Troubled Venezuela is an instructive case study on the two politico-economic systems prevalent in the world today: nationalistic socialism and liberal capitalism. Its recent history shines a light on the failings of both a fiscally irresponsible welfare state and the widening wealth gap that compels civil society to overthrow a free-market system.I also found it telling that a recent BBC infographic used the Cold War colour code, red and blue, to separate the states supporting or opposing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.Venezuela has the world’s largest proven reserves of crude oil, yet the embattled socialist government faces mass street protests amid country wide food and medicine shortages. Inflation has skyrocketed, power blackouts are common, and the country’s once-soaring oil output continues to plummet. Unsurprisingly, over three million Venezuelans have fled the country in the last two years to save their lives.Maduro alleges the US is orchestrating a silent coup by piling on sanctions and strong-arming international lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF)to economically isolate Venezuela. In his missionary zeal to cleanse Venezuela of the old regime, Hugo Chavez summarily fired the Western-trained top brass of the national oil giant PDVSA responsible for the country’s oil boom. Not long after, daily oil output began to stallWashington in return accuses Maduro of brutally supressing dissent, stealing January’s presidential vote and violating the entire corpus of human rights.The West also appears to have found a new champion in Venezuelan opposition leader and self-styled interim president, Juan Guaido.The young, charismatic leader of the National Assembly in early February gained recognition from a raft of European Union states to further cement his legitimacy in the eyes of domestic and international audiences. Those sticking by Maduro are fellow totalitarians: China, Russia and Turkey.Using the Hegelian approach to history, we can theorize that every status quo invariably breeds an equally potent antagonist just itching to kick it down.This antagonist or “antithesis” may be an individual, an institution, or a rudderless mass of humanity weary of injustices not unlike the ongoing “yellow vests” protests in France.Over time, the antithesis should assimilate with the status quo to create a “synthesis” that manifests either as an uneasy truce or a permanent blend.My reading of history convinces met here is a volatile trifecta incessantly reforming societies within the Hegelian model: religion, ideology (political or tribalistic) and economic integration. Often, to eject the status quo, two corners of this trifecta will enter an “ends justify the means” alliance.In fact, noted New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s best-seller “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” uses similar constructs to explain the international appeal and resistance to globalisation.We could argue, for instance, that America has remained a superpower for over seven decades courtesy of its clever national narrative that married Christianity to commerce. It also convinced citizens, especially whites, that “moral exceptionalism” made them a higher brand of humans.Conversely, the Soviet Union eventually imploded since tribal nationalism masquerading as a political ideology always had a limited shelf-life after it brutally suppressed both religion and the innate human desire to accumulate wealth.And this brings us to how Venezuela reached the dire straits it faces today. During the roaring 1960s and 70s when global demand for gas guzzling automobiles was at fever pitch, the country was booming.With American technical and business expertise, particularly deep investments by the “seven sisters” of the oil industry; Exxon, Mobil, BP and Chevron etc. ? Venezuelan elites quickly developed an appetite for “Made in USA” mass consumables.Within a few decades, though, unchecked capitalism did what it does best: create vast chasms of wealth inequality. Naturally, the working class rebelled and searched for a champion to punish the bourgeoisie. With religious forces sitting out this fight, rising ideological nationalism overran the beachheads of economic integration.Enter Hugo Chavez, a magnetic Bolivarian socialist who rose to power in 1998 on the promise of economic equality. To shore his base after breaking away from Washington in the early 2000s, Chavez signed off on a massive social uplift program funded by state oil sales.But there was a problem. In his missionary zeal to cleanse Venezuela of the old regime, he summarily fired the Western-trained top brass of the national oil giant PDVSA responsible for the country’s oil boom. Not long after, daily oil output began to stall.Chavez had egregiously misjudged the money and expertise needed to extract the Orinoco Belt’s heavy crude and ship it on time to align with the global supply chain.Indeed, no number of bureaucrats could replace proven experts and to make matters worse, Chavez kept spending on infrastructure far in excess of the income oil was generating and without investing in the upkeep of refineries and Venezuela’s ageing fleet.His successor Maduro hence inherited a social powder-keg ready to blow up. Yet he continued many of his mentor’s self-destructive policies, including letting the army run profitable state enterprises into the ground to forestall a coup.But since the military is so deeply embedded in the state apparatus, it has great interest in maintaining the status quo. That said, the shifting tide of public opinion may impel it to switch camps before unrest reaches the barracks and threatens institutional unity.Maduro’s future looks decidedly grim. Not only are the forces of economic integration that desire a return to Venezuela’s oil producing heyday against him, the Roman Catholic clergy also wants him gone for making the lives of ordinary people miserable and for publicly criticizing the church.Likewise, the wave of nationalistic populism that Maduro’s predecessor rode to power is slowly petering away. Many Chavez partisans probably see the political toxicity levels rapidly swell around Maduro and feel it is time to back a new horse.The final face-off between Maduro and Guaido appears nigh after the interim president announced he would find a way to push aid convoys into Venezuela after the regime blockaded the country’s borders fearing they would smuggle American agent provocateurs into the country.That said, even if Guaido emerges victorious from this gridlock, Venezuela’s history suggests he will remain under the influence of sociological forces far above his pay-grade.The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance journalistPublished in Daily Times, February 13th 2019.