Translation: Muhsin Yorulmaz
I suppose very few photographs have struck me as much as this one. I’m speaking about Donald Trump, who, going to Hanoi to meet with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong-Un, posed with the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in his hand. And of course how he furthermore makes a reference to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as a possible model for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…
THE PLACE, HANOI
A plethora of thoughts flooded my mind upon seeing this photograph. First of all, the place, the city of Hanoi, in the narrative of the US mass media, for decades constituted one of the primary objects of hatred. Hanoi, according to the codes of the Cold War, was certainly one of the forms that evil assumed. It was no different to Moscow or Beijing. An outpost of international communism which had to be crushed, destroyed, annihilated, this nest of reds was a headquarters for the carrying out of treacherous plots. Hanoi, together with the port city of Hai Fong, was one of the primary targets of US bombing throughout the Vietnam war. The bombing, started by the Lyndon Johnson administration and principally targeting military and transportation targets, in the Richard Nixon era especially turned increasingly towards a general bombing, aimed indiscriminately or directly targeting civilians. In the December 1972 attacks commemorated as the “Christmas Bombing”, 20,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on Hanoi alone, and a thousand civilians were killed. This was only a month before the Nixon administration signed a peace agreement with North Vietnam, taking prisoners of war together with the rest of the army as they withdrew from Vietnam. Before their withdrawal, the US leveled the communists’ capital.
The plans for these bombings were made in 1966, by the Johnson government, but they could not be carried out based on the fear that they might open the way for a direct intervention by a Soviet-Chinese axis. Nixon, one of the US’s most underhanded, thuggish, and brutal presidents, while meeting with North Vietnam in Paris to discuss withdrawal, was at the same time signing the approval of one of the most exhaustive plans for urban destruction seen in modern history.
The interesting thing about this was that, the Paris Agreement contained no provisions openly against Hanoi. The US army was to withdraw, but the Vietcong guerillas and North Vietnamese soldiers were to remain in South Vietnam. So, the fate of the war would be determined between the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The only gain the US held with this agreement was the return of the prisoner of war (POW) pilots downed on the plains during the illegal bombardment of North Vietnamese soil. And, of course, that no more US soldiers would lose their lives to the bullets of the Vietnamese revolutionaries! When one considers the fact that the US lost nearly as many soldiers in Vietnam (58,220) as in the First World War, then one can understand that the real gain Nixon hoped from the bombardment of Hanoi was ‘the right to escape’. To be able to escape from Vietnam, the US had to bring the stubborn North Vietnamese to the bargaining table and sign an agreement with them.
In the end, the leaders in Hanoi left aside their demand for the removal from duty of Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, president of the puppet government in Saigon. If they had not conceded on this point, Vietnamese communists could have found themselves isolated from the USSR and the PRC. This compulsory concession would mean the prolonging of the bloody war for two more years, but this result was not to change. Actually, Thiệu, who had no information about this agreement, could not even be considered as a proper president anymore. Although Nixon had given him a personal promise to intervene in any emergency case, Thiệu understood that this departure was permanent and would not result in a return. Under the peace agreement only signatories of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the US were found, thus verifying all the political discourse of Hồ Chí Minh and the Hanoi government since the partition of Vietnam. Saigon was so much seen as a puppet government that it was not even seen as necessary to have them undersign this agreement.
No matter how many shipments of American guns and munitions filled the ports of Saigon and Da Nang, and regardless of the fact that the ARVN was being made into one of the best equipped armies in the world, everyone was aware that this was in vain. The Saigon regime had decayed from top to bottom, and this decay applied for the most part to the ARVN as well. No weapon can hold up an army which has lost the morale to fight. Even the Americans didn’t really believe that the ARVN would be able to singlehandedly stop the Vietnamese National Liberation Front which could not be stopped from 1966 up to that point even with the active participation of 500,000 American soldiers. They sought a psychological success story to cover up their defeats, and took this story with them when they left with their war criminal pilots. Additionally, now they had to look to their own streets to restore order, finishing off the revolutionary youth movement which had developed against the Vietnam War. It was a frequent story that revolutionary youth in American streets had begun waving the flag of the Vietnamese NLF. Nixon had already shown his intention to smash the revolutionary youth with the Kent State University massacre. As seen in the picture, this flag, seen waving in the hands of the American youth in 1968 is formally the flag of the same leadership and country we see in Donald Trump’s hand in Hanoi 2019, but the historical contexts and the content of the events are in stark contrast. In the former case, the sympathy of the American labouring youth who sought to change the despotic political system in their country was with the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, the pioneer arm of world socialism, whereas in the latter, the sympathy of Donald Trump, who seeks to change the collectivist system in the North of Korea, is with Vietnamese state capitalism.
Furthermore, the fragmentation of the international socialist bloc was clearly shown by Nixon’s visits to Beijing and Moscow. As Mao opened the gates to collaboration with the US against the USSR1, and the “peaceful coexistence” line pursued by Leonid Brezhnev seemed to have persuaded Nixon that a communist victory in Vietnam would no longer play the role it would have played in the ‘60s.2 While a US defeat in Vietnam was inevitable, the balances in the war against international communism seemed to be in favor of the US. So the final phase of the Vietnam War, the so-called “Vietnamization of the war” began. This phase was finished by the National Liberation Front troops entering Saigon on the 30th of April, 1975, and thus seeing through the national liberation revolution to its conclusion.
For that flag waving in Trump’s hand to be raised in Saigon, one of the most destructive wars seen in the history of US imperialism was carried out, leading to the killing of 2 million Vietnamese in total. Upon the ultimate raising of the red flag in Saigon and the changing of the city’s name to Hồ Chí Minh, the 4th National Congress declared that socialism would be constructed in Vietnam within 20 years. Lê Duẩn, who assumed party leadership after Hồ Chí Minh, stated that he would transform Vietnam into an indestructible fortress of the socialist world.
And so the 2nd Five Year Plan, accepted in 1976, became one of the last initiatives of planned growth witnessed in the socialist world. Collectivisation of agriculture, light industry, as well as heavy industry were given weight among the plan’s goals. However, Vietnam’s socialist construction could not achieve great successes. The war that would topple the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and the Sino-Vietnamese War that would follow forced Vietnam’s economy to pay a heavy price.
During the Sino-Soviet split which took place during the war years, Vietnam remained in a rare position of being able to maintain effective relations with both countries. However, during the period of socialist construction it could not maintain this balance. The heavy crisis that it had experienced with the Cambodian Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge) regime pushed Vietnam to break with the protector of this regime, China, and come to rely fully on the Soviets. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime which was backed by the USA and PRC were brought down during the Cambodian-Vietnamese War in 1979. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea was subsequently established, and mainstream historians have generally glossed over this period, which reveals that Pol Pot, who was responsible for many atrocities and severe crimes against humanity, was toppled by Vietnamese communists and that his regime was supported by the US. Following fierce resistance to the punitive occupation by China, in which the Vietnamese army were able to push the Chinese army (which dwarfed them) to withdraw, Vietnam emerged victorious on both fronts of this war.3 But in total, Vietnam had lost around 60,000 soldiers in Cambodia (which was called “Vietnam’s Vietnam”) and the border war with China, and had became internationally isolated. In 1989, Vietnam completely pulled out of Cambodia. The Sino-Vietnamese War, without any doubt, constituted one of the darkest pages of the history of 20th century socialism.
What’s more, during these years the USSR, Vietnam’s fundamental ally on which it had relied, was oriented towards market socialism. The formula of mutual support from both the Soviets and China which made the victory possible in the Vietnam War did not work during the socialist construction of Vietnam. The proletariat of Vietnam, which was a small island in a the sea of a petty peasant economies, would not be able to build socialism without a major industrial leap, such as that witnessed in the USSR in the 30s. However, the move towards socialist construction in the period 1976-1986 was ultimately drowned in the sea of small commodity production.
The Vietnamese peasantry had been the main subject in the process of the great revolutionary war which inflicted defeat upon the puppet South Vietnamese army and the US army. This war was in essence a peasant war. However, socialist construction struck the objective barriers of the same social class. Individual farmers were ready to support any step towards market orientation.
Vietnam, even while Lê Duẩn was alive, turned towards an orientation which reconciled planning with the market (5th Party Congress). But following Lê Duẩn’s death, with the “Renovation”–Doi Moi policy (Chính sách Đổi Mới)–declared by the party in its 6th National Congress in 1986, the Vietnamese economy was reconfirmed as a “socialist-oriented market economy”. The collective farms which were established during the planned economy period were abolished by the 1987 Land Law. State controls on prices were removed. Central planning was dismantled. Private companies were allowed to be freely established and were even encouraged. The Vietnamese economy was transformed into a capitalist economy determined by the profit motive. The class most negatively affected by this development was again the peasantry. While the number of landless peasants was many and rapidly increasing, the inequality grew between the cities where capital investments were to a great extent centralised4 and the rural areas. This mode of production based on capital has not only relied on the heavy exploitation of the Vietnamese working class, but has also destroyed Vietnam’s unique nature. The natural environment of the Mekong Delta, which became known in the 1960s by the destruction of its forests by Agent Orange gas from American planes, is today grappling with the pollution caused by industrial waste.
This path, started by the Nguyễn Văn Linh leadership, transformed Vietnam into a Chinese style state-capitalist economy. The loss of will following the deaths of foundational leaders, which underwent the experiences of 20th century socialist construction, occurred in Vietnam not after the death of Hồ Chí Minh, but the death of Lê Duẩn.
Coming to the present day, Vietnam which has a GDP of 220 billion dollars (2017), increasing by an average of 6% yearly, has become a country invested in heavily by western countries, particularly the US. Although the Communist Party of Vietnam is still in power, productive relations have been developed entirely on a capitalist basis. The US’s direct investments (FDI) have increased to 9 billion dollars. Total US-Vietnamese trade has leapt from 1 billion dollars in 2000 to 54 billion dollars in 2017.5
Furthermore, in foreign policy as well, Vietnam increasingly drew close to the American axis. Border tensions with the People’s Republic of China over the South China Sea islands especially pushed Vietnam to increasingly demand American military protection. In this context, a US aircraft carrier, after the flight of the American navy from Vietnam in 1973 under the Nixon administration, now for the first time drops anchor in Da Nang harbour under Hanoi’s official invitation.6 Ironically, the Da Nang harbour was one of the first sites from which US soldiers disembarked during the Vietnam war.7 The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, with its crew of 6,000 marines, now arrived not through the Saigon puppet government, but at the request of the Hanoi government. The goal was to intimidate China, the mighty neighbour to the north. The painful memories of the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979 can be seen to continue today, causing the Vietnamese to perceive and accept China as the greater enemy. As the Philippines partially backed down, Vietnam has remained the only state challenging China on the question of the South China Sea islands. The majority of these islands are less than one square kilometre in size. However, the South China Sea islands constitute one of the busiest naval transportation routes on Earth, and in their midst lies some of the world’s remaining unexplored mineral wealth. The struggle to control these islands is realised as a struggle for the partition of the regional share. (See Map)
Certainly these were the events that led Donald Trump, the second American president to visit Vietnam, to excitedly wave the red flag of the former enemy. The previous visit was by Obama, a more sombre figure, who did not pose in a manner expressing excessive sympathy such as waving a flag. Instead he posed for his photos while eating noodles in a Hanoi street restaurant. That visit by Obama opened the way to end the last remainder of the American embargo aimed at Vietnam. Ending the weapons embargo, the US and Vietnam were now able to establish military cooperation and a military build-up with modern weaponry could now be realised in Vietnam in cooperation with the US to be used against China.
Thus, against this historical background, matters have come to such a point that before the summit in Hanoi, Donald Trump could write a twitter message, showing Vietnam as an example to Kim Jong-Un, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:
Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize. The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un. We will know fairly soon – Very Interesting!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2019
To hear Donald Trump, a sworn enemy of every manner of socialism, praise the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in this way, ought to surprise us. When not only socialism, but even its name used to describe social democracy, provokes such open enmity from Donald Trump, when the Maduro government in Venezuela is an enemy due to its being “socialist”, when the White House issues a report entitled “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism” ruthlessly criticising even Scandinavian style social democracy, when Trump considers figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who consider themselves ‘democratic socialists’ to be great threats to the US, how did it come to pass that he should praise Vietnam and show it as an example, when it is led by the Communist Party and officially named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam?
Certainly the fundamental explanation has to do not with names and official forms but with the essence of phenomena. Both Vietnam and the DPRK were states with which the US was at open war in the 20th century. In Korea, the US suffered a limited defeat, but Vietnam was a complete debacle for the US. However, the essence of these wars hinged on the importance of stopping the spread of socialism on the Asian continent (and of course, across the globe). These wars were moments when the Cold War turned to hot conflicts. Ultimately, with the dominance of capitalist mode of production in Vietnam, the social base of the hostility ceased to exist. However, the DPRK preserved and still preserves a collectivist social foundation.
Although from the 1950-52 war until today it has been under de facto Chinese military protection, North Korea’s economy has not matched itself to China’s. The ownership of means of production and the character of the economic system have not yet been made capitalist. Even if we cannot call the DPRK’s system socialism, we cannot ignore the central state planning and that the means of production are essentially state property. This country, despite its limited development of its productive forces, through strict central planning, succeeded in building strong nuclear weapons and short, middle, and long range ballistic missiles. So, when we take into account South Korea’s extraordinary development, it can be seen how the US hindered the development of socialism in Korea when it began the invasion in 1950) The very backward level of productive forces in DPRK leaves no room for political democracy in the collectivist system in this country. Popular participation in politics is limited to a negligible extent. The form of the state is not Sovietic, but bureaucratic. Freedom of speech, press, trade unions, protests, and organisation cannot be mentioned of. Furthermore, although in appearance the country is directed by the Workers’ Party of Korea, in practice power passes from father to son. The role played by Kim Il Sung as a great revolutionary leader and theoretician in the international history of socialism cannot be disputed. But no one can give any explanation according to any socialist measure why power should be handed down to his young grandchild. Such a handing of power from father to son is an unheard-of oddity in the history of countries which attempted socialist construction in the 20th century.
What marks North Korea is the Juche philosophy developed by Kim Il Sung.8 We may read this as self-sufficiency and self-reliance in every sphere. The country’s productive forces and social structure’s strictest organisation, which seems like a systematization of the war communism period of the Soviet Russia, marks the political and social life in the DPRK. The almost entirely militarised population of the country constitutes a kind of forced labour army.
The inability to overcome the global crisis in which capitalism found itself stuck in 2008 and, moreover, the emergence of a new wave of crises produced a political reflection in the form of a sudden escalation in the aggressiveness of American imperialism towards the countries which could not be fully integrated into the capitalist world system. Trump’s militant anti-socialism has, especially since the election campaign, been expressed in a rhetoric of enmity towards North Korea. When he was elected, this tension has significantly escalated, reaching its culmination with North Korea’s announcement of their success in making and testing a hydrogen bomb. It was at that point that Trump’s came out with his infamous “[my] Nuclear Button […] is a much bigger & more powerful one than his” tweet. It was as if the US and North Korea were coming to the brink of war. However, a moment later the situation turned around completely. The DPRK made a move no one expected and began drawing closer to South Korea. Thus they forced the US to take a step towards them. As Trump put it, the Korean leader “wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love”.
Without any doubt, the US, who while levelling Libya organised the lynching of Qaddhafi by jihadist thugs, who recklessly threaten Venezuela today, retreated on North Korea for reasons closely associated with the nuclear missiles. While Bolivarian Venezuela, who rejected to arm themselves with nuclear weapons for reasons of principle were being threatened by the Cuban-American fascist senator Marco Rubio who showed the lynching of Qaddhafi via a tweet9, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was being continuously praised by Trump, and recognised as a great leader.
The leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, who have without any doubt been very closely observing the US’s military attacks and occupations of countries like Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, have directed an increasing portion of the country’s limited resources to developing nuclear technology to bring this small country to a level able to challenge the US militarily. Had the US not systematically threatened North Korea, and were relations between these two countries not deeply affected by the ominous memory of the Korean War for which no peace agreement has yet been signed, the DPRK would not be expected to invest its scarce resources in the development of hydrogen bombs. Moreover, the hydrogen bomb developed by the DPRK, no matter how surprising the level of its technology might be to nuclear experts, cannot even be compared to the nuclear arsenal of the United States. The Korean hydrogen bomb test created a blast of 140 kilotonnes, which was 10 times bigger than the blast in Hiroshima. But lest we forget: the thermonuclear bomb tested by the US at such an early date as 1954 in Castle Bravo had a strength of 15 megatonnes, which is 100 times stronger than the Korean bomb. We can easily imagine that the contemporary nuclear technology of the leading nuclear state has advanced beyond this by several orders of magnitude. Additionally, in quantity, currently US active nuclear warheads number 6800, while Korean nuclear warheads amount to a mere 60.
Moreover, the US, which enforces an economic embargo against the DPRK, had withdrawn from the The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, as of February 2nd, 2019. This treaty was signed in 1987, during the Soviet period, with Russia. Russia followed the US in this step. Thus, the US and Russian Federation, possessing a nuclear arsenal capable of annihilating the world a thousand times, will initiate a new nuclear weapons race to make weapons capable of annihilating the world thousands times more, as two rival imperialist powers. Of course, we cannot overlap the Chinese aspect of the US withdrawal from the INF, as National Security Advisor John Bolton had stated, since China is not bound by this agreement.
The unequal relationships established by imperialism between countries is such that ironies are a commonplace occurrence in international relationships. In this case the US, while unilaterally withdrawing from a treaty limiting its nuclear proliferation, on the other hand, came on the brink of war with North Korea, with the pretext that they are producing nuclear weapons. Likewise, the Trump administration is possibly calculating their loss of seriousness in front of Kim Jong-Un, when they unilaterally liquidated the nuclear agreement with Iran signed by their predecessors. Trump, by withdrawing from the multilateral nuclear treaty made with Iran to prevent the nuclear armament of that country, finds himself in a position to invite Kim Jong-Un to a nuclear accord which might well be cancelled by the next American president. Kim Jong-Un, for his part, seems to be interested not in that sort of a temperamental and unreliable agreement with the US, but in more vital problems such as the reunification with the South. In the final instance, no significant results emerged from the Hanoi summit. Not even a common press conference was held. Yet neither could the DPRK receive the necessary concessions which would provide a full assurance to its existence, nor could the US persuade Pyongyang to fully cease its nuclear weapons programme.
If the Trump administration could manage to push the DPRK in the direction of Chinese or Vietnamese-style ‘market socialism’, this would be a great advance for imperialism. At the same time, this would mean the gradual diminishing of the social base of the US-N. Korea hostility, and therefore produce an enduring solution to the nuclear weapons problem for the US (i.e. if North Korea would convert itself into a US-ally state-capitalist economy, the existence of nuclear weapons in this country would no longer be as big of a problem for imperialism.) Thus, the road to a capitalist reunification of North and South Korea would be opened. If North Korea accepts a path prioritising the profit motive, there remains no doubt that such a reunification would be realized under the hegemony of the South. This would certainly bear resemblance to the subsumption and plunder of Democratic (East) Germany by Federal (West) Germany ─ since economically South Korea is a giant when compared to the North, and the main point of superiority of the North is its planned, collectivist economy.
But on the contrary, those negotiations up until now have proceeded on the basis of fighting the isolation of the North, as a result of Pyongyang’s methodology of bypassing the US and making direct contact with the South, and promoting anti-US sentiment among the Koreans in the South, which is not felt less than among the Koreans in the North.
MEANWHILE IN VENEZUELA
Donald Trump, who is trying to establish a friendship with Kim Jong-Un, the leader of one of the most authoritarian states of the world, meanwhile is heading a furious assault against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which is very attentive to its efforts to define itself under bourgeois democratic criteria.
Trump, setting aside significant space in his yearly State of the Union address for this topic, said the following:
“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom — and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.” This state of affairs Trump describes is one he is confident can be brought down, as he said in an address to pro-Guaidó Venezuelan Americans: “The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere, and, frankly, in many, many places around the world. The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”
Yet Trump also has concerns for his own country: “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”10
This speech, which reads like a holdover from the Cold War period, blatantly demonstrated that Trump’s attacks against Venezuela were not only aimed towards laying hold of petroleum resources of that country. In Venezuela there is the appearance of a country with a claim to develop an alternative model. If a fascist like Bolsonaro was set loose against the moderate social democracy of Lula, Venezuela’s castigation ought to be harsher. After the election of Hugo Chavez as the state president (1999), Venezuela had countered US hegemony in Latin America systematically, had questioned neoliberal policies, and spoke in solidarity with popular insurgencies on the continent and become the source of inspiration of the left-wing governments which put their stamp on the first decade of the 21st century.
When considered from a historical perspective, it can be seen that the economic conjecture that provided the ground for the wave of left-wing governments of the 2000s was determined by the extraordinary expansion of global capital in this period. Popular revolts, under this conjecture, could give birth to social democratic governments of a new type. Lula in Brazil, Kirschner in Argentina, and Bachelet in Chile constituted the liberal social democracy of that special period, defending the increase of the poor’s share, without touching the actual constitutional systems. Chavez in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador and Morales in Bolivia formed the radical social democracy of that period, who changed the constitutional systems on a populist-democratic basis. Political systems in these three countries were radically democratised, the poor’s share was significantly increased, the influence of the wealthy classes over state power was notably limited.
In triggering the decade-long Great Recession, one of the results of the economic crisis which started in the US in 2008 and spread across the globe was the fall in global commodity prices. This caused stagnation and deepening crisis in the Latin American economies. The capitalist classes ran out of tolerance for social redistribution projects and social democratic governments. A rightist wave came over the continent. Macri came to power in Argentina, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Piñera in Chile. And in Ecuador, we witnessed Lenin Moreno, who was elected instead of Rafael Correa, shifting course to the right and pursuing policies sympathetic to the US and big capital.
However, Bolivarian power was not broken in Venezuela. The pro-American right, in understanding that they could not carry over the victory they achieved in the 2015 parliamentary elections to the presidential elections shifted to a strategy of boycott. Although Maduro was elected president in the 2018 elections, the US did not recognise these elections. Washington began pushing for a coup in a manner reminiscent of a 1970s remnant Cold War coup. A fascist member of parliament named Juan Guaidó, whom 80% of the people in his own country do not even know, and who has never made any political attempt to be elected president, was confident enough to declare himself president of the state.
The ensuing month-long process showed that in practical terms, the Maduro government relied on the active popular support of the majority of the Venezuelan people. The squares again became the stage for the revival of the Bolivarian movement. The masses who had cooled to Maduro’s inadequate leadership were also included in this renewed movement.
The practical action of millions proved that Guaidó was nothing more than a puppet of Washington. But despite this, the coup attempt by the US against Venezuela did not draw to a close.
To write up a balance sheet for the US’s attacks directed at Bolivarian Venezuela during this month goes beyond the scope of this piece. But if we are to list a few major attacks: the seizure of Venezuela’s oil enterprise CITGO, which is run from the US, the seizure of investments for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state petroleum enterprise, the seizure of 1.2 billion pounds sterling belonging to Venezuela by the Bank of England, an overt invasion attempt under the guise of sending humanitarian aid trucks across the Colombian border, the cutting of electricity across the whole country by means of a cyber attack against the Venezuelan electrical system, The Venezuelan army was called on over and over to carry out a coup by Guaidó, Marco Rubio, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo, and so forth.
All of these actions by the US mean that the international laws of capitalism could be crushed underfoot. In doing so, they reveal the strategic impasse of Chavist ‘Bolivarian Socialism’ and anti-imperialism. To what extent can an experience stand on its’ own feet, shouting anti-imperialist slogans at the US while being economically reliant on petroleum revenues that comes from the US? Perhaps this process can lead to a full split between Venezuela and American imperialism, just like the one that occurred for Cuba.
The rightist wave which appears prevalent in Latin America today could lead to the dismantling of Lula-style social-liberalism from the ranks of the workers’ movement. The possibility of overcoming the organic crisis of capitalism, which is reliant on right and fascist governments losing popular support, can allow for even more radical movements which overcome social democracy to flourish in Latin American countries. The wave of left governments of the 2000s can be overcome in the struggle of the working class and the oppressed by denying their status as examples of what can be achieved within the (extremely narrow) limits of capitalism. The broad mass struggles of workers and women in Argentina appear to be a portent of this.
THE MONROE DOCTRINE
Donald Trump, appointed Elliot Abrams, who organised the Contra War against Nicaragua, who arranged the mass slaughters in El Salvador and Mayan Genocide in Guatemala, as Special Representative to Venezuela. Furthermore, he made John Bolton, who spread the lie of the Saddam regime’s possession of weapons of mass destruction during the process leading up to the occupation of Iraq, as his National Security Advisor. Ex-CIA Director Mike Pompeo was made Secretary of State. And so this trio of thugs together daily organise for a occupation, for a coup, and for sabotage against Venezuela. Florida senator and fascist Cuban-American Marco Rubio also works as a part of their gang.
John Bolton, who speaks the most of these figures, recently made a very significant statement:
“In this administration”, he said, “we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. [Venezuela] is a country in our hemisphere; it’s been the objective of presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely democratic hemisphere. [T]he troika of tyranny, including Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as Maduro [is] why we’re pursuing these policies.”11
So all of this has to do with the Monroe Doctrine? But, what is the Monroe Doctrine? Why is the Trump administration “not afraid” to use this term? If so, what could have been the reason that previous administrations would have been afraid to use it?
On December 2nd, 1823, US President James Monroe made a speech to Congress which demarcated the main lines of US foreign policy. The US was not to intervene in the internal problems and conflicts of the European powers. The US was to base itself in the Western Hemisphere (which is to say the continents of North and South America), known at the time as “the New World”. From that point on, all interventions by European powers into the Western Hemisphere would be understood as unfriendly actions to the US. With this doctrine, the US declared itself the guarantor of the Latin American states that had won their independence from Spain and Portugal. At the same time it imposed its influence on Central America and Latin America.
At that time, the US was not yet at a point where it was able to enforce this doctrine. However following the end of the Civil War and the US’s westward expansion with the Mexican War, the US became a rising capitalist power.
In 1904, President Roosevelt added a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. According to this, should any of the countries of Latin America be headed down a clearly and chronically bad trajectory, the US could intervene in its internal affairs. During this period many Latin American countries were administered by the US. Some countries, such as Cuba and Nicaragua, were under US occupation.
Even if this doctrine determined the US’s policies towards Latin America for the whole of the 20th century, the revolutionary wave on the continent, initiated by the Cuban Revolution, limited US influence over Latin America to a significant degree. The fighting image of Che Guevara covered the continent in the 1960s and 1970s, and US imperialism lost ground from Chile to Argentina, from Bolivia to Venezuela, all across Latin America. Many revolutionary movements were established, and the socialist left was developing rapidly in all its broad forms, including the reformist but charismatic figure of the socialist President Salvador Allende in Chile.
The US response to this development was extremely savage and bloody. Under the infamous Operation Condor, fascist military coups were organized, military regimes of torture and terror established by the CIA in countries like Chile, Argentine, Bolivia, and Uruguay, where the revolutionary movement was strong and socialism was popular. But the Yankees could not prevent the socialist revolution in Cuba, just under their nose, and had to tolerate the first and only socialist state in the Western Hemisphere for more than 60 years.
The very reason why the Monroe Doctrine is a cursed term, lies beneath this bloody history of coups, torture, forceful eviction of villages, mass atrocities, disappearances under custody, and in short, the open veins of Latin America. That is why American administrations before Trump avoided referring to this term openly. Secretary of State to the Obama administration John Kerry even said in 2013 that “The Era of the Monroe Doctrine is over”.12 Presumably, one of the primary factors in ending this era was the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ in Venezuela and the effects it produced across the continent. The Monroe Doctrine -although it had not yet been actually overcome – was at least exposed to a great extent.
But it is unsurprising that the Trump administration is attempting to update the Monroe Doctrine, as part of its open, direct and brutal expression of US imperialist interests. Even before Bolton, the previous Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had stated in a speech that in his view the Doctrine is “as relevant today as it was the day it was written”.13
Therefore we can easily say that what’s occurring in Venezuela is in fact an attempt to update the Monroe Doctrine and impose it with harsher measures. It is a reminder to all the powers of the world that the Western Hemisphere has been and will be a US sphere of influence. It is an attempt to utterly terminate the moment opened by the Cuban Revolution, to recolonise Cuba and Nicaragua, and to seize Venezuelan oil wealth. That is why the embargo on Cuba is being tightened again, pro-American militias have reappeared in Nicaragua, and Guaidó has been appointed as a trustee to Venezuela.
This is a new Operation Condor, and that is why “condors” like Elliott Abrams have been called back to duty.
THE CRISIS OF AMERICAN HEGEMONY
To sum up; US imperialism under the Trump administration is pursuing a policy of imposition of its unilateral domination through the most vulgar, shameless, and savage methods. That policy does not rise from the individual madness of Trump, but reflects the interests of the greediest and most savage elements of the US monopolies, particularly the weapons and energy monopolies.
The 2008 Crisis opened up a new period of the weakening of unilateral American hegemony, the emergence of Russia and China as new imperialist forces, and their balancing of power with the Americans.
Here we can speak about a three-tiered crisis. The first level is the existential crisis of the capitalist mode of production. Owing to the decline of profit rates to very low levels, the capitalist mode of production is breaking from real production, capital is becoming concentrated in parasitic areas, and unemployment is becoming chronic and widespread, while capitalism increasingly destroys productive forces, especially nature. On a second level, we can speak about a crisis of the imperialist world order, which is a direct result of the dispersion and fragmentation of the capitalist mode of production: relations between states are being broken, the winds of war are blowing in every region, regional and international unions which were established in previous eras are breaking up, the use of force in international relations is increasingly taking precedence over diplomacy, and a frightening arms race is drawing in all nations. Inseparably connected to these two levels, we see a third level, that of the crisis of hegemony experienced by the US, the main hegemonic state in the imperialist system. With the expansion of the space occupied by Russia and China in the capitalist-imperialist system, American hegemony has been challenged. Within the ongoing global crisis, Russia has succeeded in practically changing the balance with US interventions in Russia’s own region (Georgia, Ukraine) and later in the Middle East (Syria). As for China, with its economy which is strong enough to compete with the US, a significant increase in real production, and its huge military power, China has increased its weight in world politics in this period. With the military capacity invested on the problem of the islands, China has shown that it can balance American power.
The general structural crisis of capitalism is accompanied by a crisis of US hegemony. The victorious unipolar world politics of the 1990s have clearly and steadily slid towards a bipolar direction in the 2010s. Thus the apparent irrationality of Trump stems from the multilayered and deep structure of the crises. The Trump administration, on the one hand, seeks to remedy the crises of capitalism by expanding the areas of the appraisal of capital, while at the same time seeking to head off the competing imperialist camp which is taking shape, including by intervention in regional wars. But the Trump administration has not only come into conflict with Russia and China, but even with traditional ally states such as Canada or Germany. Trump’s policies are the response to the crisis of US hegemony sought by the most greedy, savage, terrorist elements of American finance capital. Trump is the expression of the ambition for maximum profit by the American monopolies.
Apparently, the three nerve-centres of this competition are Syria in the Middle East, Korea in the Asia-Pacific region and Venezuela in the Western Hemisphere. The course of events in these three exemplary cases will provide us with sufficient data to examine whether the world is still unipolar or had become bipolar.
Especially as a country in the Western Hemisphere, whether or not the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela will be able to withstand the US’s open attacks with Russian-Chinese support, will be an important barometre in terms of whether or not each of these countries have become world powers. This we can also see from that nervous tweet of John Bolton, tweeted just after the landing of Russian special forces to Caracas Maiquetia Airport. And so, while trying to besiege Bolivarian Venezuela with a military coup d’etat to update the Monroe Doctrine, the Trump administration became the first US government after the end of the Cold War to see open Russian military presence in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States will not tolerate hostile foreign military powers meddling with the Western Hemisphere’s shared goals of democracy, security, and the rule of law. The Venezuelan military must stand with the people of Venezuela.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) March 25, 2019
Whatever the practical developments in the field of individual competition may be, within the context of the existential crises of capitalism, both imperialist blocs and the local forces bound to them are driving forwards step by step towards a third world war.
The Donald Trump administration is using its power in the form of finance capital (through sanctions, customs taxes, etc.) and military force to reestablish American unilateral supremacy across a frightening global expanse, guided by a greed for excess profit and in the service of the most savage competitive instincts. By acting thus, the Trump administration not only deepens the crisis of American hegemony, but also the crises of the imperialist system as a whole. He is abandoning all the myths surrounding global US hegemony, and declares openly that he is interested in US interests, and only US interests. The Trump administration will not be able to solve the crises of US hegemony, but while attacking everywhere like an bull in a china shop, will expose the potential for the growth of revolutionary forces in many countries.
1) The acts of the Mao-Nixon meeting on the 21st of February, 1972 can be found via the following link: https://china.usc.edu/mao-zedong-meets-richard-nixon-february-21-1972
2) The narrative of Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State of the Nixon period, confirms this assumption: “Vietnam finally signaled that it was high time to reassess America’s role in the developing world, and to find some sustainable ground between abdication and overextension. On the other side of the ledger, new opportunities for American diplomacy were presenting themselves as serious cracks opened up in what had been viewed throughout the Cold War as the communist monolith. Khruschev’s revelations in 1956 of the brutalities of Stalin’s rule, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, had weakened the ideological appeal of communism for the rest of the world. Even more important, the split between China and the Soviet Union undermined Moscow’s pretense to be the leader of a united communist movement. All of these developments suggested that there was a scope for a new diplomatic flexibility.” (Diplomacy, p. 704, 1994, Simon&Schuster) Kissinger, in this book, explains how the cornered US foreign policy during the Nixon period took back the initiative, taking advantage of the possibility of a war between Moscow and Beijing.
3) Although officially the fundamental justification of the Chinese attack was the protection of the Khmer Rouge regime, among the justifications was the Vietnamese presence on the Spratly Islands located in the South China Sea. This problem having remained unsolved, it stands in the centre of Sino-Vietnamese tensions.
4) For example, as of 1993 two thirds of all foreign capital investment went to Hồ Chí Minh city and three nearby regions, the rest went to the cities of Hanoi and Hai Fong. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Đổi_Mới)
5) http://vietnamembassy-usa.org/relations/us-be-top-investor-vietnam-two-years and https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/evolution-us-vietnam-ties
8) For a detailed perception of how the DPRK government handles the Juche Philosophy: http://www.korea-dpr.info/lib/107.pdf