Donald Trump versus Hugo Chávez: It’s the Marxism, Stupid

Donald Trump and Hugo Chávez
Many commentators have drawn parallels between Donald Trump and Hugo Chávez, but they often forget the latter’s destructive ideology. (PanAm Post)

By César Crespo

The allegedly-eerie similarities between the bombastic Republican presidential nominee and our late galactic Comandante Hugo Chávez are the gift that just keeps on giving.

In a recent, especially auto-mojoneado little screed, Francisco Toro tried to convince us that the reason Trump won’t be as destructive as Chávez is that he won’t be as disciplined and effective at destroying America’s democratic institutions as Chávez was at destroying Venezuela’s.

This is a dangerous self-deception from a lefty in denial about what it was that made Chávez so uniquely destructive: as though leftist ideology was an “accident” that accounted for no part of the damage Chávez caused, as though institutional destruction was the beginning and the end of the story.

Toro should really know better: this isn’t about who had better etiquette (though God knows this is the first time Chávez has done better at that!) The damage Chávez did is the damage only a communist will do once in power.

Let’s not fool ourselves: it’s not any old autocrat who can create the kind of chaos Venezuela’s been experiencing. It’s a very specific kind of autocrat, one burning with principled opposition to property as a right.

That’s the only kind of autocrat who’ll push for policies that lead to acute shortages of basic food staples and medicines, the collapse of public services, the three-digit inflation, the destruction of the national manufacturing industry.

Those outcomes stem not from his rhetoric, nor from his illiberal tendencies (Peru’s Fujimori was as illiberal as Chávez and ran a similarly sized economy) but by his ties to the old-school left in Venezuela that had been left out of power in 1958 and still supported many of the main Marxist axioms as late as in the 1990s.

In fact, Chávez serves as a cautionary tale of the resurgence of the all but dead left that somehow never got the memo once the Berlin Wall fell. Because there are plenty of dictators out there, but only a handful who set off the kind of economic cataclysm only the hard left brings about.

Of course, Chavismo was always built around an uneasy alliance between heterogenous political groups. Unlike his successor, Chávez was a master in unifying and reconciling the interest of radicals with the more pragmatic fractions of Chavismo. But his long game was always establishing an “alternative” to capitalism.

Let’s not forget that, even though initially Chávez vehemently denied being a Marxist and ran in 1998 as a third-way Caribbean Tony Blair, he openly embraced Marxism soon afterwards, he had ties from the beginning with Venezuelan radical Marxist groups who had even trained his handpicked heir, his economic guru was an ideological Marxist dinosaur, he counted on Fidel Castro as a mentor and considered Cuba a “sea of happiness,” and he even had a soft spot for North Korea.

His most important economic policies were the expropriation of the type of companies that no sane government on the planet runs, the establishment of draconian price controlsirrational labor regulations, and useless foreign currency controls.

Chávez was a media savvy politician who knew how to pander to hip anti-establishment ideologies, but deep down the difference between 21st-century socialism and the 20th-century variant was always paper-thin.

Look, I’m as scared of a Trump presidency as any reasonably sane center-right pro-democracy millennial. But Trump is not surrounded by a loony team of Marxist advisors hell-bent on destroying the economy for the sake of denying that there is such a thing as a market.

Failing to mention that the worst legacy of Chávez (the destruction of the Venezuelan economy) is tied to his faith in discredited economic ideas is doing a favor to people like Alfredo Serrano, a Marxist economics professor from Spain, Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias, or Jeremy Corbyn, the far left leader of the British Labour Party.

Chávez is not just a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of populist institution-busting, he’s a cautionary tale for re-branding of Marxism as hip, anti-establishment ideology.

This article was originally published on Caracas Chronicles.

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