Show Hide image

HRW v Chavez

Chávez clearly made a major political blunder in expelling two HRW employees but then their report c

I’m confident in my ability to smell a non-governmental organisation when it goes bad.

Let me explain. I had a great time in the early 1960s when, under the enthusiastic and forceful inspiration of Peter Benenson, Amnesty was created. As a young journalist I was the most junior volunteer member of a little committee which met in Peter’s rather gloomy set of semi-basement chambers in Mitre Court in the Temple and planned Amnesty’s future.

We approved with alacrity the symbol of a candle enclosed in barbed wire, for instance, and later I was told to edit the magazine. Because of – or better, despite - my record on that job I was sent off to Portugal and then Iran on missions to search for information on the whereabouts of some of political prisoners of Salazar and the cruel and ridiculous Shah.

That outstanding man of law Louis Blom-Cooper who was also in at the beginning of Amnesty said he “adored it in the days when it was really small and amateurish”. My feelings are similar. But I am glad it has developed greatly, though some of its present strategies are clearly misconceived, if you get my drift. Since then I have got a great deal out of voluntary work for other NGOs.

Thus when I saw the recent report “Venezuela: Rights Suffer Under Chávez”, that the US-based Human Rights Watch organisation brought out on the government of its constitutionally elected President my nostrils began to twitch.

I have been visiting the country since 1962, and, unlike many foreign reporters there, speak the local language – though, I admit, with something of a Chilean accent.

I know that HRW packed their document full of false and misleading information – unjustifiably criticising political freedoms, the state of the trade union movement, government treatment of what remains the wonderfully free media and daily life which has got an awful lot better for poorest Venezuelans.

The report went on to whitewash the lavish financing of the political opposition in Venezuela by US official bodies who scored briefly in 2002 when they helped to overthrow Chávez for 48 hours, replacing him with a businessman with authoritarian ideas who closed Congress. Though Washington is trying to make a tremendous fuss about supposed Venezuelan contributions to Cristina Kirchner’s presidential campaign funds in Argentina, the US government has done precisely that in Venezuela. It certainly wouldn’t allow a foreign organisation – some Chinese sovereign fund, for instance - to attempt the same sort of thing in the Land of the Free.

What is more the HRW report is put together with the sort of know-nothing Washington bias that has had the US media criticising Chávez’ changes to the constitution as tantamount to grabbing a life-presidency. There clearly is ignorance in the US that many countries in Europe - including Britain - have no formal limitations on the time a head of government may serve and that the result is not instant totalitarianism.

In short the HRW report could well have been cobbled together by an inexperienced State Department recruit recently out of some university in Arizona, or perhaps even Mississippi. It is such an untrustworthy piece of work that Chávez clearly made a major political blunder in expelling two HRW employees from his country when it was published. It was of a piece with his criticism of the Bolivian armed forces which are subject to the authority of President Morales and whose actions are no concern of Chávez’ or Venezuela’s.

I went on to investigate other publications by HRW. I found that in the Middle East on the question of the Israelis’ recent savage invasion of Lebanon they seemed to adopt the old trick of implying that this was no worse than the action of the Lebanese who had the effrontery to justifiably resist and beat back the murderous assault from their neighbour to the south while Bush and Blair looked fixedly in the other direction.

People more expert on the Middle East than I am came to similar conclusions about HRW’s careful avoidance of any unalloyed criticism of the atrocities which are being committed daily against civilians by those who are besieging of the Gaza Strip. HRW obviously takes no particular exception to Palestinian babies being kept ill and undernourished.

As I remember from my Amnesty days, when an organisation gets a reputation for abandoning its ideals or being partial or bent – whether in favour of the State Department, the Israeli government or just the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying organisation – it begins to fail. Surely HRW doesn’t want to go down with George Bush – called “shockingly weak” in today’s (Friday’s) New York Times – and poor Lynndie England of West Virginia and Abu Ghraib as another of today’s US failures.

Kinds Of Mildew Screening Toronto.

Types Of Mold Screening Toronto


Getty
Show Hide image

The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times