The parallels between Venezuela, which has just defaulted on its sovereign debt, and Zimbabwe, which has seen a military takeover, are striking. What is more, the thinking which led these two countries to disaster has some uncomfortable parallels here in Britain.
Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, whilst Zimbabwe was once known as ‘the bread basket of Africa’. Both should be happy, prosperous and rapidly developing countries, where no one goes hungry, but of course they are not.
The starting point is that both countries elected charismatic demagogic leaders intent on radical change. Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980 as the victor of the liberation struggle, first as prime minister and soon as president. For 37 years he was the master of Zimbabwe. In 1999, Hugo Chavez came to power on the back of widespread dissatisfaction with economic mismanagement. He rapidly set about carrying through his Bolivarian Revolution. Chavez would doubtless still be president today if cancer and the Grim Reaper hadn’t intervened. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, carries on his programme, though he lacks his predecessor’s charisma.
Both countries had large-scale seizures of private businesses. In Zimbabwe, around 4,000 white-owned farms, which formed the backbone of the economy, were expropriated, leading to famine. Similarly, Venezuela has experienced widespread expropriation of private businesses.
Needless to say, when you expropriate private property, the economy tanks. The Venezuelan government then imposed price controls, which as anyone remotely aware of how markets work could have forecast, inevitably led to shortages. One particularly unpleasant shortage was of toilet roll. Expats were reduced to bringing in toilet paper in their luggage and bribing customs officials with a percentage of it, so that they could get the rest into the country. Natives weren’t so lucky.
As a result of the gross mismanagement of the economy, and especially the seizure of the productive white-owned farms, Zimbabwe suffered hyperinflation from 2004 to 2009. This ended with dollarisation and the country giving up entirely on its own worthless currency. The IMF estimated that Venezuela had 500 per cent inflation last year; the country is now in hyperinflation.
By 2007 an estimated 3.4million Zimbabweans – a quarter of the population – had fled the country. Similarly, Venezuela has experienced large-scale emigration, particularly of the middle classes, driven by the economic mismanagement and repression.
Repression is another theme that these two benighted countries have in common. In the early 1980s, between 10,000 to 20,000 people, mainly from the Ndebele minority, were murdered by the Zimbabwean army’s notorious Fifth Brigade, in atrocities known as the Gukurahundi. The last two Zimbabwean elections were widely believed to have been rigged.
In 2015, the governing party lost the Venezuelan parliamentary elections. President Maduro made it clear that he would do anything necessary to prevent the opposition coming to power. He started by replacing the entire Supreme Court.
Remarkably, whilst the people of both countries are ground ever deeper into poverty, the political and military elites have enriched themselves to an astounding extent. For example, the family of the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela are reputed to be worth several billion dollars. When Solomon Mujuru, the husband of Zimbabwe’s then vice-president Joice Mujuru died in suspicious circumstances in 2011, his fortune was reportedly £7billion. Whilst the figures may be somewhat exaggerated, they certainly sit ill with the Marxist ideology of both ruling parties.
What unites these two countries and distinguishes them from other more economically competent ones is the determined pursuit of Marxist economics. Unfortunately, the economic views of Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum movement are not greatly dissimilar.
Another theme is the extreme extent to which the leaders give primacy to politics over economics. For example, Robert Mugabe was content to reduce his country to famine in pursuit of his goal of driving out the white minority farmers, who were the backbone of the economy. The parallels with two key characteristics of the Scottish National Party are worrying – monomania about independence and a complete lack of interest in economics.
Another commonality is the demonisation of anyone who disagrees with them by those that govern. Again, there are worrying parallels in attitudes here. The SNP have long been known for the aggression of their ‘cybernats’ and the general demonisation of unionists.
Under Jeremy Corbyn hardly a week seems to pass without another Labour party figure being exposed as an anti-Semite or a vicious hatemonger. The man himself has a long history of associating with anti-British and anti-Western groups including Sinn Fein and various Islamists. None of this could possibly reassure a sane person that he was a fit and proper person to run this country.
Of course, we live in a democracy. It could never happen here, could it? Unfortunately, I think it could. In my view, the essential elements are present in the minds of various leading figures in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and also in the SNP leadership. These are: a devotion to Marxist economics, the single-minded pursuit of ruinous objectives and contempt for all opposition and the electorate.