“Venezuela is seriously conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting Neo Liberal (sic) policies”, wrote Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. “As with Cuba the threat to the USA by Venezuela is not military. It is far more insidious, a threat by example of what social justice can achieve.”

“I feel particularly passionate about defending the revolution of Venezuela and the Chávez legacy”, said Diane Abbott shortly after Hugo Chávez’s death. Owen Jones described Venezuela as “an inspiration to the world”, which “really does show that there is an alternative”. The General Secretaries of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), UNISON, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and Unite the Union, several MPs, academics and “progressive” journalists – all were waxing lyrical about Chavez’s and Maduro’s “21st century socialism”

Now that that experiment has tragically collapsed, many of them are suddenly disputing Venezuela’s socialist credentials. “I don’t think it is a socialist country” said John McDonnell in 2017. “I don’t think they have been following socialist policies”. Just two years earlier, he had described Venezuela as “socialism in action”.

“I never described Chávez’s state capitalist government as socialist”, said Noam Chomsky in 2017. “It was quite remote from socialism.” But then, why had Chomsky gone there on a pilgrimage in 2009, and said: “What’s so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created”?

We have been here before. Many times. Venezuela is only the latest episode in a long-running series.

Virtually all socialist experiments have gone through honeymoon periods, during which they were enthusiastically endorsed by plenty of prominent Western intellectuals. It is only when the failure of those experiments can no longer be denied, and when they have become an embarrassment for the socialist cause, that socialists start looking for reasons to disown them.

Those systems then get reclassified as “not real socialism” – but this always happens with retroactive effect. They have not ceased to be socialist. Miraculously, they were never socialist in the first place.

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union was all the rage among Western intellectuals. In the 1960s, Maoist China, Cuba and North Vietnam became the utopias du jour. In the 1970s, some pinned their hopes on Tanzania, Albania and Cambodia. In the 1980s, it was Nicaragua’s turn.

Each new utopia was always defined against the failed utopias of yesteryear. That was not ‘real’ socialism – but this time is different. It always is.

And it probably always will be, for a group of Western elites, no matter how many times it fails. It falls on the rest of us to highlight this vicious, and dangerous, cycle.

Dr Kristian Niemietz is head of political economy at the Institute for Economic Affairs. His new book – Socialism: the failed idea that never dies – is published this week.