On Venezuela and Building An Anti-Imperialist Movement in the United States

By Florence Oppen
The U.S. government is continuing to tighten its grip over the Venezuelan people and use the growing and unsustainable social crisis to directly seek regime change by supporting Guaidó’s undemocratic bid for power. This is why we participated in the action called by UNAC (United National Antiwar Coalition) against any form of U.S. intervention in Venezuela on February 23rd, and we called on workers and community organizations to join us at this demonstration. We fully agree with the UNAC call for action on February 23rd when it states that Guaidó is “the U.S.-appointed, CIA-trained and puppet ‘president.’” We also agree that “in the name of delivering ‘humanitarian aid’” the U.S. is seeking to impose a “regime change coup or overt military intervention and war aimed at placing the most reactionary forces in power.”[1]
We are committed to defend the right of self-determination of nations, and there is no question that the Guaidó bid for power is a U.S.-initiated and backed coup that must be defeated. But we do not support the Maduro regime, nor do we think U.S. workers should. There is a difference between demanding that the U.S. government does not interfere in any way in Venezuela and giving political support to Maduro. We believe that the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement will benefit from an open discussion on the nature of the Maduro regime and the roots of the ongoing social and economic crisis in Venezuela.
The Guaidó/U.S. Intervention is Neither About Democracy or “Humanitarian” Aid
Today many workers are opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere. They are rightly suspicious of the real motives of the wars abroad. The main reason for this is that since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the lies of the Bush administration, the revelations of torture and illegal detentions in Guantanamo and other secret military facilities, the White House, Congress and the Pentagon have lost all political legitimacy and their claims to be committed to democracy and freedom are seen as empty and hypocritical.
Among Black and Latinx workers and youth, as well as other communities of color, the opposition is even stronger. How can a government that does not enforce democracy and freedom at home, that perpetuates a system of mass incarceration, fuels police brutality and murder, and terrorizes immigrant communities with cruel and illegal policies of family separation and detention claim to have any legitimacy to restore freedom and democracy anywhere else?
Because direct military intervention is so unpopular, Guaidó and the Trump administration have devised an “humanitarian aid” plan, that will allow the U.S. to put its operatives on Venezuelan territory. This  is nothing more than a covert operation to give material support to the coup. Even more, it is a despicable form of blackmail of the Venezuelan people, a maneuver that seeks to use hunger as a bargaining chip: you are hungry and sick, if you want to eat, you need to surrender your national independence and accept aid from the same economic forces that led to your starvation.
The idea that the Trump administration is truly motivated by humanitarianism is not credible either. Why is the U.S. government not concerned that there were 39.7 million Americans living in poverty in 2017, 12.3% of the population? In reality, the U.S. government is threatening to cut food stamps subsidies for the poor and refuses to launch a real plan for public housing to eradicate growing homelessness. This is the anti-worker regime that left 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck for a month and just passed a cruel anti-worker tax reform.[2] What about first implementing  a real humanitarian plan to eliminate poverty and fully fund public services and Medicare for All in the United States?
What is the United States’ motive in supporting Guaidó coup then? To allow U.S. corporations to regain control of oil production in Venezuela and to impose through regime change new trade agreements and zones of free investment that hurt both workers in the U.S. and Venezuela. U.S. military and intelligence capabilities are geared to defend the geopolitical and economic interests of the major American corporations, including war corporations and defense contractors, not the direct interests of U.S. workers which most often coincide with those of workers abroad.
The Trump administration says that it is  interested in “helping” the Venezuelan people now because since 2014 the country has been enduring a growing economic crisis which is now out of control. Last year this economic crisis unraveled into a social and political crisis, where the majority of workers either do not support or are actively trying to oust Maduro. Millions of workers have left the country because they cannot feed themselves, and protests from unions and community groups are severely repressed by the Maduro regime.
The Hypocrisy of Liberals and “Left” Democrats
Unfortunately Trump is not alone in supporting the so-called “humanitarian” intervention. The entire  liberal establishment, as well as the Left wing of the Democratic Party led by Bernie Sanders, are openly supporting the “humanitarian intervention.”
This is quite something! The same liberal establishment that made such a big deal of “Russian interference” during the last presidential election is now supporting the most obvious maneuver to interfere in the political life of another country. Liberals howled when Putin allegedly manipulated US elections. Why then do these liberals not apply the same logic when the U.S. is seeking to intervene and manipulate the democratic political processes of other countries?
What  is even more tragic is that Sanders has supported the Pence and Lima Group’s “humanitarian plan”, because he says he is a democratic socialist, and seems to be forgetting a core principle of socialism: the right of nations to self-determination and the need to combat chauvinism at home. There lies one of the main differences between two competing, and often opposed currents of socialism: democratic socialism and revolutionary socialism, two different allegiances and two different solidarities. When capitalist states oppress and attack working people, Marxist socialists side with the people against the government attacking them, questioning the legitimacy of those powers. Most   If Bernie supports Pence’s foreign policy in Venezuela because he wants to make himself a “viable” candidate for the 2020 presidential election and calm any anxieties in the Pentagon or CIA, in the case he gets elected.
The U.S. government has proclaimed itself for the last century the “leader of the free world” and believes itself to be on a mission for peace and democracy. The reality of American foreign policy has proven the opposite. If Sanders wants to cling to any “socialist credentials” he should oppose any form of government intervention in Venezuela, and actively discredit any narrative that gives to the most violent government in the world any rights over any nation.
Confusion and Demoralization in the Antiwar Movement
Unfortunately there isn’t a growing mobilization in our country against U.S. intervention in Venezuela. There are several reasons for this. First, the antiwar movement against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was defeated in the streets with systematic arrests and repression and a general curtailment of democratic freedoms with the Patriot Act. Second, the election of Obama raised illusions that a Democratic President will end the wars, and actions in the street drastically diminished as the DP coopted  antiwar aspirations. Obama did not fulfill his promises to fully withdraw from both countries and restore democratic and civil liberties, but he was successful at burying the antiwar movement.
U.S. imperialism has gone unchallenged for the last decade and has continued to directly interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, for example, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Honduras, and Venezuela – just to name the most obvious ones.
But in the case of Venezuela, like in Syria, there is a third obstacle to build a non-intervention and antiwar movement. The mass media and the U.S government are presenting a zero-sum game: it is either Guaidó, the so called “democratic candidate” or Maduro, who is portrayed as a despot. It is either the loss of sovereignty of the Venezuelan people by backing the Guaidó coup, or  political support for  a Maduro regime in large  part responsible for the current social and political crisis.
In order to regroup our forces we need to have an open debate about what is really happening in Venezuela among all of us who oppose U.S. intervention from a working class perspective. It goes without saying that we should start by denouncing the real aims of the Trump administration in Venezuela. But we also need discuss and debate the nature of the Maduro government and potential Guaido regime. More importantly, we need to be able to have this debate with working class sectors who are critical of Maduro so we can win them to the importance of embracing and prioritizing a “No Intervention” demand above any critiques to the Maduro regime.

Obama’s Unfulfilled Antiwar Promises
Today, after 8 years of the Obama presidency and two years into the Trump regime, the Patriot Act is still intact and the illegal Guantanamo Bay prison is still open. Despite the announced withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, the US still maintains today an important presence in that country: an embassy in Baghdad with 17,000 personnel, 5,500 U.S. regular troops stationed in 7 different military bases and 5,000 US private contractors. In Afghanistan, US military occupation is even more entrenched. The US was supposed to leave by 2014, then withdrawal got delayed to 2016. Today there are still between 8,400 and 11,000 U.S. troops in the country. In September 2017 Trump sent an additional 3,000 troops.

We Reject “Lesser Evil” Anti-Imperialism 
We neither participated in nor mobilized for previous demonstrations against U.S. intervention (like the ones on February 9th called by the ANSWER coalition which is led by the Party for Socialism and Liberation) because they conditioned  participation on giving explicit  political support to the Maduro regime. A sector of the U.S. Left embraces a rigid and non-dialectical logic in order to analyze and intervene in complex realities. It automatically assumes that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Thus if Trump is the undisputed enemy of working people and oppressed communities in the U.S., and if he deeply hates Maduro, then Maduro must be something good for the working class and oppressed in the U.S and internationally. In this view all critiques of Maduro are either silenced or grossly minimized.
We know, however, that this logic cannot withstand critical examination and debate. In fact, the same political forces that apply it to their international politics refuse it to analyze politics at home. For we all know that despite Trump’s brutal aggressions against immigrant communities, Democrats have deported working class families in record numbers. This is why we do not and we should not support them politically, and why we believe that we can be staunchly opposed to Trump’s immigration policy while at the same time also vehemently opposing  Obama’s and the Democrats’ record on this matter.
The “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic also erases the many millions of Venezuelan workers who have expressed their opposition to Maduro. In the last presidential elections, those of 2018, out of the 20.5 million of registered voters, only 9.3 million voted, that is 40%, compared to 80% in the last two presidential elections.[3] While Maduro won the election with 6 million votes, 14 million did not express support for him: while a few voted for the right wing conservative opposition, the majority stayed home demoralized because there is not yet a strong Left alternative to Maduro. This in part due to the repression of the Maduro regime against any independent grassroots initiative, and also to the fact that pro-U.S. groups are heavily financing and supporting the right wing opposition.
The Problems of “No Intervention Only” Anti-Imperialism
There is a second conception of anti-imperialism that has crystallized in the U.S., a sort of abstentionist anti-imperialism that exclusively focuses on “no intervention”, and which is an incomplete one and is becoming an obstacle to building an anti-intervention movement across borders.
According to this view workers in the U.S. should not have any public opinion on what is happening in Venezuela (or Syria etc.), especially no critical opinion of the Maduro government. There are two variants of this position: one argues that U.S. workers (millions of whom  immigrants) cannot “understand” Venezuelan politics, they are not there, they are not Venezuelan and they are mostly manipulated by the liberal and conservative media. A less paternalistic variant argues that while it would be possible for U.S. workers to understand what is happening in Venezuela, they should not express any public critique of Maduro.
According to this view, in order to adopt a “real” anti-imperialist position, U.S. workers should raise the “No to U.S. Intervention” demand, a “do not harm others” demand. Going any further in discussing Venezuelan politics in the U.S., would result in betraying their brothers and sisters in Venezuela and the right of self-determination of the Venezuelan people. Thus, to articulate any critique to Maduro from a Left or working class perspective, even when backed by organized sectors of the working class in Venezuela, is perceived as risky and dangerous, as “doing the work of the CIA” or even worse, as implicitly legitimizing U.S. intervention.
We reject  this approach and we believe it has no basis in the long history of revolutionary anti-imperialist politics that was inaugurated by the Russian Revolution and the Third International, which was the first international socialist organization to theorize and apply in practice the right of self determination of nations. Why? First, because we cannot use the anti-imperialist opposition to any form of U.S. government intervention to stifle the principle of working class solidarity: to oppose any political or military intervention in another country’s economy from above, that is from the state institutions that sustain class power, is not incompatible with organizing broad working class solidarity from below. Second, because politically we cannot conflate our demands against the U.S. government and our demands in the working class movement. We can simultaneously oppose the fake aid actions of Washington while demanding that labor unions and community groups send direct aid to Venezuelan working class sectors in need. Thus, the key questions should be who are they aiding and with which goal.
U.S. workers and the U.S. imperialist state play opposite roles in the liberation struggle of Venezuelan workers from imperialist oppression and the fight for socialism. While we are staunchly opposed to any form of U.S. intervention in Venezuela carried by the U.S. corporations and the U.S. state and its institutions, workers in the U.S. have all the right to discuss and even oppose the rule of governments that oppress and kill other workers abroad. They also have the right and obligation to stand in active solidarity with the independent political action of working class sectors against nationalist austerity governments like Bolsonaro’s in Brazil or Maduro’s in Venezuela.
When there was a revolution in Spain and then a Civil War against the rise of the Franco fascist regime, the international working class movement created the International Brigades to join the front and fight against fascism. 35,000 working class fighters went to Spain from all over the world, 2,800 came from the U.S. in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Similar organized efforts of working class solidarity occured when U.S. longshoremen boycotted the commercial ships that were doing business with the South African apartheid regime and the Pinochet dictatorship in the 70s.
There are worker networks in Venezuela today, like the Intersindical de Trabajadores de Venezuela, which are organizing for concrete social measures of expropriation and redistribution, opposing Maduro’s austerity policies. The Maduro government is repressing them and equating them with “foreign intervention”. We should give visibility to these voices and organize workers in the U.S. to actively support them. The fate of the Venezuelan people is in the hands of the most combative sectors of the Venezuelan working class, which are today independent and opposed to the Maduro regime.
The Anti-Imperialist Movement Will Benefit From an Open Discussion on Venezuela’s Crisis
We think it is irresponsible at best, and criminal at worst to impose such a strait-jacket to the development of an independent, anti-imperialist broad working class movement. In order to defeat the dangerous pretexts and agenda of our own government, we need the broadest movement at home. Many workers in the U.S. have many legitimate questions and critiques about the Maduro regime, especially immigrant workers coming from Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba etc., who have been forced to migrate due to rampant poverty and unemployment, and in many cases government repression against workers and youth mobilizations. Workers have the right to critique and rise up against the governments that exploit, impoverish, and repress them and their brothers and sisters abroad. And while we know that decades of U.S. foreign economic policies and political interference are responsible for the crisis in their countries, the national privileged elites have many times collaborated with U.S. imperialism and repressed workers’ movements.
There is also a new generation of young American activists that are interested in Socialism today. Some believe that Venezuela is a socialist country, others believe that it is not, and the majority have a lot of questions and want to learn more. We want to bring these youth into the anti-imperialist movement to further political discussions and debates, and not keep anyone who has questions or critiques of the Maduro regime outside of our movement.
We need a united action to stop and defeat any form of U.S. intervention including  sanctions, but we must defend the right to have political differences inside of the U.S. anti-war movement about the real nature and content of anti-imperialist politics. Democracy and free discussion are the conditions for the political development of our class. In order to defeat the capitalist powers and build socialism, we need to learn from our historic and present collective experiences.
It is not an accident that the political organizations that seek to shut down the debate around the Maduro regime (like they did with Assad in Syria) come from authoritarian and bureaucratic “socialist” traditions, such as Stalinism and Castroism. Followers of these traditions believe that workers democracy is not needed to build socialism. And yet, these projects have failed to deliver a truly socialist and emancipatory society.  We reject their top-down methods to impose political opinions and conduct our struggles.
What We Want: What the U.S. and Venezuela Are Not
Unfortunately, it is not true that Venezuela is a socialist country. Oil plants were only partially nationalised when Chavez imposed public-private partnership ventures.  They were not fully nationalized and put under workers control. The Venezuelan economy relied exclusively in the first decade of the “revolution” on an oil-export model that yielded marginal profits. These in turn were redistributed in the form of government subsidies, but they failed to establish an  economic basis for national independence, a real planned economy led by workers. While the profits of the oil boom temporarily benefited poor sectors of the country through social programs (like the Misiones), it mostly benefited the growingly corrupt sector of the Bolivarian bourgeoisie, linked to the military.
Finally, it is true that the Bolivarian Revolution initiated an impressive movement of workers’ self-organization from below, known as the community councils and then the communes. In coming to power, Chavez co-opted this process by institutionalizing it, and limited workers’ push to expropriation and workers’ control of land and factories. Yes, a few factories have been expropriated, but in most cases the government diluted or opposed those struggles. Expropriation under workers; control became the very rare exception and not the norm.
However, workers in the U.S. have much to learn from the Venezuelan working class movement.  Partial nationalizations were the result of pressure from below, for example, factory occupations in the early revolutionary process of 1989-1995. Chavez did partially nationalize the oil industry because of this pressure from the workers’ movement. We too should demand the nationalization of U.S. oil companies, utility companies, and automobile manufacturers. Those big companies hurt workers, are responsible for massive damage to the environment, and indeed, their very existence is based on the delusional, ecocidal idea that the planet can provide endless resources for capitalist growth. They have lost all public trust and they should be fully nationalized under workers control.

  • Hands Off Venezuela! No Intervention!
  • For an immediate end to any economic sanction or sabotage of the Venezuelan economy by the U.S. and other powers!
  • No more debt payments to multinational corporations!
  • All support for Venezuelan workers fighting against austerity, poverty and repression!


Foreign Oil and Gas Multinationals in Venezuela Today
In 2006-07, President Hugo Chávez moved to take control of the oil industry through a partial nationalization, giving the oil companies the choice between leaving or accepting they would become public-private partnerships, with 60% of the profits going to the Venezuelan government and 40% to the private shareholders. ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips left, but Chevron (US), Total (France), Statoil (Norwegia) and BP (UK) accepted the deal.
Today there are a large number of foreign oil multinational making profits out of Venezuelan oil, and until the great social crisis that burst at the end of 2017 there were new projects underway: the development of a new gas extraction plant in the estuary of the Orinoco River (Plataforma Deltana) carried by Chevron, the offshore Perla project, owned by Eni of Italy and Repsol of Spain and the Royal Dutch Shell exploration of the Venezuelan coast for gas. reserves.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/3264b33e-d680-11e7-a303-9060cb1e5f44
Maduro’s Debt Payment to Multinational Corporations in the Midst of the Economic Crisis


The fact that perhaps best summarizes the real social nature of the Maduro regime, and undoes its anti-imperialist facade, is the millions of dollars it has paid, through PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.) to foreign old multinationals, while Venezuelan people were starving.

PDVSA, the heavily indebted “national” oil company in Venezuela, temporary stopped paying the interests of its debt to its oil multinational creditors at the end of 2017, but Maduro has started paying again. It is calculated that PDVSA and the Venezuelan government owe nearly $9 billion in late interest payments alone.[4]

But the total debt is higher: close to $60 billion, $24.7 of which belong to PVDSA. Who owns this debt? American financial and insurance corporations are among the top owners:
— Fidelity Investments: $572 million
— T. Rowe Price: $370 million
— BlackRock iShares: $222 million
— Goldman Sachs $187 million
— Invesco Powershares: $113 million
The scandal is that in October 2018 the Maduro government paid $949 million of the PDVSA debt that was due in 2020 to prevent default. This bond “is partly backed by shares of Citgo, the US refining and gas-station company based out of Houston, Texas that is majority-owned by PDVSA.”
In January of 2019, under the pressure by U.S oil corporation ConocoPhillips and Canadian Mining firm Crystallex, Maduro paid to foreign multinationals $1 billion to prevent the seizure of assets abroad.[6] Yes, those criminal multinational corporations are wrecking the Venezuelan resources and profiting from a very acute economic crisis that is costing lives, but a real socialist government led by workers would not accept this disgusting blackmail. It would fully nationalize those companies, and redistribute the profits to the workers. Maduro is paying an illegitimate debt on the back of his people, and this is criminal too.

[1] https://unac.notowar.net/2019/02/10/unac-statement-on-the-u-s-led-coup-in-venezuela/
[2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/10/01/fighting-poverty-america-slowing-despite-recent-economic-recovery/1445296002/
[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/20/world/americas/venezuela-election.html
[4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pdvsa-debt/venezuelas-pdvsa-in-default-says-total-debt-fell-in-2018-idUSKCN1PG2UQ
[5] https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/14/investing/venezuela-debt-401k/index.html
[6] https://www.dw.com/en/how-to-resolve-the-venezuelan-debt-conundrum/a-47483575

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