A woman walking past empty refrigerator shelves at a Makro supermarket in Caracas, on August 4 (REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man
You probably recognize these words, from John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”
This is considered an innocuous statement of youthful idealism, suitable for all audiences. I last heard it a few days ago, sung by a group of wholesome middle-school girls at my kids’ school. The song is encouraged by adults as a way of showing off your earnest idealism and your willingness to keep an open mind to new ideas.
But its real meaning is an indifference to suffering and a determination to close off your mind to facts that undermine your political prejudices.
About the same time I was listening to those girls sing “Imagine,” this item came across my news feed:
By morning, three newborns were already dead. The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward. Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died. “The death of a baby is our daily bread,” said Dr. Osleidy Camejo, a surgeon in the nation’s capital, Caracas, referring to the toll from Venezuela’s collapsing hospitals.
Venezuela has some of the world’s largest supplies of oil, with more proven oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. But about 15 years ago, the late president Hugo Chavez set out to impose a socialist revolution, making a particular point about his great munificence in providing free health care for everyone. In pursuit of this revolution, Chavez crushed every industry outside the oil sector and brought the state-owned oil company under his control. The result has been a long spiral into poverty and oppression. Now we can see the results: socialism literally kills babies.
It began by imagining no possessions. Private property and private businesses and private profit were supposedly the source of everyone’s problems, so the Venezuelan government set out to get rid of them, with Chavez issuing a notorious set of 49 decrees in 2001 that gave him vast power over the economy. He used this power to seize private factories and expropriate foreign owners of Venezuelan firms—ensuring that no foreign investors would want to put a single dollar into the country for the foreseeable future.
A clueless 2009 article in a socialist magazine specifically hailed Chavez’s interventions in agriculture, quoting his assurance that “There is a food crisis in the world, but Venezuela is not going to fall into that crisis. You can be sure of that. Actually, we are going to help other nations who are facing this crisis.” The socialist reforms included redistribution of land, the nationalization of whole sections of the agriculture sector, the formation of socialist agricultural “cooperatives,” generous subsidies and price supports, and the creation of a vast chain of government-subsidized, government-run grocery stores.
When it all started to go wrong, the regime doubled down, blaming private retailers for “hoarding” and “speculation” and prosecuting them for waging an “economic war” against the people. Their solution was to impose price controls, which naturally made things worse, leading Venezuelans to protest by flooding the Internet with photos of empty store shelves.
The failure of this system was papered over by draining the country’s remaining oil profits, loading up on massive borrowing, and imposing a surreal system of currency controls. All of it reads like a vast experiment designed to find out what happens to an economy when you put it under the control of crazy people. But it’s actually what happens when you hand over the economy to people with a fervent belief that government decrees can change the laws of economics and coerce everyone into prosperity.
So did this brave experiment in socialism result in “no need for greed or hunger”? Did it bring about “a brotherhood of man”?
Lootings are becoming a common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket—this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas. Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people ‘broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.’
Elsewhere, looters attacked a corn warehouse after employees began giving out small amounts of grain at the gates, but there wasn’t enough to go around.
‘There’s no rice, no pasta, no flour,’ resident Glerimar Yohan told La Costa, ‘only hunger.’ Yohan, like the approximately 50 other people asking employees to give her a ‘little bit’ of corn to feed her children for breakfast, was turned away.
Before you judge Venezuela’s looters, consider what you would do if your children were starving.
So much for “no hunger.” What about the “brotherhood of man”? Not only is looting soaring in Venezuela, but so are all forms of crime. It has gotten so far out of control that mobs of vigilantes are burning people alive in the streets over petty thefts. It turns out then when people are starving, there’s not a lot of brotherhood. Instead, they fight like dogs over a bone.
Now for the part about “no greed.” If there’s one thing the history of socialism teaches us, it’s that government officials can always find a way to live like kings while the people starve. So in Venezuela we see rampant corruption, with Hugo Chavez’s daughter amassing a fortune estimated in the billions.
There’s a lot of other baggage that comes with “idealistic” worldview of socialism. John Lennon also asked us to “imagine there’s no heaven” and “no religion.” This was not just about atheism, but about a range-of-the-moment outlook in which we were supposed to be “living for today.” Living in the present because “now is all there is” was a really big thing in the 1960s. The hippies wanted us to be like the lilies of the field and take no thought for the morrow.
That’s one thing socialism has delivered on. It’s easy to live only for today when long-term planning has become impossible and you have no idea where your next meal is coming from.
Socialism was also supposed to lead to world peace.
Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people Living life in peace.
Under its socialist leaders, Venezuela has been in constant conflict with its neighbors, particularly Colombia, where Chavez supported the FARC narco-terrorists. That continues today, with his successor Nicolas Maduro responding to the economic crisis by announcing “military exercises to counter alleged foreign threats.” This is no surprise to anyone who knows the history of socialism. Socialist systems always rely on nationalism, a jingoistic style of patriotism, and a constant war frenzy to mobilize the support of the people and distract them from the failures and corruption of the government.
Socialism doesn’t even deliver domestic peace. At the same time Maduro was announcing military exercises, he was also vowing a new wave of arrests targeted at businessmen. Socialists leaders always wage war against their own people first. In Venezuela, it started with Hugo Chavez using rhetoric about the rich and about money in politics—sound familiar?—as an excuse to shut down independent newspapers and radio and television stations. Since then, the regime has moved on to the jailing of dissidents.
These truths about the fundamental inhumanity of socialism are old news, and we didn’t need to see any of it confirmed again in Venezuela. In fact, it had all been demonstrated over and over again before John Lennon came along. When he wrote “Imagine,” it was no longer necessary for anyone to imagine the actual real-world meaning of socialism.
What you need your imagination for is to continue to evade them.