Workers Vanguard No. 1155
17 May 2019
Democrat-Backed White House Coup Flops
Venezuela: Down With U.S. Sanctions, Military Threats!
Once again, right-wing forces acting at the behest of U.S. imperialism have attempted to seize power in Venezuela. Standing on a highway overpass near a Caracas airbase in the early morning hours of April 30, Washington stooges Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López called on the armed forces to revolt in the “final phase” of “Operation Freedom,” the campaign to overthrow the bourgeois-populist regime of Nicolás Maduro. Regurgitating White House spin, the U.S. capitalist media refused to call the coup attempt by its right name, preferring terms like “uprising” or even “protest.” But with only a couple dozen soldiers by his side, Guaidó’s plot quickly fizzled. As tens of thousands gathered to defend the presidential palace, López scurried away to the Chilean and then the Spanish Embassy, while Guaidó led a march that was dispersed by the National Guard.
All opponents of U.S. imperialism should cheer the defeat of this attempted putsch. However, the U.S. rulers remain determined to oust Maduro and install a regime loyal to their diktats. Asked about military intervention, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business News, “If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.” The U.S. also stepped up brutal economic sanctions against Venezuela, which sits on the world’s largest proven oil reserves as well as substantial gold and other mineral wealth.
U.S. attempts to unseat the Venezuelan regime date back to a failed 2002 coup against Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez. Like Maduro, Chávez was a bonapartist capitalist ruler who exercised a degree of independence from the Yankee imperialists. Proud of his mestizo background in a country with a lily-white elite, Chávez used Venezuela’s oil revenues to fund social reforms benefiting the urban and rural poor and denounced U.S. military interventions. His regime established close ties with Cuba, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, providing oil to help keep it afloat in the face of relentless U.S. hostility. The White House has now further tightened the U.S. embargo against Cuba (see article this issue).
We oppose all U.S. machinations in Venezuela and stand for that country’s defense against any imperialist military attack. At the same time, as revolutionary Marxists we give no political support to the bourgeois Maduro regime. Washington howls that the crisis in Venezuela shows the failure of “socialism.” In fact, Maduro and his bourgeois supporters, including in the officer corps, are being targeted because they are not servile to Washington, not because they in any way represent a challenge to capitalism.
While the Republican Trump administration is leading the drive for “regime change” in Venezuela, “support for Guaidó and opposition to Maduro has been a rare bipartisan issue in Washington,” as ABC News observed on the day of the fizzled coup. Indeed, the Democratic Party is a full partner in the drive to bring Venezuela to heel, from mainstream pols like Nancy Pelosi to “progressives” like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Asked about the coup attempt, Ocasio-Cortez replied, “I defer to caucus leadership on how we navigate this.” With a mere handful in Congress voicing any opposition to the administration’s policies in Venezuela, it’s clear that the Democrats’ main concern is that the coup attempt failed.
A quick learner in imperialist duplicity, Ocasio-Cortez echoed Trump by calling Venezuela “an issue of authoritarianism vs. democracy.” Washington claims that Maduro was not “democratically elected.” In fact, Maduro was elected president twice, most recently in 2018 when most of the right-wing opposition boycotted. For his part, Sanders, who has repeatedly voted to fund the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, denounces Maduro’s “violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society.” Out of one side of his mouth he tut-tuts about Washington’s history of “inappropriately” intervening in Latin America. From the other side, he tells the New Yorker (13 April) that Venezuela needs “free and fair elections, and we want to do everything we can to establish democracy there.” This is simply hiding imperialism’s clenched fist in a “democratic” glove.
The U.S. working class has every interest in opposing the bloody depredations of its capitalist rulers. For well over a century, American imperialism under both the Democrats and Republicans has left a trail of wars, death squads, embargoes and coups to keep Latin America under its jackboot. By taking a stand against the sanctions and threatened military intervention, and demanding the cancellation of Venezuela’s debt to the U.S., the workers would strengthen their hand for waging class struggle at home against their exploiters.
Big Lies and Deadly Sanctions
As several of his cohorts were swept up by the Maduro regime, Guaidó called yet another rally on May 11, turning out a scant few hundred of his supporters. Dropping the pretense that he is anything but Washington’s tool, Guaidó blustered that as Venezuela’s “rightful” ruler he is empowered to invite foreign troops into the country.
This pretender got his political grooming at George Washington University under Luis Enrique Berrizbeitia, a former director of the International Monetary Fund who served in right-wing Venezuelan governments in the 1980s. Guaidó went on to help found the reactionary Voluntad Popular (VP—Popular Will) party. The main VP leader, Leopoldo López, is a scion of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie who got his training at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a notorious CIA recruiting ground. (For more, see Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal, “The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader,” thegrayzone.com, 29 January.)
Heavily financed by the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front, VP organized violent street protests against the Maduro government starting in 2014. López was convicted of incitement for his role in these riots, which killed hundreds, and was later placed under house arrest. The U.S. then chose Guaidó, hitherto little known even within Venezuela, as a figurehead for the projected coup. Elevated to head the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Guaidó traveled secretly to the U.S., Colombia and Brazil to coordinate plans. After meeting with Pompeo in early January, he returned to Caracas, declared himself president and was immediately recognized by the U.S., Canada and most Latin American regimes, soon joined by various European governments.
The imperialists and their kept media are claiming that Venezuelans are starving because Maduro has ruined the economy. The real story is that U.S. sanctions have strangled the Venezuelan people, massively compounding economic hardships brought on by falling oil prices. The sanctions began under Barack Obama in 2015 and have been escalated by Trump.
The U.S. has used its power over the global monetary system, in which the dollar is by far the main reserve currency, to block Venezuela from accessing financial markets. Washington has also seized some $7 billion in Venezuelan assets, declaring that they belong to Guaidó’s cabal. The Bank of England added to the imperialist larceny by grabbing $1.2 billion’s worth of Venezuela’s gold earlier this year. Such measures prevent the country from obtaining many necessities and undertaking measures aimed at stabilizing the economy. Food imports plummeted from $11.2 billion in 2013 to $2.4 billion in 2018 and are expected to plunge even further this year. The U.S. ban on oil from Venezuela has cut the country off from its main export market, leading to a cataclysmic collapse in production.
A recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a liberal think tank, describes the devastating impact, from reducing food intake and increasing disease to causing a section of the population to flee economic depression and hyperinflation (“Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela,” April 2019). The report estimates that sanctions have led to the preventable deaths of at least 40,000 Venezuelans in the past two years. More than 300,000 more are at risk due to lack of access to medicine or treatment, including about 80,000 with HIV who cannot obtain antiretroviral drugs. Placing all the blame on the Trump White House, the CEPR report carefully avoids any mention of the impact of Obama-era sanctions, which were coupled with the channeling of funds to the right-wing opposition.
China, the largest of the remaining deformed workers states, and capitalist Russia have sent medical supplies to help alleviate the crisis. They have also provided substantial loans to the Maduro regime and denounced U.S. attempts at violent “regime change.” Pompeo brazenly charged that Chinese loans and investments in Venezuela “have helped destroy that country” (South China Morning Post, 4 May). National Security Advisor John Bolton demanded that Russia withdraw its handful of military advisers from Venezuela. “This is our hemisphere,” he warned darkly, “it’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering.” Of course, the U.S. interferes in Russia’s “hemisphere” all the time, such as when it sponsored the fascist-infested coup in Ukraine in 2014.
Reformist Apologists for Imperialism
The Democratic and Republican parties see every inch of land south of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo as the U.S. rulers’ private hunting ground. For the more liberal imperialists like Bernie Sanders, American capitalist interests might be harmed by unilateral military intervention into Venezuela, which could backfire and spark turmoil throughout the region. They would prefer to get the allies on board so that it’s not just U.S. troops marching into Caracas.
Socialist Alternative (SAlt), which as in 2016 is going all out for the Sanders presidential campaign, maintains a strict vow of silence on their man’s support for ousting Maduro. SAlt’s only mention of Sanders in its last online article on Venezuela was to whine that “comparisons with Venezuela are being used to smear ‘democratic socialists’ like Bernie Sanders and AOC [Ocasio-Cortez] and their pro-working class demands” (socialistalternative.org, 15 February). Coupling its paeans to these imperialist politicians with denunciations of the “undemocratic” Maduro, SAlt shows its colors as drummer boys for imperialism in its “democratic” garb.
In the same vein, SAlt condemns Maduro for “turning to China against the U.S.,” which, the article opines, “is increasingly in competition with Chinese, and to a lesser degree, Russian imperialism in Latin America.” Describing Russia, a regional capitalist power, as imperialist fits neatly with the demonization of that country by the U.S. ruling class, especially the Democrats. As for China, SAlt’s false line that it is capitalist and even a rising imperialist power is just cover for its promoting the forces of “democratic” counterrevolution that seek to return China to capitalist rule and imperialist subjugation.
Left Voice, U.S. affiliate of the Argentine-based Trotskyist Faction-Fourth International, strikes a seemingly more critical pose than SAlt, chastising Ocasio-Cortez as well as Sanders for “providing a left cover for the Trump administration’s narrative in favor of a coup” (leftvoice.org, 6 May). Pointing to a three-sentence DSA statement objecting to the coup attempt, Left Voice asks, “Is AOC in any way accountable to the DSA?” The opportunists of Left Voice look to the State Department “socialists” of the DSA, which as a component part of the Democratic Party is committed to promoting the fortunes of U.S. imperialism. The role of the DSA and its left adjuncts is to refurbish the Democrats’ image so as to better tie disaffected youth and workers to this party of exploitation, oppression and imperialist war. The Spartacist League seeks to build a revolutionary proletarian party that breaks workers and the oppressed from the Democrats and links struggles against imperialism abroad to the fight to overturn the system of wage slavery and racial oppression at home.
For a Revolutionary Perspective
In Venezuela, the working class must come to the fore in struggle against the imperialists and their local lackeys. But the workers must be organized based on political independence from the Maduro regime and all capitalist forces. Various reformist groups around the world used to hail Venezuela as a model for “21st century socialism.” Most have quietly retired such claims, but the Party for Socialism and Liberation continues to assert that the “Bolivarian Revolution” has laid “the foundations for the construction of socialism” (liberationnews.org, 23 January).
In truth, there was no revolution in Venezuela, where Chávez was elected with support from a section of the military, a central component of the capitalist state apparatus. His program of populist reforms, including some nationalizations of businesses, was in no way a challenge to capitalist class rule. One of Chávez’ predecessors, the more mainstream Carlos Andrés Pérez, nationalized oil and mining in the mid 1970s and, with booming oil revenues, massively subsidized food, transportation, health care and education. When the boom went bust, a later Pérez regime instituted brutal austerity measures against working people and the poor. Both the traditional, pro-U.S. bourgeois oligarchy and the boliburguesía, the section of capitalists who enriched themselves under Chávez and Maduro, are class enemies of the workers and oppressed.
Throughout the semicolonial world, the bourgeoisie is too weak, fearful of the proletariat and dependent on the capitalist world market to break the chains of imperialist subjugation, overcome mass poverty and resolve other burning social issues. The proletariat is the only class with the potential, based on its central role in production, to lead all the exploited and the oppressed—from wage workers and peasants to impoverished slum dwellers—in a socialist revolution that sweeps away the capitalist state. Such a revolution would have to be spread through the victory of workers power in the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries, which would expropriate the imperialist bloodsuckers and lay the basis for all-round socialist development in a worldwide planned economy.
This is the perspective of permanent revolution developed and extended by Leon Trotsky, who together with V. I. Lenin was a key leader of the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia. Following the example of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, we seek to build sections of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution, to organize and educate the working class in uncompromising hostility to imperialism and political opposition to all wings of the exploiters.
In “Venezuela: Down With U.S. Sanctions, Military Threats!” (WV No. 1155, 17 May), we wrongly identified the organization to which the pseudo-Trotskyist Morenoite group Left Voice is affiliated as the Trotskyist Faction-Fourth International. In fact, its name is Trotskyist Fraction-Fourth International. (From WV No. 1156, 31 May 2019.)