February 22, 2019

The Left Is Misunderstanding Venezuela

“Venezuela is engulfed in a government-inflicted economic crisis twice the size of the Great Depression, which has provoked the largest movement of refugees in the recent history of Latin America. Meanwhile, the regime that has presided over this catastrophe is morphing from a nasty autocracy to a potentially full-blown dictatorship.

The American right is already using the failure of Venezuelan socialism as a means to attack the socialist movement. Yet Venezuelans are starving, and to weaponize the fact merely to bash the left represents not only the height of bad taste but also the maximum of solipsism. The posturing of pundits is insignificant next to the suffering on the ground.

But while such criticisms are often made in bad faith, the Western left does need to take a serious look at itself over Venezuela—not least because of what it says about the health of leftist elements that, in Britain and elsewhere, are close to attaining real power.

If you’re familiar with Cuban politics, the so-called Bolivarian Revolution begun by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been ringing alarm bells for many years now. The idolization of a charismatic leader, the unwillingness of the regime to brook any opposition, the gross economic mismanagement, and blaming every failure on the machinations of the United States—all are familiar tropes for Cuba watchers.

Yet much of the Western socialist left has persisted in ignoring the trajectory of Venezuela in order to sustain a fantasy of “21st-century socialism.” It’s reminiscent of the Western apologists for the Soviet Union that Arthur Koestler once compared to peeping Toms “who watch History’s debauches through a hole in the wall” while not having to experience it themselves.”

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