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(en) Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder - Prepared by Nachie, for the Red & Anarchist Action Network (RAAN) IV. (4/9)

Date Wed, 05 Jul 2006 09:58:44 +0300


13. THE SIXTH WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
The World Social Forum (FSM) began in 2001 as a response to the
high-level World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The FSM
was to provide a week-long media counterattack to neo-liberalism
beyond the mass protests that had been regularly springing up
outside meetings of the WTO, IMF, World Bank, G8, and other
symbols of corporate globalization by giving the protest movements a
forum in which to explore their own ideas in more detail. While the
anti-globalization protests have arguably lost a lot of steam, the FSM
has been getting bigger with each passing year - undoubtedly due to
the rise of "leftist" governments in South America.

Technically the FSM doesn't "do" anything, it's just a massive
convergence where protest movements and political parties - usually
of a Social Democratic nature - can come together and talk a lot.
Like many such gatherings, it also attracts a certain number of
neo-hippies interested primarily in the communal atmosphere
provided by such a large leftist forum.

The first three annual FSMs were held in Porto Alegre, Brazil due to
the fact that the (now ruling) Worker's Party (PT) had taken control
of the city government and was looking for a way to promote itself to
the outside world. The fourth Forum took place in Mumbai, India
before returning to Porto Alegre for its fifth iteration. Now in its sixth
year, the FSM has split into a "polycentric" model and was held both
in Karachi and Caracas. Unsurprisingly, it was the Venezuelan
forum that seemed to receive the most interest.

I attended the 2003 FSM in Porto Alegre right after the presidential
victory of Lula and the PT in Brazil, and in many cases my analysis
of the Caracas event will be based off contrasting it with the
experiences I had then. At that time, Lula was the "shining star" of
the institutional left and Hugo Chávez, while drawing a large
crowd, did not have much to offer other than red banners and vague
populist rhetoric. One must remember that it was only at the 2005
FSM that Chávez even announced that Venezuela was on a
"socialist" path. More importantly, 2003 was the first year that we
really began to see the focus of the FSM get taken off the
independent social movements and transferred to the leftist
politicians. At the time this could be blamed primarily on Lula and
the PT, but by 2006 the spotlight had shifted, making the Forum an
essential tool for the Chávez government's own self-promotion. I
am not going to pretend that the FSM was ever anything but
reformist, but there has definitely been a progressive and significant
shift in its focus towards and collusion with the state.

I was absorbed into the Caracas FSM almost by accident, several
days before the event was to even officially begin. Walking past the
city's Parque Central (which is actually not a park at all) with my
scruffy appearance and traveler's backpack, I was called to by an
extremely tall, dreadlocked university student who turned out to be
coordinating the registration and translation services for the Forum
on that day. I figured that he would know the best way to start
getting in touch with other Venezuelan groups, so I followed
Enrique (as his name turned out to be) onto a bus that took us to a
large stadium outside of Caracas where the registration was taking
place. There are at least a few different levels of registration for the
FSM, depending on if your organization wants to be officially
represented or has workshops scheduled or whatever, but I was only
interested in the "credentials" that would allow me access to the
international campsite, which ended up costing just a little more
than a US dollar.

After I was registered, we hopped back on the bus and were taken
even further outside of Caracas to a national park known as "Vinicio
Adames". This area was a trash dump for decades, and a number of
national civic organizations had been working around the clock to
turn it into a campsite for the upcoming Forum. The location was
supposedly chosen in order to provide the safest possible
environment for the international attendees, although the park itself
is adjacent to several violent barrios from which one could clearly
make out the sounds of gunfire at night (the entire park had to be
surrounded by FAN troops for protection). The location of this
campsite - a ten-minute bus ride outside of Caracas and all the
venues where FSM events would be taking place - was utterly
ridiculous, but since I had already paid my dollar, it was well after
dark, and I had no tent of my own, I gladly accepted the hospitality
of the volunteers I had bused in with, who at that point seemed to be
the only people there.

The translators were almost without exception Venezuelan high
school or college students with some background in languages, and
had their own campsite set up at the top of a hill next to the army
encampment, which was illuminated by floodlights throughout the
night. They were buzzing with excitement about the upcoming
Forum, and in particular the pact they had made between
themselves to maintain a monopoly over local marijuana sources in
order to make a hefty profit off the gringos on vacation. As it turned
out, Vinicio Adames was a logistical nightmare and had suffered
from drainage problems that were not insignificant considering that
we were up in the mountains and caught rain just about every night,
(which really killed the mood, by the way) and the fact that it was so
removed from Caracas meant that I ended up only spending a couple
days there before switching to another campsite. Yet during my short
stay, I had the chance to witness some interesting dynamics.

The infrastructure of the campsite was still under construction at the
time I arrived, which for the most part meant the setting up of
showers and potable water supplies by the FAN. The direct
participation of the military in the organization of the Forum was my
first indication that I was going to see some fundamental differences
between this experience and that of Porto Alegre. The large number
of (uniformed, but of course unarmed) soldiers running around in
the park and building the showers made it clear that the Bolivarian
government was deeply involved in the running of the Forum. I
would later hear that some non-governmental organizations were
given the opportunity to coordinate logistics, but were ultimately
unprepared to deal with the massive number of people that the FSM
was expecting to draw with its Bolivarian context. One opinion
voiced was that the government purposefully engineered this failure
so as to later justify the massive involvement of the FAN in the
Forum's execution.

I used this opportunity to speak to as many of the rank-and-file
soldiers as I could, but was severely disillusioned when not a single
one out of perhaps 25 wanted to talk about anything other than drugs
or women, and the latter only in a particularly disrespectful and
sexist manner. This was not at all what I expected to see from a
military that was ostensibly undergoing "revolutionary
transformation" and integration with the Venezuelan people. The
soldiers I spoke to were all from poor families and had signed up for
their two years of service for economic reasons; few of them took the
possibility of war with the United States very seriously, and
surprisingly none of them even had anything particularly positive to
say about Chávez.

One must contrast this with the spectacle projected by Chávez and
his generals of a "democratic" military in the process of redefining its
role in society. It would seem that this image is only for public
consumption, and any actual ideological instruction or debate on the
revolution's course is primarily reserved for the officer classes. True,
Chávez loves to give televised speeches regarding the nature of the
army and its evolution, but from my experience it seems that the
military itself remains a hopelessly vertical structure in which the
ordinary recruits are excluded from this dialogue and have no direct
say in its actual implementation. Hence the FAN, like the rest of the
Bolivarian Revolution, will remain "democratic" only so long as
those in power agree to call it that.

It is worth noting that a brigade of Caracas firefighters was also on
hand to help with any safety concerns, refilling gas stoves, or water
supply issues. This small group was pretty well organized and I
would say much more conscious of the revolutionary process than
the soldiers, including in their willingness to talk about it. Overall I
got the impression that everyone really appreciated their having been
there.

Things finally got interesting once more internationals began
arriving at the park. In the first few days, it seemed like a
disproportionately large number of them had arrived from Colombia
and especially French Canada, although those numbers would
eventually be dwarfed by Brazilian and Venezuelan nationals in
attendance. In Vinicio Adames I got the distinct impression of the
FSM as a plaything for gringo nonprofit "Peace & Justice" NGOs
and the student movements of South America. In addition, the
isolation of the campsite created a very strange dynamic in which the
bright-eyed activists had decided to call for a "General Assembly" of
the campers, which would decide how "we" were going to run the
site and what "we could make of it".

This idea was ludicrous to begin with, because whatever the
"General Assembly" decided, it was still going to have to work with
the Venezuelan state, which at no point was ambiguous in showing
that it was running the show. Up in "Vinicios", where any type of
infrastructure had to be imported from Caracas, the campsite
assemblies took on a decidedly reactionary and privileged nature. I
attended the first meeting, but got seriously bored very quickly and
left with a number of others. The main force behind the organization
was clearly coming from "professional" activists with lots of
experience in holding such gatherings. I do not wish to give the
impression that it was only Northerners who were involved in the
efforts of the Assembly, but with few exceptions it certainly seemed
that way.

Up in the mountains as we were, the Assembly was only able to
come up with two real proposals for the "running" of "our own"
campsite: one related to food, and the other to trash. Both initiatives
ended up as total failures, but not before the activists had also wasted
an entire day's worth of their own labor in carefully arranging fallen
leaves on the ground so as to approximate some sort of "path"
through the campsite. It then took only about half an hour for this
tedious creation to be trampled underfoot and lost in the mud.

The handling of the trash issue was definitely born of a first-world
sensibility - you might even say ecologismo del Norte - and revolved
around setting up various recycling and compost points throughout
the campsite to replace the single trash barrels put in place by the
organizers. This was from the very beginning a shortsighted venture
based only in the activists' own need to make themselves feel more
at home, as Venezuela has no recycling program to speak of and
therefore would have no use for neatly arranged piles of paper, glass,
metal, etc. no matter how many hours the activists spent digging
through the trash in order to sort them out. In the end, it seemed
that the only useful separations to make in the trash were for organic
matter and tin, since by total luck somebody had met a local man
who collected the latter for some type of redemption at
who-knows-where.

The "food" working group had only slightly more luck in actually
getting something accomplished. The meal situation at Vinicios was
that the state had contracted some 15-20 cooperatives to set up shop
under a number of pavilions around the park and sell food - usually
in the form of traditional Venezuelan meals - to the campers. This
aspect was not exceptionally out of line with what I had experienced
in Porto Alegre. The prices were not particularly outrageous, but the
food itself was generally of a pre-prepared character, with little
variety and not much in the way of the fresh fruits and vegetables
that a good number of the campers, being vegetarian, were looking
for. Even the prepared meals in little aluminum containers that the
government was providing to its translators (and those fortunate
enough to have gotten in with them) always contained meat.
Because of its isolation, the state and its associates had been able to
create a monopoly over services in the park, and were running the campsite
almost like a carnival.
The solution to this state of affairs was a system by which a small group
would travel to Caracas each day and buy a good amount of nutritious food
from the street vendors there, who of course were selling it for much less
than the cooperatives in the park. The food would then be collectively
prepared and cooked at the campsite, (usually to the effect of a Food Not
Bombs-ish mix of vegetables, greens, and rice) and sold to the campers at
less than $1 a plate, which allowed those who had done the shopping to get
back their money and do it again the next day.

Honestly I thought that on the whole this was handled pretty well and I
certainly did enjoy a couple different cheap and delicious meals courtesy
of the food collective, but it was never meant to last. For starters, this
system was never able to feed more than perhaps 35-50 people a night,
which ended up meaning that it became a good way for the General Assembly
to feed itself and those who knew about the meals, but not an actual
alternative to the state-controlled food supply. More importantly as the
day of the Forum's opening drew closer, more and more cooperatives began
setting up shop in the park, eventually taking over the last public grill
and pavilion where the kitchen and mess had been organized. To my
knowledge this resulted in some degree of friction between the activists
and the campsite organizers, but I didn't stick around to find out because
the official opening of the Forum would mean that other housing
opportunities were opening up within Caracas itself, and so at that point
I left Vinicio Adames as quickly as the bus would carry me. Although I
never went back to verify, I heard from various sources that it was not
long before everyone else left, too.

As much from the point of view of the activist General Assembly as from
that of the Venezuelan state, the encampment at Vinicio Adames was a
total failure and I can only ask, what the hell were they thinking?

14. PARQUE CAOBOS

Once the FSM was about to officially begin, it became possible to set
up camp inside the relatively large Caobos Park in the center of
Caracas. The park is notoriously dangerous at night, and it had been
considered folly to sleep there before enough Forum-goers had
arrived for a new encampment to begin. In Caobos I began to see a
Forum that more closely resembled the one I had experienced in
Porto Alegre - a massive convergence of international "leftists" and
radicals concentrated in a central park that, at least in some areas,
becomes a prototype for different forms of communal living and
dialogue.

The events of the FSM are spread throughout different venues in the
city, primarily the Universities and a couple public buildings.
Hundreds of workshops by an alphabet soup of international groups
with different agendas, music and cultural events, and a few talks by
more high-profile personalities make up the "official" activity of the
Forum, but since 2003 it has always been my assertion that the real
forum, the only useful thing that happens at the FSM, is the massive
gathering of and discussion between everyday personalities in the
encampment. It is far too complex of a process to describe
accurately, save for the fact that it inevitably has a profound effect on
all those who take part, as anyone who has participated in such a
large experiment in intentional (if temporary) community can attest.
By far the most positively affected were the individual Venezuelans I
spoke to, who were beyond excited to suddenly have direct contact
with representatives of so many different movements and ideologies
from around the world, and were anxious to learn what they could
from the more "experienced" radicals and see which of those lessons
could be applied to the revolutionary situation in which they are
living. My hat goes off to the Zapatista delegation, which held two
nights of open talks regarding their 6th Declaration and so-called
"Other Campaign" directly in the encampment itself rather than as
events scheduled outside of it. This made the talks not only more
accessible to a large number of people, but really brought home the
underutilized potential of the FSM campsite as an autonomous
forum unto itself.

As for the rest of the official Forum, I did not attend many events
because my primary concern was to learn what I could directly from
the personal discussions I was having with Venezuelans on a
day-to-day basis. I will say that the music concerts organized by the
state were usually pretty interesting, with a refreshing mix of genres
that was responded to very positively by the crowds. Certain groups,
such as the Cuban delegation or that of the (Maoist) "Communist"
Party of Brazil had a jump on propaganda or connections to the
Chávez government, and were able to make themselves much
more visible than they actually should have been.

The FSM workshops were, by almost all accounts, very badly
coordinated and executed similarly, which led to such a rash of
cancellations, confusing room changes, and re-scheduling that
rumors began to circulate that counter-revolutionaries in the
bureaucracy had been purposefully sabotaging the events so as to
make Chávez look bad in his hour of glory. The Brazilian Colectivo
Critica Radical, (Radical Critique Collective) a group of middle-aged
anti-state Marxists, had been planning on holding four different
events, but all were either cancelled or put in different venues at the
last minute. Nevertheless they still managed to organize - for the first
time in Venezuela - twin screenings of Guy Debord's Society of the
Spectacle at both the FSM and Alternative Social Forum (which will
be discussed shortly).

In Venezuela the local governments are broken up into various
alcaldias, which are run at the municipal and metropolitan levels and
controlled with a relative degree of autonomy by alcaldes, or mayors.
Most of these alcaldes are pretty shamelessly self-promoting, and
perhaps none more so than Freddy Bernal, a longtime Chavista and
one of the few politicians who can also get away with rocking a red
beret on stage. Caobos Park falls under Bernal's jurisdiction, so
during the forum every single trash can in the park had his name on
it and so did the uniforms used by his army of redshirts, or city
employees. The redshirts are used by the alcaldes to publicize the
revolution and make it look like there are always a large number of
government workers running around and rebuilding society. In
practice this often means hiring hundreds of them to engage in
useless public works tasks such as meticulously sweeping the city
streets free of fallen leaves, thus providing the ever-present illusion
that something is getting done.

During the FSM, Freddy Bernal's redshirts assisted in trash
collection and some of the infrastructure setup, but otherwise their
main job was to be a constant reminder that the Bolivarian
Government has tons of people working for it. Besides just always
remaining visible, this meant guarding the state's supply of tables,
chairs, and readymade meals that were kept inside of a converted
mounted police outpost for the duration of the Forum. The reason I
mention the redshirts is that at some point during the week, the
small Palestinian delegation (which had a pavilion inside the park)
was made to carry over 100 heavy metal chairs from the police post
to the spot where they were to have their presentation, and not a
single one of the city employees lifted a finger to help them. Myself
and two other Venezuelan comrades had to offer our assistance in
order for them to set up their forum on time, and in thanks they
invited me to come speak about RAAN and foreign perceptions of
Israeli apartheid at the event.

But in terms of shameless self-promotion, Freddy Bernal had
absolutely nothing on Chávez, for whom the FSM was a key way to
spread his message of Bolivarian Revolution to the international
leftist community. The degree to which the government was
involved in determining the public dialogue and image of the FSM
was unlike anything I'd experienced before. What was undoubtedly
an absurd amount of money was spent on creating the largest
spectacle possible, an all-enveloping celebration of "the process"... or
in other words, of Hugo Chávez himself. A huge stretch of
Bolívar Avenue was shut off to motor traffic and turned into
something of a Bolivarian exposition, with each of the government's
Misiones and programs getting a large, slickly-produced display
explaining each of the Revolution's triumphant victories. The
presentation was frankly quite effective, providing the illusion of a
society boldly marching into the future, advancing in all spheres of
life under the comandante's leadership. Of all the displays, only two
stick out in my mind: the first being a collection of new
nationally-produced Humvees for civilian and military use, which
alongside new tanks and armored personnel carriers are helping to
establish Venezuela as an independent military economy, and a little
stall discussing a future recycling program, which only caught my
eye because it was the only display with an "environmental" design -
idealized panoramas of forests, etc. The display featured a little mock
recycling bin to show what the program would eventually look like,
but what it did not offer was any idea of when it might actually
become reality.

In all likelihood, it was just an example of the Chávez
government's catering to more international leftist sensibilities,
which of course generally contain a heavy component of
environmentalism. Hugo loves to talk about ecologically sustainable
projects and the need to defend Venezuela's natural heritage, but we
have already seen the reality of the hyper-development that lurks
behind such words.

The most humorous example of this pandering to the "green"
mentality was a bicycle contingent of about 30 riders organized by
PDVSA to promote "alternative transportation" and "healthier living"
during the Forum. First of all, PDVSA promoting bicycle culture is
like McDonald's saying that they now have "healthy menu choices".
The riders were all uniformly decked-out with brand new helmets,
clothing, and bikes, which had the effect of making them look
exactly like the PR stunt they were, with no basis in the Venezuelan
reality. Other than the fact that PDVSA had clearly just paid for all
those people to be there, I saw no elaboration on where all this new
"alternative transportation" was supposed to come from, how it
would be implemented in the long term, (after the gringos had left)
or how the hell it was going to work in a city like Caracas. But they,
like all the other imagery of the FSM, were just there to make you
think, "Oh it's cool, they're handling that."

15. THE ALTERNATIVE SOCIAL FORUM

To the extent that the FSM was a self-aggrandizing platform of mass
propaganda for the international legitimizing of the Bolivarian
Government, the Alternative Social Forum (FSA) - a shoestring
operation put together by groups at the fringe of Venezuelan politics
and held on the same dates as its officialist "big brother" - was its
complete opposite.

To those looking in on the event from outside the country, it is
tempting to think of the FSA as having been an exclusively anarchist
project aimed against Chávez' personality cult. In fact however the
Alterforo brought together ten different Venezuelan organizations
and NGOs including not just the anarchists and some of the
anti-coal campaigners, but also a couple Leninist groups such as
Douglas Bravo's Ruptura, which understands that "A revolution
which in this day follows the line of industrial development,
economic growth, and scientific advance; of the development of the
actual productive forces, like the one conceived in this time, will
unquestionably be captured by capitalist civilization."

Similarly, to some foreigners or those who did not attend the FSA, it
may have looked like its single purpose was to provide a space of free
expression outside of and in opposition to, the officialist events. For
the organizers of the FSA however, the forum was not "alternative"
for its own sake, but a calculated attempt at pushing the Zulia
anti-coal movement into the spotlight and giving the indigenous
struggle a significant national and international space in which to
make itself known and create alliances in the campaign against
IIRSA. From the point of view of the anarchists it was this, rather
than a reactive anti-Chavismo, that was at the heart of the FSA,
demonstrating again the commitment of the libertarian movement to
this issue.

The FSA brought together participants from at least 18 countries for
a series of events and workshops that would not have seemed out of
place at any US anarchist gathering. There was important
participation from international groups such as Earth First! The
Argentine Libertarian Federation, and the Cuban Libertarian
Movement among others. The First "Festival" of Independent
Documentaries and Videoactivism was held as a parallel event, in
my opinion primarily as a vehicle for the showing of the
recently-subtitled Nuestro Petróleo, although various other films
including Society of the Spectacle were also shown.

Workshops at the FSA tended to focus on a wider libertarian
dialogue rather than simply an analysis of the national situation, and
featured some well-known presenters such as Frank Fernandez
(author of Cuban Anarchism) and Daniel Barret, one of the most
important anarchist theorists in Latin America. Yet in contrast to the
FSA's "anarchist" image, the largest event by far was actually a
presentation by Irish Marxist John Holloway, (author of Change the
World Without Taking Power) which explored the points raised in
his book as seen from the Venezuelan context. Holloway, who now
lives in Mexico, has maintained steady contact with the national
anarchists over many years and was interviewed at least once in El
Libertario.

My overall impression was that the Alterforo was very well
coordinated and, being a significantly smaller event than the FSM,
ran much more smoothly. Posters for the FSA and Film Festival
were wheatpasted up all around Caracas very effectively, and the
organizations putting the events together were also able to publish
10,000 copies of an El Libertario-like FSA newspaper containing a
full listing of events and articles about issues such as IIRSA in both
Spanish and English. The back page of this paper featured a play on
the FSM acronym with a picture of a blank cheque from the "World
Social Fund" signed by Hugo Chávez, next to the message that
giving a "blank cheque" (to the government) will only lead to a
"black dawn", and that the social movements should never cede
their largest "capital": autonomy.

The only anarchist infoshop in Caracas being much too small, FSA
events were spread out evenly between the Central University and
the Nelson Garrido Organization, (ONG) an amazing autonomous
space. Nelson Garrido is a famous Venezuelan photographer who
offers professional-level classes in digital photography, developing,
and other skills of the trade at this large three-level house in Caracas.
Apparently, he makes enough money from these Saturday classes
and his own art to maintain the house during the rest of the week as
a "space open to alternative proposals". The ONG is incredible,
certainly among the best resources available to the Caracas
anarchists. The building is hooked up with Internet access, a
darkroom, and an image library. There are several rooms available
for all types of events, including one that is permanently set up with
a DVD player and projector. On the first Sunday of each month the
ONG hosts a free market and film showings - usually the Alien
trilogy. Attached to the house is an apartment belonging to Arte
Emergente, an alternative arts collaboration based in Divas de
Venezuela, a queer and trans-awareness organization that came
together in 2004. During the FSA, Arte Emergente was able to
provide a good amount of housing for those traveling from outside
the country or other parts of Venezuela itself.

The ONG is somewhat below the radar, and except for a few stencils
on the sidewalk out in front, you might never know it as anything
other than a residence. Apparently, this is a way to keep it in a lower
tax bracket, since it is not technically a business. Nevertheless the
building is hardly a secret, and the DISIP, Venezuela's secret police,
were spotted conducting surveillance several times during the FSA.

Despite this, to my knowledge the only significant problem at the
FSA came on the night of January 28th, when a scheduled benefit
show for the Anarchist Black Cross was cancelled due to the rain
having caused electrical problems at the unfinished building in
which it was to be held.

16. RED & ANARCHIST SKIN HEADS

Ever since the founding of the Red & Anarchist Action Network in
2002, the global tendency known as Red & Anarchist Skin Heads
(RASH) - or sometimes just "Redskins" - has been to a certain
extent an inspiration to us and in particular my own attempts to
study successful organizational and anti-organizational models that
could be useful to RAAN.

Skinhead arose as a literal backlash against the long-haired hippie
culture of the 70s, and is driven by an apolitical, sometimes
ultra-patriotic (and therefore no longer apolitical) working-class
pride. Although the skinhead and Oi! music styles began in Europe
from various Caribbean influences brought primarily by nonwhite
immigrants, fascist groups all around the world have since had a
certain degree of success in turning the skinhead image into one of
white supremacist thugs, or "boneheads". As a result there have
been several anti-fascist skinhead groups created to counter this
influence, notably SHARP, (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice)
ASAP, (Anarchist Punx & Skins) and RASH, which split directly
from SHARP after deciding that revolutionary solutions were needed
in order to make "anti-racism" anything more than a slogan.
Traditionally the Redskins have organized as tight street crews
united by subculture and a militant anti-fascism, such a broad and
immediate issue being historically prerequisite for "red & anarchist
unity" in the absence of any more developed theoretical or
anti-Leninist principles.

The Redskin movement is particularly strong in Spain and other
parts of Europe, while in the United States RASH has mostly died
out save for a few dedicated crews who often times are driven by
personality cults and find themselves treading water whenever there
isn't an obvious bonehead group to oppose. Almost by definition
they are confined to their own subculture, but as Chicago anarchist
organizer Robert Ebright once said in an interview with RAAN,
"Many of the formal organizations operate as cliques of people who
know each other, where as the groups that blatantly say they are a
crew or clique of people like ASAP actually tend to do more outreach
and accomplish tasks." For this reason, as well as their fierce loyalty
to the "crew", RASH has remained a point of interest and potential
alliance for us in the network.

What many people don't realize is that there are also incredibly
active RASH crews throughout South America, notably in Colombia
and Venezuela itself. For these groups, boneheads are hardly a real
threat in their national contexts and the fact that the vast majority of
their membership could never even be confused as "white" means
that they have little reason to devote much time to countering
traditional misinterpretations of skinhead culture. The result is a
much more interesting focus on community solidarity and cultural
activities that go beyond their own crew. Interestingly, many Caracas
anarchists expressed views of RASH as being a self-contained clique
that never participated in other groups' activities (meaning those of
the anarchists themselves). In reality however the Redskins seemed
much more involved in community work than the anarchists,
undoubtedly due to their willingness to participate in the
government's unending series of cultural gatherings and music
events. RASH members from across Venezuela were registered as
official delegates to the FSM, and contributed a band to some of the
many free public concerts being held that week, often performing
alongside rap or folk acts. At another open-air free concert I attended
in Caracas a couple months after the FSM, a Redskin Oi! band
opened before being followed by a metal band, a punk band, a reggae
band, and finally a ska group. The event, put on as a celebration of
local music by the officialist Alcaldia, was an incredibly positive
mixture of various subcultures and age groups during which several
street punks told me that they were finally getting a chance to be
seen by the community as something other than criminals. RASH,
like the anarcho-punks, have learned that shows featuring several
different genres tend to attract larger, more diverse crowds that result
in more interesting experiences for all involved.

Red & Anarchist Skin Heads La Gran Caracas (as their chapter is
known) began in 2000 and encompasses a small membership in the
relatively nearby city of Valencia. There is also another affiliated
group in Barquisimeto known as PRAB, (Spanish for "Red &
Anarchist Skin Heads of Barquisimeto") which at the time of my
visit was involved in "negotiations" with RASH La Gran Caracas to
form a unified RASH Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Redskins are involved with more educational and
cultural activities than their European comrades, who tend to focus
on direct action against fascism. When I asked if they ever had to
deal with boneheads in Caracas, they replied, "no way, you'd have to
be crazy to be a Nazi around here!" Nevertheless they have
continued their group's strong anti-fascist tradition by raising money
for victims of racist attacks in Russia through benefit shows, and
refocusing their enmity onto Primeiro Justicia, the anti-Chávez
opposition alliance. When I asked a member of PRAB if he thought
his country was undergoing a real revolution, the reply was "Look,
before there were millions of illiterates, and now there is something
like less than a thousand. If that's not a revolution, I don't know
what is." He had a good point.

In Caracas RASH has a membership hovering around 12 dedicated
members of the crew, (pretty large for someone like myself who has
never seen the organization outside of the US, and the Colombian
chapters are supposedly even bigger) and is based out of the
Caricuao neighborhood, where a high Caribbean immigrant
population has created fertile ground for ska and related cultures.
Like most skinhead crews the group is almost all male, though at
least a couple women participate actively in its activities and one,
Daniella, is its most responsible "secretary" and one of their chief
unofficial spokespeople. The group seeks to "unite fun with politics"
in an equilibrium that in Venezuela means maintaining dual
positions in defense of "national sovereignty and proletarian
internationalism". One of the group's most interesting projects
involves supporting local Rastafarians in a campaign to legalize
Marijuana, which might seem incredibly uncharacteristic to those
used to RASH as a very anti-drug (but pro-alcohol) outfit. As an
important aside, various groups are using the Bolivarian
Constitution's guarantee of the right to traditional and indigenous
medicines as a potential "stepping stone" to Cannabis legalization,
and last I heard the National Assembly was actually beginning to
investigate such a move, which would not be at all out of the
question given similar attempts to decriminalize it in other nations.

RASH, at least in its Venezuelan incarnation, is more or less
non-ideological and seeks out workable alliances with everyone from
the punk subculture to the PCV's Young Communist organization.
One of the ongoing projects for the PRAB is the production of a
periodical by the name of Insurgencia Skinzine, which comes with a
CD of skinhead music and has in the past printed works by VI Lenin
and Mikhail Bakunin side by side.

At one of the RASH events to which I was invited, I was asked to
speak about RAAN and over the course of explaining our
anti-Leninist positions, decided to ask the Redskins how they
reconciled anarchism and Leninism within their own organization
(this has also been one of the key disputes within the North
American RASH). Their reply essentially came down to the fact that
Latin and South American political culture cannot be seen through
the lens of European ideology, and regional influences have to be
taken into account in order for one to come to a correct
understanding of how their movements function. As was put to me
by one of the lead personalities in the crew, "Here in Latin America
we have our own heroes such as Marti, Guevara, and Miranda."

To elaborate on this, I'd like to say that Ernesto "Ché" Guevara
definitely deserves to be put into his own category. To begin with,
North American anarchists rarely understand the importance of this
man as a historical figure for social struggles in the global South.
The "untouchability" of his image remains a point of frustration to
those who see him only as either an authoritarian responsible for
Castroism, or a commercialized silhouette devoid of all revolutionary
content. To label Ché as an orthodox Leninist is an
oversimplification given his own preference for violent guerrilla
struggle, not to mention that it is difficult to label him an
authoritarian when he willingly renounced his position in the highest
strata of the Cuban bureaucracy in order to fight and die in isolated
foreign campaigns. To the majority of oppressed people in South
America and around the world, Ché remains an incredibly
accessible point of reference as a revolutionary driven by deep
personal love for humankind and the struggle for liberation; it is this
non-ideological aspect that is usually completely lost on anarchists.

To be sure, there is plenty in both Ché's thought and actions that
must be exposed and rejected. But an analysis of his evolving
ideology and personal writings reveals a man who was evolving
directly away from the Soviet Union's conception of "communism",
even going so far as to realize in his lifetime that the USSR was itself
imperialist, and uncommitted in any way to the liberation of peoples
in the global South. Had he lived, it would be my assertion that we
would be listing him alongside names such as Luxemburg,
Dunayevskaya, and Negri as Marxists who over the course of their
lives came to radically different conclusions about the nature of
revolutionary struggle and fully rejected the Leninist paradigm.

This is not an attempt by RAAN to "reclaim" the imagery of Ché
Guevara, but rather a very necessary move towards placing him in
the proper historical context - one that has remained unintelligible to
many anti-authoritarians and deserves an especially close study if
one is to fully understand the Venezuelan situation.

Ultimately, the tragedy of Ché Guevara's life is that he did not live
to see the failure of his own tactics as global capital and the United
States in particular quickly adapted to guerrilla warfare and learned
how to fight the "Guevarist" movements to a standstill in which they
eventually starved themselves of momentum and popular support. It
is my assertion that this led to the biggest - and really, only -
backdoor of legitimacy for Maoism in this hemisphere, and
exploring the universal and romantic appeal of Ché Guevara is key
to understanding why groups like the Black Panthers and even
modern US hip-hop culture as a whole have remained much more
influenced by authoritarian and vanguardist left-wing tendencies
than they should have been, a fact that frustrates orthodox
anarchists to no end.

But in the case of RASH La Gran Caracas, this is only a partial
explanation as to why they have had so little problem reconciling
Leninism and anarchism. The big secret is, there are practically no
anarchists actually in the organization - at most not more than two.
The rest consider themselves "red" or "socialist", often with a very
ill-defined and non-ideological base in anti-fascism, as one tends to
find elsewhere. Nevertheless because they identify with the
international RASH movement and as a result of their constant
participation in the government's cultural programs and forums, they
are ironically - at least in Caricuao - the most exposure to anarchism
that most "ordinary people" will ever get. Given that Chávez is
openly hostile to anarchists, the Redskins thus take on an increased
importance to any anti-authoritarian study of the country. To be
sure, they get asked about the "A" in RASH all the time, and their
answers both individually and as a group tend to revolve around their
awareness of themselves as only a small part of a global culture, and
dedicated to respecting the traditions and history of that culture.

"Anarchist" or not, the members of RASH Venezuela were very
comradely and showed a lot of interest in the ideas of RAAN,
obviously seeing in it as much of a "sister organization" as
RAANistas often see in RASH. The Caracas crew puts on a weekly
radio show called Onda Rebelde (Wave of Rebellion) through
Caricuao's Radio Perola community station as part of a
government-funded network that is helping to redefine the media in
Venezuela. Radio Perola is run out of the bottom floor of an
apartment complex that had been an Acción Democrata office
until, in the words of the Redskins, "the community chased them
out". They now proudly refer to the site as an "occupation" (though
it is technically not a squat) through which they have access to
media resources they never would have seen before the Fifth
Republic.

Radio Perola's recording booth is of a modest size, featuring a table
with three microphones and headsets in one corner for the use of
whoever is giving the program, and in another the computer and
sound equipment used by the technician who assists in the
production. With this setup, the RASH crew only has to arrive with a
CD of the music they'd like to play, and then talk about whatever
they want between the songs. The show for which I was present
(January 29th, during the FSM) featured a statement regarding
RASH participation in the Forum, national and international news
segments, an interview with members of PRAB, news of ongoing
police repression in the country, and promotion for an upcoming
reggae benefit. In between these features, the DJ kept up a steady
supply of international Oi! music.

The walls of Radio Perola were covered with hundreds of posters
from the different organizations that had passed through it, including
a prominent sticker for the El Libertario periodical, an indication that
the anarchists are not as completely removed from the government's
projects as one might assume. I was also asked to give an account of
RAAN and my impressions of Venezuela on the air, which was my
first experience in the sheer accessibility of the Venezuelan popular
media. Nevertheless we must not fool ourselves into thinking that
the government has allowed a total freedom of speech for these
independent radio stations, as alternative radio 94.9 FM in Caracas
found out on May 10th 2005 when it was shut down by the military
and had all of its equipment seized.

Conscious of this fact, I was careful during my interview to refrain
from any direct criticism of Chávez and instead focused on
forwarding international messages of solidarity from RAAN and the
need for autogestión (autonomous self-organization) as the most
important strategy to advance in any revolution.
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