One of the most critically-panned works of fiction in the last half-century or so has to be Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The novel tells the story of an alternative United States of America, which is turning into a socialist one-party state. The twist in the story is the reaction of part of the population. A ‘strike of the ablest’ takes place. This is a work that suggests that some people are better than others and that these achievers are routinely robbed of the rewards of their labours by a State that confiscates the wealth they create and redistributes it to those who are only capable of achieving less. In the novel, the State also destroys business competition by preventing successful firms from using their spending power to invest and grow through trade embargoes and hostile laws. At the end of the novel, there is a complete economic, social and political collapse. The achievers end their strike and take over the country. Capitalism is restored.
It was inevitable that the liberal elite that dominate the arts media would persist in attacking this work as it stood at the other end from their quasi-religious beliefs, the most glaring one being that some people are better than others and that these people, who deliver greater value from their labours, are due greater rewards. But then this is by design. Ayn Rand had seen everything she wrote about at first hand.
Rand was born in Imperial Russia and experienced the application of Marxism first hand as the Bolsheviks destroyed businesses and replaced them with collectives and state ownership based on class hatred and purges. She managed to leave Russia two years after the death of Lenin and emigrated to the USA. Her work was designed to be the polar opposite of Marx’s philosophy and apply a critique to communism and expose its failings, while championing capitalism.
The advantage Atlas Shrugged has over Das Kapital is that, in advocating the State getting out of the way and letting people get on with their lives, there is a better plot, characterisation and dramatic development than in Marx’s work. There is also more sex. It is fitting that a work that sets out to be the antithesis of a philosophical tract that has caused misery to millions should be a novel designed to educate the reader about the superiority of free markets.
Rand may not have known it, but she was writing about a real-life event. Four years before she published her novel, Soviet tanks had put down an uprising of striking workers in East Germany. The quality of life was so poor in the communist state that by 1961, some three-and-a-half million people had left to build a new life in the capitalist West Germany, making use of the open border in the divided city of Berlin. In the preceding years the population was falling; the birth-rate could not keep up with the numbers walking away. And the people leaving were usually those who were the most productive or skilled, whose labours were more valued in capitalist countries than under coercive egalitarianism. East Germany was dying due to a real-life strike of the ablest, who objected to being cheated into a reduced livelihood by the bully-boys of Marxism. But a concrete and barbed-wire bandage was applied to this wound that was haemorrhaging people.
Of course, East Germany did not die until 1990. The Berlin Wall was built and anyone who wanted to leave the communist state ran the risk of being murdered by their country’s border guards. The ‘People’s State’ imprisoned its entire population. Described by the East Germans as the ‘Anti-Fascist Rampart’, very few of those on the Left even today acknowledge that this demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of communism. It is unlikely that the kind of people that Jeremy Corbyn associates with see it that way. But then the avoidance of hard reality by the Left is a persistent form of their collective insanity.
There is an alternative to the madness that saw leftists justifying the Berlin Wall right up to its fall and this is silence. The Left in this country is now almost completely silent in print about the situation in Venezuela.
For years after the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ initiated by the charismatic Hugo Chavez, it was standard practice by left-wingers to write laudatory articles about how a so-called ‘alternative economics’ was raising the quality of life for the poorest in the country by seizing control of the private sector. For a while, the social programmes patchily improve people’s lives, but this is because capital that could have been used to create wealth is now being spent on them. There was no return on investment and no further taxable wealth could be created. By explicitly favouring the less well-off in society, the government alienated the kind of people needed to start and run businesses that could create the wealth needed to finance its extravagance.
According to the World Bank, Venezuela occupies the place above Afghanistan as the worst place to do business. It has achieved this without having to endure a sequence of civil wars and foreign occupation since the late 1970s. The Venezuelan people, or rather their leaders, have managed to be only slightly better off than Afghanistan without any of the effects of Soviet invasion, medieval-style theocracy, terrorism, American-led invasion or being a major exporter of heroin. In fact, this national destruction has been achieved despite the country being at peace and being a major exporter of oil. The cause is socialism.
Where Venezuela was once a haven for refugees looking for a better life, the flow has now reversed. Just like in East Germany, the best and brightest have walked out in search of a better life away from the shortages, violence and corruption that is hidden behind the mask of state-controlled media and propaganda. As in Ayn Rand’s novel, there is a strike of the ablest going on. As in her novel, the State is collapsing. Venezuela is shrugging. Rand is more relevant to real life than Marx.
As in all truly socialist states, queuing is now a profitable form of activity. This allows the queuer to obtain scarce goods and be able to trade them for other goods. Barter has returned as the currency has collapsed. The State has debauched the currency and abolished the function of money as a store of value and the means of providing price information as it has distorted markets by dictating prices and used the printing press for government spending. In fact, it is now using someone else’s printing press as the freight planes loaded with banknotes secretly fly in. It is not working.
People have stopped trading using this imported money. Empty-shelved supermarkets are now stocked by military convoys, but goods vanish off shelves based more on returned favours than wads of devalued currency. The black market dominates. Potatoes were so rare that McDonald’s used another root vegetable, cassava, to make its fries. They tasted terrible. After an absence of several months, they are now back on the menu, but at an official price of $133. No, the decimal point is not missing, it is not there. Venezuela is in the grip of hyperinflation, due to its government’s socialist policies.
The scarcity of one good should provide an example. There is now a shortage of toilet paper. Given that there is a permanent demand for toilet paper by civilised people everywhere, it should be possible for one or more businesses to satisfy this demand. In Venezuela that appears not to be possible. Socialism has failed to deliver on a literally fundamental good that is genuinely needed by everyone. It is not even possible for a state-owned operation to manufacture and deliver this vital product, but the State will not admit defeat and let a private-sector organisation do so. Despite being flush with oil, the country cannot exchange this natural wealth for an aid to backside hygiene. The paper currency is increasingly worthless, so a substitute is on hand. The country is regressing. Venezuela is officially going backwards in terms of human development.
It was not always this way. While the plunder was going on and the emigration went unnoticed, Hugo Chavez and the country he dominated was the darling of the Left as an example of a successful anti-capitalist state. Chavez earned extra brownie points by persistently saying rude things about America.
Despite allegedly being a petro-currency, Venezuela would barter oil for services from overseas. Ken Livingstone, when Mayor of London, secured £16 million of fuel in return for sending experts to advise on traffic congestion and city planning. However the reason why Venezuela lacked domestic expertise to advise on these topics has to be because these experts, whose skills are portable, had left the country to practise them elsewhere. The country had to buy back expertise it had lost through its reckless policies. This includes Livingstone himself, who joined the Venezuelan payroll as a consultant of dubious value swiftly after Londoners kicked him out of the mayoral position. Chavez could not even find anyone left in Venezuela that was more talented than Ken Livingstone.
Livingstone is also the honorary president of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, part of whose aims are ‘to defend the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution’. He is not the only useful idiot for the Chavistas. The Patrons include Diane Abbott, Bruce Kent, Caroline Lucas and the late Tony Benn; in other words, the usual suspects who are willing to whore themselves out for any anti-western cause. The offices of this ‘campaign’ are actually those of Unite.
In support of this ’cause’, the campaign publishes a periodical entitled ‘Viva Venezuela!’. However, since all the news coming out of that unfortunate country has been terrible and all the responsibility for the mess the country finds itself in is the socialist government’s, Viva Venezuela! has not been published for a year. Perhaps this is because the country is actually dying.
The most recent issue leads on the sanctions imposed by the United States with a clarion call opposing them. The sanctions themselves are tiny, but smart. This is decidedly not a economic blockade of the kind imposed against Iraq, Iran or South Africa that impacted whole populations. Instead, it is targeted against about eight officials who have been accused of human rights abuses and other crimes, imposing travel bans and freezing bank accounts. And yet the leftists squeal. They do not suggest that the officials are innocent, but they squeal all the same. It is what leftists do.
The same issue also tries to draw parallels between the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and that of Chile, invoking the spectre of Augusto Pinochet and a military coup as justification why this awful government should not be removed, implying that the only alternative to kleptocratic socialism is another kind of dictatorship. It is not. In fact Hugo Chavez was an army officer and tried to topple an elected government in a military coup that failed. But then coups are okay when they come from the left, apparently.
In addition to the usual subjects running this organisation, several trades unions have squandered their members’ money by paying for adverts in this eight-page publication, occupying about half the space. The TUC, Unite, NUT, GMB, CWU, and FBU have all paid for advertisements. Unite on its own has four, presumably because just having one simply would not do. In one of these advertisements this misguided union states that it is ‘in solidarity with Venezuela – continuing to show there is an alternative.’
And alternative there is. An alternative to civic peace; the number of murders for 2015 being 27,000. An alternative to sound economics; the official inflation rate is 180 per cent, and the actual one may be close to 1,000 per cent. An alternative to borrowing to invest; interest rates are at an eye-watering 21 per cent. An alternative to honest government; Venezuela has some of the most corrupt public officials in the world. An alternative to business; it is one of the least competitive countries in the world, depending almost exclusively on its oil industry to the exclusion of any other product or commodity. Ironically, there are now restricted working hours due to an energy shortage in this country, despite the massive oil reserves. A state of emergency has been declared, entirely due to the dire economic situation. This is the final chapters of Atlas Shrugged in real life affecting real people. We should commiserate and not sneer. A human tragedy of immense proportions is unfolding.
‘Solidarity’, especially from the Left and their deluded fellow-travellers is one of those things that does not actually mean anything. It is an empty gesture and delivers nothing of any use to the poor victims of the incompetent government of Venezuela apart from encouraging more incompetence. It is also noteworthy that despite occasional updates to the website, nothing of note has been done by the Left over Venezuela, give or take a rally now and again. All there is is embarrassed silence. The good times when the wealth of this poor country was being plundered are over.
None of the former cheerleaders, most notably Owen Jones, have had anything to say on Venezuela for about two years. To them, it is now a non-country because it has let them down. Instead of validating Karl Marx, Venezuela is, as expected, validating Ayn Rand. Every assertion these propagandists have made about the wonders of this ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ have been proved wrong. Venezuela is taking determined steps towards becoming a failed state. It has to change direction to save its population from further misery. The Venezuelan government needs to get out of the way. The ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ should stop. It has failed.
People should now keep reminding these left-wing, fair-weather supporters about all of their laudatory comments during the years of plunder, forced redistribution and malinvestment that has destroyed the economy of this oil-rich nation and has plunged its poor people into a living nightmare that can only be stopped by a restoration of capitalism. Interviewers should keep bringing it up, pointing out how this invalidates socialism. The infant mortality rate in Venezuela is higher than Syria’s. The Left should not be let off the hook.
If ever there was an argument for capitalism and small, non-interventionist government, it has to be the fate of Venezuela where the opposite is practised and the fate of populations is sacrificed to an impossible utopian ideal. The Left owe the people of Venezuela an apology. And they should read, and accept the teachings of Atlas Shrugged. They encouraged it, once again, to happen in real life.
(Image: Carlos Díaz)