The New York Times has published a heart-wrenching and shocking look inside a hospital in Venezuela, a country whose embracing of Socialism was hailed as a model by the Western Left, and which is now facing devastating social and economic collapse. It seems glib, given the scope of human suffering, to qualify that observation with “predictable”, but honestly, how many times does this have to happen before these grand social experiments are written off for the predictable failures they are? At this very minute there are still many thousands of Socialist activists in the UK, undeterred by these catastrophic failures, campaigning against our liberal democracy and capitalist-based economy.
The Western system – despite its many flaws which make easy rhetorical targets – has delivered unprecedented liberty, prosperity and stability for the vast majority of people. Nevertheless, many of our left-leaning figures are not satisfied with the compromise of a semi-welfare state combined with a regulated, but largely free, market economy. No, they always seem to find greener socialist pastures elsewhere, and these – invariably – are led by a man in combat fatigues chewing on a cigar. That is the archetype that seems irresistible to the Socialist Left.
Here’s Ken Livingstone writing in The Guardian in 2008:
There are some countries whose reality is distorted by sections of the media. And some about which straightforward lies are written. My first trip to Caracas revealed Venezuela to be firmly in the second category…
A trip to one of many new community facilities showed how millions of people have been given access to a new free healthcare system, including dentistry. Illiteracy has been eliminated to Unesco standards. Further education is being rapidly expanded. A top priority now is to transform the basic infrastructure throughout the city. So that, as mayoral candidates put it to me, people feel like citizens with a stake in their neighbourhoods. The keys are reducing crime and transforming the city’s economic efficiency and quality of life. A remarkable programme of expansion of tube and rail lines in poor areas has begun. Alongside this it is necessary to tackle congestion, improve bus services, develop community policing, tackle waste and environmental protection. Venezuela always had the resources, and now has the political will, to begin to raise its cities to world-class standards.
The most elected leader in the modern era, Chavez transformed Venezuela by the force of his will and a popular revolution which encompassed the marginal, the ethnic minorities, the workers, and key sections of the progressive intelligencia who saw in him a veritable Spartacus.
He rallied an army of not slaves, but those despised by the oligarchy as hewers of wood and drawers of the oil which previously made only the rich richer. Under Chavez’ revolution the oil wealth was distributed in ever rising wages and above all in ambitious social engineering. He built the fifth largest student body in the world, creating scores of new universities. More than 90 per cent of Venezuelans ate three meals a day for the first time in the country’s history. Quality social housing for the masses became the norm with the pledge that by the end of the presidential term, now cut short, all Venezuelans would live in a dignified house.
Ten years ago, the top two names on the Hands Off Venezuela steering committee (2006) were Jeremy Corbyn MP and John McDonnell MP, who now lead the Labour Party. When Chavez died, Corbyn tweeted:
Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world
Of course, when Corbyn’s ally and friend – and fellow Labour Socialist – Tony Benn died, Venezuela returned the courtesy.
In this moving video, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro talks with British MP Jeremy Corbyn about Tony Benn & his life’s struggle for peace & socialism. In particular Nicolas Maduro asked Jeremy to pass on “from the revolutionary Government of Venezuela.. Our permanent recognition of this great fighter & warrior for the ideas of socialism,” asking him to “please pass on to the entire trade union & labour movement [in Britain] that another world is possible, if we are capable of defending the ideas of peace & life, just as Tony Benn & Hugo Chavez did.”
Benn, of course, was one of the most vocal Left voices in support of Venezuelan Socialism. In 2009, he stated:
“Venezuela is pursuing a course that puts people first, giving hope not only to the people of that country, but also to millions around the world, combining the principles of democracy and social progress in order to tackle poverty and inequality.Showing our solidarity is therefore more important than ever”
This was, of course, nothing more than a wishful thinking stumbling around in a fog of idealism.
Now, of course, some will respond by saying “Socialism means social democracy to me and not this sort of “Dirigiste Kleptocracy” and that these people are non-Marxist socialists, who are essentially social democrats, but use the term “socialism”… but I shan’t belabour the point since we are by now all familiar with the usual reflexive apologetics.
It simply doesn’t fly. Over the past decade or more, figures on the British Left – most in the Labour Party – Livingstone, Galloway, Benn, Corbyn, McDonnell – have all being saying that Venezuela is a model for socialism and one, at that, from which the UK could learn! And although many in the Labour party and the broader left in general do not share this view, not only did they not vocally say so, they allowed this gang to take control of the party. Indeed, another Labour figure now in leadership, Dianne Abbott remarked that the country had a “more robust system than in the UK or USA”.
But Venezuelan is not a Utopia. It is a hell. Will any of these figures on the British Left – including the present leader of the opposition Labour Party – even consider changing tack, or admitting they got it wrong – repeatedly? Don’t hold your breath. Will they continue to champion and pursue proven-to-be failed policies leading to devastation of economies, societies and lives? It’s a safe bet, but your winnings will be worthless.