The labour movement should drop any illusions it has about Venezuelan socialism

Their last-ditch support for a dying regime is not only leaving them tragically on the wrong side of history but, worse, exposing them and our great movement to ridicule.

Venezuelaj

Earlier today Colin Burgon argued that ‘It should be left to the Venezuelan people to decide if socialism has run its course’

Rob Marchant, a political commentator and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left, replies…

With hundreds of thousands on the streets demonstrating against the government last weekend, ongoing economic crisis, shortages of practically everything and government thugs beating and killing opposition demonstrators, it seems odd that we even have to ask the question.

But on the British left, we sometimes exhibit a pathological support for figures on the anti-establishment side of the argument, as long as they (a) make some kind of vague claim to be ‘socialist’ and (b) stand vocally against The Great Evil, namely the government of the United States. The Maduro regime in Venezuela ticks both boxes.

Last year we looked at Hugo Chávez’ threadbare legacy. In the year since his death, his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, has proved himself to be a rather extraordinary president. Extraordinary in the sense that, if you thought Chávez had managed his country poorly, Maduro’s skill has been consistently to do it worse.

He has first managed to produce shortages of a large number of basic goods. In a state which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, this in itself is a considerable achievement. State-abetted corruption, which is everywhere, helps to waste those assets, although that is perhaps no unusual statement in South America.

Second, the streets, always dangerous no matter what your politics, are now killing zones. In the fifteen years to 2013, more or less exactly the period of Chavez/Maduro leadership, the murder rate has quadrupled (although the same report notes that the government now suppresses statistics).

In recent weeks there has been unprecedented brutality at the hands of the unpleasant “colectivos”, the regime’s paid-for vigilantes. Emiliana Duarte, a local blogger, notes that they “carry out their savage attacks with steel rods, billy clubs, and using their motorcycle helmets as bludgeons”.

Third, there is Maduro’s own strange and erratic behaviour. A man fundamentally lacking the charisma of his predecessor, he has attempted to live off the legend of Chávez; to turn him into a quasi-religious figure, an Evita or a Che for his generation. He claims he has appeared to him as a “very small bird”, and that he advised God to choose a Latin American Pope (I kid you not). Maduro is not just an incompetent leader, but a public embarrassment to the country.

Fourth, freedom within the country has declined further, where Freedom House already rated it only 5 out of a possible 7 (‘Partly Free’), only half a point higher than Russia (“Not Free”):

“Venezuela received a downward trend arrow due to an increase in the selective enforcement of laws and regulations against the opposition in order to minimize its role as a check on government power.”

More media outlets have closed for being anti-regime. CNN has been thrown out of the country. Venezuela formally withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights in September 2013 – a telling sign of the country’s direction.

I could go on. But challenge the narrative of the pro-Chavistas, and you are told – as I was on Twitter the other day – that it is all a conspiracy of the ‘MSM’ (mainstream media). We would be better off getting all our reports from ‘independent’ blogs (I was referred to this one, utterly bereft of any kind of criticism of the Maduro regime).

No, the violence is all blamed on ‘extreme right-wing groups’, naturally all funded by the US. Hard evidence for this, however, is eerily scant.

For an example of echo-chamber thinking which continues to support Maduro against all evidence to the contrary, look no further than last year’s Labour Party conference, where supporters and Venezuela and of Cuba held a joint event. That’s right, a supposed democracy alongside a bona-fide dictatorship.

In an Olympic feat of intellectual contortionism, the supporters of both saw no inconsistency in supporting the two regimes side by side.

And that is because (a) Venezuela is no longer, if it ever was, a free democracy in any meaningful sense of the word and (b) its supporters are clearly willing to compromise on democracy “for the greater good”; for them democracy is not a sine qua non.

Well, it is for me. It should be for all of us. As we have seen from the murderous anti-democrats of the last century as well as the current one, any other way lies madness.

It is high time that key figures in the labour movement, such as the current leader of the TUC and those of most of the major trade unions, woke up and smelt the coffee.

Their last-ditch support for a dying regime is not only leaving them tragically on the wrong side of history but, worse, exposing them and our great movement to ridicule.

44 Responses to “The labour movement should drop any illusions it has about Venezuelan socialism”

  1. insolito

    Hm. All this criticism of ‘governing poorly’ on the basis of ‘poor economic performance’ is something of a red herring, n’est pas? After all, the UK suffered ‘poor economic performance’ from 2010-13 (and is now growing at the truly massive rate of 0.7 per cent) and yet somehow, we sit here and judge.

    I do agree about the violence, of course. But this attack on Venezuela (and Chavez, well done for tying that in) on economic grounds ignores any geo-political reality and economic influence from the rest of the world.

    Where did Venezuela start from? Who assists it economically, given that it’s opposed simply for not being a right-wing dictatorship (such as those delivering MASSIVE success in Guatemala, or the US-backed Honduran leader, in power thanks to a US-backed coup)?

    This article is more or less what one can expect from a Labour Party manager: a lack of belief in any actual Left-wing ideas, because it’s just easier to buy into the neo-liberal system, isn’t it?

  2. insolito

    This: ‘For an example of echo-chamber thinking which continues to support Maduro against all evidence to the contrary, look no further than last year’s Labour Party conference, where supporters and Venezuela and of Cuba held a joint event. That’s right, a supposed democracy alongside a bona-fide dictatorship.’ is simply unjustifiable.

    Of course, anyone sane supports democracy over dictatorships. But are you seriously suggesting that no democratic politician should ever meet with a dictator? Or that no democratic party should recognise the achievements of dictatorships if they benefit their people?

    How is it that the Labour Party has moved from holding decent lives for the people of the world as its priority, to ‘support for democracies, however awful, ahead of all other forms of government’?

    Is this really what the Labour Party is today?

  3. Rob Marchant

    “But are you seriously suggesting that no democratic politician should ever meet with a dictator?”
    No. Straw man. Answer is sometimes. Governing politicians can and should meet with dreadful people – that’s their job. People, like George Galloway, who do it for pleasure and achieve nothing except legitimising dreadful people, should not.
    “Or that no democratic party should recognise the achievements of dictatorships if they benefit their people?”
    Yes. That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Democracy first, everything else second.
    That is also the view of pretty much all other political parties. Is that so hard to stomach?

  4. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Please correct “But on the British left, we sometimes exhibit a pathological support for
    figures on the anti-establishment side of the argument, as long as they (a) make some kind of vague claim to be ‘socialist’ ”

    to

    “But on the British left, we always exhibit a pathological support for figures on the anti-establishment side of the argument, as long as they make some kind of vague claim to be ‘socialist’”

    We must fight the class war even if it is to our detriment as sticking one on the elites is more important.

  5. STKT1

    What class war ? And who’s side are you on ? And while we’re at it, is the millionaire son of a Marxist academic on your side or the other side ?

    Just interested.

  6. leftythinker

    any priise, up to adn includign teh lifes of teh poepel, ar werth payign to reduse soshel inequalness adn unfairness.

    that is fair.

  7. The_Average_Joe_UK

    Hey presto an ideologue appears. In Venezuela rent controls have been introduced. The result is no investment in housing stock, people living in filthy conditions and nobody prepared to do repairs. Supermarket shelves are empty, people are dying. This is one of the most oil rich countries in the world. Marchant calls for pragmatism and the left want ideology.

    Feel free to use all the big words you like, but “geo-political reality” is also known as “Bo11ox”

    Comparing V to Guatemala, or Honduras serves no purpose other than to highlight the pathetic politcal war the left are always fighting.

    What Venezuela needs is an honest political class that can rebuild the disaster that was Socialism and Chav.

  8. STKT1

    I think it’s time for a new keyboard

  9. keith

    do you really believe that nonsense you wrote or are you just trying to wind people up, i find it hard to believe you actually know what’s going on over there, you really do make the point of this article

  10. oonarichard squince

    One only has to look at the violence of the opposition, the history of their leaders (Capriles supported the failed coup in 2002), their link with previous failed regimes for decades in Venezuela, their funding and close working with big business and malicious private press proprietors , their inability to mobilise- in literally dozens of elections- the majority of ordinary Venezuelans, and their desperate attempts to try to get international support for their cynical calls…to see what side progressives should be on. The present attempt to forment violent uprising and change international opinion is yet one more further nasty attempt to overturn what the Carter Centre and many others recognise as one of the most democratic countries in the world (whether number of elections, electoral processes or the ability of citizens to recall their President). I do not know what great movement Marchant is quoting his allegiance to and simultaneously attacking. He could have a bit more humility , and ask why the Venezuelan Government is still so popular after 14 years in power and do what any democrat should do, never mind socialist, and respect the right of the Venezuelan people to chose their own Government -which purses radical polices with nothing like the austerity agenda of so many in this stagnant region of the world. The labour movement here, quite rightly, is inspired by Venezuela. Any porper study of its achievements i believe to date which confirm it provides a model of 21st Socialism, with all the inevitable limitations due to history, geographical location, size and economic effects of relying on oil.

  11. Paul Jones

    Very hateful piece. The Venezuelan government is investigating all deaths to date, and has arrested officers who shot on protesters. (http://bit.ly/1cQurjy)

    Pretty unbelievable that you dismiss venezuelanalysis as biased but happily link to Caracas Chronicles without a similar disclaimer – a vehemently ideologically anti-government blog. Looks like you’re just finding the sources that fit your narrative.

    “Maduro is not just an incompetent leader, but a public embarrassment to the country ”
    This is basically just insulting to the people of Venezuela who elected him. You know better than them, do you?

    “Venezuela is no longer, if it ever was, a free democracy in any meaningful sense of the word ”
    People love throwing this around without actually providing evidence. Venezuela is far more of a democracy than most countries. But really, keep trying to prove along with Bloodworth that it isn’t – it’s amusing to watch.

  12. loftytom

    An embarrassment to those who elected him? Like Blair then, or do you carry a candle for him?

    Forget the media eh, what if call me dave shut down the Beeb, the Mirror, The Graun, The indie, what that mean he’s a democrat, like Maduro?

    God speaks to Bush, we laugh, God speaks to madure, hush.

    Grow up.
    BTW are you Owen Jones’ sock puppet?

  13. S&A

    And yet again, all the Hugroupies out there who support the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ chant their support. Wonder how many of them are actually in Venezuela right now, living the dream?

  14. Rob Marchant

    Yes, when you run out of arguments, go emotional: call people “hateful” and run around feeling aggrieved on behalf of people whose opinion you think you know. If we spent less time getting hurt feelings and more listening to the facts, we might understand Venezuela.

    Well, you know what? Those were the same people in their hundreds of thousands (others said over a million) on the streets of Caracas last weekend, desperate to get rid of Maduro.

  15. john p reid

    Definitely, but I could see us losing a few members, our secretary at our meeting said this, as shed lived there, it went down well, but one member left!, spread the word rob

  16. Rob Marchant

    Well I’m glad you finally recognised, in your last phrase, that Venezuela is an entirely anomalous petro-state, which can only carry out its social programmes because of that fact. In fact, if it were well-managed, it could certainly have massively more generous programmes and increase living standards a lot more, the latter of which has happened in neighbouring countries such as Chile.

  17. James Miles

    “Democracy first”, you say. And yet, a government is legitimately elected, in a free and fair election recognised internationally, but you support a minority of protesters who openly say they want to overthrow that legitimate government, not by democratic means, but by violence.

    Of course there are differences of political opinion in Venezuela but that’s what elections are there to resolve. Maduro is in power because he won a majority vote. That’s how it works.

  18. Rob Marchant

    Perhaps you might explain why there were no international observers at recent elections. The much-vaunted Carter Centre last observed in 2006. No-one came in 2012 apart from one South American organisation dominated by, you guessed it, Venezuela. Oh yes, that’s what free and fair countries do, don’t invite observers. And how exactly do you have a free and fair election in a country described as “Partly Free” (see above)?

  19. Rob Marchant

    It’s funny, those who’ve actually live there tell a different story from the political tourists who went for there for the elections on an expenses-paid trip.

  20. S&A

    If you think that the people of Venezuela live ‘decent lives’ with a murder rate of 79 per 10,000 (worse than Colombia or Mexico), collapsing social services, an inflation rate of 56% (by official figures) and increased shortages of basic staples, I don’t know what to say to you, except to ask whether you’re playing the part of Shaw or Duranty.

  21. robertcp

    I share many of Rob’s reservations about the government of Venezuela and the enthusiasm of some on the left for dictatorships. However, Venezuela is more free and democratic than the numerous dictatorships that have existed in Latin America. People on the left should support all democrats in Venezuela and not just the current government.

  22. Deco

    Read this author’s article on Venezuela’s democracy then read his article being torn apart in the comments section. I can’t give him any credibility after reading this.
    http://www.leftfootforward.org/2012/10/labour-venezuela-and-the-strange-tale-of-official-observation/

  23. The_Average_Joe_UK

    wraps fingers waiting for an answer.

  24. Rob Marchant

    Thanks. It is true that it’s more free and democratic than the old South American dictatorships. But if you check this Freedom House map http://www.freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world you can see that (a) the old dictatorships are gone, and (b) Venezuela is emphatically not more free and democratic than any of its *current* neighbours. In fact, it has the worst ranking in the whole of South America (in fact the whole of Latin America, with the exception of Cuba).

  25. p

    What has that got to do with the article on Venezuela?

  26. venezuelana

    It’s hard for the European left in general (including Brit left) to understand Venezuela, because the situation is not the classical dreamed Right vs Left. Not ALL the right-wing is in the opposition (if you think that VE has a right-wing!) and not ALL the left-wing is in the government. It’s more complex than that. As I said before, oversimplifying our situation leaves these MPs in the wrong side of history and it’s a slap in the face of all the people that have been murdered, tortured and jailed during these peaceful protests to tell them they’re just right-wing extremists funded by the US.

  27. Tony

    Apart from those pesky people who keep voting PSUV.

  28. Ana

    This article is paid propaganda pro PSUV

  29. Ana

    This article is paid propaganda

  30. robertcp

    Thanks. Interesting map.

  31. Paul Taylor

    The majority of the Venezuelan electorate.

  32. Paul Taylor

    That’s pretty hypocritical Rob Marchant. Paul Jones has a point. Venezuela Analysis is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative and intelligent sources on the country; Caracas Chronicles has just been outed by FAIR for a blatant piece of false reporting.

    You ignore the fundamental point that the Maduro government has been democratically elected by the majority of Venezuelans as if this point is not worthy of consideration. You provide no evidence or substantiation to back your opinions which, negative as they are, are left looking slanderous.

    This is threadbare, biased reporting at its worst.

  33. Paul Taylor

    Vzla certainly has economic problems, but it has had them for ever, largely because, as a third-world country run for the benefit of foreign empires and a local oligarchy that managed their interests, it has an undiversified economy. That is one of the major challenges it needs to address. What is your point?

  34. Paul Taylor

    “What Venezuela needs is an honest political class that can rebuild the disaster that was Socialism and Chav.”

    I think that makes you the ideologue. You are blaming the Maduro government for economic problems that predated Chavez. For the majority of Venezuelans, life has got better since, which is why they repeatedly vote for them. The claims of life getting worse come from the sectors of Vzlan society that were privileged under neoliberalism while the rest of the population lived in poverty. But it is not clear that they have lost anything as a result of Chavismo. Their resentment and the current polarisation of Vzla comes from their resentment at having lost privilege that they feel entitled to, like much of the South American upper middle class.

    That polarisation and antagonism may be the reason for increased levels of violence..

  35. S&A

    Taking my point, I guess you’re a resident of Caracas yourself.

    And please don’t tell me that the elections in Venezuela have been free and fair. I don’t believe in that, the tooth fairy, Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny.

  36. Rob Marchant

    I will pay attention to your point when you can find me one article at Venezuela Analysis, just one, which is critical of the Maduro regime.

  37. Rob Marchant

    My point is the somewhat obvious one that, with that kind of wealth, it should not only have lifted people out of poverty but done much, much more. Gifted massive natural assets, its current growth rate is pathetic compared with surrounding countries.

  38. Rob Marchant

    Pro PSUV. Have you *read* the article?

  39. Pattycrafts

    Well as a venezuelan I’m gratefull for your article. Good understanding of venezuelan situation and putting to shame those so called “thinkers” who validate the brutal repression and violation of human rights, tipical of dictators. Ah,the whole romantic idea of communism, as long as it’s far away, in a banana island like cuba or banana republic like Venezuela. I bet they are recieving somekind of benefit for

  40. Pattycrafts

    And after reading those who support the “venezuelan involution” you hear the same cassette of lies played over and over. There is no ideology here, only a bouillabaise of slogans. The country is ruined, production is the lowest ever. Agriculture null. Industries closed leaving thousands out of work. State basic industries for iron, aluminum, bauxite, oil are destroyed. We have to import gasoline and Diesel to our “biggest enemy” Usa! ( by the way the only country that pays cash and on time the oil we sell them). Water and electric state Co, are a disaster with blackouts everyday for hours around the country. Shortage of food, basic food, an everything else. Interference of cuba in all areas of government, even military. Highest inflation in the world, and one of the highest crime rate and impunity in the world.
    Democracy is more than elections, specially when most have been tinted by fraud, violation of many articles of the electoral laws. Frauds witnessed and reported by electoral internac observers. The lack of independent media and censorship. Persecution of journalists, media owners and opposition leaders.All of the states institutions are controlled by the regime. Civilian armed thugs ordered to attack unarmed civilians, as I’m sure you have seen explicit videos these last weeks. Brutal repression, torture, homicides, Human rights violations against pacific protesters. So you see, this is not a democracy. Venezuelan’s regimen has spent millions and millions on lobby to disguise its true nature. Bottom line, the country is in ruins, people are in the streets protesting.This socialism is a gigantic fraud and failure politically, economically and socially like cuba is.

  41. Paul Taylor

    That is neither an honourable nor an intelligent reason for denying the democratic legitimacy of the Venezuelan government.

    I hope it doesn’t also imply that you refuse to read Venezuela Analysis? If so, and you apply the same criteria to media that only report the opposition point of view, you must be shockingly uninformed about Venezuela.

    For my part I find VA provides an in-depth and better substantiated analysis of events in Vzla and looks at many sides of the conflict, even if, as you point out, its considered position tends to align with the government. For me, it offers a necessary corrective to the bias and misrepresentation in the international media which unfailingly represents the government as a repressive regime, repeating opposition allegations as if they were facts.

  42. Paul Taylor

    Mate, you believe what you want to. I’ll believe the Carter Foundation.

  43. Paul Taylor

    In fact Rob, it has. It has improved the standard of living for the *majority* in Venezuela, and has reduced poverty and income inequality.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-07/venezuelans-quality-of-life-improved-in-un-index-under-chavez.html

    The neoliberal government that preceded Chavez looked after the interests of an elite only, and it still had massive economic problems. They were also the authors of the Caracazo massacre in 1989 when poor Venezuelans protested against an IMF structural adjustment programme that they had visited upon the country. That’s what they don’t want to go back to.

    I really recommend Venezuela Analysis Rob, also, if you want a bit of decent history of the country and of the Bolivarian revolution, try Eva Golinger, the Vzlan human rights lawyer, She knows her stuff.

  44. S&A

    (1) I’m not your ‘mate’.

    (2) Do you answer emails from Nigeria offering you a fortune as well?

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