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Venezuela presidential election
Chavez comfortably secures victory over neoliberal right
But his share of vote falls compared to 2006
Tony Saunois in Caracas
Thousands flocked to Miraflores, the Presidential Palace in Caracas, to celebrate the victory of Hugo Chávez in Sunday's (7 October) Presidential election.
The victory of Chávez, his fifth electoral victory since 1998, has inflicted yet another defeat on Venezuela's right wing and is welcomed by the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) and its Venezuelan section, Socialismo Revolucionario, together with workers and socialists internationally.
A victory of the right wing would have resulted in an attack on the Venezuelan working class, a rolling back of the social programmes and a political offensive by the ruling class nationally and internationally celebrating another defeat for 'socialism'. A massive voter turnout of over 80%, (up from 75% in 2006) the highest in decades, reflected the political and class polarisation which grips Venezuelan society.
With nearly 98% of the votes counted Chávez won 8,062,056 votes (55.14%) compared to 6,468,450 (44.24%) for wealthy businessman Henrique Capriles. If Chávez completes his new six year mandate he will have been in power for two decades.
This election campaign has been presented in Venezuela as "historic", one that will determine the future of the country, and as a choice between "two distinct models". However, Chávez did not present such a choice in the form of a socialist programme to break with capitalism during the campaign or when he addressed the crowds that greeted him outside Miraflores.
One of the most significant features of the election campaign was the character of the right-wing campaign of Capriles. The effect of the policies and struggles over the last 14 years has left powerful support for radical social policies and to an extent the idea of "socialism" which is now deeply held in popular political consciousness.
Capriles was compelled to present his programme in a populist manner that masked his real right-wing neoliberal agenda. This represents a significant change in the strategy of the right wing.
His propaganda and speeches attempted to address the plight of the poor. He promised to defend a welfare state and that he would not dismantle all of the 'missions' in health and education. Capriles called for the defence of 'independent' trade unions and tried to win the support of public sector workers by promising to end the obligatory attendance at Chavez rallies and protests which is a major source of discontent.
The real programme of the right was to be found buried in its material. It argued for reduced state intervention in the economy and an increased role for private investment.
This change is a reflection of the real balance of political forces. Capriles was compelled to rein in the extreme right. To have unleashed the forces of the far right or to have argued explicitly for more right-wing neoliberal policies would only have resulted in a bigger defeat.
Important lessons need to be drawn from Chávez's' win to prevent a future right-wing victory. Chávez's share of the vote fell by 7.7% compared to the last election in 2006. In contrast, Capriles increased the vote of the right by 7.3%. Due to a bigger turnout Chávez's vote grew by 752,976. Capriles increased the vote of the right by 2,175,984!
The failure to break with capitalism and introduce a genuine socialist programme with democratic control and management by the working class and all those exploited by capitalism, is clearly allowing the right to exploit people's discontent and frustration.
Worsening social conditions, corruption and inefficiency accompanying the growing 'Chávista bureaucracy' and top down bureaucratic approach which the CWI has consistently warned about, are contributing to growing dissatisfaction.
Chávez got his best result in the 2006 election when he took 62% of the vote. Significantly this was also his most radical campaign when the question of 'socialism' dominated the campaign.
Since this time the government has increasingly collaborated with the capitalist ruling class and sought to reach agreement with it. Its policy of "national reconciliation" and agreements struck with the employers' federation, together with the emergence of the "boli-bourgeoisie" who have grown rich on the backs of the Chávez movement, inevitably resulted in growing discontent and protests against the government.
There has also been increased repression against workers and others who have taken strike action in recent years. Workers in the public sector, for example, are subject to the Law of Security Defence of the Nation. This allows for the banning of strikes and even protests in the public sector.
The catastrophic social conditions that remain in the poorest barrios (neighbourhoods), have been a breeding ground for a dramatic rise in crime, violence, and kidnappings to extract money from the families of victims. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The government's official figure of over 19,000 deaths in 2011 underestimates the scale of the problem.
The housing situation remains desperate, especially in the poorest barrios, despite government attempts to address the problem through the Housing Mission which claims to have constructed over 200,000 houses.
Chávez's campaign during this election was to the right of the campaign fought in 2006. In this period the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) was launched as a "revolutionary party". Chávez made reference to the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his theory of the 'permanent revolution'. He spoke of building a 'fifth international' of left-wing parties.
But in the 2012 election none of this was evident. References to socialism were minimal until the last week of the campaign. Instead the main slogan was "Chávez, the heart of the fatherland".
While the main avenues of Caracas were full of cheering crowds at the closing rally it was noticeable that the placards simply featured Chávez and the "Fatherland" with no political content. Absent were the banners of the PSUV or the trade unions.
Workers were often wearing shirts from the companies they worked for and many reported being there because they were "obliged" to by their employers. These features reflect the lack of an independent organised political force of the workers and the poor.
Unfortunately, Chávez's victory speech to his supporters gave no indication of taking steps to overthrow capitalism. He offered dialogue and debate to the opposition. "We are all brothers of the fatherland" he thundered after praising the opposition for accepting the result. He spoke of building "one united Venezuela".
He did make two passing references to socialism. However, these were drowned in pronouncements of "Viva Bolivar" (Simon Bolivar, the early nineteenth century 'liberator' of Latin America), "Viva La Patria" ('the fatherland'), "Viva Venezuela".
During the campaign he argued that the 'socialism' of the Soviet Union had failed and a new type of socialism is needed in the 21st century. Yet his policies illustrate that what he means by this is a 'mixed' economy combining capitalism with state intervention and reforms.
The reforms (which the CWI supported) are, however, now being rolled back and cut. They can only be maintained and strengthened on the basis of breaking with capitalism and introducing a democratic socialist plan of the economy.
Capriles is clearly biding his time and now intends to consolidate his base following the election campaign.
Chávez is set to continue with his policies of reconciliation with those sections of the ruling class which are prepared to collaborate with him. Such a policy will increasingly bring his government into collision with the class interests of workers and the poor, and social discontent will increase.
It is urgent that an independent, democratic socialist workers' movement is built with a programme to break the stranglehold capitalism exerts over society. If not then the threat from the right will develop, along with growing social disintegration and alienation.
The deepening global capitalist economic crisis will have a heavy impact on Venezuela. It cannot be excluded that Chávez could be driven back towards the left and introduce more radical measures that encroach on capitalism. However, this is far from certain.
To break with capitalism and build a real democratic socialist alternative still needs the urgent construction of an independent, democratic and politically conscious workers' socialist movement.
In The Socialist 10 October 2012:
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