We talk about the US-led New Cold War, in particular the parallels with the original Cold War against the Soviet Union; the New Cold War as a war on multipolarity and the right of nations to determine their own destiny; the Biden administration and the basic continuity in US foreign policy; and the disastrous failure of much of the Western left to take up a consistent position against the New Cold War.
On 24 October, No Cold War hosted a dialogue between Zhang Weiwei (professor of international relations at Fudan University, former interpreter to Deng Xiaoping, and author of several books including the best-selling The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State) and Jeffrey Sachs (a leading expert in sustainable development, former director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and author of several books including the influential The End of Poverty). The online event was attended by over 400 people, with registrations from 62 countries.
Chairing the event, Jenny Clegg (academic, activist, and the author of several books including China’s Global Strategy: Towards a Multipolar World) outlined the rationale for organising the dialogue. When the countries of the world should be coming together to find common solutions to common problems – the climate crisis, the pandemic, a fragile global economy – we find ourselves at the cusp of a New Cold War.
With the rise of China and the decline of the US, there’s more and more talk of the Thucydides Trap, in which the rising power is destined to come into conflict with the prevailing power. Clegg stated that a massive effort and bold vision will be needed if the world is to avoid a catastrophic confrontation. This is the reason for bringing high-level figures from the US and China together: to expand and deepen communication, and to start to forge a path towards a future of peace, multipolarity, cooperation, and global prosperity.
Zhang Weiwei calls for global cooperation in the interests of humanity
In his introductory remarks, Professor Zhang offered a broad outline of China’s vision for a multipolar world order, pointing out that China has no desire to be a hegemonic power or to impose its will on other countries. He stated that China wishes to see a democratic and peaceful system of international relations from which everybody can benefit, consistent with the ancient Chinese concept of harmony in diversity. Unfortunately US political culture seems to be stuck in the idea of the zero-sum game, and can only imagine China’s rise being at the expense of the US.
Zhang asserted that China has no interest in exporting its ideology or its values, although it is certainly happy to offer its advice and the fruits of its experience. For example, the US is desperately in need of political and economic reform. China has some expertise in reform, since the Chinese engage in continuous pragmatic reform in order to further their development and improve living standards. Meanwhile, a large number of developing countries increasingly look to China for inspiration, having tried unsuccessfully to follow a Western development model.
China firmly opposes war, both hot and cold, and it believes all disputes can and should be solved through negotiations, dialogue and compromise. It believes in multilateralism and a global approach to peace. For example, ever since China became a nuclear weapons power in 1964, it has maintained a no-first-use policy, and has pledged never to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. The world would be a safer place if all nuclear powers would make similar commitments.
Professor Zhang responded to the popular characterisation of China as a ‘one-party dictatorship’ with a deteriorating human rights situation. He pointed to the results of multiple surveys, including those conducted by US academic institutions, that indicate an extremely high level of public satisfaction with the Chinese government. Over 90 percent of Chinese people express satisfaction with their central government, compared to around 40 percent for their US counterparts. Meanwhile, approximately 150 million Chinese tourists leave China every year, and 99.999 percent of them come back; this isn’t indicative of a disastrous human rights situation.
Zhang also pointed to the rank hypocrisy of US criticisms of China’s human rights, given that the US itself is responsible for perpetrating by far the worst human rights violation this century: the war on Iraq, in which at least 100,000 civilians died and millions became homeless. Over the course of 2020, the brutal murder of George Floyd and the violent suppression of the Black Lives Matter movement have revealed the depths of ongoing human rights abuses in the US.
Professor Zhang urged the US leadership to stop pursuing the path of war, which would be disastrous for China, for US and for the world. Instead of fighting endless wars and devoting vast resources to the military, it would be far better to direct this investment towards developing the US economy and upgrading its infrastructure. Meanwhile, to handle the challenges it faces of economic rehabilitation, tackling the pandemic and tackling climate change, the US may find that it needs China’s help. Rather than launching a Cold War, it would be better if the US sought China’s help and cooperation. The correct path for the US and China is to reject Mutually Assured Destruction and work instead towards Globally Assured Prosperity, in which the US and China work together with other countries for the common interests of humanity, for peace and development.
Jeffrey Sachs calls for a US foreign policy reset
Professor Sachs opened his contribution by stating that, with Donald Trump in the White House, it is simply not possible for the US to shift towards a rational and multilateral foreign policy. Trump’s trade war has been conducted via executive decree and doesn’t reflect any serious public debate; as such, it doesn’t reflect the will of the US people. His xenophobia, racism and stupidity have very much stood in the way of developing better relations between the US and Chinese people. This is disturbing since, in an increasingly interconnected world, people-to-people exchanges and programmes developing mutual understanding are so important.
Under the Trump government, and with the active support of much of the media, anti-China sentiment has been rising. This reflects a particular strain of American thinking – a Protestant evangelical ideology that views the US as having the providential right to dictate the affairs of the rest of the world.
Sachs observed that the rise of China has made the notion of US hegemony increasingly infeasible, and this has inspired a level of panic in US foreign policy circles. We’re at the end of the period of American domination. The US share of the global economy and technical leadership is declining. We have reached a new era, in which no one country can or should lead. This is an era in which we need cooperation; we need multilateralism. We’re not moving towards a China-led world or a US-led world, but a multilateral rule-based world. Such a system will allow us to work together to effectively fight climate change, poverty and pandemics.
Professor Sachs pointed out that the countries of the world have already agreed to certain basic approaches to the future, particularly around sustainable development. These are embodied in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement, both agreed in 2015. The most important thing now is to follow through on these. In this regard, President Xi’s recent commitment that China will reach net zero emissions by 2060 is very important. The European Union has made a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. Sachs stated his belief that, if Joe Biden wins the presidential election, he will commit the US to net zero emissions by 2050. With these parallel commitments, we will then need extensive cooperation between China, the US and Europe so that the world can meet this challenge.
Sachs said that the idea of ‘decoupling’ – the division of the world into two hostile blocs of nations – is sheer insanity; an invitation to mutual destruction rather than solving the problems we face as a species. Instead, the US and China must figure out how to build more institutional connections, more and more cultural and intellectual exchanges; which is why he appreciates the opportunity to have this dialogue with Zhang Weiwei and to address hundreds of audience members from around the world. With these connections, and with a clearly-defined multilateral system, the world can thrive.
A consensus for multilateralism and peace
Kicking off the discussion section of the event, Zhang Weiwei commented that China is taking ecological matters extremely seriously and that it has changed many policies in the last few years in order to reduce its environmental impact. He said that green technology and sustainable development could be the ideal project to give substance to US-China cooperation.
In answer to a question of whether there were significant forces in the US that were opposed to Cold War, Jeffrey Sachs said that the situation wasn’t beyond hope; that there’s a strong contingent of academic and policy leadership that believes in multilateralism. Many people in the US have fought vociferously against aggression and wars, from Vietnam to Iraq, and will continue to hold up the UN Charter as the key means for preserving peace.
Zhang Weiwei responded that China is a staunch supporter of the UN Charter and the overall framework of international law. Indeed China has been a beneficiary of that system, and believes it can usefully contribute to it going forward. If China and the US can both move in the direction of mutual understanding and cooperation, it would be a tremendous boost for world peace and common prosperity.
In response to a question about whether Cold War could develop into Hot War, the speakers agreed that the situation called for deep institutionalised engagement between the two countries; an agreed approach to disarmament and de-escalation; and sophisticated early warning systems. Professor Zhang pointed out that the US had spent trillions of dollars fighting wars in the 21st century, whereas China has devoted its resources to developing its infrastructure and improving living standards. For the US to reduce the risk of war, it would be well advised to follow China’s example.
A question was raised about whether economic ‘decoupling’ was a serious possibility. Zhang stated that China is firmly opposed to decoupling and won’t be drawn into a system of international relations based on hostile blocs. In reality, most supply chains are too globalised and complicated to be broken up into separate blocs. In terms of technological competition, the US and China have their own strengths and areas of expertise; it would be best if they could cooperate and share. China is promoting a vision of a single global community – a shared future for mankind – and it considers this to be a far better option than decoupling and Cold War.
Sachs noted that the issue of decoupling is most relevant in the digital area: connectivity, computation, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and so on. There’s proven value to having global standards in this domain. Agreed standards and interoperability have accelerated technological progress and economies of scale. A decoupled digital world with different camps would be a costly mistake. Technological advance can do so much to improve human existence; it would be hugely damaging if it were to be subjected to a Cold War mentality.
In his closing statement, Sachs stated that the most pressing issue right now is to deal with the pandemic. China and other countries have shown that the pandemic can be suppressed. The US, Europe and Latin America need to be willing to learn from this. Sachs outlined an optimistic vision for 2021, in which the world is able to get the pandemic under control and re-focus on sustainable development and poverty alleviation. COP15 on biological diversity, COP26 on climate change, and the World Food Systems Summit are all scheduled for 2021, and each of these will offer an opportunity for the countries of the world to cooperate in a professional and systematic way.
Zhang Weiwei noted that there is currently a bipartisan consensus in the US around being “tough on China”, and the Chinese very much appreciate the fact that Jeffrey Sachs stands outside this framework. Trump and Pompeo are pushing a dangerous and stupid New Cold War. The Chinese leadership is strongly promoting an alternative vision based around peace and cooperation. Zhang urged the US not to let a Cold War mentality become embedded.
Closing the event, Jenny Clegg thanked the panelists, the audience and the organisers, and urged people to visit nocoldwar.org and sign the campaign’s statement, A New Cold War against China is against the interests of humanity.
The full proceedings can be viewed on YouTube.
This article first appeared in issue 5 of Transform: A Journal of the Radical Left, November 2018.
On 12 August 2018, the global revolutionary movement lost one of its most outstanding thinkers. Born in Cairo in 1931, Samir Amin studied in Paris and received his early political education as a member of the French Communist Party. Moving back to Egypt in 1957, he worked as an economic advisor to the Nasser government before moving to Mali (1960) and then Senegal (1963). In 1975, he co-founded the Third World Forum, a network of intellectuals in Africa, Asia and Latin America, working to formulate models of development outside the context of imperialism.
Through his work and his writing, Samir Amin exercised significant influence on progressive governments and movements around the world, from China to Cuba, Venezuela to South Africa. The breadth of his influence is easily evidenced by the tributes that followed the announcement of his death, including from South Africa’s ANC, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro,1 and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who wrote that “the legacy of his ideals of social justice will be eternally acknowledged.”2
Amin coined the term Eurocentrism in the mid-1970s to describe the ideology promoted by modern capitalism: a model that places Europe at the heart of global history and that considers (explicitly or implicitly) all human development to be of European origin, starting with the Greeks and Romans. Amin demonstrated, with great clarity and lucidity, how this ideology is leveraged to reinforce an actually existing global capitalism that consolidates wealth and power in Europe (and its Anglophone off-shoots) whilst perpetuating poverty and subjugation in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Amin ruthlessly deconstructs the Eurocentric view of history, pointing out for example that Ancient Greece wasn’t in the slightest bit ‘European’ in its outlook; it was engaged in intense exchange of ideas and goods with Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia (and to some extent China and India), at a time when Western Europe was “a backward and barbarous periphery”. It was only via the Crusades (in the 12th and 13th centuries AD) that the Italian towns were able to start asserting themselves as a global force, having won a monopoly on navigation in the Mediterranean.
Europe did not participate in the general development of the pre-modern system until very late, after the year 1000… At the dawn of the Christian era the population of Europe, including Italy, was about 20 million (8 per cent of the world population, less than 30 per cent of that of China, 50 per cent of that of the Middle East)… Until the year 1000 the productivity of European agriculture was greatly inferior to that of the civilised regions of China, India and the Middle East, and the continent still had no towns.3
By exposing the clear logical flaws of Eurocentric universalism, Amin was able to show that the dominance of modern global capitalism, far from being a permanent and pre-ordained set of affairs (or ‘end of history’), is the prodeuct of the very specific circumstances arising from Western Europe’s two major take-offs – at the end of the 15th century (the colonisation of the Americas) and the 19th century (the industrial revolution and the colonisation of much of the rest of the world). Once this ideology is challenged, it becomes far easier to visualise alternative political and economic systems to the Eurocentric nirvana of monopoly capitalism.
Critic of capitalism
Samir Amin made an in-depth analysis of modern wild-west capitalism – widely referred to these days as neoliberalism, but labelled more specifically by Amin as a “system of generalised monopolies based on an extreme centralisation of control over capital, accompanied by a generalisation of wage-labour”.4 This is different from the monopoly capitalism of a hundred years ago, in that “monopolies are now no longer islands in a sea of other still relatively autonomous companies, but are constitutive of an integrated system.” Even small and medium companies “are locked in a network of control put in place by the monopolies. Their degree of autonomy has shrunk to the point that they are nothing more than subcontractors of the monopolies.”5 Such a system is held in place throughout the globe via the monopolisation of technology, natural resources, finance, the media, and military capacity.
Although the capitalist class considers itself to be very modern and scientific, it has merely replaced a heavenly god with a metallic one. “‘Moneytheism’ has replaced monotheism. The ‘market’ rules like the ancient God.”6 This chimes with Marx’s biting observations about the ‘fetishisation’ of commodities under capitalism.
In the world of politics, this system of generalised monopolies is manifested as a “low-intensity democracy” in which people are encouraged to be passive, “devoid of authentic freedom, reduced to the status of passive consumers/spectators”. In essence Amin describes a plutocracy, with the nuance that “you are free to vote for whomever you want, because your choice has no importance”.7 This broadly correct assessment of course has its exceptions and caveats, and Amin was enthusiastic about the possibilities of Podemos and Syriza in terms of challenging the status quo in Europe.8
The long transition to socialism
In the same way that capitalism first developed within feudalism before breaking out of it, the long transition of world capitalism to world socialism is defined by the internal conflict of all the societies in the system between the trends and forces of the reproduction of capitalist relations and the (anti-systemic) trends and forces, whose logic has other aspirations – those, precisely, that can be defined as socialism.9
Although his analysis of capitalism makes for bleak reading, Samir Amin nonetheless remained a revolutionary optimist, a firm believer in a socialist future that will emerge – indeed is emerging – through the irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism. He vigorously rejected the idea that socialism has failed and that capitalist ‘liberal democracy’ has been permanently established as the pinnacle of social and economic organisation. As Vijay Prashad notes, “he was not interested in defeat”.10
In this framework, the retreats suffered by the socialist world – particularly the collapse of the European socialist states between 1989 and 1991 – should not be considered as the death of the socialist project, but rather as part of the inevitable ebb and flow of a complex historical trajectory that could take hundreds of years but which nonetheless has an inexorable tide. A similar idea was formulated by the Communist Party of China in response to the collapse of the USSR and the European people’s democracies. Deng Xiaoping famously observed in 1992: “Feudal society replaced slave society, capitalism supplanted feudalism, and, after a long time, socialism will necessarily supersede capitalism. This is an irreversible general trend of historical development, but the road has many twists and turns. Over the several centuries that it took for capitalism to replace feudalism, how many times were monarchies restored! Some countries have suffered major setbacks, and socialism appears to have been weakened. But the people have been tempered by the setbacks and have drawn lessons from them, and that will make socialism develop in a healthier direction. So don’t panic, don’t think that Marxism has disappeared, that it’s not useful any more and that it has been defeated. Nothing of the sort!”11
On the controversial subject of China and its role in the global transition to socialism, Amin displayed a clarity of understanding that is all too rare. In his recent writings, he spoke of China as “perhaps the only country in the world today which has a sovereign project.” That is: China is successfully pursuing its own development model, designed by its own government and not the institutions of international finance capital. “China is walking on two legs: following traditions and participating in globalisation. They accept foreign investments, but keep independence of their financial system. The Chinese bank system is exclusively state-controlled… That is the best model that we have today to respond to the challenge of globalist imperialism.”12 The results of China’s strategy have been “simply amazing. In a few decades, China has built a productive, industrial urbanisation that brings together 600 million human beings, two-thirds of whom were urbanised over the last two decades (almost equal to Europe’s population!). This is due to the plan and not to the market.”13
The indispensable nature of multipolarity
Samir Amin considered that, given the economic, political and ideological stranglehold imposed by western finance capitalism, the first step towards a globalised socialism was to encourage the development of a multipolar world: a world with multiple power bases; a set of geopolitical spaces in which political and economic control is exercised by the people of those spaces rather than by the European and North American elite; a world which will bring about “the defeat of Washington’s hegemonic project for military control of the planet”.14 Such an environment “makes possible the maximum development of anti-systemic forces.”15 Multipolarity is an increasingly popular concept, but Amin was a very early proponent, having first discussed it in his 1985 book Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World.
Amin witnessed and welcomed the left tide in Latin America, the rising cooperation between China and Russia, the establishment of BRICS, ALBA and other major projects of regional or south-south cooperation that are slowly breaking down hegemonism. However, he also recognised the possibility of a violent, unpredictable and irrational reaction to all this – such as the Make America Great Again lunacy of the current US administration. “The world now is in serious danger. The collective imperialism of the US, Western Europe and Japan are run by US leadership. In order to keep their exclusive control over the whole planet, they do not accept independence of other countries. They do not respect the independence of China and Russia. That is why we are about to face continuous wars all over the world. The radical Islamists are the allies of imperialism, because they are supported by the US in order to carry out destabilisation. This is permanent war.”
He went on to propose a clear strategic response: “Russia should unite with China, the Central Asian countries, Iran and Syria. This alliance could be also very attractive for Africa and good parts of Latin America. In such a case, imperialism would be isolated.”16
Taking Samir Amin’s work forward
Samir Amin was a brilliant and creative Marxist, an uncompromising anti-imperialist, a powerful voice for the oppressed, and a visionary of a socialist world. His work mapping the past, present and future of humanity is a weighty inheritance that the global progressive forces must now take forward.
Samir Amin: Global History: A View from the South, Pambazuka Press, 2010 ↩
Samir Amin: The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, Monthly Review Press, 2013 ↩
Global History: A View from the South, op cit ↩
The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, op cit ↩
Samir Amin, Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, Monthly Review Press, 2016 ↩
Deng Xiaoping, Excerpts from Talks Given in Wuchang, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shanghai, 1992 ↩
Defend Democracy Press: Samir Amin: How to Defeat the Collective Imperialism of the Triad, 2016 ↩
Samir Amin, Beyond US Hegemony? Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World, Zed Books, 2013 ↩
Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, op cit ↩
How to Defeat the Collective Imperialism of the Triad, op cit ↩
The recent high-profile summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held in Beijing at the beginning of September, has inspired some familiar accusations in the North American and West European press: China is the new colonial power in Africa; China is attempting to dominate African land and resources; Africa is becoming entangled in a Beijing-devised debt trap; Chinese investment in Africa only benefits China; and so on.
This article addresses these accusations and concludes that they are based on shaky foundations; that China is by no means an imperialist power; that increasing Africa-China relations are of significant benefit to the people of Africa; that Chinese assistance and investment could well be the key factor in breaking the cycle of underdevelopment and poverty in Africa.
What is imperialism?
If we’re going to understand whether or not China is imperialist, it’s a good idea to agree what imperialism is, since the word suffers from fairly widespread misinterpretation. Based on the characteristics of imperialism outlined in Lenin’s classic study, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, many conclude that China is an imperialist country. After all, it has several enormous companies that could reasonably be described as monopolies; it has a handful of very large (state-owned) banks that have significant influence on investment; and it’s increasingly engaged in the ‘export of capital’, investing in business operations around the world.
However, it should be obvious enough that no definition of the word imperialism is useful if it doesn’t include the concept of domination. The word derives from the Latin imperium, meaning supreme authority, or empire. There is no imperialism without empire. Which is not to say that imperialism no longer exists now that the colonial era is (for the most part) finished; it’s perfectly possible to maintain a de facto empire, for example through participating in the domination of another country’s markets.
A reasonable, concise definition of imperialism is put forward by the political analyst Stephen Gowans: “imperialism is a process of domination guided by economic interests.”1 This process of domination can be characterised as “the activity, enterprise and methodology of building empires”. However, empires “can be declared and formal, or undeclared and informal, or both. Whatever form they take, empires are structures predicated on systems of domination, of one country or nation over another.” For example, the US has few actual colonies, but it unquestionably uses its enormous economic and political muscle to dominate other countries, with a view to creating conditions for its own capitalist class to more rapidly expand its capital.
The recently-deceased Egyptian economist Samir Amin describes how “the countries in the dominant capitalist centre” – by which he means the US, Europe and Japan – leverage “technological development, access to natural resources, the global financial system, dissemination of information, and weapons of mass destruction” in order to dominate the planet and prevent the emergence of any state or movement that could impede this domination. The vast accumulation of capital in the imperialist heartlands has its counterpart in a ‘lumpen-development’ in much of the rest of the world – “a dizzying growth of subsistence activities, called the informal sphere — otherwise called the pauperisation associated with the unilateral logic of accumulation of capital.”2
The US goes to considerable lengths to build a global economic order that suits its own interests, and in so doing it actively diminishes the sovereignty of other countries. The most extreme – but sadly not uncommon – example of this is imperialist war: using military means to secure economic and political outcomes, such as we have seen recently in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.
We can perhaps then condense the idea of imperialism down to a fundamentally unequal relationship between countries (or blocs of countries) at differing levels of development, with the more developed countries using their military and financial power to produce outcomes that favour themselves and harm the less developed countries.
If we can prove that China is involved in this type of activity – that it seeks to dominate foreign markets and resources, that it uses its growing economic strength to affect political decisions in poorer countries, that it engages in wars (overt or covert) to secure its own interests – it would then be reasonable to conclude that China is indeed an imperialist country and that its engagement with Africa is an example of imperialism.
What imperialism in Africa looks like
At this point we’ll take a brief look at what imperialism in Africa has looked like in the past. Perhaps, in so doing, we’ll stumble upon some characteristics that can also be found in China’s relationship with Africa today.
In his classic 1972 study How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, the Guyanese activist-scholar Walter Rodney catalogues Europe’s relationship with Africa from the early days of the transatlantic slave trade through to the post-colonial era. The story that emerges is one of systematic plunder and an active underdevelopment that helped to furnish European development.
Rodney notes that, in the 16th century, several areas of Africa were on a path of technical progress similar to, albeit slightly behind, Western Europe: “Several historians of Africa have pointed out that after surveying the developed areas of the continent in the 15th century and those within Europe at the same date, the difference between the two was in no way to Africa’s discredit. Indeed, the first Europeans to reach West and East Africa by sea were the ones who indicated that in most respects African development was comparable to that which they knew.”3
However, the European powers were able to use certain advances – most notably in the areas of shipbuilding and weapons manufacture – to establish a profoundly unequal trade relationship with Africa. This, along with the need to find a capable labour force for the new American colonies, laid the ground for the transatlantic slave trade, which is estimated to have denuded the African continent of up to half its population. Rodney poses the question: “What would have been Britain’s level of development had millions of its people been put to work as slaves outside of their homeland over a period of four centuries?”
The conversion of Africa into a resource pool for European capital was a powerful engine of European capitalist growth in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. As Marx famously wrote, “the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”4
The colonial occupation of Africa, which lasted from the 1880s until the wave of liberation in the second half of the 20th century, served to significantly deepen the economic subjugation of the continent. Enforced by a fascistic military repression – most notoriously in the Belgian colony of Congo, where natives’ failure to meet the rubber collection quota was punishable by death – European colonialism allowed for the most extravagant exploitation of African labour and natural resources, whilst offering practically nothing in terms of economic progress for the local population.
Empire apologists in Britain, France and Portugal occasionally insinuate a ‘good side’ onto their erstwhile empires – after all, were railways and schools not built? Yet the sum total of these things (which anyway were built specifically to meet the needs of the colonial masters) is vanishingly small – so much so that, “the figures at the end of the first decade of African independence in spheres such as health, housing and education are often several times higher than the figures inherited by the newly independent governments”. As Rodney observes, “it would be an act of the most brazen fraud to weigh the paltry social amenities provided during the colonial epoch against the exploitation, and to arrive at the conclusion that the good outweighed the bad.”
European colonialism contributed nothing to the technological or institutional development of Africa, because this would have created competition for European capitalism and impeded the far more important task of draining maximum possible wealth from the continent.
But imperialism in Africa is not just a thing of the past; it didn’t end with the independence of the former colonies. As Samir Amin writes: “The dominant capitalist centres do not seek to extend their political power through imperial conquest because they can, in fact, exercise their domination through economic means.”5 Since the 1980s, the principal mechanism of imperialist domination in Africa has been economic blackmail: international credit agencies obliging governments to sign up to harmful economic strategies. The most notorious (and typical) example of this is the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP); SAPs are loans from the IMF and World Bank, typically taken out in a crisis situation (in response to a drought, for example), and disbursed on the condition that the recipient country implement a packet of ‘neoliberal’ reforms – privatising key industries and resources, opening up markets to international competition, and liberalising prices.
The SAPs have been a disaster for Africa. Scarce resources such as water have been taken out of the public domain and placed in the hands of globalised privateers. Nascent industries, previously protected by governments trying to develop home-grown manufacturing, have been decimated, dreams of development dashed, and vast regions returned to a prostrate position in the global economy, supplying unimproved raw materials to a market they have no meaningful influence over.
This is imperialism, by any reasonable definition. Advanced western countries, often ganging up in order to achieve their aims vis-a-vis the poorer countries, force nominally independent states to undertake economic measures that are specifically designed to benefit those same advanced western countries. In the modern era, this is precisely what the underdeveloping of Africa looks like. And the results speak for themselves: “after nearly thirty years of using ‘better’ (that is, free-market) policies, Africa’s per capita income is basically at the same level as it was in 1980.”6
Mozambican independence leader Samora Machel, president from 1975 until his death (almost certainly at the hands of the apartheid South African security services) in 1986, spoke bitterly about the imperialist countries’ visions for post-colonial Africa: “They need Africa to have no industry, so that it will continue to provide raw materials. Not to have a steel industry. Since this would be a luxury for the African. They need Africa not to have dams, bridges, textile mills for clothing. A factory for shoes? No, the African doesn’t deserve it. No, that’s not for the Africans.”7
Various well-paid academics assert that western imperialism is a thing of the past, that Europe and North America have changed their ways, and that Africa is now treated as an equal. While it is palpably false that western imperialism is a thing of the past (is it not imperialism when Nato launches a war on Libya, plunging it into a state of chaos and desperate poverty, in order to remove a government that had consistently refused to adhere to the economic and political ‘rules’?), it’s true that Europe and North America are less reliant on the exploitation of Africa than they once were. This demonstrates only that imperialism can’t be separated from its historical context. Western Europe, North America and Japan have reached a level of productivity and technological advance such that outright plunder of other nations constitutes only a relatively small part of their economic activity; however, they reached this point to a significant degree owing to their ruthless oppression of less developed countries. Thus the designation of a given country as ‘imperialist’ necessarily includes a historical component.
Regardless of these subtleties, Euro-American imperialism maintains an active foothold in Africa today, via a combination of economic blackmail, political manoeuvring, military intervention, and military mobilisation.
A brief timeline of China’s engagement with Africa
After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese leadership moved quickly to create bonds of solidarity between China and the African liberation movements. China was a leading supporter of the Algerian war of liberation and an early supporter of the South African struggle against white minority rule. Nelson Mandela recounts in Long Walk to Freedom that he encouraged Walter Sisulu, then secretary-general of the African National Congress, to visit China in 1953 in order to “discuss with the Chinese the possibility of supplying us with weapons for the armed struggle.”8 The links made during this trip laid the ground for the establishment in the early 1960s of a Chinese military training programme for the newly-founded uMkhonto we Sizwe – the ANC’s armed wing. (An interesting aside: two currently serving African heads of state received military training in China in the 1960s: Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki, and Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa.)
Chinese premier Zhou Enlai conducted a landmark tour of ten African nations between December 1963 and January 1964, during which he consolidated China’s anti-imperialist connection with some of the leading post-colonial African states. A few years later, China provided the financing and knowhow for the construction of the Tanzam Railway, which runs 1,860km from Dar es Salaam, the then Tanzanian capital and seaport, to central Zambia. Built with the primary purposes of fomenting economic development and helping Zambia to break its economic dependence on the apartheid states of Rhodesia and South Africa, the Tanzam has been described as “the first infrastructure project conceived on a pan-African scale”.9 It remains an enduring symbol of China’s friendship with independent Africa.
Well into the 1980s, dozens of large state farms were built in Africa as part of the Chinese aid programme – in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mali, Congo Brazzaville, Guinea and elsewhere. The US scholar Deborah Brautigam notes that, however, “during the 1970s and 1980s, the Chinese aid program shifted to emphasise much smaller demonstration farms, working with local farmers to teach rice farming and vegetable cultivation.”10
In the 1980s and 90s, partly reflecting shifting political priorities in China and partly in response to data indicating that many of the aid-constructed projects were no longer working very well (if at all), China started to put its engagement with Africa on a more commercial footing, focusing on mutually beneficial deals and joint ventures. China has since become Africa’s largest trading partner, with a total trade volume of $170 billion in 201711, well ahead of the US-Africa figure of $55 billion.12
In addition to trade, China also provides vast low-cost loans for infrastructure projects, with nearly $100 billion loaned to African states by Chinese state-owned banks between 2000 and 2015. A recent article in the Guardian notes that “some 40% of the Chinese loans paid for power projects, and another 30% went on modernising transport infrastructure. The loans were at comparatively low interest rates and with long repayment periods.” The article continues: “Chinese infrastructure projects stretch all the way to Angola and Nigeria, with ports planned along the coast from Dakar to Libreville and Lagos. Beijing has also signalled its support for the African Union’s proposal of a pan-African high-speed rail network.”13
Development, not underdevelopment
“We should jointly support Africa’s pursuit of stronger growth, accelerated integration and industrialisation, and help Africa become a new growth pole in the world economy.” (Xi Jinping)14
The most important point regarding China’s engagement with Africa is that it stimulates development rather than underdevelopment. In that crucial sense, it is profoundly different from the relationship that the US and the major European powers have had with Africa. China’s aid and investment packages promote host countries’ modernisation, technical knowhow and infrastructure. As it stands, manufacturing constitutes only 10 percent of value added in Africa. “Ghana sends cocoa beans to Switzerland, for instance, then imports chocolates. Angola exports crude oil and imports nearly 80 percent of its refined fuel.”15 This is an unsustainable situation that keeps Africa in a subservient position. Industrialisation is the indispensable next step, and this relies on infrastructure, technology and knowledge transfer.
As an aside: even if China’s ambitions were essentially predatory, its presence as an alternative source of investment is beneficial for African economies. Ha-joon Chang notes that, in the 1990s, China became a “major lender and investor in some African countries, giving the latter some leverage in negotiating with the Bretton Woods institutions and the traditional aid donors, such as the US and the European countries”.16
Beyond that, Chinese investment has made possible a fast-expanding infrastructure network that will underpin African economic development for generations to come. This includes railways, schools, hospitals, roads, ports, factories and airports, along with “new tarmac roads linking major regional hubs, including the various townships with proper connection to large cities”.17 By contrast, precious little US/British investment in Africa goes towards infrastructure.
In 2017, China funded over 6,200km of railway and over 5,000km of roads in Africa.18 Thanks in no small part to Chinese finance and expertise, Ethiopia last year celebrated the opening of the first metro train system in sub-Saharan Africa,19 along with Africa’s first fully electrified cross-border railway line, the Ethiopia-Djibouti electric railway.20
Lack of electrification is a major problem for most African countries. According to Deborah Brautigam, “the Latin American supply of electricity is 50 times higher, per rural worker, than sub-Saharan Africa’s”.21 Over 600 million people across the continent have no reliable access to electricity. Many of the biggest Chinese investment projects in Africa are focused on power generation – indeed, 40% of all Chinese loans to Africa last year went towards power generation and transmission.22 The bulk of this energy investment is in hydropower and other renewal technologies.23 For example, China’s Eximbank is providing 85% of the financing for Nigeria’s Mambila hydroelectric power project,24 which will constitute the country’s largest power plant, helping to get electricity to the approximately 40 percent of Nigerians that don’t currently have access.25 It was announced a few months ago that China Eximbank would also provide the bulk of the $1.5 billion funding for Zimbabwe’s largest ever power development project.26
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2015, notes that “China worked with us to get a balanced package of assistance that has helped build the light rail system in Abuja and four new airport terminals in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja, among other projects.”27 She reflects on the possibilities for extensive cooperation between Africa and China in the realm of sustainable development: “Together, China and Africa make up one third of the world’s population. Increasing ties between the two could have a vast positive impact for the world’s economy and climate. China’s experiences and expertise should go a long way in helping African countries develop their renewable resources.“
Do Chinese state banks make these investments for purely altruistic reasons? They do not. “China is poor in natural resources, the notable exception being rare minerals, and as a consequence has no choice but to look abroad. Africa, on the other hand, is extremely richly endowed with raw materials, and recent discoveries of oil and natural gas have only added to this.”28 Deals are negotiated on a case-by-case basis with the two sides as equal partners. The whole arrangement has nothing in common with the west’s historic relationship with Africa. As the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo writes, “the motivation for the host countries is not complicated: they need infrastructure, and they need to finance projects that can unlock economic growth… This is the genius of the China strategy: every country gets what it wants… China, of course, gains access to commodities, but host countries get the loans to finance infrastructure developmental programs in their economies, they get to trade (creating incomes for their domestic citizenry), and they get investments that can support much-needed job creation.”29
Many African countries are already benefiting greatly from their relations with China. As Martin Jacques puts it: “China’s impact on Africa has so far been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, it is worth asking the question as to where Africa would be without Chinese involvement… China’s involvement has had the effect of boosting the strategic importance of Africa in the world economy.”
China is ploughing resources into educational cooperation with African countries, recently surpassing the US and UK to become the number one destination for anglophone African students (and second most popular destination overall, after France) – a dramatic increase that is explained in large part by “the Chinese government’s targeted focus on African human resource and education development”.30 In his speech to the recent FOCAC summit, Xi Jinping said China will “provide Africa with 50,000 government scholarships and 50,000 training opportunities” in the next three years.31 Even for students without scholarships, China is a popular destination for African students, because its tertiary education system is more affordable than the west’s, and is increasingly of comparable quality and prestige.
China also provides substantial medical aid to Africa, spending an estimated $150 million annually on malaria treatment, crisis response, medicine provision, and support for building hospitals and pharmaceutical factories. In response to the Ebola crisis in 2014, “China dispatched more than 1,000 medical professionals to West Africa, providing 750 million RMB ($120 million) in aid.”32
China has received no shortage of criticism owing to its willingness to work with states such as Zimbabwe and Sudan, which are subjected to boycotts and sanctions by the US-led ‘international community’. Such criticisms are hypocritical and vacuous. China has a long-standing position of non-interference in the political affairs of other countries. As far back as 1955, then-Premier Zhou Enlai sketched the Chinese vision of peaceful and cooperative development at the historic Afro–Asian Conference in Bandung: “By following the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, the peaceful coexistence of countries with different social systems can be realised.”33
Such a position is quite obviously superior to the US/European system of active interference – ie imperialism. China doesn’t participate in or sponsor wars in Africa; it doesn’t engineer coups, subvert elections or finance political campaigns. China has committed no massacres in Africa, nor does it control any private armies. China has no record of assassinating African leaders, encouraging separatist movements, or creating political instability. It doesn’t maintain lobbyists or advisers whose job is to pressure African politicians. China has not demanded ‘structural adjustment’ in any of the countries it invests in; no privatisation, no deregulation, no demands for hollowing out government. China doesn’t use coercion or blackmail. It bids for contracts, and often wins them, mainly because its prices are fair, its costs low, and its quality of work high. In summary, “China appears wholly uninterested in assuming sovereign responsibility and particularly in shaping h social and political infrastructure of host nations”.34
At the recent FOCAC summit, Xi Jinping summed up the Chinese approach to engagement with Africa as follows: “The Chinese people respect Africa, love Africa and support Africa. We follow a ‘five-no’ approach in our relations with Africa: no interference in African countries’ pursuit of development paths that fit their national conditions; no interference in African countries’ internal affairs; no imposition of our will on African countries; no attachment of political strings to assistance to Africa; and no seeking of selfish political gains in investment and financing cooperation with Africa.”
The “five-no” approach is an explicit rejection of imperialist strategy. Rather than criticise China for its policy of non-intervention, it would be much better if other countries could follow its example.
Some common criticisms
Chinese companies only employ Chinese workers
An oft-repeated criticism of Chinese economic activity in Africa is that Chinese companies only employ Chinese workers. This is simply not true. In fact, China creates more jobs in Africa than any other investor.35 Deborah Brautigam, one of the few western China experts to base their work on actual data, writes that “surveys of employment on Chinese projects in Africa repeatedly find that three-quarters or more of the workers are, in fact, local.”36 This is consistent with the findings of Giles Mohan, whose team undertook extensive on-the-ground research in West Africa. “Contrary to the dominant assertion that Chinese companies operating in Africa tend to rely on labour imported from China, in most of the eighty-five Chinese enterprises we studied in Ghana and Nigeria, a substantial proportion, and often the majority, of the workforce was African.”37
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa recently spoke of South Africa’s experience with Chinese companies: “When China invests, it sends key managers, but the bulk of the people who do the work are South Africans.”38 Similarly, Namibian president Hage Geingob stated earlier this year that “no country in the world has added so much value to our products as China has. China has done a lot of technology transfer and job creation.”39
Early-stage projects, particularly in countries where China has little experience, tend to be staffed primarily by Chinese employees, but the clearly emerging pattern is for this ratio to be reversed over time.
China has caught Africa in a debt trap
A recent article by John Pomfret in the Washington Post describes Chinese investment strategy as “imperialism with Chinese characteristics”, and claims that “China’s debt traps around the world are a trademark of its imperialist ambitions.”40 Grant Harris, Barack Obama’s former adviser on Africa, writes that “Chinese debt has become the methamphetamines of infrastructure finance: highly addictive, readily available, and with long-term negative effects that far outweigh any temporary high.”41 Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state until his recent replacement by the even more hawkish Mike Pompeo, commented in March that “China’s approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries.”42
Such scare-mongering statements ignore the rather important detail that, “from 2000 to 2016, China’s loans only accounted for 1.8 percent of Africa’s foreign debts, and most of them were invested in infrastructure.”43
Investment generally entails some level of debt; the question is whether African countries are getting a good deal. Chinese investment is welcomed across the continent, since it is overwhelmingly directed towards essential projects: developing infrastructure, building schools, building hospitals, cleaning water, supplying electricity, building factories. As a result, the needs of ordinary Africans are being met, and the debts are typically repaid in a sustainable (and fairly negotiated) way using the host countries’ natural resources.
Chinese loans tend to be significantly lower interest than the equivalents from the Bretton Woods institutions and the major western banks; many are interest-free. Furthermore, there have been several rounds of debt relief, where the debts of the poorest African countries have been written off. The recent FOCAC summit promised $60 billion worth of new investment, including $15 billion of grants, interest-free loans and concessional loans, as well as $5 billion specifically to support the importing of African produce to China. Cyril Ramaphosa noted that “if some African countries can’t keep up with their debt payments, the debt will be forgiven”.44 By no reasonable definition is this a “debt trap”.
China is grabbing African land
In recent years, numerous headline-grabbing articles have claimed that China is in the process of sending millions of peasants to Africa in order to grow food for China.45 China is, apparently, a “land grabber”, a rising colonial power. And yet, “no one has yet identified a village full of Chinese farmers anywhere on the continent. A careful review of Chinese policy shifts shows steadily rising support for outward investment of all kinds but no pattern of sponsoring the migration of Chinese peasants, funding large-scale land acquisitions in Africa, or investing ‘immense sums’ in African agriculture. Finally, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade database, it is China that has been sending food to Africa. While this could (and should) change, so far, the only significant food exports from Africa to China have been sesame seeds and cocoa, produced by African farmers.”46
A mutually beneficial friendship
Accusations of Chinese imperialism in Africa, typically levelled by apologists for western imperialism,47 are not substantiated by facts. China’s development model isn’t based on, and has never been based on, colonial exploitation. On the contrary, China is keen to see Africa emerge as a key player in a multipolar world in which a relatively even balance of forces acts to preserve global peace and stability. This explains, for example, China’s enthusiastic support for the African Union and its commitment to the AU’s development agenda.48 That China’s engagement is a positive thing for Africa is evidenced by the near-universal enthusiasm for it among African governments (it’s telling to note that twice as many African heads of state attended the FOCAC summit than the recent meeting of the UN General Assembly).49
It’s hardly surprising that the concept of multipolarity is not universally esteemed within the imperialist heartlands. In particular the US ruling class is struggling to come to terms with the end of its uncontested hegemony; hence the desperate bid to ‘Make America Great Again’, which really means re-asserting US global dominance and taking the Chinese down a peg or two. The last thing the western ruling classes want to see is a thriving multipolarity based on mutually beneficial cooperation between independent states, bypassing and perhaps even ignoring the mandate of Washington, London and Paris. When people issue slanders about Chinese colonialism, they are feeding a narrative that seeks to maintain the imperialist status quo, even though they generally take the form of ‘concerned advice’. Such slanders should be resolutely exposed.
Stephen Gowans, Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, Baraka Books, 2018 ↩
Samir Amin, The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, Monthly Review Press, 2013 ↩
Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Pambazuka Press, 2012 ↩
Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 1 ↩
Samir Amin: Global History: A View from the South, Pambazuka Press, 2010 ↩
Ha-joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, Bloomsbury, 2010 ↩
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Back Bay Books, 1995 ↩
The Guardian: China in Africa: win-win development, or a new colonialism?, 2018 ↩
Deborah Brautigam, Will Africa Feed China?, Oxford University Press, 2015 ↩
Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China: Statistics on China-Africa Bilateral Trade in 2017 ↩
The Guardian, op cit ↩
Xi Jinping, The Governance of China, Foreign Languages Press, 2014 ↩
Washington Post: Xi Jinping is visiting Africa this week. Here’s why China is such a popular development partner, 2018 ↩
Ha-joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide, Pelican, 2014 ↩
The Diplomat: China and Ethiopia, Part 1: The Light Railway System, 2018 ↩
Brautigam, op cit ↩
New Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa commissions $1.5bln power plant, project Chinese funded, 2018 ↩
FT: Africa needs China’s help to embrace a low-carbon future (paywall), 2018 ↩
Martin Jacques, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Penguin, 2012 ↩
Dambisa Moyo, Winner Take All: China’s Race For Resources and What It Means For Us, Penguin 2012 ↩
The Conversation: China tops US and UK as destination for anglophone African students, 2017 ↩
Wilson Center Archive: Main Speech by Premier Zhou Enlai at the Plenary Session of the Asian-African Conference, 1955 ↩
Dambisa Moyo, op cit ↩
Xinhua: China becomes top job creator in Africa, expert says, 2017 ↩
Washington Post: China in Africa is not ‘neocolonialism.’ Here are the numbers to prove it, 2018 ↩
Giles Mohan, Ben Lampert, Daphne Chang and May Tan-Mullins: Chinese Migrants and Africa’s Development: New Imperialists or Agents of Change?, Zed Books, 2014 ↩
Reuters: Namibia president says China not colonizing Africa, 2018 ↩
Washington Post: China’s debt traps around the world are a trademark of its imperialist ambitions, 2018 ↩
Ramaphosa, op cit ↩
See for example The Guardian, The food rush: Rising demand in China and west sparks African land grab, 2009 ↩
Brautigam, Will Africa Feed China, op cit ↩
African Union: African Union and China renew commitment to advance multilateral cooperation, 2018 ↩
This is a slightly expanded version of an article that appeared in the Morning Star on 4 January 2017.
In this short book, the renowned Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin presents an overview of the world’s first large-scale experiment building socialism – the Soviet Union – and contextualises it within what he describes as the “long transition”: the extended, overlapping processes of capitalism’s death and socialism’s birth. The idea of the long transition is essentially a response to the end-of-history narrative prevailing in mainstream politics, ie that socialism has failed and that capitalist liberal democracy is permanently established as the pinnacle of social and economic organisation. Amin writes:
“In the same way that capitalism first developed within feudalism before breaking out of it, the long transition of world capitalism to world socialism is defined by the internal conflict of all the societies in the system between the trends and forces of the reproduction of capitalist relations and the (anti-systemic) trends and forces, whose logic has other aspirations – those, precisely, that can be defined as socialism.”
In this framework, the retreats suffered by the socialist world – particularly the collapse of the European socialist states between 1989 and 1991 – should not be considered as the death of the socialist project, but rather as part of the inevitable ebb and flow of a complex historical trajectory that could take hundreds of years but which nonetheless has an inexorable tide.
If we accept the idea of an ongoing global struggle between capitalism and socialism, then we must also consider the need to create conditions in which socialist ideas can take root; and furthermore to create a geopolitical space in which socialism could conceivably succeed. Therefore the idea of “building up a multipolar world that makes possible the maximum development of anti-systemic forces” assumes critical importance in the struggle for socialism. A unipolar world in which US is the uncontested economic, military and cultural leader (ie in which the Project for a New American Century has succeeded) is a disastrous situation for the masses of every region. The great promise of multipolarity, on the other hand, is that it frees countries and regional blocs to experiment with economic and political forms that suit them, rather than having to submit to the diktat of what Amin refers to as the Triad – US, European and Japanese imperialism.
One example of multipolarity in action is the emergence over the last 16 years of a wave of progressive states in Latin America; although our side has suffered defeats recently in Brazil and Argentina, there are still more-or-less socialist-oriented governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador and Chile. Without the existence of powerful allies (most importantly China, but also Russia and Iran) this situation would have been frankly unthinkable; it would have been impossible to break the grip of US neoliberal domination. Another pertinent example is the imminent defeat by Syria of the imperialist-coordinated regime change operation being pursued against it – a victory which would at least have been much more difficult without the support of a Russia that has, in the Putin era, shaken off its assigned role at the fringes of US global hegemony.
Hence Amin’s important thesis that multipolarity is a key component of the ongoing global struggle for socialism.
Amin also reiterates his longstanding critique of the Soviet Union and puts forward a vision for an alternative socialism that is less autocratic, more democratic, less bureaucratic and more egalitarian. This critique (which Amin has put forward for the best part of half a century, and which owes a little too much to the Chinese Communist Party’s Cultural Revolution-era evaluation of the Soviet Union) should, in my opinion, be taken with a pinch of salt. It is comprehensively and effectively answered by studies such as Al Szymanski’s “Is The Red Flag Flying?” (Zed Books, 1979).
Nonetheless, the book’s flaws shouldn’t detract from its overall valuable contribution, and indeed its urgency in a situation where the capitalist ruling classes are increasingly turning to far-right political forces in the face of a profound economic crisis.
“In an age such as ours – when there are enough weapons to destroy the whole Earth, when the media can tame the crowds with frightening efficiency, when short-term egoism or anti-humanist individualism is a fundamental value threatening Earth’s ecological survival – barbarism may be fatal. More than ever, the choice we face is not capitalism or socialism, but socialism or barbarism.”
An important book.
Traducción de este artículo en ingles
“Salvemos la raza humana, acabemos con el imperio”
En el curso de sus 14 años como Presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías se convirtió en una figura muy admirada entre la izquierda internacional. Aunque cualquier liderazgo revolucionario real y palpable siempre atraerá las sospechas de los socialistas de tertulia occidentales (y ciertamente Chávez tuvo su buena dosis de detractores), este grandioso personaje conquistó los corazones con su inmenso amor por el pueblo venezolano y su voluntad de defender alto y claro los ideales socialistas en un mundo post-soviético del fin de la historia donde pocos tuvieron el coraje de exponer tal punto de vista.
Nadie podría negar el papel que Chávez ha tenido como líder latinoamericano de la reacción contra el dogma neoliberal; tampoco se podría negar la naturaleza progresista y a favor de los pobres de los programas sociales de Venezuela. Bajo el liderazgo de Chávez, la riqueza petrolera de Venezuela (acompañada de los préstamos sin intereses chinos) se ha empleado de un modo excelente. Con la ayuda de los conocimientos expertos cubanos, el analfabetismo ha pasado a ser un mal recuerdo en Venezuela. El acceso a la educación ha aumentado drásticamente a todos los niveles, y se considera un componente fundamental de la creación de la democracia. Son famosas las palabras de Chávez, cuando sostuvo que “si queremos acabar con la pobreza, démosle poder a los pobres. ¡El conocimiento y la conciencia son el principal poder!”
Una vez más, con la ayuda de Cuba, el programa Barrio Adentro acercaba una sanidad de gran calidad a las comunidades más pobres de Venezuela, la mayoría de las cuales no había tenido acceso de ningún tipo a asistencia sanitaria profesional. Muy a pesar de las multinacionales occidentales, un gran número de empresas han sido nacionalizadas y se han llevado a cabo numerosos experimentos con la gestión de los trabajadores y la propiedad colectiva. Se han creado consejos comunalesde base por todo el país para atraer a las masas y crear una democracia más significativa. El proceso político puesto en marcha por Chávez es un programa orientado al socialismo que da prioridad a las necesidades de millones de personas ordinarias: los habitantes de los barrios marginales, los trabajadores, los campesinos, los desempleados, los indígenas, los africanos, los excluidos. Mientras tanto, el gobierno de Chávez celebraba elecciones como si fuesen a pasarse de moda. Este profundo proceso en Venezuela es tan emocionante que incluso ha conseguido ganarse el apoyo de secciones de la izquierda liberal occidental, por lo general tan clara en su rechazo total a los estados antiimperialistas y socialistas, desde A(rgentina) hasta Z(imbabwe).
Pero si hay un aspecto del legado de Hugo Chávez que hace sentir incómoda a la mayoría de la izquierda occidental (y que enfurece a las clases gobernantes occidentales) es el inquebrantable antiimperialismo de Chávez, su tenaz insistencia en la unidad a toda costa contra el principal enemigo. A nadie le cuesta alabar un hermoso programa de alfabetización, pero qué incomodo es ver a Chávez alinearse con lo que la caverna mediática del planeta ha etiquetado hace tiempo como “brutales dictaduras” en Iràn, Irak, Siria, Zimbabue, Cuba, Libia, Bielorrusia, Vietnam y Corea del Norte: “¿Cómo se le ocurre a Chávez? ¿Por qué tiene que llevarse tan bien con Rusia y China, los abusadores en serie de derechos humanos?“ Podemos descubrir este tipo de juicio en muchos de los obituarios a Chávez emanando de la izquierda occidental.
Por ejemplo, la indomable Organización ‘socialista’ internacional se quejaba de que “el legado internacional del presidente venezolano … se ha visto empañado por su atroz apoyo a Gadafi, Assad, Ahmadinejad y al estado chino”. A Owen Jones, ganador en 2013 de Britain’s Got Left-Liberal Talent, le preocupaban las “desagradables asociaciones extranjeras de Chávez. Aunque sus aliados más cercanos fueron sus compañeros de centro-izquierda elegidos democráticamente en Latinoamérica, también apoyó a brutales dictadores en Irán, Libia y Siria. Esto ha mancillado sin duda su reputación” (debería señalar de paso que el aliado más cercano de Chávez era Cuba, que suponemos que Jones no considera “democráticamente elegido” ¡y que se aparta mucho del centro-izquierda!).
Esta pauta – celebrar la política nacional de Venezuela mientras se denuncia su postura internacional – es un útil recordatorio de los límites de la democracia social occidental y claramente de todo el concepto de “libertad de expresión” en las sociedades capitalistas. Básicamente, se acepta un punto de vista ‘alternativo’ – y puede que hasta se le dé voz en los medios de comunicación liberales – en la medida en que se mantenga en límites bien definidos, dentro de lo razonable. El estado británico está dispuesto a tolerar un punto de vista minoritario que fomente una versión menos perturbada del capitalismo, especialmente si es en un país que no tiene demasiada conexión con los intereses económicos británicos. Lo que las clases dominantes occidentales nunca tolerarán – y por tanto lo que la izquierda socialdemócrata no promocionará – es una unidad antiimperialista global; hablamos de un apoyo inequívoco y coherente a todos los estados y movimientos que luchan contra el imperialismo. Dicha unidad es precisamente lo que presenta una amenaza existencial contra el imperialismo; es precisamente lo que Project for a New American Century (PNAC, Proyecto para un nuevo siglo americano) busca destruir; es precisamente lo que las inagotables estrategias de divide y vencerás buscan subvertir; es, en resumen, la única esperanza de poner fin a la dominación imperialista y crear un mundo donde los pueblos puedan desarrollarse en paz y seguridad. Como el propio Chávez afirmó: “Salvemos la raza humana – acabemos con el imperio”.
Chávez apoyó sin fisuras al movimiento global hacia la multipolaridad; a la creciente coordinación entre la familia progresista de naciones. Apoyó los profundos vínculos económicos, políticos y culturales entre estos estados que desafían la hegemonía occidental. Este aspecto de Chávez es absolutamente central para su legado político, y es lo que las clases dominantes occidentales más desprecian de él (en sus ojos había “heredado el manto de Fidel Castro como principal fastidio de Washington en Latinoamérica”). Lo que pretendo mostrar con este artículo es que, en lugar de meter bajo la alfombra el internacionalismo revolucionario de Chávez, o verlo como una mancha en su reputación progresista, este legado antiimperialista tiene que explorarse, entenderse, defenderse y construirse sobre él.
“No hay fronteras en esta lucha a muerte. No podemos ser indiferentes a lo que sucede en cualquier parte del mundo, ya que una victoria sobre el imperialismo de cualquier país es nuestra victoria; así como la derrota de cualquier país es la derrota de todos nosotros” (Ernesto Che Guevara).
La construcción del frente antiimperialista mundial
El mundo actual puede resultar implacable, especialmente para aquellos países con ideas ‘extravagantes’ sobre hacerse con el control de sus recursos naturales, la redistribución de la riqueza, la redistribución de la tierra, la puesta en práctica de una política exterior independiente y todo ese tipo de cosas. Los países de América Latina que, en el siglo XX, intentaron ejercer su independencia y soberanía fueron castigados por sus “pecados” con golpes de Estado brutales y despiadadas dictaduras (Argentina, Brasil, Chile). La minúscula Cuba ha sido sometida a medio siglo de bloqueo económico implacable, desestabilización política, aislamiento diplomático y unos cuantos cientos de intentos de asesinato. Cuando Zimbabue transfirió tierras de los colonos blancos ricos a los trabajadores nativos, negros y pobres, las clases gobernantes de Gran Bretaña y EE.UU. dejaron bien patente su descontento poniendo en marcha una campaña feroz de desprestigio contra el ZANU-PF y contra Robert Mugabe, así como imponiendo sanciones, y canalizando grandes sumas de dinero al opositor Movimiento para el Cambio Democrático. Cuando el presidente de Ucrania, Viktor Yanukovich rechazó el paquete de préstamos de la UE, con toda la bateria de consecuencias desagradables que dicho paquete conllevaba, y optó en su lugar por la ayuda económica rusa, éste fue inmediatamente barrido del poder por una “revolución” apoyada por Occidente. Los intentos de Vietnam, Corea, Irak, Yugoslavia, Afganistán, Granada, Nicaragua, Libia, y otros países, para forjarse un camino independiente han tenido como respuesta guerras imperialistas sin cuartel.
Sólo hay dos opciones viables para sobrevivir en un mundo tan hostil: capitular, o unirse y luchar.
Hugo Chávez veía el mundo de una forma muy lucida, casi visionaria; ello gracias a su profundo conocimiento de la historia mundial, a haber sido capaz de identificar el imperialismo liderado por Estados Unidos como el principal obstáculo para la paz y el desarrollo, y a sus propias experiencias a la hora de tratar de ejercer la soberanía y construir el socialismo en Venezuela (en medio de intentos de desestabilización y de golpes de Estado respaldados por la CIA). Chávez veía a Venezuela como parte de un movimiento global que desafiaba medio milenio de colonialismo, imperialismo y racismo; un movimiento global que incluía a China, Brasil, Rusia, Zimbabue, Libia, Siria, Sudáfrica, Cuba, Bielorrusia, Vietnam, Irán, Ecuador, Bolivia, Corea del Norte, Nicaragua, Argentina y algunos más. Chávez era consciente de que el enemigo utiliza todas las artimañas existentes para socavar a aquellos países que se niegan a alinearse con el Consenso de Washington, y comprendió la necesidad urgente de una unidad muy amplia con el fin de resistir este ataque. Esta interpretación llevó a Chávez a ser totalmente coherente en su lucha contra el imperialismo. Si la unión hace la fuerza, entonces uno no puede quedarse de brazos cruzados viendo como el imperio va derribando uno a uno a nuestros aliados. Como él mismo dijo durante una visita a Sudáfrica en el 2008:
“No se puede perder ni un día, ni un segundo, en esa tarea de unirnos los países del Tercer Mundo, del Sur”
De ahí que las sólidas relaciones que Chávez y su equipo construyeron con todos los estados socialistas y antiimperialistas no fueran ni anómalas, ni resultado de algún desafortunado accidente, ni de error de juicio, sino el resultado de una postura ideológica y estratégica clara para el chavismo.
“La civilización árabe y la nuestra Latinoamericana están llamadas en este siglo que comenzó a cumplir un papel fundamental en la liberación y salvación del mundo contra el imperialismo, contra la hegemonía capitalista y neoliberal que está amenazando la supervivencia de la especie humana. Siria y Venezuela están en la vanguardia de esta lucha.” (Hugo Chávez, 2010 , en el transcurso de la visita de Bashar Al-Assad a Caracas).
Al inicio de su presidencia, Chávez identificó a Siria como un aliado clave – uno de los pocos países en el mundo árabe que habían mantenido siempre una posición firme contra el imperialismo y el sionismo (recordemos que Chávez fue un firme defensor de Palestina y enemigo de Israel).
Siria, orgulloso miembro del famoso grupo ‘Más allá del Eje del Mal’ de John Bolton, era despreciada por occidente por su liderazgo en el apoyo a la resistencia palestina a lo largo de cuatro décadas, por su alianza con el movimiento de resistencia libanés Hezbolá (en 2006, el apoyo sirio resultó crucial para Hezbolá a la hora de derrotar a Israel en el sur del Líbano), y por su alianza con Irán.
En una visita a Damasco en agosto de 2006, Chávez, tras una larga reunión con el presidente sirio Bashar al-Assad, declaró: “Hemos decidido ser libres. Queremos colaborar en la construcción de un nuevo mundo donde los estados y la autodeterminación de los pueblos sean respetados… Tenemos la misma visión política y vamos a resistir juntos la agresión del imperialismo norteamericano”. En una nueva visita a Siria, en 2009, para elaborar un plan de cooperación económica, Chávez describió al pueblo sirio como “arquitecto de la resistencia” al imperialismo, y apeló a la unidad de los pueblos del Sur Global, proclamando: “debemos luchar para crear una conciencia libre de la doctrina imperialista… luchar para derrotar el atraso, la pobreza, la miseria (…) para convertir a nuestros países en verdaderas potencias a través de la conciencia de la gente”.
En el 2011, cuando Siria se vio amenazada por un golpe de Estado, bajo la doctrina de “cambio de régimen”, Chávez y su gobierno se apresuraron a declarar su lealtad al gobierno sirio. “Esta es una crisis planeada y provocada… Siria es una nación soberana. La causa de esta crisis es solo una: el mundo ha entrado en una nueva era imperial”. Es una locura”. Tras haber dejado muy clara su postura política, Venezuela pasó de las palabras a los hechos, enviando combustible diesel gratis a Siria en múltiples ocasiones para ayudarles a superar la escasez causada por las sanciones.
No hace falta decir que la postura abiertamente antiimperialista de Venezuela no fue apreciada por buena parte de la izquierda occidental. La web “Counterfire”, entre otros, castigó a Chávez en términos inequívocos por su apoyo abierto al gobierno sirio: “La declaración de apoyo del presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez al ‘líder socialista y hermano Bashar al Assad’, diciendo que es el objetivo de una operación imperialista para derrocar a su régimen y culpando a los EE.UU. por los disturbios en el país, es un insulto a los manifestantes sirios y a los mártires que perdieron la vida en el levantamiento contra el régimen autoritario sirio”. Según Al-Jazeera (portavoz de la monarquía Catarí – principal proveedor de armas y dinero a los grupos rebeldes de Siria), “Chávez y otros se desacreditaron y, probablemente, anularon la posibilidad de cualquier alianza duradera entre los revolucionarios árabes y fuerzas simpatizantes en América del Sur.”
Chávez no se dejó influir por estas críticas; defendió a Siria en su lucha contra la campaña para derrocar a su gobierno, en un momento en el que hacerlo resultaba altamente impopular. “¿Cómo podría no apoyar a Assad? Él es el líder del pueblo Sirio.”
En el transcurso de tres años, la verdadera naturaleza de la crisis Siria se ha hecho cada vez más evidente. Al mismo tiempo, el mito de la oposición democrática-socialista-feminista-pacífica-secular se ha ido desvaneciendo para dejar paso a una realidad bastante menos de color de rosa: la de sectas fundamentalistas asesinas (armadas hasta los dientes por Arabia Saudita, Cátar y Turquía, con la aprobación tacita de Gran Bretaña y los EE.UU) que están arrasando el país. (Mi artículo ‘La Descriminalización de Bashar‘ aborda este tema en detalle). Ahora está claro para todos que el plan de Occidente era sacar a Siria del eje de la resistencia, pero no siempre ha sido el caso. Analizando la situación desde el punto de vista del antiimperialismo militante, Chávez fue capaz de entender el panorama global desde un principio, en un momento en que otros muchos se creyeron las campañas de mentiras y de demonización.
Hugo Chávez vio en el líder libio, Muammar Gaddafi, a un aliado importante en la lucha mundial contra el imperialismo: alguien que sacó a su país de la dependencia colonial, que construyó un avanzado sistema de bienestar social (con el índice más alto de desarrollo humano, la esperanza de vida más alta, la más baja mortandad infantil y la tasa de alfabetización más alta de África), y que apoyó sin fisuras a movimientos socialistas y antiimperialistas de todo el mundo, desde Irlanda hasta Sudáfrica, de Nicaragua a Palestina, de Dominica a Namibia. De hecho, Chávez visitó Libia en cinco ocasiones durante su presidencia. En Trípoli, durante la celebración del 40 aniversario de la revolución libia (2009), declaró que Venezuela y Libia “comparten el mismo destino, la misma batalla contra un mismo enemigo y vamos a ganarla”. A continuación, hizo un emotivo llamamiento a la unidad africana:
“El África es el África, y el África más nunca debe permitir que vengan países de más allá de los mares a imponer los sistemas políticos, económicos o sociales que el África y sus pueblos necesitan. África debe ser de los africanos y solo mediante la unidad África será libre y grande.”
Tan sólo unas semanas después, Gadafi llegó a Venezuela en su primer viaje a América del Sur. Durante la Cumbre África-América del Sur, celebrada en la Isla de Margarita, Chávez regaló a Gaddafi una réplica de la espada del héroe de la independencia de Venezuela, Simón Bolívar. Chávez declaro: “Gadafi es para Libia lo que Bolívar es para nosotros.” El objetivo común de Chávez y Gadafi fue el de de marcar el comienzo de una nueva era de cooperación a gran escala entre África y América Latina.
Al igual que en Siria, Chávez entendió desde el principio lo que el ‘levantamiento’ en Libia significaba. Mientras los iluminados de la izquierda británica, como Gilbert Achcar, pedían a gritos una zona de exclusión aérea para lograr deshacerse de Gadafi, Chávez salió en defensa de su amigo y compañero: “Se está tejiendo una campaña de mentiras con respecto a Libia. Yo no voy a condenar a Gadafi. Sería un cobarde si condenara a alguien que ha sido mi amigo.”
Venezuela encabezó los llamamientos por una solución pacífica a la crisis, ofreciendo sus servicios en varias ocasiones para mediar entre el gobierno libio y los rebeldes. “Vamos a tratar de ayudar, de interceder entre las partes. Un alto el fuego, sentados alrededor de una mesa. Ese es el camino en este tipo de conflictos.” Lamentablemente, los rebeldes y sus aliados de la OTAN no tenían el más mínimo interés en negociaciones.
Junto con sus aliados regionales, Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua y Ecuador, Venezuela denunció sin ambigüedades el salvaje bombardeo de la OTAN. “Libia está bajo fuego imperial. Nada lo justifica”, dijo Chávez. “Bombardeo indiscriminado. ¿Quién le dio a esos países el derecho? Ni Estados Unidos, ni Francia, ni Inglaterra, ni ningún país tiene derecho a lanzar bombas… Desearía que estallase una revolución en los Estados Unidos. Vamos a ver lo que harían.” Chávez resumió de forma muy clara y sencilla lo que era la “post estrategia del consenso de Washington” adoptada por la OTAN, al declarar: “El imperio se está volviendo loco y es una amenaza real para la paz mundial, el imperialismo ha entrado en fase de locura extrema”. Y en agosto de 2011, cuando Trípoli fue sometida a base de bombardeos, Chávez predijo, en lo que sería una profecia, que “el drama de Libia no termina con la caída del gobierno de Gadafi. La tragedia de Libia apenas está comenzando.”
Libia fue otro de los temas en los que el sólido antiimperialismo de Chávez chocaba frontalmente con el liberalismo primer-mundista de la izquierda occidental. Mientras que Alex Callinicos , principal teórico del vergonzosamente mal llamado “Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores” (Reino Unido), llamaba a sus seguidores a “_unirse a las celebraciones de los Libios por la desaparición del tirano*”, la noticia del asesinato de Gadafi orquestado por la OTAN afectó mucho a Chávez: *”Lamentablemente, se ha confirmado la muerte de Gadafi. Fue asesinado… le recordare toda mi vida como un gran luchador, un revolucionario y un mártir.”*
Si, hay un patrón de comportamiento. La izquierda occidental, casi invariablemente, ha optado por apoyar las campañas de demonización contra los Estados socialistas y antiimperialistas, orquestadas por la prensa de extrema derecha. Por su lado Chávez, incansable, vio más allá de la propaganda y se mantuvo fiel a su sueño de unidad mundial contra el imperio. En un mundo de cobardía e inconstancia, se alzo y dijo: “Yo no soy un cobarde, yo no soy un veleta.“
Chávez partía de una postura de desconfianza instintiva hacia la propaganda proveniente de occidente. Nunca se dejo arrastrar por los relatos simplistas sobre ‘dictadores diabólicos’, como Blofeld, el personaje malvado de la serie James Bond. Su trayectoria y su experiencia política le habían enseñado que los medios de comunicación no son de fiar; que los imperialistas manipulan cada noticia para satisfacer sus propios intereses. Los medios de comunicación en Venezuela siguen estando principalmente en manos de las elites, que odiaban a Chávez, al que sometían a ataques racistas y clasistas, a la par que propagaban mentiras y calumnias sobre él. Así las cosas, para Chávez estaba muy claro que lo que se decía sobre los otros países del ‘Eje del Mal Prolongado’ eran, con toda probabilidad, estupideces.
Mientras tanto, ¿qué países ayudaron a Venezuela, apoyando sus políticas, apoyando la integración regional de América Latina? ¿Qué países apoyaron los movimientos de liberación en todo el mundo? ¿Qué países apoyaban la liberación de Palestina -por ejemplo, suministrando armas para la defensa de Gaza? ¿Qué países se enfrentaron a EE.UU., Gran Bretaña, Francia e Israel?
Irán es otro de los países que viene siendo sometido regularmente a las campañas occidentales de calumnia y demonización, pero también es otro país con el que Hugo Chávez creó fuertes vínculos de amistad, con el consiguiente disgusto del imperialismo occidental. En un artículo fascinante por su estupidez publicado en marzo del 2007, el veterano republicano Bailey Hutchison vociferaba lo siguiente: “En su lucha contra el ‘imperialismo’ estadounidense, Chávez ha encontrado un aliado muy útil en el más importante patrocinador mundial del terrorismo – el gobierno de Irán. Es uno de los pocos líderes que se atreve a apoyar públicamente el programa de armas nucleares de Irán. Y los ulemas iraníes han recompensado la amistad de Chávez con lucrativos contratos, incluida la transferencia de tecnología y de profesionales iraníes a Venezuela. El mes pasado, el Sr. Chávez y el presidente iraní Mahmoud Ahmadinejad anunciaron planes para crear un fondo común por valor de dos mil millones de dólares, parte de los cuales será utilizado como un ‘mecanismo de liberación’ contra los aliados norteamericanos… Si no se ponen límites a esto, los Sres. Ahmadinejad y Chávez podrían convertirse en el nuevo tándem Khrushchev- Castro del inicio de este siglo XXI, canalizando armas, dinero y propaganda a América Latina, y poniendo en peligro una región de democracias frágiles y economías volátiles.”
Chávez visitó Irán en numerosas ocasiones, y de igual forma recibió a su homólogo iraní, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, en Venezuela varias veces. A pesar de sus diferencias ideológicas y de tener concepciones filosóficas distintas, los dos líderes crearon una sólida alianza basada en la unidad anti-imperialista. “Nosotros sabemos que Irán es uno de los objetivos que el imperio yanqui tiene en el punto de mira hace mucho tiempo”, Chávez dijo. “Cuando nos reunimos los diablos se vuelven como locos.” Ahmadinejad describió a Chávez como a “un hermano y compañero de trinchera” y calificó a Irán y Venezuela como piezas fundamentales de un frente revolucionario “que se extiende hasta el este de Asia” desde América Latina. “Si hubo un dia en que mi hermano Chávez y yo, junto a otros pocos, estuvimos solos en el mundo, hoy contamos con una larga lista de mandos de la Revolución y gente de a pie resistiendo codo a codo.”
Uno de los resultados de las estrechas relaciones de amistad que establecieron los dos países fue que la cooperación, a nivel práctico, se incrementó. El comercio se multiplicó por 100 desde el 2001 (se estima que el comercio bilateral supera los 40 mil millones dólares), y los dos países se embarcaron en empresas conjuntas en varias áreas, incluyendo la energía, la agricultura, la vivienda y la infraestructura. La experiencia iraní en el ámbito de construcción fue aprovechada para construir miles de viviendas para los pobres de Venezuela.
Chávez defendió el derecho de Irán a desarrollar la energía nuclear y señaló con mucha agudeza que la cuestión nuclear estaba siendo utilizada por occidente para movilizar a la opinión pública en favor de una guerra, “de la misma forma que usaron la excusa de las armas de destrucción masiva para hacer lo que hicieron en Irak.” Chávez manifestó el firme apoyo de Venezuela a Irán con respecto a la amenaza de guerra contra ellos: “Deberí a aprovechar esta oportunidad para condenar esas amenazas militares que se están haciendo contra Irán. Sabemos que nunca serán capaces de ponerle límites a la revolución islámica de ninguna manera. Estaremos siempre juntos, no sólo resistiremos, sino que juntos saldremos victoriosos.”
Una de las prioridades de Hugo Chávez, en los primeros años de su presidencia, fue revitalizar la Organización de Países Exportadores de Petróleo (OPEP), a fin de asegurar un acuerdo que regulase la producción y aumentase los precios. Tras haber fijado una fecha para una cumbre de la OPEP que reuniese a todos sus miembros (se trataba de la segunda en la historia de la organización y la primera en 25 años), Chávez se embarcó en una gira para visitar los diez países de la OPEP con el fin de invitar personalmente a cada jefe de Estado. Este itinerario incluía necesariamente a Irak, miembro de la OPEP. La visita de Chávez a Irak, en agosto de 2000, produjo una oleada de controversia, indignación y ansiedad en todo el mundo occidental.
“Washington dijo que estaban en contra de mi visita a Bagdad, yo les dije que iba a ir de todas formas. Ellos argumentaron que había una zona de exclusión aérea y que no podría atravesarla sin riesgo de que me derribasen el avión. Pero fuimos a Bagdad de todos modos y hablamos con Saddam”. (Citado por Bart Jones en “La Historia de Hugo Chávez”).
De hecho, Chávez fue el primer jefe de Estado que visitó Irak tras la imposición de sanciones por la ONU en 1991. Para poder esquivar la prohibición de vuelos internacionales hacia Irak, Chávez y su equipo cruzaron desde Irán a Irak por tierra y después volaron a Bagdad en helicóptero. Allí fue recibido personalmente por Saddam Hussein, quien lo llevo a hacer una visita nocturna por Bagdad. En respuesta a las críticas de la “comunidad internacional”, Chávez declaró desafiante: “Lamentamos y denunciamos la injerencia en nuestros asuntos internos. Ni la aceptamos, ni la aceptaremos… Estamos muy contentos de estar en Bagdad, de oler el aroma de la historia y de caminar por las orillas del río Tigris.”
Los dos dirigentes mantuvieron largas conversaciones, descritas por Chávez como fructíferas. “Descubrí que era un hombre educado, que comprendía todo aquello relacionado con la OPEP”. Chávez y sus colegas también aprovecharon la oportunidad para denunciar el régimen de sanciones internacionales responsable de las muertes de cientos de miles de niños iraquíes. El vice ministro de exteriores, Jorge Valero, declaró: “El presidente Chávez reafirma la posición venezolana de apoyar toda iniciativa que ponga fin a cualquier tipo de bloqueo o sanciones unilaterales a Irak o a cualquier otro país del mundo.”
Uno de los resultados más impactantes de los esfuerzos de Chávez fue que, apenas unas semanas después de su visita a Bagdad, y en el marco de la cumbre de la OPEP en Caracas, Irán e Irak celebraron las conversaciones al más alto nivel desde la trágica y terrible guerra que tuvo lugar entre los dos países (que duró de 1980-1988 y que tuvo como resultado al menos un millón de muertes). El Vicepresidente iraquí, Taha Yassin Ramadan, dijo que las conversaciones con el presidente iraní, Mohammad Khatami fueron “cordiales y francas. Hablamos de la cooperación entre los dos países y acordamos trabajar conjuntamente para la mejora de las relaciones entre los dos países.” Chávez comentó: “Estoy a su servicio para ayudarles … a la reactivación plena de las relaciones entre dos pueblos hermanos, dos países hermanos , que también son miembros de la OPEP, y que piden un impulso en la reunificación de todo el mundo árabe-islámico.”
El hecho de que Chávez estuviera dispuesto, y fuera capaz de facilitar este proceso, ya nos habla de su genialidad estratégica y de su visión a largo plazo. A pesar de ser plenamente consciente de la dolorosa enemistad entre Irán e Irak; a pesar de ser consciente de las dificultades que conllevaba el camino de la reconciliación, Chávez supo que aliviar la tensión entre estas dos grandes naciones significaba darle un impulso al frente anti-imperialista mundial. Los efectos secundarios podían conllevar la reconciliación entre Irak y Siria (Siria era un aliado muy próximo de Irán), entre Irak y Libia (quien había apoyado a Irán en la guerra Irán-Irak), entre Irán y el mundo árabe en general, y entre las diferentes facciones palestinas. Si este proceso de acercamiento hubiera logrado plasmarse, la región en su conjunto habría estado en una posición mucho más fuerte en su lucha contra el imperialismo y el sionismo. Se habría avanzado en la lucha palestina por la autodeterminación, y se podría haber evitado la desastrosa guerra de Irak, en la que más de un millón de iraquíes perdieron la vida. De hecho, la posibilidad de una unidad regional basada en la reconciliación entre Irán e Irak pudo haber sido uno de los factores que decidieron a EE.UU. y a Gran Bretaña a lanzar la invasión de Irak en el 2003.
El estado más difamado en el hemisferio occidental, Cuba, ha sufrido durante años un bloqueo económico y diplomático impuesto de forma brutal. Hasta hace pocas décadas, la mayoría de los gobiernos latinoamericanos evitaban a Cuba por temor a molestar a sus amos al norte de la frontera. Sin embargo, la situación ha cambiado significativamente en los últimos 15 años, desde que Chávez emprendio la Revolución Bolivariana en Venezuela.
Chávez nunca ocultó su afecto por Cuba, ni su admiración por el socialismo cubano y su internacionalismo militante, ni su respeto por Fidel Castro en tanto que revolucionario.
“Fidel para mí es un padre, un compañero, un maestro de la estrategia perfecta.” Hugo Chávez, 2005.
Durante su visita a Cuba en 1999, Chávez, dirigiéndose a la audiencia de la Universidad de La Habana, dijo que “Venezuela está navegando hacia el mismo mar que el pueblo cubano, un mar de felicidad, de justicia social y de paz verdaderas… Aquí estamos, más alerta que nunca, Fidel y Hugo, luchando con dignidad y valor para defender los intereses de nuestros pueblos y haciendo realidad el pensamiento de Bolívar y de Martí. En nombre de Cuba y Venezuela, quiero hacer un llamamiento a la unidad de nuestros pueblos y de las revoluciones que encabezamos. Bolívar y Martí, un país unido!” (citado en Richard Gott ‘Hugo Chávez y la Revolución Bolivariana’). En una de las ocasiones en que respondía a la acusación de que Cuba era una “dictadura”, Chávez señaló que Cuba tiene formas de democracia mucho más profundas y amplias que los países que vierten las acusaciones. “Mucha gente me ha preguntado cómo puedo apoyar a Fidel si es un dictador. Pero Cuba no es una dictadura… es una democracia revolucionaria.”
En el 2000 se firmaron una serie de acuerdos de ayuda mutua, que actuaron como un balón de oxigeno para la economía de Cuba y resultaron cruciales para el éxito de los programas sociales de Venezuela. El programa de salud comunitaria Barrio Adentro llevo el conocimiento médico cubano a millones de pobres venezolanos. Según estimaciones oficiales, “ha salvado la vida a 1,5 millones de venezolanos. Y otros 1,5 millones se beneficiaron también (sin coste alguno) de la cirugía ocular de la Misión Milagro, otro programa cubano de atención sanitaria, creado en 2004, para proporcionar cuidados oftalmológicos gratuitos a la poblacion”.
Además: “Otros 53,000 venezolanos con enfermedades crónicas han recibido atención sanitaria gratuita en Cuba, gracias a un Acuerdo bilateral firmado entre las dos naciones latinoamericanas que refuerza los servicios sociales y mejora la calidad de vida de la población Venezolana.” Por otro lado, Cuba proporcionó también profesionales y apoyo técnico al programa de alfabetización de Venezuela, que ha resultado un rotundo éxito al eliminar el analfabetismo del país.
Venezuela paga por estos servicios cruciales para la nación con petróleo gratuito o fuertemente subvencionado, lo que ha significado un enorme impulso a la economía cubana. Venezuela también ha ayudado a Cuba con prestamos e inversiones por valor de miles de millones de dólares. Ello significa que ha roto con pleno conocimiento y orgullo el bloqueo económico de los Estados Unidos contra Cuba. En una larga entrevista concedida a Aleida Guevara, Chávez decia: “Antes, Venezuela no vendía petróleo a Cuba. ¿Por qué no? Por una orden de Washington, por el bloqueo, y la Ley Helms-Burton. A nosotros eso no nos importa nada, Cuba es nuestra nación hermana y le venderemos a Cuba.”
Chávez recibió incontables andanadas de críticas desde los Estados Unidos por su relación con Cuba. No hace falta decir que no le afectaron en lo más mínimo.
“Nunca me cansaré de manifestar mi reconocimiento al fantástico apoyo de Cuba, de subrayar mi gratitud en público, donde sea que me halle, con quien quiera que este, en el foro mundial al que se dé la ocasión de dirigirme, sin importarme cuantos rostros ardan de rabia porque me este refiriendo a Cuba en estos términos… [En la Cumbre de las Américas de Monterrey en el 2003] me dijeron que Bush ardía de rabia. Yo no le estaba mirando, pero luego me contaron que se había puesto rojo y se quedó inmóvil, inexpresivo sentado en su sillón. Yo había mencionado a Cuba tres veces.. Había agradecido al pueblo cubano y a Fidel su ayuda. No lamento nada… Eso es lo que Gaddafi me dijo cuando le conté por teléfono lo que había ocurrido en Monterrey. Me preguntó porqué Cuba no estuvo en una cumbre que es para la totalidad del continente Américano. ‘Ah bueno! Es porque Estados Unidos excluyó a Cuba.’ Me respondió, ‘Escucha Hugo, en una ocasión aquí, en África, los británicos trataron de impedir que Mugabe, el presidente de Zimbabue, asistiera a una reunión de la Unión europea sobre África. Nosotros dijimos que si Mugabe no venia, nadie vendría. América Latina debería hacer lo mismo.’” (Citado en Aleida Guevara Chávez, Venezuela y la Nueva América Latina)
La mera mención de los nombres de Castro, Gaddafi y Mugabe en un mismo párrafo basta para sacar una mueca de dolor a los socialdemócratas de la Izquierda liberal -tan desmesurado es su afán por ser aceptados; tal su esclavitud a la máquina de propaganda imperialista occidental. Chávez, al contrario, no permitió a los imperialistas influenciar su juicio ni un átomo. Simplemente seguía adelante con el trabajo de construir un frente anti-imperialista global por todos los medios necesarios. Como la embajadora de Argentina en el Reino Unido lo expresó durante una reciente conferencia de la Campaña de Solidaridad con Venezuela:
“Chávez nos enraizó al tronco de la unidad, con la base más amplia que se pueda dar: la unidad con cualquiera que tenga la mas mínima posibilidad de unir sus fuerzas contra el Imperialismo.”
Multipolaridad: desmontando el imperio
Con el declive de la hegemonía política y económica de los EE.UU., el ascenso de China, la progresiva emergencia de América Latina, y el resurgimiento de Rusia a partir del fin de la era Yeltsin, el mundo se mueve inexorablemente hacia un modelo ‘multipolar’– “un patrón de múltiples centros de poder, todos con una cierta capacidad para influenciar cuestiones internacionales, dando forma a un orden concertado“ (asi define Jenny Clegg la multipolaridad en su libro, China’s Global Strategy). China ha sido especialmente dinámica en la promoción de la multipolaridad como un medio realista de contener el imperialismo, al tiempo que se trabaja por un orden mundial democrático y estable en el que los países antiguamente oprimidos puedan desarrollarse en paz. Hugo Chávez fue un firme defensor de este concepto, y lo conectó al pensamiento del héroe de la independencia de Venezuela, Simón Bolívar:
“Bolívar concibió un ideal internacionalista. Habló de lo que hoy nosotros llamamos mundo multipolar. Propuso la reunificación de América del Sur y Centroamérica en lo que llamó la Gran Colombia, para posibilitar negociaciones sobre una base de igualdad con las otras tres cuartas partes del globo. Eso ya era una visión multipolar.” (Citado en Bart Jones The Hugo Chávez Story)
Chávez persiguió enérgicamente la integración regional dentro de Suramérica, Centroamérica y el Caribe como medio para crear una fuerza unida y progresista que pudiese conectar “con igualdad con las otras tres cuartas partes del mundo”. Los analistas antiimperialistas nicaragüenses Jorge Capelán y Toni Solo afirman que “en Latinoamérica, es imposible participar en la construcción de alternativas socialistas y anticapitalistas sin luchar al mismo tiempo por integrar la región política, económica e incluso culturalmente… Ese es el legado de Bolívar, como fue el legado de Martí, Sandino, Mariátegui, Gaitán, Che, Fidel Castro y muchos otros revolucionarios latinoamericanos desde la Independencia. Esto es así porque los poderes coloniales e imperialistas necesitaban dividir la región en pequeños países para explotar sus recursos y mano de obra. No es algo que se haya inventado Chávez, es una perspectiva antigua en la región.”
Se ha perseguido este proyecto a través de la creación de diversas organizaciones de integración regional, en particular ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América ), CELAC (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños) y UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas), así como proporcionando apoyo a otras naciones latinoamericanas y caribeñas con visiones semejantes, por ejemplo, ofreciendo a los países más pobres de la región acceso al petróleo venezolano en condiciones preferenciales. En la era actual estamos siendo testigos del resurgir de una Latinoamérica que cada vez está más dominada por países progresistas y que está moviéndose con confianza hacia la integración y la solidaridad. El analista español Ignacio Ramonet comenta que “el ejemplo de Chávez se ha seguido, con diferentes matices, en otros países. En Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, entre otros, se han dado una serie de procesos que, hasta cierto punto, han avanzado por la ruta abierta por la Revolución bolivariana.”
Con el liderazgo de Chávez y Lula en particular, Latinoamérica ha conseguido estar más cerca que nunca de la soberanía económica. En 2005, el plan de EEUU de una zona de libre comercio en las Américas (Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA)) fue integralmente derrotada en la Cumbre de las Américas en Mar del Plata, Argentina. “Sin el liderazgo conjunto de Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva y el fallecido presidente argentino Néstor Kirchner, esta derrota estratégica del imperialismo en Latinoamérica no habría sido posible.”
La amistad con China
Más allá de Latinoamérica, Chávez puso muchos esfuerzos en crear firmes lazos con las principales potencias emergentes del mundo, especialmente con China y Rusia – naciones que Fidel Castro describió como “los dos países llamados a liderar un nuevo mundo que permita la supervivencia humana, si el imperialismo no desata antes una guerra criminal de exterminio.”
Bart Jones escribió, “la mayor iniciativa internacional de Chávez fuera de América Latina estuvo enfocada hacia China… El hambriento mercado energético de China era el candidato ideal para los planes de Chávez de distanciarse, lo máximo posible, de la esfera de influencia de Estados Unidos y de promover un mundo multipolar. Chávez llegó a un acuerdo para enviar petróleo a China. Comenzó con un compromiso en el 2005 de suministrar treinta mil barriles al día. En el 2007 saltó a trescientos mil, con una última meta de medio millón de barriles al día para el 2009 o 2010. Esto era parte de un plan para incrementar, desde el 15 por ciento al 45 por ciento, la cantidad de crudo y otros productos petrolíferos que Venezuela enviaría a Asia.”
Chávez vio claramente que China era un socio crucial en la batalla por un Nuevo Mundo, y la visitó seis veces a lo largo de su mandato, estableciendo estrechos lazos económicos, diplomáticos y políticos. En su primer viaje, en 1999, expresó su admiración por el modelo económico chino de socialismo de mercado, declarando: “Asistimos al triunfo de la Revolución china.” El modelo chino, con el Estado controlando las posiciones de mando de la economía, mientras apoya una economía privada regulada para los sectores menos cruciales, ha desempeñado un papel importante en la conformación de la propia política económica de Venezuela en los últimos 15 años.
En el 2006, Chávez sulfuró a imperialistas y liberales de todo el planeta al describir la Revolución china como “uno de los mayores acontecimientos del siglo XX”, y al decir que el Socialismo chino es “un ejemplo para aquellos dirigentes y gobiernos occidentales que argumentan que el Capitalismo es la única alternativa.” Durante el mandato de Chávez, Venezuela se convirtió rápidamente en uno de los aliados clave de China en América Latina, y Chávez fue considerado como un “gran amigo del pueblo chino”.
Al aclamar la emergencia de China como gran potencia mundial, Chávez planteaba la diferencia fundamental entre el papel de China – que se ha desarrollado mediante su propia diligencia y perseverancia – y el de las potencias colonialistas/imperialistas, que construyeron su riqueza a partir del saqueo, el genocidio, el golpismo, el terror y la explotación. “China es grande, pero no es un Imperio. China no atropella a nadie, no ha invadido a nadie, no va por ahí lanzando bombas a diestro y siniestro.” El sucesor de Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, abundó en este punto: “Las relaciones internacionales de China parten de una base de igualdad, demostrando así que, en este comienzo del siglo XXI , es posible construir nuevas potencias mundiales sin la práctica imperialista de la colonización y la dominación.”
Venezuela ha sido receptora de extensas inversiones en infraestructura, y de grandes préstamos amistosos de China que han sido cruciales para sostener los programas sociales y los avances en el proceso de industrialización. Al pagar con petróleo a China (por una cantidad aproximada de 600,000 barriles al día), Venezuela puede seguir trabajando en pro de su objetivo de diversificación del comercio exterior. “Desde el 2001 Venezuela y China han firmado 480 acuerdos de cooperación y han participado en 143 proyectos conjuntos… Desde el 2005 al 2012 China prestó a Venezuela 47 mil millones de dólares, lo que equivale al 55% del crédito chino emitido a naciones sudamericanas en ese periodo.” La relación continua afianzándose, y la reciente visita a Venezuela de Xi Jinping produjo 38 nuevos acuerdos por un valor de 18 mil millones de dólares, incluyendo “un préstamo directo a Venezuela de 4 mil millones de dólares y otros 14 mil millones de dólares de financiación china para el desarrollo en proyectos de energía , minería, industria, tecnología, comunicaciones, transporte, vivienda y cultura” (ibídem).
La amistad con Rusia,
Por supuesto, las batallas para defender a Venezuela, para lograr integrar América Latina, y para construir un mundo multipolar no son sólo económicas o diplomáticas. La dominación militar preponderante de EE.UU. y de sus aliados requiere que las fuerzas anti-imperialistas sean capaces de defender sus logros con armas. Siendo el propio Chávez un militar, el Comandante nunca se cansó de afirmar que la Revolución venezolana es “pacífica, pero armada“. Si pensamos que en una amplia división del trabajo entre los constructores del mundo multipolar, China es la central motora económica, entonces Rusia tiene la iniciativa en las cuestiones militares.
Una nota necrológica en en la web Russia Today señalaba que, desde el 2005, “Venezuela adquirió armas de Rusia por valor de 4 mil millones de dólares, incluyendo 100,000 rifles Kalashnikof. Además, los dos países organizaron varios ejercicios navales conjuntos en el Mar Caribe. En el 2010, Chávez anunció que Rusia iba a construir la primera planta nuclear de Venezuela y que el país había suscrito otros contratos petrolíferos con Moscú por valor de 1600 millones de dólares.” Nicolás Maduro, entonces ministro de Asuntos exteriores, tenía muy clara las implicaciones de esta relación de su país con Rusia: “El mundo unipolar está colapsando y despareciendo en todas sus facetas, y la alianza con Rusia es parte de ese esfuerzo para construir el mundo multipolar.”
Tras la compra a Rusia de una partida de misiles tierra-aire S300 en el 2009, Chávez declaró de forma contundente: “Con estos cohetes va a serle muy difícil a los aviones extranjeros venir a bombardearnos.” Visto el trágico destino de Libia solo dos años después, seria difícil aducir que el presidente de Venezuela sufría de paranoia.
A lo largo de la última década, el progresivo alineamiento de Rusia con el Sur Global ha supuesto un gran impulso para las fuerzas de la multipolaridad y del anti-imperialismo, especialmente cuando se compara con los oscuros días del clientelismo del bufón Yeltsin. Rusia ha aceptado este papel con aplomo, reconociendo que la continuidad de su independencia y de su desarrollo está estrechamente ligada al éxito de China, de África, y de América Latina. Algunos aseguran que Vladimir Putin le dijo a Chávez que su reelección en el 2012 fue “el mejor regalo que me podían haber hecho en mi 60 cumpleaños”. Unos meses después del fallecimiento del comandante Chávez, Nicolás Maduro presidió la ceremonia de dedicatoria de una calle de Moscú a Hugo Chávez Frías.
Avance en nombre de Hugo Chávez
La inoportuna muerte de este brillante ser humano fue un duro golpe para la humanidad progresista y deja un vacío que será muy difícil de llenar. Uno debe evitar caer en la adoración de héroes y la versión individualizada de la historia al estilo Hollywood, pero no se puede negar que ciertas personas, por su resolución, su comprensión, su determinación, su heroísmo, sus dotes de liderazgo, su genio creativo, su carisma, su devoción por el pueblo, desempeñan un papel destacado.
Hugo Chávez era así. Trabajó sin pausa en la consecución de su visión: por una Venezuela socialista; por una Latinoamérica unida y soberana; y por un orden mundial justo y multipolar, libre del dominio imperialista. Su visión era contagiosa y sirvió para inspirar a personas de todas partes del planeta. Dio vida a un proceso revolucionario global que se había manifestado muy poco desde el auge de la década de 1970 (Mozambique, Angola, Chile (1970-73), Guinea Bissau, Afganistán, Zimbabwe). En el período transcurrido fuimos testigos del declive y caída del “Bloque del este”, el surgimiento de economías neoliberales, la difusión del “ajuste estructural”, el impacto genocida del VIH/Sida y de una profunda desilusión entre la mayoría de la izquierda. La Revolución bolivariana, combinada con el ascenso de China y un mundo multipolar emergente, ha devuelto la esperanza.
Hablando recientemente en el Museo Histórico 26 Julio en Santiago de Cuba, Xi Jinping afirmó que: “Los mártires revolucionarios son tesoros espirituales preciados que nos han inspirado a continuar avanzando.” Que el trabajo, ejemplo e ideas de Hugo Chávez continúen inspirándonos y educándonos, y que su internacionalismo revolucionario siga siendo estudiado y respetado.
“Let’s save the human race – let’s finish off the empire”
In the course of his 14 years as President of Venezuela, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías became a much-admired figure among the international left. Although any actual-existing revolutionary leadership will always attract the suspicion of western coffee-shop socialists (and Chávez certainly had his fair share of detractors), this larger-than-life figure won hearts with his immense love for the Venezuelan people and his willingness to loudly stand up for socialist ideals in a post-Soviet end-of-history world where few had the courage to set forth such views.
Nobody could deny Chávez’s role in leading the Latin American backlash against neoliberal dogma; nor could they deny the progressive, pro-poor nature of Venezuela’s social programmes. Under Chávez’s leadership, Venezuela’s oil wealth (supplemented by Chinese soft loans) has been put to excellent use. With the help of Cuban expertise, illiteracy has become a thing of the past in Venezuela. Access to education has been vastly increased at all levels, and this is considered as a fundamental component of building democracy. Chávez famously said that “the only way of ending poverty is giving power to the poor. Knowledge and consciousness are the main power!”
Again with Cuba’s help, the Barrio Adentro programme has brought high quality healthcare to Venezuela’s poorest communities, most of which previously had zero access to professional healthcare of any kind. Much to the dismay of the western multinationals, a large array of businesses have been nationalised, and there have been numerous experiments with worker management and collective ownership. Grassroots communal councils have been set up across the country with a view to engaging the masses and building a more meaningful democracy. The political process set in motion by Chávez is a socialist-oriented programme that prioritises the needs of the millions of ordinary people: the slum-dwellers, the workers, the peasants, the unemployed, the indigenous, the African, the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, Chávez’s government held elections like they were going out of fashion. This profound process in Venezuela is so exciting that it has even been able to win support from sections of the western liberal-left, usually so reliable in its outright rejection of anti-imperialist and socialist-oriented states, from A(rgentina) to Z(imbabwe).
However, one aspect of Hugo Chávez’s legacy that makes much of the western left rather uncomfortable (and makes the western ruling classes furious) is Chávez’s uncompromising anti-imperialism – his absolute insistence on at-all-costs global unity against the main enemy. Everybody likes a nice literacy programme, but why oh why did Chávez have to go and align himself with brutal dictatorships in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Libya, Belarus, Vietnam and North Korea? Why did he have to be so friendly with serial-human-rights-abusing Russia and China? Such a sentiment could be found in more than a few Chávez obituaries emanating from the western left.
For example, the irrepressible International ‘Socialist’ Organisation complained that “the international legacy of the Venezuelan president … has been tarnished by his appalling support of Gaddafi, Assad, Ahmadinejad and the Chinese state.” Owen Jones, 2013 winner of Britain’s Got Liberal-Left Talent, was troubled by “Chavez’s unpleasant foreign associations. Although his closest allies were his fellow democratically elected left-of-centre governments in Latin America, he also supported brutal dictators in Iran, Libya and Syria. It has certainly sullied his reputation”. (I should point out in passing that Chavez’s closest ally was Cuba, which Jones presumably does not consider to be “democratically elected” and which is rather a long way “left-of-centre”!)
This pattern – celebrating Venezuela’s domestic policy whilst denouncing its international stance – is a useful reminder as to the limits of western social democracy and indeed the whole concept of ‘freedom of speech’ in capitalist societies. An ‘alternative’ viewpoint is basically accepted – and can even be given a voice in the liberal media – to the extent that it keeps within reasonably well-defined limits. The British state is willing to tolerate a minority viewpoint that promotes a slightly less deranged version of capitalism, especially if it’s in a country that doesn’t have much connection with British economic interests. What the western ruling classes will never tolerate – and therefore what the social-democratic left will never promote – is global anti-imperialist unity; is the unambiguous and consistent support for all states and movements fighting imperialism. Such unity is precisely what presents an existential threat to imperialism; it is precisely what the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) seeks to destroy; it is precisely what the endless divide-and-rule strategies seek to subvert; it is, in short, the only hope of putting a stop to imperialist domination and creating a world where peoples can develop in peace and security. As Chávez himself put it: “Let’s save the human race – let’s finish off the empire”.
Chávez gave his whole-hearted support to the global movement towards multipolarity; to the increasing coordination between the progressive family of nations. He supported deep economic, political, cultural and military ties among those states that challenge western hegemony. This aspect of Chávez is absolutely central to his political legacy, and is what the western ruling classes hated him for most (in their eyes he had “inherited Fidel Castro’s mantle as Washington’s main irritant in Latin America”). What I attempt to show with this article is that, rather than sweeping Chavez’s revolutionary internationalism under the carpet, or seeing it as a blot on his progressive copybook, this anti-imperialist legacy needs to be explored, understood, defended and built upon.
“There are no boundaries in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country’s defeat is a defeat for all of us.” (Ernesto Che Guevara)
Building the global anti-imperialist front
The modern world can be a very unforgiving environment, particularly for countries with eccentric ideas about taking control of their own natural resources, redistributing wealth, redistributing land, having an independent foreign policy, that sort of thing. Those countries of 20th century Latin America that attempted to exercise independence and sovereignty were punished for their sins with brutal coups and merciless dictatorships (Argentina, Brazil, Chile). Tiny Cuba has been treated to a half-century of ruthless economic blockade, political destabilisation, diplomatic isolation and a few hundred assassination attempts. When Zimbabwe transferred land from wealthy white colonisers to impoverished black indigenous workers, the ruling classes of Britain and the US made clear their dissatisfaction by orchestrating a vicious slander campaign against Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe, imposing sanctions, and channelling large sums of cash to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. When Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych rejected the EU’s many-rather-unpleasant-strings-attached loan package, opting instead for Russian economic assistance, he was promptly swept out of office by a western-backed ‘revolution’. The attempts of Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya and other countries to forge an independent path have been answered with all-out imperialist war.
To survive in such a hostile world, there are only two real choices: capitulate, or unite and fight.
Hugo Chávez had a very clear and far-sighted worldview, informed by his rich knowledge of world history, his identification of US-led imperialism as the major obstacle to peace and development, and his own experiences of trying to exercise sovereignty and build Venezuelan socialism in the face of destabilisation and CIA-backed coup attempts. He saw Venezuela as part of a global movement challenging half a millennium of colonialism, imperialism and racism; a global movement that included China, Brazil, Russia, Zimbabwe, Libya, Syria, South Africa, Cuba, Belarus, Vietnam, Iran, Ecuador, Bolivia, DPRK, Nicaragua, Argentina and more. He recognised that the enemy used every trick in the book to undermine those countries that refused to go along with the Washington Consensus, and he understood the urgent need for a very wide-ranging unity in order to resist this onslaught. This understanding led Chávez to be totally consistent in his anti-imperialism. If unity is strength, then one can’t just stand by and watch the empire pick off our allies one by one. As he put it during a visit to South Africa in 2008:
“A day can’t be lost and a second can’t be lost in the work of uniting us, the countries of the Third World… Only united will we be free and only free will we be able to develop ourselves fully.”
Therefore the strong relationships that Chávez and his team built with all socialist and anti-imperialist states are no anomaly, no unfortunate accident, no error of judgement, but represent an ideological and strategic position with is central to Chavismo.
“Arab civilization and our civilization, the Latin American one, are being summoned in this new century to play the fundamental role of liberating the world, saving the world from the imperialism and capitalist hegemony that threaten the human species. Syria and Venezuela are at the vanguard of this struggle.” (Hugo Chávez, 2010, during Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Caracas)
Early on in his presidency, Chávez identified Syria as a key ally – one of the few countries in the Arab world that had consistently taken a firm stand against imperialism and zionism (Chávez, let it be noted, was a staunch supporter of Palestine and opponent of Israel).
Syria, a proud member of John Bolton’s prestigious Beyond the Axis of Evil group, is despised by the west for its leading role in supporting Palestinian resistance over the course of four decades, its alignment with the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah (Syrian support was crucial to Hezbollah’s 2006 defeat of Israel in South Lebanon), and its alliance with Iran.
Visiting Damascus in August 2006, Chávez stated, after a long meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “We have decided to be free. We want to cooperate to build a new world where states’ and people’s self-determination are respected… We have the same political vision and we will resist American imperialist aggression together.” Visiting Syria again in 2009 to put together a plan of economic cooperation, Chávez described the Syrian people as “architects of resistance” to imperialism, and called on the peoples of the Global South to unite, proclaiming: “We should fight to create consciousness that is free from imperialist doctrine… fight to defeat backwardness, poverty, misery… to convert our countries into true powers through the consciousness of the people.”
When Syria came under threat of regime change in 2011, Chávez and his government were quick to state their loyalty to the Syrian government. “This is a crisis that has been planned and provoked… Syria is a sovereign nation. This crisis has a single cause: the world has entered into a new era of imperialism. It’s madness.” Having made its political line very clear, Venezuela followed up by putting words into action, shipping free diesel fuel to Syria on multiple occasions to help it overcome shortages created by sanctions.
Needless to say, Venezuela’s unambiguously anti-imperialist position wasn’t appreciated by many on the western left. Counterfire, among others, chastised Chávez in no uncertain terms for his vocal support for the Syrian government: ”The statement of support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to ‘the socialist leader and Brother Bashar al Assad’, claiming he is the target of an imperialist operation to overthrow his regime and blaming the US for unrest in the country, is an insult to the Syrian protesters and the martyrs who lost their lives in the uprising against the Syrian authoritarian regime.” According to Al-Jazeera (mouthpiece of the Qatari monarchy – a major supplier of arms and money to rebel groups in Syria), “Chavez and others discredited themselves and probably discouraged any lasting alliance between Arab revolutionaries and sympathetic forces in South America”.
Chávez was not swayed by such judgements; when it was deeply unfashionable to do so, he defended Syria from the regime change campaign it was (and still is) struggling against. “How can I not support Assad? He’s the legitimate leader.”
In the course of over three years, the true nature of the Syria crisis has become increasingly transparent, as the myth of the democratic-socialist-feminist-peaceful-secular opposition has faded away and been replaced by the rather less rosy reality of murderous sectarian fundamentalists – armed to the teeth by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, with the open approval of Britain and the US – tearing the country apart. (My article ‘Decriminalising Bashar’ deals with this issue in detail). That the west’s plan is to remove Syria from the resistance axis is now clear for all to see, but that wasn’t always the case. Analysing the situation from a standpoint of militant anti-imperialism, Chávez was able to understand the big picture from the start when so many others fell for the campaign of lies and demonisation.
Chávez recognised Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as an important ally in the global struggle against imperialism: someone who had successfully led their country away from colonial dependency, developed an advanced social welfare system (with the highest human development index, highest life expectancy, lowest infant mortality and highest literacy rate in Africa), and tangibly supported socialist and anti-imperialist movements around the world from Ireland to South Africa, Nicaragua to Palestine, Dominica to Namibia. Indeed, Chávez visited Libya five times during his presidency. In Tripoli for the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution (2009), he declared that Venezuela and Libya “have the same fate, the same battle against a common enemy and we will win.” He went on to make an impassioned call for African unity:
“Africa should never again allow countries to come from across the seas to impose certain political, economic, and social systems. Africa should be of the Africans, and only by way of unity will Africa be free and great.”
Just a few weeks later, Gaddafi arrived in Venezuela for his first ever trip to South America. At the Africa-South America Summit held on Margarita Island, Chávez presented Gaddafi with a replica of a sword used by Venezuelan independence hero Simón Bolívar, stating: “Gaddafi is for Libya what Bolívar is for us.” It was Chávez’ and Gaddafi’s shared goal to usher in a new era of wide-ranging, meaningful cooperation between Africa and Latin America.
As with Syria, Chávez understood from the beginning what the ‘uprising’ in Libya was all about. While luminaries of the British left such as Gilbert Achcar were loudly calling for a no-fly zone to help get rid of Gaddafi, Chávez spoke out in defence of his friend and comrade: “A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya. I’m not going to condemn Gaddafi. I’d be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend.”
Venezuela led the calls for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, offering its services several times to help mediate between the Libyan government and rebels. “Let’s try to help, to intercede between the parties. A cease-fire, sitting down at a table. That’s the path when facing conflicts of this sort.” Sadly, the rebels and their NATO backers were not in the slightest bit interested in negotiations.
Together with regional allies including Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, Venezuela unamiguously denounced the barbaric NATO bombing. “Libya is under imperial fire. Nothing justifies this,” said Chávez. “Indiscriminate bombing. Who gave those countries the right? Neither the United States, nor France, nor England, nor any country has the right to be dropping bombs… I hope a revolution blows up on them in the United States. Let’s see what they do.” Summing up NATO’s post-Washington Consensus strategy in a very clear and simple way, he stated: “The empire is going crazy and it’s a real threat to world peace as imperialism has entered its phase of extreme craziness.” And in August 2011, when Tripoli was bombed into submission, Chávez predicted with remarkable prescience that “the drama of Libya isn’t ending with the fall of Gaddafi’s government. The tragedy in Libya is just beginning.”
Libya was another issue on which Chávez’s solid anti-imperialism was totally at odds with the first-world liberalism of the western left. Whereas Alex Callinicos, leading theoretician of the embarrassingly misnamed Socialist Workers Party (UK), called on his followers to “join the Libyan people’s celebrations of the tyrant’s demise”, Chávez was shaken by the news of Gaddafi’s NATO-orchestrated murder. ”Regrettably, Gaddafi’s death has been confirmed. He was murdered… I will remember him all of my life as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr.”
Yes, there is a pattern here. Whereas the western left has almost invariably fallen for the demonisation campaigns orchestrated against socialist and anti-imperialist states by the right-wing press, Chávez unfailingly saw through the propaganda and stayed true to his dream of global unity against the empire. In a world of cowardice and fickleness, he stood up and said: “I am not a coward, I am not fickle.”
Chávez started from a position of instinctive distrust for the propaganda that comes out of the west. Never did he fall for simplistic ‘evil dictator’ Blofeld-style cat-stroking-supervillain narratives. His whole life and political experience had taught him that the mainstream media is not to be trusted; that the imperialists spin every news item to suit their own interests. The Venezuelan media is still mainly run by the elite, who hate Chávez, who have always subjected Chávez to racism and classism, who have always spread lies and slander about him. It was easy enough for him to derive from that experience that what they said about the other countries in the ‘extended Axis of Evil’ was also probably nonsense. Meanwhile, which were the countries helping Venezuela out, supporting its policies, supporting regional integration of Latin America? Which were the countries supporting liberation movements around the world? Which were the countries supporting the liberation of Palestine – for example supplying the weaponry for the defence of Gaza? Which were the countries standing up to the US, to Britain, to France, to Israel?
Iran is another country that is routinely subjected to slander and demonisation in the west, and is another state with which Hugo Chávez built a lasting friendship, much to the dismay of western imperialism. In a fascinatingly silly article published in March 2007, senior US Republican Bailey Hutchison ranted: “In his struggle against US ‘imperialism,’ Mr. Chavez has found a useful ally in the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism — the government of Iran. He is one of the few leaders to publicly support Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, and the Iranian mullahs have rewarded Mr. Chavez’s friendship with lucrative contracts, including the transfer of Iranian professionals and technologies to Venezuela. Last month, Mr. Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed plans for a $2 billion joint fund, part of which will be used as a ‘mechanism for liberation’ against American allies… Left unchecked, Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Chavez could be the Khrushchev-Castro tandem of the early 21st century, funneling arms, money and propaganda to Latin America, and endangering that region’s fragile democracies and volatile economies.”
Chávez visited Iran several times, and hosted his Iranian counterpart – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – in Venezuela on several occasions. Despite their differing ideologies and philosophies, the two leaders created a solid alliance based on anti-imperialist unity. “One of the targets that Yankee imperialism has in its sights is Iran, which is why we are showing our solidarity,” Chavez said. “When we meet, the devils go crazy.” Ahmadinejad talked of Chávez as “a brother and trench mate” and described Iran and Venezuela as being key parts of a revolutionary front “stretching all the way to East Asia” from Latin America. “If one day, my brother Mr. Chávez and I and a few other people were once alone in the world, today we have a long line of revolutionary officials and people standing alongside each other.”
As a result of the friendly relations established between the two countries, practical cooperation has blossomed – trade has increased more than a hundred-fold since 2001 (bilateral trade reputedly exceeds $40 billion), and the two countries have joint ventures in several areas including energy, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure. Iran’s construction expertise has been used to build thousands of homes for Venezuela’s poor.
Chávez stood up for Iran’s right to develop nuclear power, and correctly noted that the nuclear issue was being used by the west to mobilise popular opinion for war, “like they used the excuse of weapons of mass destruction to do what they did in Iraq.” He declared Venezuela’s firm support for Iran with respect to the threat of war against it: “I should use the opportunity to condemn those military threats that are being made against Iran. We know that they will never be able to restrict the Islamic revolution in whatever way… We will always stand together, we will not only resist, we will also stand victorious beside one another.”
One of Hugo Chávez’s priorities in the early years of his presidency was to revive the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with a view to securing agreement that oil production should be reduced and the price should be increased. Having set a date for a full OPEC summit (only the second in the group’s history, and the first in 25 years), he went on a tour of all ten OPEC nations in order to personally invite each head of state to the summit. This itinerary necessarily included Iraq, an OPEC member. Chávez’s visit to Iraq in August 2000 sent waves of controversy, outrage and anxiety across the western world.
“Washington declared they were totally opposed to my visit to Baghdad. I told them I was going anyway; they argued there was a no-fly zone I couldn’t pass through or they might shoot down the plane. But we went to Baghdad anyway and spoke to Saddam.” (Cited in Bart Jones ‘The Hugo Chavez Story’).
Chávez was in fact the first head of state to visit Iraq since the imposition of UN sanctions in 1991. In order to side-step the international flight ban in place against Iraq, Chávez and his team crossed into Iraq from Iran by land and were then flown to Baghdad by helicopter. There he was received in person by Saddam Hussein, who drove him round Baghdad for a late-night tour of the city. Responding to criticism from the ‘international community’, Chávez stated defiantly: “We regret and denounce the interference in our internal affairs. We do not and will not accept it… We are very happy to be in Baghdad, to smell the scent of history and to walk on the bank of the Tigris River.”
The two leaders had extended discussions, described by Chávez as fruitful. “I found him an educated man who understands everything linked to OPEC.” Chávez and his colleagues also took the opportunity to denounce the sanctions regime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. “President Chavez affirmed the Venezuelan position supporting any accord against any kind of boycott or sanctions that are applied against Iraq or any other country in the world,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Jorge Valero.
One fascinating outcome of Chávez’s efforts is that, a few weeks after his visit to Baghdad, on the sidelines of the OPEC summit in Caracas, Iran and Iraq held their highest-level talks since the bitter and horrific war between the two countries (which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and resulted in at least a million casualties). Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan said that the talks between him and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had been “cordial and frank. We discussed co-operation between the two countries and agreed to work jointly for the improvement of relations between the two countries.” Chávez commented: “I am at their service to help… the full reactivation of relations between two fraternal people, two fraternal countries, which are also members of OPEC, and which are calling for a boost of reunification of the whole Arab-Islamic world.”
That Chávez was willing and able to facilitate this process speaks to his strategic brilliance and his long-term vision. Fully understanding the painful history of enmity between Iran and Iraq; fully understanding how arduous the road of reconciliation was likely to be; he nonetheless recognised that diffusing the tension between these two great nations would be a significant boost to the global anti-imperialist front. Its side-effects might have included reconciliation between Iraq and Syria (the latter being a close ally of Iran), between Iraq and Libya (which had supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq War), between Iran and the Arab world in general, and among the different Palestinian factions. Had this process of rapprochement reached its logical conclusion, the region as a whole would have been in a much stronger position in its ongoing struggle against imperialism and zionism. It would have pushed forward the Palestinain struggle for self-determination, and it may have prevented the disastrous Iraq war in which over a million Iraqis lost their lives. Indeed, the prospect of regional unity based on Iran-Iraq reconciliation may well have been one of the factors that informed the US and Britain’s decision to launch their invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The most maligned state in the western hemisphere, Cuba has been hit hard over the years by an aggressively-enforced US economic and diplomatic blockade. Until recent decades, most Latin American governments steered clear of Cuba for fear of angering their paymasters north of the border. However, the situation has changed significantly in the last 15 years since the beginning of Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution.
Chávez never made a secret of his affection for Cuba, his admiration for Cuba’s socialism and militant internationalism, and his respect for Fidel Castro as a revolutionary.
“Fidel to me is a father, a comrade, a master of perfect strategy.” Hugo Chavez, 2005.
Visiting Cuba in 1999, Chávez told the audience at the University of Havana that “Venezuela is traveling towards the same sea as the Cuban people, a sea of happiness and of real social justice and peace… Here we are, as alert as ever, Fidel and Hugo, fighting with dignity and courage to defend the interests of our people, and to bring alive the idea of Bolívar and Martí. In the name of Cuba and Venezuela, I appeal for the unity of our two peoples, and of the revolutions that we both lead. Bolívar and Martí, one country united!” (cited in Richard Gott Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution). Defending Cuba against claims that it’s a ‘dictatorship’, Chávez pointed out that Cuba has much deeper and broader forms of democracy than those countries making the accusations. “People have asked me how I can support Fidel if he’s a dictator. But Cuba doesn’t have a dictatorship… It’s a revolutionary democracy.”
A series of mutually beneficial deals were signed in 2000 which have been an economic lifeline for Cuba and which have been crucial to the success of Venezuela’s social programmes. The Barrio Adentro community healthcare programme has brought Cuban medical expertise to millions of poor Venezuelans. According to official estimates, it has “saved the lives of 1.5 million Venezuelans. Another 1.5 million Venezuelans have also received free eye surgery from Mission Miracle, a similar health care programme founded in 2004 to provide cost free optical care to residents.”
Further: “More than 53,000 Venezuelans have received free health care for chronic diseases in Cuba thanks to a bilateral agreement signed between the two Latin American nations that has increased social services and improved the quality of life for residents of Venezuela.” Additionally, Cuba has provided expertise and support for Venezuela’s literacy programme, which has been successful in wiping out illiteracy.
Venezuela pays for these crucial services with free or heavily discounted oil, which is an enormous boost for the Cuban economy. Venezuela has also helped Cuba with billions of dollars’ worth of loans, investments and grants. In doing so, it has knowingly and proudly broken the US economic blockade of Cuba. In an extended interview given to Aleida Guevara, Chávez notes: “Before, Venezuela didn’t sell oil to Cuba. Why not? Because of a ruling from Washington, because of the blockade, and the Helms-Burton Law. We don’t give a damn about this, Cuba is our sister country and we will sell to Cuba.”
Chávez came under a great deal of criticism from the US for his relationship with Cuba. Needless to say, this didn’t affect him.
“I will never tire of acknowledging Cuba’s fantastic support, of highlighting it and expressing my gratitude in public, wherever I am and whoever I am with, in whatever world forum I happen to be addressing, regardless of how many faces burn with anger because I refer to Cuba in these terms… [At the Monterrey Summit of the Americas in 2003] they told me Bush was burning with anger. I was not looking at him, but afterwards I was told he turned red and sat motionless in his chair. I had mentioned Cuba three times. I had thanked the Cuban people and Fidel for their support. I have no regrets about that… That is what Gaddafi said to me when I told him by telephone what had happened in Monterrey. He asked why Cuba had not been at the meeting for the entire continent of the Americas. ‘Ah well! That’s because the US excluded Cuba.’ He said to me, ‘Listen Hugo, on one occasion here in Africa, the British tried to prevent Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, attending a European Union meeting on Africa. We said that if Mugabe didn’t go then nobody would. Latin America should do the same.'” (Cited in Aleida Guevara Chávez, Venezuela and the New Latin America)
The mere mention of the names Castro, Gaddafi and Mugabe in the same paragraph is enough to make liberal-left social democrats wince, such is their desire for acceptability; such is their enslavement to the western imperialist propaganda machine. Chávez, on the other hand, didn’t let the imperialists influence his thought one bit. He simply got on with the job of building the global anti-imperialist front by any means necessary. As Argentina’s ambassador to the UK, Alicia Castro, put it at a recent Venezuela Solidarity Campaign conference:
“Chávez rooted us in the basis of the widest possible unity – unity with anyone with the slightest chance of joining forces against imperialism”.
Multipolarity: breaking down the empire
With the decline of US economic and political hegemony, the rise of China, the emergence of progressive Latin America, and the resurgence of Russia since the end of the Yeltsin era, the world is moving inexorably towards a ‘multipolar’ model – “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order“ (Jenny Clegg, China’s Global Strategy). China has been particularly active in promoting multipolarity as a realistic means of containing imperialism and creating a democratic and stable world order in which formerly oppressed countries can develop in peace. Hugo Chávez was a strong supporter of this concept, linking it back to Venezuela’s independence hero Simón Bolívar:
“Bolívar engendered an international idea. He spoke of what today we call a multipolar world. He proposed the unification of South and Central America into what he called Greater Colombia, to enable negotiations on an equal basis with the other three quarters of the globe. This was his multipolar vision.” (Cited in Bart Jones The Hugo Chávez Story)
Chávez energetically pursued regional integration within South America, Central America and the Caribbean as a means of creating a united, progressive force that could indeed engage “on an equal basis with the other three quarters of the globe.” The Nicaraguan anti-imperialist analysts Jorge Capelán and Toni Solo write that “in Latin America, it is impossible to engage in the construction of socialist and anti-capitalist alternatives without at the same time struggling to integrate the region politically, economically and even culturally… That is the legacy of Bolivar, as was the legacy of Martí, of Sandino, Mariátegui, Gaitán, Che, Fidel Castro and many other Latin American revolutionaries since Independence. This is so because the colonial and imperial powers needed to split the region up into small countries in order to exploit its resources and labour. This is not something Chavez made up, it is an old insight down here.”
This project has been pursued through the creation of various organisations of regional integration – in particular ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) – and through providing inspiration and practical support to other Latin American and Caribbean nations with similar visions, for example by providing the poorer countries in the region with access to Venezuelan oil on preferential terms. What we are witnessing in the present era is the emergence of a Latin America which is increasingly dominated by progressive countries and which is moving confidently towards integration and solidarity. Spanish analyst Ignacio Ramonet comments that Chavez’s “example has been followed, with different shades, in other countries. In Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, among others, there has been a series of processes which, to a certain degree, have advanced along the road opened by the Bolivarian Revolution.”
With the leadership of Chávez and Lula in particular, Latin America has been able to get closer to economic sovereignty than it has ever been. In 2005, the US plan for a free trade zone in the Americas (Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)) was comprehensively defeated at the Summit of The Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. “Without the joint leadership of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva and late Argentinean president Néstor Kirchner, this strategic defeat of imperialism in Latin America would not have been possible.”
Friendship with China
Beyond Latin America, Chávez worked hard to establish firm friendships with the world’s major developing powers, in particular China and Russia – which countries Fidel Castro recently described as “the two countries called upon to lead a new world which will allow for human survival, if imperialism does not first unleash a criminal, exterminating war.”
Bart Jones writes that Chavez’s “biggest international initiative outside of Latin America involved China… China’s starving energy market made it a perfect match for Chávez’s plans to divest himself as much as possible from the United States and foster a multipolar world. He struck a deal to send China oil. It started with a commitment in 2005 to supply thirty thousand barrels a day. By 2007 that was to jump to three hundred thousand, with an ultimate goal of half a million barrels a day by 2009 or 2010. It was part of a plan to increase from 15 percent to 45 percent the amount of its crude and other oil products Venezuela sent to Asia.”
Chávez clearly saw China as a crucial partner in the struggle for a new world, visiting six times over the course of his presidency and forging close economic, diplomatic and political relations. On his first trip, in 1999, he expressed his admiration for the Chinese economic model of market socialism, declaring: “We are witnessing the triumph of the Chinese revolution.” The Chinese model, with the state controlling the commanding heights of the economy whilst encouraging regulated private enterprise for less crucial areas, has played an important role in informing Venezuela’s own economic policy over the last 15 years.
In 2006, Chávez angered imperialists and liberals the world over by describing the Chinese revolution as “one of the greatest events of the 20th century”, and saying that Chinese socialism is “an example for Western leaders and governments that claim capitalism is the only alternative.” During Chávez’s tenure, Venezuela quickly became one of China’s key allies in Latin America, and Chávez was considered as a “great friend of the Chinese people”.
Celebrating the emergence of China as a major world power, Chávez pointed out the fundamental difference between the role of China – which has developed through its own diligence and persistence – and the colonialist/imperialist powers, who built their wealth on the basis of plunder, genocide, coups, terror and exploitation. “China is large but it’s not an empire. China doesn’t trample on anyone, it hasn’t invaded anyone, it doesn’t go around dropping bombs on anyone.” Chávez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, follows up on this point: “China practises international relations on the basis of equality. It shows that, just starting the 21st century, it is possible to build a new world power without the imperialist practice of colonisation and domination.”
Venezuela has been the recipient of extensive infrastructure investment and large, friendly loans from China that have been critical for sustaining the social programmes and the development of industrialisation. By paying China in oil (to the tune of approximately 600,000 barrels a day), Venezuela is able to work towards its aim of trade diversification. “Since 2001 Venezuela and China have signed 480 cooperation agreements and participated in 143 joint projects… From 2005 to 2012 China lent Venezuela US$47 billion, accounting for 55% of Chinese credit issued to South American nations in that period.” The relationship continues to deepen, with Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Venezuela resulting in 38 new agreements worth 18 billion USD, including “a US$4 billion direct loan for Venezuela and US$14 billion in Chinese financing for development projects in energy, mining, industry, technology, communications, transport, housing and culture” (ibid).
Friendship with Russia
Of course, the battles to defend Venezuela, to integrate Latin America and to build a multipolar world are not solely economic or diplomatic. The prevailing military dominance of the US and its allies means that anti-imperialist forces must be able to defend their gains with arms. Himself a military man, Comandante Chávez never tired of stating that the Venezuelan Revolution is “peaceful but armed”. If, in the broad division of labour connected with building a multipolar world, China is the economic powerhouse, then Russia is taking the lead on military matters.
An obituary on Russia Today noted that, since 2005, “Venezuela has purchased $4 billion worth of arms from Russia, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, and the two countries have held joint naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea. In 2010, Chavez announced that Russia would build Venezuela’s first nuclear power station, and that the nation had agreed to a further $1.6 billion in oil contracts with Moscow.” Nicolas Maduro, who was foreign minister at the time, was clear on the global significance of his country’s relationship with Russia: “The unipolar world is collapsing and finishing in all aspects, and the alliance with Russia is part of that effort to build a multipolar world.”
Speaking very plainly after the purchase of a consignment of S300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia in 2009, Chávez said: ”With these rockets it’s going to be very difficult for foreign planes to come and bomb us.” Given the fate of Libya just two years later, it would be difficult to argue that the Venezuelan president was suffering from paranoia.
Over the course of the last decade, Russia’s increasing alignment with the Global South has been a huge boost for the forces of multipolarity and anti-imperialism, especially when contrasted with the dark days of clientelism under the buffoon Yeltsin. Russia has taken on this role with poise, recognising that its continued independence and development is closely bound up with the success of China, Africa and Latin America. Vladimir Putin reportedly told Chávez that the latter’s re-election in 2012 was the “best present I could have for my 60th birthday”; and, a few months after Chávez’s death, Nicolas Maduro presided over the naming ceremony for Hugo Chávez Street in Moscow.
March forward in the name of Hugo Chávez
The untimely death of this brilliant human being was a terrible blow for progressive humanity to bear, and leaves a gap which is very difficult to fill. One has to guard against hero worship and the Hollywood-style individualised version of history, but there’s no denying that certain people – through their strength of purpose, their understanding, their determination, their heroism, their leadership skills, their creative brilliance, their charisma, their devotion to the people – play an outstanding role.
Hugo Chávez was such a person. He worked ceaselessly in pursuit of his vision: for a socialist Venezuela; for a united and sovereign Latin America; and for a fair, multipolar world order free from imperialist domination. His vision was infectious, and served to inspire people around the world. He breathed life into a global revolutionary process that had been little in evidence since the upswing of the 1970s (Mozambique, Angola, Chile (1970-73), Guinea Bissau, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe). In the intervening period we saw the decline and fall of the ‘Eastern Bloc’, the rise of neoliberal economics, the spread of ‘structural adjustment’, the genocidal impact of HIV/AIDS, and a deep disillusionment among much of the left. The Bolivarian Revolution, combined with China’s rise and an emerging multipolar world, has brought new hope.
Speaking recently at the July 26 Historical Museum in Santiago de Cuba, Xi Jinping said: “Revolutionary martyrs are precious spiritual treasures that have inspired us to continuously march forward.” May the work, example and ideas of Hugo Chávez continue to inspire and educate us, and may his revolutionary internationalism continue to be studied and honoured.
This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the Morning Star on 16 June, 2014.
While a few books have been written about the 2011 Libya war from a critical, anti-imperialist perspective (the most important being Cynthia McKinney’s The Illegal War on Libya and Maximilian Forte’s Slouching Towards Sirte), Topping Qaddafi is the first attempt by a mainstream western political scientist to provide a retrospective justification for the war.
The author, Christopher Chivvis, works at a US government-funded think-tank (RAND Corporation) and is a well-connected analyst whose articles have been published in Foreign Policy, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Times, Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere. His book is, as you might expect, unashamedly pro-imperialist, and presents a more-or-less official narrative. As such it should be read critically. Nonetheless, it provides some useful insight into the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the war, as well as revealing the full extent of NATO’s role.
The re-telling of tall stories
Chivvis starts by reiterating the official justification for going to war: that the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was engaged in a deadly crackdown on peaceful demonstrators calling for democracy. What’s interesting is that Chivvis doesn’t manage to introduce any new or convincing evidence, but instead simply recycles the various reports that appeared in the mainstream press at the time and which have since been comprehensively discredited. For example he cites “evidence of systematic rape by regime militias”, a story refuted three years ago by none other than Amnesty International. He further claims that “Qaddafi had reinforced it [the Libyan army] with mercenaries from Africa and Eastern Europe”, with no mention of the discovery that the only ‘mercenaries’ ever captured were not in fact mercenaries at all but rather “undocumented labourers from Chad, Mali and West Africa”.
Any far-fetched and unsubstantiated claims made by supporters of the uprising are treated as being uncontrovertibly true. Among the book’s sources is a Guardian article containing the following passage:
Reports from inside the country claimed pro-regime forces had deliberately aimed at protesters’ heads. A mass funeral for 35 people who died on Friday came under fire from pro-government snipers who killed one person at the procession and injured a dozen more, according to sources in the city. The shootings came amid credible reports of a round-up of government opponents who were taken from their homes in raids by security forces. The crackdown has been led by the elite Khamis Brigade, led by Gaddafi’s youngest son… Unconfirmed reports claim that force has been backed by African mercenaries brought into the country in five separate flights. A video on the Libya 17th February website appeared to show an injured African mercenary who had captured by anti-government protesters.
These few short sentences yield a particularly high-scoring game of spot-the-euphemism. We have “reports from inside the country”, “sources in the city”, “credible reports”, “unconfirmed reports” and “a video” which “appeared to show” something or other – but what we don’t have is any reliable evidence. Indeed, every single one of these “unconfirmed reports” turned out to be untrue.
Real reasons for the invasion
Chivvis goes into detail about the US’ initial reluctance to take military action, correctly pointing out that France and Britain were the main ‘hawks’ in the weeks leading up to the start of the bombing campaign. “As of early 2011, the chances NATO would go to war again seemed remote at best.” Indeed, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates stated on 24 February 2011 that “any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.” Chivvis notes that, in early March, “less than a third of Americans favoured helping the rebels militarily.”
It’s not that the US wasn’t convinced of the virtues of overthrowing the Gaddafi government – in spite of eight years of rapprochement and somewhat improved relations, the US remained decidedly uneasy about Libya’s resource nationalism, its increased economic ties with China and Russia, and its efforts toward African political, economic and military integration. Continued CIA support for covert anti-Gaddafi organisations like the National Front for the Salvation of Libya is well-known. Meanwhile, the US quickly saw in the ‘Arab Spring’ an opportunity to turn the situation to its own advantage – indeed, Chivvis suggests that one of the motives for intervention in Libya was that a failure of the uprising “could reverse a democratic surge expected to be in the US interest in the long haul”. Hillary Clinton was fairly explicit on the subject: ”The entire region is changing, and a strong and strategic American response will be essential.”
There were no shortage of motives for a NATO war on Libya. However, the Pentagon was hoping that the rebels might be able to conduct a successful coup without the help of the international high-tech-destruction community. Apart from anything else, there was a preference to avoid another unpopular war in the Middle East, especially in light of the hugely negative public perception of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ”Secretary Clinton had favoured keeping all options on the table, while sometimes leaning toward the more cautious position of the Defence Department, largely in hope that Qaddafi might simply yield to the rebels without an intervention.”
When it became clear that a successful rebel uprising was not even a slightly likely outcome, we saw a swift metamorphosis in US foreign policy circles as doves turned into hawks. Chivvis tries to cover NATO’s tracks by claiming that “it was the imminent threat Qaddafi’s forces posed to the civilian population of Benghazi combined with the emergence of a military option that could save thousands of imperiled lives that led to intervention”. But it is common knowledge that the ‘imminent threat’ was massively and deliberately overstated in order to build a case for war – as Stephen M Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard, wrote back in April 2011, “the claim that the United States had to act to prevent Libyan tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi from slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Benghazi does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.”
It is again common knowledge that it was armed insurgents that were under threat rather than the ‘civilian population’. The only meaningful change that occurred between the beginning of March and the middle of March was that the Libyan state had moved decisively to suppress a coup. ”The … most important change was Qaddafi’s rout of the rebel forces. Over the weekend, Qaddafi’s army began to make rapid progress, pushing rebels out of the oil port of Ras Lanuf on March 11 and crushing the uprising in Zawiyah.”
Beyond the removal of an inconveniently anti-imperialist and independent government, the possibility of NATO intervention had certain other attractive qualities in the eyes of western policy-makers. Perhaps the most important of these was the example an intervention would provide for other regional powers. Acknowledging that the level of violence went well beyond what was authorised in the UN Security Council’s resolution for a no-fly zone, Chivvis admits that it “was no doubt intended to demonstrate US capabilities to other regional powers – such as Iran and Syria.”
One subtle and often-overlooked factor in the US decision to join – and take charge of – the military campaign against Libya is that it was keen to reassert its dominance over a Europe that is no longer so unambiguously tied to the Washington Consensus as it once was. Implying (not entirely unfairly) that a British/French-led attack would be little more than a vanity project for Cameron and Sarkozy, Chivvis states his doubt that the EU forces would have been up to the job of regime change in Libya. “The outlook for the European Union’s decade-long effort to build an EU alternative to NATO was rather gloomy. Toppling Qaddafi was exactly the kind of operation the EU had originally aspired to with its security and defence policy, but it had proven totally useless for this purpose.” Chivvis goes on to gloat that “the United States was the ‘indispensable nation’ for these kinds of military operations. No other country – China, Russia, and India included – could have provided the capabilities that the United States did.” Thus, the regime change operation in Libya served as a message of US supremacy, directed not just to the baddies in Tehran and Damascus but also to the major west European powers.
For NATO, by NATO – a brutal colonial war
UN Security Council resolution 1973, approved on 17 March 2011, called for “a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians” and the seizing of Libyan state assets. The wording did not allow for a regime change operation, nor for direct assistance to anti-government groups in Libya, nor for wide-ranging attacks against targets on the ground. The no-fly zone was presented as being a very limited operation, not a massive aerial onslaught. In practice, as Chivvis is forced to admit, it was a NATO war on a similar scale to the brutal attack on Yugoslavia, fought and won by a western imperialist air force with the assistance of special forces on the ground.
All told, the operation would draw on more than 8,000 personnel, 21 warships, and some 250 aircraft flying more than 26,000 sorties. Nineteen countries contributed military forces, including four from the Middle East.
Chivvis notes a close level of tactical collaboration between the rebels and NATO, without which the overthrow of the Gaddafi government would not have been possible. “The thuwwar could never have won by themselves. Without NATO’s intervention, their uprising would most likely have been snuffed out by Qaddafi’s assault on Benghazi, and even if it had not, it would probably have become a low-level insurgency and dragged on for years… ‘I can’t say we dislike or like NATO,’ said one tha’ir on the eastern front, but ‘without them we would have been finished.’”
Although he is slightly cagey on the subject, the author also has to admit that there was direct military assistance on the ground – something that was strenuously denied at the time.
“It is now clear from official statements, news reporting, and other published sources that special forces from Britain, France, Italy, Qatar, and the UAE were on the ground at various locations across the country from the start of the conflict, and they became more and more engaged as the situation evolved. These forces were never more than a few hundred, of which Europeans figured only a small portion, but they were enough to make a significant difference on the course of the war.”
The role of these “few hundred” special forces was not limited to friendly advice. “Special forces were training thuwwar, providing advice at the tactical and strategic level to thuwwar commanders, deconflicting NATO air strikes with thuwwar movements, providing intelligence to them, and ultimately fighting alongside them as they took Tripoli and tracked down Qaddafi afterward.”
Chivvis denies that the rebels were “calling in air strikes”, but states that they “eventually learned where to go and not to go and would wait as NATO hit targets to clear a path for them to advance”. Further, “as the war progressed, special forces teams on the ground were doing this for the rebels, with greater and greater frequency, in a rough approximation of the ‘Afghan Model’”. The situation was summed up quite neatly by a rebel commander in June 2011: “we don’t move unless we have very clear instructions from NATO.”
The above sounds a lot more like a ‘war of regime change’ than a ‘no-fly zone’. NATO’s actions were so outrageous as to draw a complaint from Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa (in spite of the fact that the Arab League had been cheerleading for the NFZ): “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.”
In March, at the beginning of the invasion, the chief of the UK defence staff, General David Richards, told the BBC that targeting the Libyan leader was “not allowed under the UN resolution”. And yet Chivvis describes in some detail the crucial involvement of NATO forces in the capture and murder of a sovereign nation’s head of state: “On October 20, after several days of gradual rebel advances on Sirte, NATO planes spotted a convoy leaving the city. Before it was even two miles outside, a Predator that had been circling overhead fired a Hellfire missile that destroyed the leading vehicle. Two French Mirages then also attacked, scattering the convoy, and Thuwwar gave chase on the ground. Qaddafi leapt from one of the cars into a nearby drainpipe, where he attempted to hide. Nearby rebel fighters, however, converged on the spot and quickly pulled him out, beat him, and shot him in the head.”
There are some curious omissions in ‘Toppling Qaddafi’. Chivvis barely mentions, for example, the ferocious NATO onslaught on Sirte – perhaps because bombing a city “into the Dark Ages” is not entirely consistent with his overall narrative. Nor does he see the need to discuss the “compendious evidence of mass abduction and detention, beating and routine torture, killings and atrocities by the rebel militias Britain, France and the US have backed”. While it was apparently essential to protect anti-Gaddafi protestors in Benghazi, the victims of mass execution in Sirte are not worthy of so much as a passing mention in Chivvis’ book.
Another key element of the war ignored by Chivvis is the racist violence meted out by NATO’s ‘rebel’ mercenaries. Reports of widespread lynching and torture of black Libyans and sub-Saharan migrant workers by rebel forces were appearing as early as February 2011 – before the NFZ was even being discussed. Seumas Milne wrote a few months later that “African migrants and black Libyans [were] subject to a relentless racist campaign of mass detention, lynchings and atrocities”. NATO-backed forces were found to be caging black Africans like animals in a zoo; there were reports of black Libyans being forced to climb up a pole shouting ‘monkey need banana’. And yet the widespread ethnic cleansing, torture and murder of black Libyans and sub-Saharan migrant workers by rebel forces doesn’t make it onto Chivvis’ balance sheet when assessing the overall success of NATO’s war on Libya.
Give peace a chance?
Chivvis claims that the NATO bombing was necessary in order to avert a humanitarian crisis, but he almost completely fails to mention all the other options available for restoring stability and peace in Libya. The Gaddafi government offered a ceasefire immediately after the passing of Resolution 1973, including a full amnesty for rebels who had taken up arms. In late April, Gaddafi again offered a full ceasefire, stating: “We were the first to welcome a ceasefire and we were the first to accept a ceasefire… but the Crusader Nato attack has not stopped. The door to peace is open.”
Well before the NFZ declaration, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez offered to broker a ceasefire between the rebels and the government. The rebels – clearly confident that the west would come and wage war on their behalf – simply responded that they would “never negotiate with Gaddafi”. Tellingly, the Guardian noted that “reports that Chavez’s proposal was being taken seriously by Arab leaders has pushed down oil prices.” The implication of which is: the oil companies wanted war on Libya.
South African president Jacob Zuma led African Union efforts to design a comprehensive ceasefire, which was agreed to by Libya. However, this was rejected out of hand by both Washington puppet-masters and Benghazi puppets on the basis that a ceasefire would only be considered if Gaddafi agreed to leave the country. In fact, between March and September 2011 – including in June and July when government positions were looking extremely strong – Gaddafi consistently called for a ceasefire and his calls were consistently ignored. The attitude of NATO and the rebels was: “accept defeat and we’ll stop bombing you” – hardly a serious approach to the project of saving lives and restoring peace.
Another conundrum is that “Qaddafi’s air force and long-range surface-to-air systems were flattened in a matter of a few short days”. That is to say, the mandate of the NFZ was complete in less than a week. So why didn’t the bombardment end? Chivvis does not address this question.
Disaster for Libya and the entire region
“In the years ahead, Libya could become a peaceful democracy or it could face protracted civil war, or it could descend into chaos. The stakes are high.” (Hillary Clinton)
So was it all worth it? In the eyes of Christopher Chivvis, yes. The toppling of the Gaddafi government was “ultimately just an opening toward a richer and more meaningful kind of freedom that might allow Libya’s new citizens to go about their lives with less fear and greater dignity.” He continues: “The results are far from perfect and postwar stabilisation has faltered, but ultimately the choice to intervene was the right one.”
Chivvis struggles to qualify the assertion of success, given the “faltering postwar stabilisation” – a pretty transparent euphemism for “complete and utter mess”. Seumas Milne notes that “three years after Nato declared victory, Libya is lurching once again towards civil war.” Patrick Cockburn concurs: “Libya is tipping toward all-out civil war as rival militias take sides for and against an attempted coup led by a renegade general that has pushed the central government towards disintegration”.
Furthermore, “Libya’s turmoil is acquiring continental significance”. One of Gaddafi’s major priorities was to promote regional stability and coordination. The post-Gaddafi power vacuum has created space for militias of every shape and size to create havoc across the region, from Mali to Chad to Syria to Nigeria.
However, ‘success’ depends on how you measure it. The key to Chivvis’ thinking can be found in the following passage:
“In general, Libya should remain a positive, if smaller-scale, antidote to the sense of helplessness and cynicism about American power setting in after the deeply trying experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, and this is a good thing.”
This is a brutally honest statement about the role of the Libya war in the geostrategic context of the Project for a New American Century – the US’ desperate attempt to maintain its hegemony and prevent the emergence of a multipolar world order. According to Chivvis’ logic, the deeply unpopular, expensive and catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were damaging to US hegemony, but the Libya war furnishes new proof of the US’ role as the world’s policeman. The US maintains its “responsibility to take the actions that we can take, however imperfect, to uphold the values in which our model is grounded.”
NATO’s war on Libya was therefore a key part of an ongoing strategy to “divide and ruin” – violating national sovereignty, creating civil wars, and removing states that refuse to go along with its diktat, all serving to create an unstable global political environment that only the western powers (led by the US) have the military weight to control. The wars in Libya and Syria; the NATO- and EU-sponsored boiling pot in Ukraine; the ‘revolt of the rich’ in Venezuela; the CIA-funded social media campaigns in Cuba; Obama’s “Pacific Pivot”: these are all part of a wide-ranging strategy to maintain western imperialist hegemony. It is the duty of all progressive humanity to recognise and oppose such a strategy.
Jenny Clegg’s book China’s Global Strategy, published by Pluto Press in 2009, is an extremely useful examination of China’s economic and political outlook. It focuses on the country’s overriding strategy of developing a ‘multipolar world’, where no one country dominates and where the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – for centuries ground down by colonialism and neo-colonialism – have space to develop in peace.
China’s vision: survival and peaceful development in a hostile world
China’s strategy is derived from one simple overriding aim: the survival of People’s China. The need to maintain China’s sovereignty in the face of intense imperialist hostility gives rise to the main aspects of China’s economic and geopolitical strategy: integrating itself into the world economy; opposing US domination; promoting ‘balance’ – a larger (and increasing) number of influential powers; promoting South-South cooperation; utilising the rivalry between the different imperialist powers to push forward the development agenda; and promoting the general rise of the third world.
All these elements can be summed up as the drive towards a multipolar world; a world involving “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order“.
The theory of multipolarity is largely the product of the collapse of the USSR and the boost it gave to the hegemonic ambitions of the United States. Despite the long period of hostility between China and the USSR, the latter’s existence was a powerful force of balance in world politics. With the USSR gone, the US embarked with renewed energy on an orgy of neocolonial domination: extending the reach of NATO further and further eastwards; waging wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Libya in the pursuit of natural resources and geopolitical advantage; imposing structural adjustment programmes on dozens of third-world countries; and deepening its military dominance through ‘missile defence’ and the like.
Clegg notes that “China … was left more exposed to US hegemonism by the collapse of the USSR and the eastern European communist states. The West had attempted to isolate China, imposing sanctions following the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 …” (pp54-55)
“Capitalising on advantages in technical innovation, especially in hi-tech weaponry, as well as its cultural influence, the United States was re-establishing its power superiority. By reviving both NATO and its military alliance with Japan, the United States was able to reincorporate Europe and Japan as junior partners and rein in their growing assertiveness, and to contain Russia as well as China, so weakening the multipolar trend …
“For Chinese analysts [the war against Yugoslavia] marked a new phase of US neo-imperialist interventionism and expansionism – a bid to create a new empire – which presaged new rounds of aggression and which would be seriously damaging for the sovereignty and developmental interests of many countries. The United States was stepping up its global strategic deployment, preparing to ‘contain, besiege and even launch pre-emptive military strikes against any country which dares to defy its world hegemony’.” (p59; citation from Wang Jincun, ‘”Democracy” veils hegemony’)
Clegg cites [former Chinese President] Hu Jintao at a meeting of senior Communist Party leaders in 2003: “They [the US] have extended outposts and placed pressure points on us from the east, south and west. This makes a great change in our geopolitical environment.” (p34)
In this dangerous environment, faced with the unrelenting hostility of the world’s only remaining superpower, China developed the clever – albeit dangerous – strategy of integrating itself into the world economy and, in so doing, making itself indispensable to the US. It is clear that this policy has, so far, been successful in its main objective; although the US is desperate to slow China’s economic growth and restrict its political influence, it finds itself unable to launch the type of diplomatic (or indeed military) attack it would like to, for fear of Chinese economic retaliation.
As Clegg puts it: “China is using globalisation to make itself indispensable to the functioning of the world economy, promoting an interdependence which means it becomes increasingly difficult for the United States to impose a strategy of ‘isolation and encirclement’.“
Indeed, Clegg suggests that, “at its core, China’s is a Leninist strategy whose cautious implementation is infused with the principles of protracted people’s war: not overstepping the material limitations, but within those limits ‘striving for victory’; being prepared to relinquish ground when necessary and not making the holding of any one position the main objective, focusing instead on weakening the opposing force; advancing in a roundabout way; using ‘tit for tat’ and ‘engaging in no battle you are not sure of winning’ in order to ‘subdue the hostile elements without fighting’.” (p223)
Manoeuvring towards multipolarity
Twenty-one years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the conditions are certainly right for a multipolar world, and this is beginning to take shape.
That the various major countries no longer unquestioningly accept US dominance is demonstrated by the bitterness over the Iraq war, which was opposed by France, Germany, Russia and India. More recently, Russia and China have used their position on the UN Security Council to prevent a full-scale military assault on Syria. Meanwhile, a strong anti-imperialist trend has been emerging in Latin America, with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua leading the move away from US dominance. Southern Africa – not so long ago dominated by vicious apartheid regimes in South Africa, South West Africa (Namibia) and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and by Portuguese colonialism in Angola and Mozambique – is now largely composed of progressive states.
The major ‘non-aligned’ powers such as Brazil, Russia, South Africa, India and Iran are all forging closer relations with China and are starting to take a leading role in developing a new type of world – a ‘fair globalisation’, as the Chinese put it.
China has focused strongly on building international alliances at every level. It initiated the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which was constituted in 2001 in order to cooperate with regional allies on issues such as energy strategy, poverty alleviation and combating US-sponsored separatism. The SCO was built around the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, but includes a number of former Soviet republics in Central Asia as full members, while a number of key Asian powers, such as Iran, India and Pakistan, presently have observer status and may become full members in the future.
China is one of the driving forces behind BRICS – the international alliance of the five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. BRICS is firmly focused on promoting South-South cooperation, and the BRICS development bank (which could be launched within two years) will be provide crucial investment for development projects in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.
China is also starting to lead east Asian economic cooperation, proposing and implementing the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), under which the weaker east Asian economies are given priority access to China’s markets, while China also benefits from the technical and other advantages of the more developed economies of the region.
“Far from cutting the ground beneath the export-oriented countries of East Asia, the development of manufacturing in China has been the engine of regional economic growth. After 2001, with the United States in recession and the Japanese economy still stagnating, China’s growth was key to reflating the regional economy still shaky after the 1997 crisis.” (p116)
Through its policies of regional security and economic cooperation, as well as its complex relationship with the various imperialist powers, China is frustrating US expansionism. “The US aim to encircle China though networking the hub-and-spokes pattern of its bilateral military alliances into an Asian NATO based on the conditions of its own absolute security, is therefore being thwarted as China, region by region, seeks to foster an alternative model of cooperative security.” (p121)
But hasn’t China capitulated to the US?
Clegg notes, and treats seriously, the left critique of China: that it is going down the path towards capitalism; that it is following the path of Gorbachev and the Soviet Union.
She writes: “Across a wide spectrum of view among the western Left, China’s gradual path of economic reform since the later 1970s has been regarded as a ‘creeping privatisation’ undermining self-reliance bit by bit with foreign investment steadily encroaching on the country’s economic sovereignty. Its 2001 WTO accession is thus seen as the outcome of a gradual process of capitalist restoration – a final step in sweeping away the last obstacle in the way of China’s transition from socialism.“
Clegg argues that, on the contrary, China’s “’embrace of globalisation’ is in fact a rather audacious move to strengthen its own national security … The goal is not to transform the entire system into a capitalist one but to improve and strengthen the socialist system and develop the Chinese economy as quickly as possible within the framework of socialism.” (p124)
This is the basis on which China joined the WTO – in order to able to “insert itself into the global production chains linking East Asia to the US and other markets, thus making itself indispensable as a production base for the world economy. This would make it far more difficult for the United States to impose a new Cold War isolation.“
Further, China’s integration in the world economy has allowed it to be a part of “the unprecedented global technological revolution, offering a short cut for the country to accelerate its industrial transformation and upgrade its economic structure. By using new information technologies to propel industrialisation, incorporating IT into the restructuring of SOEs [state-owned enterprises], China would be able to make a leap in development, at the same time using new technologies to increase the state’s capacity to control the economy.” (pp128-9)
Clegg quotes Rong Ying’s explanation of the economic drivers behind China’s strategy: “Developing countries could make full use of international markets, technologies, capital and management experience of developed countries to cut the cost of learning and leap forward by transcending the limits of their domestic markets and primitive accumulation.” (p84; Rong Ying is a foreign affairs expert at the China Institute of International Studies)
In the author’s view, China is not abandoning Leninism by seeking to engage with the US; rather, it is following the creative and pragmatic spirit of Leninism, making difficult compromises in a novel and extremely tough situation. Moreover, in dealing with second-rate imperialist powers, such as France and Germany, for example, Chinese strategists have taken to heart Lenin’s advice to take “advantage of every, even the smallest, opportunity of gaining an … ally, even though this ally be temporary, vacillating, unreliable and conditional“. (Cited on p99)
Despite the apparent similarities between China’s ‘reform and opening up’ and the revisionist era in the Soviet Union, there are also some important differences.
First, of course, the prevailing economic and political circumstances: China in 1980 was significantly less developed than the USSR in 1960; the peasant population was (and is) still much larger than the working class; the average standard of living was far behind the major capitalist countries, as was the level of technical development.
Second, the imperialist countries had made huge advances in military technology, which China had to catch up with if it wanted security. Therefore, the Chinese invocation of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (the economic policy introduced in the Soviet Union in 1921 that introduced market elements in order to kick-start the economy after the war of intervention) has a lot more substance than Gorbachev’s.
Naturally, having seen what happened in the USSR, people get anxious when they see market reforms in China. However, if the “proof of the pudding is in the eating”, then it should be noted that, whereas the USSR stagnated through the 1980s, China has witnessed the most impressive programme of poverty alleviation in human history .
Whereas, in the last years of the USSR’s existence, the needs of its population were increasingly ignored, in China, the needs of the people are very much at the top of the agenda. Whereas, in the USSR, technical development fell way behind the imperialist countries in the 80s, in China, it is rising to the level of the imperialist countries. Indeed, the centre of gravity of the scientific world is slowly but surely shifting east. And China is playing a valuable role in sharing technology, for example by launching satellites for Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Whereas, in the USSR, the ruling party (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) started to lose a lot of its prestige, the Chinese Communist Party remains extremely popular and is by far the largest political party in the world, with over 85 million members. And the Chinese leadership have clearly studied and understood the process of degeneration in the USSR. The new President, Xi Jinping, has talked about this issue a number of times, and warned that the party must remain firm in its principles and its working class orientation. A recent article quotes Xi telling party insiders that “China must still heed the ‘deeply profound’ lessons of the former Soviet Union, where political rot, ideological heresy and military disloyalty brought down the governing party. ‘Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered’, Mr Xi said. ‘Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone'”.
So perhaps what we are seeing is an extremely complex, creative, dialectical and dynamic approach to developing the aims of Chinese socialism and global development. After all, to refuse to accept any compromise; to demand revolutionary ‘purity’ at the expense of the practical needs of the revolution; would be utterly un-Marxist.
Is China the latest imperialist country?
Another accusation that is often levelled against China (usually by liberal apologists of imperialism) is that it has become an imperialist country; that its investment in dozens of third world countries amounts to a policy of ‘export of capital’; that it has established an exploitative relationship with those countries with which it trades.
To be honest, it’s difficult to take these claims seriously. By and large, they are the jealous cries of British, US, Japanese, French and German finance capitalists, who have got enormously rich out of the structural adjustment programmes imposed on so many third world countries in the 1990s and whose profits are now threatened by China’s emergence as an alternative source of development capital in Asia, Africa and South America.
Those countries of the Global South that are working hard to improve the lives of their populations are deeply appreciative of the support they get in this regard. Venezuela’s rise over the last 14 years would have been extremely difficult without Chinese support, and the much-missed Hugo Chávez was a great friend of China. Chinese investment is also very important to Cuba, South Africa, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Jamaica and elsewhere. An important recent example is the 40-billion-dollar deal whereby China will build in Nicaragua an alternative to the Panama Canal – “a step that looks set to have profound geopolitical ramifications“. As Clegg writes: “China’s large-scale investment and trade deals are starting to break the stranglehold of international capital over the developing world.” (p212)
Since joining the WTO, “China’s lower tariffs and rising imports have helped boost trade with other developing countries, many of which are experiencing significant trade balances in their favour for the first time in decades … Thanks to increased demand from China, the value of exports by all developing countries rose by 25 percent, bringing their share in world trade to 31 percent in 2004, the highest since 1950.
“Since 2004, China has also taken major steps in its commitment to cooperation through large-scale investment in the developing world. From Latin America to Africa, countries are increasingly looking to China as a source of investment and a future business partner, as China seeks synergies in South-South cooperation…
“By funding infrastructure projects in other developing countries China is helping to boost trade so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. In addition, China has reduced or cancelled debts owed by 44 developing countries and has provided assistance to more than 110 countries for 2,000 projects.” (p210)
Further: “Over 30 African countries have benefited from China’s debt cancellations to the tune of $1.3bn … Investment credit is to be doubled to $3bn by 2009 [it is now more than double this figure]. Chinese companies offer technical assistance and build highways and bridges, sports stadiums, schools and hospitals to ensure projects deliver clear benefits to locals, for example in helping to restore Angola’s war-ravaged infrastructure.” (p211)
China is intent on assisting its brothers and sisters in the third world, and it feels that, by improving south-south cooperation, by sharing its technical know-how, and by helping to raise developing countries out of poverty, it is moving towards its overall strategy of multipolarisation.
Clegg sums up China’s international policy as attempting to create “a new international order based on non-intervention and peaceful coexistence without arms races, in which all countries have an equal voice in shaping a more balanced globalisation geared to the human needs of peace, development and sustainability“. (p226)
A dangerous game
China has followed a path of rapid growth, which has led to phenomenal results in terms of improving the lives of ordinary people. In the last 30 years, the proportion of Chinese people living below the poverty line has fallen from 85% to under 16%. Life expectancy is 74 (a rise of 28 in the last half-century!). Literacy is an impressive 93%, which compares extremely well with the pre-revolution level of 20% (and, for example, with India’s 74%).
Nonetheless, the economic reforms have undoubtedly brought serious problems – in particular: unemployment (albeit a reasonably manageable 4%), a massive increase in wealth disparity, regional disparities, an unsustainable imbalance between town and country, reliance on exports, the growth of unregulated cheap labour, and an unstable ‘floating population’ of rural migrants.
These are, of course, problems that face many other countries as well, including the wealthy imperialist ones. The difference is that in China there are both the political will and the economic resources to seriously address these issues. Huge campaigns are under way to reduce unemployment, to reduce the gap between town and country, to modernise the rural areas, to create employment, to wipe out corruption, to empower the grassroots, to improve workplace democracy, to improve access to education, to improve rural healthcare, and so on. Such are the issues on which the government’s attention is firmly focused.
“The problems in the rural healthcare and education systems have been placed centre stage in the government’s ‘people first’ agenda. In 2006, a rural cooperative medicare system was started in low-income areas, with farmers, central and local government all making equal contributions. According to government estimates, the new scheme already covers 83 percent of the rural population, and the aim is for complete coverage of the whole population by 2010 … To improve the situation in rural education, the government is abolishing fees for all 150 million rural students in primary and secondary education, while increasing support for teacher training.” (p155)
China is also strongly focused on empowering its trade unions to represent the interests of the working class in its bid for better pay and conditions. Unlike in Britain, corporate no-union policies are illegal, and union officials have the right to enter the premises of non-union enterprises in order to recruit.
Clegg notes that “the rabidly anti-union Wal-Mart was compelled by law to recognise a trade union for the first time anywhere in the world in one of its outlets in Fujian province in 2006“. (p162)
There are a variety of opinions with regard to the political and economic path that China is following. Only time will tell if the Chinese vision will lead to the long-term strengthening of socialism and a more equitable world. As things stand, this seems to be what is happening, and that is one of the reasons that the outlook for the world is much more favourable than it was at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Progressive people worldwide should take courage in China’s achievements, its people-centred policy, its continued support for the developing world, and its leadership role within the progressive family of nations. The destruction of People’s China would be a tragedy for the people of China and the developing world, and would be a disastrous setback for the international socialist and anti-imperialist movement. For that reason, China should be defended and supported.
China’s Global Strategy gives a thorough overview of the current political and economic thinking in China, and is the first book in the English language to perform this task in such a succinct way. While Clegg is essentially supportive of China’s policy, she certainly does not attempt to sweep its problems under the carpet, and, indeed, deals with those issues at some length. Although the book is written in a relatively academic style, it is nonetheless perfectly readable even for those with little knowledge of Chinese politics, and is an invaluable resource for those wanting to understand the most significant force for progress and peace in the world today.