Getting the labels all mixed up

In the post before this one (and in a comment in response to Greg’s comment) on Uribe and “conservatism” and the “left” in Colombia, I noted the tendency of the media to get mixed up in trying to label Latin American (or other) political phenomena. Now comes this gem from Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph, who suggests that Peru is about to make a decisive turn to the “left” in its presidential runoff, after which we are treated to these unbelievably ridiculous paragraphs:

The Peruvian election will complete the almost clean sweep of South America by anti-yanqui populists: Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile are all in the hands of the militant Left.

Even Uruguay, the squarest and most bourgeois state in the region, has joined the rebels: after 170 years in which the Blanco and Colorado parties alternated in office, it elected its first socialist government last year. Only Colombia stands as an untoppled domino.

Oh my! A clean red sweep! The dominos are toppling!

Where to start? The above quoted passages are among the funniest things I have read in a while. Well, they would be funny if they were not meant to be taken seriously by uninformed readers. First of all, while he did say South America, the ultimate Latin American domino would presumably be Mexico, and let’s not rule out Mexico’s voting to keep the moderately right-wing PAN in power, though if López Obrador wins, our Telegraph correspondent may not be able to contain himself. (If Hannan had to address Mexico, he’d also have to address Nicaragua and the possible electoral comeback by the Sandinistas; I am pretty sure he could not have handled that!)

But Chile in the hands of the militant left? When? Not even Allende was militant in any meaningful sense (though he was an avowed revolutionary socialist, he believed socialism could only be built through legality). But Bachelet and the Concertación coalition with the Christian Democrats are the militant left?

And Urugay’s Broad Front is just that–broad. Somewhat like in Chile, it encompasses the left (including a small component that is made up of ex militants from the Tupamaros, a former rebel movement), but also moderate liberal and Christian democrats. Its leader, Velazquez, has been, like Chile’s recent Socialist presidents, the very pitcture of cautious economic management and free-trade promotion.

Argentina is in the hands of the moderately “populist” wing of its old and classically populist party, the Peronists. More than anything else, this party is a collection of rent-seeking governors’ machines. It is far from a paragon of good governance, but militant revolutionary Kirchner and his party are not. (Hannan did not even mention the giant of the continent, Brazil, now into its fourth year in the vise-grip of that fire-breathing radical Lula.)

Chávez and maybe Morales, I can buy as “militant left,” though Hannan was much closer to reality when he labelled them “anti-yanqui populists.” And herein lies the common mix-up: conflating leftist institution-builders like Bachelet and Velazquez (or Lula) with militant institution-destroyers like Chávez. (The jury is still out on this score on Morales, and, obviously, López Obrador, but I don’t see either of them–especially the latter–as anywhere near the Chávista pole of militant left populism.)

Kirchner, in Argentina, has done much to rebuild institutions largely shattered by that pro-American, pro-business, free-trading Carlos Menem in the 1990s, while Peru has yet to recover from Menem’s crusading anti-communist, anti-terrorist comrade, Alberto Fujimori.

As for Peru, to call Alan García leftist misses an important point: His APRA party was founded in opposition to the old left as well as the military and the traditional parties. In Peru’s party system of the 1980s and early 1990s, APRA competed against the right and the legal electoral left (as well as the genuinely militant and terroristic Maoist guerrillas). (García was president from 1985 to 1990.) APRA is something of a classic Latin American populist phenomenon, but it never incorporated or co-opted the left to the same degree as other classic populists in Argentina, Mexico, and (pre-military rule) Brazil.

As for Garcia’s opponent in the presidential runoff, Humala, Hannan describes him well:

a cashiered ex-officer who sees [former military populist dictator] Velasco as his role-model. Humala combines socialist economics with aggressive nationalism and a millenarian appeal to the indigenous peoples.

Let’s label things as what they are. That’s not leftist. That’s fascist.

h/t Antoine Clarke.

8 thoughts on “Getting the labels all mixed up

  1. I completely agree. I’ve been tired of this kind of claptrap from both the media and the “activist” trustafarian youthnicks who misunderstand basic words like corporatism (am I the only one who’s head spins when I hear that tired line about corporatism and fascism then jumping to the idea that any US government that is pro-business is therefore fascist, argh!!!), populism (as if those who oppose populism oppose “the people” & participatory democracy), revolutionary-left (as if Humala were an ardent student of Marxism-Leninism), democratic-socialism (as if anything w/ socialism in the title means anti-capitalism), etc.

    To such people all anti-Americans are “leftists” and to be admired. As if there’s no difference between an anti-American like a Kim Jong Il or a Milosevic or a Castro or a Chirac.

    So. Yeah. Amen!

  2. Pingback: PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts

  3. Pingback: PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts

  4. “socialist economics with aggressive nationalism and a millenarian appeal to the indigenous”

    Either Fascist or Leninist (the Bolsheviks were hardly above appeals to Russian/Soviet nationalism and ethnic Russians), to be sure.

  5. I consider Leninism a form of organization rather than an ideology, per se. The Venezuelan AD was rather Leninist in its internal structure, as was the Taiwanese KMT. They had little in common, however, with Lenin ideologically. (Over at Arms and Influence, Kingdaddy and I have discussed this.)

    While I do not really know how Humala’s movement is organized, I doubt it has the leninist “cell” structure. Chavez on the other hand, has his Bolivarian Circles organized in a leninist fashion. I have always felt he learned at least as much about political organization from the AD as from Castro.

  6. I’m from Chile. I’m really impressed by the portrait Daniel Hannan makes of Bachelet and Vázquez.

    By no means they are of the militant left. Bachelet and her government get no sympathies from the militant left here. We have some kind of mild militant left (mainly an old communist party, and a so-called humanist party) that gets very few votes here in Chile, always below 11%.

    I’ve been in England last (northern hemisphere) winter. I was really impressed about the poor quality and lack of neutrality of some of the most widely read newspapers, as the Telegraph is.

  7. Pingback: Fruits and Votes » Prof. Shugart's Blog » Populist? Leftist?

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