In an interview from last month with Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said:
“The level of legitimacy of the Bolivarian revolution, of Venezuelan democracy, the level of legitimacy of my leadership as president of the republic, of the governors, of the mayors, of the constituent members, of the legislators, is very high, it’s real. It’s what the KKK of the United States does not want to understand. They don’t want to understand that our legitimacy is real. We are real, just as this wood is. We are real. Our legitimacy is real, certain, strong. That is why they fail and will continue to fail, Max. Write it down. We’re in 2019 and they have failed. They will continue to fail in their coup attempts, their destabilization, they will fail in everything, we will defeat them in everything with votes, with the people, with democracy, with freedom, with institutions.”
By the “KKK of the United States,” he was referring to the white nationalist Trump White House, which has been facilitating the latest U.S.-led assault on Venezuela under the pretext of “liberating” Venezuelans from a “dictator.” By extension, Maduro was even talking about the more moderate and left-leaning American leaders who’ve participated in the demonization of Venezuela’s socialist government. These leaders include Bernie Sanders, who called the democratically elected former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez a “dead communist dictator,” as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has openly supported U.S. intervention in the country, and has claimed that the Venezuelan people need a change towards “democracy”.
While their positions on Venezuela’s internal economic and social issues may vary, both the “KKK sympathizers” in the Trump White House and “democratic socialists” like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez share the goal of undermining and exploiting countries like Venezuela through the rationale that the targeted countries are “dictatorships.” This represents a bipartisan and ideologically flexible American loyalty to imperialism, which has a long history, and the Venezuela example encapsulates the agenda of those who peddle the U.S. empire’s “dictator” narratives.
Maligning every socialist or anti-colonialist government as a “dictatorship”
The American practice of demonizing what it sees as enemy countries as “dictatorships” always involves some level of truth distortion. For example, crying election fraud has, for awhile now, been a standard propaganda playbook of the U.S.towards Chavismo, despite the internationally exceptional transparency and fairness that Venezuela has been able to maintain with its electoral system.
But let’s take a look at countries that have even more severe and longstanding “dictatorship” narratives propagated about them in the West. In the case of the dreaded Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the inversion of reality the U.S. has attempted to manufacture about its society and political system is much more extreme than its approach to Venezuela. North Korea is presented in the U.S. as both a totalitarian dictatorship and a monarchy. As a result, few Americans are aware that transparent elections regularly take place in the DPRK—or that, in contradiction of how monarchies function in terms of succession, Kim Il Sung’s son and grandson have taken on mere figurehead positions. Additionally, few Americans are aware that multiple parties hold power in the country’s political system, or that every DPRK citizen is granted full freedom of speech and assembly under the country’s constitution.
As one essayist from Write To Rebel has written about nature of the DPRK’s electoral system:
“Candidates are chosen in mass meetings held under the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, which also organizes the political parties in the DPRK. Citizens run under these parties or they can run as independents. They are chosen by the people, not by the ‘party'(in fact, the parliament in the DPRK consists of three separate parties as of last election, the Workers Party of Korea, the Korean Social Democratic Party, and the Chondoist Chongu Party) .
The fact that there is only one candidate on the ballot is because there has already been a consensus reached on who should be up for nomination for that position, by the people in their mass meetings. This is a truly democratic arrangement, as it places power directly in the hands of the people rather than in the hands of wealthy “representatives” who have no idea how the majority actually live.”
When you really examine the broader scope of the U.S. empire’s propaganda, it becomes clear that the “dictator” line is most often used to delegitimize socialist and decolonized countries. China’s particular model of popular democracy, which is different than that of the U.S. and equally as complicated, has also been called a “dictatorship” by Western headlines. The political systems of Cuba and Nicaragua have also been characterized this way for multiple decades, despite having culturally specific democratic systems in place. Bolivia’s socialist president Evo Morales has been mischaracterized as a dictator as well, a fact which offers a foreshadowing of the regime change operation the U.S. plans to perpetrate within Bolivia in the coming years.
As Professor Andreas Mihardja has stated on the Quora question-and-answer site, China’s political system—the systems of the other socialist countries—is indeed democratic. In a recent back-and-forth on Quora, he explained that:
“The government system of China – Peoples Republic of China – is a democracy. It is not a dictatorial system where one person decides for all things in the government and the rest of the people are only yes men. You must be in government to understand the workings of a system. What you see outside in public is Not the real decision-making. What you see in public are only decisions that has been decided behind close doors by a group of specialists and politicians after probably months of discussions and inner fighting.
China is a country of 1.4 billion people. It is not efficient to have a direct election system – i.e. electing the president. It is also not efficient for directly electing a parliament from every corner of the country and from every branch of profession to do the daily legislative work. How could a parliament of more than 3,000 delegates do any decent legislative work when even the delegates are not educated in a government system? This is the reason why these super big national delegates choose the parliament that will do the yearly legislative duties.”
The image of a declining American empire shouting “dictator!” at all of its rivals, as it thrashes to regain its waning power, has origins in the transition from one incarnation of imperialism and colonialism to another. Prior to the 20th century, when the European, Japanese and North American colonizers justified their theft of indigenous land by calling the targets of their crimes “savages,” “dictator” wasn’t the preferred term that imperialists used. The victims of imperialism, though having existed in their historic societal forms before being conquered, were judged to be barbarous and unfit to govern themselves. Then in the 20th century, when many of the colonized people fought for their freedom and built modern systems of government, the old “savage” label was modified to “dictatorship.”
Looking back, the propaganda against the Bolsheviks and the USSR provided the standard model for demonizing nations that have sought to liberate themselves from capitalism and imperial control. Stalin was portrayed in the West as an evil dictator who had perpetrated spectacular atrocities, a narrative that was initially propagated through the Nazi disinformation about a Soviet-engineered famine in Ukraine and was later reinforced by the dishonest accounts of the gulags from celebrated authors Robert Conquest and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
As Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote in Soviet Communism: A New Civilization, Stalin’s power was much more limited than it’s been made out to be in the West:
“The plain truth is that, surveying the administration of the USSR during the past decade, under the alleged dictatorship of Stalin, the principal decisions have manifested neither the promptitude nor the timeliness, nor yet the fearless obstinacy that have often been claimed as the merits of a dictatorship. On the contrary, the action of the Party has frequently been taken after consideration so prolonged, and as the outcome of discussion sometimes so heated and embittered, as to bear upon their formulation the marks of hesitancy and lack of assurance. More than once, their adoption has been delayed to a degree that has militated against their success and, far from having been obstinately and ruthlessly carried out, the execution has often been marked by a succession of orders each contradicting its predecessor, and none of them pretending to completeness or finality.”
The concoction of distortions and lies about the USSR dressed up in a veneer of academic subjectivity has mirrored how the enemies of socialism and decolonization have since spread their message. As Jay Tharappel has written about this dynamic of “anti-Stalinism” functioning as an excuse for delegitimizing the struggles of colonized people:
“To justify empire-building, colonising cultures produce racism of two kinds, one which justifies conquest on the grounds of naked national self-interest, and another which justifies conquest by claiming to ‘civilise’ conquered nations and ‘save’ them from ‘despots’, and ‘evil dictators’ (a saviour complex). Anti-Stalinism is comparable with the latter kind in the sense that it encourages its followers to believe they’re on the side of The People™.”
When the people of Korea were freed from Japanese colonial rule in 1945 and then went on to create an independent socialist government in the upper half of the Korean Peninsula (the DPRK), the U.S. carried out a genocidal war against it, in which a fourth of the country’s people were killed. The U.S. has since portrayed the DPRK as a belligerent dictatorship and this has justified its seven-decades-long campaign of sanctions and nuclear threats against it. When the Chinese people freed themselves from colonialism and pursued Marxist social development, Mao was slandered as a dictator who carried out genocide (a claim that’s now being made about Xi Jinping). Che Guevera and Fidel Castro underwent the same types of character assassinations when they liberated their land from imperial control.
As this quote from a lecture by the anti-imperialist scholar Nick Maniace explains, even the governments of unlikable leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad have been unfairly characterized as dictatorships:
In both Ba’athist Iraq and Ba’athist Syria, despite them being attacked so often as single-party dictatorships, both countries actually had multiple parties in the government. In Iraq, through the national assembly and the cabinet, the Communist Party and Kurdish political parties had positions in the government along with the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party. And in Syria, the People’s Council and the cabinet, the Communist Party, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party along with those other parties share power with the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party in Syria.
In fact, Hussein’s Iraq was actually a socialist state, and Assad’s Syria is basically driven by the goals of socialism despite the country’s arguably necessary market liberalizations (it’s also driven by the Ba’athist goal of achieving national independence for Arab society to rectify the crimes of imperialism).
The same was the case for Libya. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who didn’t hold significant power after the late 70s and was in many respects a symbolic figurehead, helped preside over an indigenous socialist experiment where a home was considered a human right, where healthcare and education were free, and where even electricity didn’t require individual payment. But we know what happened to all of those countries when the U.S. stepped in to free them from being “dictatorships.”
Killing millions in the name of freedom
After Hussein’s Ba’athist socialism managed to provided Iraqis with free healthcare and education, protection for minorities, and the establishment of the only secular nation in the Middle East, the U.S. used fabrications about WMDs and “dictatorship” to invade the country. Since then, Iraq has ceased to exist as a nation amid an explosion of jihadist warfare; the parts of Iraqi society that miraculously remained stable were turned, after the invasion, into pockets of U.S.-engineered neoliberalism and inequality; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of the war. It’s a tragedy whose scope I don’t think can be fully comprehended. And America’s crimes against the other “dictatorships” in Libya and Syria have come to match it.
Syria, despite its government’s survival, has experienced around half a million deaths as a result of 8 years of assault from U.S.-backed terrorist factions. Syrians are also being starved amid the sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on them, and even the effort at reconstruction in Syria is being sabotaged by America’s economic warfare. Libya has been turned into a failed state by the 2011 U.S./NATO campaign to topple its “dictator,” and the conditions in the country have deteriorated so much that Africans are now being sold in a thriving Libyan slave market.
It doesn’t matter how democratized or advanced the world’s colonized and exploited people make their societies after they win their national autonomy. The empire is still going to rewrite history to demonize them, and they’re going to be attacked with the full force of the capitalist world’s economic and military capacities.
The representative image of this reality of modern imperialism is when Gaddafi, while about to be executed by terrorists after his country was destroyed, said to his torturer: “What did I do to you?” After he was bloodily killed, the arbiter of the Libya invasion, Hillary Clinton, indirectly responded to his question by laughing about his death, and by remarking that “We came, we saw, he died.”
The anti-imperialist states fight back
The forces of Western empire may seem all-powerful and beyond accountability, but history is turning against them. The Pentagon itself stated in 2017 that American power is rapidly declining, and the decolonized socialist countries are looking to become the prime shapers of the world of the 21st century. The coming world order will largely center around China, a Marxist-Leninist state that rejects imperialist expansion and that’s dedicated to helping Venezuela, the DPRK, and other socialist countries to develop. When China economically and militarily overtakes the U.S., projected to happen by the 2030s, Western imperialism will have lost its power, and the conditions will be created for a new wave of worker’s revolutions.
In the meantime, the decolonized countries will likely continue their development around Marxist/socialist lines. Syria will soldier on and work to rebuild its society. China, Cuba, Bolivia, Vietnam, the DPRK, and Laos will continue to work to improve their socialist economies. Venezuela will endeavor to progress towards an eco-socialist energy revolution that can help weaken the country’s remaining capitalist class.
The journey of the latter nation is going to be especially important; as a piece from David Schwartzman and Quincy Saul stated this year:
“The path to climate justice must pass through Caracas; i.e., climate justice for humanity will only be achieved if the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels are mobilized for a continental and then global energy transition…this is only possible with the termination of the US war of counterinsurgency and destabilization against the Venezuelan government, allowing them to focus their attention on the full realization of an eco-socialist mode of production.”
As Maduro said, the legitimacy of Venezuela (and by extension other socialist and decolonized countries) is very real. It’s so real that the people of Venezuela, north Korea, Syria, China, Cuba, and Bolivia (all of which the U.S. currently seeks to overthrow) are ready to go to war to defend their countries if they’re confronted with an American invasion. Bolivia, whose leadership anticipates a regime change attempt against it in the near future, is already training soldiers in a self-described anti-imperialist military school so that Bolivia’s forces will remain loyal to the Morales government’s cause of indigenous liberation.
These nations aren’t dictatorships. They’re not perfect, either. But they’re arguably the world’s great bastions of resistance to capitalism and empire, and they’re fighting for their lives.
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