The current conditions for ordinary people in Venezuela seems an unusual topic of discussion for some Labour politicians and commentators. The human catastrophe in that unfortunate South American country does not resonate with the British public. The suffering and disruption comes on to our screens only infrequently when there is a surge in the violence. So why do interviewers persist in questioning Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones and John McDonnell about Venezuela?
The answer is very simple. Before about 2012 or thereabouts, Venezuela was held up by numerous people who are now in positions of influence and power in the Labour movement as the gold standard of socialism, an example to follow. Here, they stated, was a socialist success story, a society transformed from capitalism into a participatory democracy, where wealth was not concentrated, but shared. Poverty, they declared, had been eradicated, and numerous welfare and education programmes were leading the many, not the few, of Venezuela to a bright future.
Other people said: Just wait . . .
Having nailed their colours – all red, by the way – to the mast, these cheerleaders saw Venezuela go the way of every other socialist country into collapse and dictatorship. Life is so dire in Venezuela that its women would rather work as prostitutes in Trinidad. People with other portable skills have joined the exodus. The ideology of willing volunteers in complex jobs is no substitute for expertise, and infrastructure has imploded. A prime example is that this oil-rich country experiences petrol shortages, owing to ageing refineries and a shortage of oil industry experts. The socialist health-care system is in crisis, partly through lack of medicines but also because doctors are fleeing the country. Hundreds go to Chile, whose capitalist economy is a mirror image of Venezuela’s. Given that country’s position in the demonology of the Left, this is highly ironic.
So how do British socialists answer when they are now reminded of their previous triumphalism? Well, Jeremy Corbyn drones on, condemning ‘all violence’* as he usually does, clearly preferring his teeth pulled without anaesthetic to having a narrow non-specific condemnation of violence by the socialist Venezuelan state against its own people dragged out of him.
Owen Jones resorts to Soviet-style whataboutery, avoiding the topic completely after admitting some mistakes were made, but going on to make fake claims about other socialist South American countries, before vociferously demanding to discuss Saudi Arabia instead.
He seems to have stopped writing in praise of Venezuela shortly after Chavez’s theft of the 2012 election.
Last weekend, John McDonnell tried a new tack. Venezuela? Not socialist at all, he states. The country took a ‘wrong turn’ after the death of Chavez in 2013.
McDonnell needs to try harder. The shortages started years before Chavez died, as did the exodus of the able. The BBC was reporting on state price controls driving goods off supermarket shelves way back in 2006. The country was crumbling during the era of high oil prices, not after. This was socialism in action, distorting the economy and causing shortages.
The best commentary on Venezuela came from another populist politician, namely President Donald Trump, when he said in a speech at the United Nations: ‘The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.’ Owen, John, please note.
Despite the disaster, the wider Labour movement still shows ‘solidarity’ with the Venezuelan regime. The irregularly-published publication of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, Viva Venezuela! is filled with messages of ‘solidarity’ from every major trades union in the UK amidst its mix of paranoia and triumphalism. A few months ago I phoned these organisations to ask if this ‘solidarity’ translates into any form of aid, such as medical supplies or food to alleviate the man-made catastrophe. No union could give me with an answer, except one which stated that it definitely did not. So much for British socialist ‘solidarity’ feeding the starving of Caracas. Internationalism does not include fraternal aid parcels. But that’s socialism for you . . .
The fact does remain that John McDonnell still believes Chavez’s rule of Venezuela provides a model of governance, one that he might use should he enter No 11. The typical failure of socialism in Venezuela resonates as much with the British public as does the dire history of the USSR as an example of collectivist ideology put into practice, which is not very much these days. Putin is not Stalin. Somehow, it really should resonate more. People need to know what to expect from Jeremy Corbyn should he and McDonnell get into power with the backing of the trades unions and their vacuous ‘solidarity’. If people study Venezuela, either under Chavez or Maduro, they will.
*© Gerry Adams, at a time when the IRA was murdering people on British soil.