The Two Lefts and US Imperialism

We find much to agree with in Clifton Ross’s rebuttal of us in Dissident Voice, “The Two Lefts and Venezuela,” as long as you take an extremely broad view of what constitutes the “left.”

Ross’s “left” for sure is not socialist as he colorfully sums up in the final sentence of his article, where he says “the hangman…more often than not, he’s dressed as a socialist.” No need then to expose Ross as masquerading as a socialist. He doesn’t bother to give his “left” a socialist gloss.

The key philosophical foundation of Ross’s ideology is his “belief that there are as many wills as there are people.” This is an atomistic view of society where there is no popular will expressed in community, just individuals. (Reminds us of Margaret Thatcher.) Such an individualistic outlook rejects structures as oppressive, beyond atomistic individuals interacting with each other. Certainly, a “state” is from this ideological point-of-view the most oppressive of all structures.

The rest of Ross’s article is Monday morning quarterbacking about how the Venezuelan government screwed things up. While many are valid criticisms, the question that Ross begs is what the solution should be.

And it is here that the divergence of the “two lefts” becomes clear. We on the socialist left pose a relationship between the social movements and the state, where the state – however compromised by operating in an imperialist world and by its own internal flaws – becomes an instrument for the expression of the popular will. But for Ross’s “left” there is no “popular will” and certainly no legitimate use of state power.

That is, Ross offers no solution to solving the problems, just carping from the sidelines. In effect, this tacitly accepts the hegemony of US imperialism. This is where Ross’s self-described “180-degree turn” ends up.

We can even agree with Ross’s contention that there are “many imperialisms.” But our view is that the imperialism of the world’s single superpower is paramount, and we who live in the belly of the beast have a special responsibility to oppose it.

We find Ross’s formulation that there is “US imperialism” and “Cuban imperialism” not helpful in addressing the geopolitical issues of today. And we find it distasteful that Ross reserves his greatest criticisms not of US imperialism but of those left governments struggling against it.

Interestingly, Ross admits that the “Zapatistas are part of ‘our’ left” because “leaders shouldn’t occupy their positions forever.” While we also embrace the Zapatistas, we do suggest that Marcos’s changing his name to Zero does not qualify him as relinquishing his leadership position.

Beyond the beleaguered Zapatistas, the only political movements that pass Ross’s litmus test for left purity are those who fail to actually take power. If there is to be any hope for the counter-hegemonic project for a better world, the socialist left urges principled solidarity with the social movements that are resisting US imperialism from a position of state power.

Roger D. Harris is the past president of the Task Force on the Americas. Chuck Kaufman is national co-coordinator of the Alliance of Global Justice. Both have traveled to Venezuela on a number of political delegations, where they met with both Chávista and opposition representatives. They may be contacted through the websites of their respective organizations. Read other articles by Roger and Chuck.