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From The Socialist newspaper, 6 December 2007

Chavez referendum result a big setback

Socialist policies to stop counter-revolution

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the UK. Photo Marc Vallee

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the UK. Photo Marc Vallee

VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT, Hugo Chavez, has lost the constitutional changes referendum in a "photo finish" by 51% to 49%. (4,504,354 votes against and 4,379,392 votes in favour).

Andy Bentley

This is the first time that Chavez has lost any vote since becoming president in 1999 and is a big setback. In last year's presidential election Chavez was re-elected with 63% of the vote.

It is also a warning that the proposed changes in the constitution were enough to unite the opposition but not sufficient to take the Venezuelan revolution forward at this key stage.

Despite Chavez's victory in the 2006 election Venezuela's right-wing had united around candidate Manuel Rosales, who secured 37% of the vote and had organised the largest ever anti-Chavez demonstration of 300,000.

Earlier this year, mainly wealthy and middle class opposition students won a reported 91% of the votes in student elections.

The opposition was further boosted by the defection of former defence minister, General Baduel, in November and another large opposition demonstration of 200,000 people in the capital city, Caracas, last week.

During the referendum campaign the right-wing played on the fears of a layer of workers and 'Chavista'-leaning middle class by stressing Chavez's 'top down' approach - which has been evident, for example, in the process of setting up the new PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela - see Hugo Chávez and Socialism

The new constitution would have ended the maximum of two fixed terms of office for the presidency. Instead it would have allowed an indefinite re-election of the president, with a term increased from six to seven years

Chavez would also have been given the ability to appoint an unrestricted number of secondary vice-presidents, impose a state of emergency in which the right to information would disappear, and would give the military the role of protecting the "explosion of popular power".

The frustration of some workers and middle layers at the slow pace of the revolution, linked to a consolidation of control from above, were factors in Chavez's referendum defeat. While the opposition vote wasn't significantly higher than in previous elections it appears that many working-class Chavez supporters stayed at home. (Abstention was 44.1%. In the 2006 election Chavez won 7,309,080 votes while Rosales got 4,292,466. showing that the opposition vote increased by only 211,888 in 2007 but Chavez lost 2,929,688 votes.)


The new constitution would have introduced some measures to improve the lives of a layer of working class people - a reduction of the maximum working week from 44 to 36 hours, reduction of the voting age from 18 to 16, a social security fund for Venezuela's army of 'informal sector' workers, securing the right to adequate housing and free education.

Whilst these measures were seen as a step forward they were not seen as sufficient by many. Despite previous reforms, according to official figures, poverty is still at 30% with a massive housing deficit of 1.5 million homes.

Chavez had said that these reforms were necessary to, "construct a new socialist economy" but the limited scope of the proposed changes would not have introduced a "socialist economy" even if adopted.

It was planned to bring the Central Bank under government control, nationalise industries where demanded by the workers themselves, strengthen public ownership of the country's oil and gas reserves and extend a non-capitalist 'social economy' based on cooperatives, a type of 'parallel economy' to the capitalist economy that already exists.

But, what was not planned in the new constitution was the taking over of the decisive sectors of the economy. In fact, Chavez and his ministers have repeatedly stated that their aim is not to take over the economy and have invited the private sector to cooperate.

Partial measures taken against big business still allow them a base upon which the forces of counter-revolution can organise and strike back against the gains made by the working class and ultimately the revolution itself. While the working class and the urban and rural poor have mobilised to save Chavez on three occasions, the threat of counter-revolution has not and will not disappear until the socialist revolution is completed and consolidated.

Even during the referendum, General Baduel has talked of the need for a military coup. In fact, Chavez's referendum defeat will have increased their confidence.

It is vital that the correct conclusions are drawn by workers and youth in Venezuela and worldwide from this referendum defeat. Chavez, reflecting on the referendum defeat, said it was possible that Venezuelans were not yet mature enough for socialism.

However, the defeat was not because the revolution has gone 'too far' but because it has not gone far enough. To win over the mass of the working class, peasantry and middle layers a bold socialist programme is necessary. But such a programme cannot be handed down from above but must forged out of the experience of the struggle of the masses from below.

An urgent task now in Venezuela is for the working class to build their own independent organisations to take decisive action to end the political and economic power of the capitalist ruling class and introduce genuine workers' democracy.

That process cannot be a step by step series of reforms which eventually end up in socialism. There can be no socialism without nationalising the commanding heights of the economy and putting it under workers' control and management. Such revolutionary measures are necessary.

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In The Socialist 6 December 2007:

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What we think

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International socialist news and analysis

Chavez referendum result a big setback

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Italy: transport strike

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Socialist Party review

The socialist review: 'Taking Liberties'

Post Office and CWU

Keep the 'people's Post Office' public

CWU ballot result

Workplace news

Unison's right wing still witch-hunting

Save Cadbury jobs!

Manchester's striking mental health workers: Defending trade union rights


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