Chávez’s useful idiots
The demagogue of Caracas has helped sustain a long tradition of left-wing fellow travelling
In the ranking of dictators, Hugo Chávez is in the welterweight class. President of Venezuela these past 14 years, he is supposed to be holding a ceremony of inauguration for yet another term of one-man rule and demagoguery. In anticipation, his supporters, the Chávistas in their uniform of red shirts, are singing and dancing in the streets of Caracas. But rumour has it that Chávez is on the point of death after surgery for cancer in a hospital in Cuba. Caution! The apparent popularity, the sympathy, the tenterhooks, the pseudo-Mandela image of the man, is largely the work of those strange modern-age political publicists known as fellow travellers.
A fellow traveller is one who commits to a cause, preferably foreign and necessarily hostile to the interests of his own country. He, or as often she, believes that the selected cause is promoting the virtues of Peace, Love and Brotherhood, in contrast to the vices of the home country, its government, its injustices, racism, imperialism or whatever. In most of the world, a dissenting attitude of that kind puts the individual’s liberty and life at risk. In the West, the fellow traveller is free to praise what ought to be blamed and blame what ought to be praised, and be rewarded for this with money and a reputation for courage. By means of false moral equivalents, double standards and the assertion that whatever wrongs ‘they’ are guilty of ‘we’ have done worse, anyone can become a celebrity fellow traveller. The Soviet Union of H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Julian Huxley and tens of thousands less intellectual than them was an illusion, a bold manipulation of public opinion. The moment reality became unmistakable, all that remained of that intense fellow-travelling was the feeling of having been deceived. Beatrice and Sidney Webb’s eulogistic Soviet Communism is probably the most misleading book in the English language, yet they are both buried among the famous and respected dead in Westminster Abbey.
Hugo Chávez attracted fellow travellers for the good old reason that he has been the leading spirit in assembling the grand anti-American coalition comprising Cuba, some Latin American states, Russia, Iran and its sidekick Syria, with Zimbabwe thrown in. Originally an army officer, he has had no objection to strong-arm methods such as staging a coup and laying hands on Venezuelan oil. Inclined to Marxism-Leninism rather than capitalism, he changed the constitution so that he could rule by decree; expropriated foreign and domestic companies worth billions of dollars; seized land, and shut down television and radio stations. In front of the press, he humiliated President Obama with the gift of a book claiming that North America has been pillaging South America for five centuries. Needless to say, over that extended period many a South American caudillo has been pillaging his own country just like Chávez without any Yankee participation.
One long-standing beneficiary of fellow-travelling is Fidel Castro. The likes of Herbert Matthews of the New York Times and C. Wright Mills, a Princeton sociologist and author of the polemic Listen,Yankee, were quick to describe communist Cuba as a utopia that it was immoral as well as dangerous to oppose. They and many others wrote Castro up as progressive, screening the methodical brutality with which he has imprisoned and executed dissidents; to that extent they are invited to be accessories to crime. Less murderous, Chávez is nonetheless Castro’s great friend, almost heir apparent. Recently the American Spectator noted that Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon had redirected fellow-travelling to Chávez’s Venezuela, ‘caught in a time-warp… spouting foolish Marxist rhetoric to justify the buffoonish behaviour of their hero’. Capturing the undertow of worship, the fashion model Naomi Campbell called him ‘a rebel angel’.
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