SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 143 - November 2010

Venezuela: election boost for right-wing forces

In Venezuela on 26 September a new national assembly (parliament) was elected for the next five years. The party of Hugo Chávez and his government came away with a majority of seats, although it lost its two-thirds majority. However, the right-wing opposition coalition won a higher percentage of the vote. JOHAN RIVAS, of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Venezuela), reports on this latest threat to the revolutionary process.

THESE ELECTIONS TOOK place in a deeply polarised political environment where there is little room for other alternatives to the government of Hugo Chávez and his supporters or the right-wing opposition coalition, Mesa de Unidad (MUD). The results represent a setback for Chávez and are a warning to the working class and poor. For the first time since Chávez was elected – excluding the referendum on constitutional amendments – the opposition won nationally, taking 51% of the vote.

Socialismo Revolucionario (SR) has consistently defended the positive reforms of the Chávez regime. At the same time, we argued for the need to defeat capitalism and replace it with democratic socialist planning of the economy. We have also opposed the corrupt, bureaucratic, top-down methods used by the regime. In this election, SR argued for the need to defeat the pro-capitalist, reactionary, right-wing opposition alliance. We urged support for candidates of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV – the party of Chávez and the government) who are not corrupt and who are prepared to defend workers’ interests.

During the campaign, both the pro-socialist, left-wing PSUV and the MUD opposition used populism and manipulation to try and win support. The changed electoral process was also an important feature of the campaign and reflected the bureaucratic methods used by the regime. The MUD launched a political, ‘anti-communist’ offensive and opportunistically capitalised on the weaknesses of the government. Meanwhile, the PSUV stretched its forces to try and recuperate the lost confidence of many sectors of society. This loss of confidence has been a product of the government’s economic and political policies over the last two years.

The Chávez government has also been weakened by the extreme bureaucratisation and corruption in public institutions. Both these factors gave the hypocritical MUD the opportunity to make significant and important advances. SR and the CWI have warned of this threat to the struggle in Venezuela over recent years, unlike some other forces on the left. (See Revolutionary Socialists and the Venezuelan Revolution, 21 June 2010, commenting on the International Marxist Tendency and others who have attempted to prettify the character of the processes in Venezuela and brushed over weaknesses in the Bolivarian movement.)

In this election, 17.5 million people were eligible to vote and the participation rate was estimated between 55-65%. The PSUV aspired to maintain its two-thirds majority in the national assembly. This would allow it to pass any legislation or constitutional changes it wanted without the need to negotiate with the opposition. It would have required 110 of the 165 seats to achieve this. The object of the opposition was the opposite: to win a minimum of 56 seats, which would allow it to break the qualifying majority of the PSUV and, therefore, force the government to negotiate legislation.

Of the 165 members elected, including three indigenous members, 98 were elected from the PSUV-PCV (‘Communist’ Party) electoral alliance (one from PCV), 65 from the MUD alliance, plus two from the PPT (Patria Para Todos). The PPT had left the Chávez/ PSUV electoral alliance in a right-wing split with the slogan: ‘Neither Chavista nor Opposition’. Of the 24 states, the PSUV won 18 and MUD six. PPT stood candidates all over the country in alliance with various small social movements, parties and individuals. The Unidad Socialista de Izqueirda (USI), which claims to be Trotskyist and whose main leader is trade unionist Orlando Chirino, was one of the PPT allies.

Disappointment and disillusionment

THE PREVIOUS NATIONAL assembly had been elected in 2005 without the opposition’s participation. This helped to shape the Bolivarian forces inside the assembly. At the time, therefore, the PCV, Podemos (social democrats) and PPT, in alliance with the MVR (today, the PSUV), had complete control of the assembly with 147 of the 165 members. Following splits and individuals leaving the PSUV alliance, however, 18 of these seats went over to the opposition. The 2005 elections had a high abstention rate, with only 25% of the population participating.

During 2006-09 there have been four other elections. In 2006, the presidential elections saw Chávez re-elected with 7.2 million votes. In 2007, the constitutional reform referendum took place with the newly-created PSUV. This was Chávez’s first electoral defeat and initiated a slight fall in the popularity of the government. It signalled the first stage in the recuperation of the opposition forces. In 2008, there were regional elections and, in 2009, the referendum on the constitutional amendment, both won by Chávez by a very small margin. The 2008 election saw the government recover some of its votes, with 6.3 million, while the opposition increased its vote to 5.1 million.

In this year’s parliamentary elections, the PSUV won 49% of the national vote (5.2 million votes), while the opposition alliance, MUD, won 51% (5.4 million). While these important figures reflect the political situation today, however, they are not the entire story. The process is not fully exhausted. A victory of the right wing has not been secured.

The PSUV consolidated itself as the leading political party in the country. However, this will not be enough for it to advance its reformist politics and achieve ‘socialism’ via the parliament. At the same time, the support received for MUD from the middle class, upper-middle class and some small sectors of the working class and poor is not solid. Rather, it represents a vote to punish and protest against the government’s policies. MUD, itself, is also an unstable alliance of several right-wing parties which can fragment and split. Nonetheless, this election represents a threat and illustrates the process of disappointment and disillusionment which is developing. This makes the need for the adoption of genuine socialist policies even more urgent to prevent the right wing strengthening its position further.

Changing the rules

THE RIGHT WING would have emerged even stronger in the national assembly but for a change in the electoral system, brought about by the reform of the Electoral Processes Law in 2009. Among other things, this law modified the electoral districts in eight states. Of those, five are part of the nine most populous states in the country. Under the changes, each of the 24 states has a set number of members elected, spread over 87 electoral districts. The proportional representation rules were changed, leaving smaller minority parties or individuals at a disadvantage. The electoral system has been weighted, effectively, in favour of the rural areas where Chávez has a higher degree of support.

The nine states with the highest concentration of people include the largest urban areas and represent 67% (11.2 million people) of the national total. These states, however, now only elect 87 assembly members between them, 53% of the total. Five of these states were held by the opposition, which won the seats in the regional elections of November 2008. The other 15 states represent 37% of the voting population (5.8 million people) in mainly rural areas. Under the electoral law reform, these were given 47% of the representation, 78 assembly members. The opposition won 68 seats in 35 of the more populated urban zones, and 22 in the rural or less populated areas. Meanwhile, of the 98 PSUV assembly members, 21 were elected from urban zones, 77 from rural areas.

The right-wing forces have mounted an international and national campaign saying that they obtained the majority of the ‘popular vote’ and were denied a corresponding number of seats in the national assembly. This is hypocritical. They forget to explain that changes to the electoral system are nothing new in Venezuela. Historically, the electoral system has always been changed by whoever controlled the state. It was similar in the past during the 40 years of rule by the right-wing Accion Democratica (AD) and the Christian Democrats (COPEI).

AD, once the leading political force in Venezuela but depleted significantly during 2000-06, obtained the highest votes in the MUD electoral alliance, winning 23 assembly members and consolidating itself as the strongest opposition party.

The results confirm our analysis of the last four years: that a socialist revolution cannot be achieved with social reforms and policies made within the capitalist system. The politics of ‘Chavismo’, which ‘fights for 21st century socialism’ without undertaking a fundamental transformation of society, not only fails to overthrow capitalism but is partly responsible for the failure of the revolutionary movements of the working class and poor in Venezuela.

SR defends positive reforms which benefit working-class and poor people, but they cannot be maintained under capitalism. To defend them and introduce further measures to transform the lives of the masses, it is necessary to break with capitalism. Without real democratic workers’ and community control of the process then, as we have seen, the bureaucratisation and corruption grows stronger and stronger. This has allowed the counter-revolutionary forces to regroup and reorganise.

Nevertheless, not everything is lost. The world capitalist crisis is evidence that capitalism is not capable of resolving its own inherent crisis and that it is incapable of meeting the basic needs of the majority. In this crisis it has been the workers who have paid. The global crisis has not only opened up a new stage in neo-liberal attacks on the working class but has generated mass opposition to governmental policies, and new mass movements in many countries.

In Venezuela, we see that, despite the left, popular, radical government of Chávez, its reforms have not been enough to prevent the effects of the world capitalist crisis from being felt or to break with the capitalist system. However, there is a high level of consciousness that we cannot return to the politics of the past and allow the Opposition to return to power.

Chavismo vs the opposition

THE POLITICAL FORCES of Chavismo and the opposition in the national assembly represent important challenges that will define the future of the Bolivarian process one way or another. Chavismo has an advantage in that it has one party and one leader to unify its internal tensions. Although, obviously, there are no guarantees and future splits and ruptures are possible.

The PSUV also needs to look at rebuilding its falling popularity of the last two years. There are high levels of doubt and pessimism regarding the government’s handling of the economy and the recession. It is not certain that it can gain or maintain its current level of support through continuing social reforms. Popular measures, such as the ‘living well’ card, will not be enough. This card offers low-priced electrical goods, via an agreement with China, which the poor can buy on credit. But the accumulation of debt by the poor through this credit system will not offer a lasting solution to their problems and will only create deeper problems in the future.

Equally, MUD has a difficult task. As a coalition, many of the parties have their own agenda. It will find it hard to maintain unity and present a coherent opposition to the government in the national assembly. Its lack of a clear leader to challenge Chávez will make it difficult for MUD, especially in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections. As mentioned earlier, the bases of the opposition are not solid. Many of its electoral promises were as populist as the PSUV’s and, when it fails to deliver on its promises, the middle class and bourgeois could easily withdraw their support thereby weakening its forces.

So far, MUD’s ability to capitalise on the weaknesses of the government has been its strength. However, both political forces will be unstable if they come under the pressure of the conscious organisation of the working class under our own independent political party to construct revolutionary and democratic socialism.

The current situation in Venezuela will open up a new period of political confrontation in which the working class can overcome its weaknesses, and the polarisation that has led to some of the revolutionary left taking ultra-left or opportunist positions. This could catapult a powerful movement led by the workers that could create a real democratic, socialist and revolutionary way forward.

The perspectives are open although, every day, revolutionary forces are threatened. The failure of the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ would also impact on the revolutionary movements that are re-emerging today in many parts of the world. We call on all honest revolutionary forces to join the struggle for a real democratic, socialist programme to take the masses forward and defeat the threat of counter-revolution in Venezuela.


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