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 6/6, written by Charles Davis. Originally published on The Daily Beast on 21 February 2019.
Donald J. Trump, the oppressively dim
president of these United States, was elected by a majority of white
people who cast ballots but only a minority of the popular vote, and
only then with the actively solicited help of a foreign intelligence
service. His closest allies are gaudy authoritarians who murder their
critics without so much as a plausible cover story. He does not, one
must conclude, give half a goddamn about democracy—not in the
United States, not in Saudi Arabia and certainly not in Venezuela,
where his point person is a man, Elliot Abrams, whose obituary will
include the term “right-wing death squads.”
It is an obvious point, but one
necessary to make in a world where implausible statements from an
incoherent president are still treated with legitimacy by a class of
reporters and pundits trained to show undue respect to those who
wield power, corporate or political and nowadays both. Trump cares
about Venezuelans, whom his government routinely
deports, about as much as he cares about his own children, which
is not to say “a lot.” If he cared about corrupt elites ignoring
the opposition-held legislature on their way to bankrupting a country
for profit, he would resign, or at least hand back the $500,000
he received from the Venezuelan state for a party on his
It is good and just to be an irritant on this point, but it is
equally important that it not be the only one that is made. When
Trump talks about democracy and poverty in Venezuela unconvincingly,
what he says that is discernible is not necessarily wrong; the former
is indeed lacking, in Caracas and Washington, and the latter
abundant. As in the imperial core, the Venezuelan government has
usurped its constitutional authority. I know, in part, because I was
paid by it, working as an editor at the state-sponsored teleSUR,
based in Ecuador, a former sponsor (its governing social democrats
In late 2015, when the opposition coalition won the National
Assembly with 56 percent of the vote, the expectation was that my
employer would go down with the dethroned ruling party—the
expectation being that legislatures, not presidents, determine
spending priorities. And the opposition did not like us.
That did not happen. Maduro, instead, claimed the authority to
pass budgets by executive fiat—in the U.S. democracy, presidents
declare a “national emergency” to do that—helping preserve the
delicate balance of power that has led the military, enriched by
smuggling and the self-inflicted currency exchange system that fuels
it, to stick with his administration. He then created an extralegal
body, called a Constituent Assembly, that has the purported power to
rewrite all laws.
Filled with party loyalists, the assembly was declared illegal by
Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, who had been
appointed by Hugo Chavez in 2007; she was forced to flee the country,
another Chavista labeled a right-wing plotter by a government that
has betrayed the poor. Maduro then won a presidential election, after
his leading opponents, in a vote that, according
to the United Nations, “does not in any way fulfill minimal
conditions for free and credible elections.”
The international left, then, should have taken notice
and—supporters of Maduro or not—urged against the dismantling of
democracy, and walking back from the precipice; friendship is not
telling a drunk comrade that they are a great driver and thus ceding
the moral high ground to the cop that pulls them over.
It is also true that the Venezuelan government, not the U.S., is
largely responsible for the state of the Venezuelan economy.
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 1/6. Originally published on Socialist Worker on 25 January 2019.
INTERNATIONALISTS and anti-imperialists, we look to the people of
Venezuela to defend their own sovereignty. We recognize that the
greatest threat to peace, democracy and prosperity in Latin America has
always been the U.S. state and U.S. big business.
President Donald Trump must have choked on his words when he claimed to stand up
for “freedom and the rule of law.” This from a man who has imprisoned
thousands of Central American children in cages. We hold him and his
administration responsible for the deaths of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal.
And Vice President Mike Pence’s accusation
that “Nicolas Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power”
rings hollow from a man who, along with Trump, won office after losing
the popular vote, and who regularly defends the reactionary monarchy in
We unconditionally oppose all U.S. aggression against the people of
Venezuela and demand that the Trump administration refrain from any
provocative military actions. Unfortunately, there is broad bipartisan
consensus in Washington, D.C., to target the people of Venezuela. Let us
not forget that almost two years ago to the day, President Barack Obama declared Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat.”
“In a totally fictitious world, failures need not be recorded, admitted, or remembered. […] Systematic lying to the whole world can be safely carried out only under the conditions of totalitarian rule.” – Hannah Arendt1
So far, in parts I and II of this response to “A Marxist-Leninist Perspective on Stalin,” we have seen how the “Proles of the Round Table” and their host Breht Ó Séaghdha have systematically lied on their infamous ‘Stalin podcast’ about the history of the Soviet Union, from covering up the Barcelona May Days (1937), the GULAG slave-labor camp system, the Hitler-Stalin Pact (1939), and the NKVD’s mass-deportation of Muslim and Buddhist minorities during World War II to declaring mass-death through Stalin’s forced collectivization of the peasantry to have been “extremely successful.” It is clear why Jeremy and Justin confidently present such a fraudulent version of history: were they even to mention any of these realities, it would become clear that their presence as Stalin apologists on a radio show ostensibly dedicated to an examination of “revolutionary left” history and theory would be immediately revealed as absurd. Yet here we are.
In this final third of my critique of this travesty, we will examine Jeremy and Justin’s genocide denial and their enthusiasm for the Moscow Show Trials. In contrast to the “Proles of the Round Table,” we will explore how anti-Semitism, ultra-nationalism, and sexism are essential aspects of the Stalinist legacy. We will then close with some comments about Soviet ecocide and a critical analysis of neo-Stalinist international relations today, which cover for pseudo-anti-imperialist executioners.
While the breadth of Jeremy and Justin’s Stalin’s apologia on this interview is quite astounding, few aspects are as vile as their denial of the genocidal Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. Justin is very clear about their view: “there was no mass-famine,” and the idea of Holodomor (the “Great Ukrainian Famine”) is a “myth.” Jeremy jumps in to claim that “Ukrainian nationalists” sought to undermine Stalin and “intentionally starv[e] the Soviet Union.” First, let’s note that, in making the latter claim, Jeremy unwittingly admits that the Soviet Union was imperialist, and should be that way: the implication is that Ukraine and other former colonies of the Tsarist Empire exist to serve Russia, or, in this case, Stalin’s regime. Beyond that, certainly there was famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933: the “Proles of the Round Table” are almost unique among neo-Stalinists, in that, rather than claim that the reported Holodomor death-toll has somehow been exaggerated for political purposes, they claim that it never happened. In so doing, they quite literally ape Stalin’s refusal to accept the reality of famine in Ukraine in spring 1932 upon receiving word of it from Vlas Chubar, Bolshevik leader of Ukraine, after which the General Secretary denied famine relief and banned the use of the word from all official correspondence.2 While climatic conditions played a part, it was arguably the unrealistic quotas for the extraction of grain from the Ukrainian peasantry following in the wake of the “extremely successful” experience of forced collectivization that tipped the peasants into the first famine (spring 1932); once Stalin doubled down on the confiscation of grain and cattle after hearing initial reports of the famine, adding reprisals against those villages that failed to meet production quotas by cutting them off, this exacerbated an already disastrous situation. The result was the death of nearly 4 million Ukrainians, more than 10% of the population, with an additional 1-2 million Caucasians, Russians, and Kazakhs succumbing as well.3 Unsurprisingly, Justin and Jeremy have nothing to say about these Central Asian and Caucasian Muslim victims of famine.
To advance their lies about Ukraine, the “Proles of the Round Table” rely on one Grover Furr, a Stalin propagandist who also denies the Holodomor by citing the work of Mark Tauger, a supposed historiographer who actually quite fraudulently argues against the idea that the British Empire or the Soviet Union were responsible for the Great Irish Famine or the Bengal Famine, in the former case, or Holodomor, in the latter. As Louis Proyect has shown, Tauger wants to exclusively blame “environmental conditions” for these devastating catastrophes, and thus hide the role of political economy, power relations, and imperialism. This is the kind of ideology that the “Proles of Round Table” hold up as legitimate historical investigation.
Following the argument of the Jewish Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, originator of the concept of genocide, historian Norman Naimark holds Stalin responsible for genocide, if we consider the term’s original definition, which meant to include social and political groups. In targeting the “kulaks” for elimination and thus provoking the Holodomor, Stalin certainly was genocidal. This conclusion becomes even clearer when we review Stalin’s imperialist policies, his regime’s concurrent purging of most of the Ukrainian Communist Party leadership for their putative “nationalism,” and his August 1932 letter to fellow Politburo member Lazar Kaganovich, in which the General Secretary “set [forth] the goal of turning Ukraine into a real fortress of the USSR, a truly model republic.”4
Apologism for the Moscow Show Trials and Terror
“The insane mass manufacture of corpses is preceded by the historically and politically intelligible preparation of living corpses.” – Hannah Arendt5
While we have examined the Purges in parts I and II, let us now focus specifically on Justin and Jeremy’s apologism for the infamous Moscow Trials of the “Old Bolsheviks” (1936-1938), which were clearly nothing more than show trials. Justin begins by mistaking the Bolshevik leader Gregory Zinoviev for “Alexander Zinoviev,” a Soviet philosopher, and then mentions Trotsky’s analysis of “Soviet Thermidor” without in any way clarifying its application to Stalinism in power: that is, with reference to its historical antecedent—the French Revolution—whereby the bourgeois Directory seized power after overthrowing the Jacobin leaders Maximilien Robespierre and Louis de Saint-Just. To be clear, Stalin’s counter-revolution is highly suggestive of the legacy of the Directory—which is not to suggest that either Lenin or Robespierre were revolutionaries. In parallel, the “Proles of the Round Table” will mention Trotsky’s analysis of Stalin’s guilt over Hitler’s rise—written years after his expulsion from the party—and somehow consider this as retroactive criminal evidence for Trotsky’s supposed conspiracy against the General-Secretary-to be (as in the Left and United Opposition). Yet tellingly, they will not present the actual content of Trotsky’s argument: namely, that Stalin’s Comintern policy on “social fascism” facilitated the Nazi takeover of Germany.
Continuing on, Justin states that Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev “recanted” following their joining with Trotsky in the United Opposition to Stalin—but no reason is given as to why. Certainly, as in the case of Nikolai Bukharin, Zinoviev and Kamenev feared for their lives and that of their loved ones, particularly after seeing the example made of Trotsky, who was expelled ignominiously first from the Communist Party, and then the Soviet Union altogether (in 1928). Instead of contemplating such factors, the “Proles of the Round Table” begin to attempt to explain “why […] the Purge [is] beginning to become a necessity [sic].” Attempting to insert a victim-blaming narrative, Justin and Jeremy suggest that not all the “Old Bolsheviks” were “Communists”—meaning Stalinists—and therefore imply the necessity of their liquidation—and, in many cases, that of their families, who were also murdered so as to prevent revenge attacks against the Party emanating from the “clan” of those executed.6
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.”
We, members of the internationalist anticapitalist Left, stand in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people during this time of repression following their uprising against austerity and injustice.
More than 300 people have been killed since a protest movement began in April 2018. Snipers have attackedstudent protesters occupying universities—and killed15 people attending a march led by mothers mourning children killed by the state; members of a family were burned alivewhen they refused to let snipers use their home to shoot protesters. Doctors at public hospitals who have treated wounded protesters have also been fired, while families have been forced to sign awaytheir right to file complaints against police to get their loved ones’ bodies back. The human rights violations in this period of brutality have been well-documented by local and international groups.
It is worth noting that Ortega came back to power in 2006 on an anti-woman platform in alliance with conservatives in the Catholic church to maintain a complete ban on abortion. Nicaragua is one of the few places in the world where abortion is still banned in cases of danger to the mother’s life. In 2016 Ortega’s government closed downspecial police stations run by women that handled cases of violence against women. Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo, Ortega’s stepdaughter, who now lives in Costa Rica for her safety, has long accusedOrtega of molesting her when she was a child and so it is of little surprise that Ortega would allow impunity for violence against women.
We stand with the great many famous Sandinista revolutionaries who have stood up against Ortega’s opportunistic regime and with the 70 percent of Nicaraguans who want him to resign. They continue Nicaragua’s great tradition of mass struggle against dictatorship.
If you wish to endorse this statement either on an individual or collective level, please leave your information in the comments section or write to email@example.com or @PaxRevSocJust on Twitter.
Call for Demonstration by the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ)
Friday, October 27, 6PM: Westwood Federal Building, Veteran and Wilshire
Stop US war threats against North Korea!
Stop US war threats against Iran!
Abolish nuclear weapons everywhere and the capitalist system that produced them!
Trump’s aggressive moves over Korea and Iran have taken us closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In threatening before the United Nations to destroy both the regime and the 25 million people of North Korea, Trump crossed a barrier not seen even at the height of the Cold War. Therefore, it is imperative that concerned people who see these threats as madness gather publicly to express our opposition, not only to Trump and to the capitalist system on which he stands, but also to all other powers, great and small, which threaten their neighbors and their own people with war and repression. As citizens and residents of the US, we feel a special responsibility to do everything we can to stay the hand of the most vicious, authoritarian, and warmongering administration in our history.
Please join us on October 27!
Sponsors of the CPRSJ:
Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists
Black Rose/Rosa Negra Los Angeles
Campus Marxist Humanists, UC Santa Barbara
International Marxist-Humanist Organization, West Coast branch
Socialist Party of USA, Los Angeles chapter
Members of Solidarity, a Socialist, Feminist, Anti-Racist Organization
Endorsers of the October 27th action:
San Gabriel Valley Anarcha-Feminism
Los Angeles Anarchist Book Fair Collective
Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
Dyne Suh, JD UCLA and Korean-American rights activist
Douglas Kellner, UCLA professor
Rev. Jim Conn, former mayor of Santa Monica and social activist