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Joseph Stalin. Fidel Castro. Che Guevara. British lefties like a bit of rough – just so long as the rough stuff happens to someone else, preferably abroad. However, the glamour of revolution, the swagger of down-and-dirty socialism, well, that may be safely enjoyed at a distance.

The latest lefty crush is Hugo Chavez, whose recent re-election as President of Venezuela is the toast of radical salons right across north London and beyond. Congratulations, therefore, to James Bloodworth for setting the record straight in the Independent:

  • “…Ex-US President Jimmy Carter even went as far as to describe Venezuela’s electoral system as “the best in the world”.
  • “But it’s a funny sort of democracy (and certainly not one which can accurately be described as the best in the world) that attracts such harsh criticism from human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – organisations which can hardly be dismissed as agents of neo-liberalism.”

It is especially sickening to see British leftwingers praising a regime that persecutes trade unionists:

  • “Venezuela is a country where, according to the International Trade Union Confederation’s 2012 annual survey, ‘anti-union discrimination, violations of collective bargaining rights and the non-respect of collective agreements were frequent and persistent in both the public and private sector’.
  • “Last year prominent Venezuelan trade unionist Rubén González, a former supporter of Chavez, went to jail for having the temerity to test the fraternal claims of Bolivarian socialism. After leading a 15-day strike at the state iron mining company in 2009, he was jailed for seven years for ‘crimes’ that included unlawful assembly, incitement, and violating a government security zone.”

Given the idiocy of the left, it is not surprising that rightwingers should hold el Presidente and his British cheerleaders in special contempt. And yet to condemn a bullying demagogue like Hugo Chavez, while showing sympathy for an outright monster like Augusto Pinochet is the worst kind of hypocrisy.

Further, and as Clive Crook explains for Bloomberg, it is important to understand the true nature of the Chavez regime:

  • “It’s better to admit that Venezuela is a democracy – that Chavez stands re-elected by the will of the people – but that democracy is not enough. This isn’t just semantics. Chavez makes it easier to see how democracies can be corrupted, how important it is to arrest that decay early on, and that illiberal democracies like Venezuela are not necessarily anomalies or exceptions.”

This is a vital point. Unambiguous tyranny is, thankfully, is less common than it used to be. But there are more subtle ways of abusing power:

  • “…democracy has worked better for [Chavez] than outright autocracy, which would have aligned domestic and foreign opposition more effectively. Illiberal democracies, under the right circumstances, can be stronger than outright tyrannies. They lend themselves better to divide and rule.”

There are scores of such regimes around the world. Some of them abuse power in name of leftwing ideals and some in the name of rightwing ideals. However, the ideological niceties are not the issue, but the regimes and their abuses. As democrats we should be opposed to them all.

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