Right-wing Labour MPs are pressuring Jeremy Corbyn to condemn Venezuelan ‘dictator’ Nicolás Maduro and his ‘sham election’ (as they put it) of a new Constituent Assembly. Having kept relatively quiet since the Party’s impressive general election result, the Blairites now see Venezuela as a chink in Corbyn’s armour and hope to stick the knife in.
Corbyn must answer such cynical attacks by defending the legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution, condemning the appalling ‒ and thoroughly anti-democratic - behaviour of the right-wing opposition in Venezuela, and demanding an end to any imperialist intervention.
In the past, Corbyn has shown his solidarity with the Venezuelan people and the achievements of Hugo Chavez. After Chavez’s death in 2013, Corbyn spoke at a vigil in London, at which he acclaimed Chavez for showing us that there was a “different and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step towards.”
From the very beginning in Venezuela, the oligarchy and reactionary opposition elements have been locked in a struggle to overthrow the government and reverse all the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution.
It is therefore no surprise that the capitalist establishment worldwide is currently united in its condemnation of Maduro for holding Constituent Assembly elections - both free and legal - which the opposition boycotted.
In Britain, they have initiated a smear campaign against the Labour leader in the Tory press (and the BBC we should note), with the Sun screeching that Corbyn has taken Venezuela’s “vicious Marxist dictatorship” as a “blueprint” for his vision of Britain. This hypocrisy was echoed by the Tory government...but not only by them, it seems.
The Tories and their media mouthpieces have been quickly followed by Labour’s right wing, who have joined in the attacks, using this as yet another opportunity to attempt to slander and sling mud at Jeremy Corbyn.
Notorious Blairite Frank Field (who named Margaret Thatcher as among his heroes!), for example, told the BBC that Corbyn’s response to Venezuela was a “test of Corbyn’s leadership”. Field told Westminster Hour, “I do think one of the worries that people may have is, do we believe in parliamentary government or not? I think how he responds on this is crucial.”
Meanwhile, in a Newsnight interview, former MSP and arch-Blairite, Tom Harris, described “two very different positions in Labour Party: the traditional and the modern.” The latter was supposedly in the tradition of “Attlee, Wilson and Blair [which] has distanced itself from Marxist revolutionary outfits”, while “Jeremy Corbyn and the hard-left have never met a banana republic they didn’t like.”
Blair is a pretty poor role model for principled objection to dictatorship, given his close relations with the despots of Saudi Arabia: a nation that routinely beheads people for such crimes as apostasy and homosexuality.
Elsewhere, Angela Smith (a Labour MP who sits on a new all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela) was “appalled” at the “wilful destruction of democratic structures” in Venezuela, while Liz McInnes, Labour’s shadow foreign minister, urged “the government of Venezuela to recognise its responsibilities to protect human rights, free speech and the rule of law”.
These ‘stalwarts of democracy’ have never forgiven Chavez for challenging the capitalists and oligarchs, and intend to do everything in their power to support the oligarchy in trying to destroy the Bolivarian Revolution.
Moreover, it is clear that these MPs’ reverence for ‘democracy’ and ‘rule of law’ clearly does not extend to the violent actions of the Venezuelan opposition. The anti-Bolivarian street mobs have deliberately destroyed food stores; the supreme court has been attacked by grenades dropped from a hijacked helicopter; actual and suspected Chavistas have been lynched; and a young black Venezuelan named Orlando Jose Figuera was burned alive in Caracas' Altamira neighbourhood by a racist street gang who labelled him a government supporter.
During the Constituent Assembly elections, oppositionists blocked access to polling stations, destroyed material and machines, and killed a National Guardsman attempting to protect voters. By the end of the day, between 10 and 15 people had been killed by oppositionists, including a Constituent Assembly candidate in Bolivar. Since then, a gang of men in military fatigues have attempted to stage a violent uprising near the city of Valencia. Of course, the Western “democrats” have nothing to say about this.
The support of the right wing - both around the world and in Britain - for the Venezuelan opposition is equivalent to supporting General Pinochet against Salvador Allende: the democratically elected, socialist president of Chile, who was deposed and murdered by a US-sponsored coup. Indeed we should remember that the Tories and Thatcher especially supported and praised Pinochet right up until his death.
Defend the Bolivarian Revolution
Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the “violence done by all sides” and urged dialogue. But the Venezuelan opposition is not interested in this at all and is hell-bent on overthrowing the government by whatever means they can.
Meanwhile, Emily Thornberry has also now criticised Maduro’s “increasingly authoritarian rule”. A spokesman for Thornberry said Labour had already called for the Venezuelan government to respect human rights “and challenged President Maduro personally to answer the legitimate concerns of the international community about his increasingly authoritarian rule.”
This reflects the pressure from the party’s right wing, but also the weakness of the left reformists, who always attempt to appease the right.
We must warn that if the opposition succeeds in overthrowing the Maduro government they will abolish the constitution (as they did in the coup of 2002), destroy the social programmes as well as all the gains of the Venezuelan Revolution. They would immediately impose a regime of austerity and mass privatisation. They would also certainly not respect the democratic rights of those who support the Bolivarian Revolution.
Rather than lecturing the Maduro government, Labour should come out against the reactionary opposition, defend the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution and affirm its solidarity with the Venezuelan working-class, on whom the future of the country rests.
These attacks from counter-revolutionary gangs in Venezuela are also a stark warning to Corbyn and any new Labour government. Any attempt to move in a socialist direction will be met with a similar backlash from big business and their supporters. That is why we say a Corbyn Labour government should take over the commanding heights of the economy and place power in the hands of working people.
We say: Stand with the Bolivarian Revolution! Condemn the violent opposition! Expropriate the oligarchy!