SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 86 - September 2004

A defeat for reaction

THE VENEZUELAN right went to great lengths to impose the recall referendum on president Hugo Chávez which took place on August 15.

Their methods included open fraud, such as the inclusion of the signatures of 11,000 dead people on the petition organised to trigger the recall process. There were also over 10,500 signatures which appeared three times or more, and those individuals are now being prosecuted. Yet, all of this was in vain given that, for the eighth time in different electoral tests since 1998, the right-wing were defeated by the workers and those who live in the poor districts.

The worst thing of all for the Venezuelan ruling class and for US imperialism is that the referendum has not resolved anything at all, and Venezuelan society continues to be just as polarised as before the vote. The fundamental reasons for this polarisation are the enormous inequalities and segregation which have always existed in Venezuela (as in the majority of the Latin American countries), where there are districts for the rich and districts for the poor. In the rich areas, the anti-Chavez vote won easily but these districts only represent a minority within the country. Using lies and deception, they managed to pull off a vote of 3.57m (41.7%). The poor areas in contrast, which represent the majority of the population, voted overwhelmingly for a continuation of the government, gaining 4.9m votes (58.2%).

At a wider Latin American level, the process in Venezuela has had a major impact. The workers and the poor of the continent have great sympathy with the Chavez government and the measures it has implemented. This complicates things yet further for imperialism as it makes it more difficult for it to impose its economic policies on the region. Even though it is ambiguous in many ways, the Chavez project (Bolivarian, nationalist, anti-imperialist) prevents imperialism from being able to bring all the governments of the region into line with its policy.

Sections of the opposition are refusing to recognise the referendum result, using their own ‘exit polls’ to back up their claims. These were carried out in their own districts, however, where it was known in advance that they would win. They just wanted to use these ‘results’ as justification for not recognising the pro-Chavez victory.

The opposition controls most of the media and has used it to carry out a whole range of anti-Chavez campaigns, including blatant lies. The opposition is trying through all possible means to discredit the victory of the workers and the poor who support the Chavez government. They are desperately trying to save face and retain a credibility which they no longer have.

This new defeat will now divide them even further and, even worse for them, is that they now have to face new mayoral and gubernatorial elections in September. How will they be able to raise the morale of their supporters in such a short space of time? What’s more, they have lost credibility with their US backers.

The future is looking increasingly bleak for the opposition, which is why they can do no more than stamp their feet and say they do not recognise the outcome of the referendum. In doing so they have discredited themselves even more, given that international observers, including representatives of the Organisation of American States and the Carter Centre, have all confirmed that there was no election fraud. And these are organisations which definitely know all about such things, particularly those from the US who have a president who got into power based on fraudulent votes!

The movement in support of Chavez, on the other hand, is euphoric, and full of optimism. They never doubted they would win and they saw that the only possible way they could have lost, would have been if there had been fraud on the part of the opposition, using the same tactics as they had used to impose the referendum in the first place. At the time, the Bolivarian committees and the leaders of the National Union of Workers denounced what was happening and asked the National Electoral Council not to accept the fraud.

The poorest sections of the population, who so strongly support the government, are calling upon Chavez to take further the reforms which have been implemented so far. Workers want better jobs, more education, better medical care, more opportunities for their children and more generally, so that there is an end to the enormous inequalities which exist in Venezuela and which condemn the majority of the population to living in miserable conditions.

It is clear that the most reactionary section of the ruling class, those who have the most privileges, are prepared to fight to the end to defend their privileged position. After eight electoral defeats, however, the Venezuelan opposition is fragmented and does not have a common strategy for fighting Chavez. Many of them no longer believe that the ballot box is the way to satisfy their desire to keep things as they want. For opposition hard-liners nothing is to be ruled out, whether it be the assassination of the president, a further coup, terrorist attacks or any other desperate measures.

The position which US imperialism adopts will be a decisive factor for an important section of the Venezuelan ruling class, who do not support the extreme measures being raised by some sections of the right. US imperialism has found it more advantageous to chip away at regimes like those of Chavez, with the aim of undermining their support, before taking more extreme measures to topple them.

Given the nature of the Chavez government, it cannot be discounted that this chipping away will indeed take place. As Chavez himself has said repeatedly, his regime is not ‘communist’ but rather ‘humanist’. It seeks to find a balance between capitalism, the free market, and a more just and egalitarian society. Indeed, one of the first things Chavez called for after the victory was an open dialogue with the opposition in order to seek unity and reconciliation with them. Some Venezuelan analysts have not discounted the possibility of an agreement between the opposition and the government, which would include the opposition in the process of government.

Any agreement with the opposition, however, be it overt or covert, will put a brake on the type of reforms that have been implemented up until now – which although important are nonetheless limited given that Chavez is working within the capitalist system which has created the very inequalities the reforms are intended to challenge. If this were to happen, it would inevitably create enormous frustration amongst those who enthusiastically support Chavez at the moment, and it would be the start of a weakening of the government. Both the ruling class and US imperialism are looking for such a development in order to launch an even more open attack on the Venezuelan regime.

The working class along with the poorest sections of the population needs to go on the offensive after this convincing victory. The workers should now develop all the organisations which came together to win this victory and convert them into permanent organisations of the working class with the aim of defending the gains won thus far and taking them further. The only way to achieve this is to fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system, those who defend it, and imperialism.

The working class and its organisations need to put pressure on Chavez not to give in to the demands of the Venezuelan ruling class and of imperialism. Now more than ever, the working class needs to strengthen its own organisations in order to confront the threat facing the current process of reforms. The referendum resulted in something which was absolutely necessary, namely that the Bolivarian Committees expanded to include groups which supported the process of change but up to now had not been actively involved. But for these gains not to be lost, these organisations need to be made fully democratic with delegates elected in every workplace and every local community. All these representatives should be subject to immediate recall by the assemblies who elect them.

The same should happen in the armed forces. Soldiers should have the right to organise soldiers’ committees in order to defend their democratic rights, including the right to remove all those officers who continue to support the forces of reaction. The soldiers’ committees should link up with workers’ committees in the local area and also at district, city, regional and national levels, forming the basis of a new government of workers and peasants.

The large national and multinational companies, banks and financial institutions need to be nationalised under democratic workers’ control and management. The workers need to be armed with a class programme which clearly poses the idea of constructing a more just and democratic society - a socialist society.

Celso Calfullàn,



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