In a surprise announcement, the radical left-populist Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, has accepted the decision of the National electoral Commission, (CNE), and will face a recall referendum.

The right-wing opposition has being conducting an on going campaign to gain the 2.45 million signatures necessary to trigger the referendum. This follows two attempts to overthrow Chávez, in a failed military coup in April 2002, and a bosses ‘lock out’ between December 2002 and January 2003. Both these attempts at reaction were defeated by the mass mobilisations of working class and masses from below despite the vacillation and hesitation of the leadership of the movement.

The announcement of the CNE comes only a matter of weeks after a plot involving the entry into Venezuela of more than 100 Colombia right-wing paramilitaries was exposed. It seems these forces were colluding with rightwing reactionaries in Caracas to launch a bombing campaign aimed at provoking instability and a possible assassination attempt on Chávez.

‘Creeping Coup’

These attempts to overthrow Chávez indicate that a ‘creeping coup’ is under way. They clearly show that the ruling classes throughout Latin America and US imperialism are now determined to remove his regime and replace it with a more pro-capitalist government which US imperialism can rely on. Fox in Mexico, Lagos in Chile and even Lula in Brazil have all, either distanced themselves from Chávez or expressed outright opposition to his regime. They are terrified of the implications of the revolution in Venezuela and the repercussions it potentially could have throughout the region. The leaders of Latin American capitalism are all keen to show their reliability and subservience to the interests of US imperialism.

Unfortunately, reaction has now been given the opportunity to regroup and try to strike again. This has been possible because following each defeat suffered by reaction – because of the mass movement - the revolution unfortunately has not taken decisive steps forward, purged the state and powerful state-owned oil company, PVDSA, of reactionary forces and overthrow capitalism.

A workers’ government has not been established that would introduce a socialist plan of production based upon the nationalisation of the major sectors of industry and the banks and democratically run and managed by the working class. Rather than take such decisive steps, Chávez and the leadership of the movement, have so far tried to placate the forces of reaction, and thereby give them the opportunity to prepare to strike again.

Chávez’s decision to accept the results of the CNE have surprised and shocked many workers and those most oppressed by capitalism who overwhelmingly support his left-populist government. Chávez, in the run up to CNE’s announcement, confidently declared that the opposition would fail to collect the number of signatures needed for the referendum. They would only be able to get the numbers needed on the basis of fraud.

A plebiscite or referendum is often the instrument used by a capitalist ‘bonapartist’ regime or government to subvert the public or democratic will and is often used to as cover for its rule or policies. It is not usually the instrument used by the working class.

However, on occasions it has been used to stop the ruling class carrying through its wishes against the demands of the population e.g. during referendums relating to the euro/EU and in some cases to express opposition to attempts to go to war.

In the case of Venezuela it is being used to try and carry through a counter revolution and overthrow the Chávez regime. It is ironic that this facility was introduced in the constitution by Chávez and his Bolivarian movement.

Fraud

All of the evidence still clearly point to a fraud. The figures announced by the CNE are only 15,738 more than the 2,436,083 signatures needed. 1.2 million signatures needed to be subject to the ‘repair process’ or checked. Of these only 614,968 could be "confirmed" by the opposition. 74,112 people did not acknowledge their signatures meaning they had been used without their consent. There is also the issue of 50,000 people who should not have been on the electoral register because they are dead! Raids on the headquarters of opposition parties such as Accion Democratica have also found 600 forged ID cards and bundles of forms supporting the recall already filled in. One man was arrested in Caracas for carrying 420 false ID cards!

In addition to this are widespread reports of intimidation against workers in the factories if they refused to sign. The Coca-Cola plant in Antimano threatened 50 workers with the sack and closure of the plant if they refused to sign. Unions at Coca-Cola plants in Carabobo, Lara, Bolivar and Monagas all reported similar incidents. The Venezuelan subsidiary of Coca-Cola just happens to be owner of Venezuela’s largest TV net work and a leading supporter of the opposition - Gustavo Cisneros.

This campaign was backed up by the direct intervention of US imperialism and Latin American capitalism. The removal of the Chávez regime in Venezuela (the fifth largest producer of oil) is now becoming a more urgent priority for US imperialism because of the crisis in the Middle East and Iraq.

In the closing days of the verification process, the Carter Centre and the Organisation of American States started issuing statements supporting the claims of the opposition and putting pressure on the government.

It is hypocritical for US imperialism to denounce Chávez for heading an undemocratic regime. He was after all elected by a far bigger majority than Bush who rigged his own election in Florida. The ‘democracy’ in the US election system is making it very difficult for the radical populist Ralph Nader to even get on the ballot in a number states for the US Presidential elections in November.

So why has Chávez accepted the results of the CNE? He and the Ayacucho Commando (which grouped together the pro-government parties and was dissolved by Chávez after the result was announced) argued that the results should be accepted in order to strengthen the regime’s democratic credentials. They argue that they are certain to win the referendum and defeat the attempts to recall Chávez. They also argue that had Chávez refused to accept the result, it would have given the pretext for the opposition and US imperialism to launch another attempt to overthrow him, possibly through another coup attempt backed by covert forces from the right-wing Colombian paramilitaries and government.

The acceptance of the CNE results by Chávez has given the opposition the opportunity to go onto the offensive again. By accepting the result, Chávez is attempting to placate imperialism and reaction. He is repeating the same policy that he made after the attempted coup in April 2002 when he appealed for "national unity" and failed to carry through a full and systematic purge of all of the pro-coup officers and directors and managers of the PVDSA.

‘Twin track’ policy

US imperialism and the ruling class in Venezuela will not be placated by Chavez’s acceptance of the CNE’s results. They have adopted a twin track policy of attempting a military coup and bosses lock out and at the same time using ‘constitutional’ means of defeating the government. The right wing will now energetically try to mobilise its forces to firstly win the referendum. If that fails, they will not accept the result and will launch a further campaign accusing the government of fraud and initiate a further attempt to overthrow his government.

Throughout the revolutionary crisis in Venezuela, the media, which is overwhelmingly in the hands of the reactionary right wing, have conducted a vicious campaign against the government and supporters of Chávez. All three privately owned TV network gave free advertising to the ‘bosses lock-out’ or ‘general strike’ as they called it. The ‘dictatorship’ in the media by pro-opposition supporters must be ended through the nationalisation of the press and media. Facilities should then be allocated on a proportional basis determined by support won by each party in elections.

Big layers of workers and Chávez supporters understand that the referendum is now being called on the basis of a fraud and a further attempt to overthrow the regime. The Bolivarian trade union federation, UNT, the Bolivarian Workers’ Front and the National Coordination of the Bolivarian Circles have all rejected acceptance of the referendum.

The referendum decision has been rejected at meetings of government supporters up and down the country. Bold and decisive measures are now needed to take the revolution forward which is the only way to defend the democratic rights of the working class, the urban poor and others exploited by capitalism. It is the forces of reaction which threaten the democratic right of the masses.

The working class needs to strengthen its own organisations to confront this threat and take the revolution forward. The Bolivarian Circles must now urgently be expanded to include elected delegates from all work places and local communities. All elected delegates must be subject to immediate recall by the assemblies of workers who elected them. Rank and file soldiers committees need to set up which will begin to purge all officers who support reaction and institute s system of the election of officers. These committees need to be linked up on a district, city wide, regional and national basis. These should form the basis of a new workers’ and peasants’ government.

Through these bodies, an armed workers militia needs to be set up to defend the revolution from the threat of reaction. Chávez has spoken of his support for the "concept of an armed people". However, this must not be left only as words. The working class and rank and file soldiers must now take the necessary steps to turn this into a reality.

It is clear that even the one chamber National Constituent Assembly which was created by Chávez when he came to power, with one of the most democratic constitutions on paper which exists in Latin America, cannot be relied on. 20 MPs elected on the Bolivarian list have now gone over to the opposition! The creation of workers councils or the expansion of the Bolivarian Circles, with the election of delegates subject to immediate recall, would a more democratic and reliable basis for the working class to take the revolution forward.

Despite accepting the referendum it is still possible that Chávez could win it – especially if the working class is fully mobilised and the Bolivarian Circles are expanded and turned into fighting organisations. If this was done and linked with the revolution taking decisive blows against capitalism and the ruling class, then the referendum could become an irrelevance and be brushed aside.

This happened during the Russian revolution when the Constituent Assembly (after October 1917) became the vehicle of an attempt to defeat the working class. The Bolsheviks were able to thwart this move because of the existence of the workers and peasants councils, the Soviets, which were more representative and democratic, provided an alternative basis from which a workers’ and peasants’ government was formed.

All capitalist parliaments provide only an imperfect reflection of the support for the various parties and ideas supported by the masses. They do no accurately reflect rapid and radical changes in opinion and political awareness which take place especially during periods of revolution and social upheaval.

Alternatively, the Soviets, or workers councils, which existed at the time of the Russian revolution more accurately reflected the attitude of the masses at each stage and which parties they supported. The Constituent Assembly represented ‘yesterday’ while the Soviets better reflected the attitude and outlook of the working class ‘today’. It is for that reason that the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly at the time.

It will not be easy for the reactionary forces in Venezuela to secure a victory. They need not only to win a majority in the referendum but to win more than the 3.8 million votes that Chávez won in 2000

Overwhelming support

Chávez still has the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class and poor. Although the opinion polls are unreliable, the government polls now give him 51% approval ratings. This compares with the 35% figure used by the private polling companies and quoted in the international media. All of the private polling companies are active in the right wing opposition. The government has introduced important reforms for those most oppressed by capitalism.

Over 1 million have been lifted from illiteracy. Millions more have been given access to doctors and medical care for the first time. But society is polarised along class lines between the left and the right. The reforms that have been introduced are threatened by the continuation of capitalism.

However, Chávez who was elected with over 60% of the vote has lost some significant support especially amongst the middle class. This is mainly due to the deep economic crisis which has rocked the country. This is partly due to the effects of the bosses lock out and partly to the economic sabotage and flight of capital which has taken place.

Yet, with two thirds of the populations living below the poverty line, mass unemployment and rising inflation, the middle class has also seen its savings eroded and living standards decline. The failure of Chávez to break from capitalism and introduce a socialist planned economy based upon a genuine workers’ democracy has prevented his regime from being able to offer the middle class a solution to their problems and use their talents and skills to rebuild the economy. This erosion of support has given the ‘creeping counter revolution’ social forces on which to rest. Whether this is strong enough to defeat Chávez in this referendum remains to be seen. However, it will continue as a threat that will eventually succeed unless capitalism is overthrown.

At this stage Chávez has been given some room to manoeuvre economically because of the high price of oil and the breaking of the lock out which slashed oil production. The introduction of currency controls has also halted the flight of capital which the ruling class was organising. These factors will allow him the opportunity to implement some further reforms in the run up to the referendum which may increase his support. However, while capitalism remains the erosion of his support will continue. Even by the government’s own estimates inflation this year is set to rise to 26% and unemployment officially stands at 25%. Over a period these pressures can erode Chávez’s support amongst the working class as well as the middle classes.

This threat of reaction, especially in the form of US imperialism can only averted through the establishment of a workers and peasants government in Venezuela and an appeal to the working class of the whole of Latin America and the USA for solidarity and support with the perspective of spreading the revolution to establish a Democratic Socialist Federation of Latin America and the Americas.

The working class of the whole continent need to be alerted to the threat which now exists and the struggle which lies ahead. Chávez has recently verbally moved in a more left direction and has denounced capitalism and called for the arming of the people. However, the revolution and the movement of the masses cannot be turned on and off like a tap when reaction threats to strike. To sustain a movement and decisively defeat reaction the revolution must take decisive steps to break with capitalism and advance the perspective of building a democratic socialist society throughout the continent. In this lies the key to arouse the enthusiastic support of the masses of Latin America and the USA to defeat imperialism and capitalism.

For further analysis see ‘Venezuela – a new phase in the revolution’ 24 May 2004 and the CWI web page special country feature ‘Venezuela – Revolution and counter revolution’.

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