The Paralyzed Opposition

In view of Trump’s current coup attempt in Venezuela, Bernie Sanders and the Democrats fail.

With breathtaking speed and without regard to applicable law, the “Western powers” are advancing the coup d’état in Venezuela. Ten days ago, when Trump publicly signaled his support to the coup d’étatists, left-wing hopeful Bernie Sanders remained silent for a whole day. When he finally made a statement, he merely confirmed Trump’s position. He made it clear that even the US Democrats offer no alternative to Trump’s naked aggression. Shamus Cooke analyses precisely what this attitude means. Imperialist efforts abroad are not only illegitimate and inhuman, but also worsen living standards in the USA itself. After all, they devour much-needed money for social reforms.

If Trump drives the coup forward, he risks not only the welfare of the American and Venezuelan people, but also his credibility on the international stage. For while Elliot Abrams, who was already involved in the Iran-Contra affair, is working as a new “special envoy” on the completion of the coup, a militarily trained resistance supported by the spirit of the revolution is forming among the Venezuelan working class. There is the threat of a bloody civil war that threatens democracy – in Venezuela and the USA alike.

When Trump announced his support for the unfolding coup in Venezuela, Bernie Sanders remained silent for 24 hours. This is important because a coup is won or prevented in the first moments or hours; during a coup, a day can feel like a month or more. With every hour Bernie’s silence roared louder. So much hung in the balance with Trump at home and abroad, so much so that the touch of a single finger could have made the difference – but Bernie refused to lift his own. Of the many Democratic Party presidential candidates, only Tulsi Gabbard made a clear statement condemning the coup, while the favorite of the left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, limited her criticism to a re-tweet.

While U.S. politics fought fierce battles over the government’s standstill, Trump’s coup gave the Democrats a dagger and an open flank, but they refused to stab; instead, they returned the weapon so it could be used against the democratically elected government of Venezuela. Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats went a step further and cheered on their commander-in-chief by using their platform to attack President Maduro. Trump’s position was strengthened accordingly. Instead of condemning him for violating international law, he was made to look like a responsible statesman leading a “coalition” of countries opposed to an “authoritarian dictator. The vehemently anti-Trump section of the US media closed its ranks in his favor – as it was difficult to find a dissenting opinion.

In this context, Trump was placed in an excellent position to win the war over the government’s shut down – at least until the courageous actions of airport employees quickly ended the drama. But Trump has certainly learned an important lesson: The Democratic Party’s “resistance” crumbles at critical moments when a conflict breaks out abroad, which will help promote more such moments in the future.

Bernie’s finally tweeting!

After an agonizing day of silence, Bernie finally found his voice – by tweeting three times. But their content was revealing and emphasized the weakness that had kept him silent during the first decisive day. Tweet number 1 was basically a point-by-point plagiarism of the lies Trump had used to justify the coup. Bernie tweeted: “The Maduro government has brought violent repression to the civilian population of Venezuela, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly, and was re-elected last year in an election that many election observers say was rigged. The economy is a disaster and millions are leaving the country.”

Instead of attacking Trump’s coups, Bernie attacks the victim. Bernie’s assertion that the election was rigged is pure slander, as Venezuela’s elections are widely ranked among the best in the world. Every time the opposition in Venezuela believes it will lose an election, it “boycotts” it, with the opposition so divided during the last election that some boycotted participation and others supported two different anti-Maduro candidates. So, every halfway objective observer knew that Maduro would win an easy and fair victory. By providing Bernie Trump with this ammunition – the central justification for the coup – the senator simply makes himself an accomplice to a crime. Moreover, Bernie’s assertion that Maduro “dissolved the National Assembly” is not true either. Although the actual procedures were complicated, it was the Venezuelan Supreme Court – not Maduro – that dissolved the National Assembly in 2017 in response to blatant violations of the law that turned the pro-opposition National Assembly into a malfunctioning institution that only passed laws that unconstitutionally attacked Maduro’s government.

Venezuela has been in a state of dual rule since 2017, when a united government was torn in two by the pressure of class struggle and the incessant gimmicks of a US-based opposition bent on overthrowing the government. As for Bernie’s reference to the economy as “a disaster,” he certainly knows that US economic sanctions, pro-opposition immigration policies, and political threats have much to do with the situation. But he has chosen to ignore these crucial factors as they strengthen the anti-Maduro sentiment.

Encouragement of Trump’s lies

Bernie’s second tweet further strengthened the first and underpinned Trump’s action:

“The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of force against unarmed demonstrators and the suppression of dissent.

The “unarmed demonstrators” Bernie talks about here are the rich opposition’s shock troops who tried to overthrow the government and led violent, deadly protests in 2017, killing more than 100 people, including at least four Maduro supporters burned alive by the opposition. Bernie knows for a fact that the opposition in Venezuela is neither peaceful nor democratic. In his third and final tweet, Bernie finally expresses his half-hearted “opposition” to Trump’s coup: “But we must listen to the lessons of the past and not engage in regime change or support for coups – as we have done in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The US has a long history of inappropriate interference in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.”

Neutrality benefits the oppressor.”

In truth, Bernie’s position is a signal to Trump that he can count on no organized opposition to the coup and that the Democrats will limit their reaction to the coming bloodshed to criticism of Maduro.

Why imperialism matters

The question of imperialism is not an abstract one that only concerns people in underdeveloped, “exotic” countries like Venezuela. In truth, the US government’s policy of interference has a direct daily impact on US residents – ruining their living standards and at the same time making their children’s future even worse. Money spent abroad – and the policies it creates – always affects opportunities at home. Because taxpayers’ money used to destroy other governments cannot be used to make Bernie’s proposals – like health care for all, free university education, a Green New Deal, and so on. A central reason for the remarkable social systems of Western European countries is the small size of their military.mWar spending acts like an endless guaranteed veto on social programs that people in the US desperately want but are always denied – a true example of oppression abroad restricting our freedom at home.mThe article “Does Bernie Sanders’ Imperialism Matter” argues that “is Bernie Sanders’ imperialism important”?

“Imperialism is a spectrum that haunts social progress and reappears in countless forms to channel an endless stream of resources into wars abroad. This inhibits domestic spending and distracts from the demands of the working class. A new military “crisis” will always seek to take precedence over domestic considerations.”

Will the coup fail?

Some observers already dismiss Trump’s coup as a failure, as the Venezuelan military seems to be united in its support for Maduro. But the coup d’état machinery continues. US allies in Europe – France, Germany and Spain – have given Maduro eight days to hold new elections, otherwise they will recognize Juan Guaidó as president. (This article originally appeared on 29.01.2019; translator’s note) Of course, no country can hold elections within eight days; the demand simply serves as a pretext to force the coup. That European powers follow Trump into the abyss around Venezuela means that Trump has invested some political capital to persuade them to act. This coup is a significant investment that will demand compensation. The states that follow Trump usually do not break international law in such a sensational way because it is risky; therefore, the Europeans must be convinced that Trump will actually complete the coup and ensure Maduro’s downfall. Otherwise, Germany will recognize a man as president who hides shamefully underground to escape capture like an ordinary criminal.

Should Trump fail to complete the coup, the US would lose crucial credibility and it would be harder to find allies for such adventures next time. If the US recognizes a president who never becomes president, it would have political and economic consequences. For example, the US cannot afford to be a weak player on the international stage, while actively threatening China and Russia and still involved in the Syrian war, which is influenced by many states. The major powers are vehemently courting allies, and a failed coup makes one of them less competitive. A country that uses its military as a central political lever cannot afford to paint a weak picture. This is a major reason why so many of the establishment’s actors were angry at Trump for “not finishing the job” in Syria and leaving Assad in power. Since then, Trump has been hesitant.

The “Salvador Option”

Trump is therefore bound to this new venture, which will deepen in the coming days and weeks. Many expect Trump to use the “Syrian Option” – formerly known as the “Salvador Option” – which begins with the arming and training of anti-Maduro militias and ends with attacks on the government and/or pro-Maduro forces, creating the “need” for US intervention to ensure “law and order”. The rehearsals for this strategy were conducted as early as 2017, when the above-mentioned violent protests unleashed themselves, but did not provoke a crisis large enough to justify US military intervention. Such conspiracy theories were immediately believed when Trump announced during the coup that he had a new “special envoy” for Venezuela, the infamous Elliot Abrams. Abrams became known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair. He belonged to the inner circle at the center of the affair and broke laws, and he publicly stood up for the death squads – or “Contras” – who terrorized Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador; here the term “Salvador option” was born. Abrams was condemned for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, but as anticipated pardoned by George H.W. Bush – who used his office as Reagan’s vice-president to push Iran-Contra forward. In his new position, Abrams will focus on accelerating and completing the coup by holding talks with the Venezuelan military and key opposition figures, cobbling together groups willing to escalate the coup, and undoubtedly conspiring with hostile neighbors Colombia and Brazil, who can easily be lured into conflict for even the smallest concessions – Colombia has been involved for several years. Promises will be made to Venezuelan military members, who, after changing sides, will become better known as new leaders of the newly created Venezuelan military.

When Maduro falls

Abram’s approach will quickly lead Venezuela into a particularly bloody civil war, as much of the military has learned its trade under Chavez and a majority of these people are still strongly attached to the revolution and its principles. Chavism is also strengthened by the still growing Bolivian national militia of Venezuela. Here, hundreds of thousands of working class members have received military training, some of which was aimed at preparing the country for exactly the kind of coup that is underway. The Venezuelan working class will not tacitly accept a right-wing dictatorship and has both the means and the organizational structure to resist and win.mBut should Maduro’s government fall, the far-right opposition will aim to roll down the progress achieved under the Chavez and Maduro governments: rapid mass privatizations will follow, while the currency crisis will be resolved on the backs of the working class. The scale of the political and economic “corrections” will demand an enormous toll of blood as the working class organizations oppose the attacks on their living standards, democracy and dignity. The would-be president Juan Guaidó has already discussed plans to accelerate the privatization of Venezuelan oil. He also wants to turn to the IMF for austerity measures, which will demand nothing less than its typical “restructuring” stimulus programs that will attack the social programs created by Chavez and Maduro. Ironically, it was IMF austerity measures that sparked the Venezuelan Revolution almost 30 years ago in the form of the Caracazo uprisings.nIf democracy abroad can be so easily destroyed, this empowers anti-democratic forces at home.

The military-industrial complex of the USA is just as encouraged as the extreme right-wing political actors there, the most hard-boiled supporters of militarism and “trumpism”. By coups d’état fascist governments abroad, they create new allies for trumpism from forces that could have been allies of the left. These are the hidden yet real consequences of Bernie’s inaction. It serves to play down the significance of imperialism at a historic moment for the Western hemisphere.


Translated from German by Alfons

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