It is possible to condemn the influence of America and the IMF plundering Venezuela’s election and economy while simultaneously remaining critical of the shortcomings of all nationalist programs in an imperialist world, even as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those united under their banners. In the battle to maintain the neoliberal status quo, buoyed by propaganda and media manipulation, there has never been a more important time for nuance.
With single voice, mainstream media trash Maduro for election theft and tanking the economy. As with Syria and North Korea, many buy such poppycock. This despite the fact that leaders in the global south who won’t open their economies to IMF prescribed global value chain plunder, or who otherwise defy Wall Street, are always depicted as ideologically driven incompetents and/or psychotic tyrants. Few join the dots. Few see the pattern:
Deranged dictator threatens America and abuses his citizens; take him out before he does more harm! “People buy it again and again, like kids watching Scooby Doo: ‘thismonster’s real for sure!'” – Caitlin Johnstone
Johnstone’s context is North Korea but Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria spring readily to mind. Venezuela too: Honduras 2009 already forgotten. For weeks our media have screamed of July’s ‘fraudulent’ election but, when I posted Ricardo Vaz’s detailed rebuttal of their hypocrisy, an English friend and naturalised Columbian emailed: ‘Red herring’, she wrote. Hmm… She should notify said media, and while she’s at it her neoliberal president. Untrustworthy as western media are on Venezuela, historic tensions with its neighbour make Columbia’s even worse.
“Media ownership [is] in the hands of wealthy families, large national conglomerates, or groups associated with … the two main political parties” – Wiki.
I digress. For my friend, echoing the dominant narrative, the issue is failed Chavismo. I offered space on my blog for her recipe for Venezuela. I hope she’ll accept. It’s rare for liberal critics of states resisting imperialism to offer alternatives, even in outline. That’s not hypocrisy. It’s that liberals are shielded from the horror of a system which must subordinate everything to profits. Few look beyond corporate media’s slit-window to see an appalling world order. Not grasping the extent of its criminal insanity, even doubting imperialism’s existence, they see no need for a ‘third way’. What’s wrong with the IMF way?
That hardly lets internationalists off the hook. Yes, in denouncing global theft and wars of profit risibly sold as humanitarian, ditto terrifying environmental destruction, we must be relentless. Equally though we need answers to well meant concerns. My friend cites Venezuelans pouring into Columbia. I don’t know who’s fleeing or why and neither, unless she leaves her affluent Bogata home for the border to hear their stories, does she. As with Saddam’s alleged WMDs, Assad’s sarin, Kim’s psychoses or Chavist meltdown, we’d be fools to take media reports as gospel. But blanket denial, while tempting in the face of billionaire propaganda, doesn’t help either.
Unlike my friend, I say imperialism threatens us existentially. (All westerners have some stake but for reasons beyond my scope it will lessen, and in any case won’t protect us from either of the two likeliest endgames: nuclear war or environmental breakdown.) Then again, unlike those who uncritically and selectively defend their favourite movements – Ba’athist, Chavist, Stalinist, nationalist, theocratic – I say that in this imperialised world all such movements will be flawed. Some flaws are intrinsic to particular worldviews. Others stem from harsh choices imposed by imperialist hegemony.
Those who accuse Chavez of overreliance on buoyant oil prices speak truer than they know: Washington has form on manipulating them to bend the disobedient to its will. Those who blame defiant leaders for the murderous effects of sanctions apply Alice in Wonderland logic. And those who see the key problem as Chavism pair skin deep analysis with touching credulity.
There’s no moral equivalence here. Chavismo’s sins are orders of magnitude below those of imperialism. So what is to be done?
I’m no Trotskyite. I’d love to be wrong but I see no prospect of a vanguard party leading the proletariat to replace capitalism’s reckless exploitation, of labour and nature alike, with wealth creation planned by and for humankind. But amid the ruins of that Fourth International, one jewel still shines: the principle of critical but unconditional defence.
True internationalists will defend Maduro without reservation. Like Assad and Kim, he faces the might of imperialism and support must be unconditional. But we remain free to make criticisms; informed not by the West’s phoney tears but by analyses which highlight the shortcomings of all nationalist programs in an imperialist world, while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those united under their banners.
"I write to make sense of things," he says. "E.M. Forster famously asked: 'how do I know what I think until I see what I say?' I write as a way of reflecting, of making senses of what would otherwise, I fear, be a mass of undifferentiated experience - one damn thing after another!"