Saturday, 1 March 2014

The labour movement should drop any illusions it has about Venezuelan socialism

With hundreds of thousands on the streets demonstrating against the government last weekend, ongoing economic crisis, shortages of practically everything and government thugs beating and killing opposition demonstrators, it seems odd that we even have to ask the question.

But on the British left, we sometimes exhibit a pathological support for figures on the anti-establishment side of the argument, as long as they (a) make some kind of vague claim to be ‘socialist’ and (b) stand vocally against The Great Evil, namely the government of the United States. The Maduro regime in Venezuela ticks both boxes.

Last year we looked at Hugo Chávez’ threadbare legacy. In the year since his death, his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, has proved himself to be a rather extraordinary president. Extraordinary in the sense that, if you thought Chávez had managed his country poorly, Maduro’s skill has been consistently to do it worse.

He has first managed to produce shortages of a large number of basic goods. In a state which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, this in itself is a considerable achievement. State-abetted corruption, which is everywhere, helps to waste those assets, although that is perhaps no unusual statement in South America.

Second, the streets, always dangerous no matter what your politics, are now killing zones. In the fifteen years to 2013, more or less exactly the period of Chavez/Maduro leadership, the murder rate has quadrupled (although the same report notes that the government now suppresses statistics).

In recent weeks there has been unprecedented brutality at the hands of the unpleasant “colectivos”, the regime’s paid-for vigilantes. Emiliana Duarte, a local blogger, notes that they “carry out their savage attacks with steel rods, billy clubs, and using their motorcycle helmets as bludgeons”.

Third, there is Maduro’s own strange and erratic behaviour. A man fundamentally lacking the charisma of his predecessor, he has attempted to live off the legend of Chávez; to turn him into a quasi-religious figure, an Evita or a Che for his generation. He claims he hasappeared to him as a “very small bird”, and that he advised God to choose a Latin American Pope (I kid you not). Maduro is not just an incompetent leader, but a public embarrassment to the country.

Fourth, freedom within the country has declined further, where Freedom House already rated it only 5 out of a possible 7 (‘Partly Free’), only half a point higher than Russia (“Not Free”):
“Venezuela received a downward trend arrow due to an increase in the selective enforcement of laws and regulations against the opposition in order to minimize its role as a check on government power.”
More media outlets have closed for being anti-regime. CNN has been thrown out of the country. Venezuela formally withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights in September 2013 – a telling sign of the country’s direction.

I could go on. But challenge the narrative of the pro-Chavistas, and you are told – as I wason Twitter the other day – that it is all a conspiracy of the ‘MSM’ (mainstream media). We would be better off getting all our reports from ‘independent’ blogs (I was referred to this one, utterly bereft of any kind of criticism of the Maduro regime).

No, the violence is all blamed on ‘extreme right-wing groups’, naturally all funded by the US. Hard evidence for this, however, is eerily scant.

For an example of echo-chamber thinking which continues to support Maduro against all evidence to the contrary, look no further than last year’s Labour Party conference, where supporters and Venezuela and of Cuba held a joint event. That’s right, a supposed democracy alongside a bona-fide dictatorship.

In an Olympic feat of intellectual contortionism, the supporters of both saw no inconsistency in supporting the two regimes side by side.

And that is because (a) Venezuela is no longer, if it ever was, a free democracy in any meaningful sense of the word and (b) its supporters are clearly willing to compromise on democracy “for the greater good”; for them democracy is not a sine qua non.

Well, it is for me. It should be for all of us. As we have seen from the murderous anti-democrats of the last century as well as the current one, any other way lies madness.

It is high time that key figures in the labour movement, such as the current leader of the TUC and those of most of the major trade unions, woke up and smelt the coffee.

Their last-ditch support for a dying regime is not only leaving them tragically on the wrong side of history but, worse, exposing them and our great movement to ridicule.

This post first published at Left Foot Forward, linked at Guido Fawkes and selected for Progress' What We're Reading


  1. I await with interest the first response to your criticism of the Castro regime in Cuba.

    "So, what, you'd like the Batista regime back?" That's what people say, isn't it? It's as if, out of all the means of government in history, Cuba's only ever allowed to choose between those two.

    It's a fine post.

    1. Cheers squire. One other factoid I found out over the last couple of days is that fact that Venezuela has the worst Freedom House Freedom Ranking in Latin America. Apart from one other country...and guess which one?

      Your fellow liberal interventionist

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