Livingstone’s Venezuela


On slow news days in August we have come to rely on Ken Livingstone to say something publicly to get tongues wagging. Interviewed last week by Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio he didn’t let us down. Asked about the current Venezuelan crisis he came up with two reasons for Venezuela’s problems. Firstly, he claimed that they had failed to follow his economic advice to invest in infrastructure to avoid being over reliant on oil revenues. Secondly, he pointed out that when Chavez came to power he failed to kill all of the Venezuelan oligarchs. In an attempt to avoid criticising the dictator Maduro or the socialist regime he inherited from Chavez, Red Ken decided to consider wistfully that by not killing all the oligarchs, Chavez had left powerful families in place who could work to undermine Maduro.

Furthermore, he suggested that Maduro was a genuine democratic socialist who was targeted by the US, who seek to undermine all left wing governments. Livingstone’s comments may be rash and slightly mad, but that is nothing new. He managed to avoid being thrown out of the Labour Party for his even more outlandish comments about Hitler after all. Perhaps the reaction to Ken tells us something fundamental about the current state of the Labour Party.

Corbyn himself has refused to condemn Maduro for arresting his political opponents. His newly appointed Home Office Minister, Chris Williamson, found it difficult on Newsnight to say whether he was politically closer to Maduro or Tony Blair. The truth is that the upper echelons of Labour are now inhabited by people who are incapable of recognising the terrible effect that Chavez style socialism has had on Venezuela or of criticising the current dictator. The fact that he is of the far left is enough to guarantee him loyalty amongst Labour’s ruling elite. This reluctance to betray a comrade is maybe the reason why Ken Livingstone can get away with saying things that would have a normal politician from a normal party suspended and awaiting expulsion. Is it possible to imagine a Tory MP suggesting that a failure by a right-wing leader to murder political opponents is a reason for their difficulties without receiving his or her marching orders?

The old style, far left basis of Corbyn’s leadership encourages a complete blindspot when it comes to the failures of far-left regimes. John McDonnell’s waving of Mao’s little red book in parliament and Diane Abbott’s suggestion that Mao was misunderstood stand as examples of those who Corbyn surrounds himself with refusing to see the truth about despotism. Sadly, the current state of Venezuela, with its soaring child mortality and the likelihood that many of its people may be without food due to the current crisis, are glossed over by its Labour apologists.

It is a valid question to raise that if these people are willing to turn a blind eye to the effect of Socialism in Venezuela are they also willing to put up with its effects here if having a socialist regime in the UK is the prize?

Venezuela’s problems can be seen as far off and separate from our cosy existence here but those who advocate a Corbyn style political philosophy need to face up to the reality that Venezuela’s problems are a direct result of its socialism. Any system based entirely on state control faces the reality that states are run by humans who in turn are more than capable of abusing their power. In a system where the power of the state is balanced by the power of private interests this is less of a problem than under any system where all power is in too few hands. The fact that while Venezuelans go hungry Chavez’s daughter is a billionaire exemplifies the problem.

If Labour was able to confront the real problems of Venezuela they may be able to assure us how they would avoid them in a Britain controlled by them. By ignoring the problems and laying the blame at the feet of the US, or Venezuelan oligarchs, or not listening to Ken Livingstone’s economic advice, they only show us that they have no real answer to the fundamental problem of socialism. It keeps the poor poor while empowering people who are not to be trusted. I suppose if Ken had said that it would really make the news.