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Chávez re-election - a set-back for the right
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 61% of the vote compared to 38% which went to his right-wing challenger, Manuel Rosales. TONY SAUNOIS, CWI general secretary, looks at Chávez 's victory in the context of the struggle against capitalism.
IN ACKNOWLEDGING his victory Chávez declared it a defeat for "the Devils" and promised to develop the "Bolivarian and Socialist revolution".
This welcome massive victory represents a further set-back for the right in Venezuela and is also a rebuff to George 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. 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 and would have boosted Bush and his supporters.
US imperialism and the Venezuelan capitalist class have desperately wanted Chávez out since 1998. They have attempted everything from a military coup, an employers' lock out, a recall referendum and a vicious dirty tricks campaign to defeat Chávez .
Through the 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 from below of the workers, shanty town dwellers, students, peasants and others.
This election once again revealed the massive divide between the social classes, 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 Manuel Rosales.
However, this welcome victory has also revealed the continued threat and dangers facing the working class and poor masses in Venezuela.
Although Chávez scored an impressive victory it was evident in the campaign that the right-wing forces around Rosales have managed to re-group and have begun to rebuild the confidence of his 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 it 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 of the oil revenues have been used to finance social welfare programmes especially for health, education and food. These have been combined with the building of some prestige projects and infrastructure like the building of new bridges and developing the metro system.
Welcome as many of these reforms are, winning 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 to 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 economic 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 assets of the banks 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 number 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 slowdown in the world economy and 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 financial reserves from the high price of oil.
While 25% of the population is left living on less than US$1 per day, the richest 10% of the population took 50% of national income. By comparison the poorest 10% took a mere 2%.
Rich get richer
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 1990s. 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 the guardian 14/11/06).
One shoe factory owner bluntly stated, "The revolution is blah blah blah. We don't feel threatened". "It's ironic, this revolution. The rich are even richer now," said Rene Diaz a salesman in 4x4 Humvee's which cost US$150,000.
To this must be added the growing complaints about corruption and nepotism amongst sections of the state bureaucracy around Chávez . Sections of organizers of government reform programmes can be seen driving around in the most modern 4x4 cars - the new rich 'Chávistas'.
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 Pa's (1/12/06) he has now opened the question of amending the constitution to allow him to run indefinitely for President. By raising this issue he is giving a weapon to the opposition to raise the issue of a one-party dictatorial regime being established.
However, 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. Those in the workers' movement who are raising criticism and concerns about the increasing authoritarian methods and bureaucratic features of the regime are denounced as "foreign agents" by sections of the trade union bureaucracy and government officials.
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 and build the independent organisations of the working class 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 workplaces and universities to introduce a system of democratic workers' control that can also investigate allegation of corruption and take the necessary steps to end it. 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 to 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.
In The Socialist 7 December 2006:
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