There are a number of different perspectives regarding the current situation in Venezuela within the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice, and so we have chosen six articles that reflect that diversity in perspectives. This is part 5/6. Originally published on News and Letters on 12 February 2019.
No to the U.S. Intervention in
Oppose Trump’s threats to send
No confidence in Maduro or Guaidó!
Corrupt Venezuelan generals and foreign creditors profit
while the people face hunger!
A severe economic crisis coupled with a deepening crisis of
leadership has left Venezuela vulnerable to U.S. attempts to
orchestrate a political transition that protects the military high
command and creates a regime directly subordinate to Washington.
Nicolas Maduro offers no alternative to the economic crisis and the
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV by its acronym in Spanish),
created by Hugo Chávez, is an obstacle to the popular mobilizations
and struggles required to overcome the crisis.
Although the U.S. has recently taken economic measures to cut the
Maduro government’s access to vital oil revenues, throughout the
Chavista “revolution” of “21st Century Socialism,” the U.S.
has been the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil. Trump’s sanctions
preventing Maduro and members of his inner circle from receiving oil
revenues are effectively a blockade on oil sales to the US, but this
recent development does not explain the hyperinflation and scarcity
of food and medicines driving popular protests against the
The root cause of the hyperinflation immiserating the people is the Chávez regime’s attempt to purchase the loyalty of the military high command, keep paying the foreign debt and avoid directly challenging the economic power of Venezuela’s criollo elite through serious land reform and nationalizations aimed at breaking the power of landlords and monopolists, and securing food sovereignty and the ability to overcome Venezuela’s dependency on imports.
Chávez coopted the popular struggle that challenged IMF-imposed austerity in the Caracazo of 1989. That popular struggle swept aside the power pact between corrupt political parties in 1998 and defeated a coup attempt in 2002. Initially enjoying deep popular support, Chávez replaced the old political regime, and carried out a redistribution of oil revenues in popular social programs to alleviate poverty and increase access to housing and healthcare. But these policies could only be maintained as long as oil prices remained high. Chávez did not break the country’s exclusive reliance on oil revenues to purchase imports of consumers goods. With the collapse of oil prices, the needs of the people competed with the colossal waste of resources spent purchasing the loyalty of the military high command and, worst of all, the uninterrupted service on the foreign debt.
Historically, the resistance against austerity in Latin America
has been associated with struggles against measures imposed upon
governments in or at risk of default to international banks. The
populist redistribution of oil revenues by Chávez was praiseworthy.
Today, however, the government’s policies following the collapse of
oil prices have tightened the belt on Venezuela’s people in order
to purchase the loyalty of the army; the result is a massive transfer
of wealth to the generals. Workers’ wages are eaten up by
hyperinflation. Venezuela imports everything except oil, and an
artificially low exchange rate is reserved for the regime’s
allies—in particular, the high command of the military. The result
is a black market that fuels inflation. The military is in complete
control of food imports and distribution, and it has become an
enormous parasite sucking the lifeblood from the Venezuelan people.
Under Maduro, the Chavista regime has gone from populist programs to
aid the poor to effectively forcing Venezuela’s poorest to bear the
burden of the crisis, while enriching the generals who maintain
control over the military and guaranteeing debt service to foreign
The question of control over the military is key to understanding
the political crisis in Venezuela. Up until recently, Juan Guaidó
was largely unknown to Venezuelans. He has seized upon popular
discontent to present his leadership over the simmering revolt, but
his planned transition is based on amnesty for the same corrupt,
criminal generals whose loyalty Maduro buys. The Trump
administration, European governments, together with reactionary
governments like Brazil’s and Colombia’s, have backed Guaidó’s
claims that Maduro’s election in 2018 was illegitimate, but
although much noise was made about corruption, none of the opposition
candidates in that election opposed the foreign debt service nor
seriously challenged the military’s control over food imports. In
any case, no election result or constitutional crisis can bind
millions of Venezuelans to endure years of misery. Political
struggles aside, Guaidó and the National Assembly are in fact in
agreement with Maduro on protecting the generals and continuing the
Breht Ó Séaghdha’s much-anticipated, “big,” and supposedly “spicy” interview on “Revolutionary Left Radio” with Justin and Jeremy from the “Proles of the Round Table” about Josef Stalin and the historical record is a sustained, nearly three-hour long fraud that above all insults the memory of Stalin’s millions of victims. Unfortunately for the host Ó Séaghdha, who misleadingly presents his guests Justin and Jeremy as following an “empirical and statistical approach” to the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the reality is that he platformed neo-Stalinist propagandists on this episode, and either could not or would not challenge them on their myriad lies covering for what the Marxist-Humanist Raya Dunayevskaya rightly terms “the greatest counter-revolution in all history.”2 Given the friendly tone between Ó Séaghdha and his guests during this interview, as reflected in his admission at the outset of his “love and respect” for his “comrades and friends” Justin and Jeremy, his identification of the “Proles of the Round Table” as being “one of [his] go-to podcasts” represents a dangerous concession which reveals that he is following his guests’ lead when it comes to historical events.
Before analyzing and correcting the numerous distortions presented by Justin and Jeremy on this particular episode of “Revolutionary Left Radio,” I must express a very fundamental concern for Ó Séaghdha’s profession in the introduction of the need for leftists “always to show solidarity with our Jewish comrades,” given that not oncein this three-hour interview does either the host or the guests discuss or even mentionthe Molotov-Ribbentrop, or Nazi-Soviet, Pact signed on August 23, 1939. Following in the wake of Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and the Anschluss with Austria, the terms of this non-aggression treaty, agreed initially to ten years, represented a ‘honeymoon’ for the two totalitarian dictators Hitler and Stalin, setting forth the terms by which Poland, Finland, and the Baltic regions were to be divided after the Nazi invasion a week later.
In Tinísima, Elena Poniatowska depicts even so hardened a Stalinist as Tina Modotti, a nurse who worked in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with Red Aid International, affiliated with the Third International (Stalin’s Communist International, or Comintern), as reacting to the news of the Nazi-Soviet Pact by refusing food, desiring death, and considering this “the betrayal of everything for which we’ve fought.” Arguing with her partner Vittorio Vidali, himself a high-ranking Comintern agent responsible for numerous assassinations of non-Stalinist supporters of the Spanish Republic, Modotti asks:
“And the dead? And the relatives of the dead—who will calm them down? You know how much I love and admire the Soviet Union; you know how I revere Stalin. Everything you say is fine, Toio [Vittorio], but an alliance with Hitler—never!”3
Indeed, as historian Catherine Evtuhov relates,
“The agreement stunned leftist intellectuals and workers, who had believed that Moscow was the vital center of international revolution and anti-Nazism. As Arthur Koestler recalled, the sight of the swastika flying at the Moscow Airport [to mark Ribbentrop’s visit] destroyed his allegiance to communism.”4
The Hitler-Stalin Pact not only carved up Poland and much of the rest of Eastern Europe, but also involved the NKVD and Gestapo exchanging political prisoners, including Communists, and Polish prisoners of war; trade in oil, wheat, and weaponry between the two hegemons; and Stalin publicly praising Nazi victories.5 Furthermore, between 1939 and 1941, Stalin’s regime deported a million and a half Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to the Far North, Siberia, and Central Asia; approximately one-fifth of those deported perished. Stalin’s forces were also responsible for executing at least 17,000 captive Polish officers in 1940.6
With Stalin thus neutralized, Hitler received the green light with which he infamously launched World War II and, shortly thereafter, the Holocaust, or HaShoah, which accelerated in June 1941 when Hitler turned on his erstwhile ally by invading the Soviet Union. Alongside the estimated 25 million Soviet people who died in the war, at least 1 million Jews in Ukraine and five million other Jews were murdered in Poland, the Soviet Union, and other territories of Eastern Europe which were conquered by the German Wehrmacht for Hitler’s pathological, ultra-nationalist concept of Lebensraum (“living-space”).7 In fact, in January 1948, Solomon Mikhoels, chair of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was executed on Stalin’s orders by the Soviet Belarusian State police before he could bring to light documentation of the Nazi genocide of over 1.5 million Soviet Jews in these same territories conquered by the Wehrmacht “from the retreating Soviets”—territories which previously had been occupied by the Red Army, following Hitler and Stalin’s mutual agreement.8
When it came to actual war with Hitler, Stalin’s myopic incredulousness about the reported 84 intelligence warnings he received about German preparations for invasion led to the immediate destruction of one-fourth of the Soviet air force, effectively granting the Nazi Luftwaffe aerial supremacy during the beginning of “Operation Barbarossa.”9 Whereas the Red Army had “approximately the same number of men on the Soviet western order as the Germans and significantly more tanks, guns, and aircraft,” the USSR’s security was endangered for two important reasons: the Red Army was comprised of peasants who were often demoralized by collectivization and famine, and it was led by inexperienced officers who had effectively been promoted through Stalin’s devastating Purge of an estimated 90 percent of “the highest army commanders, all the admirals, about 90 percent of corps commanders,” and several “divisional and brigadier generals” just a year to two years before the start of World War II.10 That the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had ordered his troops to occupy the new territory gained through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which lacked any defensive fortifications, was not helpful, either.11
Moreover, Stalin’s disagreement with and overriding of the “leading Soviet military strategist,” General Georgii Zhukov, led to multiple disasters. To name just a couple: first, in August 1941, when Stalin refused to withdraw Red Army divisions from Kyiv (Kiev), the Wehrmacht proceeded to encircle and imprison more than 3 million Soviet officers and troops by the end of the year;12 and second, when, following the successful December 1941 counter-attack to rescue Moscow, Stalin hubristically enjoined offensives across the entire western front that “exhausted his troops and exposed them to Germany’s new campaign, this time aimed at the Caucasus and its oil fields.” Once Kyiv fell, the Nazis systematically murdered its Jewish population—some thirty-thousand men, women, and children—in the massacre known as Babi Yar.13 Beyond this, Stalin’s refusal to sign the Geneva Conventions (1929) governing the treatment of prisoners of war (POW’s) arguably greatly harmed his officers and troops captured by the Nazis, who, in contrast to Western POW’s, were initially generally refused food and medical treatment, if they were not summarily executed. In point of fact, it was on Soviet POW’s that the Nazis first “tested” Zyklon-B gas in the Auschwitz death-camp (September 1941). An estimated three million Soviet POW’s died in Nazi captivity.14 Hitler’s regime did not think to exploit Soviet POW’s as forced labor until November 1941, alongside the millions of Ukrainian and Polish Ostarbeiter slave laborers, though it had no reservations leaving intact collectivized farms in occupied Ukraine, thus “taking advantage of the Soviet invention for extracting resources from the rural population.”15
In light of these incredible omissions about the nearly two-year period of collaboration between Hitler and Stalin, the Holocaust, and the General Secretary’s numerous strategic blunders during World War II itself—which Jeremy and Justin outright ignore, mischaracterizing Hitler’s military defeat in May 1945 as Stalin’s “accomplishment”—it becomes clear that no one on this show has any credibility discussing the historical record.
To put it lightly, it is extremely problematic for anyone appealing to history to uncritically champion the genocidal and imperialist state-capitalist monster known as Stalin in 2018. As Rohini Hensman rightly points out, and as we shall explore more in part II of this response, “Stalin […] in his time had rehabilitated tsarist imperialism.”16 In 1927, Alexander Berkman identified Stalin’s rule as being equivalent to “Tsarist Socialism,” perhaps following Nestor Makhno’s lead in denouncing the “Bolshevik tsars” the previous year.17According to Hannah Arendt’s analysis, class struggle and internationalism were absent within the politics of Stalinist totalitarianism, beyond merely opportunistic use as legitimating ideologies.18 Dunayevskaya correctly identified the Stalinist bureaucracy as “the most deadly, the most insidious, [and] the most dangerous enemy because it springs from the proletariat and cloaks itself in Marxist terminology.” So why on Earth would revolutionary leftists want to promote the legacy and supposed continued relevance of such decidedly counter-revolutionary distortions of socialism?
There is clearly something rotten in the heart of the Western left, for both neo-fascism and the red-brown alliance are on the rise. Indeed, “[t]his alliance between neo-Stalinists […] and neo-fascists […] is a twenty-first century version of the Hitler-Stalin pact.”19It should not be surprising, then, to contemplate that Ó Séaghdha uncritically interviewed the pro-Assad propagandist and Russia Today correspondent Rania Khalek six months ago. Amidst such stark realities, I concur with Hensman that we must pursue and tell the truth as well as seek to bring morality and humanity into politics, among other critical tasks,20 and it is in the spirit of these maxims that I respond critically to Ó Séaghdha’s “Stalin podcast.”