bank; it is, like Iran’s, what might be called a Resources Revolution, one keyed to the world-historical moment in which those who control natural resources can spend independently of the wealthy elites they have overthrown. Chávez, the petro-revolutionary, does not have to pay any attention to people who grew wealthy–or even just got technically and professionally educated–under the Punto Fijo regime.

Much of the money has gone into the creation of a kind of alternative society, and more controversy surrounds this development than any other, making it the hardest dimension of the revolution for an outsider to assess. The government directly funds hundreds of so- called misiones in communities. The missions do provide employment and bring food (delivered in military trucks), healthcare (aided by Cuban doctors) and education directly to the people, which is surely a good thing; but they are not like the revolutionary councils that have sprung up, Arendt noted, in all revolutions, constituting the people’s forums for ongoing political participation (until they were, time and again, crushed by parties aspiring to total control). Despite a lot of rhetoric about participatory democracy, the missions are not political formations that could reform local, city and provincial governments, making them more responsive to the grassroots, and they have alienated rather than inspired the country’s labor unions because they are run and firmly controlled from the center, often quite literally from Chávez’s office. No totalitarian military and secret police bureaucracy has been built up in Venezuela, but a controlled service sector has, and a rerun of centralized state socialism will ensue unless the political problem is grasped by the Chavistas, by the anti- Chavistas or, more likely, by the students, who are grassroots political actors and not caught up in haggling about whether the missions have, in statistical terms, benefited the poor or not, at what cost and how efficiently or inefficiently.