Once he’s through with Venezuela, Corbyn must denounce your mum
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 cheesily 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 women colleague. And I hope they do.