Guest post by Fr. Troy Beecham
Let me begin again by being unambiguous.
All forms of Leftist ideology: Marxism, socialism, communism, et al; all are incompatible with human flourishing.
In fact, they are irredeemably hostile to human flourishing, despite the quasi-religious utopian promises it makes to its credulous and naïve adherents.
While to the rational student of history the catastrophic failure of Leftist ideology is self-evident, in our nation we have had decades of continuous proselytization of students in our universities, which are churning out confused, hysterical, and fanatically devoted Leftists year after year. Some may find it may seem far-fetched to imagine that Antifa, BLM, and other Leftist, Marxist paramilitary organizations could help push Americans over the edge into accepting a complete change in our way of life and to relinquish our Constitutional Republic. Given that over 37 percent of the American public now express positive adherence to some form of Leftist ideology, however, it is a legitimate question whether or not we Americans are in danger of losing our Constitutional Republic.
In my previous article, I discussed the kibbutz movement in Israel, often held up as a shining example of how pure, real communism/socialism can work. If you read my article, you will know that the kibbutz experiment did not, in fact, work, and has failed catastrophically. In this article we will look at perhaps the most recent example of a nation adopting a communist/socialist form of government: Venezuela. Perhaps by looking at how a once prosperous and free nation has now become a dictatorship within a relatively short period will bring home just how tenuous freedom can be when hard times, caused by natural disaster or by intentional government intervention/mismanagement, create wide-spread suffering.
Venezuela did not become socialist overnight. In fact, the process took generations to be completed. Gaining independence from Spain in 1830, Venezuela suffered political turmoil and autocracy, remaining dominated by regional military dictators until the mid-20th century. Starting in 1958 with the ouster of the last military dictator, the country organized itself as a Republic, and had a series of coalition governments. This post-dictatorship period was all to briefly characterized by broad economic prosperity and personal liberty as the newly liberated people passed laws that brought greater opportunities for prosperity. Venezuela became arguably the most prosperous nation in South American for most of the first half of the 20th century. Blessed with enormous oil wealth, the standard of living in Venezuela was enviable for several decades as Venezuela developed as a major oil producing nation. The average citizen enjoyed significant economic freedom and most sectors of the economy were privately held, including the oil industry in the early years of their new Republic. The individual tax rate hovered at a consistently low 12 percent, labor laws were geared to promote private industry, a robust legal system kept corruption largely in check, and foreign trade laws were also written to encourage foreign business and trade.
The changes that led to the socialist takeover began almost as soon as the people gained their freedom from autocracy, as increasingly elite politicians, leftover cronies of the previous military dictatorship, began taking away these economic freedoms through significant government intervention in the economy, including control of inflation rates, and simultaneously nationalizing formerly private businesses, and forming state corporations and regulatory agencies. They also tripled the marginal tax rate to 36 percent in the 1960s. An increasingly politicized crony legal system and massive corruption in the government inevitably led to wealthy elites disproportionately benefiting from government revenue drawn from the now nationalized oil industry and higher taxes exacted from a struggling middle class and the rural poor. Corruption within the government only increased when oil prices dropped in the late 1980s, an economic catastrophe for Venezuela that suffocated the country’s oil dependent economy. By the 1990s, the loss of economic freedoms had gutted the Venezuelan middle class and made the gap between the elites, the newly poor middle class, and the rural poor all the more massive. The combination of all of these things, which had their root in the government nationalizing most major sectors of the economy and intervening in the economy through artificially establishing interest rates and printing money, led to a growing economic and social crisis that opened the door for the rise of Hugo Chávez, a populist who campaigned on transforming the already partially socialist government that was robbing the nation of its wealth and leaving increasing numbers of people in poverty into a pure socialist state, with its attendant utopian promise of getting rid of corruption, redistributing wealth, and the equal sharing of political authority of all citizens.
Venezuela’s catastrophic acquiescence of pure socialism began in 1992, when Hugo Chavez, a lieutenant colonel in their army, led several army units in a coup attempt against the government. More than 100 people were killed in attempted coup, but he was defeated. However, in the name of national unity, and to keep riots from happening, the government released Chavez from prison after just two years. After being elected president in 1998, one of the first things Chávez did was to replace Venezuelan constitution with a new socialist constitution in 1999. As to be expected of a socialist utopian ideology, the new constitution made employment, healthcare, and housing basic, guaranteed rights that must be provided by the state. One of the most destructive articles of the new socialist constitution made the government responsible for promoting agriculture and manufacturing, along with other sectors of the economy. All of these marked the end of the free market in Venezuela and the inexorable decline into societal collapse. Chávez then strong-armed additional legislation that redistributed land and wealth, and not in a manner that anyone could call equal but instead enriched his supporters.
In April 2002, Chávez was briefly ousted from power in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt following popular demonstrations by his opponents,but Chavez returned to power after two days as a result of demonstrations by poor Chávez supporters in Caracas and the intervention by the military. Chávez also remained in power after an all-out national strike that lasted from December 2002 to February 2003, including a strike/lockout in the state oil company PDVSA.The strike led not only to the flight of capital assets but also the reimposition of artificial currency controls, managed by the CADIVI agency, the government body which administers legal currency exchange in Venezuela. In the subsequent decade, the government was forced into several currency devaluations. These devaluations did little to improve the situation of the Venezuelan people who rely on imported products or locally produced products that depend on imported inputs, while US dollar-denominated oil sales accounted for the vast majority of Venezuela's exports, which led to the profits of the oil industry being entirely spent to fund the socialist utopian illusion, and to corruption, instead of investments needed to maintain oil production. The state of the oil production industry is now suffering nearly 30 years of lack of maintenance and upgrades.
When oil prices surged globally in 2004, Chavez continued to spend the nation’s money as if the oil industry was not subject to market fluctuations. He began to implement even more unsustainable social welfare programs, such as subsidized food, education, and healthcare, which only increased the welfare programs’ dependence on oil which, by 2011, made up 95 percent of the country’s exports. The lack of diversification of the economy and its dependent welfare systems were riding a precarious wave at the mercy of international oil price fluctuations. Chávez, however, needing to satisfy his constituents to retain power, kept promoting socialist policies without enabling the development of other channels of income to support them. Because he died of cancer in 2013, it was left to his successors and the people of Venezuela to see the socialist train derail and crash.
Nicolás Maduro was elected president following the death of Chavez. Soon after, oil prices fell by 70 percent. Given Venezuela’s near total reliance on oil, and uncontrolled government spending rapidly increased the national debt, the economy began to crumble. Maduro responded by artificially increasing the money supply, thereby devaluing Venezuela’s currency rather than shifting away from failed socialist policy and towards fundamental governmental and economic change. This led to a hyperinflation that is now making it nearly impossible for the majority of Venezuelans to purchase food, medicine, and other necessities. The National Survey of Living Conditions, a study conducted by three Venezuelan universities, showed that Venezuelans lost an average of 24 pounds in weight in 2017. It has not improved since that study was done.
As Maduro and the corrupt government implemented more socialist policies, the productive efficiency of the Venezuelan economy has nearly collapsed. In 2019, the rate of inflation was a staggering one million percent. As a result of corruption, failed socialist policy, and lack of capital investment in the oil industry, their chief source of income, the nation with the largest oil reserves in the world is now forced to import oil from foreign nations. With crippling hyperinflation, scarce basic resources such as food and medicine, and unemployment, the economic collapse has transformed into a broader social crisis. The need to solve this calamity led to even more centralized planning and provided an opening for Maduro to become an absolute dictator, through rigged elections, politicizing the Supreme Court, and silencing his political opponents.
There are signs that the people of Venezuela are desiring turning away from the socialist disaster of their government. The working class that once supported Maduro is now turning on him. However, Maduro has managed to suppress the political pressure. Today, children are dying of hunger, innocent civilians are being killed by the Venezuelan security forces, and millions of citizens are being deprived of basic freedom. Since 2014, roughly 5.6 million people have fled Venezuela.
Despite Leftist apologist’s claims that Venezuela was not a true socialist government, what we are witnessing in Venezuela is a textbook example of why Leftist governmental and economic ideology always leads to dictatorship. Socialist/communist economies are noticeably more inefficient compared to free market economies because they lack entrepreneurship, investment incentives, rewards for innovation, and an accurate assessment of relative scarcity. Leftist ideology demands blind belief in the face of overwhelming evidence that it fails in every instance. Socialist/communist economic inefficiency must be denied by those who are believers, and as a result it is not addressed in a timely or efficient manner. Inevitably, the economy collapses and creates chaos in society the need for increasingly authoritarian control. Separating the centralization of economic power from that of political power at a large scale becomes impossible. This is why socialism/communism is a threat to the freedoms that we enjoy today.
Here in the United States, what similarities can we find with the story of Venezuela’s catastrophic turn to socialism? There are significant and deeply concerning signs that indicate to me that we are heading in the direction of a political, social, and economic reality that will make socialist promises appealing to a sizable percentage of our citizenry in order to restore stability and prosperity. It is significant that over 37 percent of Americans are pro-Left, who believe that the answer to becoming more free and ensuring equality is in Leftist governmental and economic transformation, and should alarm the rest of us that our liberties are only one “election” away from being suspended. As has been pointed out, ideas that have to be enforced by law or the gun are not good ideas. The politicization and corruption of our judiciary is blatant and seemingly unstoppable. Recently I watched the confirmation hearing for a Democrat federal judge, who, when asked to explain Articles II and V of our own Constitution, was unable to identify even the simplest summary of either. The establishment of the Federal Reserve, an institution that despite its name is not under the control of the people or our elected representatives, which has been given absolute power to establish monetary policy for the nation, interest rates, and the regulation of financial institutions. The establishment of fiat currency, which is being printed at record rates, devaluing the US dollar internationally. Government overspending, leaving us with an astonishing $31.5 trillion debt load and $1.5 trillion deficit, creating the need to print even more unsecured money, even as we continue to dole out financial and military aid to foreign nations. Our nation, formerly a net energy exporter, has become, under Democrat Joe Biden’s administration, an energy importer. Our industrial sector is rusting and has largely gone over seas where labor is cheap and where they receive enormous tax advantages. We are increasingly reliant upon food imports to maintain our current standard of living as millions of acres are now being controlled by a few billionaires and a few agricorps that are using the land to produce monocrops, little of which feeds the nation. Today, 2 February 2023, the US House of Representatives took up a resolution denouncing socialism, stating “…socialist ideology necessitates a concentration of power that has time and time again collapsed into Communist regimes, totalitarian rule, and brutal dictatorships… that “many of the greatest crimes in history were committed by socialist ideologues” — mentioning Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro — and it lists atrocities committed under socialist regimes. It continues, “Congress denounces socialism in all its forms, and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.” It is stunning that fewer than half of Democrat representatives voted in favor of this resolution. Greater than half of Democrats in the House of Representatives are in favor of continuing our slide ever closer to a socialist revolution. That should alarm every freedom loving American and inspire our greater direct involvement in politics on every level. We are never more than one “election” from significant, fundamental economic and political transformation of our country. These are only a few of the concerning trends in American life today.
So, could America fall prey to Leftist ideology and see our proud Constitutional Republic continue is current slide towards socialism and its inevitable tyranny of the few? It is unlikely that the United States will be in Venezuela’s position in the near term, but there is no denying that Leftist ideology has become increasingly, dangerously popular in this country, especially among the Boomer and Millennial generations, and among Democrats. To those that believe in Leftist ideology, who are drawn to its false promise of utopia, Venezuela should serve as a warning of the 100 percent failure rate of its implementation worldwide, but it won’t. Leftist ideology is their secular religion, and we fail to recognize this religious nature and the devotion it engenders at our peril. People are willing to die and kill for a religion. And for those of us who value our freedoms and liberties over all other considerations, we must be reminded of the importance of protecting America’s Constitutional Republic and demand a dramatically reduced federal government and that our nation be allowed to turn to a truly free-market economic system. May God be with us and help us.
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