First published as a letter to Socialist Worker
“We can’t limit our analysis of Venezuela”: No, but we can improve it.
In response to Elizabeth Dean and Seth Uzman’s “Protesting the main enemy,” in which they call for a focus on the urgency of opposing the coup, Nikki Williams writes that “the social media and articles foregrounded by Socialist Worker clearly depict the urgency of a crisis that is multilayered and has no easy solution” — taking focus away from the U.S. coup (redirecting the word “urgency”) in a way that downplays years of U.S. involvement and cedes far too much rhetorical ground to imperialists.
By coupling your opposition to the coup with criticisms of Maduro, you have already let the U.S. frame the debate. When you say in the same statement, mid-coup, that the U.S. shouldn’t intervene in Venezuela, but Maduro should be held accountable, you imply, whether you want to or not, that the two are statements are connected, that the U.S. is intervening because Maduro needs to be held “accountable.”
The Venezuelan left’s effort to hold Maduro to the Chavismo they elected him on should be upheld, and it has — but it has nothing to do with opposing the U.S. To state the obvious, the U.S. doesn’t invade countries because they are insufficiently socialist. There is no need to tack on a caveat of “but Maduro is bad too,” except to save face in a media landscape already awash in anti-Maduro, pro-coup mis- and disinformation.
What is often presented as “nuance” is too often a fear to hold a single strong line against imperialism. It’s high time for the U.S. left to understand the ways in which empire has evolved its propaganda, including its ability to use tepid criticism to its advantage. This soft-pedaled opposition serves imperialist goals.
The U.S. government knows that no leftists are going to support a coup like this outright, but they can get liberals and centrists on board. All they need to do that is to get across that Maduro is bad; they don’t care if you support how they go about fixing that.
In fact, knowing they won’t get outright coup support, imperialists rely on this muddying of the waters. When you say “intervention is bad, but so is Maduro,” your implication only works to convince liberals: The U.S. is interfering for the wrong reasons — or, the U.S. shouldn’t intervene, but I can kind of see why they would.
As I write, the U.S. and its chosen figurehead Juan Guaidó are exploiting this very criticism to advance their ends.
In an orchestrated PR stunt, “humanitarian aid” is brought to the Venezuelan border. The opposition knows full well that Maduro has long blocked such “aid” and will do so again. The plan is for it to be blocked, so they can say, “Guaidó wanted to feed the people, Maduro doesn’t care about them.”
They would not have been able to pull off this staggeringly cynical operation without having laid the groundwork of painting Maduro as a dictator. Western press played its part, credulously broadcasting the stunt without a question of its motives.
But this “both-sides are bad” argument to moderation is not only an issue of timing and rhetoric. It’s insufficient criticism of not just the coup, but long-term U.S. involvement.
On Twitter, Socialist Worker’s statement of opposition was followed by a thread criticizing Maduro. Tweets read, “The record isn’t pretty,” “Most of the gains of the Chávez era have already been lost,” “Much popular support has eroded,” “It is a capitalist country in deep crisis” — lots of passive voice (does support erode in a vacuum?) with zero mention of U.S. economic warfare.
Without socialist analysis of their contexts, these statements start to sound like the opposition’s talking points, and they fail to account for what Venezuela has had to deal with: Western sanctions have throttled food and medicine imports; the opposition has burned food and has killed Chavistas; Saudi Arabia (serving U.S. and Israeli interests) drove oil prices down in 2014 to hamper countries dependent on oil revenue; the list goes on.
Further use of the passive voice has weakened anti-imperialist positions. As socialists, we know that “capitalism comes into crisis,” as Eva Maria said in a 2016 article. But as anti-imperialists we must see the way that the U.S. exploits (if not outright engineers) these crises to shape how they come about and who feels the pain the most.
It is relatively easy to oppose a coup at its apex, when it looks most egregious. But the attempted installation of Juan Guaidó is merely a tipping point in a years-long war on the Bolivarian Revolution.
The time to analyze Venezuela’s economic crisis, ongoing since 2013-14, has been the last several years. If you haven’t been doing that and only voice criticisms now, you’re letting the U.S. dictate the international discussion. But if you have done that, your record should speak for itself.
Venezuelans should not be told how to counter empire by those whose governments and tax dollars have helped immiserate them. In the Global North, it’s our job to do everything we can to stop empire’s assault on Latin American socialism and independence.