John Pilger on Hugo Chávez and the liberal war on democracy

"Hugo Chávez expresses the kind of genuine exuberant democracy long ago abandoned in Britain".

In Andrew Cockburn's new book, Rumsfeld, the gap between rampant power and its faraway victims is closed. Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of defence until last year and a designer of the Iraq bloodbath, is revealed as personally directing from his office in the Pentagon the torture of fellow human beings, exploiting "individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to induce stress" and use of "a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation". Cockburn's documented evidence shows that other Bush mafiosi, such as Paul Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, "had already agreed that Rumsfeld should approve all but the most severe options, such as the wet towel, without restriction".

In Washington, I asked Ray McGovern, formerly a senior CIA officer, what he made of Norman Mailer's remark that America had entered a pre-fascist state. "I hope he's right," he replied, "because there are others saying we are already in a fascist mode. When you see who is controlling the means of production here, when you see who is controlling the newspapers and periodicals, and the TV stations, from which most Americans take their news, and when you see how the so-called war on terror is being conducted, you begin to understand where we are headed. It's quite something that the nuclear threat today should be seen first and foremost as coming from the United States of America and Great Britain."

McGovern was the author of the president's daily CIA intelligence brief. I interviewed him more than three years ago, and his prescient words are as striking today as Cockburn's revelation of Rumsfeld's secret life is illumin ating. His description of fascism within a nominally free society recalls George Orwell's warning that totalitarianism does not require a totalitarian state.

The lies that have caused this extremely dangerous time are understood and rejected by the majority of humanity. This was illustrated vividly on 15-16 February 2003 when some 30 million people took to the streets of cities around the world, including the greatest demonstration in British history. It was illustrated again the other day in Latin America, which George W Bush on tour sought to reclaim for America's lost "backyard". "The distinguished visitor," noted one commentator in Caracas, "was received with fear and loathing."

There are many connections in Latin America to the suffering in the Middle East. The crushing of popular, reformist governments by the US and the setting up of torture regimes, from Guatemala to Chile, have echoes from Iran to Afghanistan. The current attacks on the Chávez government in Venezuela by the media, which Ray McGovern describes as being "domesticated by their wish to serve", are essential in disclaiming the right of the poor to find another way.

Elected last December with a record landslide of votes cast by three-quarters of the eligible population - his 11th major election victory - Hugo Chávez expresses the kind of genuine exuberant democracy long ago abandoned in Britain. In this country, the political class offers instead the arthritic pirouetting of Tony Blair, a criminal, and Gordon Brown, the paymaster of imperial adventures fought by 18-year-old soldiers who, on their return home, are so ill treated that there is no one to change their colostomy bag.

Chávez, having all but got rid of the deadly IMF from Latin America, dares to use the wealth from Venezuela's oil to unite the Latin peoples and to expel a foreign economic system that calls itself liberal and is the source of historic suffering. He is supported by governments and by millions across South America from whom he derives his mandate.

You would not know this on either side of the Atlantic unless you studied carefully. The propaganda that converts a lively, open democracy to an "authoritarian" dictatorship is written on the rusted crosses of Salvador Allende's comrades, of whom the same was said. It is disseminated by the embittered effete whose liberal hero was Blair, until he made an embarrassing mess, and who now claim the respectability of "the left" in order to disguise their mentoring by the likes of Wolfowitz, their promotion of Dick Cheney's ludicrous "world Islamic empire" and, above all, their passion for wars whose spilt blood is never theirs.

"Rumsfeld: his rise, fall and catastrophic legacy" by Andrew Cockburn is published in the United States by Scribner ($25)

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Trident: Why Brown went to war with Labour

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.