“Up to now no revolution has been able to create a lasting and fully democratic society; or even to come close. But there is some reason to believe that at least some of the Latin American nations will be the first to do so — and that, if and when that happens, they will be leading a parade of the others.”
From its birth as a nation until now the U.S. has been busy building what became the most far-reaching empire in history. By hook or by crook.
The U.S. has always taken it for granted that grabbing what we want is our right, our historic duty, a gift to those we conquer; no matter where, when, or how: If the land of the free and home of the brave does it, that makes it OK.
By and large “We the People” have acquiesced; and all too many of us have waved the flag and cheered.  Along the way, if the U.S. was to became an always more arrogant nation, it had to be supported by its legislators and compliant citizenry. That support was made “official” no later than the “Monroe Doctrine” (1823); as for our citizenry, only intermittently has anything like a meaningful minority given more than a hiccough to throw us off our chosen track.
The damage to the targeted societies has been immeasurably high: countless dead and wounded, cultural and political destruction, transformed and misused lands, loss of dignity as human being…; you name it. And, setting aside Vietnam for a moment, the U.S. has gotten away with it. Up to now.
“Now” is Iraq; we cannot “win” there; by any reasonable measure we have already lost. The only uncertainties are 1) because of Iraq, where else have we also lost, and how badly? 2) what are the other known and as yet unknown “unintended consequences” of that death-dealing arrogance?
If, as, and when we find the answer to those questions, what is now emerging in Latin America is most likely to be at the top of the list, as will be discussed at length below.
(As used here, Latin America designates the huge area extending south from our Mexican border and the Gulf shores to the southern tip of South America, and embraces all of the Caribbean.)
Iraq is only the latest of our innumerable crimes against the lands and people we seek to control; a crime whose costs will soon surpass those from our invasion of Vietnam; with a big “but”: the U.S. could and did exit from Vietnam; we can’t and won’t exit from Iraq.
No matter the endless discussions of when and what and why and how the U.S. will leave Iraq, the only “exit” acceptable to the Bush gang would be to shift the war into Iran. Such a war could all too easily become the spark for igniting the world’s last war. Call for Doctor Strangelove.
Optimists believe that the Bush administration is now so unpopular it would not dare to start a war with Iran; recent history tells us that, if anything, its unpopularity may well be one more spur for its ongoing maneuvers in that direction.
For purposes of perspective on just how dangerous to itself and others the U.S. has been and remains, and what that has to do with ongoing developments in Latin America it is relevant to examine a few illustrative post-World War II examples of U.S. aggressiveness. For present purposes, we look at the U.S. vs. Indochina, the Congo, Chile, and Cuba. The discussion of Cuba will then lead this essay to my main focus: today’s Venezuela and tomorrow’s Latin America.
The U.S. in Indochina
As a nation, we are history’s spoiled brat. It is not only the Iraqi war for which we have had neither the ability nor the inclination to comprehend when we have lost a war; more than 30 years after our being whipped by the Vietnamese we have yet to comprehend what caused our frantic exit by helicopter from that Saigon rooftop — nor yet to admit that the exit was itself thirty devastating years after our entrance to the Vietnam war. 
Plus: there has never been even a suggestion that we owe a very deep apology to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; never even a thought of compensating them for the horrendous destruction we wrought upon them; never one word about the three million or more children and adults of Vietnam and Laos — mostly civilians — who were slaughtered, disabled, and/or had their lives ruined during that very long war.
And few indeed are those among our people who have the slightest interest or idea of happened to Cambodia after the war: an additional million plus Cambodians were killed and their future poisoned by the civil war created by the Pol Pot regime — a war and regime which came into being only as the direct consequence of the U.S. having managed to unseat Cambodia’s peace-seeking leader Prince Sihanouk. 
Lesson # 1: Spoiled brats never apologize. However:
Item: In sharp contrast, note that after World War II the U.S. took great steps to revive, strengthen, and assist our wartime fascist enemies, all of whom — Germany, Japan, Italy and Spain — became, and remain, key U.S. military bases (along with “over 700 others, in 132 member states of the UN.”). 
All of those wartime enemies who became postwar friends had been active imperialists; and all had been so weakened by the war that they were no longer able to hold on to their colonies. But the opposite was true for the U.S.: World War II gave us both the strongest military and the strongest economy in history; so we hustled through the open doors around the world, not least nor only in Africa.
Africa is extraordinarily rich in agricultural and especially mineral resources, and the richest of all of the African regions is the Congo; too rich for its own good, in an imperializing world. After the war it seemed probable that the victims of colonialism/imperialism could dream that they would soon be on their way to genuine independence; an impression strengthened by the many elections underway after 1945; but that dream soon became a nightmare; as in the Congo.
The U.S. in the Congo: 1960s
The Congo was long ruled by Belgium; or, more accurately, by its monstrous King Leopold. In the decades of his control at least 10 million Congolese were murdered and other millions enslaved, as Leopold became filthy rich.
The Congo had its first democratic election in 1960, and its first Prime Minister was Patrice Lumumba. He was young, an inspirational speaker, and both personally and politically appealing. He soon made it clear that the people of the Congo, not outsiders, were going to rule over their rich resources; and he advocated that all of Africa do likewise.
However — or, I should say, therefore — only two months after the election, “the U.S. National Security Council’s Subcommittee on covert operations authorized his assassination. The CIA organized his capture, torture, and assassination, and Mobutu was put in his place.” While killing many more millions of Congolese, Mobutu accumulated a fortune of over $30 billion. Despite all — or because of it –he was a welcome visitor to the White House. 
Humming its happy way from that triumph, and hungry for another, the U.S. found it in 1970, when the moderate socialist Salvador Allende became Chile’s Prime Minister. Soon after that election, the three major U.S. multinational corporations in Chile demanded and received U.S. action to put an end to that nonsense.
The U.S. in Chile: 1970s
The three companies were Anaconda, Kennecott, and ITT; respectively, in copper, nitrates, and telecommunications (monopolized by ITT).
The CEO of ITT, Harold Geneen, had earlier been the “CEO” of the CIA. By 1971 it had become clear that the new government was going to end ITT’s monopoly. Geneen, no stranger to the White House, arranged a lunch with Nixon and Kissinger’s representatives, and before you could say “overthrow,” the plans that led to just that were underway.
On September 11, 1973 the Allende government was forcibly ended.  It was then and there that our hypocrisy and cruelty once more demonstrated that for the U.S. there are always depths below depths. Soon after, a military coup d’etat, with General Augusto Pinochet as its leader, tore up the country, and blasted themselves into the City Hall. Tragically, Salvador Allende, a gentle and thoroughly civilized man — rather than allowing the fascists to kill him as they poured into his office — killed himself.
Many thousands of the democratic supporters were jailed, at least 30,000 tortured and/or thrown into the ocean from the air — and the Pinochet government made Chile safe for ITT, Anaconda, Kennecott, and “free enterprise,” aided and abetted by Milton Friedman-trained economists from Chicago University.
One of their triumphs (or so it was seen by Bush as he seeks to privatize Social Security) was Pinochet’s privatization of the Chilean social security program — a triumph which led to its financial disaster. (But who’s counting?) 
Item: But, at last, a nice one: It is more than just pleasant to report that in the 2006 presidential election in Chile, the winner and new leader was not only a woman and a socialist, but the daughter of one of the thousands tortured and killed by General Pinochet’s thugs — who, now in his 90s, has been able to use his age and poor health to stay out of prison. If and when he dies — and the sooner and more painfully the better — will Bush fly down to put a wreath on his grave?
Now we turn for a lengthy discussion of Cuba. The U.S. relationship with Cuba began disgracefully a century ago and became always more so. Few in the U.S. know much about our century-long mistreatment of that tiny country; but even fewer in Latin America do not know those ugly truths — truths that are of great significance for ongoing political developments throughout Latin America.
Venezuela and its relationships with the rest of Latin America will be the main focus of the last part of this article. That analysis will connect importantly with the following discussion of Cuba.
Almost all of the Latin American nations have suffered from or been tortured by the U.S. in small or great degree since the 19th century. Many of them have sought to break loose, but have failed. Until today’s Venezuela, however, only Cuba had managed to survive all of the diverse U.S. attempts to control and dominate.
Although a large number of Latin American societies have struggled to move toward and reach independence, and despite some apparent victories between 1945 and the 1970s, all of Latin America remained effectively dominated by the major powers — except for Castro’s post-1959 Cuba? Yes and no.
Here it will be argued that the answer is yes, despite everything. That “everything” refers to more than half a century of “anything goes” of failed attempts by the U.S. to overthrow Castro, neither beginning nor ending with our disgraceful, disgusting, stupid, and doomed-from-birth Bay of Pigs invasion.
But the “everything” also refers to the very first attempts of more than a century ago to steal Cuba’s freedom from it.
It occurred as the 19th century ended and the 20th began, just when it seemed that Cuba had finally gotten Spain off its back. It was then that the U.S. first took Cuba by the throat.
Before discussing Castro’s Cuba, therefore, it is essential to examine the foul beginnings of a century of U.S. involvement; not least nor only because of its connections with the ongoing even fouler doings of the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay.
After its long domination as a Spanish colony, the Cubans organized for revolution. As the 1890s ended, war with Spain had begun; then, in 1898 it suddenly took — or was taken — on a different path by the U.S.
Among other uninvited acts, the U.S. had stationed its battleship (the U.S.S. Maine) in Havana Harbor. Soon after, a mysterious explosion sank the Maine, the U.S. managed to pin it on Spain, and the war became “the Spanish-American War.” After Spain was defeated, Cuba was placed under a military government effectively (but not officially) presided over by U.S. Army General Wood.
As the new Cuban government created its constitution in 1901, the U.S. succeeded in attaching an amendment to it: “the Platt Amendment.” How? Don’t ask. Platt provided that the U.S. had the right to intervene militarily on diverse occasions, in order to stave off potential enemies. Enemies of Cuba? No; enemies of the U.S. (Remember the Monroe Doctrine?) That in turn led to the establishment of a U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. Where? Guantanamo Bay, that’s where. (Platt was repealed in the 1930s, but we kept the naval base. How come? Hush.)
That naval base is where we now have an ever-expanding prison where we torture anyone we choose to see as a “terrorist”; without trials or evidence. Some people in the U.S. are upset about the torture that goes on there. But few if any ask themselves wottinhell is the U.S. doing with a naval base on Cuban soil? (How come? Hush!)
Equally unknown to Mr. and Mrs. America is that the fascist regime overthrown by Castro in 1959 had been given its start by the U.S. in the 1930s and renewed in the 1950s, in both periods ruled over by the U.S.’s hand-picked Sgt. Fulgencio Batista, How did it get that way?
Few in the U.S. know or care; but the people of Latin America do know and do care about Guantanamo past and present and our vicious stand-in dictatorship in Cuba (among several other friendly dictators elsewhere in Latin America).
And of course those people also know the details of the 1960 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. It was planned by the CIA and Nixon (when he was Eisenhower’s V.P.) and carried out by JFK (“reluctantly,” it is said) just after he took over the White House.
Also common knowledge throughout Latin America are the non- military efforts against Cuba. which continue to this day: economic blockades, diplomatic non-recognition, travel bans, financial and military support for a half-century for the self-exiled Cubans in Florida — most of whom were part and parcel of the Cuba overthrown by the revolution — and who can’t wait to get back to the good old days of Batista’s Cuba, run by gangsters and pimps and, lest we forget, U.S. companies. All “protected” by U.S. armed forces at nearby Guantanamo Bay.
Item: Despite U.S. efforts to “quarantine” Cuba, there have been substantial numbers of those from Europe — even from the U.S. — who have traded with, recognized, visited Cuba, especially since the early 90s. Naughty, naughty! Says Bush: In 2003 he criminalized U.S. visits to Cuba, the most dramatic and funny of its violations being that of Michael Moore: In March of 2007 he took a bunch of injured men (from 9/11 cleanups in NY) to Cuba to compare their treatment there with that in the U.S. Moore is now facing legal action.
What Castro and his supporters hoped to do for Cuba he put forth in an eloquent and very long “Speech to the Court” (in 1953, when he was imprisoned for his first and failed revolutionary attempt.) The last words of the speech were these:
“… I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” 
Castro has departed from at least some of the ideals he expressed in that speech, especially in the suppression of free speech. But those actions would almost certainly have been fewer or absent had it not been for the continuous and continuing U.S. policy of supporting innumerable Cubans in Florida and Cuba to wreck or overthrow Castro.
The U.S. has “succeeded” to some rotten degree: even though the “quality of life” for Cubans is better now than before 1960, their average real income is much lower than it could have been and needs to be. Saying which, it is good to add this:
Item: It is generally recognized outside the U.S. that the average Cuban has access to a good education through and beyond high school; also virtually unknown in the U.S. is that the average Cuban’s access to health care is well above that of the average in the U.S. So much so, indeed, that its “large reserves of well-trained doctors, nurses, teachers, and engineers [with the help of Venezuela] now pay for these professionals to help not only Venezuelans but people in other countries [in Latin America and Africa].”  To that it may be added that the U.S. has failed in its attempts to isolate Cuba in other important ways: It is common for European professionals (doctors, nurses, engineers, etc) to assist in the training of their counterparts in Cuba; linked to that, Cuba is a very popular vacation spot for Europeans and Canadians.
Nonetheless, the economic blockades succeeded all too well. Cuba’s limited resources required substantial trade in its sugar if its people were to survive; it was provided for many years by the USSR and China; and taken together they became responsible for up to 80 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade.
That assistance was not without “conditions”. Of course, both the USSR and China have also had a long history of U.S. attempts to make them pay for breaking away from capitalist rule — after 1917 for the Soviet Union, after 1949 for Communist China. Now, ironically, China’s “quasi-capitalist” economy is the world’s most dynamic; and the U.S. now owes China over one trillion dollars.
In Cuba, the U.S.-imposed economic difficulties made it impossible for Cuba’s people to reach “modern” standards of consumption and blurred Castro’s earlier hopes and intentions; except as noted earlier, in fields such as health care, dependent more upon skills than “nuts and bolts”. However:
Item: It is good to report that a notable number of Americans, Europeans, and Canadians continually make significant contributions of some “nuts and bolts” (computers and other electronic equipment) for use in Cuban education and health care. Also, and in addition to assistance from Europe, a U.S. group (“Disarm”: www. disarm.org) contributes medical assistance to Cuba.
Cuba is still a poor country, but it is “richer” than most of its counterparts in the rest of Latin America in terms not only of education and health, but of dignity and self-respect; and, it is worth adding, its people are also better off than tens of millions of us in the U.S.A.
It may be assumed that Cubans are aware that what they lack in “the means of life” is the responsibility of the U.S. more than that of their own government. And, it seems clear, that both despite and because Cuba has gone through all sorts of hell in the past century, it is still, and justifiably, a land of hope; especially for the young.
What about the young in the U.S.? Average real wages have steadily descended since 1975, as, in the same years, the cost of prescriptions and of dental and medical care and rents and food and gasoline and… have just as steadily risen. 
Causally connected with a good part of that has been the ever-growing inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. Since the 90s they have reached dimensions of inequality not known since the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s. In his probing study of how and why that happened, Jim Cypher points out, among much else of importance, that between 1970 and 2000 the top 10% increased their overall share of the nation’s total income by 15%…; their gain was equivalent to more than the total income received annually by the bottom 40% of households…. The real money though starts on the 99th rung of the income ladder; the top 1% received an unbelievable 21.7% of all income in 2000…; and the bottom person of that tiny 1% received $384,000.
Moreover, the average/median/household, had an annual income in 2000 which, by 2005, had dropped by 6 percent, even though worker productivity in those same years had risen by 27.1 percent; as, also, average hourly pay fell by 1.2 percent while inflation-adjusted gross domestic product expanded by 14.4 percent. 
The average “American” may know or feel little about that set of appalling facts and why they have occurred; and, if they think at all about Cuba, see it as they might see a circus animal. On the other hand, whatever the negatives of Castro’s Cuba have been and are, the peoples of Latin America see that as due more to the “dirty tricks” of the U.S. than of the Cuban revolution. Put differently, for Latin America, the Cuban revolution “endures.”
“Endures,” to be sure, but does it deserve the term “social revolution”? Since 1959 I have been and I remain a strong supporter of the Cuban revolution; but my answer is: “So far: No.”
What most needs emphasis in that connection, however, is that it was the virtually unchallengeable power of the U.S. that thwarted a free and decent Cuba from 1900 to 1960; and that after 1960 it was not mostly Castro, but the ceaseless paramilitary, straight military, and economic muscle of the U.S. that distorted and thwarted almost all efforts that might have allowed Cuba to move steadily toward anything like a social revolution.
But those “good old days for Uncle Sam” are over and done with; whether he knows it or not.
He knows it not, despite everything. When in 1975 the U.S. fled like scared rabbits from Vietnam, it was widely assumed that we had learned a lesson: never again; that from then on, Uncle Sam would be a good ol’ boy.
Wrong: Lesson # 2: Spoiled brats never learn.
Yes, the 70s were indeed a “turning point” for the U.S., both abroad and at home; but the turn was to the right. Abroad, it included but did not stop at devastating new aggressions in, for example, Central America. 
Such muscular revivals of a fierce foreign policy made it easier to do likewise at home. Here a quick look at the literally “reactionary” turnaround of domestic policies in the U.S.
The several decades of desirable and badly-needed socio- economic reforms put in place from the late 1930s had, by the early 1970s already begun to be dismantled, a process that has spread and deepened to this day with only minimal resistance.
What have we lost? From 1935 into the 70s, the U.S. had finally taken its first steps toward becoming a decent society; a society all of whose people — “white” or not, male or not — would have the same rights and could move (very slowly, to be sure) toward meeting their basic needs for adequate nutrition, education, housing, and health care; toward becoming a society in which poverty and racism would become a dirty memory.
After well over a century as a nation, the U.S. had begun to understand what we could and should become as a nation. But as the 70s unrolled it had become clear to big business, to the militarists, the racists, and the religious zealots that if they were to regain their beloved anti-democratic society they would have to organize and work together.
Which they did. And, after spending billions in one realm of corruption or another, they became a political bloc able to push the U.S. back to the heartless and brainless society which, for a moment in its history, had been halted and reversed.
That takes us to Ronald Reagan, the macho make-believe cowboy president who paved the way for Bush II, the macho make-believe cowboy + combat-dodging pilot president. Neither of those gung ho! phonies had ever heard a shot fired in anger; both became two-term presidents, and did so “by night and by cloud” — as our voters, hypnotized by consumerism and flag-waving, nodded their OKs.
The parade of always more disgusting and bellicose right-wing triumphs since the 70s could have and should have sent the Democratic Party to the barricades; instead, its leaders (personified by the Clintons) bowed down and copied the GOP.
So it was that the way was paved for Bush II, an arrogant, ignorant, empty-headed fool and the most disgusting president in U.S. history; a race with many close competitors, including Reagan:
Ponder that Reagan was probably the most popular president of our history, despite that — and partially because — he was blatantly anti-union, cheerfully pro big-business, a persistent and disgraceful racist and mocker of the poor and, of course, a dyed-in-the-wool believer in the U.S. as God’s gift to the world. 
In keeping with the foregoing, from the late 70s to the present the disgraceful disaster of Vietnam has been shoved down the memory hole of the U.S. So it was that for the past few decades as the U.S. resumed its “Imperialism without Colonies”, there was only a murmur from the public. 
However: what in the 70s and 80s had seemed to be easy steps forward to solidifying our empire, came instead to have become the basis for a growing and spreading resistance within and between exploited societies. But Uncle Sam was too busy admiring himself in the rearview mirror of his Rolls Royce to note that he was heading toward a crack-up.
The Iceman Cometh
The geographically widespread empire of the U.S. began with our “birth as a nation”. Its breadth and long history have meant that the ongoing and oncoming resistance and opposition are taking on many different forms and will almost certainly have greatly diverse outcomes. But there is at least one emergent development that the resisting nations in Latin America have in common: a leftward shift in their political economies; in varying degrees, to be sure, but all in conflict with U.S. policy.
What they also have in common is the virtual certainty that their efforts will not have to endure the chaos and bloody conflicts of the Middle East; not because the U.S. has reformed, but because we have spread our military so thin that it can no longer achieve victories — except, perhaps, by using nuclear weapons. And what that would lead to is frightening to think through.
For reasons soon to be discussed below, what has recently emerged in half a dozen or so Latin America nations is likely to continue and spread over the entire region. But it needs adding that in this swiftly changing and unstable world, what may be accurately foreseen is very little indeed.
That said, in the past decade or so, the U.S. has managed to set the stage for what until very recently would have seemed out of the question: the virtual certainty that the U.S. has sent its global rule toward collapse.
That parade has been led by Latin America; inspired first by Cuba and now, even more substantially and hopefully, by Venezuela, itself much-inspired by Cuba. Uncle Sam, meanwhile, can do no more than grumble and wince.
On the assumption — or, rather, the hope — that the U.S. will somehow not carry the Iraq war into Iran — we now examine the promising developments in Latin America, with the focus mainly on Venezuela. As we do so, it will be argued that the huge and resource-rich countries of Latin America may well be paving an increasingly open road for themselves toward economic, political, and social democracy.
To do so the nations involved must resolve at least two major problems: 1) they must steadily shed themselves of capitalist ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, and 2) they must relate to each other within an effectively sovereign “Latin American Regional Economy”.
To serve the needs and possibilities of the region, such an economic union must differ greatly from the ongoing, U.S.-inspired European Union. A glance at its history shows why:
The smoke of World War II had barely settled over Europe when the U.S. began its efforts to push and pull Europe toward becoming what it initially and stupidly labeled “The United States of Europe”. This was too brash: in the early 1950s President de Gaulle warned France that the U.S. was seeking to “Coca-Colonize Europe”. 
De Gaulle’s witty phrase nicely summed up the U.S. aims for Europe. The most important of those aims were 1) that European and British capitalism would become part of the U.S. “team”: Their domestic policies would be shaped more by the business calculations of giant companies than by the socio-economic needs of their citizens, and 2) their foreign policies would support the ends of the U.S. 
However, until well into the 60s, and because of their stronger left movements, the Europeans were persuaded to deviate substantially from U.S. wishes in the social realms (health care, education, and pensions), even as in those same years their business sector happily went along with the U.S. in the economic realms of consumerism, globalization, financialization, and “flexible” labor (= weak unions).
But economic and political developments always interact; thus, by the 1980s, consumerism in Europe was effectively “Americanizing” and thus weakening the politics of Europe’s organized working class, also weakened by the “downsizing and outsourcing” of globalization. 
Having “Americanized, European societies are now lurching backward and away from their decades of social decency: their workers, like ours, have also learned “to want what they don’t need, and not to want what they do.” 
However, in that the average family in Latin America is much poorer than its counterpart in Western Europe or the U.S., the overwhelming majority of its peoples have up to now remained effectively out of the political reach of “consumerism” and — perhaps — within the reach of arguments for the full democratization of their societies: economically, politically, socially.
Why the “perhaps”? Because the many centuries of foreign control in Latin America did more than to oppress by military strength. The transformation of imperialism into globalization and the modern media and communications that go with it have meant that the peoples of the oppressed societies are also having their “hearts and minds” warped by the seductions which have come to be seen as “common sense” in the “advanced” societies. They too are becoming in some degree “willing victims” of monopoly capitalism. 
That is, although it seems clear that the power struggles against their foreign oppressors may well win out in the near future, it will take more time and much “unlearning” to cleanse themselves of the habits of thought and feeling that are taken for granted by most of them (and us); to realize that today’s “common sense” is by no means good sense.
There have been many revolutions, some with at least some desirable consequences, others with few or none; but up to now no revolution has been able to create a lasting and fully democratic society; or even to come close. But there is some reason to believe that at least some of the Latin American nations will be the first to do so — and that, if and when that happens, they will be leading a parade of the others.
What is the basis for such hope? It is that the main capitalist power has expended its military strength to the point of paralysis, and military strength has always been the key both to imperialist victory and survival.
Today’s Venezuela; and tomorrow’s Latin America?
In what follows the Venezuela of Chavez will be briefly examined to suggest what has and has not been achieved, and what may or may not be but must be accomplished if a fully democratic society is to be achieved in Latin America — or anywhere.
All of this will be put forth humbly, and with the belief that over time both the successes and/or failures in Latin America are bound to resonate for the rest of the imperialized world — and, perhaps, even serve to prod the peoples of the rich capitalist societies to awaken from the insane nightmare we have accepted as “the best of all possible worlds.” 
The ongoing and diverse leftward movements toward social and economic democracy in Latin America have been and will be necessary; but they are not sufficient for the achievement of full democracy. The road to that success is studded with numerous imposing obstacles, accumulated in centuries of subjection to imperialist/capitalist ways of thought, feeling, and behavior.
In none of the several societies that have created revolutions in the past or present have the peoples liberated themselves from their capitalist past substantially, let alone sufficiently; nor have they — yet — in either Cuba or Venezuela. For that to occur there must be a peaceful revolution within a revolution.
That said, and for reasons now to be put forth, what has not yet been overcome anywhere, may yet be overcome in Latin America, with Venezuela in the lead.
The peoples of the entire world (especially in the U.S.) have become the manipulated subjects of capitalism’s needs and wants, while learning to see ourselves as free and independent; with only a dissenting voice here and there, now and again.
We must consciously unlearn those habits of thought and feeling. Slowly but surely we must teach ourselves how to create and to live in a fully democratic society — a society in which all are equal. As will be seen in what follows, that need has been at least recognized in Venezuela; and it is being acted upon.
Granted the desirability of “equality” as an essential goal for a decent society, the question then arises: “equal in what?”
First and foremost, the answer is equal in power. To the degree that we remain unequal in power, we remain unequal also in our material wellbeing, in our economic, political, and social rights — and in our dignity. Does this mean that a society moving toward equality would be moving toward one in which we would all be alike?
Only up to a point. What is included in that “up to a point” is at least this: There should be NO inequality in terms of access to political power or to the satisfaction of the basic needs of all: adequate nutrition, education, health care, housing, and opportunity.
Whatever the average “American” may know about all of that, the people of Venezuela are well on their way toward knowing it well. As will be discussed below, the ground has begun to be cleared for major changes. What has been accomplished is no more than first steps; but they are not likely to be last steps.
Earlier in this essay, importance was given to the multiple interventions of the U.S. in Latin America (and elsewhere). Whatever the numerous and great difficulties those interventions have caused, it needs understanding that even without them the post-revolutionary path would not have been or ever would be easy.
The revolutions of the capitalist era in Russia, China, and Cuba from their beginnings had to fight an uphill battle against their one-time oppressors. In having to do so, intermittently all found themselves on or over the brink of collapse, effectively forced by their one or more of their foreign rulers to use coercive or unpopular means merely to survive.
All that is well-known and obvious. Less obvious is that even if a once imperialized society were able to initiate a social revolution with no foreign economic and/or military intervention it would still be faced with the need to come to grips with what is implied by the very term “social revolution”.
If and when an anti-imperialist movement is able to overcome the ruling foreign power, there remains much to be accomplished if a better society is to emerge.
A capitalist-dominated society’s rule is not confined to what goes on in factories and mines or governmental centers; it also rules over “the hearts and minds” of the people. Marx put it this way, well before the modern era and its “consciousness industry”:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production… 
The need to overcome that vital set of problems can be dealt with further as we go along to examine the various degrees of recent left-leaning developments in Latin America and, importantly, the sustained attention being given in Venezuela to the problem of “unlearning the ways and means and habits of thought of centuries of capitalism”, what Gramsci saw as “the ideology of capitalism”. 
In his book Build It Now, Lebowitz confirms that today’s Venezuelan leaders are clearly conscious of that need, when he quotes from their Year 2000 Constitution, which returns over and over again to the theme of human development as the goal, which stresses the importance of dignity and solidarity for the realization of human potential and embodies the concept of a human family — one whose relations are dependent upon:
equality of rights and duties, solidarity, common effort, mutual understanding, and reciprocal respect… obligations which, by virtue of solidarity, social responsibility, and humanitarian assistance, are incumbent upon private individuals according to their abilities. 
In little more than a decade or so, one Latin American country after another has in diverse ways let it be known that U.S. and other nations’ capitalist dominance have had their day. Argentina led the way economically, largely because to continue to do the biddings of the IMF, et al., might have pleased the rich foreigners, but it would have meant making life tougher for the Argentineans.
So: Argentina defied the threats and warnings of the U.S. created and controlled ugly trio of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. Since then, by no means coincidentally, Argentina has had an increasingly prosperous economy; and that has not gone unnoticed in the rest of Latin America. The times, they are a-changing.
Argentina did not do so with a “left” government. However, as will be pursued further below, its own successful defiance of exploitative capitalism in the financial sector has shown the way for others. Those “others” — led by Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and in its own way, Chile — have markedly moved to the left and to freedom and independence. As they do so, they are more likely than not to inspire Argentina (and others) to do likewise.
That takes me to a separate comment on Brazil:
When, about a decade ago, Luis Inacio da Silva (“Lula”) was elected in Brazil, that seemed to promise a substantial breakaway from the IMF trio, even more so than that of Argentina. The promise was not and, up to now, could not be kept. Brazil’s economy is the largest and resource-richest in Latin America. Because of its riches, Brazil has been and remains dominated in all realms by giant foreign corporations (and cooperating Brazilian capitalists).
When left-leaning “Lula” was first elected, it seemed as though Brazil was on its way toward a social — even a socialist — democracy. But the “outsiders” were able realistically to threaten Brazil with an economic disaster if Lula did not “kneel down and behave”; a threat all the more real because of the deep corruption of Brazilian capitalists (aided by gangsters). “Lula” bent; and, in doing so, was weakened politically.
Brazil and other Latin American countries need support and assistance from within Latin America if they are ever to move toward independence and a democratic society. It was not there to be given ten years ago. Now it is: Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba, San Salvador, and Guatemala have been getting such support from oil-rich Venezuela.
Venezuela can do that because its government is the main owner of its oil resources (and, increasingly, of much else — including, most recently, its main TV station). Given what is now happening in Venezuela and its allied countries, there is good reason to believe that the frustrated past of Latin Americans seeking independence is more likely than not to be replaced by a hopeful future — including Brazil and Lula.
How and why? The “why” is suggested by the very success of Venezuela in overcoming the attempted U.S. led coup d’etat of 2002, especially when one adds in what has occurred in Chile, whose new President’s father and thousands of others were murdered by General Augusto Pinochet, leader of the U.S. designed coup d’etat of 1973. “U.S. designed?” Exactly.
Declassifed documents show that the Nixon administration, which had tried to block Mr. Allende’s inauguration as a Socialist President, began plotting to bring him down just 72 hours after he took office (1970). 
The “how” refers to two concurrent developments, the first already noted earlier; namely, the always increasing financial and material assistance Venezuela is providing to its “neighbors”.
The second has to do with the several policies already well at work within Venezuela to help its people “unlearn” the self-destructive lessons of capitalism/imperialism and to “learn” how to live and work as members of a sane and fully democratic non-capitalist world.
For Venezuela and other self-liberated countries to succeed in those efforts is distinctly possible; it is also fraught with difficulties. The rest of this essay will be concerned with how Venezuela is doing in both respects in its program of what Chavez has called “21st Century Socialism”.
The very title of that program is encouraging. In calling itself “socialist” rather than “social democracy” the program makes it clear 1) that its aim is NOT to “reform” or “tame” capitalism, but to replace it; and 2) to replace capitalism with a “socialism” whose depth and spread goes well beyond that of earlier attempts called socialist.
The war in Iraq now plunges into a bottomless pit, and Uncle Sam squirms helplessly as, at the same time, Venezuela and other Latin America’s countries are lifting themselves out of centuries of foreign control and exploitation. Three cheers for that.
However, and as noted earlier, even if the U.S. and other imperialists forego attempts at intervention, military or otherwise, the freed countries would be faced with the need effectively to come to grips with what is implied by the very term “social revolution”. It is that major problem — or sets of problems — that occupied Lebowitz in his Build it Now, referred to earlier, and now to be referred to again in its relevant particulars.
A social revolution is in its very nature the opening of a door to a room crowded with difficulties, which taken together make what could be a pleasant path into a treacherous obstacle course.
However, what follows suggests reasons for being hopeful about the possibilities of Latin America’s ongoing political tendencies (on the major assumption that the U.S. does not bring on World War III by its ongoing and emerging Middle Eastern policies).
Looking Ahead in Latin America
It must be seen as startling that in less than a decade so many South American countries have taken a distinct turn toward independence and/or the left in significant degree — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and, of course, Venezuela — with Cuba not only holding on but strengthening, and El Salvador and Nicaragua coming back to life — with others yet to come?
Moreover, there is substantial reason to expect that they will soon be working together. This is not meant to suggest that within the next decade Latin America will be functioning as a united socialist region; but there are serious reasons for expecting significant moves in that direction. Herewith a summary, with a fuller discussion to follow:
1. Never before has there been a situation where one socialist country can and does assist neighboring countries voluntarily to move on the same path.
2. It is distinctly probable that within ten years or less there will be substantial and effective efforts by Latin Americans to make themselves into an effective regional economy; and one that will go much further and, as a group, more independently than the European Union.
3. And that all of this will be sought and accomplished because it will be done with a broad, left-leaning group of countries cooperating rather than competing with each other.
4. As, meanwhile, in what could be its swansong, the U.S. will make an always bigger fool of itself with threats, advice, restraints, punishments… you name it.
Those are some of the hopes; now we turn to some of the difficulties and how they are being dealt with in Venezuela.
Among the many difficulties, perhaps the most challenging and the most important is for the society’s people and its leaders to transform themselves from what the past has made us into what a better future requires of us; or, as it was put earlier: we must unlearn what we have “known,” and learn how to become what we can and must be.
So, what of the Venezuela’s leader? It is not possible to think of contemporary Venezuela without giving substantial attention to Hugo Chavez. Nor, for present purposes, is it sensible to expect that anyone could become the elected president of Venezuela, an imperialized country, unless he or she had a strong desire for power.
Chavez had and has that desire for power. But what about the old saying that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”?
Chavez has something close to “absolute power”; and he seems to have misused it more than once. The important question is not “Did Chavez seek and misuse power?” That is a matter of record. What needs answering is “Was the related damage done to major or minor realms of the social process? Has his rule been effectively positive or negative.”
In what follows, I believe it will become clear that the answers are supportive of Chavez; and, even more relevantly, that his current policies are a definite advance and improvement over those which initially carried him to the presidency. “Corruption” there has been; more important is that, unlike almost all “leaders”, Chavez has “grown”, has been “humanized” in office:
Item: In a 2005 speech Chavez showed that he is well along in the processes he has come to urge on his people: “If there are not socialist morals in us, socialism is not possible. The values of sharing with one another, of living in a community of feeling… an invisible thread that unites us to all… of solidarity, of love, and of leaving selfishness behind as well as ambition for wealth — (‘What a perverse thing that is!’) — these are the concepts of socialist morals, socialist ethics… Workers are entitled to demand fair wages and other benefits… They are also called upon to be a fundamental element of social transformation.” 
The ways in which we have become accustomed to act, to feel, and to think under capitalism are many, and they must be overcome and replaced in ways suggested by the above quotation; among many others. In the sixth chapter of his fine book, Lebowitz raises what he calls “Seven Difficult Questions” confronting Venezuela (or any society seeking to develop and maintain a fully democratic society). The questions have a common focus; namely, this:
A capitalist society cannot be even reasonably democratic, given its dependence upon major inequalities in income, wealth, and power. However, in a fully democratic non-capitalist society, there are several questions that must be dealt with if it is to become and remain democratic. All of them require answers that center upon solidarity. It is assumed that an essential for the economy is that enterprises be worker-managed. Given that, here are some vital questions needing thought and policy formation:
How do we break down the division between those who think and those who do? Between those in worker self-managed enterprises and the unemployed? Between themselves and the working class as a whole? When other such enterprises fail? How can solidarity between worker-managed enterprises and society as a whole be incorporated into those enterprises?
A moment’s reflection reveals the great complexities of moving toward and maintaining a society at whose heart is the desirability and need for solidarity — IF is to be accomplished by people who have been trained to think and feel and play and buy and work competitively, with regard to virtually everything.
Enough already. In sum, the U.S. is on its way down and Latin America is on its way up — with who can even guess what will be happening elsewhere — Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe…?
In this world there are always many reasons to be fearful of the future; but what is now happening in Latin America is one part of that world which gives us hope.
To the degree that desirable changes continue there, they could inspire other peoples in other places: Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe… even the United States? But in those areas — especially the “strange couple” of Africa and the United States — the obstacles are considerably more forbidding than in Latin America.
Little hope, probably; until the past few years in Venezuela, there was much less.
1. See William Appleman Williams, Empire As A Way of Life (1980).
2. See Marilyn Blatt Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990 (1991).
3. See Young, The Vietnam Wars; and also H. Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia (1977).
4. See Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006).
5. See A. Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (1999).
6. See A. Uribe, The Black Book of American Intervention in Chile (1975); and W. Blum, U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (2004).
7. See Seymour Hersh, The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (1983); and Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Queda (2002).
8. Published as ‘History Will Absolve Me’, The Center for Cuban Studies, New York.
9. ‘It’s Time to Trade with Cuba’, International Herald Tribune, April 25, 2007.
10. For a brilliant and just as heart-breaking study of today’s young in the U.S. see William Finnegan, Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country (1998) — and that was before Bush.
11. ‘Slicing Up at the Long Barbeque: Who Gorges, Who Serves, and Who Gets Roasted?’, dollars & sense, January/February 2007.
12. Those aggressions cannot be pursued here. For those interested, representative instances of U.S. behavior in all of Central America are found in our post World War II history in Guatemala and El Salvador. See S. Jonas, The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power; and for El Salvador, M. Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War.
13. For a useful summary of 70s descent to the bottom see R. Du Boff’s discussion of the corporate counter-attack in his Accumulation and Power: An Economic History of the United States (1989); for an authoritative and frightening discussion of Reagan, see G. Wills, Reagan’s America (1988).
14. See Harry Magdoff, Imperialism without Colonies (2003).
15. See W. Greider, One World, Ready or Not (1997).
16. See F. Block, The Origins of International Economic Disorder (1977).
17. See D.M. Gordon, Fat and Mean: The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans… (1996).
18. As put by Paul Baran, already in the 1960s, ‘Theses on Advertising’, in The Longer View (Monthly Review Press, 1969).
19. See Hans Magnus Ensenzberger, The Consciousness Industry (1974); Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (1993); Edward S Herman and Robert W McChesney, The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism (1999).
20. I insert here that my thinking along what follows was stimulated by the recent book of Michael Lebowitz, Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (Monthly Review Press, 2006). Of course he is not to be blamed for the essay’s defects.
21. Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1845).
22. See Q. Hoare and G.N. Smith, Selections from The Prison Notebooks of Gramsci.
23. Lebowitz, Build it Now, p. 89.
24. ‘The Other Sept. 11.’, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2003.
25. Quoted in Lebowitz, Build it Now, p. 107.
Doug Dowd was born in San Francisco (1919). He began to teach at Berkeley in 1950; and then at Cornell until 1971. He returned to San Francisco for university teaching until 1992, while, at the same time, teaching "free community classes" (which continue). For about 15 years, he has taught every other semester in Italy (presently at the University of Modena). Among his books, most recent are Blues for America: A Critique, a Lament and some Stories, Capitalism and its Economics: A Critical History and The Broken Promises of America at Home and Abroad, Past and Present: an Encyclopaedia for our Times.