The latest news coming from Venezuela tells us that in Caracas and elsewhere, the demonstrations for, and against, the Maduro government are carrying on. The army, which largely supports the elected President, is dealing brutally with demonstrators and the death toll on the streets has reached several dozen.
We are thus no longer just talking about the risk of civil war, but staring at its venomous expression. Maduro, on his side, declaims against a coup, whilst on the other, Guaidò, having appointed himself president, is demanding power. Maduro needs the oil wealth to stay in power and to hold together his political and military caste, which is up to its neck in corruption, precisely because of this very oil revenue. All his actions are done in the name of the defence of “Bolivarian socialism” which contains little that is Bolivarian, unless you mean nationalism, and absolutely nothing of socialism.1 The Guaidò opposition wants, at all costs, to get its hands on this oil wealth, both to put itself in control of the management of the revenue it brings in, and to continue the tradition of corruption, a disease endemic to the South American bourgeoisie. And in his case, in the name of an opposing, but equally false, ideology, that of "true" democracy.
In the midst of a people robbed of everything, reduced to hunger and the blackest poverty, brought to the streets to demonstrate and, in some cases, to die, by the power games of the two factions, using the desperation of the unemployed (40%), of the underemployed, of a proletariat that has always lived below the poverty line, but today in the most dramatic way.
At the root of all this, as we wrote in the previous issue of Battaglia Comunista2 , there is the devastating economic crisis resulting from the fall in the price of crude oil and aggravated by the American embargo. The figures for the crisis are terrible. Inflation is so high that it is calculated hour by hour. GDP in 5 years has gone from $480 billion to the current 93 billion. Oil extraction has decreased by almost half. 91% of the population lives below the poverty line.
This economic and human catastrophe threatens to end in a worse way than Iraq since 2003, Libya since 2011, Syria in the same year, not to mention Afghanistan of the Taliban, Yemen3 and both parts of Sudan.4 They could not escape the voracious jaws of the two great imperialist powers, Russia and the United States. Trump hopes to overthrow the Maduro government to complete the work of reconquering South America and to allow, with a more compliant government in power, a greater chance for the American majors to extract and market Venezuelan oil and gas. Trump is using the usual weapons: military intelligence on the ground, funding and weapons to Guaidò’s opposition, an embargo on Venezuela and, last but not least, the threat of military aggression capable of giving Maduro and his army the final shove if the previous measures do not have the desired effect.
On the same wavelength, but on the opposite side Russia has lined up in defence of Maduro, threatening the US that, in the event of an attack on Venezuela, Moscow would not stand by wringing it hands. First because it could absolutely not allow an American re-entry into South America without striking a blow. Second, because so-called Bolivarian socialism, even in Chavez's time, represented an excellent ally and Maduro must be seen as a natural continuation. Finally, there is as ever Venezuelan oil and gas, which are also tempting to Russian companies that have based themselves there for some time.
But there's more to it than that. The Venezuelan crisis is important for the reasons we have seen, it affects an entire subcontinent of America, but it is only one piece in the picture of war that is dangerously expanding. While Washington solemnly, but falsely, declared that it had defeated Isis and jihadism at the end of 2018, today it is recuperating the remains of Daesh and Baghdadi himself in an anti-Shiite role against the eternal enemy of the Republic of Ayatollah, rekindling and reinventing the armed competition between Shiites and Sunnis that have literally devastated much of the Middle East. An area which, to this day, continues to suffer the consequences of the war which, in many ways, is still underway, as in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and which the enduring crisis of capitalism risks adding even Venezuela, though without the trappings of religious conflict.
In 1980, the game against Iran of the Ayatollahs had different results. In addition to the embargo, the US gave the green light to Saddam Hussein to annihilate the newborn republic of Khomeini, guilty of having driven the US from Iranian soil and its exploitation of the oil there. But in 1990, when Saddam Hussein, loaded with debt after 8 years of war against the Pasdaran [Iranian Revolutionary Guards – translator], tried to conquer Kuwait, he found himself up against Washington for the simple reason that the interests of the larger imperialism do not coincide with those of the lesser one. The same is true of the aggression against Gaddafi's Libya (2011)5 , the consequences of which are still felt today in the form of a civil war which, as usual, sees the two superpowers and their allies on the ground on opposite sides of the conflict, after all attempts to divide up Libya have miserably failed.6
Today it could be Maduro's Venezuela turn with the farce of democracy which, in this case, would not be exported by force, but only aided by the same force as before, in the name of the salvation of the Venezuelan people against the dictatorship of Chavism. All the fault of American imperialism? Yes, but only in part.
In this context, Russia is also forced to play a game of recovering its position. It did so in Syria successfully. It is doing so in Libya by supporting Haftar against the government in Tripoli. It does so with Iran by supporting it against the American embargos. It will do so with Maduro's Venezuela, in the event of American intervention.
There is only one conclusion to this analysis. Whether imperialist powers play the game of attack or recovery does not depend on their good will in dealing with international crisis issues, it depends only on the balance of power, on the alliances made and those to be made, on the opportunities that open up or, banally, on those who arrive first to get their hands on the loot, forcing competing imperialism to respond immediately. If today we are forced to comment only on episodes of war, to search for the possible causes of the various conflicts and to account for the deaths and environmental devastation that imperialist powers produce, it is only because the current crisis is criminally accelerating these conflicts. World capitalism cannot get out of a crisis based on the fact that the organic composition of capital is too high (too many machines and too few workers in proportion to them) that annihilates production, lowers the rate of profit, increases speculation and leads to war as the only solution to its incurable problems. Yesterday we had local wars in Iraq, then in Syria and Libya. Today it is in Venezuela and then we will go towards a war whose borders will be world-wide with direct clashes and no longer the proxy ones we have now.
May 6 2019
- 1For previous articles on the situation in Venezuela see: leftcom.org
- 3leftcom.org & leftcom.org
Great reporting and analysis.
Great reporting and analysis. Thanks