One of Brazil’s largest newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo, recently published a few articles on the 50th anniversary of the military takeover of the Brazilian government. One of them, written by an Army general (“A árvore boa,” by Rômulo Bini Pereira) has had some repercussion due to its positive and rose-tinted appraisal of the so called “years of lead.” In particular, his use of the phrase “Democratic Revolution” to refer to the military coup of 1964 is conspicuous.
It’s not surprising, however — advocates of the military dictatorship have always made it a point to use the word “revolution” because of its positive connotations, and they are not alone. In fact, history books during the 21 years of the regime were always eager to mention the Democratic Revolution of 1964, and there has been a longstanding resistance against this linguistic cooption of the word “revolution” by political forces that clearly wanted nothing to do with actual change.
In the same vein, during the feverish riots in Venezuela against Nicolás Maduro’s government, the regime has accused the opposition of “demonizing the revolution.” The meme has reached the rest of Latin America and it is fairly easy to find denunciations of the anti-Maduro reactionaries and love letters to the “Bolivarian Revolution.” The theme is old among the socialist governments that have reached power in the world. Cuba has celebrated its continuous “revolution” for 50 years. Venezuela’s is ongoing since 1998, and even in its sweet sixteen continues to be subversive and anti-establishment.
It is understandable that defenders of clearly oppressive and exploitative regimes want to dress their idols up in revolutionary clothes. The current order, after all, is linked to all the social problems that already plague society and revolutions can only mean subversion and the potential solving of those issues. Thus, even obvious conservatives such as Rômulo Bini Pereira find it convenient to label their preferred type of government as “revolutionary.”
For the statist left, though, it is a founding myth. The left was originally the party of change, of transformation, against the chains of the Ancién Regime. The corporatists and social democrats that comprise the statist left nowadays keep this rebellious sentiment, but frame it in a pro-government, establishmentarian rhetoric.
In Brazil, the Worker’s Party (PT) has governed the country for 12 years, and their left-wing supporters have tried to pull the narrative that they have been rebellious and persecuted the whole time. A few months ago, politicians from PT convicted for corruption managed to distort the story so much that they virtually claimed to be political prisoners to their allies.
In Venezuela, even with regime closing in on two decades of rule, Chavistas and their cronies continue to claim to be victims of an anti-revolutionary agenda. And the Latin American statist left is all too happy to minimize the violence suffered by the Venezuelan population and to embrace the version that everything has just been a movement orchestrated by the elite against social progress.
But that is a schizophrenic position. Decades-old regimes cannot be revolutionary. The Venezuelan government, specifically (although the same goes for many other “leftist” states in Latin America) is nothing more than the same old oligarchy with new slogans.
The left can either keep their punk rock self-image or embrace their willingness to idolize the state. Either the leftists can become fully-fledged libertarians and question all power or they can come clean and admit to being lovers of authority. They can’t have it both ways.
Venezuelan protesters would certainly thank the statist revolutionaries if they stopped justifying the tear gas and rubber bullets.
Translations for this article:
- Spanish, Ser Estatista, Ser Revolucionario.
- Portuguese, Ser revolucionário, ser governista.