CARACAS – The mood at the Miraflores presidential palace on Sunday night was one of cautious waiting and one could even feel a slight nervousness in the air as thousands of Bolivarians had gathered to hear the first results of the country's parliamentary elections.
The stakes were very high in these elections. Several newspapers and news agencies around the world had written that Venezuela was in fact deciding not just on the composition of its parliament, but on the fate of the march towards Socialism that the Chávez government has as its declared objective.
Finally, at 2am in the morning, the results were proclaimed by the National Director of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena. Although the first bulletin of the CNE only gives a general picture and has not provided detailed figures (there are still six seats where no winner has yet been declared), it does allow us to make a balance-sheet and draw some conclusions.
A Very Close Result
According to PSUV and Opposition sources the PSUV and its allies, the small PCV (Communist Party of Venezuela) and MEP (Peoples' Electoral aMovement) won 98 seats, while the parties in the MUD opposition alliance won 65 seats, the PPT 2 seats and 2 seats went to indigenous independents. Official results still give 95 to the PSUV and 62 to the Opposition.
No figures for the absolute votes have come out yet. The right-wing are claiming that they won a majority of 52% of the vote, and claim that they were beaten by the system of constituencies, where they lost in the majority of the cases.
However, that does not match with the result of the absolute votes given for the elections to the Parlatino, the Latin-American Parliament: PSUV and allies 5.222.364 (46.62%); right-wing opposition 5.054.111 (45.10%). It is quite possible that the overall result in the parliamentary elections is close to these figures.
People in Caracas are in fact talking of a “technical draw” in terms of the absolute number of votes cast, but due to the national distribution of the constituencies the PSUV won the majority of the parliamentary seats.
If we examine the different states briefly, it is clear that the revolution has lost terrain in a number of key regions. It was to be expected that the Opposition would win in Zulia, where they have had the governorship for many years, but few thought it would achieve such a massive victory as the one we saw yesterday; whereas the opposition won twelve seats, the PSUV only managed to capture three.
Another big surprise was the result in Anzoátegui, where the PSUV suffered a humiliating defeat of 1 to 5, in spite of the fact that the party holds the governorship and has a long record of electoral victories in the state.
In Miranda state it was a draw between the PSUV and the MUD, each taking six seats. In Nueva Esparta the PSUV was defeated 3 to 1. A general trend was that the most populated centres of the country were lost to the opposition, a feature we also saw back in 2008 in the election of mayors and governors.
The victories of the PSUV in many constituencies were by small margins. The official figures haven't been released yet, but unofficial reports provided by PSUV organisers indicate that Robert Serra in Constituency 2 of Caracas only won by a margin of around 3,000 votes. Aristúbulo Istúriz, also running in Caracas, won by a similar margin in a very close race against the oppositionist in his constituency.
Why Did the PSUV Fail to Win the 110 Deputies?
The situation after these elections is that the PSUV still holds on to a simple majority, but it failed to win the 110 deputies which would have given it a two-thirds majority. In the article we wrote on Sunday (The meaning of today's elections in Venezuela) we stressed that this was a key target from Chavez’s point of view, because it would allow the government to continue legislating without any interference from the Opposition, as it would provide him with the majority required by the Constitution to pass organic laws.
As we emphasised, the Opposition would concentrate all their forces on denying Chavez this two-thirds majority, because it would give them the opportunity to block and hinder any new revolutionary initiatives. Unfortunately they have achieved this, winning more than one third of the seats in the new National Assembly.
The question on every PSUV member's mind is of course, why the party did not succeed in winning two-thirds of the parliament. Furthermore, many people correctly fear that the Opposition is now organising in a qualitatively different way.
While the difference between the revolution and counter-revolution in terms of votes cast was 58% to 42% in the November 2008 elections of mayors and governors, in the 2009 Constitutional Amendment referendum it was reduced to 54% to 46%, and on Sunday the result was a “technical draw”.
In other words, it is clear that the Opposition has emerged strengthened. Not to admit this would be a serious mistake, as it would serve to divert attention from a danger which is getting very real. We have to draw up an honest and critical balance-sheet of these elections, if we are to avoid a defeat for the revolution in the future.
Why did the opposition gain terrain? We know that the level of abstention was not as widespread as could have been feared. The electoral participation amounted to around 67% which is a very good turn-out for a parliamentary election in Venezuela, although it is a little below the 70% turn-out in the 2009 referendum.
We still lack the information on abstentions in each constituency but it is very likely, that the level of abstention was higher in the chavista strongholds than in the petit-bourgeois and bourgeois areas. We know for sure that the PSUV lost again in Petare, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Venezuela, if not Latin America. This is a serious warning, that something is going very wrong.
Also it is likely, that some layers of traditional Chavez supporters cast a “voto castigo”, i.e. they punished the PSUV bureaucracy for its bad policies by voting for the Opposition. Not because they are satisfied with the opposition, but because they are tired of the inefficient and even corrupt character of many functionaries and professional politicians within the ranks of the Bolivarian movement.
This is the main reason that explains the defeat in Anzoátegui. The reason why the PSUV lost in such a disastrous manner in this state is not hard to see. The governor, Tarek William Saab, who is officially in office as a representative of the Socialist Party, has been carrying out a policy which is very far from Socialism. He has supported the bosses in the automobile sector, some of them multinationals, in their struggle against the factory occupations in Mitsubishi, Vivex, Macusa and other factories. That explains why the working class of Anzoátegui showed very little enthusiasm in these elections.
The same phenomenon was repeated in many places. To this should be added the general problems facing Venezuela. These were the first elections that Venezuelans have participated in since the outbreak of the economic crisis affected Venezuela. Apart from the huge inflation in the prices of food and consumer goods, which hits especially hard the workers and poor, we have the ongoing problems of the black market and the parallel dollar, which serve to boost speculation.
The government succeeded largely in avoiding food scarcity in the run up to the elections by throwing millions of dollars into food programmes. But as a recent article in The Economist explained, this resulted in the government being short of dollars, and many of the other credits and loans that had been agreed to middle class families and small businesses were thus postponed.
Speculators made a business out of intensifying the black market, where the dollars could be bought. This effectively dominates the economy now, as many prices are regulated according to the black market dollar rates, not the official Bolívar currency. Without a monopoly on foreign trade, the government is unable to really tackle this problem.
Other problems such as the growing crime rate and the blackouts in the electricity supply also weighed heavily on ordinary people. But probably the most important thing is that people feel that after eleven years of revolution and constant mobilisation, the main levers of power are still in the hands of the oligarchy.
In spite of the many progressive reforms and the steps forward, the landlords are still oppressing the poor peasants, the bankers still control credit and the capitalists continue to exploit the workers. 70% of Venezuela's GDP is still produced in the private sector – a fact which shows that Capitalism is still very much alive in Venezuela.
Reconciliation and Pluralism?
On Monday morning most of the right-wing media in Venezuela were euphoric. “Venezuela is no longer red territory!” El Nacional proclaimed on its front page. Referring to the government, opposition leader Ramón Guillermo Avelado said that “those who argue for war and national division were defeated today”. Furthermore he stated that the result was a signal to the government that it should not legislate in a unilateral socialist manner.
The same theme has been repeated over and over again in all the opposition media. Fully aware of the fact that the situation is still not favourable for a direct onslaught against the revolution, they portray themselves as defenders of “reconciliation between the two blocks”. Thus Conindustria, the industrial bosses' federation, issued a statement (Industriales venezolanos consideran que es el momento de tender puentes en el país) saying that they think it is time to “build bridges of dialogue” which would “build a climate that allows private initiative”.
Several opposition spokesmen also argued that yesterday's result show the “desire for a pluralist parliament”. These ladies and gentlemen conveniently forget that it was the opposition itself that chose to boycott the 2005 parliamentary elections. They did this because at bottom they are the same corrupt, violent representatives of the oligarchy who tried to oust Chavez in the illegal military coup of April 2002.
These people are now arguing for a parliamentary etiquette that seeks “dialogue and compromise”, “reconciliation” and so on. They appeal to the government not to use its majority in a “unilateral socialist way”. But what does this mean? In reality it amounts to the following: the majority should bend to the will of the minority! Parliament should be suspended in mid-air, in order not to disturb the minority.
This will probably find an echo in the reformist wing of the PSUV bureaucracy, which will be eager to slow down the pace of the revolution. If we were to follow such a policy, it would surely be a recipe for disaster. It would signify a paralysed government, unable to address any of the urgent problems facing the workers and the poor.
What is needed is not more moderation and empty talk. What is needed is action! The PSUV is still has the majority in parliament. It could approve an Enabling Act, giving the president the power to carry out the necessary measures to abolish Capitalism once and for all. This is the real way forward and it should be the demand raised in the PSUV by all revolutionary workers, poor peasants and students.
Is the Revolution Irreversible?
These results have been a shock to many activists in the Bolivarian movement. In the past it seemed that Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution were riding on a wave of immortality. They would win elections over and over again, the only exception being the 2007 referendum. But now, after these elections with a “technical draw” in the overall vote, many people are asking themselves the obvious question: Is the revolution irreversible?
A true friend of the Bolivarian revolution is not one who gives long speeches about the wonders of Venezuela and its leaders. A genuine comrade of the revolution is he who dares to warn its supporters about the real dangers implicit in the situation.
Venezuela's revolution is far from irreversible. Latin America has seen many revolutions in the 20th century, Bolivia 1952, Chile 1970-73, Argentina 1969 and 1973-76, and so on. Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution even lasted for eleven years, from 1979-1990. But in the end all of these revolutions were defeated and very little, if anything, is left today of the social conquests that they once had achieved.
The main reason why the Venezuelan revolution is still not irreversible is that the main levers of the economy remain in the hands of the capitalists and landowners. This is a powerful weapon that the enemies of the revolution can use as they please against the revolution.
So long as capitalism is maintained, the effects of the world crisis will affect the everyday life of the workers and poor of Venezuela. They suffer inflation, lay-offs, speculation and so on. This will continue, and probably get worse, as long as the means of production are in private hands.
How to Stop the Advance of the Counter-Revolution
The need to complete the revolution is more urgent than ever. Incredibly, after more than ten years of revolution, the situation still remains favourable. Chavez could still use his majority in Parliament to take over the biggest companies, in the food and supermarket sector, the banks and the industries that remain in private hands.
This could be accompanied by a state monopoly of foreign trade, allowing Venezuela to get full control over the country's economy. Furthermore, a decree introducing workers' control throughout the state sector would surely be met with an enthusiastic response and the workers would set up factory committees in all the enterprises, as we saw in an embryonic form in SIDOR and the other Basic Industries of Guayana.
A development along these lines would quickly allow the government to seriously tackle the problems of inflation, speculation, insufficient housing, food hoarding, and inadequate infrastructure. A radical agrarian reform could be introduced which would abolish the dominance of the latifundia in the countryside and give land to the peasants. Control of credit on a large scale would enable the state to give cheap loans to small farmers and incentives to agricultural production, thus bringing an end to the absurd mass importation of food products.
These demands must be raised inside the PSUV and also within the UNT trade union confederation. After these elections an increasing number of rank and file members of the Bolivarian movement will begin to ask themselves many questions. They will come closer and closer to the same conclusions as the Marxists. It is the duty of the Marxists to give this mood an organised expression.
One thing is absolutely certain: the Bolivarian Revolution will triumph as a socialist revolution, or it will not triumph at all.