Setting the record straight on Venezuela

The Print, the student newspaper of Queen Mary, University of London, published a comment column attacking Jeremy Corbyn for his past comments in defence of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, in its issue dated Wednesday 20 September.

The column is light on facts, figures, and arguments – it’s mostly just mealy-mouthed insinuations and irrelevant bluster. The few concrete allegations made are when the author describes Venezuela as spiralling “ever further into penury and chaotic authoritarianism”, and later he refers to “the Venezuelan disaster”. He criticises Corbyn for describing the Bolivarian revolution as “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”, after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013.

In 2011 Chavez launched a house-building scheme that had produced 1.7 million houses for working class families by July of this year, with a target of 3 million by 2019. For those of us in London witnessing the rapid rise in homelessness at the same time as a rise in the number of mansions lying empty, this policy is certainly an inspiration.

Chavez came to power in 1999, and by 2005 UNESCO declared that Venezuela had essentially eradicated illiteracy, with over 1.5 million people having newly learned to read and write. And from 1999 to 2007 enrolment rates in higher education had doubled. In the face of fee-hikes and course closures here in Britain, these are inspiring statistics.

In the first decade of the Bolivarian revolution the poverty rate was cut in half, from 54% of households in the first half of 2003 to 26% at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty fell even more, by 72%. Correspondingly, inequality, as measured by the Gini index, also fell substantially. The index fell to 41 in 2008, from 48.1 in 2003 and 47 in 1999. This represents a large reduction in inequality. Meanwhile here in Britain the number of billionaires keeps rising year-on-year while real wages for millions of people are collapsing at the fastest rate since the 19th century according to the TUC.

From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased twelve-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access. Faced with the under-funding of the NHS and the backdoor privatisation of healthcare taking place in Britain – we’re entitled to find such achievements inspiring.

What’s happening in Venezuela today is not the result of a failure of the socialistic measures taken by the Bolivarian revolution. In fact, it’s the opposite – it’s the failure of the revolution to rid Venezuela of capitalism altogether, leaving the Venezuelan oligarchs sufficient freedom to undermine and sabotage the Venezuelan economy for years.

It’s true that Chavez didn’t take the Bolivarian revolution to its necessary conclusion, and now Maduro seems to have renounced any attempt to seriously defend the gains of the revolution, preferring instead to capitulate and compromise thereby inviting further aggression from the capitalist class. But now, the people lining up to attack the Venezuelan government include Donald Trump and the Venezuelan oligarchy. We can therefore guarantee that any “penury” or “authoritarianism” there is now in Venezuela will be a hundred times worse under the rule of the right-wing, pro-imperialist, violent thugs of the anti-government opposition.

So Corbyn is correct, we should be inspired by what the Bolivarian revolution was able to achieve – inspired to deepen and extend the socialist revolution in Venezuela and internationally. And we in the Queen Mary Marxist society have also been inspired not to pay too much attention to poorly researched and argued columns in The Print from now on.