No matter how often socialism is tried we always find out later (from disappointed and defensive socialists) that socialism was never really tried. Now that Venezuela is a basket case of 4-digit inflation, high crime, and chronic starvation, it’s time for socialists to distance themselves from the wreckage. Yesterday a UK socialist publication published a piece claiming the real problem in Venezuela is that socialism never went far enough:
This scepticism among the masses, together with the deep crisis Venezuela is living through, with inflation out of control, shortages and the paralysis of production, is being used by the capitalists inside and outside Venezuela to present the country as another “failure of socialism” as a blow against any mass movement which questions austerity and capitalist privatisation.
The reality is that in Venezuela socialism has not failed because socialism has never been in place. The reforms and social policies applied by Chavez won him mass support, but he stopped halfway, without taking the necessary steps to move towards socialism: expropriating the banks and big companies and putting them under the direct control of the working class and people.
The result was that all the measures which improved the living conditions of the people, inevitably clashed with the maintenance of capitalist property of the big businesses and the bureaucratic control of the state. This already led to a loss of electoral support in the last years of Chavez’s Presidency. After his death, and the turn to the right of Maduro, we have seen a total collapse of the economy and of the morale of the masses.
Sweet Christmas! This is like a comic book retcon gone wrong. Yes, the massive spending on social programs did win Chavez support but the failure of Chavez and his successor Maduro had nothing to do with any turn to the right. There is only one significant industry in Venezuela and that is oil. During his tenure, Hugo Chavez gradually took more and more control and revenue from this industry and spent it on social programs. That worked for a while because oil prices were rising to record highs. But when oil prices dropped by about half, raiding the nation’s piggy bank didn’t work anymore. The problem was compounded by the fact that years of meddling with the industry, including packing it with loyal socialists, had seriously degraded it.
This had nothing to do with socialist disappointment in Chavez or Maduro. It had everything to do with world markets which continue to exist no matter how tightly socialists close their eyes. Nationalizing banks or other socialist intervention would not have prevented revenue to the oil sector from declining. There is no socialist solution to the problem of fluctuating oil prices.
In any case, here we are years down the road and now socialists want to pretend that this all might have worked out differently if only Chavez and Maduro hadn’t stopped at half-measures. As a column in the Wall Street Journal pointed out earlier this week, Venezuela has been flirting with failed socialism for decades:
Learning from history is impossible if the narrative is wrong. So let’s clear the record: By the time Chávez was elected, Venezuela already had 40 years of socialism under its belt and precious little, if any, experience with free markets.
Military dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez was toppled in January 1958. Romulo Betancourt, an avowed socialist, was elected president later that year.
When Venezuela promulgated its 1961 constitution, Betancourt immediately suspended Article 96, which read: “All can freely engage in the profitable activity of their choice, without any limitations other than those provided for in this Constitution and those established by law for security, health or other reasons of social interest.”
This crucial protection remained on the shelf for 30 years, as a string of socialist governments employed price and exchange controls in counterproductive attempts to raise living standards.
Rent control in Venezuela dates to 1939 but was not enforced by Pérez Jiménez. In August 1960 Betancourt revived it, passing a new rent-control law and prohibitions on eviction. Since then, “not one apartment rental building has been built,” writes Vladimir Chelminski in his 2017 book, “Venezuelan Society Checkmated.” The legendary slums that climb Caracas’s hillsides are a testament to this socialist stupidity.
The central problem with socialism is not just that it inevitably runs out of other people’s money but that having done so its proponents never accept responsibility for failure. They are always absolutely sure that whatever went wrong is the result of remaining pockets of capitalism which weren’t completely stamped out. “Next time will be different,” is the de facto socialist motto.