What Does Venezuela Tell Us About Socialism in the USA? – with Paul Jay
According to Trump, the crisis in a small country with an oil based economy, facing onerous sanctions, discredits the progressive socialist movement in the United States – Paul Jay joins host Jacqueline Luqman
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi, I’m Jacqueline Luqman. Welcome to The Real News Network.
Are we getting the real story about Venezuela from corporate media? We’re going to talk about this today with our guest, Paul Jay, who is the Editor in Chief of The Real News Network.
So in your estimation … I’m leading up to if Chavez’s revolution is a lesson for how we can use electoral politics for revolution, what are the takeaways for us here, since we have this growing, almost new, progressive movement under the Bernie Sanders Revolution of 2016? What do we take away from the Bolivarian Revolution, the current struggles in Venezuela, and what do we tell people to do with that process?
PAUL JAY: Well, this also kind of goes back to your first question. The Venezuelan experience is not an experience that teaches the United States can’t have socialism. It’s ridiculous. The whole point, if you want to understand basic theory of socialism, it’s advanced, industrialized capitalism where you can have socialism. It’s very difficult to have it in countries that don’t have an advanced capitalist infrastructure with a modern, educated working class and so on. Especially small countries when you’re surrounded by big enemies, it’s also very difficult, because you can see right now the kind of pressure they can put on a Maduro government, whatever the faults of the Maduro government, and I personally think there’s plenty. That being said, the external pressure that big finance and the Americans can put on, sanctions and so on, it’s very hard for a small country to push back. The potential in the United States is completely different. In some ways, the conditions for socialism in the United States are very good.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Really?
PAUL JAY: Absolutely. You have a big modern industry, you have big monopolies that have developed wonderful, internal rationalization. You have a global supply chain that’s brilliantly worked out, they’re now using artificial intelligence to organize the supply chain. I mean, imagine. Amazon’s a miracle to me. You can order something and get something in hours now that’s produced who the heck knows where. So the kind of growth of these kind of more internally rationalized enterprises is one of the conditions for a more planned, more collectively owned economy. I mean, the problem of these big enterprises is obvious. They’re privately owned, so Jeff Bezos gets super rich, so it doesn’t matter how wonderful it is. And they pay crappy wages.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And he doesn’t want his employees to unionize, so they have no collective bargaining.
PAUL JAY: But imagine if a Bernie Sanders–Bernie Sanders hasn’t even talked about this, so I shouldn’t say Bernie Sanders. But imagine if you are able to elect, and maybe this happens at state levels first, where you could buy Costco, or just create one. Start controlling, through public ownership, some critical elements of the economy.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Workers collectives and–
PAUL JAY: On a bigger scale than workers collectives.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: OK.
PAUL JAY: Diversified forms of public ownership and workers collectives. But if you’re going to break down the power of the oligarchy, you’ve got to start working at a scale that really challenges them, particularly in the banking sector. That’s kind of another conversation from Venezuela, but just to say what could be done here. The Venezuelan experience doesn’t teach us that much, except maybe the forms of people’s democracy and the fact that a very progressive government came to power there. Now, that being said, we should never underestimate that this is the heart of the empire. What’s possible in a small Latin American country, or even in Bolivia… Brazil was the biggest country to kind of go down that road, but you can see the external pressure the Brazilians were under in spite of the fact how Lula and the PT, to a large extent, played ball with global finance. Even there, even the modest reforms, in some way, that were being done in Brazil was too much. As soon as there was a weakness in Lula and the PT, they go for the jugular and get rid of them so they can have a more overt, reactionary type of exploitation.
What’s possible here, who knows? What I mean by who knows in this, you get these weird moments in history. Like even Chavez, it was a weird moment in history, where a charismatic guy shows up, the mass movement’s at a certain level, the Venezuelan economy was in trouble, it wasn’t la la land the way the media is talking about it. You get these weird convergences of moments. And we may get one. This 2020 election might turn out to be that. Because if people start to understand how severe the threat of climate change is, to elect another climate denier or climate denier enabler, which is to a large extent what the corporate Dems were, because you pay lip service to the threat of climate, but you don’t really do anything about it.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: They say, “We must do something about climate, but they don’t actually do anything about it.”
PAUL JAY: I went back and looked at Obama’s State of the Union messages. I looked at every State of the Union message to look what he said about climate. It was like, at best, a paragraph or two in a grocery list of all kinds of things, and it’s usually buried half way down his grocery list. One State of the Union didn’t even mention climate, like zero. And together with corporate media that barely covers the issue, I mean these are the people that enable a climate denier to get elected president.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: But President Obama signed the Paris accord! Wasn’t that great, wasn’t that progress?
PAUL JAY: I mean, compared to Trump, maybe. But a study came out from seven of the leading climate scientists last fall that said if every country that signed the Paris Accord fulfilled all their pledges one hundred percent, we’re still going to cross the two degree threshold that’s a critical warming threshold by the year 2050. That Paris Accord was so far from what was needed and it wasn’t obligatory. So it’s not so hard to sign. The interesting thing is, and I mentioned this in an earlier interview I did, everyone’s talking about socialism now. Trump has to declare that socialism is going to be the great issue of the elections, and “the socialists this” and “the socialists that.”
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: He mentioned it in his State of the Union address.
PAUL JAY: But he doesn’t want to answer the question, why is socialism such an issue? Why are people that say they’re socialists getting elected? Because capitalism is out of answers.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Exactly.
PAUL JAY: It’s not the failure of socialism in Venezuela that’s the big story, it’s the failure of capitalism around the world to deal with climate change, to deal with the threat of accidental nuclear–and maybe deliberate–but accidental nuclear war, to deal with the threat of financial meltdown, which is surely coming sooner or later, to deal with the consequences of what AI is going to mean in terms of people’s employment and how the economy is going to look with artificial intelligence, to deal with the existing chronic poverty in cities across the country. We’re in Baltimore here, this is decades and decades of deep, chronic poverty and a murder rate of what, three hundred fifty or more a year, more than New York. It’s because the system is out of answers that so many people are talking about socialism.
So it’s not because somehow the Venezuelan experience is going to show, ” oh, don’t go there.” Also, it’s not going to work. Because they can yell about this, but people are going to understand that what’s going on in Venezuela is a specific thing for Venezuela, maybe it has more broad application for Latin America, but this has nothing to do with what’s going on here.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So the takeaway from this is that the corporate media’s drumbeat of “Maduro is evil and socialism is evil, and socialism is why all of these countries in Latin America are failing,” might actually have the absolute opposite effect, at least for people in the United States who are facing some of the same economic pressures, the same failures of capitalism people in Venezuela have faced.
PAUL JAY: Well, the problem is corporate media has such a big platform and they keep repeating this crap. You know, we’re pretty small. And the other voices that are trying to talk realistically about Venezuela are also relatively small and corporate media just bans the voice. I mean, no one’s calling me from corporate media to talk. Most of the guests that we have on who really know Venezuela never show up on corporate media, or almost never. So the problem is that people don’t know the history. And the bigger problem is people don’t know their own history. There’s been such a demolishment of the public education system in this country, especially on the issue of teaching of history, and corporate media has really degenerated. It was never so great to begin with, but there’s been a great degeneration, especially since 9/11.
And so, it will have an effect. But I think the policies that Bernie Sanders and some of the other people, the other progressive women that have been elected to Congress and people that are running, those policies, in fact, are resonating. And I don’t think this Venezuela thing, if you look at polling numbers and what people think of health and Medicare for all, and some of these other reforms, minimum wage and so on, the polling numbers are actually quite high in favor of these policies. So the gambit about Venezuela they’ll yell about, but I don’t think people take it that seriously. But it’s very interesting that in the year 2020, we’re coming down to socialism versus capitalism as the election issue. We can have another conversation of just what does socialism even mean, because most of these reforms, like I say, are actually pretty modest in the scheme of things. But in the end, I think in the United States it’s going to end up. And you can see from the polling numbers an increasing number of people think, “Hey, socialism isn’t such a bad alternative.”
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So if the situation in Venezuela is not entirely about the failure of socialism, then what do you say about the economic situation that really does exist, that is really a crisis in Venezuela? There are food shortages, people are having shortages of medicine. Doctors are now protesting in the streets, claiming that they want aid to be brought into the country. People are saying Maduro is not allowing aid into the country. If this is not a failure of socialism, why are people hungry in Venezuela?
PAUL JAY: Well, first of all, it is a failure of the kinds of policies that were developed over the years in the attempt to build socialism. There are certainly failures there. And to say otherwise is just naive and covering up the internal issues. And as I said earlier in the interview, there was no game plan here how to develop socialism. The Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution and this new government that came into being came into a system rife with corruption, as is true in most oil states. Corruption and big oil kind of go hand in hand. It’s hard to imagine much big oil without reams of corruption, especially countries that are very dependent on oil. So it wasn’t like corruption entered the scene.
And personally, I think perhaps they should have been better at fighting corruption during the Chavez years. But it’s a delicate balance, trying to have reforms and fight against corruption, particularly in the Armed Forces. It took time to get the armed forces kind of on board with the Bolivarian process earlier in the days, even though Chavez was popular. A lot of the armed forces, the leadership was there from the previous governments. So this relationship of fighting corruption and taking on sections of the elites, it’s not a simple thing. And it’s easy, again, to sit here and pontificate. But there’s no question there were failures. Does this prove the failure of socialism? I mean, it’s ridiculous, because it’s one country’s experience.
Some of the similar policies are being developed in Bolivia. It has its problems, but it’s not suffering in the same kind of way. The manipulation, I think, to a large extent of the price of oil, had a lot to do with the problems in Venezuela. On the other hand, there was probably time to have a more diversified economy and not be so susceptible to a drop in the price of oil. And there’s people better than I am to really detail how some of the economic policy, exchange rate policy, some of these things could have been different. So sure, in the end the internal issue was critical. And yeah, I mean look at the situation, there is a failure there. That being said, one, it doesn’t prove anything about socialism in other countries and what’s possible and what isn’t.
And two, as I said earlier, a small country trying to defy global capital, and under such pressure and such attack, how do you judge the internal policies when there’s such external pressure on them? But yeah, there’s certainly failures there. But so what? The Venezuelan people will sort it out and they’ll figure it out if there isn’t this external interference trying to overthrow this process. But part of the process of having this kind of transformational revolution is you got to know your enemies. I mean clearly, they had a coup in 2002 which the Americans helped orchestrate. People’s will brought Chávez back, massive demonstrations against the coup. And they were about to execute Chavez and the soldiers refused to fire. People in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands surrounded the palace demanding Chavez come back to power. I mean, that’s in some ways a real expression of democracy.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That’s certainly the narrative and the history that we also don’t hear, that we don’t see in this country in regard to Venezuela or any other country that we have targeted for regime change for our own capitalistic elite.
PAUL JAY: If the Americans are so concerned about the Venezuelans and they’re so concerned about democracy, then stay the hell out, stop the sanctions, and give the Venezuelans a chance to sort this out. But clearly, that’s not the U.S. agenda. Caring about the Venezuelans is the last thing on the minds of people making American policy.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: We thank you very much, Paul Jay, for coming on to talk to us about this today. I am Jacqueline Luqman on The Real News Network.