Counter-Summit for Democracy: where the truth was told

This article by Dee Knight – member of the DSA International Committee’s Anti-War Subcommittee and of the Friends of Socialist China advisory group – provides a valuable summary of the Counter-Summit for Democracy we hosted on 2 April 2023.

A key theme running throughout the speeches is that there was nothing democratic whatsoever about Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy, held a few days before our counter-summit. Prominent invitees to the Summit included Israel, where mass protests are currently taking place against Netanyahu’s authoritarianism; Ukraine, which has banned all communist and socialist parties; France, where millions are protesting Macron’s anti-democratic ramming through of pension changes; and Taiwan, a province of China which was invited specifically in order to undermine the One China Principle and escalate tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile the host country – the US – has an entirely dubious democratic record, given its disastrous racism and inequality, not to mention its habit of spreading ‘democracy’ around the world via bombs, coups, sanctions and coercion.

Several speakers noted that the socialist countries are leading the way in terms of developing new forms of popular democracy that are responsive to the needs and aspirations of ordinary people. Meanwhile, US hegemony is dying and a multipolar world is emerging – a system of international relations based on equality, respect for sovereignty, and adherence to the UN Charter. As Calla Walsh commented, “Biden’s summit for democracy would better have been called a summit against a democratic world.”

This article first appeared in LA Progressive.

Speakers at the April 2 “Counter-Summit for Democracy” showed a rogues’ gallery of the “stars of democracy” at Joe Biden’s official summit: authoritarian right-wing leaders Netanyahu of Israel, Duda of Poland, Modi of India, Zelensky of Ukraine and Meloni of Italy. “Even Western officials, corporate media outlets, and mainstream human rights organizations have admitted [they] are authoritarian,” Ben Norton of the GeoPolitical Economy report observed. He said Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni “is a defender of former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini… Her far-right political party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) still uses the same symbols and colors of Mussolini’s fascist movement.”

Netanyahu spoke at Biden’s summit while mass protests were going on in Israel against his authoritarian regime. Israel’s most influential newspaper Haaretz warns that “‘Israel’s Government Has neo-Nazi Ministers. It Really Does Recall Germany in 1933′.”

The US pressured all invitees to sign a joint statement denouncing Russia over the proxy war in Ukraine, Norton said. Poland is virulently anti-Russia, so it was welcomed; Hungary has tried to balance good relations with both the West and Russia, so it was the only EU member not invited.

The governments of Lula Da Silva in Brazil and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) of Mexico refused to support Washington’s denunciation of Moscow. Norton said “the US government exposed its cynical political designs by inviting Ukraine and Taiwan to participate in the summit, despite the fact that Taiwan island is not a country, but rather a province of the People’s Republic of China.”

Volodymyr Zelensky spoke at the conference in spite of his attacks on democracy at home, Norton said. “Zelensky’s regime has banned all communist and socialist parties, while imposing some of the most aggressive anti-worker legislation in the world, suspending collective bargaining rights and essentially making it illegal to form a union. Even the New York Times… acknowledged that Zelensky’s regime has imposed authoritarian control over the media. Meanwhile, Ukrainian opposition politicians and critics have been arbitrarily arrested.”

Indian leader Modi is part of a fascist paramilitary group, the RSS, whose founders were inspired by Nazi Germany, Norton said. He has ordered massive pogroms of Muslims. His ruling party, BJP, promotes an extreme Hindu-nationalist ideology calling Muslims and other religious minorities inferior, second- or third-class citizens. Just before the Biden “Summit for Democracy”, his government launched an attack on Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s political opposition, expelled him from parliament and sentenced him to two years in prison over fraudulent charges of defamation, due to a comment Gandhi made in 2019 calling Modi and his wealthy oligarch allies “thieves.” 

Gandhi is barred from office, paving the way for BJP to more easily win the upcoming 2024 election, without significant opposition. Even though many mainstream media outlets have acknowledged that Modi’s regime is authoritarian, including the New York Timesthe BBCNBC NewsForeign Policy, the New Yorker, and The Diplomat, Modi was eagerly welcomed at Biden’s “Summit for Democracy” because the US wants to recruit India for its new cold war on China, and hopes to weaken New Delhi’s positive relations with Russia.

Carlos Ron, vice-foreign minister of Venezuela, mentioned it’s the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine – the claim by the US elite that Latin America somehow belongs to them. “They have nothing to with democracy, human rights or international law,” he said. “They have no respect for national sovereignty or self-determination, because the US wants to change our government. We wrote our own constitution; we voted for it. The outcome is a democracy where people are consulted on important issues; we have had 26 elections in 25 years. What has been the reply of the US – a coup, an oil lockdown to create chaos, massive funding of the opposition and interference in our democratic process; funding Venezuelan fascists to go into the streets and burn people alive, especially dark-skinned people.” He added the US has attempted assassinations and legal persecutions; kidnapping Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, and brutal sanctions to cripple Venezuela’s economy.

Margaret Kimberley, editor of the Black Agenda Report, emphasized the lack of democracy in the US, and highlighted the upcoming campaign to make the Americas a “zone of peace.” She also denounced threats of invasion and destabilization of Haiti – the first nation to throw off slavery.

Ju-Hyun Park, of the Korea solidarity group Noduktol, said “there were many things wrong with Biden’s Democracy Summit, but a key one was the participation of South Korea’s new neo-fascist president, Yoon Suk Yeol.” A week before the summit 20,000 Koreans attended rallies and a pan-national conference in Seoul, denouncing President Yoon and demanding his resignation – “only the latest in a constant stream of popular demonstrations, strikes and denunciations that have defined Yoon’s administration, which has not even completed its first year,” Park said.

South Koreans are protesting a recent deal between Yoon and the Kashida government in Japan to “forgive” reparations to survivors of Japan’s forced labor programs in World War II. “For a very long time Japan and the US have been parasitically benefiting from the immense size of South Korea’s military,” Park said. South Korea has more than 600,000 troops which are under US operational control. Now the US is pushing Japan to re-arm, and in the next five years it will pour $315B into its military. South Korea is also being encouraged to develop advanced weaponry, like a space force and a “blue water” navy.

“The US is preparing a grand army to fight its coming war on China. In this arrangement Koreans will conveniently do the majority of fighting and dying on behalf of Americans,” Park said. Joint war games this March in Korea featured naval exercises with a US naval strike group led by the USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. During these war games the US also conducted simulations of nuclear deployment to Korea, he added.

South Korea’s two biggest trade unions, the KCTU and the FKTU, signed a joint statement last fall with their sibling trade union in North Korea, opposing US war exercises. The Yoon government responded with a crackdown. In January the national intelligence service raided KCTU offices. Multiple organizers and union leaders were charged under the anti-communist National Security Law, accused of being spies for North Korea. Members of the Korean Peasants League and reunification organizations like the June 15 Committee were also charged.

“This is a move straight out of the playbook of South Korea’s fascist dictatorships – the use of anti-communism and accusations of sedition to repress the labor movement,” Park said.

“In order to preserve South Korea’s position in its empire, the US is blessing a backward and regressive government with no popular mandate,” Park said. “Today in South Korea law is not an instrument for justice for the many but a flexible weapon of tyranny wielded by the few. When Korean people demand peace their government offers war. Where they demand justice for colonial crimes, the Yoon administration offers humiliating capitulation and historical erasure. And where workers demand dignity for labor the state brandishes the whip at Wall Street’s behest.

“Korea is a major battleground in this coming war between the US and China, and the success or failure of Korea’s anti-imperialist struggle will help set the course and pace for the rest of the world,” Park said. He encouraged people to support a human chain event connecting the offices of North and South Korean governments on Saturday April 29 11am at the UN in New York.

Lowkey, an Iraqi-British journalist and popular educator, noted that while French President Macron was at the Democracy Summit, millions of French people were protesting his crushing of democracy by ramming through pension changes which will impoverish French workers during the worst economic crisis there since the 1930s. He highlighted that Israeli “leader” Netanyahu is facing “almost a million” Palestinians protesting. 

He mentioned the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. “What we saw throughout the ‘war on terror’ was the death of civil liberties, the Guantanamo Bay torture center, and countless US bombs dropped every day for 20 years.” He contrasted this to “what China is bringing to Iraq and Africa: 8,000 schools!” In Africa, Lowkey said the US is bringing military occupation, coups d’etat (nine coups in 11 countries since 2008), and 35 military bases across 15 countries on the continent, while China has assisted Africa in building 13,000 km of roads and railways, 100 ports, 130 medical facilities and more than 50 sports venues. During the COVID period Lowkey said China cancelled the debts of 15 African countries, and Chinese medical workers have treated 230 million African patients during the COVID pandemic.

Luna Oi is a Vietnamese commentator who appears frequently on YouTube. Currently visiting the USA, she said “it is shocking to see what American workers have to deal with every day with food and gas prices unsustainably high, while the minimum wage has not changed since 2009. Racism, sexism and anti-queer phobia, as well as fascism, are getting stronger every day… The richest Americans live over a decade longer than the poorest Americans! Around the world people are starting to see that American prosperity is crumbling in this so-called ‘land of the free’.” 

She said it’s necessary to “recognize that the US is not a true democracy… The US has five times the number of prisoners as the rest of the world together, and slavery still exists here thanks to the 13th Amendment which allows slavery as punishment for people convicted of a crime… We need to build a powerful peace movement to stop the war mongering empire of the United States of America.” She asks why there is no such movement today, like the anti-war movement during the US war in Vietnam.

Professor Mohammad Marandi of Iran said “Sanctions against Venezuela and Iran were imposed to cause hunger and death in hopes the people would rise up to replace their leaders with ones favorable to the US. Both Iran and Venezuela have a high level of popular legitimacy. If they did not, this would not be the behavior of the US and its allies.” He said the democratically elected Mossadegh in 1953 was demonized then by the US just the same as today’s Iran leaders. “It’s the same for any state that wants to be independent and sovereign in its relations with the West.”

Pawel Wargan, a leader of the Progressive International, said the Biden summit was a total embarrassment. Participants in Biden’s summit had to go along with war, sanctions, and economic coercion. 

“How can we call democratic countries where trade unions and popular movements are considered antagonists of the state? Every democratic gain we have made in the West, in [Poland] in the post-socialist period – from women’s right to vote, to the weekend and the 8-hour workday, and so on – has faced violent resistance from the ruling classes. Every one of these wins had to be wrangled from our so-called democracies…, and now these gains are being rolled back. France is on fire, because its leader decided to pass a pension reform in defiance even of a meek parliament… It’s not enough for us to say that we have little influence over policies in bourgeois democracy, we are not allowed to have influence. The desires and aspirations of the people are shut down with batons and tear gas, and sometimes bullets. They are disarmed with assaults on trade unions, with assaults on public education, by misery and loneliness and addiction. That’s ‘democracy’ under capitalism – it’s not democracy at all. It’s a farce. It’s an antiquated system run by inadequate people exclusively for the benefit of a tiny fraction of our societies.”

Wargan continued: 

“But there’s an antidote: socialism. Popular democracy is being built. Look at Cuba – half the Cuban population took part in a democratic consultative process that delivered the most progressive family law in human history. And look at China: China mobilized nearly a million members of the Party to walk alongside the very poorest members of Chinese society and work with them to build pathways to prosperity. And 800 million people were lifted out of poverty – again, a feat that is unprecedented in human history. I promise you that however much we plead and beg, Van der Leyen will not deliver progress to our society; Joe Biden will not deliver such progress to our society, and Emmanuele Macron will not deliver such progress… We must recover the democratic spirit that’s been taken away from us, that calls on us to be active agents in our societies, to work every day towards building the kind of democracy we want to have… I think that’s the minimum commitment we can all help make at this summit today.”

Calla Walsh, at 19 a veteran organizer and journalist, co-chair of the National Network on Cuba, a coalition across the US fighting to end the war on Cuba, said: 

“Instead of uplifting true democracies which have mass participation, such as those in Cuba and China, Biden’s summit promoted the overthrow of these governments… The US is increasingly isolating itself, and it’s clear each day that its hegemony is in decline… Biden’s summit for democracy would better have been called a summit against a democratic world. Biden used his summit to prop up regime change operations under the guise of democracy promotion… Foundations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA front group, are some of the most blatant examples of how the US uses ‘democracy’ as a weapon to undermine real democracy. Over the past 20 years the NED and USAID have allocated over $250 million to programs targeting Cuba.

These programs aim to escalate real economic dissatisfaction in Cuba into violent protests. These protests have been utter failures because Cubans are dissatisfied by the US blockade, not by the Cuban government. Reports published by the US government on their plans to remodel Cuba into a capitalist state have even modeled Cuba’s transition after the neo-liberalization of eastern Europe during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, where economic shock therapy caused a huge drop in life expectancy and rise in disease and poverty.

“Young people in the US like me are increasingly skeptical of US regime change propaganda. More young people see China as a friend and not as an enemy than any other generation. We see the utter incompetence of the US in their attempts to ban TikTok. We see Biden continuing the destruction of our environment while China is leading the world in reducing carbon emissions. We see that Cuba has the most progressive laws in the world in LGBTQ rights while rightists in the US are attempting a genocide of transgender people… I believe that if we fight for it, if we continue to build this international, intergenerational movement, then we will see an end to the blockade in our lifetimes, and we’ll be able to live in a truly democratic, multipolar world.

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