Venezuela: Elections – now working class and poor must build real socialism

Hugo Chávez has won his eleventh election victory since becoming president of Venezuela in 1998.

In elections for the National Assembly his MVR party won 68% of the vote giving it 114 out of 167 seats. This was an increase of 28 and means it has the two-thirds majority needed to make changes to the constitution. However, despite president Chávez’s call for a massive turnout, the abstention level of 75% was the highest in the country’s history. The rising level of abstention is a serious warning. It partly reflects disatisfaction about advancing bureaucratisation and corruption around the government and state apparatus, and continuing poverty.

Altogether pro-Chávez parties control almost 100% of the National Assembly. A few days before the election all the main right-wing opposition parties pulled out. They claimed it was because the electoral system could not be trusted. In reality, it was an ’electoral strike’ aimed at discrediting the elections and the Chávez regime.

CNE, the electoral commission, approved 11 out of 12 changes to the electoral process that the opposition had demanded, including their main call for the removal of scanners from voting machines. Observers from the Organisation of American States declared the election process completely safe and reliable but still the opposition refused to participate.

It was obvious why. Opinion polls showed that they were going to be hammered in the elections – just as they were in local elections in August and elections for state governors in October 2004. This boycott was a desperate attempt at destabilisation and disruption, fuelled by weakness, division and demoralisation.

The opposition, backed by US imperialism, has tried to overthrow the Chávez regime through a military coup, economic sabotage and a referendum to remove Chávez as president. Every time they have been resoundingly defeated by the mass mobilisation of Venezuelan workers and poor.

It appears that overall turnout in this election was only 25%. While few voted in middle-class and wealthy areas the BBC reported that voters were queuing to vote in some of the poorest ’pro-Chávez’ areas. Here people have benefited from increased public spending on health, education, subsidised food etc. paid for by booming oil revenues.

Nevertheless, many Chávez supporters will have not bothered to go to the polls when it became obvious that parties supporting him were going to sweep the board. The guaranteed victory for Chavez was not the only reason for people not bothering to go to the polls. Their seems to be a lull in the revolutionary process, with participation of the mass of the people in the programmes, missions and other initiatives of the government declining.

One of the dangers the Chavez regime is confronted with is the opening up of a gulf between itself, parts of the state apparatus and the activists layers on the one hand and the mass of the population on the other. While the increased investment in the economy and the popular initiatives of the Chavez government have had some effect on the living standards of a layer of the population, the overall picture remains one of widespread poverty and destitution with 80% of the population still living below the poverty line. Over time, this could open the road to a Nicaraguan perspective, where the mass of the population, tired and disillusioned with undelivered promisses, transfer their electoral support elsewhere.

Campaign of sabotage

Despite high levels of support for Chávez and the electoral weakness of the opposition, they still pose a danger to the regime and the working class and poor. Having rejected the electoral road for now, some more extreme opposition elements could embark on a campaign of disruption and sabotage including terrorist attacks and assassinations.

On election day, an oil pipeline in the west of Venezuela was damaged in an explosion and some oppositionists are already facing trial accused of organising the assassination of the Venezuelan state prosecutor. CIA agents have been identified as being involved in the assassination plot, as well as in wider plans to assassinate Chávez.

However, another wing of the opposition is concerned that premature and provocative actions could have the effect of mobilising and radicalising the workers and poor pushing them in a more leftward direction and threatening their economic interests and profits.

The bosses’ organisation, Fedecamaras, recently held a conference which discussed the role of private capital in the ’21st century socialism’ which Chávez says is being built in Venezuela! They are more inclined to seek a temporary accommodation with the Chávez regime and wait for more favourable circumstances in order to strike again.

A fall in the price of oil on the world market or a drop in demand would devastate the Venezuelan economy. Even now, with the price of oil at over $50 a barrel and increased spending on social reforms, nearly half the population are living in poverty.

Unless the demands of working-class people for jobs, housing and decent services are met, economic crisis and demoralisation could create the conditions for a successful overthrow of the Chávez regime in the future.

To prevent that from happening the working class and poor need to act now, complete the revolution and overthrow capitalism.

That means nationalisation of the major companies, banks and financial institutions – not just those that are bankrupt and abandoned as Chávez is suggesting – taking them out of the hands of those who have tried to overthrow the regime and are determined to use their economic control to do so again.

A socialist Venezuela, with a democratically planned economy and democratic workers’ control and management, would be an inspiration to workers and poor who have been fighting neo-liberal attacks through mass movements and uprisings throughout Latin America and it would represent a step towards real economic cooperation to meet their needs in a continental-wide socialist federation. will publish further articles on the Venezuelan elections in the new year.

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December 2005