12 January 2019

Venezuela is proof that there is an alternative. Let’s never try it


It can be easy to be transfixed by the turbulent politics of Britain – or America, or France, or Italy. But it is worth reminding ourselves that there are so many people who have it so, so much worse.

On Thursday, Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term as Venezuelan president after a farcical, shambolic and corrupt election.

As president, he has presided over a tragedy for the ages. Venezuela’s economy has almost halved in size in five years. Infant mortality rates rose by 30 per cent in 2016 alone. The IMF predicts that inflation will reach 10 million per cent this year. Estimates put the number of Venezuelans who have fled the country in recent years at between two and three million. The UN forecasts another two million will leave this year. To give you a sense of the scale of the upheaval, five million Syrians have left their country thanks to civil war.

What is driving the exodus more than anything else is hunger. According to analysis by the US think tank Brookings, Venezuela’s situation is ‘so critical that all available resources flowing into the country are simply not enough to import all the necessary food to complement the basic nutritional needs of those citizens living under the poverty line’. The country’s health system is failing. Diseases such as measles and diphtheria have returned.

This is, first and foremost, a tragedy for the Venezuelan people. Yet unfortunately, this socioeconomic horror show is also of relevance to contemporary British politics.

Venezuela’s useful idiots were once an absurd sideshow. Today, they run the Labour Party.

It is not just that Venezuela is one of the many dubious foreign powers and terrorist organisations with which Jeremy Corbyn has a long association. It is the place the Latin American country occupies in his world view.

Corbyn can side with the IRA, or Hamas, or at least appear alongside them, because of his cast-iron rule, explained by Alex Massie on CapX this week, that ‘the West, including the UK, may never be given the benefit of the doubt [but] its antagonists always must be.’

Chavez and Maduro, however, aren’t just given the benefit of the doubt by Corbyn. Everything he has said about the Latin American country suggests he has seen it not as a regime that can be excused certain excesses, but as a blueprint for 21st-century socialism that should be tried here in Britain.

In 2013, he said that Chavez has ‘showed us that there is a different, and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism.’

As recently as 2015, after all but the most gullible on the Left had stopped cheering on the Bolivarian revolutionaries, he described as a ’cause for celebration’ Venezuela’s achievements ‘in jobs, in housing, in health, in education, but above all its role in the world as a completely different place’.

Corbyn is quieter now than he once was on Venezuela. (Though his continued refusal to condemn the regime’s violence is revealing.)

The few Western Chavistas who haven’t opted for similar silence try to explain away a self-evident socioeconomic disaster with a combination of three flimsy arguments. Depending on who you ask, the country’s woes are an unhappy but unavoidable consequence of the fall in the price of oil; the result of an unfortunate deviation from the original Bolivarian principles of the revolution; or the product of neoliberal, CIA-backed sabotage. “Venezuela is under siege, it needs our solidarity,” argued the Morning Star (Corbyn’s newspaper of choice) this week.

Without indulging implausible conspiracy theories, none of these rebuttals amounts to very much.

Other oil-rich countries don’t seem to be experiencing breakdown on the scale of Venezuela. Maduro has stuck resolutely to the Chavista way. And as we have explained more than once on CapX, the simplest explanation for Venezuela’s woes is the right one: socialism.

Venezuela’s undoing has been thanks to the set of policies that Corbyn and many others on the British Left cheered on when the home to the world’s largest proven oil reserves was enjoying the longest oil price boom in history.

For years, Venezuela was held up by the Left as proof that an alternative to capitalism is possible. They were right. There is another way. Let’s hope we never try it.

Oliver Wiseman is Editor of CapX.