Where Does Chavismo Get Its Strength From?

Marco Teruggi argues that Venezuela has shown how to confront new forms of warfare and win, however, the government must now focus on resolving the economic crisis and deepening revolutionary democracy. 


Many analysts, both right and left, agreed before these elections that Chavismo would not be up to the battle. They argued the historic movement would be a pale shadow of what it used to be, able to throw a few weak punches in a losing battle before getting knocked out at one go or else under a flurry of punches. They have been saying this for years, with increasing certainty and from that presumption drew conclusions expressed in media articles or in programs for a right wing return to power.

The reality of the electoral results on the other hand has left them flummoxed and politically disabled. Chavismo is not just still strong but has achieved immense electoral victories. Last Sunday was another proof of that, winning 18 of the 22 governorships in play. A result quite the opposite of the repeated forecasts of the triumphalist opposition or of the dominant corporate media who had written off the electoral contest. Now they cannot explain what happened apart from the predictable and unsustainable claims of fraud or refusal to recognize the results without a recount. Are they about to claim fraud where they lost but not where they won?

So Chavismo won. It now has the political initiative. It has the National Constituent Assembly at work, legitimized by over 8 million votes and now it has the regional governorships in its favor. For its part, the right wing is badly bruised. On the one hand, the armed insurrection wing, mainly Voluntad Popular and Primero Justicia added their defeat last Sunday to the defeat they suffered in July. Voluntad Popular have no governorships and Primero Justicia lost Miranda, the state governed by its principal leader, Henry Capriles Radonski. While Acción Democratica, which did have an electoral strategy, won four governorships without presenting a serious threat to Chavismo.

This means the right wing have suffered two consecutive defeats in three months, both its wings are badly damaged and their leaders have been shown to be unable to lead. The right wing’s dependence on the United States and its allies like the European Union has thus increased. Moves from these overseas opposition patrons, perhaps anticipating the result, took place last week, like the installation of the illegal parallel Supreme Court in the offices of the Organization of American States in Washington. One thing is for sure, Chavismo is fighting the United States. If it were merely a national matter, Chavismo’s political adversary would be inconsequential, with few options.

This does not mean underestimating the possible reactions within Venezuela, directed from overseas. Venezuela’s regional map of governorships shows that the right wing won strategic frontier areas and areas with oil resources. In a context of attrition and an offensive alternating between economic sabotage and political violence, these areas and economic resources could see the strongest attacks. It is guaranteed that the right wing will return to the offensive. The conflict may alternate, taking one form or another, but it never stops.

For its part, Chavismo has been ratified and has the political initiative but also faces the urgency of solving the crisis of the economic war. Sunday’s result showed that political considerations can overtake economic ones when the time comes to vote. But the economic exhaustion represents a permanent erosion of people on the street, of subjective experiences of the cultural battle. While Chavismo’s leadership has demonstrated its ability to resolve the political conflict via elections rather than violence, it also has severe difficulty addressing people’s economic exhaustion. Nor is it clear whether this is a problem resulting from Chavismo’s model, from corruption or from the international attacks or a mixture of all these.

Here is where Chavismo needs to work hard, on putting things right internally and on international alliances. This last area seems to be the most advanced, in particular the alliances with Russia, China and India. Most of Venezuela’s people have expressed with their votes that they want this government and this historic political project to work out the problems the country faces. The right wing continues to be unable to build a viable alternative, a credible national program, a solution to the country’s difficulties, all as a result of its own political failure to read Venezuelan society, to understand the reasons for Chavismo, where it came from and the passions that engendered it and have renewed this historic movement.

In terms of the electoral calendar, time is running out. Municipal elections will be held soon and the Presidential elections in a year’s time. The results in the governorships indicate that Chavismo could well remain in power, although the economy will be crucial. The right wing face more uncertainties than anything else. That could mean they try and force things politically with with another effort at violent overthrow or by deepening the population’s exhaustion at a day to day level. One of the right wing plans is to make things worse overall so as to enter electoral contests with the population as beaten down as possible in an effort to turn their discontent into votes. So far that has only worked in the 2015 legislative elections, although it is not the only explanation for those elections’ results.

It is well known that elections are incidental to the Bolivarian project, which aims to build 21st Century Socialism, currently an unclear prospect. That means the revolution is much more than electoral victories, essential as these are. Principally it is popular power building a new communal institutionality out among the people and in the economy. That is where the focus needs to be in political and economic terms. The Venezuelan people have shown they can overcome the right wing’s armed provocations, cope with the economic difficulties and take the first steps towards the society to come. At this stage, radicalizing democracy could be a key task.

Venezuela, despite the poetic prophets of its collapse, to use the image of José Martí, is on its feet and has given a historic lesson of how to confront new forms of warfare and win. That is a not just a subjective victory but a message abroad, yet another proof that the legacy of Hugo Chavez and the course of the revolution’s leadership are deeply rooted in ordinary people and that is where it derives its strength in its moments of greatest difficulty.