Radicalism vs. reconciliation after the vote

Venezuela's left-wing President Hugo Chávez won election to a fourth term on October 7 with a comfortable victory over the candidate of the country's business establishment--Henrique Capriles Radonski, the leader of the Justice First party who ran for president for a coalition of right-wing parties known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).

As Chávez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela take office, what direction will the country take in the next six years? In this article originally published at the aporrea.org website, Manuel Sutherland analyzes the results of the election and looks at the challenges ahead for socialists in Venezuela.

Hugo Chávez (José Cruz)Hugo Chávez (José Cruz)

HUGO CHÁVEZ, the president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, has won his 14th electoral victory out of 15 contests in a period of 14 years. On October 7, he won a solid 55 percent of the vote (8,136,964, according to the official count), defeating millionaire businessman Henrique Capriles Radonski, who got 44 percent (6,499,575 votes).[1]

The victory has been received with enthusiasm by different presidents in Latin America. The triumph of Chávismo is considered to represent the solidification of the anti-neoliberal and progressive Latin American alternative.[2] However, we must ask: Has their popularity increased or eroded? What will the future bring?

While Chávismo shows smiles to everyone on the outside, inside, there are worries about the decrease in the votes captured by President Chávez. Going back to a high point of Chávismo, that vigorous 2006 presidential election, Chávez won with 63 percent of the vote (7,309,080 votes) against 37 percent for the opposition candidate of the day, Manuel Rosales, who could only get 4,292,466 votes.

So there was a clear electoral contraction of Chávismo. Measured in relative terms, Chávez lost around 8 percent of his previous voters. In absolute terms, he won another 800,000 more votes, but it must not be forgotten that the election rolls for 2012 totla 18,903,397 voters, around 3 million more than in 2006, and abstention was smaller than in 2006. And with all this, votes for Chávismo hardly increased.

If we extrapolate the 63 percent obtained in 2006 to this year's number of voters and compare it with the 55 percent of votes Chávez achieved this year, we can say that Chávismo has lost about 1.5 million votes.[3] This is a very important quantity, taking into account the consolidation of multi-million spending on social plans, help to the most needed and diverse assistance plans.

What all this shows is the evidence of a significant falloff in support, more so if we consider that Chávismo unfolded a huge electoral campaign and accelerated a series of direct transfers and massive social programs that had clear political purposes. Along these lines, Chávismo recreated an ambitious housing plan that gathered a great deal of international support, being executed by multinationals from China, Russia, Iran and so on.

In a self-congratulatory mood before the election, most of the middle ranks in the leadership expected 9.5 or even 10 million votes--Chávez himself asked for this turnout. The reality has given them a slap in the face. Despite Chávez coming out to the People's Balcony to say, "It was a perfect victory in every measure," the expectations were quite different.

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SOME MONTHS ago, I wrote an article for the Argentinian review El Aromo, in which I explained the origin and political evolution of the opposition candidate Capriles.[4] There, we underlined the repressive character and fascist affinities of Capriles--he was one of the main protagonists in the siege of the Cuban Embassy in Venezuela during the coup against Chávez--in which he was, of course, involved--in April 2002.

During these days, Capriles, along with his friend Leopoldo López--who dropped his own campaign for the presidency in favor of Capriles--was infamously involved in the persecution of various known chavistas. Their expressions of hatred evoked a Latin American version of the "Night of the Long Knives." Capriles had to pay several months in jail for his foolishness of climbing the wall of the Cuban Embassy and "demanding" an exhaustive search for hidden chavistas.

However, the Venezuelan right has a short memory, and this character was able to win by a wide margin the primary elections of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). With a full-fledged campaign, Capriles was able to vigorously attract the young anti-chavista vote, a segment that has grown tremendously.

The central role of the youth in the caprilista campaign is notable. All their voting-data gathering centers were coordinated by university students, something that would have been virtually impossible with the previous MUD candidate, Manuel Rosales. It is not hard to believe that the increase in MUD votes was due to the youth who have just entered the Electoral Register as voters.

Capriles put forward reconciliatory ideas--with little credibility, given his record--and had a promising electoral success, starting from the premise of the impossibility of defeating a fully consolidated Chávismo with sound popular support. We say this because he took the anti-chavista bloc from 4.3 million votes to 6.5 million votes. He won a relative increase of about 7 percent of total vote and an absolute increase of around 50 percent more MUD votes than 2006--a huge success for the right, given the intense electoral domination of Chávismo.

The impression left is of a rival preparing to take power in the medium term (the next election is scheduled for 2018) in a much more favorable electoral context--when the deterioration of Chávismo's popularity as a result of ongoing problems in Venezuelan society (public insecurity, the high cost of living, unemployment, etc.) becomes more dominant. If the current trends for both sides don't change significantly, Capriles could become our new president in the next election.

Astutely, Capriles recognized his defeat and made a call for peace and acceptance of the result. Even more importantly, he vindicated the hopes of his party, Justice First (PJ)--a clone of the far-right Colombia First and bastard son of the reactionary grouping Tradition, Family and Property. PJ became the hegemonic opposition party, a robust bloc that would can push out the traditional right and within which the hardline neoliberals can rally.

Excluding the votes cast for the unitary ballot of the MUD, which was the choice of independents in the coalition, PJ obtained 1,798,409 votes, about 41 percent of the total for Capriles. That's far above A New Era, the party with the second-biggest total in the coalition--almost half of A New Era's votes came from the state of Zulia.

Given this showing in the election and its blatantly neoliberal and anti-popular character, PJ seems to be positioned as the party most diametrically opposed to Chávismo on the ideological spectrum--something evident even from the straight bourgeois composition of its membership. Hence, this is the option the international right will support with more determination. The traditional parties that governed Venezuela in the past (Democratic Action and COPEI) weren't even present in the ballot sheets.

Thus, Capriles and PJ could say, like George W. Bush, "Mission accomplished." PJ directed the campaign in a sectarian way and strove to drown out the rest of the national parties opposed to Chávismo. With their newly acquired political capital, they will attempt to set up a much fiercer opposition than the atomized and disjointed group that launched scattered attacks against the government.

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THE DAYS of easy sweeps for Chávismo seem to have reached an end. With almost all of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie against it--along with their ideological propaganda apparatus and their international support--Chávismo won't enjoy the same commanding position as in the past. Even if the popular base of the opposition feels demoralized and hopeless (they have six more years of Chávez ahead), the leadership is strong and is currently plotting all kinds of actions to force Chávismo into the road of negotiation.

In the meanwhile, Chávismo seems to be going for nothing less than a sort of Bolivarian Pax Romana that allows peaceful coexistence. It can be safely predicted that the measures the bourgeoisie criticize the most (the most politically advanced ones) will be implemented slowly, with abundant sensitivity. The range of negotiation seems to be widening, and the country appears to be on the way toward a new and more definitive two-party system, provided that PJ succeeds in consolidating its political position.

Although this might seem a comfortable situation for both contending parties, Chávismo has other pressures and state responsibilities as it assumes the government for the six coming years. With the highest rate of inflation in the world; skyrocketing imports; extreme dependence on the oil economy; an exorbitantly overvalued currency; gas subsidized to the point that tanks can be filled with $1; poor industrial production; and intense levels of debt, both internal and foreign; Chávismo is approaching a situation in which it must undertake very drastic structural changes.

From a Marxist perspective, we believe that the conciliatory road will ruin Chávismo and that radicalism can restore the confidence of the majority of the masses--which, in turn, will facilitate a resolution to these problems.

There are only two ways in which the followers of Chávismo can solve the structural difficulties of capitalist society in Venezuela: either pushing the Bolivarian process from the center-right towards the real socialist left, which would entail a tenacious clash with the bourgeoisie; or building a pact that favors the bourgeoisie with benefits, privileges and concessions not in the interest of the working class. This latter option would not solve the underlying problems of the economy and leaves the door open to allowing greater rates of capitalist exploitation over millions of workers.

If public statements are a hint, the leadership of Chávismo is for conciliation and open negotiation with the local and transnational capital. If this is the case, the order of the day will be: currency devaluation; increases in sales taxes; reduction of social spending; downward pressure on labor contracts; a lion's share of the contracts for natural resource extraction going to transnational enterprises; preferential dollar transfers to the bourgeoisie; massive imports of products that could be produced in Venezuela; salary increases below rate of inflation; and a set of macroeconomic structural adjustment policies that the government has criticized in Capriles's proposals,[5] but has not decisively rejected.

Socialist organizing within the ranks of the heterogeneous chavista movement--in militant opposition to the bourgeoisie, the "Boli-bourgeoisie" and the red-colored bureaucracy--seems to be the only way to avoid economic restructuring on an anti-worker baisis and to ensure that the miserable criollo capitalism pushing the neoliberal and anti-socialist candidacy of Capriles does not triumph in 2018.

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Notes

1. The results have been updated from the original article to reflect final tallies. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuelan_presidential_election,_2012.
2. Aharonian, Aram, "Venezuela: A gratifying, encouraging and expected triumph," October 7, 2012. Retrieved from: www.kaosenlared.net/america-latina/item/33296-venezuela-un-triunfo-esperado-gratificante-alentador.html.
3. Marcano, Omar, "Rage, pain and frustration in the middle class. Dramatic percentage reduction in chavista votes since 2006," October 8, 2012. Retrieved from: comitesocialista.blogspot.com/2012/10/rabia-dolor-y-frustracion-en-clase-media.html.
4. Sutherland, Manuel, "Capriles Radonski: Who is the candidate running against Chávez?" The President's health and speculation about succession," August 21, 2012. Available at: www.kaosenlared.net/america-latina/item/28172-capriles-radonski-¿cómo-es-el-candidato-que-enfrenta-a-chávez?-la-salud-del-presidente-y-la-especulación-en-torno-a-la-sucesión.html.
5. The document where Capriles' economic advisors lay out the first-minute anti-popular measures (freezing pensions, raising electricity rates, etc.) are in this document: www.ciudadccs.info/wp-content/uploads/DOC-ACCIONES-ECONÓMICAS-MUD.pdf.

Translated by Luis Damián Reyes Rodríguez