The Venezuelan regime’s decision to unleash paramilitary groups on opposition protestors has revealed to the world yet again the moral bankruptcy of socialism. It also shows Jeremy Corbyn’s utter hypocrisy; he parrots on about universal human rights but is not prepared to speak out against the thugs who run Venezuela, a nation of almost 32 million people.
We have been here before with socialist ideology but some people never learn. The Russian famine of 1921-22 was a direct result of Lenin’s collectivist policies. It led to around five million deaths. Between 1958 and 1962, Mao Tse-tung’s Great Leap Forward in China – a socialist project to industrialise the country – resulted in 45 million killed.
In the late Seventies under Pol Pot, two million perished in Cambodia during attempts to collectivise the countryside.
Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Pol Pot, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and our very own Jeremy Corbyn have one thing in common: an admiration of Karl Marx. They all believe that systemic economic change can only take place through class struggle.
Venezuela is not yet Cambodia, but things are bad enough as it is. Chávez was in power from February 1999 until his death from cancer in March 2013. The country sits on top of the world’s biggest proven oil reserves and 20 years ago was one of the richest nations in Latin America. Chávez had the good fortune of oil prices climbing up to $147 a barrel and was able to lavish £640 billion on the country’s poor, creating a gargantuan dependency culture. He also quintupled the national debt.
The country’s GDP collapsed by 19 per cent last year, imports are down 50 per cent, and inflation is running at more than 700 per cent
Chávez forcefully nationalised more than 1,150 companies, including the oil industry, public utilities, and many banks. Their productivity has duly collapsed. Today, nationalisation is a dirty word in Venezuela and the people are clamouring for these industries to be privatised again.
With all this, Chávez quickly became the socialist darling of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Ken Livingstone. Livingstone even invited him to Westminster. He gave a speech in which he said he fully identified with Labour’s traditions. He added that there is no Third Way between socialism and capitalism, and the only way forward for humanity is socialism.
Chávez embodied the new economic order that Corbyn wanted to see spread to Britain and around the world. Bolivarian Venezuela was supposed to be the New Jerusalem, the great hope for the world’s poor and dispossessed. The Hard Left loved his anti-imperialist rhetoric and they wet themselves with laughter when Chávez referred to George W Bush as the "devil" in a speech at the United Nations in 2006.
The truth is that chavismo was as solid as a sand castle and his legacy proved to be calamitous once oil prices fell. The country ran out of toilet paper five years’ ago. During the past year, the average Venezuelan has not had enough to eat and has lost 19 pounds in weight. People are being forced to rummage through rubbish. They have even started to raid zoos and to eat giant anteaters and flamingos. Eight in ten medicines are not available. The minimum wage is 149,000 bolivars, the equivalent of £33 a month. The state pension is the same.
The murder rate of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, is 80 times higher than London’s
The country’s GDP collapsed by 19 per cent last year, imports are down 50 per cent, and inflation is running at more than 700 per cent.
At the heart of Venezuela’s economic chaos lies market distortions. Petrol is sold at less than 1p per litre, costing £12 billion in state subsidies. Price controls mean that it is unprofitable for small businesses to sell staple goods, creating shortages.
Venezuela has a complex monetary arrangement that makes use of three different exchange rates simultaneously. This feeds rampant corruption: the president’s cronies can buy dollars from the state at ten bolivars per dollar but proceed to sell them at 4,500 bolivars a dollar on the black market.
But probably the worst aspect of Venezuelan daily life is the violence. The murder rate of Caracas, the country’s capital, is 80 times higher than London’s. Carjackings and kidnappings have become commonplace.
Chávez allowed paramilitary groups, colectivos in Spanish, to be set up. They are the revolution’s guard dogs. Two weeks’ ago, Nicholas Maduro, a former bus driver and Chávez ’s hapless successor, unleashed them on the country’s opposition, whose protests have mushroomed in size during the past month. So far, 29 people have been killed and more than 1,300 arbitrarily detained.
Maduro has become a brutal dictator and will not allow a recall referendum to take place, violating the 1999 constitution that Chávez spearheaded. He was politically trained by the Castros and many people believe it is Cuba that ultimately pulls the strings in Venezuela.
Chávez removed the country from the American Convention on Human Rights in 2013. This week Maduro ordered Venezuela to leave the Organisation of American States, a regional body that promotes cooperation among its members, after it threatened to kick the country out over a breakdown in its democratic order.
Socialism’s abject failure in Venezuela should be a salutary lesson to all wide-eyed leftists around the world
The regime is hunkering down. Its leaders do not want to give up power for fear of reprisals. In January, Maduro made Tareck El Aissami, a regime hardliner, the vice-president. One month later the US government designated him a "foreign narcotics kingpin".
The biggest problem with all socialist systems is the broad definition of human rights. The hard left believe that these should include a right to housing, education and healthcare. But they are prepared to allow these rights to trump others, including the freedom of expression.
Socialism’s abject failure in Venezuela should be a salutary lesson to all wide-eyed leftists around the world, including many young people who have signed up to Corbyn’s Labour Party. It is about time Corbyn himself showed some backbone and condemned the flagrant abuses in Venezuela. The discredited ideology of socialism must be consigned to the dustbin of history once and for all.
Jason Mitchell is a freelance journalist who worked in Venezuela between 2010 and 2014