Tuesday, March 5, 2019

What is happening in Venezuela? (2019)

From the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

On 23 January the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself ‘Interim President’ of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, denouncing the elected President Nicolas Maduro as an illegitimate dictator. The US government immediately announced its support, followed by a declaration from the Group of Lima, which is an institution embracing several countries of Latin America, all supported by the US government. Canada and a number of European countries also declared their support for Juan Guaidó. They all asked Maduro to step down or face imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay.

The US government, Juan Guaidó, Canada and the European countries indicated that they were supporting the interim government on the grounds that Maduro was a dictator who has reduced Venezuela to a situation of hunger, unemployment, repression, corruption, and lack of freedom. They asked him to call a fresh presidential election in eight days. In response, the government of Venezuela decided instead to call for a new election to the National Assembly, while the Supreme Court of Venezuela declared the self-proclaimed Interim President illegal.

The popularity of Nicolas Maduro has decreased since he was elected due to the government’s authoritarian measures and corruption. Others blame him for the economic and political crisis and the violence that exists in the country. Many workers have taken to the streets to protest against his government. During the last presidential election other candidates did not participate and there were a large number of abstentions.

US opposition
Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1999, the Venezuelan government has been opposed by the US and sections of the capitalist class in Venezuela, but during his initial period he had the support of the majority of the Venezuelan workers and most of the governments of Latin America. His popularity was so high that in 2002 the US was forced to back away from a coup d’état that they had orchestrated with certain sectors of the military forces.

Due to the then high international price of oil – which is the country’s main source of income – and as a member of OPEC, Chavez was able to implement certain social reforms, such as housing for the poor, medical services, educational programmes and a food programme. The level of poverty of the country decreased. And all these measures were considered by his supporters to be the implementation of socialism by the Bolivarian Revolution, or so-called Socialism of the XXI Century.

Chavez also helped create many cooperatives around the country and expropriated several corporations and turned their assets over to state ownership; others became joint ventures. Oil and gas were sold to China at a lower cost to compensate for the cost of transport and to penetrate the Asian market, and several agreements were signed with the Iranian government. Oil and gas were sold at low cost to the Cuban government in exchange for medical services using Cuban-trained doctors.

Social conditions in Venezuela have since deteriorated enormously due to a drop in the oil price and the embargo and sanctions imposed by the US, and also due to the largely state capitalist mode of production – which is the real system of production that exists in the Venezuela.

The US and Canada will also have their eye on the large deposits of oil and natural gas, and also on the oil and large deposits of minerals that exist in the Orinoco Belt, such as lithium, nickel and iron ore. Several of these resources have been given to the Russian and the Chinese corporations, and the ecological impact in that region has been enormous.

The US government has indicated that all options are on the table including military intervention. The government of Venezuela has responded saying that it might turn into another Vietnam and has called for a dialogue including the members of the National Assembly. All have refused to have a dialogue with Nicolas Maduro, and the US government has frozen all Venezuela’s international accounts and sources of income; they have taken over Gitco which is Venezuela’s international petroleum corporation situated in the US, and Britain has held back $550 million of gold that the Bank of England had been keeping in trust for the Venezuelan government. In addition, the US is going to transfer all the oil proceeds – more than $7 billion – to the interim president. According to some economic statisticians, the loss from the embargo on Venezuela has cost the country more than $350 billion in total.

Due to the measures taken by the US government against Venezuela and the implementation of new sanctions, the Venezuelan government is going to transfer all the proceeds of their oil sales to a Russian bank in Moscow as Russia has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela in military aid and for mining. China has lent more than $60 billion in exchange for oil. Both countries have opposed the actions of the USA at the United Nations and have indicated that they reject the new government and support Maduro as president.

A possible military confrontation with the US and alliances of military forces of other Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Colombia and Argentina, against Venezuela would become a very bloody battleground, due to the fact that all the armies have been heavily armed by the US, Russia and China, and most of them have modern armaments. It would be a war where many class brothers and sisters would kill each other defending one or other side in the conflict.

Not socialism
Since the very beginning when Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela and declared himself a socialist, we have shown that he was just a left reformist, not a revolutionary socialist, and that socialism cannot be introduced by a leader in the name of the working class, by implementing reforms within the framework of a capitalist society and nationalising enterprises to be run by the state apparatus. We added that the problems that Venezuela was confronted with and its failures could not be blamed on socialism because a form of state capitalism was the economic model that was going to be established by the leaders of the Bolivarian revolution; that Chavez, Fidel Castro, Peron, Cardenas, and other Latin American leaders were bourgeois nationalists who were opposed to the influence and domination of the US ruling class in the region. They wanted to expand their own markets and capitalist interests there, as was reflected by engagement with Mercosur which is a Latin American version of the European Market, by the Bank of the South, a Latin American version of the IMF, and showcased by the Cooperatives in Bolivia which are joint ventures between the state and the peasants of Bolivia based on a capitalist mode of production and run as typical capitalist corporations.

The USA and its president have used the crisis in Venezuela as a pretext to blame its problems on socialism and to attack the emergence of socialist ideas within the youth and some sectors of the US working class. Both are confusing social democratic reforms with socialism such as: Medicare for all, increase of taxation on the rich, better housing conditions for the poor, elimination of inequality, renovation of the country’s infrastructures, more state regulations, and better programmes for the elderly and the veterans. Most of these measures were implemented by Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression and none of them are an indication that socialism was established in the USA.

For many years the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties, including the World Socialist Party of the US, have established a clear distinction between social democratic reforms, state capitalism, and socialism. Our aim is socialism-communism as a post-capitalist world society based on the common possession of the mean of production administered democratically, which is a stateless, moneyless, wageless society of free access to available wealth. This cannot be established by a leader, or a vanguard party acting in the name of the working within the framework of the capitalist mode of production; capitalism is an economic system which cannot be reformed to work in the interest of the workers.

Whatever is taking place in Venezuela has nothing to do with socialism or communism, and all the failures of the Bolivarian Revolution, its leaders and the so-called United Socialist Party of Venezuela, cannot be blamed on socialism or communism. Venezuela is a capitalist society where workers are economically exploited to produce surplus value and are wage slaves like in any other capitalist country, as in all other parts of the world. It is a state-run capitalist system similar to the ones established in the former USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam adapted to their local circumstances.

Dear Theresa . . . (2019)

From the March 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Theresa . . . 

Apparently, at exactly 11.00 pm on Friday 29 March 2019, Brexit will descend upon us. I am wondering whether I should stay up and watch it as I do when there is a total eclipse. If a deal is not struck by this time then hell-fire and damnation is forecast to rain down upon the people of the British Isles, as alluded to by the ignominious EU President, Donald Tusk. I suspect that, if I wake up on Saturday morning 30 March to total darkness, it is much more likely to be due to the onset of Nuclear Winter than a failure to renegotiate a variance of the Irish Backstop.

I was wondering if, in all the hoo-hah and razzmatazz of Brexit, you have had the chance to consider the latest development on our path to Nuclear Armageddon. In case you haven’t I’ll just remind you. Your partner in crime, The Donald, has given notice that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, claiming that Russia has violated the terms of the Treaty, whereas Russia claims that the United States violated the terms of the Treaty first. I love an adult conversation, don’t you, especially when the outcome may well determine the survival of our planet.

As a result of the dispute over the INF Treaty Russia has announced the reactivation of its Perimeter System which was de-commissioned following the end of the Cold War; that is the first Cold War ending in 1991, not the current one. The Perimeter System is a nifty little arrangement to counter the United States posture of First Use of nuclear weapons by anticipating that such a pre-emptive strike could destroy Russia’s command and control systems; in which case a cluster of SS17 ICBMs will launch automatically on detection of seismic activity, compatible with that caused by a nuclear explosion. As these Russian SS17 missiles fly over the nuclear armed ICBMs in their silos they will transmit a launch signal to them. If the United States doesn’t already have a similar defence system no doubt it will feel it prudent to build one and, hey presto, planetary annihilation without any need for fallible human intervention!

I find it strangely reassuring, in a psychotic sort of way, that MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – has been fully restored after faltering in recent decades and without even the need for a mad man or mad woman to press the button. Given that the UK is a major player in this ultimate game of chicken with its – soon to be dazzlingly new – Trident nuclear submarines I hope you will find time to give this matter a few minutes of your attention amid the Brexit fever. From our perspective we in the Socialist Party have a rather simple solution. We advocate a world devoid of imperialism, nationalism and all sabre-rattling murderous manifestations of warfare which emanate from such pathologies: a world where there are no nation states, no borders and no private property, where resources are held in common for the benefit of all; which will leave very few things to fight over.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Hart

Rear View: Afwerki’s boot (2016)

The Rear View Column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Afwerki’s boot

Socialists are not fools: we prefer the limited democracy to be found in some capitalist countries over dictatorship. The 99 percent suffer worldwide, but in some places more than others. ‘As huge numbers of Eritreans continue to flee the country, Isaias Afwerki’s regime is increasingly retaliating against their families. The government already demands payments from families whose children have escaped—50,000 nafkas (US$3,333) per child. Families who can’t pay are jailed. Now the government is demolishing houses and seizing property, too . . . Experts say Afwerki needs a constant supply of young people to maintain his police state. A June 2015 UN Commission on Inquiry report on Eritrea documented in detail the regime’s indefinite military conscription. The military has drafted children younger than 15, tortured its own members and engaged in the systematic sexual abuse of women. But despite the report’s conclusion of possible crimes against humanity—and an Eritrean government official’s recent admission to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the regime engages in torture—some countries and right-wing political parties in Europe are jostling to send a signal to Eritreans: Don’t come here anymore’ (thenation.com, 2 December).

Daddy’s girl

If you want a vision of the future, wrote George Orwell, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever. Dictator’s daughter and current president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is using the might of the state against tens of thousands protesting her increasingly authoritarian rule. Trade unionists, students and others object to her labour policies and desire to impose one version of history over others. She knows, like Orwell, that whoever controls the past controls the future, and her vision is one without the masses objecting to her rule. She has ‘equated the protesters—some of whom wear masks as protection from riot police—to terrorists’ and for good measure her Justice Minister Kim Hyun-Woong vowed to ‘uproot illegal and violent demonstration … no matter how much sacrifice is required’ (thenation.com, 1 December).

Open platform

Maryam Namazie is the latest in a string of people to fall foul of university ‘safe space’ policies which attempt to keep controversial speakers off campus. In October, feminist activists attempted to cancel a talk by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University because of her belief that transgender women are not real women. Historian David Starkey was recently edited out of a Cambridge University fundraising video after students protested over his history of outspoken statements on race and gender’ (dailymail.co.uk 2 December). The Socialist Party has a proud history of open debate. We oppose these so-called ‘safe spaces’ for the same reasons we oppose censorship. Atheist? Cultural relativist? Conservative historian? Bring it on!

God and the Price of Copper (2016)

From the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
  A socialist in Zambia explains how politicians and governments in countries like Zambia that export one basic commodity are at the mercy of world market conditions. Zambia is not alone in this respect.
Zambia is currently gripped by an economic crisis, characterised by falling copper prices, the depreciating kwacha, and electricity blackouts. Prices of essential commodities have shot up due to the depreciation of the kwacha. Sensing danger, President Edgar Lungu of the ruling PF despatched his deputy secretary-general Mrs Mumbi Phiri to the ZNBC, where she gave an assessment of the significance of the economic problems facing the country.

The radio interview took place on 14 September and the public were invited to ask her questions through the phone calls. She explained that the reasons why Zambia was facing social and economic problems was because of the falling copper export prices to China – the largest purchaser of Zambia’s copper exports. She went on to assure listeners that the reason why Zambia was experiencing electricity blackouts was due to low water levels in the Kariba North Bank hydro-power station occasioned by poor rainfall. The depreciation of the kwacha, she said, took effect after the death of President Sata in September 2014 and was due to reasons other than the fall in copper prices.

However, the Kariba North Bank hydro-power station was initially designed to generate power for up to three years regardless of poor rainfall received in the previous years. At the inception in 1976 the power station had four turbines with a capacity to generate 600 MW of power (150 MW each). During 2011 the turbines were upgraded to 180 MW each, bringing the total to 720 MW. Further expansion of the facility initiated through the Kariba North Bank Expansion Programme saw the addition of two turbines of 180 MW each, bringing the total generating capacity to 1080 MW.

The real reason why the Kariba North Bank power station is experiencing low water levels is because the turbines are being overused – they are run at longer hours than they were initially designed for. That is to say that the engineers at ZESCO have been operating the known peak units beyond the normal three to four hours a day, thus resulting in increased water usage and ultimately low water levels in the Kariba dam.

Falling copper prices
The copper mines consume much of the power, with domestic consumers accounting only for a small fraction. Power supply to the copper mines has been cut to 30 percent. This had led to production costs increasing 40 to 60 percent as the power deficit worsens.

Zambia is a capitalist country dependent on copper exports from which it derives 90 percent of its revenue (in taxes and royalties). The drop that has now taken place in the price of copper exports in the international market has had a great influence upon political developments taking place within Zambia. The price of copper originating from international political and economic events is in fact the main reason affecting the history of politics in Zambia.

During the 1980s there was a letdown in inflation in western Europe that led to the fall of ‘Communism’ in Eastern Europe, and later spread to Africa where single-party political dictatorships were hastily replaced with multi-party political systems. When the MMD came to power in 1991 copper prices were at an all-time low – the privatised copper mines failed to make any impact on the liberalised economy. Both Wanslea and Konkola copper mines were closed down due to falling copper prices. The Chinese state capitalist investors saw a chance to open up new copper mines and went forth to set up NFCA and Chambishi smelters in Kitwe.

In 2008, after the death of President Mwanawasa, a bank mortgage crisis began in the USA and later spread to every part of the world. In Zambia copper prices tumbled to their lowest on the London Commodities Exchange. People lost confidence in the MMD and voted for the PF under President Sata in the 2011 presidential elections.

It is fair to point out the vivid fact that when Sata came to power in 2011 the banking crisis that had struck the USA and western Europe was on the wane. China was catching up with the USA in terms of international trade and investment. Thus Sata thought he had found a trusted political and economic partner in economic development.

The social changes initiated by Sata were mostly carried out by Chinese state-controlled companies. The price of copper was rising on the export market– this led Sata to revise tax incentives of copper mining companies in 2013. However, this increasing of the mineral royalty taxes upon the copper mines had a deleterious effect upon the operations of the copper mines, resulting in job losses.

The economic slowdown that has since taken place in the Chinese economy has contributed in total to the collapse of copper prices in Zambia today and thus the diminishing profitability of copper mining.

The fact is that the significance of social and economic policies pursued by any political party in Zambia can only succeed in relation to the prevailing copper prices on the international market,. .

Turning to God
In late August 2014 there was a sudden collapse of copper prices in China which caught President Lungu unawares. The foreign exchange rate relative to the USA dollar sunk to the lowest ebb. Facing incessant criticism from both the church and the political opposition, President Lungu found himself helpless. He turned to God for help. He appealed to the people of Zambia in strong terms and told them to fast and pray to God on 18 October for him to bless the nation.

People responded to the President’s appeal and duly converged in their respective places of worship and paid homage and reverence to God. Some congregations reported having seen a rainbow envelope the Sun during the said occasion.

Whether God did answer the prayers that took place remains to be seen, but it is certain that the prayers of those people with political careers and private property will have been duly answered. But for the workers, peasants and students the prayers seem to have made them less emotionally and spiritually bewildered.

The fact is that the kwacha has kept on depreciating and electricity blackouts remain unresolved. And the price of copper remained depressed.

In our scientific prognosis of capitalism– we in the WSM are of the view that the economic factor plays a major role in determining political, intellectual and religious whims of a given society. Our message to the workers, peasants and students in Zambia remains the same: capitalism cannot offer a permanent solution to social, political and economic crises.

Voting for another set of recycled politicians into parliament is not a solution. The workers must utilise the limited political freedom granted it through the medium of the vote to vote capitalism out of the world. Vote for socialism– the alternative to capitalism.
Kephas Mulenga, 
Kitwe, Zambia

Letter: The Labour Party (2016)

Letter to the Editors from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

The article on the Labour Party in the December Standard clearly exposed their failures. That’s not how the Labour Party themselves see it of course, claiming that their actions in government ‘have revolutionised the lives of the British people’ (www.labour.org.uk/pages/what-is-the-labour-party).

Even after several Labour governments, the lives of workers in Britain still involve exploitation and varying degrees of poverty. The revolution is yet to come.

Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Prospects for 1966 (2016)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist standing on the brink of 1966 must survey the social scene with mixed feelings. It is depressing that the landscape should still be dominated by the ugly facts of Capitalist society, with its inequalities, exploitation, poverty, violence and neuroses. From another point of view, there is relief that the scarred body of humanity has at least survived. By itself, survival creates a fresh opportunity to do better in the future, but it is only an opportunity. The bitter experience of the past guards against undue optimism.

It is a time of ferment. There is a general will towards a better life. Social consciousness is on the move. Controversy, frustration and discontent abound. There is one thing that cannot be done with Capitalism. Capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of the whole community. In the context of history, Capitalism is a condemned society.

In spite of everything, there is encouragement. With modification of the crude assumptions of religion a dent is being made in the barrier of superstition. Organised religion is on the defensive. Recent discussions about homosexuality, abortion and contraception indicate that sexual attitudes are freer from taboo.

To embark on a full-scale war this year, the Government could not rely on crowds outside Buckingham Palace chanting “we want war”. The propaganda machine would be required to work hard in producing convincing pseudo reasons for the fight. The politicians’ watchword in his relations with the voter is caution. The technical gains of the sixties have extended man’s control of his environment and emphasised the contradiction between the potential abundance and actual poverty of production. These are peripheral gains that help to create a more receptive atmosphere for Socialist ideas.

On the other hand frustrations still tend to be diverted into attitudes of hate. The incidence of racism is ominous. Above all, that steady statistic 10% of the population owns 90% of the wealth, still forms the background of class ownership that dominates life. To the modern commercial animal, profit still remains the yardstick of virtue and success. Property is his God. The lingo of advertising and the subtle mechanics of the hard sell is his new theology.

(from editorial, Socialist Standard, January 1966)