The convulsions racking Venezuela are predictable, and tragic. When the heavy boot of government suppresses a nation’s commerce to a standstill, the people eventually go to the streets to protest their lost freedoms. This might take decades, as in the old Soviet empire, but an effective backlash against radical socialism is inevitable.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro assumed power a year ago as the anointed successor of the dying revolutionary Hugo Chavez. Socialism’s new man in the palace pledged to continue the Chavista revolution, a mixture of the working-class populism and the anti-Americanism that always plays well south of the border. When there’s neither bread nor toilet paper, why not blame the United States?
With the experience only of his former occupation as bus driver, (and no offense intended to bus drivers), Mr. Maduro has driven the nation’s economy into the ditch. Wresting special powers from the legislature last November, Mr. Maduro capped profits on businesses and enforced price controls on many goods. “Consumerism is not the path,” he said at the time. “We are re-establishing prices so that the people’s economic rights are respected, not to consume without control.” Consumerism without control is never a problem in a socialist state. There’s plenty of control, but nothing to consume.
Mr. Maduro created a “Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness,” to implement onerous new regulations, as if he had lifted the doubleplusungood idea from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “Nineteen-Eighty Four.” At a department store chain, supremely happy Venezuelan ministers ordered drastic price cuts, making them an example for others. The stores were quickly overrun by mobs bursting with “happiness,” buying up expensive electronic products for pennies on the bolivar.
When politicians interfere with the free market, messy things happen. Businessmen unable to profit lose incentive to sell and shoppers fearful of empty shelves hoard essentials. When Venezuelans began to stock up on the most essential of essentials — toilet paper — the president ordered the “People’s Defense” to take over a paper products factory to review “the production, marketing and distribution of toilet paper.” There was no clearer signal that Chavismo was headed for a wipeout.
Two weeks of violent protest later, more than a dozen lie dead and hundreds are nursing wounds. In desperation, Mr. Maduro plays the gringo card, arresting the main opposition leader, Harvard-educated Leopoldo Lopez, and blaming the unrest on the United States. Both countries have expelled each other’s diplomats, the usual way of expressing official displeasure.
The events are a useful reminder that the red banner can survive only by force and oppression. Socialism makes war on man’s innate desire to be the master of his own fate. Socialists believe that they can better arrange the economy and lives, redistributing the property of the many to enrich the few. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” popularized by Karl Marx nearly 150 years ago, has never been a philosophy for the real world, but it has never prevented a revolutionary from thinking that he could be the first to make it work.
The good news is that unnatural enterprises cannot last. Freedom-seekers, whether anti-Chavistas in Caracas or Tea Partiers in Topeka, will raise the voice of reason and the cry of freedom when, inevitably, the socialist experiment collapses.