The December 8th municipal elections in Venezuela gave yet another victory to the Bolivarian revolution, with the Socialist United Party (PSUV) and its allies in the Great Patriotic Pole receiving 5.1 million votes (49.24% of the total) and 4.4 million (42.72%) going to the opposition. If you count the votes for Bolivarian candidates outside of the main GPP alliance, the total for the revolution adds up over 54%.
The turnout was 58.92%, much higher than in most European countries for equivalent elections and higher than in the regional elections of a year ago when it was just under 54%.
The opposition had presented these elections as a plebiscite on Maduro's presidency. They promised to win the overall vote and get 100 mayors elected. If that was the case, then the result is clear: not only did they lose the vote, but the advantage of the Bolivarian revolution over the opposition significantly increased, from only 1.49 percentage points in the April 14 presidential election to 6.52 now. As for the number of mayors, with most results already in, the PSUV and allies elected 234, for the opposition's 67.
The Caracas Libertador municipality in the capital was won by PSUV candidate Jorge Rodríguez with 474.227 votes (54,55%), who won even in 4 parishes which had voted for the opposition in April.
The Caracas Metropolitan race resulted in a very close win for the opposition, with incumbent Antonio Ledezma winning with 50.81% of the vote, a reduced margin from his previous win with 52.4% in 2008.
The PSUV and its allies won in 14 out of the country’s 24 state capitals, and in 30 out of the country’s 40 most populated cities. However, the opposition won in important state capitals such as Valencia and Barquisimeto (which previously had Bolivarian mayors) as well as mantaining Barinas, Maracaibo, Mérida and San Cristobal.
The PSUV won solid victories in the state capitals of Apure, Aragua, Vargas, Anzoategui, Cojedes, Delta Amacuro, Portuguesa, Trujillo and even in the state capital of Miranda which is ruled by opposition leader Capriles. Significantly it defeated the opposition in Heres, the capital of the industrial state of Bolivar. The defeat of the PSUV in Valencia, Carabobo, can be explained by the fact that the party had expelled the previous mayor on corruption charges. However, the PSUV won in the state of Carabobo as a whole, where the opposition had a lead of 108,000 votes in the April presidential elections and now lost by 59,000.
In celebrating the election results, President Maduro pledged to intensify the offensive against the "economic war", the campaign of hoarding, speculation and sabotage of the economy launched by the "parasitic bourgeoisie", as well as to take harsh measures against corruption.
This was the issue that had dominated the whole election campaign. Inflation and scarcity of basic products was one of the main factors eating away at the social base of support for the Bolivarian revolution. This is caused by a combination of factors. On the one hand, there is definitely a deliberate campaign of politically motivated sabotage of the economy on the part of the ruling class. This is the same strategy used against the Allende government in Chile when US president Nixon ordered Kissinger to “make the economy scream”.
On the other hand, there is the rebellion of the productive forces against the regulations introduced by the Bolivarian revolution since 2003 to defend access to basic food products for working people (through price controls) and prevent the flight of capital (through foreign exchange controls). The last 10 years have proven that the capitalist economy cannot be regulated. The capitalists have found many ways of going around these controls, legal and illegal.
Another factor is the increased living standards of the population - as a result of government programs - which have not been matched by increased production of goods. This necessarily leads to inflation and an increased pressure to import consumer goods. The fixed exchange rate also acts as a disincentive to national production.
The last 10 years, since the defeat of the oil lockout of 2002/03, have seen the government use large amounts of money from the oil rent to invest in social programs and infrastructure development. Train lines, roads, bridges, underground systems, public transportation, etc have been built. In the past, the oil revenue created an extremely parasitical oligarchy which was happy to live off state subsidies and corruption. The oil rent was being appropriated by the ruling class. Now, the same money was being used for public works and social programs. Not only the ruling class is extremely unhappy about this state of affairs, but also, as we mentioned before, since this investment is not matched by increased production, it leads to inflation.
Finally, the capital strike which has been going on for 10 years is also due to the fact that the Bolivarian revolution has emboldened the workers, led them to occupy factories, demand workers’ control, and in many cases their claims have forced the government to back them. This is not a “business friendly” environment. How are capitalists to invest if they do not know if tomorrow workers will demand higher wages and better conditions, and in the course of the struggle set up a socialist workers’ council and then occupy the premises? And the bosses can’t even trust the government and the state to be fully on their side in such a conflict!
This economic war is not new. It can be traced back to 2001 when Hugo Chavez introduced a series of Enabling Laws which proved to the ruling class that he could not be bought nor domesticated and that he was serious about implementing his program of social progress. It was at that time that the Venezuelan ruling class, and its masters in Washington, started a campaign to overthrow Chavez and destroy the Bolivarian revolution. The campaign continues, and has adopted different forms over the years: open military coup, media lies and distortions, assassination attempts, diplomatic bullying, imperialist aggression, sabotage of the economy, to name a few.
After each victory of the revolution against these attempts, there would be another offer of conciliation, an open hand would be offered to the opposition. Every single time the oligarchy retreated temporarily; but not in order to accept its defeat, rather to regroup its forces and wait for another suitable opportunity to lurch forward.
After the narrow victory in the presidential election on April 14, 2013, Maduro appealed to businessmen to stay away from politics and destabilisation and concentrate on production. He offered the creation of Special Economic Zones modelled on those in China, to ease the foreign exchange controls. There was even talk of reforming some of the articles of the Labour Law. A number of prominent radical Bolivarian talk hosts and radio presenters were removed from state TV and radio stations.
None of that worked, of course. On the one hand the capitalist class is in fundamental contradiction with the Bolivarian revolution. In order to operate normally and make profits they need to smash it, so that they can recover control of the state apparatus and push the masses out of the political arena.
Back in September, the government was against the ropes and all opinion polls were showing a steady loss of support. What changed the situation were the harsh measures against the capitalists taken from the beginning of November. Plans to liberalise foreign exchange were scrapped. The authorities seized warehouses full of goods (starting with electronics and white goods chain Daka) and forced businesses to sell them at “fair prices”. One of the mechanisms of speculation on the part of the capitalists was to import goods using dollars obtained from the state body CADIVI at the regulated exchange rate of 6.3 and then sell them at prices calculated using the black market rate of 40 to 1. In this way they had commercial margins of over 1,000%. Dozens of businessmen and capitalists were arrested in the process.
The government measures, introduced with widespread publicity, had a two-fold impact. On the one hand they managed to make products available to people which were previously scarce or too expensive. On the other hand they rekindled the revolutionary spirit of the rank and file. Here was a government clearly identifying the enemy (Maduro mentioned the three main bosses organisations Fedecamaras, Consecomercio and Venamcham as responsible for the economic war) and then taking harsh measures against them.
This is what the revolutionary people wanted to see. This offensive against the economic war was not only limited to the police and state functionaries, but there was a concerted effort, particularly on the part of INDEPABIS to involve workers and the revolutionary people. INDEPABIS is the body in charge of defence of consumer rights and struggle against speculation and is led by Eduardo Samán, one of the most popular figures in the left wing of the Bolivarian leadership.
Clearly, it was this offensive which allowed the Bolivarian movement not only to win these elections but even to increase its lead over the opposition.
The conclusion from this is obvious. Capitalism cannot be regulated. The oligarchy will not stop conspiring against the revolution. In order to prevent further dislocation and sabotage of the economy, the means of production, the banks and the big landed states should be expropriated and run under workers’ control, so that they can be incorporated into a democratic plan of the economy. This will mean a head on clash with the bourgeoisie and imperialism which can only be won by the widest mobilisation of the revolutionary masses with the working class at its head. For this to be possible there should be a thorough purge of right wing, corrupt and infiltrated elements within the Bolivarian movement and the whole movement should be put under the control and be accountable to the revolutionary rank and file. This is the only way forward. Any attempts to conciliate with the ruling class will only lead to more sabotage and counter-revolutionary offensives. This is the choice which lies ahead after this election victory.