With all eyes on Ukraine, the protest movement in Venezuela has not got the attention it deserves. Of course, it doesn’t help that the protesters’ target is one of those Latin American socialist regimes so inexplicably popular with trendy opinion-formers back home.

What coverage we have had of the protests has focused on the state of Venezuelan economy – but just as important is the country’s horrific crime situation. In an insightful analysis for Project Syndicate, Ricardo Hausmann lays out the facts:

“During the 15 years of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ initiated by the late Hugo Chávez, the country’s homicide rate has quadrupled, from a high base of 19 per 100,000 in 1998 to 79 in 2013, roughly 17 times the average in the United States, 26 times that in Chile, and more than 30 times the combined average of OECD countries.”

Venezuela isn’t the only Latin American country with a violence problem, but given the Bolivarian Republic’s burgeoning oil wealth the breakdown of law and order seems inexcusable:

“In a sample of 145 countries assembled by the World Bank, Venezuela’s homicide numbers since 1995 have been exceeded only by Honduras and El Salvador, countries with less than one-third of Venezuela’s per capita income.”

Hausmann pins the blame squarely on the regime:

“While there are no armed opposition groups, the government has sponsored the creation of armed paramilitary groups, known locally as colectivos, charged with defending the ‘revolution.’ Thus, they bear a striking similarity to the Nazi brown shirts, the Fascist black shirts, and the various ‘people’s militias’ that were established under communist regimes.”

Thus while Venezuela’s rulers have tightened the grip of the state in all sorts of areas, they have undermined a state monopoly which, in normal circumstances, is the cornerstone of liberty – the state’s monopoly on violence.

Indeed, Marxist regimes have a long history of turning to non-governmental forces to do their dirty work. The most spectacular example is China’s Cultural Revolution in which Mao unleashed the Red Guards to murder his real and imagined enemies (and, in time, one another).

When Marxists achieve power they generally discover two things: Firstly, that the state is not the same thing as society; and, secondly, that bureaucracies don’t suddenly become efficient just because they’re now taking orders from people who believe in state bureaucracy. Unleashing chaos can therefore be consistent with the Marxist aim of centralising power – as long as the damage is directed outwards to society and the less cooperative parts of the state.

On the right we sometimes wrongly assume that the extreme left is just that – an extreme version of the moderate left, with the same aims but nastier methods. However, we should recognise that there is a fundamental discontinuity between between Marxism and social democracy – in much the same way that fascism is not an extreme version of conservatism, but something very different.

In particular, while social democrats emphasise solidarity between social classes, Marxists believe in conflict between the classes:

“The ideology of violence is underpinned by the Marxian idea that the road to progress is class struggle. The way forward involves inculcating hatred among ‘the people’ of their class enemies…

“In this framework, there is no collective sense of a communal ‘we’ that has agreed to live together under rules that apply equally to all.”

Thus even when they control the government – including the official forces of law and order – Marxists have no problem with criminal violence if it does more to hurt their enemies than their friends.