Why has Buttigieg flipped from being a putative progressive to being perhaps the most conservative, pro-corporate Democrat remaining in the field? A good place to start would be to follow the money. By Miles Mogulescu …
By Victor Grossman Media jubilation reaches a climax on November 9th, thirty years after the bumbling, perhaps even misunderstood decision to open the gate for all East Germans to stream through, hasten to the nearest …
The following resolution was adopted by the Delegates Meeting of the San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO) on Monday, February 11, 2019.] Whereas, Trump administration officials have openly declared their intention to overthrow the democratically elected …
By Tom Gallagher Political scientists have long noted the phenomenon of our country’s “one-party foreign policy.” Which is to say, while there are often substantial differences between the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties …
February 5, 2019 by Gabriel Hetland How should we respond to the fraught situation in Venezuela? The question has sparked heated debate on the Left, both in the US and around the world. The recent intensification …
The Covid-19 pandemic is no laughing matter. But in this grim situation a laugh is more needed than ever. Here is a YouTube video that cracked me up.
In a different mood, here’s a beautifully done one-artist production by friend Chet Gardiner:
But not everyone agrees that “poor and rich end up in the ditch.” Item: this item from the NY Post, forwarded by friend Mike Seltzer in Norway. The rich are using their elbows to push the poor into the ditch. When it comes to rich and poor, we’ve got social distancing big time. Hardly even in the same world.
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, the fourth-largest town in Indiana, is the shiny new object in the race to become the Democrats’ candidate for president in 2020. Coming from almost nowhere, he’s finished first in several recent Iowa polls.
Superficially, there’s a lot that’s appealing about Mayor Pete: He’s articulate, quick on his feet, can speak in full paragraphs—sometimes in Norwegian—and projects a sense of optimism. But when you scratch below the service, it’s hard to find Buttigieg’s core convictions, and and he now appears to have put himself up for sale to corporate interests.
Buttigieg’s Flip-Flop On Progressive Policies
As a virtual unknown, Buttigieg started his campaign backing progressive policies. In February, he called the Green New Deal “the right beginning.” He called for structural reforms, like adding Justices to the Supreme Court and abolishing the Electoral College. He said he was “all for” a single payer health care system and tweeted, “I, Pete Buttigieg, politician, do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All.”
“As things stand today, Mayor Pete is the candidate most likely to ensure that no reforms seriously threaten the interests of these oligarchs.”
Buttigieg has flip-flopped on all of these policies. He has now become the most outspoken Democratic candidate in opposing Medicare for All. It would be one thing if his opposition were merely tactical. (While I support Medicare for All, there’s at least a principled argument that it’s not achievable right away and that a slower approach meant to move towards Medicare for All in the medium range is more politically practical.) But Buttigieg has started parroting Republican talking points opposing Medicare for All on principle because it takes away people’s “free choice” to choose private insurance.
Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” is a slick campaign slogan, but bad policy as a long-term solution. Rep. Ro Khanna (D. CA.) said Buttigieg’s plan “won’t bring the administrative costs down of private insurers or maximize negotiation with Big Pharma and hospitals…This means higher premiums, higher drug costs, higher deductibles, and more denied claims for the middle class.” The New Republic‘s Libby Watson called Buttigieg’s health care plan “the worst yet,” saying it was “deeply stupid.”
The plan, wrote Watson, “betrays a terminal case of Democrat Brain; it is a faux-technocratic fantasia soaked in the utterly meaningless jargon of Access and Affordability that won’t even accomplish the things it pretends to want. It is an insult.” And Buttigieg has taken to attacking other Democrats for being too generous in their proposals to make higher education free.
Buttigieg and the Donor Class
Why has Buttigieg flipped from being a putative progressive to being perhaps the most conservative, pro-corporate Democrat remaining in the field? A good place to start would be to follow the money.
Buttigieg has become one of the biggest recipients of contributions from the health care, financial services, and big tech industries. Under the proposals advanced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Buttigieg’s big money donors are the ones who would have to pay higher taxes to support things like free college tuition and universal health care. In Buttigieg, they’ve found a candidate to speak up for their interests.
Buttigieg is the second-largest recipient of contributions from the health care industry, after only Donald Trump. Buttigieg donors include the chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer, the president of Astex Pharmaceuticals, a state lobbyist for Biogen, a vice president of public policy at Novartis, and the deputy vice president at the nation’s largest pharmaceutical trade association, PhRMA, plus lawyer for AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck.
Meanwhile, top executives of the largest tech companies have flocked to contribute to Buttigieg. Among those holding fundraisers for Buttigieg are Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Nest Lab’s co-founder Matt Rogers, and Uber director of product communications, Chelsea Kohler. Other rich big tech donors include Ron Conway, who has led San Francisco mayors to back tech-friendly policies; Scott Belsky, the chief product officer and executive vice president at Adobe Inc; Tony Xu, CEO of Doordash Inc.; David Marcus, the head of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project; and Wendy Schmidt, wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Zuckerberg’s Secret Help
Moreover, according to Bloomberg News, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, privately contacted Buttigieg to recommend campaign staff. Two of their “suggestions” were hired.
With Facebook, Google, and other high-tech oligopolies facing increasing public criticism, how likely will Buttigieg be to bring them under control, or even, as Elizabeth Warren has suggested, use anti-trust laws to break them up?
And the hits just keep on coming. Buttigieg has become a favorite of Wall Street donors. For example, Tony James, the executive vice chairman of Blackstone, the world’s largest private-equity firm, hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg. James was a top contender for Treasury Secretary if Hillary Clinton got elected, and his fundraising for Buttigieg may be a new play for a top cabinet position, from which he could protect his Wall Street cronies from significant tax increases.
Buttigieg as Corporate Consultant
Buttigieg should be quite comfortable in the company of financial elites. As In These Times journalist Nathan Robinson points out, after graduating from Oxford and Harvard, Buttigieg could have found almost any job he wanted. He chose McKinsey & Company, which Robinson describes as a “cult-like management consulting firm.” McKinsey, Robinson continues, “may be the single greatest legitimizer of mass layoffs. Its advice: Identify your bottom 10 percent or 25 percent or 33 percent, and get rid of them as soon as possible.”
McKinsey has also advised dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and consulted with Purdue Pharma LP, which just went bankrupt because of lawsuits over its role in the opioid crisis. As a former McKinsey consultant writes anonymously in Current Affairs, describing the firm as “capital’s willing executioners:”
I came into my job as a McKinsey consultant hoping to change the world from the inside, believing that the best way to make progress is through influencing those who control the levers of power. Instead of being a force for good, I found myself party to the most damaging forces affecting the world: the resurgence of authoritarianism and the continued creep of markets into all parts of life…. McKinsey serves 90 of the top 100 corporations worldwide. It has acted as a catalyst and accelerant to every trend in the world economy: firm consolidation, the rise of advertising, runaway executive compensation, globalization, automation, and corporate restructuring and strategy.
American politics are a money pit, so we should not be surprised that powerful corporations and CEOs like Zuckerberg are constantly seeking ways to maximize their influence. But why have they now singled out Buttigieg, who only recently espoused bold reforms, to be the top spokesman for the donor class in the Democratic primary? It’s because as things stand today, Mayor Pete is the candidate most likely to ensure that no reforms seriously threaten the interests of these oligarchs.
I will do everything I can to encourage the Democrats to nominate a candidate who can not only defeat Trump, but address the structural problems that led to his rise. But because Trump and those who now seek his mantle, like Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, pose an existential threat to the future of the nation and the world, I will do everything I can to defeat Trump and encourage others to do the same—even if the Democratic nominee is ultimately a corporate centrist like Buttigieg or Biden.
Miles Mogulescu is an entertainment attorney/business affairs executive, producer, political activist and writer.Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
Media jubilation reaches a climax on November 9th, thirty years after the bumbling, perhaps even misunderstood decision to open the gate for all East Germans to stream through, hasten to the nearest West Berlin bank for their “welcome present“ of 100 prized West German marks, and taste the joys of the western free market system. Within less than a year they would end the experiment known as the German Democratic Republic to join, and fully enjoy, the wealthy, healthy, prosperous united Germany, with its freedom of the press, speech, travel and consumer bliss.
The jubilation thirty years ago is easy to understand and to sympathize with. Alone the ability, whenever and as often as desired, to meet and celebrate with friends and relatives, sufficed to bring tears to many, many eyes and the almost universal cries of „Wahnsinn!“ – “Simply crazy!“
But moving as those scenes were, and happy to so many in their recollections, a history-based, sterner evaluation awakens doubts that, despite the paeans in the world media, this was not purely a peaceful revolution, a choice of freedom by the masses, another successful victory for freedom and justice as in past centuries. We recall that even revolutions are complex, that the American Revolution was followed by Shay‘s Rebellion, a bolstering of slavery and a bloody six year war which forced most Indians from Ohio. The short era of Robespierre meant almost a year in prison for Tom Paine. And enthusiastic crowds can also make very false judgements.
East Germans soon learned that freedom of the press was for those who owned the presses, that freedom of speech helped most those who ruled over studios and cable connections. Most tellingly, they learned very quickly that those 100 West-marks were soon spent and new ones, for all those glistening commodities and travels, had somehow to be earned, while over 95 % of the industry they had built up was taken over by Westerners and, robbed of any machinery of value, for the most part shut down. It was now very simple to move westwards; several million did, now not for freedom, consumer goods or better-paid jobs but for any job at all. Professors, teachers, scientists, journalists, administrators at every level were thrown out, replaced by second and third string West Germans who were certain they could do everything better – and got “bush bonuses“ for making the sacrifice of taking over East Germany. For workers, the wage level is still below that in the West, while jobless figures and the work week for those now finding a job are both above the figures in the West.
The victory thirty years ago brought other changes. The old GDR had, until the end, no drug problem, almost no AIDS, no organized crime, no school shootings, none of the free food pantries now so prevalent, since people n the GDR, while lacking food items like oranges, bananas and other southern imports, all had enough to eat. Nor was there anyone in those years begging or sleeping in the streets, since there were always jobs a-plenty and evictions were illegal. So was any discrimination against women, who got equal pay, at least a half-year paid maternal leave, free abortions, cheap summer vacations and summer camps, and one paid day off a month for household duties.
Oh yes, there were blunders a-plenty, stupidity, careerism, dogmatism. Envy and greed could not be eradicated from the human soul, but with almost no feverish competition they were lessened, as the polls found. True, where people gained positions of power they were as capable of misusing it as elsewhere. Nor could all the remnants of fascist poison be erased from 16 million heads in one or two generations. But they were forbidden – and those with racist thoughts and prejudices kept them to themselves or within their closest circles, while truly masterful films, books and plays endeavored to combat them. Today, nazi thugs march every weekend , and the pro-fascist Alternative for Germany party has 94 seats in the Bundestag and won second place in three state elections.
Here we hit on the main problem with the breaking down of the Berlin Wall. The GDR had thrown out – lock, stock and barrel – all the giant cartels and monopolies which profited from World War One, built up Hitler when, during the Depression, working people became rebellious, then earned billions from slave labor during World War Two and, after 1945, regained immense wealth and power. In the West! Bayer and BASF, major perpetrators of Auschwitz, are on top of the chemical pile, world-wide now with Monsanto. Powerful old fascist fat cats like Daimler (Mercedes) and Quandt (BMW) are cheating the environmentalists, Rheinmetall and Heckler & Co. are again making billions with their tanks and guns and missiles. All their properties were confiscated by the GDR – which is why they hated it and conspired against it, successfully. Also because the GDR, as opposed to its rival in Bonn, supported the Algerians in their fight for freedom, Allende against the Pinochets, Mandela and the ANC and SWAPO, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and freedom fighters from Nicaragua to Aden.
The very existence of the GDR represented a barrier against further expansion by the Bayers with their control of ever more seed sources and their destruction of natural life, from frogs and butterflies to orchids, cacti and rain forests, but also against weapons makers who desire nothing more than further world tension, especially with Russia and China, the two main remaining barriers to world hegemony of the billionaires. They demand the use and replacement of their products. After 1945 and until 1990 no uniformed Germans were shooting presumed enemies anywhere in the world. With the GDR out of the way the Bundeswehr flew missions and dropped bombs in the mountains of Afghanistan and trained soldiers in the desert sands of Mali – after beginning by bombing Serbia, repeating Germany‘s crimes in two world wars.
United Germany’s Minister of Defense, who hopes to become chancellor, has demanded that Germany play a far bigger role in today’s world – and plans a big build-up of weapons to achieve this. She has found smiling support from Secretary of State Pompeo, who came to Berlin and joined in the hallelujahs for the victory of democracy thirty years earlier. Yes, Pompeo!
The GDR had countless faults and limitations, caused by poor leadership – mostly aged anti-fascist fighters, trying to save the endeavor to achieve socialism in at least this small corner of Germany, but overtaken by modern developments and never able to find rapport with large sections of a vacillating population tempted by daily TV images of a wonderful world in the Golden West, which had been built up to become one of the world’s richest countries. The GDR was battered by a world of problems from all sides, domestic and foreign, pressured into “arming itself to death“ militarily, limited by the giant costs of the new electronic, computer age, with no help from the east and a boycott by the west, plus its giant humanitarian project – supplying good, modern homes for everyone while keeping rents to about one tenth of income.
In the end the odds were against it. But just as a World Series victory by the Washington Nationals did not mean that team was morally better but simply that at the time it was stronger, the defeat of the GDR did not mean that the system it was trying to develop, strengthen and improve – socialism – was proven false by its defeat.
The opening of the Berlin War was seen then and is still regarded by many as a wonderful victory. Looking around today’s deteriorating situation in Germany and much of Europe, with fascist movements on the rise and world-destroying weapons deployed and maneuvering dangerously, one might well recall the words of the Greek general Pyrrhus. After beating the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BCE, but with terrible losses for his own troops, he is quoted as saying: “Another such victory and we are lost!“
Victor Grossman’s latest book, A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee is available from Monthly Review Press.
The following resolution was adopted by the Delegates Meeting of the San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO) on Monday, February 11, 2019.]
Whereas, Trump administration officials have openly declared their intention to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro; and Whereas, the U.S. has tightened economic sanctions, including the seizure of Venezuela’s oil properties in the United States, increasing the hardship on the people of Venezuela; and
Whereas, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, and leading Trump administration foreign policy officials have made clear their intention to privatize Venezuela’s oil and open it to exploitation by the U.S. oil companies if their coup strategy succeeds; and
Whereas, Elliott Abrams has been named Special Envoy to Venezuela and is notorious for his central role in the Iran-Contra scheme and arming of the Nicaraguan contras, the Salvadoran death squad government, and the genocidal regime in Guatemala responsible for the massacres of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in that country; and
Whereas, the U.S. campaign of regime change in Venezuela is against the interests of the people of Venezuela, Latin America or the people of the United States; and
Whereas, the San Francisco Labor Council resolved on May 12, 2014, to “support the sovereignty of the Venezuelan people to continue their political and social process free from foreign intervention,” demanding “that the U.S. government refrain from intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela.”
Therefore Be It Resolved, that the San Francisco Labor Council endorse and support (1) the February 23 Emergency Bay Area Hands Off Venezuela protest action; (2) the March 16 National March on the White House to say “Hands Off Venezuela, No War, No Sanctions, No Coup,” which in the Bay Area will be held on Saturday, March 9; and (3) the Hands Off Venezuela National Action, which in the Bay Area will be held on March 31.
Be It Further Resolved, that this resolution will be sent to the California Labor Federation and to Bay Area Congress members.
(Adopted unanimously minus one abstention)Respectfully submitted by• Gloria La Riva, delegate, Pacific Media Workers Guild Local 39521• Alan Benjamin, delegate, OPEIU Local 29• David Welsh, delegate, NALC Branch 214.
Political scientists have long noted the phenomenon of our country’s “one-party foreign policy.” Which is to say, while there are often substantial differences between the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties on domestic issues — health care, the environment, taxation, education, etc. — when it comes to how the U.S. conducts itself vis-a-vis the rest of the world, the top figures of the two major parties tend toward the indistinguishable. Certainly, the events of the past week did nothing to diminish that assessment.
Consider the following statement on Venezuela:“Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.
“I support the decision of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s sole remaining democratic institution, to recognize Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly, as the Interim President until full, fair and free elections can be held.
“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.
“The United States must respect legitimate democratic processes, and support the right of the people of Venezuela to protest and defend their human rights.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.
“Nicolas Maduro’s regime of repression and impoverishment for his personal enrichment continues to gravely violate human rights, and must be condemned swiftly by the full international community.
“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.
“During this perilous time, the United States must support the people of Venezuela.”
The first sentence, of course, comes from President Donald Trump’s statement on Venezuela, the next from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, and then Trump, then Pelosi, and so forth — two views so uniform that they hardly even require the services of an editor to meld into a single statement.
Now, it could just be that the situation in Venezuela is so clear that even two diametrically opposed figures such as Trump and Pelosi cannot disagree, in the sense that if one of them were to declare that the sky is blue, the other would have to acknowledge the correctness of the statement, however grudgingly. And judging from virtually all news coverage and mainstream political discussion of Venezuela, that might well appear to be the case here.
But there are actually others outside the bounds of our “one-party” consensus who see it differently, very differently. For instance, Alfred de Zayas.In late 2017, de Zayas served as the UN rapporteur dispatched to assess the crisis situation in Venezuela, where, according to his report, “Successful UN mission to Venezuela,” he met with “stakeholders of all political colours, members of the opposition, of the National Assembly, university professors, churches, non-governmental organizations.” While no one disputed the fact that the country was experiencing a severe economic crisis, de Zayas believed that the “challenge is to understand its causes,” among which he counted “dependence of the Venezuelan economy on the sale of petroleum — a situation prevailing since the early 20th century,” the recent “dramatic fall in oil prices,” and “a series of unilateral coercive measures including sanctions and financial blockades.”
Although the President and the Speaker advocate precisely such measures to alleviate the current obvious distress of the country’s populace, de Zayas holds that they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Citing the example of Columbia’s refusal to deliver anti-malaria medicine to Venezuela in November 2017, which forced the country to purchase from India, he writes that at this point, “to avoid US penalties and complications, many banks closed Venezuelan accounts and other banks refused to effect transfers, routine international payments, even for the purchase of foods and medicines.”
He concludes that “economic sanctions kill.”This type of intervention — which he dates back to the 1999 rise to power of Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez — he deems to be in violation of that section of the Charter of the Organization of American States specifically prohibiting “interference in the political or economic affairs of States.” And rather than agreeing with our President or our Speaker, he argues that “the solution to Venezuela’s crisis must be through mediation” — the route currently advocated by the governments of Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican, and in “the meantime, if we want to help the Venezuelan people, we should ensure that sanctions are lifted and the economic war ends.”
And so what are we to make of Speaker Pelosi in all of this? Could she really be ignorant of history and international law? Well, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone call her stupid. Cynical? Perhaps reasoning that the surest way to be safe from charges of being soft on “defense” is to park the Democratic bus she drives right next to the Republicans’ truck? Hmm. Might be.
Few of us will have the time or wherewithal to become expert on Venezuela. Where is Maduro right; where is he wrong? Does the opposition have legitimacy? Reasonable people may differ on all this, but we should all be clear on one thing — we have no right attempting to overthrow the government of Venezuela.
You might think more people on Capitol Hill would recognize this, given all the consternation over Russian interference in our last presidential election. And ultimately, the problem with adopting cynical stances is that while they might appear so shrewd and canny in the daily round-up of political news, in the long run they just might make people cynical about you — and your party.
How should we respond to the fraught situation in Venezuela? The question has sparked heated debate on the Left, both in the US and around the world. The recent intensification of US efforts to remove Nicolás Maduro, by force if necessary, has lent that question renewed urgency.
There are no easy answers. But in thinking it through, we should be guided by three principles: non-interventionism; self-determination; and solidarity with the oppressed.
Non-interventionism is the principle that sovereign states should not interfere in the internal dealings of other sovereign states. It is synonymous with the principle of national sovereignty.
In a world marked by more and less powerful states, this is a crucial tenet for anyone who cares about fairness and equity. Without national sovereignty, any state can do whatever it wants to any other state, provided it has sufficient force. More powerful states can push less powerful states around, and global hegemons impose their will on the rest of the earth. The unfairness of this imperial logic is obvious.
Applying the principle of non-interventionism to the Venezuelan case is straightforward: the U.S. has no right to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs. It is thus incumbent on leftists in the U.S. and elsewhere to oppose any efforts to do so. This means standing against U.S. threats to wage war on Venezuela as well as Trump’s increasingly debilitating sanctions. (We should also reject efforts by other powerful states, such as Russia and China, to dictate what Venezuela does.)
It is hard to see how draconian sanctions and the threat, much less the reality, of U.S.-led or U.S.-supported violence would improve the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. In addition to the moral case, there are also practical reasons for non-interventionism. It is hard to see how draconian sanctions and the threat, much less the reality, of U.S.-led or U.S.-supported violence would improve the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. Sooner or later such efforts would likely lead to Maduro’s ouster. And even if one were to grant the desirability of Maduro stepping down (which some on the Left are willing to do), the costs of this occurring due to US sanctions or war would be tremendous: lives lost and destroyed; social, economic, psychological, and infrastructural damage inflicted. The cavalier attitude of the John Boltons, Elliott Abrams, and Donald Trumps of the world towards this suffering is sickening.
U.S. sanctions have already worsened Venezuela’s profound humanitarian crisis, as a November 2018 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Serviceacknowledges. The oil sanctions initiated last week will undoubtedly deepen this crisis even more, prolonging and increasing ordinary Venezuelans’ suffering. And there is every reason to think a military conflict would not be short, given Maduro’s current support in the Venezuelan military, and the near-certainty that a U.S. invasion would spark significant popular resistance, particularly among grassroots Chavistas. What’s more, a U.S.-led effort to remove Maduro would be set an awful precedent—reaffirming the right of more powerful states to push around less powerful states.
There are exceptions to the non-interventionism principle. If it can be reasonably determined that either genocide or humanitarian catastrophe is taking place, intervening against the offending state is potentially warranted. Such instances require very careful analysis of whether a given intervention could in fact end the dire threat, as well as the costs and benefits of intervening versus not intervening. It is also crucial to remember that powerful states, particularly the U.S., often use arguments about “humanitarian intervention” to push imperial projects that have no likelihood (and often no real intention) of addressing social needs.
This is clearly the case with Venezuela. U.S. attempts to bring about regime change are not a justifiable exercise in humanitarian interventionism. In fact, past and present US actions are a major — though not the only, nor even the primary — reason for the humanitarian crisis Venezuela is facing. A party to a tragedy cannot be trusted to resolve that tragedy.
Finally, one can make a left case for “progressive” intervention, in which a left government or leftist individuals take a side in a domestic conflict, with the goal of advancing equality or social justice. Cuba’s engagement in Angola in the 1970s and the participation of foreign leftists in the Spanish Civil War come to mind. But Washington’s actions in Venezuela cannot plausibly be read through this lens. There’s absolutely no justification for U.S. sanctions or military intervention.
Self-determination is the principle that people should have a real say in shaping the decisions that affect their lives. The tenet is typically applied to political decisions, but in its most radical form it also applies to economic, social, and other decisions that impact people’s daily existence.
Applying this principle to Venezuela is less straightforward than non-interventionism. Many leftists argue that Maduro deserves support because he was democratically elected. According to this view, the principle of self-determination (at least in its minimal, representative democratic variant) is still in effect in Venezuela. Defending Maduro is therefore the same as defending self-determination in Venezuela.
But Maduro was not democratically elected. It is true, as leftists who support Venezuela’s government note, that Maduro was declared the winner of the country’s May 2018 presidential election. It is also true that many mainstream media claims about the election —that there was widespread fraud and vote rigging—have not been substantiated and resemble the innumerable unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud during the Chávez years. And it is true that Maduro lucked out when the opposition decided to boycott the 2018 election. Had the opposition united behind Henri Falcón, it is possible Maduro would have lost.
But all of this leaves out the crucial fact that Maduro banned Venezuela’s leading opposition parties and candidates—most prominently, Henrique Capriles Radonski—from running. Leftists would rightly denounce a right-wing ruling party that engaged in such tactics. And we must criticize Maduro for doing so as well. On top of that, Maduro’s actions are part of a pattern, since early 2016, of increasing authoritarianism. Examples include the government’s cancellation of a recall referendum against Maduro in October 2016; the one-year postponement of 2016 governor elections; the pro-Maduro Supreme Court bypassing, and thus essentially dissolving, the opposition-controlled National Assembly in March 2017; Maduro’s decision to call elections to a new Constituent Assembly in July 2017; outright fraud in the count for that election; and, most brazenly of all, the theft of the most closely contested race in the rescheduled October 2017 governor elections.
To this we must add the state’s use of repression, not only against opposition violence, but also against peaceful protest, with scores killed in 2017 and an estimated forty killed in the last week. The opposition’s own role in fostering violence deserves equal condemnation, as does U.S. support of such violence.
But neither changes the fact that by holding onto power through authoritarian means, the Maduro administration has systematically blocked the Venezuelan people’s ability to express themselves politically. In the face of this, the Left should embrace the call for free and fair elections in Venezuela. Failure to do so is a failure to promote the principle of self-determination.
Elections are not, of course, the only or even the primary form of self-determination. One might ask whether the Maduro administration has rejected liberal democracy in favor of “revolutionary democracy,” in which workers and the poor exercise direct control over economic, social, and political decisions affecting their lives. Whatever the past plausibility of such an argument may have been, nothing of the sort is occurring now.
Workers and the poor did create institutions of popular power in recent decades (grassroots communes, food distribution networks, etc.), which Chávez helped promote and which continue to exist in some form. But the extent of popular power in Venezuela has diminished significantly in recent years, largely thanks to the crisis. As grassroots Chavista organizers told me in 2015 and 2016, economic woes (which the government bears primary responsibility for) have made it much harder to do grassroots work.
The weakening of popular institutions is also due to direct repression by the Maduro administration. A notable example was the state’s refusal to recognize the sweeping victory of commune leader Angel Prado in December 2017 municipal elections. Instead of heeding the people of Simon Planes, who elected Prado with a whopping 57.92 percent of the vote, the government placed Prado under investigation. (Despite his critiques, Prado has pledged to defend Maduro in the face of U.S. aggression.)
Solidarity With the Oppressed
The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed: subordinate classes, women, racialized groups subject to discrimination, and anyone who is economically, socially, culturally, or politically marginalized.The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed: subordinate classes, women, racialized groups subject to discrimination, and anyone who is economically, socially, culturally, or politically marginalized. A key part of this principle is that the oppressed deserve solidarity over and above state actors, regardless of whether such actors label themselves leftists, socialists, or revolutionaries. Standing in solidarity with the oppressed means several things, including documenting their oppression, working to understand the root causes of their oppression, and acting in ways that support their efforts to overcome their oppression.
Applying this tenet to Venezuela today requires, as a first step, recognizing the immensity of the country’s humanitarian crisis—something the government has frequently failed to do in recent years. Venezuelans are suffering tremendously from shortages of food, medicine, and basic goods. Hyperinflation is ravaging the country. Three million have left Venezuela in recent years, and many fear that even more will flee this year.
Solidarity with the oppressed demands, secondly, a correct analysis of the causes of Venezuela’s crisis. The primary driver is the government’s mismanagement of its oil revenue, through a disastrous currency policy and, relatedly, a failure to curb corruption on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars, according to former Chávez officials. US policy has also exacerbated the crisis, particularly in the last eighteen months. Sanctions implemented in August 2017 have triggered a major fall in oil production and oil revenue. The oil sanctions the Trump administration just enacted will have even more devastating consequences.
Instead of playing an either/or game, both sources of Venezuela’s crisis must be acknowledged: the government’s criminal mismanagement (which cannot be dismissed as “errors” since systematic corruption exists at very high levels); and the U.S.’ brutal policy of deliberately increasing suffering as a way of pushing the population to turn against the government.
Standing in solidarity with the oppressed demands, thirdly, supporting the oppressed in their efforts to overcome the sources of their oppression and suffering. This means working to prevent increased hardship from a U.S. war and debilitating sanctions. As such it means firmly opposing US intervention in Venezuela, not only because it violates the principle of non-interventionism, but also because it will increase the suffering of the oppressed. But solidarity also requires that leftists in the US do what we can to support Venezuelans’ own struggles against the Maduro administration’s disastrous policies, criminal ineptitude, and repression. Opposition to Maduro is now common not only among upper and middle classes (as it has been for some time), but also among the popular sectors. Polls indicate that most Venezuelans want Maduro out (through negotiations and not foreign intervention). Failing to listen is not only tone deaf. It is a violation of our duty of solidarity.
Still, while it appears clear most Venezuelans reject Maduro, it does not follow that most back the opposition—including Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president last week and is strongly supported by the U.S. Venezuelans’ desire for new leadership should not be equated with support for the types of neoliberal policies that U.S.-backed opposition would likely implement. A February 3, 2019 poll indicated that 33 percent of Venezuelans identify as Chavista, 19 percent as opposition, and 48 percent as neither. Alongside pictures showing significant turnout in both opposition and government rallies on Saturday, February 2, this suggests that Venezuela remains a deeply polarized society.
Standing with the oppressed demands opposing both the U.S. and the Maduro administration. It means supporting efforts, such as those led by Mexico and Uruguay, to foster peaceful transformation in Venezuela. And it requires, above all, supporting options that allow the oppressed to have a real say in deciding their own future.
With the likes of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams directing Trump’s policy on Venezuela, the chances of a devastating U.S. intervention appear to be rising. We should oppose this with everything we’ve got. But that isn’t enough.
Keeping in mind the three principles laid out above, the best thing to do now is support multilateral efforts to foster a peaceful resolution to Venezuela’s crisis. We should also back the call for free and fair elections, doing so in a way that acknowledges the growing opposition to Maduro (from all sectors of society, including the popular sectors), the continuing support for the Chavista project, and even—to a much lesser extent—for Maduro. Supporting free and fair elections does not mean supporting a US-led or US-backed project of neoliberal transformation. It means working to expand the space within which Venezuelans can make their own choices about the future.
Above all, the Left must act in solidarity with the oppressed. For leftists in the U.S. this requires looking both outward and inward. It means working to end US sanctions (particularly on the oil sector) and organizing to block a U.S. war on Venezuela. It means supporting Venezuelans’ right to choose their own government. In the not unlikely event that a new government takes hold, a critical task will be to prevent the exclusion and demonization of Chavistas, Chavismo, and the Left in general. The dangers of this occurring are very real.
Finally, it means working to transform U.S. politics — not just challenging Trump’s adventurism, but also pressuring Democrats to change their foreign policy tune. As the war machine gears up, this is a critical task for the Left. Otherwise Venezuelans and others on the wrong side of U.S. imperialism will continue to be stifled in their ability to decide what their own futures will look like.
Gabriel Hetland teaches at University at Albany and has written about Venezuelan politics for The Nation, NACLA, Qualitative Sociology, and Latin American Perspectives.
Red flags everywhere, hundreds, more hundreds, thousands marched along through the drizzly weather and puddled streets. Many bent figures hobbled with canes, some were in wheelchairs next to a younger set sitting proudly on their fathers’ shoulders or in strollers. Then another big group of young people arrived, some singing or chanting leftist demands. Most spoke German but much Turkish, English and a dozen other languages mixed in. They all moved past the rows of political and snack booths, a majority had red carnations for a ring of graves and, in a brick semicircle, urns with names which once resounded well beyond Germany from 1900 to 1990. One section is for those who fought and died in Spain. But the masses of red flowers for Karl Liebknecht and, even more for Rosa Luxemburg, was higher than I have ever seen them. Both were murdered one hundred years ago.
Why do those two names mean so much to so many people? This year 20,000 were estimated, but who could count the individuals and the group waves during the whole of Sunday. It was far more than last year, when 10,000 were estimated. I have watched the numbers increase or decline over the years, sometimes in official GDR parades, sometimes, afterwards, faced by mounted police, dogs, helicopters, and in one year banned (but defied). There were fewer in recent years as faithful GDR old-timers died out. This year’s increase was due in part to the 100th anniversary, but not only that.
These commemorations began soon after their death and were only stopped fully by the Nazis, who destroyed the monument by the great Mies von der Rohe and destroyed the bodies, or what was left of Rosa after months in the canal into which the killers threw her corpse. Thus the graves are empty, but this cannot lessen the unending admiration and love for Karl, a great, courageous fighter and, undeniably even a little more, for Rosa, a delicate, sensitive woman, limping since childhood, a lover of poetry and the smallest aspects of nature: a tiny bird, a beetle attacked by ants, a nightingale, but then, with her clear, sharp mind, superior to so many of the loud men she was surrounded by, capable of fiery speeches which moved so many audiences and were feared by so many enemies.
What they yearned and fought for – and aroused such love and hatred – was first the war’s end and then a socialist Germany and a socialist world, with wars forever banned. Much of this seemed within reach in November 1918, when navy sailors refused to sail their ships into a final, fatal encounter with the British fleet. Arrested and locked up in port in Kiel, they were supported and freed by the shipyard workers, and the soldiers sent to subdue them turned their guns around, forcing an end to World War One, deposing the Kaiser, and setting off Germany’s November Revolution. The rebellious sailors moved to Berlin, hundreds of thousands of workers joined in, and Karl Liebknecht announced a new Socialist Republic of Germany from the Kaiser’s deserted palace.
But hardly a mile away another state was also created – what came to be known as the Weimar Republic because that is where its constitution was approved. Its president was Friedrich Ebert, the head of the Social Democratic Party, which supported the Kaiser’s war from start to finish. Karl Liebknecht was in 1914 the only Social Democrat to reject the war, or spending one mark for it. His continuing opposition, and that of Rosa, who also insisted that working people should never massacre each other, meant imprisonment for both till they were freed by the revolution.
Events moved fast. Too fast. In secret Ebert and his group joined with the defeated generals to end the monarchy but keep the rule of the wealthy, saving it from the wrath of a hungry country, which demonstrated – a half million in Berlin – but soon yearned for peace, any peace. Ebert called on his Minister of War Gustav Noske, also a Social Democrat, to crush the rebellion. “Someone must be the bloodhound!” he said, and sent in a well-armed mix of aristocrats and thugs to smash resistance. Karl and Rosa, in hiding, who had helped found a Communist Party two weeks earlier, were soon found and killed in the same night. Decades later the responsible officer, never punished, revealed his contact with the government.
The new government soon became a site of compromise and betrayal. When the frightful depression hit, when large numbers of Social Democrats moved toward action and, more alarmingly, millions voted for the Communists, all democratic remains were brushed aside by those same forces – Krupp, Thyssen, Flick, Deutsche Bank and the others – which again turned to the bloodthirsty thugs of Hitler. The result: over fifty million dead and much of Europe in ruins.
Karl and Rosa are admired and loved as revolutionaries. There was also a revolutionary spirit at the annual conference, always arranged for the preceding Saturdays by the newspaper Junge Welt; the 2000-seat auditorium was jammed, listening to forceful speeches by foreign guests and again a taped message from the imprisoned black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, now with just a ray of hope for release.
With the waves of red flags on Sunday, often with hammer and sickle, visitors from another planet might have thought a new revolution was imminent!
They would have been mistaken. No socialist revolution is imminent, violent or non-violent, now or in the next future. A large proportion of working people are indeed dissatisfied, often angry, even many Germans. But few are considering any such revolution, and hammer and sickle emblems are perhaps more likely to alienate than inspire them. The time is not ripe.
As in 1914 and 1919 Germany’s Social Democratic Party is still compromising the principles it stood for when Karl and Rosa were still in it. Now it is part of a government with Angela Merkel’s rightist Christian Democrats, to which it bends, over and over, to the pressures of the mighty, to crooks like the environmental chiselers Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, pitifully proclaiming its love for a working class membership now deserting it, leaving it a fragment of its former size at an anemic 15 percent.
This has happened to many European parties called socialist, while parties to the left, often split and disorganized, have rarely found the fighting spirit and strength to adequately face two dark clouds now adding to CO2 and other poisons wrecking the earth from pole to pole. One is the return in growing strength of the same species of well-financed fascistic thugs which killed Rosa and Karl. The other is the increased maneuvering with ever more modern weapons along the borders of any country standing in the way of the goal of the wealthiest, total world hegemony. This clique, controlled by a diminishing number of mighty billionaires – in pharmaceutics, chemicals, car-making, agriculture, retail sales and mind control, but above all in the manufacture of ever deadlier weapons of war, which now threaten an atomic annihilation far greater in menace even than ecological destruction.
The fervor of some seemed premature, but not all past traditions should be scrapped because of past failures. And the yellow vests worn by so many on Sunday were symbols of solidarity and of new hopes. People in France, fighting mad, have gone into the streets, week for week. Angry demonstrations surprised the world in Budapest, Vienna, in the Nile cities of Sudan and in Zimbabwe. Eager, combative faces are upsetting the old guard in the US Capitol, while teachers in red vests have taken a stand in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Chicago and now in Los Angeles.
Rosa’s words about freedom for those who think differently have been repeated thousands of times – and sometimes misused. Less often quoted is her warning to the world about capitalism:
“Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”
Many of those taking part on Sunday also knew of Karl’s last article, printed after his death:
“Those defeated today will be the victors tomorrow… whether or not we live to experience it, our program will remain alive; it will prevail in a world of a rescued humanity – In spite of everything!