Venezuela: Chávez re-elected for a third term

Continued threat of counter-revolution


Chávez re-elected for a third term

In contrast to any other President or head of state in the world today, Hugo Chávez, has been re-elected for a third term by a landslide. With turnout reaching 70%, it appears that Chávez has been re-elected with approximately 60% of the vote compared to approximately 38% which went to his right-wing challenger, Manual Rosales. However, at the time of writing it is not clear if Chávez succeeded in his objective of winning 10 million votes.

In acknowledging his victory Chávez, declared it a defeat for "the Devils" and promised to develop the "Bolivarian and Socialist revolution".

This welcomed massive victory represents a further set back for the right in Venezuela and is also a rebuff to Bush and US imperialism. A defeat for Chávez would not only have opened the door to right-wing reaction in Venezuela. It would have been a blow to the confidence of the working class in Latin America and internationally and would have boosted Bush and his supporters. A defeat for Chávez would re-enforce the arguments of those who argue that it is impossible to withstand the neo-liberal offensive of US imperialism and capitalism internationally.

US imperialism and the Venezuelan capitalist class have desperately wanted Chávez out since 1998. They have attempted everything from a military coup, employers lock out, a recall referendum and a vicious dirty tricks campaign to defeat Chávez. Through the US Agency of International Development, US imperialism has poured US$25 million into backing the numerous right-wing opposition parties. On each occasion they have been defeated, and Chávez has been saved by the mobilisation of the workers, shanty town dwellers, students, peasants and others from below.

This election once again revealed the massive class divide which has widened since Chávez was first elected in 1998. In the tin roofed shanty towns on the hills around Caracas the votes went overwhelmingly to Chávez. In the wealthy middle class district of Altamira the overwhelming majority went to Rosales.

Continued threat

Yet this welcomed victory however, also has revealed the continued threat and dangers facing the working class and masses in Venezuela. Although Chávez scored an impressive victory it was evident in the campaign that right-wing forces around Rosales have managed to re-group and have begun to rebuild the confidence of their supporters. During the campaign the largest opposition rally for years took place. The right was also able to present a united front around one single candidate and they increased their support.

These developments are a warning that the threat of counter revolution remains and can gain ground in the coming period if the revolution is not taken forward by the working class. The reason for this is that although Chávez has declared that the revolution in Venezuela is now "socialist" and that the administration is proceeding to build "socialism in the 21st century", it has not yet overthrown capitalism.

Only a handful of bankrupt companies have been nationalised and state intervention has been limited to the introduction of price controls on some food items and petrol with limits placed on the buying of foreign currency and caps on lending rates.

At the same time some oil revenues have been used to finance social welfare programmes especially for health, education and food. These have been combined with the development of some prestige projects and infrastructure like the building of new bridges and developing the metro system.

Welcome as many of these reforms are, which have massive support amongst the poor and most downtrodden, the continued existence of capitalism has resulted in a growing gap between the rich and the poor.

The high price of oil resulted in a certain growth in the economy which has also allowed some companies with contracts with the state to make massive profits. José Guerra, the former chief of economic research at Venezuela’s central bank argues "State-supported capitalism isn’t just surviving under Chávez. It is thriving".

This year the government predicts an annual growth of 10%. The rush of oil revenue into the economy has resulted in bank deposits rising 84% in the last year. Since 2003 the bank assets have surged ahead by more than US$20 billion. It is the wealthy upper middle class who have largely gained from this. Ford and General Motors now boast they will sell 300,000 new cars this year in Venezuela. This is triple the market of cars sold in 2004. Yet the mass of the Venezuelan population are too poor to buy these and other commodities. This growth will be choked off with a change in the world economy and a fall in the price of oil. This development will pose a major threat to the Chávez regime which has been able to rest on increased reserves from the high price of oil

At the same time, 25% of the population is left living on less than 1 US$ per day. While the richest 10% of the population still took 50% of national income the poorest 10% took a mere 2% according to a series of reports in Venezuela.

"Revolution is blah, blah, blah"

Chávez’s speeches about socialism have been positive in the sense that he has put the question of socialism back on the agenda for the first time following the pro-capitalist market offensive of the 1990’s. However, he has not moved to overthrow capitalism.

At the Caracas Country Club, a world away from life in the shanty towns, some of the wealthy gave their comments to the Guardian journalist, Rory Carroll about the "socialist revolution". (London Guardian 14 November 2006). One shoe factory owner bluntly stated, "The revolution is blah blah blah. We don’t feel threatened". "Its ironic, this revolution. The rich are even richer now" said Rene Diaz a salesman in 4×4 Humvee’s at a cost of US$150,000 each.

To this must be added the growing complaints about corruption and nepotism amongst sections of the state bureaucracy. Sections of organisers of government reform programmes can be seen driving around in the most modern 4×4 cars – the new rich ‘Chavistas’.

Following the election victory, the future direction of the revolution is now set to develop as a major issue. Chávez, during the campaign posed the question of merging together all the pro-government parties into one unified "revolutionary party". At the same time, according to the Spanish daily El País (1 December 2006) he has now raised the question of amending the constitution to allow him to run indefinitely for president for the rest of his life. By raising this proposal he is giving a weapon to the opposition to raise the issue of a one party dictatorial regime being established. Yet the central question is not how many times Chávez can stand for President but the need for the working class and poor peasants to democratically take the running and planning of society into their hands.

Both these steps point towards a growing tendency of concentrating power into the hands of sections of the bureaucracy around the government and the ‘Chavista’ leadership. These layers are increasingly denouncing those in the workers’ movement who are raising criticism and concerns about the increasingly authoritarian methods and bureaucratic features of the regime as "foreign agents".

All these developments pose a serious threat to the revolution and could increasingly undermine its support. If not checked by the independent organisation of the working class these developments can be exploited by the right-wing and assist it to further regroup and consolidate is support.

Following the election victory of Chávez it is urgent to strengthen the independent organisation of the working class by building democratic organisations with a genuine socialist revolutionary programme. The democratisation of the trade union confederation, UNT, with the election of its leadership, subject to recall and its transformation into a combative revolutionary union federation is an urgent task.

Together with the building of elected committees in the work places, working class communities and universities to introduce a system of democratic workers’ control that can also investigate allegations of corruption and take the necessary steps to end it, is a vital task. Such committees could also link up on a city wide, regional and national level to elaborate a genuine revolutionary socialist programme to take the movement forward.

Such a programme would need to include the nationalisation of the major monopolies in industry, banking and the service sector and together with the establishment of a system of democratic workers’ and control and management. The establishment of a workers’ and peasants government with such a programme would allow the introduction of a democratic socialist plan of production to break with capitalism. A workers’ and peasants government in Venezuela could then begin propose a democratic socialist federation of Bolivia and Cuba as a first step towards the building of a socialist federation of Latin America.

Following the victory of Chávez in this election it is urgent that a mass socialist revolutionary party is built to fight for such a programme to defend the revolution and take it forward and overthrow capitalism. This is the most effective means to defeat the continuing threat of counter revolution.

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