I watched a BBC2 TV documentary about Venezuela. Something like Venezuela: Revolution in Ruins. I was of course au fait with the way in which other revolutions in history developed and, in many cases, degenerated: Russia/Soviet Union, China,
Cambodia/Kampuchea, Ethiopia, Cuba etc, even France (from 1789). However, I especially wanted to understand better why this country, Venezuela, rich in oil, huge in area, fertile, with a coastline on the Caribbean, a number of scenic islands and also a huge exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the Law of the Sea, should be in such a condition that 3 million or more, 10% of its population, have now fled, that large numbers of its inhabitants are starving, or rummaging for food in trash cans or dumps, or are foraging wherever they can.
Why are basic items such as loo roll, bread, milk, even fruit (in a tropical country where many fruits grow wild) effectively unavailable? Why are basic medicines not available? Why is oil being imported when Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, exceeding even those of Saudi Arabia?
There is a natural human desire to make excuses for states espousing the overall values (superficially) espoused by the judging person. Thus we see pro-“socialist” people defending the Soviet record on human rights, living standards or generally, despite the early [Russian Civil] War Communism (under which strikers and others were shot, and anyone late for work could be imprisoned or sent to a labour camp), despite the Leninist and Stalinist repressions, the “GULAG Archipelago”, the Cheka/OGPU/GPU/NKVD/KGB etc. Thus we see people (British, other Europeans, North Americans, others) today defending Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba, despite the large number of persons shot, imprisoned or driven out under socialist rule.
The usual excuses for the failure of an old-style Marxist-Leninist socialist state are that:
- foreign intervention ruined the economy and/or made the new regime more severely repressive than it otherwise would have been;
- one or more individuals usurped or misused the power which properly belonged to “the people” and/or the “true” socialists;
- existing private enterprises or wealthy persons either left the country (with their wealth) or stayed in the country and profiteered; in both cases, these parasitic classes of people sabotaged the socialist economy.
We can look at a few well-known examples to illustrate the syndrome.
Here is a typical example of a self-deluding socialist, one “Liz from Leeds”, heard via telephone on some daytime TV show (the black woman shown is the presenter):
Aaron Bastani and Ash Sarkar are supporters of Corbyn-Labour and part of a collective called Novara Media. I wrote about them —and others— in this article:
In that clip, hereinabove, “Liz from Leeds” asserts that Soviet socialism failed because
- “14 foreign armies smashed it” and then
- “Stalin took over and imposed a state-capitalistic totalitarian state”.
(and, by the way, “revolutionary” talking-head Ash Sarkar, on the show as a guest, and who teaches Global Politics at a former polytechnic —!—, can be seen nodding in apparent agreement at this ahistorical nonsense!).
“Liz from Leeds” obviously has little or no real knowledge of what seems to be her main interest, because:
- the Intervention by “Western” powers in Russia only started to occur in July 1918, about 8 months after the start of the Russian Civil War. By that date, the various factions in the Civil War had already been fighting for months;
- the largest and most powerful foreign contingent, the Czechoslovak Legion, eventually had 40,000 soldiers (93% Czech, 7% Slovak) in Russia, but this was not a foreign army in the sense of a state-controlled force. Czechoslovakia only declared independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in December 1918. The Czechs etc were in Russia because they had been fighting with the Russian Empire against the Central Powers (including Austria-Hungary) in the First World War.
- most of the Allied troops were in or around a few ports: Archangel, Odessa, Vladivostok. The main British contingent was about 600-strong and confined to within a few miles of Archangel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_intervention_in_the_Russian_Civil_War#Foreign_forces_throughout_Russia
- all this in a country of vast extent (over 90x the size of the UK), encompassing 11 time zones, in which the Bolshevik forces numbered some 5.5 million (and the White or anti-Bolshevik forces about 2.4 million).
- in other words, the Intervention was fundamentally a side-show in the Russian Civil War. The war started in late 1917, eight months before Intervention, and continued until late 1922, two years after almost all Allied forces had left in 1920 (though Japanese forces occupied small parts of the later-termed “Soviet Far East” until 1922, and part of Sakhalin Island until 1925); in fact, the larger contingents, such as the 23,000 Greek troops in and around Odessa (to protect Black Sea Greeks), were only there for three months;
- while Intervention affected the development of the Soviet Union (established late 1922), it did so mainly in the psychological sense. In fact, there were still outbreaks of anti-Soviet fighting as late as 1934 (in Central Asia), but there was no foreign backing for that. It was purely local and regional.
- As to personality-cult etc, Stalin expanded the slave-state aspects of the Soviet Union, but that already existed: Lenin and his fellow-Communists (Jews and part-Jews, mostly, such as Dzerzhinsky) set up that system as soon as they seized power (in one fairly small corner of the Empire, i.e. Petrograd and Moscow, initially): executions on a vast scale, prison camps, prisons, labour camps, secret police and so on;
- the Soviet Union was “State Capitalism”, but that was not the creation of Stalin. It was there from the very start of Lenin’s rule;
- even the system of “nomenklatura”, with its gradations of special rations (the best being the Kremlin Ration [Kremlyovsky Payok], which developed under Stalin into a whole sector of special-privilege shops, apartments, health services etc), started during the Civil War: http://www.polithistory.ru/en/visit_us/view.php?id=1735
- As to sabotage by parasitic classes, the Bolsheviks first destroyed (killed, exiled, imprisoned) the Imperial Family, then the aristocracy and the wealthy merchant class, but then moved on to those peasant families who were more affluent than average (the “kulaks“), then later to the peasantry as a whole (via Collectivization). Eventually new targets had to be found: a myriad of Diversionists, Deviationists, Trotskyists etc. “Enemies of the people”. By that time, most of the “former people” of pre-1918 had been exiled overseas, killed, imprisoned, or reduced to complete poverty in internal exile. Few existed in Soviet territory, outside camps and prisons, after the 1930s.
The “Liz from Leeds” school of cod-history is based on small nuggets of truth as well as large measures of wishful thinking. The Tsarist system was in need of reform; there were huge inequities; there was a foreign Intervention, though very limited, composed arguably of 12 mostly small forces rather than “14 armies” (and never intended to actually overthrow Bolshevism); there was the cult of personality (though it predated Stalin’s supremacy and was the child of Lenin, Trotsky/Bronstein and others in the early 1920s); there were wealthy or not-poor classes who could to some extent be described as parasitic (especially the absentee and rentier nobles). It is worth remembering that, pre-1914, the Russian economy was booming, and looked like overtaking Europe and North America before long.
However, the Soviet Union was badly flawed from its inception, and its evil seed was Marxism-Leninism. The idea that the political sphere (the State) should rule over both the economic sphere and the sphere of spirit, culture, education, medicine, was wrong in conception and was bound to lead to a greater or lesser disaster. The same mistaken conception brought low other lands (eg Cuba) and, our present interest, Venezuela.
In fact, the syndrome, in less savage or severe forms, also applies to the social-democratic regimes in Europe, such as the post-1945 British governments. Harold Wilson of the Labour Party blamed “speculators” and “the Gnomes of Zurich” (Swiss bankers) for the UK’s economic problems of the 1960s and mid-1970s, rather than nationalized industries and subsidies paid to industry and agriculture.
Below, a cartoon for “Liz from Leeds” and her colleagues in (?) the local social workers’ union or comprehensive school staff-room:
The same applies to Cuba: socio-economic inequities, leading to revolution. That revolution elevating personalities (Fidel, Che etc). State takeover of the economy, including all major industry and agriculture. Eventually, shortages, corruption (you don’t think that Castro lived like the poor mulatto saps he ruled, do you?), repression. Cuba even had ineffective foreign (US) interventions: the Bay of Pigs botched “invasion” by proxy, the sanctions regime imposed by the USA (termed “Blockade” by Castro); attempts to assassinate Castro in various absurd ways (eg poisoned ice-cream). As for scapegoating, the Cuban regime has blamed American policy, counter-revolutionary Cubans based in Miami, but also Cubans in Cuba and who wanted to leave in the 1960s and 1970s, which people were called gusanos (“worms”).
The Cuban economy was kept afloat by Soviet subsidy (direct subsidy and also via preferential pricing of Cuba agricultural exports to the Soviet Union) until the early 1990s. Cuba then had to introduce a free-market element to the economy, in order to prevent complete collapse.
So we return to Venezuela. Again, socio-economic inequities led to demands for reform. Eventually, a revolution by election happened, in 1998, in this case led by an Army general, Hugo Chavez. I have no idea what Chavez was like as a general (though judging by his botched first coup d’etat, in 1992, not very effective), but as a political leader I regard him as having been a blundering clown, sometimes well-meaning, genial, friendly, sometimes sinister and frightening. In fact, with his televized clowning, inability to master facts, and populist emoting, he was reminiscent of a certain British politician, one who is superficially on another ideological page— Boris Johnson.
As the TV documentary I saw noted, Venezuela’s oil wealth bankrolled the social programmes which improved the lot of many of the poorer Venezuelans. Chavez was voted into power by 56% of the population, mostly the poor and some of the “disenchanted middle class”.
No attempt was made to diversify the economy. When oil prices fell, Venezuela went into a spiral. The tensions within the country worsened, many left (the wealthy by air to the USA and other countries, the middleclass nouveaux pauvres and the real/always-been poor by car or on foot to neighbouring countries).
The US sanctions on Venezuela have enabled the Venezuelan government, now under Maduro, to claim, however implausibly, that those sanctions largely caused the economic collapse.
Chavez expropriated and redistributed land, again with “good intentions”, but the net result has been both a falling-off in food production and a great fall in dollar-exports, which in turn restricted the supply of foreign imports of food (and other goods).
Chavez blamed “speculators and hoarders” for the problems, imposed price controls, replaced private supermarkets by a chain of 16,000 State shops and supermarkets, which however now have almost bare shelves. Chavez also nationalized large food producers. The result has been a breakdown in food supply. Children are starving, adults and children alike scavenge in the trash for anything to eat. The Roman Catholic Church has asked those who discard any food waste to label it so that people can rummage in the rubbish dumps and trash cans for it. Meanwhile, the government set up 6,000 soup kitchens.
I have never been to Venezuela (nor any part of Latin America south of Panama), and I have only known one person who has visited the country (a girlfriend who attended a week-long international conference in Caracas in the 1980s). My views are therefore taken from what I have read and what I have watched on TV.
It is clear to me that Venezuela’s problems are, at root, political. There was always poverty there, but the cure has been worse than the illness. Chavez was a political clown, who had no idea how to run a government, let alone an economy, but who decided, amid clowning and behaving like a public entertainer, to take the reins of the economy firmly in his own hands. He took over the oil industry, agriculture, food production and distribution, imports and exports generally, even banking. He tried to run industries himself or via equally-inept cronies.
The result has been disastrous. Thousands and quite possibly millions may have died from lack of food and medicine, as well as via militarized repression (the troops always look fit and well-fed…). To my mind, those responsible for this politico-economic disaster could not complain were they to be taken out and shot. Chavez himself died a few years ago; his daughter is apparently one of the wealthiest women in the world. Before people start praising Chavez, they might start to ask where those hundreds of millions of dollars came from.
What Chavez should have done would have been to
- regulate, tax, but not operate businesses;
- by all means nationalize oil production, as a national strategic asset, but employ only experts experienced in upstream and downstream oil to operate it;
- work with landowners (existing landowners and new entrants) to maximize and diversify domestic food production; set a cap on acreage held by any one family;
- revalue the currency;
- create social programmes from taxes raised, not directly from oil revenues.
All the same, there are those in British political life who praised Chavez: Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, to name the two most prominent. They have been quiet about Venezuela for a while now, as that country slides into chaos, but some of their colleagues still beat the drum. Here is Chris Williamson MP (whom I am loath to impliedly criticize, because he is pro-animal welfare, and used to retweet me on Twitter occasionally; and because the Jew-Zionists hate him, but truth conquers all):
(in fact, the Venezuelan government has only hit 24% of its housing target, though the programme itself may be OK in principle).
It seems to me that the only thing to do in Venezuela is to rip up the Chavez-Maduro system and begin ad novum. That means a different government, an all-out war on crime, corruption and disorder, a private-enterprise economy (except for oil production), a clear and effective tax system, an appeal for all Venezuelans now overseas to return and to help rebuild. Also, the government has lost control of the borders of the State and has lost control of the streets. Gangs are rampant. Firing squads may be necessary. An effective border force must be set up. Above all, consumer goods and/or including food must be prioritized, urgently. In this case, butter before guns, up to a point at least.
Racial aspects are important. Cuba was ruled by Spanish-descended Europeans and to some extent also mestizos, until Castro drove most of them to the USA or elsewhere. Now Cuba has a far higher percentage of blacks than it had in 1959. Venezuela is about 54% mestizo, only 43% white (and that figure is out of date; it must be far lower now).
Could It Happen Elsewhere?
Never say never. Russia was booming only four or five years before it fell into civil war and despair under Lenin. Cuba, though corrupt and unequal, was in a far better state in the 1940s and 1950s (even though plagued by the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky etc) than it is now. From what I have seen on TV, much of Havana seems to be just falling apart, literally. As to Europe, who knows? Reasonably-civilized Yugoslavia fell into civil war and bloody chaos only 25 years ago.
Now that Europe has been invaded by untermenschen, who are breeding, who knows what lies ahead? Britain is increasingly non-white, while the real British (white) population is, in my view at least, less and less cultured. You only have to look at those who are now MPs. Many MPs, and not only Labour Party ones, would not have been seen in the Palace of Westminster before the 1990s, unless working as cleaners or office staff.
As to economy, we have seen that Corbyn-Labour (yes, well-meaning, as were many radicals and revolutionaries prior to taking power) has praised Castro, Chavez, even Lenin and Trotsky! British Labour Party policy may not go as far as that which Labour leaders have praised in other lands, but never say never…
19 January 2019, A Few Further Thoughts
Listening again to painfully naive “Liz from Leeds”, it occurs to me that her definition of “Communism” could apply to almost any self-describing political movement, as well as to, say, Christianity. In fact, Valentin Tomberg [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentin_Tomberg], whose mother and pet dog were both killed (tied to a tree and shot) by those lovely kind Communists after the Bolshevik Revolution, made the point in one of his works that it was the small “Christian” element in Communism that made people willing to support it and struggle for it.
“Communism” as defined by “Liz from Leeds” is the sort of platitudinous wishful thought that might be heard on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day. Stalin once cut short a discussion (which must have been unwittingly hilarious) among his mostly useless Politburo members, as to what “Socialism” (the earlier stage, in Marxist theory) was, by saying “I’ll define Socialism for you— it’s where the Red Army halts its trucks!”
21 January 2019: a few more thoughts
Some reading the above article may imagine that my being opposed to fossilized 20thC socialism must mean that I am a free-market anti-communist and nothing more. Not so. My views favour policies which are social, rather than socialist. For me, economic enterprises must be regulated and taxed (and that is the business of government), but not directly run by the State. By the same token, the world of business must not interfere with the organs of the State, must not buy or own politicians or civil servants.