Paraguay – The Defenders of “Undemocratic Popular Movements” Prove to be Everywhere These Days – 25 June 2012

What is now going on in Paraguay should serve as an object lesson for all those who think that feelings should trump facts. In particular, it should serve as an object lesson for those who feel they’re part of an overwhelming majority but clearly aren’t in reality. You know, like people who think they’re part of a “99%” hereabouts.

Fernando Lugo was removed from office on a vote of 76-1 in Paraguay’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and 39-4 in Paraguay’s upper house, the Senate. Pretty overwhelming numbers, right? But here’s his take on what happened. “Lugo said his truncated presidency was targeted because he tried to help the South American nation’s poor majority.”

Poor “majority”? Paraguay is a democracy now. Everyone in Latin America is freaking out, in fact, because they think Lugo’s successful impeachment means that Paraguay will no longer be a democracy. So where was this poor “majority”? Why didn’t it save Lugo from these votes?

I’m sorry, but it’s because Lugo lost any kind of a reasonable connection with the majority of Paraguayans that this happened. That is the clear reality of this, and no matter how many times people call this a coup, that still doesn’t make it one.

Paraguay is a long way from here…why should I continue to go on about this, you may ask. I have two principal reasons for thinking this item in the news should receive a special focus.

The first is that Latin America is someplace, generally, where people continue to be motivated by their fears of the return of dictatorship rather than by concern for democratic process, the thing that will actually save them from the return of dictatorship. This isn’t just something which is a problem in Paraguay, but in any of the countries of that region which suffered through years of dictatorship. Numerous Latin Americans still have a tendency to think about politics in terms of “the dictators versus the people” – and thus, even in a situation where leaders do not actually command the respect of “the people”, they see any attempt to bring down a “popular” leader, even through the established political process, as something only “the dictators” could want to do.

The second, however, is that here in North America, we’re not far away from this attitude. We seem to have it in our heads that there are these things called “the 99%” and “the 1%”. If there really were, representatives of “the 99%” would probably be winning elections by a margin of 99%-1%. The truth of the matter is, “we are the 99%” is a pointless abstraction, because few of those 99% are with “us”.

Perhaps the point people are making is that, if people understood their interests better than they do, they would be. Fine, I have no problem with that – I certainly agree that there are lots of people who vote contrary to what a sober reflection on their interests suggests they should vote. But when they don’t, it is not a “coup”. It is us not reaching them. If there is any reason for using the “99%” metaphor in the first place, it is that we _should_ be able to reach them. But _we_ haven’t.

Possibly there are some reasons for this. After all, it is certainly possible to rule in the name of the poor but not really do much of anything for them. Hugo Chávez is sort of a poster boy for this sort of thing. Right now, for example, Chávez is standing up for the Paraguayan poor, according to this article, by cutting off their supply of oil. Yeah, that’ll help them. (Incidentally, remember, this is the same Chávez who is only too willing to supply heating oil to the _American_ poor, in order to embarrass the American government. But apparently Paraguay’s poor can go whistle because Chávez has a vitally important geopolitical point to make in their part of the world, because Paraguayans decided to vote in a way he doesn’t like.)

Overall, the main reason I bring all of this to your attentions is that Latin American reactions to the vote in Paraguay symbolise the worst of the world’s “undemocratic popular movements” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). _Why_ one loses a vote seems to be beside the point to those who favour such movements. Having defined themselves to be a rhetorical majority, they cannot fathom when a real majority rejects them.

I am reminded of the wise words of German socialist Karl Kautsky: “The only weapon that gives the laboring masses an advantage over their exploiters is their numerical superiority. When it comes to decisive social clashes we have a chance to win only where that numerical superiority is on our side. This is true not only in cases where the fight is conducted by methods of democracy but also in a larger measure in conflicts where violence is employed. We should not think that the use of force will exempt us from the difficult duty of attracting to our side the majority of the population. On the contrary, we shall perish if we are going to be opposed not only by the machine guns and cannons of the army and the police but also by the majority of the people. In that case even a general strike will not help us.”

Indeed. Defenders of “the people” should be the first ones to care what the people actually think, not the last.

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