19 April 2008

Our rulers think they're Yankees

More than in most current Latin American societies, the Venezuelan ruling and middle classes have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice their immediate economic interests, current remunerative opportunities, lucrative profits and income in pursuit of the high risk political interests of the US . How else can one explain their backing of the US-orchestrated coup of April 2002 at a time when Chavez was following fairly orthodox fiscal and monetary policies, and had adopted a strict constitutionalist approach to institutional reform? How else can one explain engaging in an executive and bosses 2-month lockout of industry and oil production, leading to the loss of billions in private revenues, profits and salaries and ultimately the bankruptcy of hundreds of private firms and the firing of over 15,000 well-paid senior and middle level oil executives?

Clearly the ‘ultra-hegemony’ of the US over the Venezuelan elite and middle class has a strong component of ideological-psychological self-delusion: a deep, almost pathological identification with the powerful, superior white producer-consumer society and state and a profound hostility and disparagement of ‘deep Venezuela ’ – its Afro-Indian-mestizo masses.

An extract from a very good article by James Petras on Venezuela. The only thing I have to add to this is that in virtually every advanced capitalist country in the world today the ruling class thinks of itself as junior partners of the Yankee capitalist class, not just Venezuela or Latin America. In those countries (as well as Canada) it's "biggest tough guy on the block". In most of Western Europe, it's attachment to "Big Brother who saved us from Hitler". In Eastern Europe, it's attachment to "Big Brother who saved us from Stalinism". In Australia and New Zealand, the previous colonial attachment to England was just shifted to the US sometime in the 1980s.

The only partial exceptions to this in the 'First World' I can think of are France and Japan, two countries with their own imperial histories whose gratitude at being "liberated" is tempered with contempt for the cultural mores of the liberators. In those countries, as in Russia and China, there are pro- and anti-American factions in the ruling classes. Elsewhere, a "nationalist" component to the local elite is so tiny as to be negligible - nationalism is left to the posturing of the middle class.

Petras suggests that this happens in Venezuela because the local elite aren't actually capitalists (in the sense that they actually live off the proceeds of productive enterprises), but rentier-bureaucrats who skim the top off oil revenue, and so their "heartland" is where they consume (i.e. Miami) rather than where they produce. I think this is increasingly the case everywhere, as actual capitalist production shifts out of the advanced First World, and the local economies are bound up increasingly with administration, media production and servicing the consumption needs of the elite - Marx's "Department IIb", for those who get the reference. Soon, virtually all "First World" countries will be controlled by rentiers, living off the profits of their investments in China, India, wherever.

Whatever the case - the ideology of the ruling classes becomes the ideology of all of society, and any resistance to the idea of American media culture as being the superior product is stigmatised as backwards and barbaric, just as in the 19th century resistance to Christianization was portrayed. Note the recent scoffing and outrage at the (actually lying) story that The Simpsons was being banned in Venezuela. (If they meant any episodes produced after 1999, I'd be 100% in favour of it.)

Popular media culture is the unifying and justifying narrative of world imperialism today, just like Christianity was in the 19th century. The TVs are the churches of the 21st century in the "opiate of the masses" sense, and idiots who think that harrassing Muslims is somehow "progressive" should realise that they're facing the wrong enemy.

A note to our American readers - you can possibly not understand what it's like living in a cultural colony, a country where 90% of the programmes on TV are about a foreign country, where people talk in your language but not in your accent. It encourages a feeling that nothing that happens in your actual world is really as "real" as what you see on the TV or the internet. You find, for example, in my country, people who have zero interest in the politics of our nation but will huddle around at each other's houses discussing how Clinton and Obama are doing in the primaries. This feeling is particularly strong among the middle classes, whose entire lives are bound up with media representations - for working people, I doubt it matters whether the people on TV talk in foreign or local intonations, they're smug elitists who look down on you in any case.


  1. This is, of course, exactly what the American imperialist ruling class desires, in the hopes of keeping the masses fallow and exploiting the natural resources of these countries and others. Perhaps there is a way for us to raise the consciousness of these people? I look forward to discussing this with you to find a way forward.

  2. Well, the most effective form of consciousness raising is mass political activism combined with cultural activism / "mass magick". If anyone who's interested in the ideas of the CM current wants to put it into action, I'd suggest the first step is to find like-minded people in your local area, then DO IT, then tell us of any successes or failures.

  3. Like Zizek said, "Everybody in the world except US citizens should be allowed to vote and elect the American government."

    I do, however, believe some Americans *do* understand what you're talking about, like when someone from the South watches their local news, but all the newsreaders are trying so hard to cover up their Southern accents, or on TV shows where the only people speaking with their accent are comic buffoons. It's not at the level you describe, but I think it's a similar idea.