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Once he’s through with Venezuela, Corbyn must denounce your mum, continental breakfasts and boring rock bands

Demands for political opponents to undertake humiliating self-criticism before a mass audience seemingly fell out of favour roughly about the time the Chinese Communist Party wound up the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

But fashions are always cyclical. Since 2015, a wonderfully nostalgic Labour right has gleefully nicked this page from the Maoist playbook, in the form of the popular parlour game they call ‘Corbyn must denounce …’

The rules are quite simple. All you do is set your liberal commentator buddy up with a couple of quotes from a scorned backbencher, anonymously if need be. The rightwing press will take it from there.

Corbyn must denounce the IRA. Corbyn must denounce Hamas. Corbyn must denounce Putin, low quality home exercise equipment, organic quinoa, animal husbandry, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, marginal utility theory, knocking back too many bevvies on a school night and the outrageous refusal of your latest crush to grant you a date.

Advanced players can extend the tactic to John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Jon Lansman, Owen Jones, or any lesser luminary who might have said something half-way radical at any point in the last decade. Heck, you can even go back to the 1980s, if you want.

The latest iteration of this fun-for-all-the-family pastime, of course, is ‘Jezza must denounce Venezuela’. The Times is leading the way, with an obviously pre-planned double-whammy front page splash and opinion piece from the Hated Aaronovitch. The Telegraph has wheeled out former Labour MP Tom Harris to do much the same job.

On paper, these guys even have a point. Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro is rapidly tilting towards an ugly brand of authoritarianism, enforced by growing repression.

Strong insistence on the need for human rights against oppressive governments of all stripes is undeniably one of the few things democratic socialists can – and should – learn from the liberal tradition.

And given that I was never a Chavista cheerleader, I luckily don’t have any face to lose on this one. The Chavez project never struck me as much of a ‘socialist revolution’ anyway; what we saw until his death was an elected government redistributing petrodollars to the impoverished, on the back of an unchallenged popular mandate.

Sure, some of the gushing quotes from the more enthusiastic comrades were patently over the top, and read back embarrassingly in retrospect. But nobody on the left should have the slightest problem with meat and potatoes social democracy, even where it comes clad in military fatigues.

The situation has since deteriorated at great speed. If you want my tuppence ha’porth – and oddly enough, my counsels carry little weight in influential circles in Caracas – then what Venezuela needs is a better leftwing government.

What it doesn’t need is a coup by the authoritarian right, working for the clampdown with the backing of the local armed forces and the US, and a reversion to the intense exploitation and oppression that characterised the pre-Chavez era. And look, there’s a presidential election next year anyway. It’s not long to wait.

Meanwhile, whatever you do, spare me all that guff about ‘Labour’s plans to turn Britain into Venezuela’. If there was ever a manifesto commitment to turn the UK into a Bolivarian republic – as some fools have claimed – I must have missed the press release.

But be in no doubt that the current propaganda campaign has got sod all to with liberalism 101. The attack dogs have never previously expressed the slightest concern as to whether residents of Venezuela’s barrios are fed tonight. Or any night, come to that.

They have never once opened their mouths against the more biddable repressive regimes worldwide backed by the right, from Rwanda to Saudi Arabia.

Instead, they are weaponising Latin American politics in their twisted quest to weaken the Labour left, and they should not get succeed. This is no exercise in solidarity with the shanty towns; it is a shoddy bid to shore up the rapidly failing position of the Labour right in constituency parties across Britain.

The targets of their ire have every right to reply in the same kind of terms Jess Philips once famously used to address a black woman colleague. And I hope they do.


  1. C MacMackin says:

    I largely agree with this article. The continued calls for denunciations do get tiresome. And we shouldn’t give continued solidarity with Maduro who is incompetent and increasingly authoritarian. There have been plenty of economists out there who have been saying for years that there are relatively simple measures which would go a long way towards fixing Venezuela’s economic crisis and would not mean a slide to the right. For example, the system of foreign exchange controls is crazy. It was only ever meant to be a temporary measure, but has now long outlived its usefulness and is a big cause of shortages of imported goods. Maduro could fix this on his own without needing congress. There’s also been a continued failure to diversify the economy beyond oil, although Chavez bears more blame for this. As such, we’ve seen the beginnings of austerity as oil revenue has declined. Where Maduro has attempted to expand other industries he’s been using the neolibral Chinese model of “export processing zones”, operating with minimal regulations and poor labour conditions. More fundamentally left-wing measures such as bank nationalisation would be helpful to avoid private sector sabotage, although corruption is rife in the public sector and might mean similar problems persist.

    Had the economy been better handled then the opposition protests would not have gotten anywhere near this far, but now the country is practically ungovernable, with the population deeply split between the Chavistas and anti-Chavistas. The latter came out on top in the last legislative elections largely due to low Chavista turnout as more people grow weary with Maduro’s incompetence and heavy-handedness. Unfortunately, they’re now stuck with a choice between a violent right wing which would likely return them to poverty (and likely be at least as oppressive as Maduro) and a useless, paralysed left wing. Ideally Maduro would step down and a better left-wing candidate could be presented to the electorate.

    Failing that, his proposed constitutional assembly seemed like a potentially good way to break the current deadlock. Unfortunately, the opposition in congress refused to consent to it and now refuses to recognise its legitimacy. Whatever its legitimacy under the current constitution, if the constituent assembly is not recognised by all sides then it won’t be useful. The opposition decision to boycott its elections and low voter turnout (not to mention allegations of government fraud, although these arise whenever the Chavistas do well in an election) also place questions over its legitimacy. Many have interpreted its role to be an alternative legislature that will rubber-stamp whatever Maduro wants, which would be totally unacceptable. Even if that does not happen, it might simply propose a new constitution designed for Maduro, granting more powers to the president. This would go to a referendum and would likely fail (as Chavez’s attempted new constitution did). There is a chance that they’ll actually design a more democratic constitution which might, say, extend the powers of the communal councils, communes, and communal parliament while weakening the presidency, but if even if this passed a referendum its legitimacy would be questionable.

    Maduro’s continued repression of opposition protesters is very worrying, although the the violence (which could often be described as terrorism) of the opposition makes it somewhat difficult to judge. Nonetheless, if we are to criticise police crackdowns on left-wing protests in the US, UK, and elsewhere then we need to criticise at least some of what has been done in Venezuela against the right. Similarly, we should criticise the use of state television and TeleSur as propaganda tools (something which started under Chavez). Having opposition leaders imprisoned is not a good precedent, even if they have been recorded inciting people to violence. I could go on, but I’m getting depressed.

    Where I disagree with the article is its assessment of Chavez as essentially a social democrat. This applies to most of the Pink Tide countries, but Venezuela did start to go further. Redistributing oil money was the centrepeice of Chavez’s policy (and we see now why he relied too much on it) but there was more going on. Quite a lot of industries were nationalised, including some which were sabotaging the government. More importantly, though, were the attempts to establish workers’ control over them. There were experiments electing management in some industries. The communal councils also offered an interesting grassroots approach to economic planning. Unfortunately, these efforts have been frustrated by state officials (including Chavista politicians) and now seem to have come to nothing. While the Chavez period was contradictory and I would not describe myself as a supporter of him, I did like that he started to look beyond capitalism, even if he never saw it through. It makes the current degeneration of the Bolivarian process all the more tragic.

    1. prianikoff says:

      re CMkMk:-
      “Maduro’s continued repression of opposition protesters is very worrying, although the violence (which could often be described as terrorism) of the opposition makes it somewhat difficult to judge.

      Maybe because almost the entire mainstream media has misrepresented what’s happening in Venezuela and you evidently, haven’t dug any deeper.

      The right-wing “MUD” coalition in Venezuela has a strategy of seizing power by setting up parallel state institutions.

      To do this they’ve organised armed provocations, such as attacking government buildings, army barracks and polling stations.
      Rather than participating in the Constituent Assembly election (something the right demanded a few years ago) they boycotted it.
      Their “referendum” was a fraudulent attempt to incite an army coup against Maduro.
      Anyone could turn up, there were no voting lists, no measures to stop double voting, no independent audit and the ballot papers were burned as soon as the result was declared.

      MUD supporters then tried to set up roadblocks manned by masked thugs to prevent people voting in the Constituent Assembly election.
      Just how do you think the Venezuelan government should have responded to this?
      Despite lobbing petrol bombs and detonating road-side bombs targeting the National Guard, most of the rioters got off lightly.

      Ludicrously, some of the main organisers of the violence, the “Popular Will” (VP) the party of Leopoldo Lopez and Freddy Guevara, is affiliated to the Socialist International.
      Yet they also receive support from right wing Republicans in the US, like Marco Rubio.

      Yesterday, duing an interview on “Newsnight”, Evan Davis used PV’s affiliation to put further pressure on Corbyn to show solidarity with them.
      What his interviewee didn’t say is that PV only has 14 out of 167 seats in the Venezuelan National Assembly. Less than the rival “Democratic Action” (AD) party, which is also affiliated to the Socialist International.

      It was the failure of AD in the 90’s, due to corruption and hyperinflation, which set the stage for the growth of “Chavismo” & the PSUV. This was similar to the way PASOK was discredited in Greece, giving rise to Syriza.

      In many respects the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela(PSUV) is closer to classic Social Democracy than either of these two outfits.
      It won power through the electoral process, carried out progressive reforms and has generally respected the Venezuelan constitution.
      But the “Bolivarian process” has now hit a brick wall.
      In order to move forward, changes to the Constitution are needed.

      What you fail to understand is that the main threat of dictatorship in Venezuela is coming from the *right*, not from Maduro.
      Whenever the Venezuelan right has gained the upper hand in the past two decades, there has been a bloodbath against Chavistas.
      If MUD wins now, there will be massive attack on working class organisations and living standards.
      Venezuela under MUD won’t be a benign social democracy.
      It will be more like Colombia, or even Chile in the 1970’s.

      1. prianikoff says:

        BTW, the “Sun” & “Huffington Post” have already picked up on that Newsnight Interview, which was with Juan Andrés Mejía, of the “Popular Will” party.

        An assmembly member for Miranda State, Mejía rose to prominence as a student leader, one of the “class of 2007” who led protests against Chavez’s constitutional reform plans.

        A close ally of Leopoldo Lopez and Freddy Guevara, he has been involved in “Social action” plans in the slums.
        These try to undercut the Bolivarian “missions” by doing charitable work aimed at selected individuals.
        Mejía may have picked up on the idea when he did a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard in 2012.

        But Mejía and his close allies have also been in the front line of violent anti-government protests.

        In 2014 Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 14 years for inciting riots which led to 43 deaths, but released to House arrest after 3 years.
        He was re-arrested on August 1st, but has been released again.

        In his “Newsnight” interview, Mejía said the Venezuelan people were demanding “free and fair elections”.
        He didn’t mention that Presidential elections aren’t due until October 2018 year, or that local elections will go ahead in the Autumn and the opposition are free to take part in them.

        Mejía claimed that there was no freedom of speech in Venzuela, from where he appeared to be speaking and from where Lopez recently had a call from the US Vice President Mike Pence.
        Nor did he mention the opposition TV station Globovision, which on August 1st carried a denunciation of the government by US Senator Marco Rubio.
        Or the fact that the majority of the Venezuelan press supports opposition parties.

        Mejía said there was a struggle between “democracy and dictatorship” in Venezuela, but said nothing about right wing violence that has taken place against Bolivarian candidates, the right-wing blockades of polling stations, or the right’s armed attacks on the national guard.

        Evan Davis didn’t attempt to question him on this, but stuck to his pre-arranged script, which was aimed at pressuring Jeremy Corbyn into denouncing the government.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Well said Prianikoff.

          About time someone started telling the truth – that this is a fight between the working class, represented by the government and the wealthy capitalist class, represented by the so-called “opposition.”

          In this struggle, there is only one side for the left in this country to be on – steadfastly on the side of Maduro and the government and the people.

          And typical pathetic liberal handwringing from the fake “left” David Ellis.

          1. Steven Johnston says:

            Well said Karl!

            Maduro is a true “man of the people”, working night and day to make his country great. Much like Stalin and Pol Pot before him. Though some workers are revolting! Cruelly dubbing the effects of the shortages in Venezuela the “The Maduro diet”.


            The swines! If I was him I’d horse-whip the rotters. Clearly these trouble makers are not starving and are funded by the CIA to destabilise this popular regime.
            The 720% inflation rate is not his fault either. It’s all the fault of America.

      2. C MacMackin says:

        I’m fully aware of how awful, reactionary, and violent MUD is. That’s why I focused much less on criticising Maduro’s treatment of the protests and much more on how Maduro’s economic failures have allowed the protests to gain the degree of popular support they have. Nonetheless, I’m not convinced that the police response has, in all cases, been proportionate.

        Yes, historically PSUV has respected the constitution. There have, however, been some worrying trends of late, particularly in their relationship to the judiciary.

        I don’t think the failures of Chavismo are a result of the constitution. They are a result of specific bad economic policies coupled with the opposition getting control of the legislature. This has produced a deadlock. I agree (and did say) that a constituent assembly could still be useful, though. I’m also well aware of MUD’s hypocrisy on this. Nonetheless, a constitution is only useful if it is widely viewed as having popular legitimacy. The refusal of the opposition to participate means this won’t be the case. I wish they had participated, but there’s not much I or the PSUV can do about that.

        Meanwhile, the fact that PSUV is less awful than MUD should not place them above criticism. They have failed to address economic sabotage, been complicit in corruption, and pursued wrong-headed policies. Maduro has now been slipping back on the gains of the Chavez era. We must hold him to account on these and other problems if there is to be a hope of fixing them.

        1. prianikoff says:

          I agree that it’s not just a question of the Constitution.
          In fact, Chavez’s attempt to change it in 2007 was his first failure,
          mainly because he tried to increase the powers of the President too much.

          People are justifiably suspicious of that.
          Giving dictatorial power to one person is *NOT* the way to go.

          What people fail to realise is that Venezuela didn’t even have income tax until quite recently.
          Almost all state spending was covered from oil revenues.
          The fact these have declined so much was bound to cause massive problems.

          Yet, over 73 percent of its annual budget in 2017 is designated for social programs, such as housing, health, education, and public works, and for communal councils (which Maduro wants to institutionalise in the new Consitution).
          This compares to 42% in 2016
          This* IS* the way to go and perhaps the reason why the right is getting so frantic.
          Hopefully Maduro will learn the lesson of 2007 and not try use the Constituent Assembly to boost Presidential power.

          Instituting workers control over the economy is an essential precondition for socialism and the best way to prove that it can me more democratic than the increasingly bankrupt capitalist system.

          1. C MacMackin says:

            The increase in proportion of the budget spent on social programs and public works in 2017 is not necessarily a good thing. It could simply mean that these areas have been cut less than others. I hope you are right, though, and that the 2017 budget will start to address the crisis. I also hope that the constituent assembly will try to increase the role of the directly democratic bodies. I’m just not optimistic.

          2. Steven Johnston says:

            So will you be moving there anytime soon?

            Or are you going to wait till the rioting stops, the inflation reaches single figures and there is enough to eat?

  2. JohnP says:

    All quite true, David. I have to wonder though just what “traction” this particularly laboured , transparently cranked up, smear, has with the Great UK general public. Very little I suspect. (partly simply because huge sections of our general public care not a fig about yet another “faraway country of which they know little” – and sadly care even less). And the mass of Labour voters or potential voters amongst the General Public are now very savvy to the entire ” smear Corbyn every week ” game of the press and TV , and simply dismiss it all as nonsense automatically

    I think they had more chance of discrediting Jeremy with that revelation that his great, great, granddad had run a workhouse, ie, none at all !

    The problem for the mainstream press now is that all the smears available have already been run at least three times over the last two years – and the alternative non-mainstream social media has a now major capacity to expose, ridicule, and diffuse, pretty much every smear that the capitalist media vomit up.

    The recent extensive whining in The Guardian and New Statesman about the (as they see it) terrible undermining of the fact based utter truthfulness of the mainstream “free press” by the upstarts of the social media , like The Canary or Squawkbox, is both hilarious , and a real sign of the significant loss of control of the social narrative that those propaganda organs of this capitalist state have suffered in recent years.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      I suspect you’re right. His supposed failure to condemn the IRA had little impact on the election, despite this being something which strikes far closer to home for Britons than does the situation in Venezuela. His statement on the death of Castro (who was much more authoritarian than Maduro) didn’t seem to do him too much harm either. It seems that Venezuela will just fill the role the Soviet Union used to when red-bating left wingers and the Left has managed to succeed in the face of such attacks before.

      Meanwhile, Corbyn has apparently condemned violence from all sides, which seems like the right approach to me. He has been a bit softer on Maduro than I’d like and should have called him out on some specific issues (the validity of the constituent assembly and the imprisonment of opposition leaders), but it’s a decent enough start. His backing of peace talks seems like a sensible position, although I’m not sure the two sides can be reconciled.

  3. Bazza says:

    Venezuela was originally run by (and in the interests of) 80 or so oligarch rich families and there was mass poverty.
    Chavez nationalised oil and helped the poor but it was always a top down left government, what some would call ‘Bourgeois socialists’ (with leaders taking the power for themselves) when many of us would argue for a more grassroots, bottom-up, left wing democratic socialist approach.
    Some argue that the rich there are deliberately creating shortages of basic goods to undermine the left government plus no doubt the US is interfering and backing the Right Wing Neo-Liberal opposition and if they get in power there the poor will be hammered!
    No doubt too capital is after Venezuela’s oil and Venezuela is a victim of the battle between Saudi etc. oil and US fracking companies which has dramatically cut the price of oil per barrel.
    And as others have said it should have and should now diversify its economy.
    Sadly a very difficult situation is being used by horrible Right wing Labour MPs and Tories (and the liberal media) to attack JC and we should call for peace in Venezuela and for an end to all violence.
    I would hope the new more grassroots Constituent Assembly may plant a seed for a more grassroots left wing democratic socialist approach.
    Yours in international solidarity!

  4. Robin Edwards says:

    Ironically the Maduro regime does need denouncing but from the left not the right. This wretched Stalinist-sponsored Popular Front has failed deliberately to follow through with the revolution leaving the oligarchs and their property intact giving them the power with their imperialist string pullers to organise hyper inflation and mass starvation to turn the people against the government. Even if Maduro is not overthrown by a military coup or a fascist counter revolution it is already, like the repulsive ANC regime in South Africa, becoming the kind of tyranny the fascist Venezuelan bourgeoisie would like to see. The revolutionary proletariat needs to find its independence from the Popular Front and put forward a programme for the socialisation of the property of the rich.

    1. Steven Johnston says:

      Robin, I agree but the left seems to be taking a curious approach to this regime.

      Their argument(s) seem to run along the lines of, the regime is building council houses, so ergo they are good. So has every government in the UK for the last 150+ years. But so what?

      They have less problems than other Latin American countries, the old not as bad as line?

      The US is interfering in the sovereignty of Venezuela and is should only be up the Venezuelans to decide their future.

      Which is very odd line to take for socialists, as when did they ever care about sovereign rights? Class right yet, but sovereign rights? Since when? As internationalists the left of its day supported foreign intervention, that supported the republic, in the Spanish Civil War.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        Ellis and Johnston…two sides of the same coin.

        One is a fake “left” and the other one is openly neo-liberal.

        There are two sides in Venezuela – the working class and the capitalist class.

        1. Steven Johnston says:


          Didn’t you read my post where I praised Maduro to the skies and said that those workers who complained are in the pay of the CIA and deserve a good beating!

          Isn’t that what the “real” left is saying these days?

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Steven Johnston:
            And I bet morons like you would have found some equally facile cements to make when Allende was brutally slaughtered in Chile in 1973.

            And I bet you would have had some “oh-so-clever” ironic quips when Victor Jara was having his hands chopped off by the fascists in the National Stadium.

            It isn’t funny pal.

            None of this is funny.

            South American politics is brutal, tough, and at times very frightening.

            When the left lose, they often die.

            The current struggle is a critical one and the UK left needs to be 100% on the side of our comrades in Venezuela.

            Victory to Maduro!

            Revenge for Allende!

  5. Steven Johnston says:

    Karl, there is little in this World I detest more than nationalism. I support workers around the World but will never, ever, give solidarity to a nation state. Call me a neo-liberal but never call me a nationalist.
    Oh, as for Allende, if you are angry then I suggest speaking to the Maoists out there, as their hero, Mao supported Pinochet. Yes…geo-politics really are brutal!

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Much better to hear some serious opinions from you rather than smart-arseness.

      I’m opposed to nationalism too. The whole philosophy of “Bolivarism” as I understand it, is for the unification of the south American continent across borders, so going by your viewpoint, this should be something you would favour?

      Must confess I’ve never been a fan of Maoism, and also I don’t know a great deal about it.

      But if Mao’s China did support Pinochet, it wouldn’t surprise me too much – at that time, China tended to oppose whatever ‘side’ the Soviet Union took.

      Wrong of course

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