[News] Venezuela - Confront Imperialism and Don’t Make Concessions

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Sun Feb 24 13:14:49 EST 2019


  Confront Imperialism and Don’t Make Concessions: A Conversation with
  Nestor Kohan (Part 1)

By Cira Pascual Marquina - February 23, 2019

/More than any other living thinker, Argentinian intellectual Nestor 
Kohan has worked to recover the tradition of Latin American 
revolutionary Marxism, a trajectory that he argues stretches from Julio 
Antonio Mella and Jose Carlos Mariategui to Che Guevara, Fidel Castro 
//and//Manuel Marulanda. Kohan has also developed a reading of Marx that 
considers commodity //fetichism//to be the centerpiece of Capital: 
Critique of Political Economy at the same time as it emphasizes the 
political and revolutionary character of all of Marx’s texts. Kohan has 
supported the Bolivarian Process from its beginning. In this interview, 
we asked him questions about crisis engulfing the whole continent, with 
Venezuela as its epicenter./

*What is happening right now in Latin America seems to have a lot in 
common with Operation Condor 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Condor>, that aimed to rollback 
the revolutionary tide of the 1960s and ‘70s. Today, US imperialism 
wants to wipe out the “Pink Tide” that began at the start of the current 
century. Do you think the analogy is relevant?*

In the decade of the 1970s Operation Condor was born. There is a lot of 
investigation about it and a lot of evidence. An Argentinian 
investigator, Stella Calloni, wrote a very good book about the 
Operation, and a Paraguayan victim of political persecution found 
documents in Paraguay that prove its existence. Intelligence agents of 
the Pinochet dictatorship also made declarations that ratify its 
existence, and finally there are declassified documents of the CIA that 
confirm it too. In effect, there was a coordinated international project 
put in place to carry out repression on a continental scale. In other 
words, there was a right-wing internationalism, a counter-revolutionary 

On a rhetorical level, the counterrevolution traded in nationalist 
language. In every country they even talked about defending the 
“national self” (/el ser //nacional/). That was their preferred jargon, 
but their practice was internationalist, and their combatants and agents 
operated in many countries. For instance, the terrorist of 
Cuban-American descent Felix Rodriguez not only assassinated Che 
Guevara. He later participated in the counterinsurgency in El Salvador. 
There are films of Felix Rodriguez on a helicopter shooting at the 
troops of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front 
in El Salvador.

Another terrorist of Cuban-American descent, Luis Posada Carriles, put a 
bomb in a commercial airplane, killing many civilians. He also operated 
in several countries. Many of these terrorists did their work in several 
countries. The bomb that killed [Chilean economist] Orlando Letelier 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Letelier> in the US itself was 
set off by agents of the Chilean intelligence. They were, arguably, 

The “clandestine detention centers” – that was the juridical terminology 
used in Argentina – also worked on an international level. In Buenos 
Aires, there was an extermination camp, a torture camp. (I call it that, 
because there’s no reason to use the juridical terminology, let’s speak 
without euphemisms.) Well, one of those camps for torturing and 
“disappearing” people was called “Automotores Orletti,” because it was 
run from an auto repair shop. They gathered there the foreigners they 
had kidnapped from countries nearby Argentina (Chileans, Uruguayans, 
Paraguayans), and they sent them back to their respective dictatorships. 
In other words, Operation Condor worked on a continental scale. Who 
directed it? The United States. One of its main heads was Henry 
Kissinger. That is a well-known fact.

So where did Operation Condor come from? The National Security Doctrine, 
that is how they called it, which was nothing other than a 
counterinsurgency doctrine, imported from the French torturers in 
Algeria. The United States applied it in Vietnam… The practice used by 
the US in Vietnam, for instance, of throwing prisoners alive from 
airplanes, which was part of the Phoenix Program 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Program>. Well, that same 
practice was used in Argentina. They threw the revolutionaries captured 
by the military and the navy from airplanes into the Rio de la Plata. 
And they also combined it with the same form of massive torture that was 
used in Algerian torture camps – including the systematic rape of men 
and women – during the French occupation.

So those were the two doctrines, French and North American, that were 
taught in the counterinsurgency schools in Panama (run by the US 
military’s SOUTHCOM), and in the war school in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, 
after the 1964 coup, and in Buenos Aires too.

So what was Operation Condor trying to do in the broad sense? It was 
[imperialism’s] reaction to three things. First, to the huge 
revolutionary insurgency, the huge “social rebellion” of the 1960s, 
which went from the Vietnamese Revolution to the Algerian Revolution and 
the Cuban Revolution. It also included the youth rebellions that took 
place in Mexico, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin, Berkeley and Paris (which was the 
most famous one). So Operation Condor was a response to the 1960s social 
rebellion. It was a response, as well, to the emergence of Third-World 
national liberation movements, because many countries, nations and 
communities that had been French, English, Dutch, US, or Japanese 
colonies, gained independence between the end of World War II and the 
late 1960s, or even the end of 1970s, if we consider the case of Angola.

So this counterinsurgency doctrine that expressed itself in Operation 
Condor (but not only in it) was an organized response. First, it was a 
reaction to the “social rebellion” of the 1960s and the global emergence 
of Third World national liberation movements. Second, it was a response 
to the declining profit rate which was felt especially sharply with the 
oil crisis, or “petrodollar crisis,” of 1973 and 1974. That economic 
crisis was itself the outcome of the rebelliousness in the workforce. In 
effect, counterinsurgency tries to curb the consequences of the falling 
profit rate. Thirdly, there was the overall aim of disciplining the 
workforce, imposing mechanisms of super-exploitation on Third World 
workers, and finishing off with the welfare state (the so-called “golden 
age of capitalism” that had lasted little more than 30 years in Western 
Europe: from the end of World War II through the crisis of the early 
70s). The aim was to be able to make a capitalism-in-crisis function again.

In sum, Operation Condor was imperialism’s political reaction to these 
three issues… It was a project that produced a strong social response 
and a lot of conflict. In other words, imperialism did not have an easy 
time implementing it.

*Are we seeing the same thing today then? Is there an Operation Condor 
of the twenty-first century?*

Today, the counterinsurgency project continues. There is some continuity 
and some discontinuity. I believe that we are seeing a new attempt to 
apply the [old] counterinsurgency doctrine in different conditions. Why 
does this happen? Because rebellions reemerged, as responses to 
neoliberalism, which was applied at the end of the 1970s. The rebellions 
emerged after twenty or so years of neoliberalism.

First, there was the Zapatista rebellion in 1994. Then came Chavez’s 
emergence in Venezuela. There was also the ongoing political-military 
insurgency in Colombia and the survival of non-capitalist relations in 
Cuba. That wave of rebelliousness against neoliberalism extended to the 
World Social Forums in the early twenty-first century. And it got more 
radical when Chavez declared the Bolivarian Revolution to be 
socialist...To the Zapatista’s question, ”Is there a world where all 
other worlds fit?,” the World Social Forum responded: “Another world is 
possible.” Then Chavez raised the stakes. He said that other possible 
world must be a socialist one. And he added, it’s “Twenty-First Century 

So what is “Twenty-First Century Socialism”? The question was an open 
one. In my opinion, it is a weakness of the progressive movements to not 
have defined Twenty-First Century Socialism, to have stopped short. 
However, I think we should be cautious in our answers, because from my 
point of view there are no pre-established models about to how to make 
the transition from capitalism to socialism, of how to initiate the 
transition to socialism. There are no models.

Many paths were proposed to Chavez. Some people suggested that using 
self-managed industries was the right path, as was done in Yugoslavia. 
Others proposed to follow the path of market socialism, as Deng Xiaoping 
had done in China. Still others, including me, suggested working with 
Che Guevara’s project and his Budgetary Finance System 
In other words, a transition to socialism based on Popular Power, on 
participative democracy, but also with a centralized economy. Venezuela 
has an apparatus that offers certain advantages when it comes to 
applying this system. Its situation is more favorable than Cuba’s, where 
the economy was based only on sugar.

Venezuela has nothing less than [state oil company] PDVSA, which could, 
with its oil resources, coordinate a series of activities – not only 
those relating to the oil profits – but of collective, centralized 
socialist production, with a centralized banking system and a 
nationalizing [network of] large enterprises. But that had to be done 
not only in one isolated country, Venezuela. The proposal was that from 
ALBA <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ALBA>, the Budgetary Finance System 
could be put in practice on a continental scale. If not in all of the 
countries, at least in a great many of them.

Hence I believe that President Chavez and Bolivarian Venezuela only went 
halfway, not because they were lukewarm or didn’t understand Marxism, or 
there was a shallow reading of it. They did so because there was and 
there continues to be an open debate. The debate is about the transition 
to socialism. It is not a new discussion. There have been at least three 

The first stage took place in the 1920s in Bolshevik Russia, where not 
everybody was in agreement as to how to move forward. On the one hand, 
Nicolai Buharin <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Bukharin> 
proposed market socialism. On the other side was Yevgeni Preobrazhensky 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yevgeni_Preobrazhensky>, who proposed an 
economy with centralized planning. Meanwhile, Lenin tried to find a 
political solution, reconciling the two.

That very rich debate [about the transition to socialism] from the 1920s 
reemerges in the decade of the 1960s in Cuba, where Charles Bettleheim 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bettelheim> proposes market 
socialism together with Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, who had a somewhat more 
pro-Soviet attitude. On the other hand, Che Guevara, supported by Ernest 
Mandel <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Mandel>, proposes the 
Budgetary Finance System. As Lenin had done before, Fidel opts for a 
political solution that tries to maintain the alliance between the two 
tendencies as Lenin had done in the Bolshevik Russia of the 1920s… He 
tried to keep the pro-market current and the central planning current 
both within the revolution’s sweep.

The third phase of this debate is the one that exists now. It’s the one 
that has been going on in Venezuela and I think in the Bolivian process 
too. It’s a debate that is going to happen in any Third World or 
peripheral country that wants to leave capitalism behind. It is an open 
debate. It’s not a failing or a problem that the debate is there. The 
progressive governments in Latin America – in the Venezuelan case it’s a 
government that stands out for it socialist intentions – have raised 
this debate. It is still an open one and has not been resolved.

*Following up on that, let’s look critically at our movements and 
political process in Latin America, which are all in crisis now. Would 
it be fair to say that these progressive movements are in trouble 
because of their failure to connect with the Latin American 
revolutionary tradition and with the practices that derive from Marxist 

Are you asking whether Marxism guarantees that we will have successes 
and triumphs? Is that what we are talking about? I believe that Marxism 
is a political identity, a conception of the world and of life. It is a 
multilinear and materialist conception of history, a philosophy of 
praxis, and a dialectical method, but in itself it does not assure [that 
we are on a] revolutionary path.

Marxism is a tremendous tool that allows us to understand how capitalism 
works and understand what are the elements that bring it into crisis. It 
allows us to understand the mechanisms of exploitation, domination, 
dependency, and imperialism. Yet merely appealing to Marxist texts does 
not guarantee a revolutionary outcome.

As an Argentinian, I know a tremendous number of Marxist intellectuals 
who can quote from classical Marxist works, but in practice they have 
reformist positions! And as far as Venezuela is concerned, they have 
very ambiguous positions! Some don’t know if they should support the 
Bolivarian Process. Or they don’t want to admit it because they are 
embarrassed by their own positions, but they support the imperialist 
offensive using quotes taken with tweezers from Marx’s texts. They don’t 
define themselves clearly against imperialism, and yet they employ 
apparently Marxist rhetoric. For that reason, appealing to Marxist texts 
is not sufficient to confirm that you’re going in a revolutionary direction.

I believe that revolutionary Marxism must be accompanied by a firm 
revolutionary project and not just a reading of the texts. In that 
sense, I believe that Bolivarianism is an emancipatory continental 
project that could [fill that role]. That is what Chavez tried and it 
what the Colombian insurgency tried to do (along with a lot of other 
people in the continent). I believe that the synthesis of Marxism and 
Bolivarianism is the best assurance that we can have a leftist solution 
to the crisis, one that questions capitalism. In other words, confront 
imperialism and not make any concessions. And that is not going to be 
achieved only by quoting the classical works of Marxism.

It is necessary to study Marxism, but it’s not enough. Marxism is needed 
because it makes things clear. It is necessary because it is a 
theoretical and scientific tool and critical method, but it must go hand 
on hand with clear political positions. Again, in Argentina there are 
political currents that quote Marxist texts, but when imperialism 
attacked Syria and Libya and now Venezuela, they have very ambiguous 
positions. They declare Maduro to be a tyrant. They declare Gaddafi to 
be a tyrant, whom they lynched! They say Saddam Hussein was a tyrant! In 
other words, in the name of Marxism they end up being the shock troops 
of imperialism. So studying Marxism is necessary, but it has to go hand 
on hand with revolutionary positions.

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