Sunday, May 20, 2018

Class Cleavages in Today’s Voting in Venezuela


Voting centers in middle class areas did not have the usual lines of people waiting to vote. On the other hand, in the popular sectors, small towns and rural areas there generally seems to be a fair-size turnout. This photo was taken outside a school which serves as a voting center in Tronconal, Barcelona at nearly noontime which is way after the peak hour for voting – which is much earlier in the morning. Opposition spokespeople are claiming that there was massive voting abstention, but their claim is undoubtedly based on the middle class areas they frequent and where they count on greater support.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

LOS GOBIERNOS QUE ENFRENTAN EL INTERVENCIONISMO EXTRANJERO: Un debate muy lejos de ser abstracto o irrelevante


Las fuerzas de reacción han logrado una hegemonía contundente a nivel gubernamental, sin paralelo desde los días de Metternich: en la mayor parte de Europa, América Latina, los EE UU, las Islas Filipinas, Australia, etc. Como resultado, las opciones para los gobiernos de izquierda son más limitadas que hace una década. Cuando Chávez era presidente, contaba con el apoyo gubernamental del resto de América Latina casi en su totalidad. Ahora, con Maduro, la situación es lo contrario. 
Los gobiernos progresistas ahora se ven en la necesidad de seguir una política más pragmática, y de aprovecharse de los aliados y semi-aliados, cuando es posible. En este contexto, creo que la izquierda debe ocupar un terreno medio entre dos extremos: uno es lo que llamo “el utopianismo de la izquierda” y el otro “el ultra-pragmatismo”. El “utopianismo de la izquierda” se caracteriza por una mentalidad purista que ignora los contextos. Esta posición no conduce a nada y por cierto fue rechazada por Marx en sus escritos polémicos en oposición a los socialistas utópicos. Para los “utopistas de la izquierda”, la política es “todo o nada”. No están interesados en determinar el grado de gravedad de los errores cometidos por los gobiernos progresistas y condenan a todos como “vendidos”.  Un ejemplo de la falla de esta línea de pensamiento es lo siguiente: la crítica a las políticas “populistas” de los gobiernos progresistas por suministrar dádivas a los grupos no-privilegiados a costa del desarrollo económico no puede recibir el mismo peso que las críticas a la privatización de las industrias estratégicas llevada a cabo por la derecha. 
“El utopianismo de la izquierda” en la segunda década del siglo 21 se manifiesta en la posición que condena a Rusia y a China por sus intenciones imperiales y, en efecto, los coloca en el mismo saco con los EE UU. Como Rusia y China ya no son socialistas, y ni siquiera democráticas, y tienen ambiciones globales, entonces lógicamente ellos tienen que ser países imperialistas y no pueden ser menos destructivos y peligrosos que los EE UU. Pero el hecho es que ninguno de esos dos países se comporta como las potencias europeas antes de la Primera Guerra Mundial descritas por Lenin, ni tampoco como los EE UU desde 1946. Además, ni Rusia ni China tienen bases militares en todas partes del mundo, y ambas proveen apoyo político y económico a los gobiernos progresistas como Venezuela. Aunque los acuerdos bilaterales económicos de China y Rusia pueden favorecer sus propios intereses, no vienen con condiciones que promueven la dependencia y las políticas anti-populares, como es el caso del FMI, el Banco Mundial y el gobierno de Washington. En contraste, los EE UU tiene vínculos estrechos con gobiernos conservadores, reaccionarios y represivos como el de Arabia Saudita, Egipto y Colombia, y abiertamente promueve la salida de gobiernos que considera contrarios a sus intereses nacionales (como ha hecho en Libia, Iraq, Afganistán y Venezuela). Por cierto, bajo el gobierno de Donald Trump, el argumento referente a la necesidad de defender los “intereses nacionales” de los EE UU ha sido una justificación para la intervención extranjera cada vez más pronunciada. 
Otra manifestación del “utopianismo de la izquierda” y el purismo es la condena total a los gobiernos progresistas que enfrentan una campaña de desestabilización promovida por Washington. Esta posición, a menudo correctamente, apunta a los aspectos negativos de esos gobiernos incluyendo el pragmatismo excesivo (o “oportunismo”), el populismo crudo, y la corrupción, pero termina colocándolos en la misma categoría que los partidos estrechamente aliados con Washington. En el proceso, la posición del “utopianismo de la izquierda” ignora los aspectos positivos. Además, el “utopianismo de la izquierda” no reconoce que los errores cometidos por los gobiernos progresistas son, en gran parte, sobre-reacciones a las acciones ilegales y semi-legales de una oposición con recursos inmensos provenientes de la burguesía local y las potencias extranjeras. 
Al extremo contrario es el “ultra-pragmatismo” que se abstiene a criticar a los gobiernos que enfrentan al imperialismo norteamericano. Esta posición tiene varias vertientes. Una se basa en lo que se llama “realpolitik” o el realismo en la política extranjera. Alega que los gobiernos progresistas de los países del tercer mundo y los relativamente pequeños son impotentes frente a las realidades globales, específicamente la presión proveniente de las superpotencias hegemónicas, o sea los EE UU y los países de Europa Occidental. La única estrategia viable es la cultivación de relaciones amistosas con una superpotencia emergente, específicamente Rusia y China. Frente las exigencias globales, las políticas domésticas de los países vulnerables son de consideración secundaria. Otra versión del “ultra-pragmatismo” es la noción que los izquierdistas de los EE UU y otros países del norte deben abstenerse de formular críticas de cualquier tipo a los gobiernos progresistas que están siendo amenazados por el imperialismo. Como los izquierdistas del norte no son ciudadanos de esas naciones, no tienen derecho de criticarlos. Además, como esos gobiernos están siendo sitiados, cualquier crítica de ellos mina el esfuerzo de defender la soberanía nacional. 

Rechazo la posición ultra-pragmática por varias razones. Lo más importante es que los gobiernos progresistas en América Latina en el siglo 21 han cometido graves errores en un contexto democrático, que son temas de mucha trascendencia para la izquierda en todos los países democráticos, tanto en el norte como el sur. Aunque esos errores a menudo son sobre-reacciones a las campañas desestabilizadoras llevadas a cabo por las fuerzas de reacción, sin embargo, los errores tienen que ser analizados y las lecciones asimiladas. Este proceso de aprendizaje no es académico o superfluo, sino es un imperativo de gran importancia. No es suficiente para la izquierda rechazar las políticas populistas con el único argumento que impiden el desarrollo económico. Las razones por las cuales los gobiernos han recurrido a las políticas populistas tienen que ser consideradas, conjuntamente con alternativas realistas. En breve, hay una necesidad urgente del análisis objetivo serio de las situaciones complejas que enfrenta la izquierda en el poder, y el proceso de revisión no puede ser exclusivo de los ciudadanos de cada país respetivo.  

Además, el ultra-pragmatismo de la izquierda ignora el hecho de que los izquierdistas, a través de la historia, siempre han sido caracterizados por la motivación idealista. Las posiciones principistas que asumen, y su comportamiento ejemplar y sacrificios, los distinguen de aquellos ubicados en otra parte del espectro político, e históricamente, han sido su punto fuerte. Por eso, hay una razón “pragmática” por la cual la izquierda no puede pasar por alto, o minimizar la gravedad, de la corrupción y el comportamiento oportunista en general. Cualquier vacilación en este sentido desacredita la izquierda y la despoja de una de sus banderas más importantes: la honestidad. 

Finalmente, la izquierda no puede perder de vista el hecho que China y Rusia son aliados coyunturales. Los comunistas ortodoxos tienden a tener más simpatía para China que para Rusia. Pero en ambas naciones, su sistema económico no es conducente a la solidaridad internacional (en contraste con los esfuerzos del gobierno cubano en el transcurso del último medio siglo) y su sistema político no es un modelo para emular. A veces, parece que los “ultra-pragmatistas” ignoran estas consideraciones.


El Presidente Maduro y la dirigencia chavista en general no sirven como fuente de inspiración internacional como fue el caso de Chávez. Sin embargo, contrario al pensamiento de los “utopistas izquierdistas”, los rasgos positivos del gobierno de Maduro deben ser señalados, no solamente porque contrarrestan la cobertura engañosa de los medios comerciales de comunicación, sino porque realzan la efectividad de la muy necesaria solidaridad internacional. Estas consideraciones “pragmáticas” tienen que ser tomadas muy en cuenta en cualquier discusión sobre el anti-imperialismo en el siglo veintiuno.

Este artículo mío fue originalmente publicado por ZNET y en español por Rebelion.org. http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=241695  


Traducido al español con la ayuda de José Gregorio Tovar y Carmen Sánchez Ellner. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

AN OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS OF GOVERNMENTS FACING FOREIGN MEDDLING RAISES ISSUES THAT ARE FAR FROM ABSTRACT AND IRRELEVANT: The case of Venezuela


I received mixed comments on a recent blog piece I posted on the situation in Syria, including some unfriendly criticism, which is OK especially considering the emotional nature of the subject. Since my knowledge of the Mid East is admittedly limited, I would not have written a follow-up had it not been for the fact that the points I raised in the piece are applicable to the Pink Tide nations in Latin America, and Venezuela in particular. For that reason I would much appreciate comments on my second piece (which is sort of a response to the critical comments I got on my first post).  

The discussion very much influences my thoughts about the current situation in Venezuela. The issue is not just about a blanket rejection of imperialist intervention wherever it occurs. It's about how to evaluate governments that are putting up resistance to foreign intervention and that (as I believe to be the case of Venezuela) have some positive features but also some very negative ones (specifically, considerable corruption and lack of internal democracy within their respective political movements). In addition, how do we evaluate the support that those governments are receiving from China and Russia? And finally, does the very real problems those nations are facing and the resultant hardships feed into the TINA narrative that real change, including socialism, doesn't work and is thus a lost cause?  These are not abstract or secondary issues. They are key to determining the effectiveness of the solidarity work carried out by progressives throughout the world.


My second piece was posted on ZNET: https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/support-for-governments-under-imperialist-siege/

Monday, May 7, 2018

SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENTS UNDER IMPERIALIST SIEGE (Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc.): JUST HOW FAR DO WE GO?

A recent post of mine on the situation in Syria (http://steveellnersblog.blogspot.com/2018/04/in-conflict-in-syria-there-doesnt-seem.html) led to some interesting and critical comments coming both from those who felt I was too hard on Assad and Russia and those who felt I was letting them off the hook. The position I presented reflects my view of the current situation worldwide. As is often the case, the issue of Syria has to be placed in a broader, in this case global, context. Contextualization is fundamental for the achievement of an objective analysis and evaluation of the Syrian government and others that confront U.S.-promoted intervention, put forward an anti-imperialist discourse, and (in some cases) raise socialist banners, such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Libya under Gaddafi. 
The forces of reaction and conservative movements have not enjoyed such world-wide hegemony at the state and transnational levels since the days of Metternich: throughout Europe, throughout Latin America, the U.S., the Philippines, Australia, etc. As a result, the options for leftist governments are more limited than was the case a decade ago. When Hugo Chávez was president, he counted on the support of Latin America as a whole. Now with Maduro, the situation is the opposite.

As a result, progressive governments see the need to follow a more pragmatic strategy than in the past, and take advantage of allies and semi-allies wherever possible. In this context, I believe that leftists need to occupy a middle ground between two extremes: one is what I call “leftist utopianism” and the other “ultra-pragmatism.” “Leftist utopianism” is characterized by a purist mentality that ignores contexts. It leads nowhere and indeed was rejected by Marx in his polemical writings in opposition to the utopian socialists as well as the Young Hegelians. 

 “Leftist utopianism” takes an all-or-nothing approach. It thus refrains from attempting to determine the relative seriousness of the errors of progressive governments, and ends up condemning all of them as sell-outs. Such an intransigent position is excessive. Thus, for instance, criticism of the populist policies of progressive governments that go overboard in providing handouts to non-privileged groups cannot be given the same weight as the privatization of strategic sectors of the economy carried out by the right. 

Leftist utopianism in the second decade of the twenty-first century manifests itself in the position that condemns Russia and China for their imperialist motivations and, in effect, lumps them in the same category as the U.S. Since Russia and China are not socialist and not even democratic, and have global ambitions, then ipso facto they must be imperialist powers and can’t be any less destructive and harmful than the U.S. But the fact of the matter is that neither of these two countries behaves like the pre-World War I European powers described by Lenin, nor like the U.S. since 1946. Neither Russia nor China has military bases scattered throughout the world and both have provided political and economic support for progressive governments such as Venezuela. Furthermore, China’s and Russia’s bilateral economic deals may favor their own interests but do not attach strings fostering dependence, as in the case of the IMF, World Bank and Washington. In contrast, the U.S. has close and powerful military ties with repressive and reactionary or conservative governments such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Colombia, and openly promotes regime change against governments they consider contrary to its national interests (as it has done in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Venezuela). Indeed, under Trump, the argument of the need to defend U.S. “national interests” has increasingly become an explicit justification for U.S. intervention abroad. 

Another manifestation of “leftist utopianism” and purism is the blanket condemnation of progressive governments that are facing a destabilizing campaign promoted by Washington. This position correctly points to the blunders, excessive pragmatism (or “opportunism”), crass populism and large-scale corruption of these governments, but ends up placing them in the same sack as the opposition closely tied to Washington. In the process, the “leftist utopian” position ignores their positive features. It also fails to recognize that the errors that are being committed by progressive governments are largely overreactions to the aggressive illegal and semi-legal actions of an opposition with immense resources supplied by the local bourgeoisie and foreign powers. 

The opposite extreme is “ultra-pragmatism” which refrains from criticizing governments that confront U.S. imperialism. This position has several strands. One is based on an outlook that emphasizes realpolitik. It claims that progressive governments of third-world nations and relatively small ones are impotent in the face of global realities, specifically pressure from the world’s hegemonic superpower, namely the United States. The only viable strategy that can be pursued is the befriending of an emerging superpower, specifically Russia and China. In the face of these global imperatives, the domestic policies of these vulnerable nations are of secondary consideration. A second version of “ultra-pragmatism” is the notion that leftists in the U.S. and elsewhere should refrain from leveling criticism of any nature at progressive governments under siege. Since first world leftists are not citizens of those nations, they have no right to voice criticism. In addition since those governments are under imperialist attack any criticism of them undermines the effort to defend national sovereignty. 

I reject the ultra-pragmatic position for various basic reasons. Most important, twenty-first century progressive governments in Latin America have committed serious errors in a democratic context, which are topics of great importance to the left in all democratic nations, both developed and underdeveloped. Even though the errors are often overreactions to disruptive campaigns carried out by the forces of reaction, nevertheless, the errors have to be analyzed and assimilated. Such a learning process is not academic or superfluous, but rather is an overriding imperative. It is not enough for leftists to reject the populist policies of progressive governments with the sole argument that they impede economic development. The reasons progressive governments have reverted to populist policies have to be considered, and realistic alternatives formulated.  In short, serious objective analysis of the complex situations facing the left in power is urgently needed and the examination process cannot be the exclusive preserve of the citizens of each respective nation. 

In addition, ultra-pragmatism on the left ignores the fact that leftists throughout history have always been characterized by idealistic motivation. The principled positions they assume and their exemplary behavior and sacrifices distinguish them from those located elsewhere on the political spectrum, and have historically been their strong point. There is thus a “pragmatic” reason why corruption and opportunistic behavior in general cannot be condoned or overlooked. Any indecisiveness along those lines discredits the left and robs it of one of its most powerful banners.

Finally, the left cannot lose sight of the fact that China and Russia are merely circumstantial allies. The orthodox communists tend to be more sympathetic to China than Russia. But in the case of both nations, their economic systems are not conducive to international solidarity (in contrast to the efforts of the Cuban government over the last half a century) and their political systems hardly represent role models. The “ultra-pragmatists” sometimes appear to ignore these plain facts.

President Maduro and the Chavista leadership do not serve as a source of inspiration, as did his predecessor Chávez. But contrary to the thinking of “leftist utopianism,” the positive features of Maduro’s government need to be raised not only because they counter the deceptive coverage of the commercial media, but because they enhance the effectiveness of much-needed international solidarity. These “pragmatic” considerations need to be brought into the picture in any discussion over anti-imperialism in the twenty-first century.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

REGARDING THE CONFLICT IN SYRIA, THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ANY GOOD GUYS


A few days back, Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” interviewed Syrian-American activist Ramah Kudaimi (member of the National Committee of the War Resisters League) on the recent U.S.,  
 British and French airstrikes against targets in Syria. Kudaimi emphasized more the atrocities committed by the Assad regime than the military intervention on the part of the host of governments that support rebel groups. Underlying her observations was the assertion that the Syrian people rose up against the Assad regime in 2011 and their will is being ignored by all sides in the conflict. At one point, it almost seemed as if her argument was a cover for support for greater U.S. intervention in order to topple the reviled Assad regime. Her basic point was that one-shot airstrikes are not enough. That is also the implication of the criticism of many Democratic Party congress people who accuse Trump of not having a viable plan for resolving the Syrian crisis. Furthermore, Washington – both Obama and Trump – is criticized for directing the fight in Syria exclusively against the ISIS enemy, while leaving the Assad regime intact.   

Kudaimi and others on the left who favor regime change in Syria always stress the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, but the fact of the matter is that the major actors who are now fighting against Assad are almost all surrogates of one foreign government or another. The commercial media, and much of the alternative media as well, fail to provide information about the rebel groups, who they represent, and what their goals are. Since the bad guys are the Assad regime and the ISIS terrorists, it almost seems that, ipso facto, the good guys are the non-ISIS rebels. Very little mention is made of the fact that these rebel groups are so divided among themselves that they have engaged in deadly infighting; that they have committed war crimes against their enemies and the civilian population; that the foreign powers who support them are no more democratic than Iran or Russia (ie, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the Emirates, etc.), and that some of the rebel groups receiving support from outside powers have been themselves allied with terrorists, specifically the Al-Qaeda local affiliate. Indeed, when fighting centered on Aleppo in the north a few months back, the media made little mention that a major force among the rebels was Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front. 


An example is the recent fighting in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The main rebel group whose base of support is located in the Ghouta region is the Islamic Front, backed and armed by Saudi Arabia. Typical of the disarray of the anti-Assad forces, the Islamic Front has spurned ties with other rebel organizations grouped in the Syrian National Coalition. Furthermore, the trajectory of the Islamic Front is characterized by extreme factionalism. In addition, Islamic Front leaders have articulated Sunni extremism and abhorrence for Shiites (who they call “Zoroastrians”!) and opposition to democracy. The commercial media tends to gloss over these details.  


In my opinion, solidarity in favor of the Syrian people cannot take the form of demands, slogans and banners for regime change. The call for regime change just exacerbates the conflict and deepens and extends the civil war. Furthermore, a distinction has to be made between Russian support for an established government, as repressive as it may be, and military involvement on the part of the U.S., France, Great Britain, Israel, and Turkey in favor of rebel groups that have no chance at all of reaching power and putting an end to the violence and instability.    

I don’t doubt at all the nefariousness of the actions of the Assad government both in terms of internal repression and military atrocities. The international movement of solidarity obviously should not demonstrate support for the Assad government in any way, or for Russian military involvement. Its position needs to be diametrically opposed to that of much of the anti-war movement in the 60s which considered Ho Chi Minh somewhat of a hero.  

Given the reprehensible actions of the Assad government, recognizing it as the established government may seem like the abandonment of the moral high ground. But the alternative is to contribute to the continuation of the civil war with no end in sight. Realism must prevail because the alternative is ongoing violence and chaos. 

Furthermore, the demand for withdrawal of all foreign powers from Syria (even though its achievement would be a major step in favor of peace), actually encourages those nations that are aiding the rebels. After all, Washington’s position is: as long as the Russians are in Syria, we have the right to do the same. But the fact of the matter is that the only hope for some sort of stability at this point is government consolidation. One may ask, what is the difference between Russian military support for Assad and U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in the 60s? But there are important differences:  

1. The Viet Minh was a unified force and ended up taking power once the U.S. withdrew. The situation in Syria is dissimilar because if the Russians were to withdraw today, the rebels would most likely continue fighting against Assad and among themselves.

2. The Viet Minh had a legitimate goal which was the unification of Vietnam. The rebels do not have any all-encompassing demand other than getting rid of Assad.

3. The Assad regime is fighting the major terrorist groups including ISIS and the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. The South Vietnam government had no such redeeming feature.    

I am in agreement with two propositions defended by those on the left who are calling for regime change in Syria. First, the international solidarity movement has to raise the banner of the goal of democracy in Syria, which at least indirectly represents a criticism of Assad. And second, in the long run the solution to Syria’s problems will come from the mass popular movement in that nation, and not super-power agreements at the negotiation table. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN DIMENSIONS


Gun violence is not only a problem in U.S. schools, and the NRA is not the only culprit. It's also the Pentagon with its advocacy of permanent war and its view of the world as one big battlefield. For the commercial media, the military budget and U.S. military bases scattered throughout the world are non-issues, while for the Republicans supported by Blue Dog Democrats the issue is the need to increase military spending not reducing it. The courageous young students who are protesting gun violence will sooner or later (if they haven't already) see the connection between endless, senseless wars and violence at home. They are interrelated but the media and the politicians will do everything possible to disconnect them.

Indeed, the military-industrial complex of today is on steroids compared to the one that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell speech as president in 1961. At the time, the military buildup was justified as a necessity to face the Soviet threat. Then after the fall of the Soviet Union, the justification was the war on terrorism.

With Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor, U.S. militarism is bound to reach a new threshold. Bolton calls for not a “proportionate” but a “disproportionate” reaction to Russia’s alleged interventionism, which would include cyber warfare. Claiming that China and Russia work in coordination and are ganging up on the U.S., Bolton argues for a hardened response to both nations. Bolton’s appointment will likely be a watershed event, in which the war on terrorism will be downplayed and replaced with a much more dangerous type of confrontation, in some ways even more so than in the days of the Cold War. If there ever was a time for a full-fledged campaign against militarism in all its dimensions and manifestations, it’s now.


I’m not the only one who claims there is a connection between U.S. involvement in wars and domestic violence. Martin Luther King said the same. And what better moment to remember King’s legacy than today, April 4, 2018. Fifty years have gone by and King’s words about violence at home and abroad have proved to be prophetic.  




Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hannah Arendt's "The Banality of Evil": Things Haven't Changed in 50 Years


Much debate in the U.S. boils down to whether domestic matters such as health care or social security should be prioritized or whether international issues are more important. Most people opt for the former. I place myself in the latter category. There are various reasons for this, among them the fact that military spending blocks the effort to improve the lives of people in the U.S. But there’s another reason which is ethical. Some may have already seen this video of the Baghdad airstrikes which Chelsea Manning turned over to Wikileaks. One thing is to read about what happened, another thing is to watch it on your screen and hear the voices and see the images. I just came across it as a link in a NY Times article (about the hacker Adrian Lamo) I was reading. Here it is:  

Watching it what comes to my mind is what Hannah Arendt (as a journalist working out of Jerusalem) said about Eichmann (which the Israeli establishment didn’t like at all). Evil people are not only madmen like Hitler. They’re also “normal” people (bureaucrats among others) who sit behind desks and talk a normal language with a normal voice pitch. Arendt called it the “banality of evil.” This is an example of that.