At the beginning we quickly tell the story of Mexico’s Wars of Independence – Hidalgo, Morelo, and Iturbide. Then we return to Simon Bolivar from the Angostura period to the liberation of Peru and an assessment of Bolivar’s politics and legacy. We conclude by quickly telling the story of Brazil’s Independence and discern some patterns in these liberations.
by Hector Mondragon, November 12 2018. Translated from Spanish by Justin Podur.
Facing the wave of growth and success of political and social movements of the ultra-right, it is necessary to ask: are we witnessing the rise of a series of fascist movements in many parts of the world as occurred in the 1930s? Or is fascism an unrepeatable historical phenomenon limited to the period between the two world wars?
Some consider that fascism only arose to prevent the victory of socialist revolutions or to stop the communists, but “fascism did not triumph when the bourgeois was threatened with proletarian revolution, but rather when the working class was weakened and put on the defensive.” The role of fascism was not to overcome the socialist revolution but to “erase the conquests of reformist socialism.”i
In Germany it was the social democrats that liquidated Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebnecht and stopped the communists fifteen years before the Nazi triumph. The Soviet Republic in Hungary was stopped by the invasion of the Rumanian army sent by the Liberal party. In Italy the occupations of the factories and the workers’ councils were stopped by the Liberal Party two years before the triumph of the fascists. Fascist propaganda insisted and insists always on a “communist threat” but for the past 90 years, capitalism has used the fascist “solution” to destroy reforms and human rights after the “communist threat” has been defeated.
What then is the difference between the Italian blackshirts, the German brownshirts, the Rumanian iron guards, the Ukrainian flagmen, the Hungarian arrow cross, the Spanish falange or the Croation Ustache – and today’s ultra-right parties?
All of the protagonists of European fascism of the last century professed a visceral hatred of Jews, expressed in extreme form in Germany, Ukraine, Romania and Croatia and culminating in the Holocaust. Today, by contrast, with the exception of Ukraine’s Svoboda, Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the KKK and a few small neonazi groups, the majority of the global right is pro-Israel and supports the extermination of the Palestinians.
In general, on the xenophobic right, anti-Semitism has been replaced by Islamophobiaii, hatred of refugees, and particular racisms, like that expressed on the US right against Mexicansiii. In other aspects, however, despite its diversity, the 21st century ultra-right bears a growing resemblance to the European fascism of the 1930
Those who believe in the “end of history” – that colonialism is a thing of the past and capitalism is the final historical order – incorrectly discard the notion of a rebirth of fascism. The reality is very different. In this century so far, imperialist wars have destroyed Iraq, Libya, and Syria, all as a way of resolving the cyclical crises of capitalism. The recolonization of the Middle East is a fact. Colonialism was in retreat during the period that began with the fall of Nazism and ended with the US loss in Vietnam. It has returned with force in the past three decades.
To understand how fascism arises from the necessities of internal and external imperial wars, Hitler’s January 27 1932 speech to the industrialists at Dusseldorf is instructive. This speech convinced big business to support the Nazi solution.vii
Hitler explained that the defense of private property required a dictatorship like that of the Fuhrer. Because private property is the result of economic inequality and different classes of citizens, to defend private property it would be necessary to impose political inequality, hierarchy, and authoritarianism. Hitler explained that England did not just go to India sell its wares; it obliged India to buy them by invading the country. If the businessmen wanted the success of their enterprises, they had to support Nazism to conquer new markets and resources in the wider world and destroy the “Bolshevism” that was damaging the racial and national unity needed for victory.
In this speech, unusually light on Hitler’s characteristic constant attacks against the Jews, Hitler focused on “Bolshevism”: not just the need to stop it, but also to stop it from dividing the people and spreading a mentality opposed to the singular national interest. The businessmen applauded loudly for several minutes. Hitler’s program for big German business included a wave of privatizationsviii ix – and was only stopped by the fall of Nazism itself.
For Milton Friedman and the Chicago School to impose neoliberalism on Chile, it was not just necessary to prepare an elite of Chilean economists. It was also necessary to install Pinochet’s “Patria y Libertad” to impose the laws of the market.
Vilfredo Pareto, the economist considered by neoliberals as the precursor of their “libertarian” ideas, raged against strikes as the enemies of an economic optimum. He hated the worker’s movement’s taking over factories. He celebrated the ascent of Mussolini to power. Even though Pareto himself was not a fascist, the fascists made him a senator-for-life. In the first few years of his government, Mussolini followed Pareto’s prescriptions to the letter, destroying political liberalism, reducing state administration in favor of private enterprise, reducing property taxes, favoring industry, and imposing religious education.x The capitalists and neoliberal economists would prefer not to associate with fascists and repudiate their ideology, but they acclaim it when it is time to smash “Bolshevism” and go to war with other countries.
As it did 90 years ago, fascism today liquidates the gains of workers and collective rights, cleanses universities and schools, and promotes war. When the domination of transnational capital is not maintained merely by the laws of the market, it is maintained by direct violence. When institutional solutions are insufficient, the mass mobilization of one part of civil society is used against the rest.
Colonialism has strengthened. What is today called “extractivism” was once called “accumulation by dispossession”. It reigns throughout multiple parts of the world, an expression of the strength of colonial enterprises that have existed for centuries. It is the exact same primitive accumulation that occurred in the original phase of colonialism.xi xii
In the 20th century, war was integrated with colonial enterprise and the destruction of competitor capital (as we saw in Iraq, Libya, and earlier in Yugoslavia) in a way that foreshadowed the destruction of local capital, the conquest of new markets, new investment zones and sources of land, minerals, gas and petroleum.
But imperialism, colonialism and war are not in themselves fascism, which is a mass movement based in the middle class and the unemployed, mobilized in diverse forms – including armed militias – to destroy workers’ rights and organizations and perpetuate war in the interests of transnational capital and landowners. In Latin America, the landowners always have their paramilitary bands at the readyxiii.
In contrast to other forms of authoritarianism, the success of fascism is guaranteed by the mass mobilization of the middle class against the “enemies of the nation”, be they Jews, Communists, Africans, refugees, Muslims, or Mexicans.
As the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger said, “ …it can accordingly seem that there is no enemy. It is then a fundamental requirement that the enemy be found, brought to light, or even created so that this stand against the enemy may take place… with the goal of complete extermination.”xiv
The state that persecutes the enemy, according to the theorists of nazism, is not merely the judicial institution, but the people’s Being intrinsically united with its leader (Heidegger). It’s not a state machinery, but the people organized by the nazi party organized through its Fuhrer that is the source of law (Rosemberg). It is not the law that establishes order, but the “movement” that imposes an order, from which the law springs(Schmitt).xv
This is why Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks, presented the thesis that civil society is itself a form of the state. This makes the problem of emancipation more complicated and more dramatic. “Civil society could very well express violence and oppression not inferior to that of the state, and very unscrupulous besides, and it will tend to exercise this violence without obstructions since it has no concern with even the pretense of impartiality.”xvi
The idea of needing to attack an enemy was and is a part of an ultra-right wing strategy, with false information used to agitate about the fantasy of the enemy. The great theorist of what is now called “fake news” was the publicist of Siemens and the Reemtsma tobacco company, Hans Domizlaff, who began his application of marketing techniques to politics in 1932.xvii
According to Domizlaff, “people can believe in gross lies or, in any case, there can be found freedom for action if lies are openly told and obstinately maintained…xviii the masses cannot be educated, only domesticated, led, and voided.”xix
In the 21st century the role of enemy is assigned in Europe and the US to migrants, especially refugees or to “terrorist” Muslims. In Latin America it continues to be “communists”, the political left, as it was in the time of the Doctrine of National Security.
But more and more, in the north and in Latin America, LGBTQ communities are targeted, called the “gender ideology”, with propaganda about apparent “scientific” research into gender. This is not new.
Homophobia was one of the hooks the Nazis used to win over religious sectors. Magnus Hirschfield’s theory of the “third sex” and his books on homosexuality and transgender were attacked. Hirschfield’s Institute for Sexual Research was the target of homphobic attack. Its administrator Kurt Hiller was sent to a concentration camp in March 1933 and on May 6 the building was occupied and its archives, photos, and library were confiscated to be burned in the famous book-burning of May 10, 1933.xx
The bonfire linked the “judeo-bolshevik conspiracy” and the third sex. Homophobia played a mobilizing role in the bonfire and in the concentration camps. The annihilation of the third sex occurred alongside the extermination of communists, unionists, Jews and Roma – the extermination of the enemy. The state apparatus, from its perch in the universities to its gas chambers, was rooted in the “people’s Being” directed by its leader.
The ultra-right of the 21st century, especially in Latin America, has rediscovered the role of homophobia. The struggle against “gender ideology” was embedded in the “No” vote against the Colombian peace accords and has moved millions of votes from Brazil to the US, including Costa Rica, where an important group of churches joined these homophobic manipulations with enthusiasm.
The manipulation of religion by the ultra-right is not limited to homophobia. For more than one hundred years the right has developed a theology of war. The spread of Wahhabism in the Muslim world has served as the basis for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the “dispensationalism” of Cyrus Scofield has played a role in the West in creating a war theology, nourishing militarism on the evangelical right-wing.
The Islamic State is apocalyptic: it is preparing for the final battle of history, in which Jesus and the Mahdi will fight alongside them. “Dispensationalism” also views war in the Middle East as anticipation of Armageddon and considers US support for Israel part of a divine plan. The faithful expect to be transported directly to heaven before seven years of great disasters, at the end of which will occur the great battle of Armageddon, when Jesus will return to defend Israel.xxi
As the Nazis struggled against the conspiracy outlined in the “protocols of the elders of Zion”, the Latin American ultra-right struggles against the conspiracy of the Forum of Sao Paolo, which they believe wishes to impose communism and homosexualism. Bolshevism, however, has changed: it is no longer a Jewish conspiracy but the source of conspiracy, since Israel is now an ally and the Palestinians the enemy.
The ultra-right of the Americas is diverse, but its common symbols and leaders are always anti-communist, loyal to the US, and loyal to the transnational corporations. Under these three principles, religious fundamentalism can easily co-exist with the debauched life of Donald Trump. The white supremacists of the US are not in agreement among themselves about anti-Semitism. But the Klan and the neo-Nazis continue to co-exist and to coordinate on common projects like the wall on the border with Mexico.
The ultra-right in Europe is more divided. There are anti-EU and pro-EU ultra-rightists. There is one anti-Semitic right and another Islamophobic right. In Israel, the extermination of Palestinians signals fascism; in Islamic countries it’s Wahhabism; in India it is Hindu supermacy and there is even a Buddhist right-wing in Thailand and Burma. All of the ultra-rights deny our common humanity, are xenophobic and racist, homophobic and enemies of human rights and of international law.
Not every ultra-right is fascist. Several have given rise to diverse Bonapartes,xxii xxiii whether by electoral movements or by military-parliamentary-or judicial coups. Laws and repressive means strengthen state oppression, but fascism is not simply the repression of the system towards its enemies. The triumph of fascism is a qualitative change. xxiv xxv
For fascist regimes to establish themselves it is not sufficient for there to be a fascist party, nor is it sufficient that the president be a fascist. Fascism requires a mass movement that is capable of smashing the organizations of workers and of minorities, and capable of supporting perpetual wars. Fascism in the 21st century is reaching that point.
It is time to resist.
i BAUER, Otto (1936) Zwischen zwei Weltkriegen?. Bratislava: Eugen Prager Verlag, p. 136.
ii HUNTINGTON, Samuel 1997 O Choque das Civilizações e a recomposição da ordem mundial. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Objetiva.
iii HUNTINGTON, Samuel 2004. ¿Quiénes somos?: los desafíos a la identidad nacional estadounidense. Barcelona: Paidós Ibérica.
iv MANDEL, Ernest (1969) El Fascismo. Revolta Global, p.10.
v POULANTZAS, Nicos (1970) Fascismo e Ditadura. Porto: Portucalense, 1972, p. 13.
vi DIMITROV, Jorge (1935) “La ofensiva del fascismo y las tareas de la Internacional Comunista en la lucha por la unidad dela clase obrera contra el fascismo”; Informe ante en VII Congreso Mundial de la Internacional Comunista, 2 de agosto de 1935. Selección de trabajos. Buenos Aires: Estudio, 1972.
vii HITLER, Adolf (1932) “The Dusseldorf Speech of 1932”; C N Trueman editor. The History Learning Site, 22 May 2015.
viii BUCHHEIM, Christoph and Jonas SCHERNER (2006).”The Role of Private Property in the Nazi Economy: The Case of Industry”. The Journal of Economic History 66(2) 390-416 (406). Cambridge University Press.
ix BEL, Germà (13 de noviembre de 2004). “Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany”. Universitat de Barcelona i ppre-IREA.
x BORKENAU, Franz (1936) Pareto. New York: John Wiley & Sons, p.40.
xi HARVEY, David (2004) “El ‘nuevo imperialismo’: acumulación por desposesión”; Leo Pantich & Colin Leys (Ed.) El nuevo desafío imperial, p.p. 99-129. Merlin Press-Clacso.
xii MARX, Karl (1867) El Capital, v. I, c. XXIV-XXV. Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, 1974, p.p. 607-650.
xiii See the character Attila in the film Novecento, by Bernardo BERTOLUCCI (1976).
xiv HEIDEGGER, Martin. Gesamtausgabe, 36/37, Sein und Wahrheit. 1. Die Grundfrage der Philosophie. 2. Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann, 2001, éd. por Hartmut Tietjen, [GA 36/37], 90-91.
xv FAYE, Emmanuel (2005) “El derecho y la raza: Erik Wolf entre Heidegger, Schmitt y Rosenberg”. Heidegger: La introducción del nazismo en filosofía. Madrid: Akal, 2009, 2018, capítulo7.
xvi LOSURDO, Doménico 1997. “Com Gramsci, para além de Marx e Gramsci”; Crítica Marxista 3-4. Roma.
xvii DOMIZLAFF, Hans (1932) Propagandamittel der Staatsidee. Altona-Othmarschen.
xviii DOMIZLAFF, Hans (1952) Brevier für Könige. Massenpsychologisches Praktikum. Hamburg, Institut für Markentechnik, p. 208.
xix Ibidem, p. 288.
xx BAUER, Heike (2017). The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture. Temple University Press, p. 92.
xxi SIZER, Stephen (2006) Sionismo cristiano ¿hoja de ruta a Armagedón? Bósforo libros, 2009.
xxii THALHEIMER, August (1928) “Über den Faschismus”; internes Dokument der Komintern, 1928 ; Gegen den Strom, theoretischer Zeitschrift der KPD(O), 1930.
xxiii TROTSKY, Leon (1934) “Bonapartism and Fascism”; New International, 1(2): 37-38.
xxv DIMITROV, Jorge; op. cit.
translated by Justin Podur
In world history, the American Revolution created a republic that continued slavery and expanded a continuous war against Indigenous nations in North America. We look at the British imperial geopolitics, the propaganda, and the history. Why wasn’t the American Revolution the inspiration that the French Revolution was? Special mention to two sources: John Grenier and Gerald Horne.
I talk to friend and frequent guest Manuel Rozental about the breakdown of the (probably inaccurately named) peace process in Colombia, as FARC dissidents announce that the accords have failed and they are returning to war. We talk about war and peace in Colombian history and a global economy that profits more from war than from peace.
I talk to Shiri Pasternak, Research Director at the Yellowhead Institute and author of Grounded Authority: The Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State. We cover Indigenous authority, jurisdiction, sovereignty, solidarity, and Canada’s coups d’etat in Indian Country.
As we watch a US-backed coup unfold in a distant country, as in Venezuela today, our eyes are drawn to the diplomatic, military, and economic elements of the US campaign. The picture of a scowling John Bolton with a big yellow notepad with the message “5,000 troops to Colombia” reveals the diplomatic and military elements. The New York Times headline “U.S. Sanctions Are Aimed at Venezuela’s Oil. Its Citizens May Suffer First” reveals the economic element.
But US foreign policy mobilizes every available resource for regime change and for counterinsurgency. Among those resources, you will always find academics. The pen may not always be mightier than the sword, but behind every US-backed war on a foreign people there will be a body of scholarly work.
The academic laboratory of the Venezuelan coup has the highest academic pedigree of all—it’s housed at Harvard. Under the auspices of the university’s Center for International Development, the Venezuela project of the Harvard Growth Lab (there are growth labs for other countries as well, including India and Sri Lanka) is full of academic heavyweights, including Lawrence Summers (who once famously argued that Africa was underpolluted). Among the leaders of the growth lab is Ricardo Hausmann, now an adviser to Juan Guaido who has “already drafted a plan to rebuild the nation, from economy to energy.”
In an interview with Bloomberg Surveillance, Hausmann was asked who would be there to rebuild Venezuela after the coup—the IMF, the World Bank? Hausmann replied (around minute 20), “we have been in touch with all of them. … I have been working for three years on a ‘morning after’ plan for Venezuela.” The hosts interrupted him before he could get into detail, but the interview concluded that bringing back the “wonderful Venezuela of old,” for investors, would necessitate international financial support. Never mind that the “wonderful Venezuela of old” was maintained through a corrupt compact between two ruling parties (called “Punto Fijo”) and the imprisonment and torture of political opponents—amply documented but forgotten by those who accuse Maduro of the same crimes.
The Growth Lab website provides some other ideas of what Hausmann’s plan likely includes: Chavez’s literacy, health care, and food subsidy “Missions,” a growth lab paper argues, have not reduced poverty (and, implicitly, should go). Another paper argues that the underperformance of the Venezuelan oil industry was due to the country’s lack of appeal to foreign investors (hence Venezuela should implicitly be made more appealing to this all-important group). A third paper argues that “weak property rights” and the “flawed functioning of markets” are harming the business environment—no doubt strengthening property rights and getting those markets functioning again will be in the plan. If this sounds like the same kind of neoliberal prescription that devastated Latin American countries for generations and was imposed and maintained through torture and dictatorship from Chile and Brazil to Venezuela itself, that is because the motivation is to bring back the “wonderful Venezuela of old.”
A Wall Street Journal article by Bob Davis from 2005 credits Hausmann with being part of the original Washington Consensus in 1989, “the economic manifesto [that] identified government as a roadblock to prosperity, and called for dismantling trade barriers, eliminating budget deficits, selling off state-owned industries and opening Latin nations to foreign investment.” But before returning to the neoliberal prescription, Hausmann experimented with different economic ideas, including some heresies. If the WSJ article is to be believed, Hausmann looked at the data on Latin American economic growth decades later and found “Deep reforms; lousy growth,” and concluded that there “must be something wrong with the theories of growth.”
Hausmann’s academic work is highly technical, macroeconomic modeling. The models reveal the consequences of the assumptions used to construct them: at times there is some data fit to them. Others are applied mathematics exercises. A paper on 2005 “Growth Accelerations” looks for periods when countries’ economies grew quickly. An earlier paper, from 2002, presents a roundabout argument on the so-called “resource curse,” in which oil-dependent economies (like Venezuela) suffer poor developmental performance, arguing at that time that “more interventionist policies to subsidize investment in the non-tradable sector may also have a role to play.”
But whether it was written by Hausmann or not, the economic plan of Guaido’s post-coup government has no such heterodox ideas in it, however. It is difficult to imagine Hausmann or Guaido going against Bolton, who told Fox News that “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” The post-coup Venezuelan economy will not be all about mathematically rigorous experiments in economic growth like Hausmann’s academic work. It will be about the privatization of Venezuela’s assets.
Hausmann might have a long and ideologically winding record of publishing models of economic growth, but he has maintained a passion for regime change in Venezuela for more than a decade—even at the expense of academic integrity. After the Venezuelan opposition failed to oust Chavez in a coup in 2002 and failed again to oust him using a strike of the Venezuelan oil company in 2003, they resorted to constitutional means—a recall referendum, in 2004. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall in the referendum, which featured then new electoral machines that did an electronic tally verified by printed ballots (still the system used in Venezuela and praised by former US president Jimmy Carter in 2012 as the “best in the world”) and was overseen by numerous international observers including the Carter Center. But Hausmann prepared a highly dubious statistical analysis to cast doubt on the outcome. Hausmann’s dubious statistics were cited numerous times. More may have been made of them had they not been thoroughly discredited by the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Mark Weisbrot of CEPR summarized the episode in a 2008 report:
“… the political impact of economic and econometric research on Venezuela can be very significant. For example, in 2004, economists Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard’s Kennedy School (a former Minister of Planning of Venezuela) and Roberto Rigobon of MIT published a paper purporting to show econometric evidence of electronic fraud in the 2004 presidential recall referendum. The theory of the fraud was implausible in the extreme, the statistical analysis was seriously flawed, and the election was observed and certified by the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Nonetheless this paper had a substantial impact. Together with faked exit polls by Mark Penn’s polling firm of Penn, Schoen, and Berland—which purported to show the recall succeeding by a 60-40 margin, the mirror image of the vote count—it became one of the main pieces of evidence that convinced the Venezuelan opposition that the elections were fraudulent. On this basis they went on to boycott the 2005 congressional elections, and consequently are without representation in the National Assembly.
“The influence of this Hausmann and Rigobon study would probably have been much greater, but CEPR refuted it and then the Carter Center followed with an independent panel of statisticians that also examined these allegations and found them to be without evidence. Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal and other, mostly Latin American publications, used the study to claim that the elections were stolen. Conspiracy theories about Venezuelan elections continue to be widely held in Venezuela, and are still promoted by prominent people in major media sources such as Newsweek, even with regard to the recent constitutional referendum of December 2, 2007.”
Hausmann’s 2004 statistical gambit is actually an established part of the US-coup playbook. The academic analysis of an election and the finding of flaws, real or imagined, in an electoral process are the beginning of an ongoing claim against the target’s democratic legitimacy. The created flaw is then repeated and emphasized. Even if it was spurious and debunked, as was Hausmann’s 2004 analysis, it can continue to perform in media campaigns against the target. After years of such repetition, the target can safely be called a “dictator” in Western media, even if the “dictator” has more electoral legitimacy than most Western politicians.
The elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a US-backed coup in 2004. Haiti’s Hausmann was an academic named James Morrell. After Aristide won reelection in 2001 in a landslide, he stood poised to make major legislative moves on behalf of the country’s poor majority. Morrell published an article about how Aristide had “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” because of irregularities in the election of eight senators (out of 19, 18 of which were won by candidates from Aristide’s party): only the votes of the top four candidates in the senatorial elections were counted for these senate seats. These senators would have won regardless of the methodology used, but these supposed irregularities were enough to initiate the financial punishment of Aristide’s government: the suspension of Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) financing, to the tune of $150 million. All eight senators were made to vacate their seats, but the IADB never provided the loan. Morrell’s article played a key role as the intellectual backing for the attack on the Aristide government’s legitimacy, despite Aristide’s overwhelming victory in the 2001 election and the contrived nature of the “irregularities” in the senate seats.
The coup against Aristide unfolded over a period of years: economic warfare, paramilitary violence, and the eventual kidnapping of Aristide from the palace were the tactics of choice in that regime change. But the academics preceded the coup, and followed it, providing justifications and obfuscations of what was happening in the post-coup, counterinsurgency violence.
Latin American social violence has even longer-running academic underpinnings. Today, Colombia’s president, Iván Duque (the protégé of the previous warlord-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez), leads the call for regime change in Venezuela. Duque’s country was reshaped by a multigenerational civil war during which the countryside was depopulated, through paramilitary violence, of millions of peasants (many of them Afro-Colombian or Indigenous). The academic theorist behind this was the Canadian-born, US “new dealer” Lauchlin Currie, whose theory (summarized by academic James Brittain in a 2005 article), called “accelerated development,” was that “the displacement of rural populations from the countryside and their relocation to the urban industrial centers would generate agricultural growth and technological improvements for Colombia’s economy.” Currie implemented these ideas as the director of the foreign mission of the World Bank from 1950, and as adviser to successive Colombian presidents. Today Colombia continues to suffer from Currie’s academic theories. Despite the peace deal of 2016, it has the largest internally displaced population in the hemisphere.
John Maynard Keynes wrote that “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”
As Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton show in their article about him, Guaido is just such a practical man, a US-foundation-funded street fighter for the rich neighborhoods of Caracas. But he certainly has use of the academic scribblers gathered at Harvard.
When it comes to suppressing the people of Latin America in their hopes to control their own fortunes and their own resources, the scribblers have a key role to play, as much as their diplomatic and military counterparts.
This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Brazil’s president Bolsonaro salutes the American flag
Why is it so difficult even for huge countries with large, diversified economies to maintain independence from the West?
If anyone could have done it, it was Brazil. In the 19th century it was imagined that Brazil could be a Colossus of the South to match the U.S., the Colossus of the North. It never panned out that way.
And 100 years later, it still hasn’t happened. With a $2 trillion GDP (a respectable $9,800 per capita), nearly 200 million people, and a strong manufacturing base (the second largest in the Americas and 28.5 percent of its GDP), Brazil is far from a tiny, weak island or peninsula dependent on a patron state to keep it afloat.
When Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva won a historic election to become president of Brazil in 2003, it seemed like an irreversible change in the country’s politics. Even though Lula’s Workers’ Party was accused of being communists who wanted to redistribute all of the country’s concentrated wealth, the party’s redistributive politics were in fact modest—a program to eradicate hunger in Brazil called Zero Hunger, a family-based welfare program called the Family Allowance, and an infrastructure spending program to try to create jobs. But its politics of national sovereignty were ambitious.
It was under Workers’ Party rule (under Lula and his successor, president Dilma Rousseff, who won the 2010 election to become president at the beginning of 2011) that the idea surged of a powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) alliance that could challenge the ambitions of the U.S.-led West. Brazil took steps to strengthen its manufacturing, and held its ground on preventing pharmaceutical patent monopolies. Lula’s Brazil accused Western countries of hypocrisy for insisting both on “free trade” with poor countries and farm subsidies for themselves. Brazil even moved in the direction of building an independent arms industry.
Contradictions remained: The Workers’ Party government sent Brazilian troops to command the UN force that enacted the U.S.-impelled occupation of Haiti—treating the world to the spectacle of the biggest, wealthiest country in the region helping the U.S. destroy the sovereignty of the poorest as part of its foreign policy. But in those years Brazil refused to renounce its alliance with Venezuela’s even more independent-minded government under Hugo Chavez; it defended ideas of South-South cooperation, especially within Latin America, and it made space for movements like the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST).
But after more than a decade of Workers’ Party rule, what happened? President Rousseff was overthrown in a coup in 2016. When polls showed that Lula would have won the post-coup election, he was imprisoned to prevent him from running. And so with the Workers’ Party neutralized, Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro, a man who famously saluted the American flag and chanted “USA” while on campaign (imagine an American leader saluting the Brazilian flag during a presidential campaign). No doubt the coup and the imprisonment of Lula were the key to Bolsonaro’s rise, and failings like supporting the coup in Haiti played a role in weakening the pro-independence coalition.
But what about the economy? Are Brazil’s leaders now dragging the economy into the U.S. fold? Or did the Brazilian economy drag the country back into the fold?
Brazil’s economic history and geography have made independence a challenge. Colonial-era elites were interested in using slave labor to produce sugar and export as much of it as possible: The infrastructure of the country was built for commodity extraction. Internal connections, including roads between Brazil’s major cities, have been built only slowly and recently. The various schemes of the left-wing governments of the last decade for South-South economic integration were attempting to turn this huge ship around (not for the first time—there have been previous attempts and previous U.S.-backed coups in Brazil), and to develop the internal market and nurture domestic industries (and those of Brazil’s Latin neighbors).
Yesterday’s dependent economy was based on sugar export—today’s is based on mining extraction. When Bolsonaro was elected, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation quickly posted a story speculating on how the new government would be good for Canadian mining companies. The new Brazilian president plans to cut down huge swaths of the Amazon rainforest. Brazil is to return to its traditional role of providing natural resources to the U.S. and to the other rich countries.
A smaller country with a stronger pro-independence leadership, Venezuela faced similar structural economic problems that have imperiled and nearly derailed the independent-minded late president Hugo Chavez’s dream that Venezuelans would learn to eat arepas instead of hamburgers and play with Simon Bolivar dolls instead of Superman ones. There, too, the pro-independence project had a long-term goal of overcoming the country’s dependence on a single finite commodity (oil), diversifying its agricultural base and internal markets. And there, too, the challenge of doing so proved too great for the moment, especially in the face of an elite at least as ruthless as Brazil’s and nearly two decades of vindictive, pro regime-change U.S. policy. Today Venezuela’s “Bolivarian project” is in crisis, along with its economy and political system.
There are other sleeping giants that remain asleep, perhaps for economic reasons. In the face of relentless insults by Trump, the Mexican electorate chose a left-wing government (Mexicans have elected left-wing governments many times in the past few decades, but elections have been stolen). But locked into NAFTA, dependent on the U.S. market, Mexico also would seem to have little option but to swallow Trump’s malevolence.
Egypt is the Brazil of the Middle East. With 100 million people and a GDP of $1.4 trillion, the country that was for a few thousand years the center of civilization attempted in the 20th century to claim what is arguably its rightful place at the center of the Arab world. But today, this giant and former leader of the nonaligned movement is helping Israel and the U.S. starve and besiege the Palestinians in Gaza and helping Saudi Arabia and the U.S. starve and blockade the people of Yemen.
Egypt stopped challenging the U.S. in the 1970s after a peace deal brought it into the fold for good. Exhaustion from two wars with Israel were cited as the main cause—though a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen and several domestic factors also played a role. But here, too, is there a hidden economic story?
Egypt has oil, but its production is small—on the order of 650,000 barrels a day compared to Saudi Arabia’s 10 million barrels, or the UAE’s 2.9 million. It has a big tourist industry that brings in important foreign exchange. But for those who might dream of an independent Egypt, the country’s biggest problem is its agricultural sector: It produces millions of tons of wheat and corn, but less than half of what it needs. As told in the classic book Merchants of Grain, the politics of U.S. grain companies have quietly helped feed its power politics all over the world. Most of Egypt’s imported grain comes from the U.S. As climate change and desertification wreak havoc on the dry agricultural ecosystems of the planet, Egypt’s grain dependence is likely to get worse.
The structures of the global economy present challenges to any country or political party that wants to try to break out of U.S. hegemony. Even for countries as big and with as much potential as Brazil or Egypt, countries that have experienced waves of relative independence, the inertia of these economic structures helps send them back into old patterns of extraction and debt. In this moment of right-wing resurgence it is hard to imagine political movements arising with plans to push off the weight of the economic past. But that weight cannot be ignored.
This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
I talk to Argentinian-Canadian union activist Jorge Garcia-Orgales about Milagro Sala, an Indigenous politician and activist who is currently a political prisoner of Argentina’s right-wing government.
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I talk to Maria Paez Victor of the Canadian, Latin American, and Caribbean Policy Centre and the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle about Venezuela’s revolution, Chavismo, Maduro, the Venezuelan opposition, and the idea of the upcoming Constituent Assembly.