As Venezuela slides into dictatorship, it serves as yet another cautionary lesson for the global left.
Once heralded as a real socialist alternative to modern Capitalism, Venezuela today finds itself better known for severe food shortages, civil unrest and a violently totalitarian government. The IMF expects its annual rate of inflation to rise over 1100 percent this year with the consequence of a near-worthless Bolivar being the illegal introduction of dollars by Venezuelans desperate to be able to afford food. Since 2015, the small Latin American country has found itself at the behest of increasingly violent political disturbance, with an increasingly emboldened Opposition facing a political establishment prepared to use violence to survive.
Venezuela finds itself isolated amongst its other South American neighbours, with few willing to openly support the increasingly repressive regime. With the revolutionary enthusiasm of the so-called ‘Pink tide’ that saw nations across South America embrace socialist parties at the ballot box fading into the usual cynicism that blights the continent; Venezuela now simply stands as a monument to the failures of that movement, a promise of distributed wealth from Venezuela’s vast oil reserves broken by an increasingly tyrannical political class. On the wider world stage, the Venezuelan government faces justifiable anger from the UN for its now-apparent human rights and civil liberties abuses, and has had its economic difficulties compounded by growing sanctions by an alienated United States, capped off by a wild threat of military intervention by President Donald Trump in August.
It’s worth looking into the long-standing problems of the ‘Socialist Project’ in Venezuela to understand how it reached its current state of crisis. Whilst it has received some degree of praise internationally with regard to the clarity of its elections after the 2000 Coup, Venezuela’s issues with regards to human rights and political freedom have been apparent since the late 2000’s. The Chavez government has attracted criticism from organisations such as Amnesty International and Democracy Index since as early as 2008 for being one of the least democratic states in South America; possessing an unfree press, and political freedom ratings dropping sharply since 2000. Whilst the domestic situation in the late 2000’s was nowhere near as unstable as it is today, there is no doubting that even at the height of its popularity amongst the Western left, it was displaying notable hallmarks of a slow embrace of totalitarianism.
Venezuela’s embattled President, Nicolas Maduro, finds himself with few friends in the international sphere, with former firebrand supporters amongst the European hard left toning down their support for the now-apparent Dictator in the wake of very obvious violence towards both the Opposition and the wider public by government-backed militia groups. Figures such as Pablo Iglesias of Spain’s Podemos, Jean-Luc Melechon of La France Insoumise and British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have publicly backtracked upon previous strident support for the Latin American state as face-saving measures, leaving the notion of establishing fully socialist states (or even State Capitalist states) in Europe at somewhat of an impasse. Throughout the history of fully Socialist countries during the 20th century, the temptation to match the control of the economy with control of the population seems to have been too great, even for the idealists that led their respective revolutions. Rather than be a beautiful meeting point of political freedom and a state-run economy, and proof of a politically successful socialist state, Venezuela now merely joins the dubious ranks of other experiments with socialism that have descended into tyranny.
The question that now remains for the Global Left is; where to now? Continued invoking of the problems of ‘Neoliberal’ Capitalism may not be enough if the alternative looks no more palatable to the average member of the general public if it can be summed up by food shortages or chavismo inspired government violence. A state run economy at the expense of political and personal freedom may simply be too much of a difficult sell to the developed world in the 21st century. Some may cry support for a more Social Democratic model akin to Northern Europe; yet could this ever be enough since Scandinavia still keeps to the fundamental modes of production, distribution and exchange under Capitalism? In an age of increasingly divided (perhaps even Balkanised) political conversation, somehow such alteration seems unlikely.