Sunday, 13 August 2017

Venezuela: a Corbynite touchstone. An unmitigated human and democratic disaster

It is not for months but, in fact, years that some of us have tried to draw attention to the pathological infatuation of Labour’s hard left (and even some of the soft left) to the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chávez.

The attraction was straightforward: a kind of “Cuba-lite”, where in contrast defenders could always point to at least some kind of democracy, slanted towards the ruling party with various “cheats” though it was (such as the inequitable use of state television for propaganda). Not to mention, of course, a dazzling oil wealth which could comfortably mask the self-enriching activities of the ruling kleptocracy and still leave a bit of largesse to spread among its voters around election time, in the name of “true socialism”.

Indeed, so attractive was it that some of our current crop of hard-left doyennes, in perhaps less elevated times than they now sit, headed out for the Caribbean in 2012, the October of Chávez’s last election before his death.

Step forward, Diane Abbott and sidekick Owen Jones, “impartial observers” of the election. Except that they weren’t, of course, they were friends of one side only, as I helpfully pointed out to them while they were in Caracas as the guests of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (run by a Chávez crony, incidentally).

Abbott, as patron of the Chávez-supporting Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, claimed without irony that she was “at pains to say that I wasn’t going to Venezuela to support any particular candidate”. So that’s all right, then.

It was an election, it should be noted, at which there were no international observers from any reputable organisation: only UNASUR, a regional body dominated by Venezuela itself. Then again, for 2012 Abbott, the likelihood of a formal Shadow Cabinet post probably seemed small, especially after various faux pas like the famous “white people love to divide and rule” comment. So she probably paid a little less attention to what might be the impact of her visit.

Oh, how dull and carping we were, who would criticise the Chávez regime or its slanted electoral system. But even then, all the signs were there. Why the need to invite, for want of a better word, your mates, to observe an election? Because, apart from UNASUR, no-one else came to the party. The EU and the UN had been invited to previous elections, why not this one? Could it be that the regime knew it would be heavily criticised for unfairness?

But it has also been obvious for many years how things would end: as they always do, with regimes which cannot let go of power. They have ended that way now. It has been quite an achievement, the frittering away of the world’s largest oil reserves. But it has come to pass.

Starvation, shortage of medicines, violence on the streets and now, a constitutional coup which bypasses Venezuela’s established democracy altogether, with a new chamber which will naturally be “more democratic” (as it will be ruled by the Chavistas). You could not have made a story more redolent of the old Soviet Union if you tried. Venezuelan Democracy, if it is not dead already, is certainly in intensive care.

If you want to know how Labour could have saved itself the bother of wondering whether Venezuela would turn out well or badly these last eighteen years, there was a simple sign right at the beginning, and it comes from a universal law of politics.

Never, ever trust a politician who contrives to award themselves more power. Because it is invariably a one-way street. One of his first acts was to consolidate the two legislative chambers into one increasing his own power; later to abolish presidential term limits. They were to be the first of many creeping constitutional changes, up to this last by Maduro, effectively abolishing democracy altogether.

Erdogan, Putin, Orbán and others have all come from democracies, and all gradually whittled away freedom until little remains: democracy to dictatorship via pseudo-democracy. Maduro is only completing the job that Chávez started.

And so we come to Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time supporter of Venezuela. Can he bring himself to condemn what is effectively a constitutional coup, to strangle democracy in Venezuela? Or the violence meted out to those rightly protesting against this? He cannot. He manages only a mealy-mouthed condemnation of “violence on both sides”, as if somehow both were equally guilty.

But condemnation of both sides, when there is not equal blame, is the last refuge of the knave. It is victim-blaming of the worst kind. And who said that? Why, Corbyn himself.

And the explanation is simple. Iain Macleod once said of Enoch Powell that he was “driven mad by the remorselessness of his own logic”. Corybn, the same kind of marginal figure, is really just the same: his own logic – America bad, anti-America good; left good, right bad – leads him to conclude that despotism is bad when committed by the right; and ok when committed by the anti-American left. It is a shame that an apologist for this would-be dictator continues to lead our party.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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