by Jim Kavanagh
Here’s the bullet-point version:
- It’s imperialism.
It’s American imperialism, a bipartisan national project.
American imperialism is the global management of capitalist class power.
It’s a binary situation in which one side or the other will win via the use and threat of armed force.
It’s trouble for Venezuela and for imperialism.
There’s no such thing as Progressive Except Imperialism.
Here’s the long rant:
The United States government’s new offensive against Venezuela is an act of naked imperialism.
I predicted last year that Venezuela would be the first new country hit by the Trump administration’s indispensable need to establish its American-exceptionalist, “Presidentialist,” bona fides. It is the Goldilocks target. Not too small:It is, in fact, a significant country with world’s largest oil reserves, and a proclaimed socialist government that’s been a thorn in the gringo boot on Latin America for almost twenty years. Not too big: It’s no military match for U.S. & Latin American proxy armed forces, and nobody will start WWIII to defend it. Just right: A decisive win, at little apparent cost. And just the kind of amuse-boucheneeded to get the U.S. population’s juices flowing for a more costly and difficult attack on the ultimate target—Iran. At least, that’s the way they think.
But I couldn’t anticipate the anger and frustration I would feel, seeing this crock of shit being shoved down the throats of the world, and being swallowed whole by the bipartisan political and media establishment, with nothing more than a few hard gulps from even most U.S. “progressives.”
The United States is attempting to seize control of another sovereign nation, Venezuela. Having no speck of standing within Venezuela or in international law, the U.S. is resorting to regime change by edict. The Trump administration has simply proclaimed that the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, recently re-elected with over 6 million votes (68%), is now replaced by Juan Guaidó, who had not even run for the office and therefore received zero votes (0%), and whom 81% of Venezuelans had never heard of. But, like a good bench-warmer, Guaidó got the dreamed-for call from the coach—literally, a phone call from the offensive coordinatorU.S. Vice President—and the next day swore himself in as President of Venezuela, under the authority granted to him by the government of the United States. All The Right Moves.
Somehow these electoral results add up to the fact that Maduro is a “dictator.” Somehow the electoral system that, in 2012, the notorious socialist rag Forbescalled “A Model For The World” and Jimmy Carter called: “the best in the world”–thesame one that was A-OK in 2015, when it produced an opposition winin the National Assembly elections—was “illegitimate” and a “sham” in 2018.
We know this because the hardline Venezuelan opposition faction said so. That’s the faction that refused to participate along with the other sixteen parties in the early election the opposition parties called for, and which asked international institutions notto send observers (a demand request most of those institutions, for some reason surely unrelated to U.S. bribes and threats, obeyed). We know this because the U.S. government, which threatened the government of Venezuela with further sanctions for holding the elections, and threatened the main opposition candidate (Henri Falcón) with individual sanctions for participating—said so. We know this because a whole bunch of Serious People who didn’t set foot in the country said so.
We know the election was a “sham” despite the fact that over 300 international election observers who were actually present in Venezuela found, as the EU delegation said, that the elections were “fraud-proof [and] were conducted fairly.” Reasonable, since an outstanding 54% of voting machines were audited against hand-counted paper ballots, in front of representatives of all parties and open access to citizens, with results posted locally. Which is perhaps why “no evidence or concrete reports of fraud have been presented.” (Please do judge for yourself here,and here, and here.)
We know this because the U.S. government and its Serious Sycophants are the arbiters of what’s “democracy” and what’s ”dictatorship” and what’s good for Venezuela, and if they declare that the guy who won a couple of elections by millions of votes is a “dictator,” and the guy who did not even run is the “legitimate” President—well, that’s one of those new proclamations that becomes an established fact because all the Right People keep saying it. What it’s not, what you can never suggest it may be, is a crock of excuses for the U.S. and its Venezuelan compradors who didn’t want to participate in an election that they knew they could not win.
(You might notice the new rule, which we’ve seen in Palestine, with EU-treaties, and now Venezuela: elections don’t count unless you get the result the Serious People want.)
In true Orwellian fashion, these proclaimed facts not only become taken for granted across the political and media spectrum, they also re-write a whole history retroactively. Not only are we to embrace as fact that the same Bolivarian government which a few years go organized the best election process in the world has this year organized a “sham” election, we are to forget that that government ever was, or could have been, anything but a “dictatorship.” We were always at war with Oceania, and the entire history of Chavismo and the Bolivarian socialist movement was always unrelieved dictatorship and repression. Hugo Chavez—the guy who won numerous elections, including the one an American president called “the best in the world “—always was, according to Bernie Sanders, a “communist dictator.” And Juan Guaidó is and always was a social democrat.
Thus, U.S. politicians and media relentlessly portray Maduro as some kind of Saddam reincarnated, an implication of dictatorial brutality that is, or should be, too obviously ludicrous. The opposition speaks its mind everywhere in Venezuela. Private and oppositional media control between 74-92% of the audience. The guy who is openly, with the support of a foreign country, usurping the presidency, calling for a coup by the Venezuelan army, and making it clear that he’s open to a military attack by the US to overthrow the government and secure his position, is zipping around Venezuela giving interviews and press conferences. If there’s one thing Maduro has failed at, it’s being a “dictator.”
There is no straight-faced, non-Orwellian way to deny that the Trump administration’s attempt to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela is the culmination of a blatant imperialist plan, hatched and driven by the United States. Indeed, anti-Chavistas gleefully trumpet that fact. Here’s the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Abraham F. Lowenthal:
secret international consultations spearheaded by the U.S. in December produced a plan for regime change: the National Assembly… would convene, reject what they regarded as the illegitimate swearing-in of Maduro, and name the president of the Assembly, Juán Guaidó, as the country’s new president.
As Argentinian sociologist Marco Teruggi says, and Graystone journalists Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal show: “Juan Guaidó is a character that has been created for this circumstance”—created by the United States.
Turns out that 81% of Venezuelans don’t know who @jguaido is! And he wants to be crowned President!
You are gonna have to work a bit more on that name-recognition outside of the White House circles Juan! https://t.co/k66h1o2qh6
— venezuelanalysis.com (@venanalysis) January 21, 2019
The sudden seizure of Venezuela’s presidency is combined with new explicit threats of military attack and, of course, by intensification of the socially-devastating economic warfare the U.S. has been waging against Venezuela for almost twenty years, under the authority granted to it by the international institutions and “community” over which the U.S. already exercises imperial control.
This is a level of perfect imperial arrogance that rises to the fantastical.
And therein lies a bit of a problem. Like most of the initiatives of Donald Trump’s administration, it is too obvious, too loud, too impetuous, too risky—just too much.
As he did by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump is taking a long-standing, bipartisan American foreign-policy position and pushing it with a speed, to a degree, and in a style that reveals a little too clearly how dangerous and reactionary it is.
The Trump administration’s attack will do major damage to the Venezuelan people for some period of time, and that is what we must, above all, denounce and do everything we can to stop. But it’s also, from the outset, even more blatantly an American production than the vicious Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973, which has come to be reviled as the epitome of imperial arrogance, particularly by every U.S. and Western politician who aspires to be less loathsome than, or claims to be to the left of, Henry Kissinger. And anybody with any understanding of the social and international forces at play knows it can only succeed via at least the same level of fascistic violence. As such, it’s a move that also poses a real risk of significant political damage to the American imperialproject.
As I’ve said before, in discussing the salutary Trump-effect: The insufferable sanctimony of American exceptionalism—the pretense of fighting for democracy and humanitarianism and respecting international law—has been an important ideological pillar of the imperial project. With these kind of blatant “We’ve got the power, so we’ll do what we want” actions, the Trump administration is wiping the lipstick off the imperial pig, and, accelerating the loss of the “moral authority [that] has imbued America with a special kind of clout in the world.”
As Michael Hudson says: “No left-wing party, no socialist, anarchist or foreign nationalist leader anywhere in the world could have achieved what [Trump] is doing to break up the American Empire.”
For the United States in 2019, regime change by edict in a Latin American country, backed by military threat and social sabotage, is an embarrassment of imperial power. It’s as if the British government suddenly announced it was replacing the Prime Minister of India. So nineteenth- (and early twentieth-) century.
This is the real reason the bipartisan U.S. political and foreign-policy elite and their international confrères mistrusted—indeed, despised—Trump from the outset. In theTV cop show, he’s the clumsy rogue cop that nobody wants on their team, the one who blows the operation that’s been carefully developed for years by barging in to make an arrest, thereby exposing all the undercover cops as the rats they are.
Let’s consider some of the verminous things brought into the light by Trump administration’s arrogant initiative and make it impossible for anyone of good faith and intellectual honesty, even among U.S. “progressives,” to ignore them again.
It Is What It Is
This is imperialism. It’s not “humanitarian intervention.” It’s not “democracy promotion.” It’s not “responsibility to protect.” All of those terms are, and always were, euphemisms for “imperialism.”
No more excuses for avoiding the word “imperialism” to describe U.S. foreign policy. Honest political analysts are hereby authorized—required, really—to use that word. We are called upon to wipe away those liberaloid lipstick euphemisms whenever they appear, and unmask and name the porcine face of American imperialism. Because, in our world, imperialism is as American as Jimmy Dean’s sausage.
Really, not a word can be said to justify, mitigate, or explain this attempt to forcibly overthrow Maduro’s elected government in Venezuela. Not a single word.
From whom? Donald Trump, who won an election with three million fewer votes than his opponent? From the U.S. government, electorate, and entire bipartisan political and media class—all of whom abide and glorify such a political regime, riddled with voter suppression, opaque election systems, and various structural anti-democratic obstacles (Filibuster, anyone?) that prevent the government functioning on the basis of a majority vote? From Emmanuel Macron, whose government now enjoys less than 20% support in France, and has been beating thousands of protestors in the street for 12 weeks? From Colombia, which is a hotbed of drug and political violence, and has seen the assassination of over 300 human rights and community activists in the last two years?
Not a word.
To what end? When someone is being kidnapped, and your family is the home invasion gang, you do not get to make a statement that criticizes the hostage for being a poor housekeeper.
Not a word.
I understand the need to act in #Venezuela. The country has seen weeks and of violent protests, the embattled President has less than 17% approval rating and government forces have been gassing and maiming civilians on the streets.
Oh sorry, that’s not Venezuela, that’s France.
— OffGuardian (@OffGuardian0) January 24, 2019
What’s good for the big dog and its poodles is definitely not good for the mutt. As Jean Bricmont has pointed out, “It is obvious that such ‘[humanitarian] interventions’ are only possible on the part of strong States against weak States,” and that “even all strong states are not equal among each other.” Regarding Latin America, it should be obvious to everyone, even U.S. North Americans, that the Trump administration’s actions toward Venezuela must be understood in this imperialist framework, and that, per Bricmont: “The last thing the newly decolonized countries wanted was intervention from the old colonial powers.” It’s missionary imperialism redux, with “humanitarian” and “democratic” correction of backward states its new “civilizing” mission. Lassie Come Home.
But this game has become too obvious. Nobody with any historical consciousness can credibly claim that American interventions in Latin America, including Venezuela, have been about anything but forcing “backyard” countries to stay within the imperial fence. Ask Obama’s million-dollar man, Bill Maher:
U.S. leftists might want to retrieve that thing—post-colonial nationalism—that went into the closet with their Che posters when they became enamored of neoliberal globalism. From Bolivar to Blair.
Nobody can credibly claim that recent U.S. interventions elsewhere around the world (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria) have really been about democracy or humanitarianism. In each case, the result was the purpose—a weakened if not chaotic polity, more subject to American military and political control and to the predations of U.S. and international capital. Democracy? Meh.
At this point, when the U.S. speaks, it makes a travesty of the word “democracy,” as the U.S. is the most anti-democratic force in the world. It always intervenes to prevent or destroy democracy—the empowerment of the mass of people—and to enforce the rule of a wealthy elite.
In fact, there is a fight for democracy being waged in Venezuela: It’s the popular forces empowered and energized by the Bolivarian revolution who are fighting to defend and build democracy, and the U.S. and the Venezuelan oligarchy who are fighting to destroy it.
The repeated results of U.S. intervention have demonstrated to all who stray outside the highly-constricted Western-establishment-approved media bubble that democracy and humanitarianism have nothing to do with American interventions, except as pretense. The same goes—the same purpose, result, and pretense—for Venezuela. Those who stay in that bubble are condemned to the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome.
They lied about #Iran
They lied about #Vietnam
They lied about #Chile
They lied about #Iraq
They lied about #Afghanistan
They lied about #Iraq. Again.
They lied about #Libya.
They lied about #Syria.
But yeah, sure, THIS TIME it’s for a good cause. #Venezuela
— OffGuardian (@OffGuardian0) January 26, 2019
Venezuela is the latest example of how, over the past thirty years (since the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet bloc), theUnited States has attempted to replace international law with what it calls the “rules-based order”—i.e., the U.S. makes the rules and everybody else follows its orders.
And to replace the post-WWII architecture of international relations based on the UN with the authority of the ersatz “international community,” which means the U.S. and its minion states. To make itself the judge, jury, andcop of the world.
It’s called “imperialism.” What the U.S is doing to Venezuela is a criminal aggression that no longer has any place in the world. It is the U.S. having its imperial way with a Latin American country. Everyone with any anti-colonial credibility must unhesitatingly and unequivocally identify and denounce this action for what it is, and do whatever they can to put a stop to it. The blatancy of the Trump administration’s actions here is flushing out all the rats—Republican and Democrat, conservative and “progressive”—who just cannot bring themselves to do this.
We Are What We Are
The United States is an imperialist country. Imperialism is a fundamental, defining aspect of the American political regime.
It is not a matter of a particular person. It’s not a matter of a particular political party. It is not a problem of Donald Trump, or certainly of the Republicans versus the Democrats.
It’s not a blip, or a bad apple, or a mistake, or ignorance, or—the most pernicious excuse of all—an excess of naivete leading astray good intentions. It’s not any kind of historical or political aberration. It is what the United States does, deliberately—the core enterprise of the U.S. in the world.
It is the enterprise that’s perpetuated by all the “greatest country in the world” tropes of American exceptionalism—from Trump’s thuggish “Take the oil” to Obama’s mellifluous “[T]he United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.” As we saw in pathetic, self-congratulatory re-enactment at the State of the Union address, the U.S. still thinks it’s the savior nation it projected itself to be in World War II movies.
Imperialism is the enterprise that anyone who will ever be allowed to be elected as President must accept, embrace, and captain. It makes no sense to run for President unless you understand that.
The attack on Venezuela should make this sink in: The U.S. is an imperialist country and the Democratic and Republican parties are fully committed to that. Neither of these parties is going to nominate a presidential candidate who is not an imperialist. If what you are witnessing toward Venezuela right now doesn’t lead you to drop all illusions about those facts, you are living in a fantastic world.
Watch the bipartisan political and media elite embrace the imperialist mission. Our Congress, which consistently shirks its clear constitutional authority/responsibility to authorize war, has just voted with bipartisan enthusiasm (70-26 in the Senate) to block the president from withdrawing troops from Syria and Iraq. The Congress is duly re-asserting the U.S. imperialist prerogative to plant its armed forces anywhere it wants.
Here’s the picture of bipartisan American imperialism:
Appreciate @SpeakerPelosi‘s strong statement of support. The U.S. stands united in its support of Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó, and of the peaceful, constitutional transition to democracy in Venezuela. https://t.co/slwxPTHwoZ
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 10, 2019
The very few prominent politicians’ voices—from libertarian to “progressive”—who are raising any criticism of the Trump administration’s current aggression against Venezuela are doing so in terms that accept and reinforce the false imperialist narrative about the dictatorship of Maduro, the failures of Bolivarian socialism, and the need for regime change via economic warfare.
Congresspersons Ilhan Omar and Tulsi Gabbard are notable exceptions. Without endorsing her in any global way, I’ll particularly credit Gabbard, as a presidential candidate, for her simple, direct, and unequivocal “Stay out of Venezuela” and “Say no to regime change” statements.
And, man, is she paying for it. That was all the mainstream media had to hear to begin a concerted campaign against her. NBC instantly took to smearing her as—what else?!—a Russian asset (the Kremlin’s latest “crush”). Perhaps not coincidentally, according to “Intel Consultant,” Jacob Wohl: “Everyone in the pro-Israel lobby (myself included) is already talking about how to make sure that Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign is over before it even gets off the ground.” Whatever other positions she takes, Tulsi has become a perfect example of the exception that proves the must-not-challenge-imperialism rule.
Compared to her, and whatever else they can be credited for, “socialist” icons, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Bernie Sanders, have been particularly egregious in their non-exception to that rule.
Bernie buried a general criticism of “supporting coups” and “inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries” in a screed that repeats every reactionary shibboleth about the “violent” Maduro government and the economic “disaster” of Bolivarian socialism.
AOC, two weeks in, is still “preparing a statement”! Really? At this point, if you don’t know what must be said, that’s a problem. If you’re struggling to craft a statement that’s both-sides-ish enough to dodge the Tulsi treatment, that’s a problem. ”Progressive” pipsqueakery at is finest.
Every word of Bernie’s equivocation and every second of AOC’s delay is evidence of betrayal.
The present U.S. imperialist aggression has created one of those conjunctures in which there are only two relevant “sides”: U.S. imperialism, operated through Guaidó and the Venezuelan oligarchs, on the one hand, and the sovereignty and self-determination of Venezuela and its working class, defended by Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution, on the other. It shouldn’t be hard—shouldn’t take but a few words and one moment—for a “socialist” to figure out, and say clearly which side s/he is on.
There’s no triangulating on this. The demands of all citizens of the U.S. and the world who want to be considered leftists or progressives—or, FFS, socialists!—must be specific, pointed, unequivocal, immediate, and absolutely one-sided.
First of all, to rescind the colonial appointment and recognition ofPreppie Pinochet Guaidó and recognize Maduro as President of Venezuela. No, there is not a “third way” here, and any attempt to conjure one up is a surrender to imperialist authority.
We must also demand an immediate end to all threats and preparations for military intervention or attack, with any combination of U.S and/or proxy armed forces. All military options for regime change must be explicitlytaken “off the table.”
And, equally important, all forms of economic attack and social sabotage against Venezuela must end.
You know that hypothetical question leftists like to post to themselves: “What would I do if I had been there when….?” Well, this is a moment when everyone gets to answer it for real. The above is the minimum set of positions one must embrace to avoid taking the side of today’s Pinochet against today’s Allende. Shame on any leftist—including Bernie, who should know, and AOC, who should also know—who doesn’t understand, or want to understand, that’s exactly what’s at stake.
There’s that game, which liberals love so much and played so well with Iraq and Libya and Syria—and Chile—where you take a “nuanced” position on the aggression in progress, and wait a few years to admit the true horror of what actually happened, and then bemoan its unfortunate “excesses”—which in this case will be the ruthless crushing of the Venezuelan working class for the sake of “humanitarianism” and “democracy.”
Shame on any leftist who plays along with this. As the man said, there is no time for such equivocation: Allende or Pinochet? Maduro or Guaidó? It is that same choice, and it must be made now. “Let’s not be sorry after the fact and let the past become our fate.”
1973 – the US says Allende must go, need “democracy”, liberate suffering Chilean people, etc.
1974 – the NYT admits the CIA created the misery, making it impossible for Allende to govern so that a US puppet could be installed.
But I’m sure that was just a one time thing. ? pic.twitter.com/CodUUhhQHg
— ⏳☦#WarIsARacket☦⏳ (@For2000years) February 2, 2019
There’s a reason many nationally-prominent progressives are so reluctant to clearly and unequivocally take these positions: because the U.S. is at its core an imperialist country, and they are unwilling and/or afraid to face and state that and engage the political fight that would ensue—the fight that would be necessary to change it. In other words, they accept U.S. imperialism and are resigned to work within it.
I’m sure some of them feel they can go along with imperialism as some kind of unfortunate eccentricity that has to be tacitly tolerated as the price of getting healthcare. Sorry, time is just over for that. The outrageousness of this U.S. attack on Venezuela, and what it ratifies and portends, cannot be accommodated.
The US is as blatantly imperialist now as the Jim Crow South was blatantly racist for a hundred years—and the one is as absolutely unacceptable as the other. Indeed, imperialism isJim Crow, international edition. Anything calling itself the “progressive” left must see that, and name it, and fight it. Unequivocally. No “But that Malcolm/Maduro fellow is so violent/ undemocratic!”
No American politician who abides imperialism deserves to call him/herself “progressive,” let alone “left,” or deserves the political support of those who are actually progressive and left. There is no such thing as Progressive Except Imperialism.
Message to “progressive” politicians: Do not expect any serious leftist or anti-imperialist to let you off for this. Time is over for thinking it’s OK to go along with the imperialist “humanitarian/democratic” regime-change bullshit of Trump-Obama-Bush-every-American-president. If you’re not willing to break decisively with that, you are a big part of the problem.
Self-identified “progressives” and “democratic socialists” had better find a way to define themselves clearly against their imperialist colleagues. Like class politics, international issues—Palestine-Israel, Venezuela, and self-styled “humanitarian intervention”—are going to be on the agenda, whether identity-politics fans like it or not. And they are going to be splitting questions. Don’t be all hurt and whiny and try to shut people up or blame Russia when it becomes clear that a lot of potential Democratic voters say “Fuck No!” to a ticket that represents continued establishment imperialism and zionism plus a tax hike and a “public option.” “Lean in” to that, resisters.
Imperialism is a project of capitalism, and therefore of class power.
Is there a desperate economic situation and tremendous human suffering in Venezuela? You bet there is! How could there not be, when the U.S., the most powerful economic force in the world, in alliance with Venezuelan oligarchy and private capital, which still controls 70% of the economy (And increasing. So much for Venezuela being “socialist”!), has been waging full-spectrum economic warfare and social sabotage against the country for almost twenty years!
This, of course, includes coercive sanctions that “fall most heavily on the poorest people and demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages.”
But another at least as potent weapon is financial strangulation, which allows the U.S., via its control of international banking and payments systems, to force the closing of accounts and lines of credit.
As economist Francisco Rodríguez points out, this “effectively put an end” toVenezuela’s ability to get the funds needed to maintain, invest in, and increase production in its all-important oil industry. As Rodriguez shows, the fall in oil prices in 2016 hurt both Venezuela and Colombia, but only Venezuela was forced into a severe production decline in 2017, as a result of these financial sanctions.
The financial attack is now culminating in the U.S.-led “international community” wolfpoodle pack feasting on Venezuelan state assets. The British government has seized $1.2 billion of gold that Venezuela had stored in the Bank of England, and Canada is trying, on the authority of an American court, to grab Citgo, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company. The U.S. itself has taken the assets and accounts of Venezuela in the U.S. and given them to Juan Guaidó’s entourage-posing-as-a-government.
(Again, the Trump administration might not have fully considered the long-term effects this might have on its imperial hegemony. All these moves will surely inspire trust among now-powerful, independent capitalist nations in the U.S.’s management of the world’s financial affairs.)
This economic attack from the U.S. has also been coordinated for years with U.S.-client governments in Latin American, like Colombia, which deliberately enables currency manipulation and contraband smuggling, which exacerbates inflation and shortages in Venezuela and encourages corruption on both sides of the border. And, most importantly, it is coordinated with comprador Venezuelan capitalists, who can manipulate the supply of important commodities like food and paper products in ways that make life very uncomfortable.
So, yes,the Chavistas made mistakes, including over-depending on oil revenue. But it was the U.S., targeting all of the country’s weak points with a global economic power against which a country like Venezuela has no effective defense, that deliberately, for the purpose of regime change, turned a set of problems that any commodity-based capitalist economy might face into a hystericized crisis.
The purpose, as it was in Allende’s Chile, was to “make the economy scream,” to instigate what is, or can be portrayed as, a “full economic collapse” that can be blamed on “the failure of socialism,” and use that to justify regime-change intervention. For humanitarian reasons, of course.
All this was admitted by this State Department official:
“The financial sanctions we have placed on the Venezuelan Government has forced it to begin becoming in default, both on sovereign and PDVSA, its oil company’s, debt. And what we are seeing because of the bad choices of the Maduro regime [he misspelled “because of those sanctions”] is a total economic collapse in Venezuela. So our policy is working, our strategy is working and we’re going to keep it on the Venezuelans.”
So, though it is exactly what U.S. and Western politicians and media do, nobody can credibly talk about Venezuela’s real and severe economic problems without acknowledging that the real and aggressive U.S.-coordinated strategy of economic warfare and social sabotage was an enormous cause thereof.
One Latin American research center has determined that Venezuela lost $350 billion (including opportunity costs) from 2013-17 due to the U.S.-imposed sanctions and boycott. Again, what post-colonial country in the world could withstand this kind of assault without economic suffering?
As the UN special rapporteur on Venezuela, Alfred de Zayas, says, “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns….Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.” He even suggested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could investigate the sanctions and “economic warfare” being waged against Venezuela as “crimes against humanity.”[i]
You’ll never hear about this report in the U.S. media, either, because, as Zayas knows: “They just want the simple narrative that socialism failed.”
“Siege” is an apt term—and more than a metaphor, because financial and economic attack really is means of war today, weapons that are deployed in coordination with drones, bombs, cruise missiles, etc., in the new U.S. Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) for regime change. Financial attack is a particularly effective weapon because it’s available only to the United States. Because of the structuring of the world capitalist economy under the hegemony of U.S. capitalism. Because of imperialism. (And, as Michael Hudson points out, the blatancy of this weapon’s use on Venezuela will make other now-powerful capitalist countries see how dangerous to themthat U.S. hegemony might be.)
In more modern military terms, which describe exactly where we are with Venezuela, economic warfare is the artillery barrage that disrupts the enemy forces before launching the major assault. The crowning of Guaidó is the spearhead of that assault. Behind it will come everybattalion and every weapon that can be thrown into the fight.
Let’s not forget, too, that this attack, which the Trump administration has accelerated, was thrown into gear by the Obama administration’s ridiculous, lying designation of Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” (which Obama reconfirmed in one of his last acts as President). That designation did much to promote the aggressive economic warfare, social sabotage, and ideological demonization of Bolivarian Venezuela as the cool and liberal things that even all progressives should get behind.
Empire and Its Vicissitudes
So, what is this capitalist-imperialist assault for?
Well, oil is the first thing that comes to mind, and with good reason. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. And there is no question that the U.S. wants the exploitation of that crucial resource to be carried out in ways that profit U.S. strategic interests and, within that framework, profit U.S. companies as much as possible.
John Bolton has said this explicitly: “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” And Guaidó, harmonizing with his master’s voice, has already announced that, given the chance, he will be “opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment” and “privatizing assets held by state enterprises.”
But, notwithstanding the Donald’s stupid and embarrassing-to-the-empire “Take the oil!” rhetoric, this privatization process is more complex than the U.S. just confiscating oilfields and production facilities. It’s a process meant to correct the class relations in Venezuela as much as to correct the commercial relations between Venezuela and the U.S.
The US, as Guardian of Empire, does not just plunder resources for its own sake; it maintains and manages class power throughout the world.
As leader of the world capitalist empire, the job of the U.S., prior even to assuring profits of U.S. oil companies, is to assure, in every country it possibly can, the economic and political rule of the capitalist class. That means, typically, by whatever means necessary crushing any attempt by a popular movement based in the working class to take political control of the state and economic control of the capital wealth of society.
That—class power—is the main concern.
The U.S. can live with Saudi Arabia’s nationalized and centralized oil production because that “nationalization” really means the oil industry is the property of, and its profits accrue to, the Saudi monarchy/ruling class. Not even when the Saudis caused severe economic disruption in the U.S. in the seventies, did the U.S. threaten to invade or force regime change.
What the U.S. could not live with would be the capture of the Saudi state and economy by a revolutionary democratic movement that owns and manages that social wealth for the benefit of the people. That is what the Bolivarian revolution has done in Venezuela, and what the U.S., as guardian of the empire, musttry to undo.
An AP business reporter recognized exactly this difference between Gulf vs. Venezuelan “nationalization” in a story about Chavez:
Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.
That’s right: The Bolivarian revolution squandered Venezuela’s nationalized oil wealth on healthcare, education, and nutrition, unlike the Gulf monarchies who spend their oil wealth on marquee projects for the elite.
Or, as the CIA acknowledges:
Social investment in Venezuela during the Chavez administration reduced poverty from nearly 50% in 1999 to about 27% in 2011, increased school enrollment, substantially decreased infant and child mortality, and improved access to potable water and sanitation through social investment.
The Chávez movement also “eradicated illiteracy, and created a national system guaranteeing free universal health care.” Oh, and also a subsidized food program, a program of free and affordable housing to the poor and middle class, subsidies to housewives for their domestic work, and a pension program. Et cetera. Such are the “meager gains” of social vs. private investment.
Most important, and underlying all this, is the Chavista movement’s fundamental commitment to working-class empowerment and popular democracy, embodied most powerfully in the system of communes and communal councils. The building of these networks has been interrupted, but not stopped, by the resistance of certain Chavista politicians as well as by opposition mayors and governors—and, of course, by the effects of economic siege and sabotage. These innovative institutionslay the foundations for a “bottom-up” transformation of “the relations of property, production and administration of resources,” and create a “political, social and economic horizon for the Bolivarian Revolution and 21st-century socialism.”
So, it’s not nationalization that’s the cardinal sin, and the U.S. “taking the oil” is not the main solution sought. It’s working-class control of social wealth that must be extirpated, and the “privatization” remedy is a restoration of the power of the comprador capitalist class as a prior condition for any benefit to a foreign company. Fix class power and the benefit for the U.S. and its capitalists will come.
It’s class power that’s the main stake.
And if AOC or Bernie or John Oliver stand with Trump and McConnell and Rubio on this, it’s not because they all stand for “democracy,” it’s because they are all standing with the same class.
Furthermore, as Greg Palast points out, “In Venezuela, as in the USA, poverty and race are locked together.” The Bolivarian socialist movement undeniably works for, and has the allegiance of, the majority of indigenous, mestizos, and Afro-Venezuelans. Chavez himself took pride in his and his country’s African heritage; “He was often called ‘the black’ (el Negro) by Venezuelan elites and also understood to be Afro- and indigenous…Part of what angered elites so much when Chavez came to power was that he was a person who didn’t look like he was ‘fit’ to govern.” The opposition called Chavez “that monkey,” and often drew him as an ape.
As Glen Ford writes in Black Agenda Report: “Venezuela is a predominantly indigenous, Black and mixed race country, while the core opposition to the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro is white and upper class. Most of the nation’s media is owned by the white oligarchic opposition.”
Juan Guaidó, Trump and Pelosi’s “legitimate” Venezuelan President, is entirely a creature of this white-supremacist oligarchic opposition. As Tim Gill and Rebecca Hanson point out, Guaidó “cut his political teeth,” hanging with the crews of proud boys and girls of the Venezuelan white elite that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) were grooming as a putschist vanguard, the “thousands of youth, high school, and college kids…that were horrified of this Indian-looking guy [Chavez] in power.”
Don’t liberals and Democrats, who have pledged their troth to Guaidó and that opposition, just love throwing out photo arrays like this, when it’s a chance to signal their virtue as opposed to Republicans? Where can they be found here? Where’s Diversity Waldo?
Guys, let’s speak plainly. The picture above is of Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly – dominated by the Chavistas. The picture below are the coup makers of the legislature. Spot the difference? pic.twitter.com/5S8z2Rv1wp
— Vijay Prashad (@vijayprashad) January 25, 2019
Identity-politics liberals may not want to look or see, but what’s happening in Venezuela demonstrates, “as in the USA,” that the working-class fight, the fight for socialism, isthe fight against racism and bigotry, and for the majority of all races and ethnicities.
This is now a binary conflict. There aren’t twelve sides; there are two. One of them will win, and the other will lose. They are defined by class power.
It’s a severe, inexorable political logic: The status quo ante January 20th (the day Guaidó declared himself president) will and can never return. In the simplest sense, which defines the choice no one can escape right now, that means either Nicolas Maduro or Juan Guaidó is and must finish as undisputed President of Venezuela.
But these individuals are representative of class forces. A third person may arise from some process of dialogue or conflict, but that person will not represent a third way, only the victory, the pushing forward, of one of the two sets of class forces and the weakening of the other. The Bolivarian movement will either defeat the imperialist offensive by becoming a much stronger force in the Venezuelan polity, or it will be defeated, and either put in some oligarchically-assigned cage of subordination or, most likely, exterminated with extreme prejudice.
It’s the U.S. and the Venezuelan right that have called the question, but sooner or later, someone had to do it. There has been a de facto situation of dual powerin Venezuela that started with Chavez coming to power and has been intensified by the growing political and social empowerment of the working class that Bolivarian socialism nurtured over the last twenty years.
A dual-power situation is inherently unstable, and the Trump administration, with clear-eyed determination, is only making that situation explicit, and trying to force right now, in terms favorable to capital and imperialism, the resolution that had to come. The left resistance must be as clear-eyed and resolute.
It’s a familiar political logic: The Chavista Bolivarian movement, like all its social democratic cousins, made a bet it could advance toward socialism within a capitalist society without decisively and irreversibly taking control of the major means of production and finance, the capital wealth of society. The Venezuelan capitalist oligarchy, egged on by the U.S. government, has called the bet. Everybody’s all-in. Everybody has to understand that. John Bolton does.
The Trump administration’s calling of this bet has thus provided a crystal-clear object lesson in that scandalous concept Marx identified as one of his three new contributions to an understanding of class struggle: “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Of course, by “dictatorship” Marxism does not mean “one-man rule”; it means absolute political hegemony.
It’s a concept that clarifies which class has ultimate political power in a polity. For Marx, in any state, only one class—the class that has decisive control over the capital wealth of society—can have ultimate political authority, exercising final-answer veto power over decisions that affect the fundamental nature of that polity. A modern capitalist state is by definition a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” (the capitalist class), even if, as the bourgeoisie prefers, that absolute political hegemony is exercised through an appropriately-circumscribed apparatus of elections, parliaments, and rights.
However formally democratic those political institutions and practices are, at the end of every day they must ensure the substantive disempowerment of the majority of people. (‘Cause that’s what the appropriation of the great gobs of wealth by the capitalist few requires.)
Conversely, a socialist polity would be one where the working class has decisive control over the capital wealth of society and absolute political hegemony. The purpose of that would be the social empowerment of the majority of people. It would have its own institutions and mechanisms that would have to be radically democratic to secure that hegemony for that purpose.
A stable polity cannot abide dual power in that respect. The US welfare state, and even the European Social Democratic countries, where the working classes do exercise some political influence, are all unquestionably dictatorships of the bourgeoisie, countries where the capitalist class wields ultimate economic and political power. I don’t think there’s much of argument about this anymore. The Bolivarian revolution, on the other hand, has really encroached on and undermined the ultimate political authority of the capitalist ruling class.
In this framework, we might say that the U.S. government and media’s continual accusations of “dictatorship” are unintentionally revealing. By constantly talking about “dictatorship,” they are engaging in a kind of political Freudian slip, an obvious “mistake” that reveals the truth about what actually drives them. They are not upset that there isa dictatorship, but that there is not. They are complaining that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is in peril, is being lost, and they want to firmly and unequivocally re-establish it. They see, better than most leftists, that the alternative is the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that Venezuela has reached a critical point of inflection where the question of ultimate economic and political authority must now be resolved in the favor of one class or the other.
This is now a war. The imperialist attempt to install Guido as president initiated a battle that’s no less binary and deadly as that between Allende and Pinochet, or between the Spanish Republic and Franco. In more contemporary terms, it is the opening shot of Syria South: “Maduro must go!” says the U.S. and the Venezuelan ruling class. “Fuck off!” says the Bolivarian government and the Venezuelan working-class.
The fight is on, and it will be settled by the threat and use of armed force.
There is no unarmed party in this dispute, and there won’t be until one of them wins and forcibly disarms the other.
You don’t have to be waving a pistol in someone’s face to be armed; you can be all smiles, standing in front of a bunch of your threatening pals brandishing guns. Juan Guaidó is armed, as is Nicolás Maduro. The former has the most powerful army in the world, some highly-armed neighboring allies, and right-wing local militias standing behind him. The latter has—well, he better have the bulk, or the or at least key sectors, of the Venezuelan national army and a whole lot of armed and basically-trained people.
No doubt, the armed force available to Guaidó could overwhelm anything available to Maduro, if it can all be used. But Maduro has a weapon that Guaidó & Co. lack: political support among the majority of working-class Venezuelans. (If that weren’t true, Maduro would already be gone.)
Maduro’s fundamental, indispensable strength and potentially-winning advantage will be a mass base of popular support that is both politically-committed and armed (with its own and a critical section of the national army’s weapons). Neither is sufficient by itself, and anti-imperialists must reject any attempt by faux-pacifist “leftists” to separate the popular movement from its arms. The strength of the politically-committed armed force backing Maduro will determine how much of the armed force backing Guaidó can be used.
The US and the Venezuelan ruling class know that stopping and reversing Bolivarian socialism will require not only the ouster of Maduro, but massacres of thousands of working-class activists and the violent destruction of social programs and institutions—like the exemplary communal councils—that underlie working-class power. They will have no moral qualms about doing this, with any combination of defected Venezuelan military units, foreign fighters, and fascist militias that is necessary. The only thing that will give them pause is knowing it will be a costly (including politically costly) and risky fight in the streets that will leave a lot of them dead.
Not that the U.S. regime seems to understand enough to care, but a “victory” for imperialism could only result in another devastated nation, in a state of permanent crisis, with an elite more dependent on, and a working-class more infuriated at, the U.S. Another nail in the coffin of the pretense of legitimacy of the “mission.”
Because reactionary forces are politically weak in Venezuela now, they know they could only win quickly by instigating a military coup or inviting foreign intervention.
Regarding a foreign invasion, the U.S. and its foreign partners will use whatever level of intervention and whatever degree of armed force they think is politically palatable to their own populations, and nothing will affect that calculus more than how hard the fight will be.
There is no deep support, and in fact, widespread disgust, among the U.S. populace for such seemingly pointless adventures. Still, as with every other war, with incessant, bipartisan, media-wide promulgation of “cakewalk” and “humanitarian” lies, the U.S. regime can manufacture shallow, provisional mass political support in advance. That will disappear if the war goes on too long, is too visibly vicious, and, especially, if it produces too many dead and visible U.S. bodies.
Any neighboring allies who would participate, like Colombia, will face similar considerations, though starting out with less widespread popular support. (One Colombian rebel group has already vowed to fight to defend Maduro.)
So, the prospect of extended fighting against a determined, politically-motivated armed populace, which will produce a lot of dead U.S. and/or Colombian bodies, is the most effective deterrent against foreign intervention.
Regarding a Venezuelan military coup, with a few exceptions, the army so far is sticking with Maduro. I hope Caleb Maupin is right in observing that the army is institutionally committed to defending Bolivarian socialism. And every anti-imperialist should hope that a lot of Venezuelan soldiers, hearing the demands from Washington and seeing the U.S. and Israeli flags being hoisted as the battle ensigns of the opposition, are committed to that simple and righteous Bolivarian nationalism.
But there will be a lot of bribes and threats thrown at the officer corps, and, as a hierarchical institution, the Venezuelan army is susceptible to being undermined by a small number of key defections. The knowledge that they will have not only to grab a few buildings, but to fight in the streets against a politically-motivated armed populace, is, again, what is most likely to deter an internal coup.
This doesn’t mean there won’t, or shouldn’t be, “dialogue” and negotiations. It means the positions of any negotiators and the outcome of any talking will reflect calculations of politically-committed armed forces. Note that the U.S. and the opposition reject such talks, and are issuing ultimatums. They have made a calculation and set the value of the Maduro side in those terms as zero They are presenting (or bluffing) that the threat of their infinitely overwhelming armed power will make the Maduro government surrender without what would be an armed fight. It’s the Maduro government that seeks talks, and understandably wants to avoid any scenario of civil war or armed conflict.
But, you call the bet, or you fold. Maduro may very well say “Let’s talk” first, may want to buy some time to figure out how to confront the forces arrayed against him, but he better be prepared for the “Fuck off!” pretty quickly, because time is not on his side.
The economic siege will intensify, causing more pain to ordinary Venezuelans in their daily lives. That point of the “make the economy people scream” strategy is to wear people down and peel increasing numbers of them away from their support of the government and the Bolivarian program. Then, step in as the savior with “humanitarian” aid. Marxists would be foolish to dismiss the idea that material deprivation can degrade political commitment.
In order to overcome that pressure, the Bolivarian government will have to take control of the situation. Maduro must start at least persuasively demonstrating that he can change working-class Venezuelans’ lives for the better without depending on the United States. That also requires taking more control of the economy. It means eliminating internal economic sabotage by local capitalists in distribution and production chains, and that certainly might necessitate expropriating capital property. It will definitely mean stricter capital controls. It also means changing the country’s economic relations with the rest of the world—becoming less dependent on oil and on selling that oil to the U.S., and working with other countries to get free of the U.S.-controlled finance and payment systems
All of that requires that there be a single clear voice speaking for the Venezuelan government. Like it or not, the Maduro government has to take back the initiative, and assert its control in that regard in every way.
What it must not do is remain passive, pleading for talks while the U.S. ratchets up its efforts to degrade Maduro’s authority. Maduro’s strategy cannot be to avoid looking bad.
Looking bad in the eyes of whom? The U.S.-defined “international community” and its NGOs? The U.S.- and capitalist-dominated mainstream media?
That is a hopeless, losing strategy. There is literally nothing Maduro can do to look good in their eyes but surrender.
The winner of this conflict will do things that “look bad.” The U.S./Guaido know this and don’t care, because, given U.S. domination of the media, they are confident they can control what most people see. Maduro and the Bolivarian revolution cannot let himself be blackmailed into passivity by that.
In fact, the imperialists’ ability to control people’s perceptions has itself been degraded by alternative media—which is why they’re attacking it—and a lot of people will see a lot more than they like.
As we’ve seen, the U.S. has all kinds of formidable weapons to use—economic, financial, diplomatic, and military. The Maduro government can and should build as much international support as it can, but no one should imagine that Russia or China is going to war with the U.S. over Venezuela. The Bolivarian revolution will stand or fall on the power of one formidable weapon: an armed and politically committed working class.
That means the invasion calculus, the coup calculus, and the negotiation calculus will all be determined by that weapon.
It means that, in talks and/or on the street, one side or the other will win. And the side that wins will do so only because it has mobilized enough politically-committed armed power to make the other surrender—either before or after a devastating fight.
It means that the only chance for the minimization of violence (There will be blood. There already has been.) from this point forward is if the reactionaries are convinced that the politically-committed armed power of the Bolivarian forces is too great to make their calculations work.
Anybody who doesn’t understand this is kidding themselves, fantastically.
Lefties love Allende. Unequivocally. Because he lost.
Martyr-love ratifies virtuous, clean-hands, faux-pacifist “leftism.” Safe solidarity nostalgia.
To hell with that. Allende needed to be a victor, not a martyr.
Which means he should have taken the offensive, armed the people, moved first, used whatever deadly armed force among the army and the people he could muster to arrest, disarm, and kill as many of the armed opposition fighting against him as necessary. He should have won. The alternative was what he got.
But if he had won, he would have had dirty hands, and most of the “leftists” now sanctifying him would be making sure everyone saw them constantly washing their hands of his “dictatorship.” He wouldn’t be Allende; he’d be Fidel.
At the end of this revolutionary moment, in a few weeks or months, either Juan Guaidó or Nicolás Maduro will be dead, in prison, or in exile.
Which side are you on?
[i] Not that a referral to the ICC would make any difference. Not only does the U.S. government not recognize the ICC, the U.S. has, through the voice of National Security Advisor John Bolton, threatenedto attack ICC judges and prosecutors personally should they dare investigate U.S. citizens or “Israel or other U.S. allies”: “We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system.” That’s because a preliminary ICC investigation found “a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity” were committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. And because imperialism. And because finance is a mode of warfare.
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