US imperial adventurism is back with a vengeance and has to be called out clearly for what it is, argues Lindsey German
If you don’t like the country’s president, just find a new one. That’s the meaning of Donald Trump’s intervention in Venezuela last week. The US agreed to back one of the opposition leaders, Juan Guaido, who dramatically swore himself in as president at a demonstration and is now receiving the backing not just of the US, but Canada, Brazil, the UK, a number of neighbouring countries, as the legitimate leader.
This attempted ousting of the elected president, Nicolas Maduro, has been a long time in the planning. We were informed just this weekend that Venezuela has been refused access to its gold reserves lodged in the Bank of England, and that conflict over this has been going on for months. This is just one aspect of the way international financial pressure has been exerted. The US has already imposed sanctions and the Venezuelan economy is in a terrible state, not least because of the fall in oil prices internationally.
Food shortages, economic crisis, corruption and the government’s clear unpopularity have all helped fuel opposition, which is nothing new in Venezuela. The former president, Hugo Chavez, whose programme of popular reform was welcomed by many of Venezuela’s poor but hated by the rich and the oligarchs, was under constant attack from the right internationally and from the US in particular. The attempted military coup against him in 2002 was defeated by popular left mobilisation.
This long term right wing opposition was strengthened by the death of Chavez and the growing economic problems. Elections last May were boycotted by the opposition who now have the nerve to turn round and declare them illegitimate. The British government is demanding new elections, or the immediate replacement of Maduro.
Hypocrisy is the word that springs to mind here. The ‘international community’ says little about the recent, widely regarded as corrupt, elections in Bangladesh, or the imprisonment of elected members of the Catalan government by the Spanish state. There are no sanctions applied, no special resolutions and sessions at the UN. Yet Venezuela is seen as a special case. Similarly, dictatorships and tyrannies are supported if they're allies of the UK - look at Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Indeed they are rewarded with trade deals and arms sales.
Closer to home, some might argue that Theresa May’s government has lost legitimacy given its record defeat over Brexit two weeks ago. Should we declare Jeremy Corbyn the real leader of the UK? Does Macron’s brutal repression of the Gilets Jaunes movement in France justify outside intervention?
The US and Trump have no right to interfere in the government of a sovereign state, and no one should see this as anything but a very dangerous development.
None of this means support for the politics of Maduro - there is much with which socialists would not agree, including the corruption and government-imposed hardship. The country is not socialist - most industry is privately owned and the capitalists and their allies have been content to preside over poverty and misery for generations. They hated Chavez for his attempts to change that. But what we are seeing is a 21st century form of coup, with which the history of Latin America is so riddled. The ‘constitutional’ coup has been tried before - most recently in Brazil where the fascist Bolsonaro’s victory followed the removal of elected president Dilma Rousseff and the imprisonment of Lula, the Workers’ Party candidate.
We should be aware that those backing intervention will plead for peace, but are all too willing to support or turn a blind eye to violence. The likelihood of civil war is high, with terrible consequences for the Venezuelan people. Outside intervention will be no help to the Venezuelan people. We know historically this alliance of the indigenous right in Latin America plus Washington has been disastrous for democracy. Trump has put in charge of this work a man who supported the Contras in Nicaragua, and who denied the reality of the death squads in El Salvador.
If the coup is successful it will be a huge setback, a victory for the right in the US and for western imperialism. The left should stand firmly against it. Unfortunately, too many of the US left think their main point of differentiation is with Maduro. In fact, it should be with their own ruling class whose record in Latin America is bloody and brutal - and shows no sign of changing.
Second referendum: twice the misery
It seems that events this last week have demonstrated that the call for a 'People’s Vote' or second referendum has passed its peak. Chuka Umunna and his Tory best mate, Anna Soubry, withdrew their amendment in parliament which they recognised had no chance of winning. So there is going to be no vote in parliament, at least in the short term, which gives this option. I think a big turning point in this was the revelation two weeks ago that only 71 Labour MPs backed it. That meant it had no chance of success.
Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded in facing down this threat which would be disastrous for Labour electorally, but also more widely. Those advocating it don’t seem to understand what a gift it would be for the right and how horrible the campaign would be, with Farage et al demanding ‘tell them again’. Jeremy is right to do so and right to demand that politics in Britain has to take account of the issues affecting people on a day to day basis, from austerity to education and health cuts.
However, this setback for People's Vote will by no means be the end of the story. As someone said at the Counterfire conference this weekend, the second referendum is a major strategy of the Remain-dominated ruling class in Britain. It will return to this question if it cannot find any other satisfactory outcome to the referendum result. So we have the prospect of another referendum - with the double dose of misery that entails. Which is why a general election now is the only sensible course to follow.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Marxism, the family and women's oppression - video
- Marxism and feminism - Marxism and Women's Liberation extract
- Tiers of a clown – weekly briefing
- Engels: giant of the socialist movement - video
- Engels: a working class hero
- No money for school meals but Johnson found £16.5bn extra for the military
- The left’s Trump card – weekly briefing