What are important tendencies in the world-system today? What dangers and possibilities do they project for humanity? How are the tendencies illustrated by the attempted U.S.-directed coup d’état in Venezuela, and by Venezuela’s successful defense of itself? (See “Venezuela blocks coup attempt” 3/3/2019; “What enabled Venezuela to block the US coup?” 3/6/2019).
An important tendency is that the representative democracies of the global North are experiencing political fragmentation and division as well as ideological confusion, as central dynamics to the political structures of representative democracies. As a dimension of this phenomenon, the major representative democracies are demonstrating that they have no reasonable response to the sustained structural crisis of the world-system (see the category World-System Crisis). We therefore can project that the crisis of the world-system crisis will deepen, with its symptoms of the increasing predominance of financial speculation over investment in production, insufficient international response to threats to ecological balance, deepening underdevelopment in peripheral and semiperipheral regions, increasing levels of crime and violence, uncontrollable international migration, the delegitimation of political structures, and global political instability. In the case of the United States, the relative fall in its productive and commercial capacities and its significant decline in prestige make likely that it will increasingly use military intervention in order to defend its economic interests, thereby reinforcing the global tendency toward the deepening crisis of the world-system.
A second important tendency is the continuous development of the colonized and semi-colonized peoples of the world as revolutionary subjects in opposition to the basic structures of the world-system, a phenomenon that has been expressing itself for the last two centuries and that reached an advanced stage in the period 1946 to 1979 and again from 1994 to the present (see various posts in the category Third World). The deepening crisis of the world-system will feed the tendency of the neocolonized peoples to grow in consciousness, such that they will increasingly become revolutionary subjects acting politically in their particular nations. Observing this phenomenon to date, we can project that such growth in consciousness will be uneven, with some regions and nations being more advanced than others; and it will not be straight line of advance, for it will be characterized by reversals and setbacks. However, it is likely that popular consciousness will continue to grow, as the system increasingly demonstrates its incapacity to resolve the problems that humanity confronts.
The recent history of Venezuela illustrates the raising consciousness of the people as well as its uneven character. During the period 1994 to 2014, there were important advances in popular consciousness, tied to concrete political gains, as a result of the emergence of Hugo Chávez as an important charismatic leader in the region (see the category Charismatic Leaders). The economic and psychological war launched by the U.S. power elite and the reactionary sector of the Venezuelan national bourgeoisie in 2014, following the death of Chávez, had its effect on national popular consciousness, confusing some of the people, and resulting in the parliamentary victory of the opposition in 2016. However, the opposition parliamentary majority had no unified program and national project that it could offer to the people. Many of its members favored a return to neoliberalism, which had been rejected by the great majority in the 1990s. As a result, the opposition was unable to use its parliamentary majority to propose to the people a post-Chavist program that would enable it to expand and deepen its popular support. Its basic unifying concept was opposition to Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro. Therefore, its focus was on removing Maduro from office before the completion of his term, and it adopted tactics of political destabilization toward this end, with many in the opposition hoping to establish conditions for the justification of a U.S. military intervention. This orientation of the parliamentary majority toward political destabilization was observed by the people, resulting in reduced popular support.
In these political developments, we see the fall and rise of popular consciousness. The opposition, having attained popular support through unpatriotic and manipulative means, subsequently made clear its political and moral incapacity to govern. It could not avoid squandering the popular support that it had attained through devious means, for it sought restoration of the power of particular national and international interests. Accordingly, it had not prepared itself to lead the people toward a more dignified road for the nation. The result was a growth in popular consciousness concerning the incapacity of the opposition to govern.
The incapacity of the opposition to present itself as the future leadership of the nation continued to be demonstrated. In internationally mediated negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic, it was decided to advance the presidential elections scheduled for the end of 2018 to May of that year. The opposition decided to not sign the agreement, apparently under orders from Washington to not arrive to a reconciliation, or perhaps having second thoughts concerning the results. However, the government decided to proceed with presidential elections on May 20. Some opposition parties participated; others called for a boycott. Maduro won the elections with 67% of the votes, with the same absolute number of votes as in the past, but with a higher percentage, due to a higher non-participation rate. In spite of the relatively low turnout (by recent Venezuelan standards), the number of votes for Maduro as a percentage of the registered voters was higher than those of recent victorious presidential candidates in Argentina, the United States, and Brazil. However, continuing its destabilization tactics in alliance with imperialist objectives, the opposition refused to accept the electoral results, setting the stage for Guaidó’s self-declaration as president of Venezuela as an integral component of the U.S.-directed coup d’état.
The comportment of those sectors of the opposition tied to the coup functioned to accelerate the popular rejection of the opposition. In seeking to divide the armed forces and the people in a prelude to an imperialist military intervention by a foreign power, the opposition was making more evident to the people its true character: its alignment with international capital, its subservience to foreign interests, its lack of commitment to its own nation, and its inability to formulate a proposed national project. In its amoral and politically unintelligent comportment, the opposition made clear that its interests and objectives have nothing in common with principles of national sovereignty or the wellbeing of the people, and that it is driven above all toward the attainment of its own particular economic interests. Its comportment was enabling the people to attain greater awareness of the class interests at stake in the political posture of the opposition, and of the coincidence of the class interests of the Venezuelan elite with those of U.S. imperialism.
These are important lessons for the people. The opposition spoke of human rights and democracy, but its agenda was the defense of its own economic interests, in alliance with powerful economic actors who are opposed to the structural transformations of the Chavist project in defense of the sovereignty of the nation and the needs of the people. The people were able to see learn that the United States continues with its imperialist objectives, as in the past; and that the Venezuelan elite sectors are aligned with it. They learn that they should not be deceived by a cynical and hypocritical discourse of democracy and human rights invented by the Latin American Right. Popular consciousness deepens and expands, making possible the unity of the people and the armed forces in defense of the constitution, the president, and the nation.
The situation in Venezuela, therefore, enables us to see the uneven but sure growth of the popular consciousness of the neocolonized peoples, converting themselves more and more into revolutionary subjects and political actors, seeking to transform the world-system structures that promote their underdevelopment and poverty. This tendency grows alongside the inexorable and ever increasing economic and military aggressiveness of the powerful states and international corporations, demonstrating that they are morally and politically unprepared to respond to the challenges that humanity confronts in a responsible manner. In a word, the rising confusion and aggressiveness of the North feeds the revolutionary consciousness and political action of the South.
A third important world-systemic tendency can be identified. China and Russia have been cooperating with the more just and sustainable world-system that is seeking to be born. They have been supporting and trading with the nations that are seeking an alternative road, such as Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Vietnam, and Korea. We can expect this tendency to continue, because it is consistent with the long-term interests of China and Russia. The Russian Empire was a minor competitor of the American, Japanese, British, French, and other European empires, and it never attained comparable power. For its part, the ancient Chinese Empire had been eclipsed by the increasing penetration of the European powers. In the present global scenario, with the possibilities for ascent constrained by the fact that the world-system has reached the geographical limits of the earth, China and Russia have an interest in an alternative world-system, governed by the proclaimed international values of the sovereign equality of nations and the right of all peoples to development and self-determination. (These values, it should be noted, emerged in the context of the political dynamics of the existing world-system, showing that the new system is born from the old). Inasmuch as China and Russia have an interest in an alternative more just and sustainable world-system, we can expect that their foreign policies will be increasing driven by consciousness of this interest, standing against Western imperialism.
Pragmatic considerations require a degree of cooperation by China and Russia with the Western powers, which obscures the fact that they are supporting the transition to a different kind of world-system, more just and sustainable. This possible alternative world-system could be understood as a socialist world-system, that is, a world-system in which proclaimed socialist governments are among the key actors. In which such socialist governments are seeking to develop political structures of popular assemblies; to act decisively in the economy in defense of the social and economic needs of the people and the sovereignty of the nation; and to develop mutually beneficial trade among nations, on a base of respect for the sovereignty of all nations.
We in the Left in the North should understand better these world-systemic tendencies and the possibilities that they suggest, in order that we can explain them to our peoples, and in order that we can develop a political platform that responds to these dynamics in a scientifically informed and politically intelligent manner. We would understand them better if we took more seriously the Third World anti-neocolonial movements and revolutions, for such an understanding is implicit in their theory and practice.
With greater understanding of world-systemic tendencies, we would be able to explain to our peoples of the North the necessary road of North-South cooperation, necessary for political stability and for economic and ecological sustainability. In the case of the United States, a discourse of North-South cooperation could identify with the historic popular movements of our people, inasmuch as the concept of North-South cooperation was invoked in the discourses of Jesse Jackson in the 1980s; and of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the black power movement, and the anti-imperialist wing of the student anti-war movement in the 1960s. These formulations were theoretical advances in the popular movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which sought to expand and deepen the meaning of democracy, proclaimed by the American Revolution of 1776. Through such a national narrative that embraces the historic movements of the people, we would be constructing a nationalist and patriotic discourse that would be an alternative to the narrow nationalism and false patriotism that has been evolving in US public discourse from the beginning, and that has attained its most pernicious manifestations in the period from Reagan to Trump. It is a question, as Dr. King understood, of a struggle “to redeem the soul of America.”