When You Fail to Recognize a Tactical Failure, the Windows for a Strategic Defeat Open

The September 26 National Assembly vote was a tactical reversal, which requires taking on profound corrective measures, with decisive moves (of a complementary character), in order to avoid a strategic defeat in the short term. 

Was this a “Resounding Victory”?

There are more than two readings of what happened September 26 in Venezuela. From the point of view of the main objectives that the top strategic leadership of the Bolivarian Revolution followed, the most elemental and sensible thing to do would be to recognize the “tactical failure.” The non-recognition of this situation is generating a seismic fault between what the Chavista base is thinking and feeling and what the top political leadership is trying to continue to affirm. A simple majority that does not reach 99 seats in the National Assembly is not enough to chant “resounding victory.”

On Saturday, November 21, 2009, during a meeting of 772 delegates of the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela], President Chavez warned that the revolution is “obliged” to win at least two-thirds of the National Assembly in the elections of September 2010 in order to guarantee the “advance” of the process of change that he represents: “We are obliged, not just to win a majority in the National Assembly, but to win two-thirds at least. This is the objective. From now on we must head this way.” This objective that he traced was the leitmotiv of the entire campaign of 2010. It cannot be that the top political leadership itself would be the one to omit this “little detail,” this laying down of objectives and goals.

In declarations that he gave in November 2009, the recently deceased National Assembly deputy and leftist leader Luis Tascón affirmed in a report on politico-electoral projections that the popularity of the government of Hugo Chavez has progressively declined since 2007, while the opposition had sustained a coherent policy that allowed it to gradually increase its electoral force in the same time period.

Luis Tascón proposed that if this electoral tendency is maintained, the government would obtain a “very precarious simple majority for approving organic laws and for designating authorities of the other branches of state power.”

Tascón’s electoral report warned that the opposition’s support was growing in poor neighborhoods, particularly in the barrios, while Chavistas were losing political space and that the machinery of the PSUV had not managed to surpass the efficiency of the Comando Miranda of 2006,[1] nor of the Comando Maisanta of 2004.[2] It is worth citing from this report, which was rapidly minimized and disqualified and which in addition did not take into account the disproportions that the electoral system that was approved in the year 2009 would generate:

“The strength of the revolution is in the peripheral states, which would allow a comfortable triumph in the elections of 2010, if the ascending tendency of the opposition and the descending tendency of the revolution can be stopped. Without going into a detailed analysis, if the electoral tendencies are maintained, the opposition would win between 66 and 76 deputies, above all in the more populated centers and the revolution would obtain between 91 and 101 deputies. In any scenario, this is a very precarious simple majority for the approval of organic laws and for designating authorities in the other branches of government, which would oblige an agreement with the opposition, which could recover spaces of power in the vital institutions of the Republic, compromising stability and governability and recreating the polarization and conflict within the parliament that took place between 2000 and 2005. On the other hand, if the tendency is maintained, even though the National Assembly would be won, the opposition would obtain a victory in the popular vote, calculated to be around 500,000 votes, which is a difference that could increase if the crisis within the revolutionary side is maintained and which would open the doors for a defeat in the elections of 2012, both in the states and strategic municipalities as well as in the presidency of the Republic itself.”

There are many ways to present the electoral results of September 26. Already there are numerous works that present absolute and relative data, whether by designation of offices in states and electoral circuits, in the case of the Latin American Parliament and the representatives of the indigenous peoples, or whether by the number of votes, summed in reference to the circuits, to the states, or even (the most common practice of the oppositional media), on the national scale as “total national votes.” Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that the presentation of the data, their placement in the political scene, does not escape the propagandistic campaigning so as to maximize or minimize the perception of the electoral advantages between the “Chavista pole” and the “opposition pole.”

A variety of readings emerge, but none can ignore the fact that the “Bolivarian pole” has achieved a larger number of seats, with a small relative advantage of the votes when one evaluates the electoral correlation. The “Bolivarian pole” won a victory in the number of seats in 17 states (70.83% of all the states), tied in two states (Miranda and Sucre), and lost in five states (Amazonas, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta, Táchira, and Zulia). Of the 87 electoral circuits that were contested in nominal voting, the Bolivarian pole won 98 seats, the opposition 65, and the PPT only 2. All this with a relative advantage of 5% difference in the total number of votes per circuit in only 37 of the 87 circuits. Here we begin to enter into the true dimension of the victory of the Bolivarian electoral pole and of the oppositional electoral pole, including the votes of the PPT. So, is there a sufficient statistical base to declare that a “resounding victory” had been won? Only in 37 of the 87 circuits. If the numbers were reversed, this would be what a “resounding victory” would mean: to win by at least 5% in 50 of the 87 contested circuits.

Thus, what this is about is a minimal victory for the Bolivarian pole, almost without adjectives: between “pyrrhic” and “sufficient,” in order to survive in the equilibrium of electoral forces, that is, to exercise a careful and rigorous strategic calculus.

The electoral system that is in place since 2009 has generated a doubly triumphalist mirroring: both for the Bolivarian forces, which have won a majority of the seats, as well as for oppositional electoral platform, which evaluates the developments in strict terms of “adding up the votes.” That is, on the one side, adding up the totality of votes obtained on the statewide lists or the totality of votes obtained per circuit and on the other side the personalization of suffrage, without realizing a crude reality, which favors the Bolivarian pole: the opposition lost in more states and also lost in more circuits, but without great advantages in the correlation of votes, which allows the making of the unfortunate assertion, as the commando of the PSUV has made, that of a “resounding victory.”

If this is about is the re-moralization of the “Chavista troops,” one must project hope and less fear, without losing a minimal connection with the truth of the electoral data. The truth of the votes is what the Chavista social base has in mind at the time of evaluating the results and projections for 2012, and not the truth of the seats that were won. To even think of the seats could be interpreted as a part of a buried “cargo ideology”[3] that is sinking in the bureaucratic structures of the state and of the party. If what people are aspiring to achieve is a “little post,” then one has not overcome the Adeco[4] subculture of “I don’t want you to give me something, but that you put me where there is something.”

For my part, I interpret the data as a tactical reversal, which requires taking on profound corrective measures, with decisive moves (of a complementary character), in order to avoid a strategic defeat in the short term. The issues related to organic laws, the designation of high-level positions in the citizen [Attorney General, Comptroller General, Human Rights Ombudsperson], the judicial, or the electoral powers, the distribution of commissions within the National Assembly, budgetary issues, the political resonance space of the parliament itself, are highly sensitive for the correlation of forces that have been constituted.

Therefore, one must leave behind both triumphalist mirrorings, which are certainly derived from a defective “electoral system” (and, for the minority forces, are a sign of aberration in terms of proportional representation), which generate over-representation in the adjudication of seats with electoral advantages of less than 5%. This is where the end of the idea of “political equality” is reached in electoral democracy, understood according to the simple thesis of one man, one vote of equal value. There are inequities that should be reviewed in the current electoral system.

This is a passionate topic, which must be assumed in order to leave behind the bipartisan syndrome that is manufactured by a defective (and aberrational) electoral system and that promotes the absolute victory of simple majorities (winners take all). But this is not what I want to emphasize at this moment, even though it is important to say so forcefully: The apparently technical “electoral systems” cover up and promote ideological and political options; in some cases they embody realpolitik and decisionism.

Let’s not suck our fingers in a country that became famous for formulas such as the “electoral twins,” for example. These tricks were eliminated, but other electoral “ploys” were assembled instead.

If the current system is maintained, any political option must pass the toll of the “majority party of the government,” or of the “majority party of the opposition.” It’s that simple. This became evident for the PPT and for any third way that is critical of polarization.

For the opposition, the new electoral system is an extraordinary institutional incentive to maintain electoral unity at all costs. It may even convert itself into a knife for the government’s own throat, as occurred in Zulia and Anzoátegui, in future electoral processes. Bit this is not the only thing the correlation of forces determines.

The correlation of forces determines whether there will or will not be a strategic defeat

The correlation of forces is not exclusively or predominantly electoral; it is in a strict sense an unequal combination of economic, social, political, ideological, institutional, military, international, and cultural forces, where factors of mobilization of the resources of power and control of strategic decision-making centers are evaluated.

So, there are many more aspects to consider, although the votes are what count as a surface plan if this is about making forecasts for 2012 from a restricted perspective of “electoral democracy.” What is fundamental, however, in a rigorous analysis of the correlation of forces, is to avoid the strategic defeat of the Bolivarian Revolution. And that is where criticism, however disproportionate it may be, is a contribution to political work. As such, I value the opinions that are being expressed about the present political situation, whether or not they are from reputable and well-known analysts. This is the moment for a new opportunity (lost or not, who knows) to redirect the process.

And for this fundamental purpose, I believe we must not appeal demagogically to the already demolished “virtual 3Rs,”[5] nor to triumphalist mirroring. There are no 3Rs. Rather, there are “Non-3Rs” (neither revision, nor rectification, nor re-advance). Perhaps the Non-3Rs explain the existence of the so-called “neither-nor” segments.[6] At some point after the defeat of the constitutional reform project [in 2007], I put emphasis on the “4Rs,” expressing that we must reinvent-renovate the Socialist Historical Project.

I sustain that there has been failure in all the factors present in the “triangle of government” (Carlos Matus)[7]: There has been failure in the historical meaning of the Political Project of the Government, failure in the Management Capacities of the Government, and failure in the Governability of the implicated systems. For example, there has been a failure to establish a consistent relationship between the 1999 Constitution and the Venezuelan path to socialism (“Bolivarian Socialism”).

I sum up this topic in two over-arching issues that are inseparable: a) “The project of a democratic transition to socialism,” and b) “the project of a transition to democratic socialism.”

For some actors, forces, and movements that are promoters of socialist revolution in the sense of revolutionary socialism, “Democratic Socialism” constitutes “reformist, social democratic, concessionist” drivel that the so-called “Socialist International” defended in some past era. In this way, from a certain interpretation, it appeals to a particular archive of training in political discourse and practice, framed by the dispute between “historical communists” and “reformist social democrats.”

However, the thesis that I will sustain is that we must go beyond the two historical lefts in order to renovate Socialist Democracy in the 21st Century. With the pardon of the comrades who define themselves basically as “doctrinaire guevarists,”[8] I believe that in Venezuela, the conditions for a civic, democratic, electoral, constitutional struggle, for peaceful struggle, have not been exhausted.

It is difficult to confuse the field of parliamentary politics, designed and currently in force in the 1999 Constitution, with the tactics and techniques of “guerrilla warfare,” for example. However, if we draw an analogy with what is proposed there, the opposition has lost electoral territory but it continues to conquer in real time. The results of the 26th of September were a powerful ambush by the opposition. Following the battle, we have more rifles, but fewer combatants. It is possible that this way, it is easier to understand what happened.

But beyond the war metaphors, we are in a scenario framed, if you will, by the rules, practices, and conditions of liberal-pluralist democracy laid out in the constitutional order. If we were attempting to construct a “Socialist State” in the old sense, we would have to convoke a de facto or de jure constituent process. The constitution does not permit doctrinal confusion of the social and democratic state of law and justice with the “Socialist States” that characterized the real existing socialisms.

It is one thing to be an enemy of hybrid economies (the mixed economy present in the constitutional text) and bourgeois democratic politics (with a parliament, pluri-partyism and electoral rituals, also present in the constitutional text); it is another thing to not recognize that it is unsustainable to maintain the pro-Bolshevik language game in order to place one’s feet in two political terrains with incompatible ideological formulations.

For a consistent Bolshevik, revolutions are not made with pluri-party elections, not even preferably with elections. These are social democratic methods, typical of a positive valuation of the modern times of Marx and Engels, under some national conditions, of political suffrage.

There was a time in which the “polished revolutionary” in Venezuela was one who absolutely ruled out any electoral path, took up arms, and won battles, period. Now, the revolutionary militants of the old guard or of the old paradigm of conquering power must know that they are going to have a certain amount of elections, of “electoral challenges.” There, whether they want to accept it or not, they are playing by the rules and limits of constitutional and electoral democracy. Either they accept the rules of the game of Constitutional Democracy, with their constituent empty spaces and windows, or they repeat the post-1958 history and challenge the facade of democracy imposed by, for example, Betancourt;[9] They clearly, precisely, and concisely choose to take the “insurrectional path” or the “armed struggle” with its diverse tactical variants. This, surely, is nothing new in the political history of the lefts in Our America. 

However, my opinion is that since 1989, the scenario is a different one; it is the conquest of democratic hegemony starting with revolutionary and national-popular questioning. Yes, a democratic revolution that advances toward other-socialism with radically democratic methods and practices; that conceives socialism as a more advanced form of democracy; of substantive, participatory democracy with the fundamental protagonism of the people’s power.

Along this line of thinking, I suggest that the revolutionary, popular, democratic, bolivarian movement is still operating with a large dose of confusion about strategic questions:

Do we recognize the rules, practices, and conditions of the terrain for a democratic, electoral, constitutional, peaceful transition to socialism? As it follows, which model of socialism? Do we recognize the rules, practices, and conditions of participatory democratic socialism?

To avoid confusion derived from the tradition of confrontations between “historical communists,” in the majority of cases “marxist-leninists,” and “reformist social democrats,” which would bring us into the gravitational field of the “20th Century socialisms,” I propose the necessity of a Democratic Socialist Historical Project that is lifted up on a revolutionary theoretical platform of critical, diverse, and anti-capitalist criticisms.

If the two projects, democratic transition and participatory democratic socialism, are separated, I fear that more nonsensical acts will come into being. If the ambiguity, confusion, and masquerades are not cleared up as to whether this is a democratic and socialist (and I have added for strategic reasons eco-political and de-colonizing) revolution, I fear that the construction of a people’s revolutionary hegemony, which assumes substantive democracy, equality, multiculturalism and inter-culturalism as an orienting strategy, will be definitively “blocked.”

In very clear terms: Are we or are we not going to follow the model of the experiences of the Real Socialisms, of the “Bureaucratic Despotism,” of state communism? Are we or are we not going to differentiate ourselves in fundamental ways from the historical experience of the Cuban Revolution? Will we be original or simply carbon copies of the historical archive of, as Trotsky affirmed, “betrayed” revolutions? And I emphasize, betrayed in their promise of emancipation.

While some put their head under their pillow when these questions are asked, one assumes the responsibility of asking them, even in the middle of the debate over the confused design of the Constitutional Reform Project. Who are the ones responsible for having handed over in large part the political banner of the defense of the bill of fundamental rights to the opposition, along with the active and constituent potential for participatory democracy present in the 1999 Constitution? Perhaps the Constitution of 1999 is “bourgeois legality,” pure and simple?

If this is so, we are dealing with a state of delirium that leads us to put an end to the issue of the “democratic transition to socialism,” to put an end to the relationship between constituent power and constituted power, from the terrain of radical democracy. Without the effective direct or indirect practice of participatory democracy, of popular protagonism, of constituent power, the issue of revolution ends up being the confiscation of the process of transforming the state and society, another version of the imaginary “revolutionary elite,” whether it is called “apparatus-machinery,” “one-party leninism,” “revolutionary caesarism,” “hyper-leadership,” or “messianic populism.” And worse yet, a revolution that reproduces the vices of inefficiency, bad management, corruption, and bureaucratism of the 4th Republic.[10]

Translated by Gregory Wilpert and James Suggett for Venezuelanalysis.com.

Translators’ Notes

[1] The name for Chavez’s electoral campaign committee for the 2006 presidential elections.

[2] The electoral campaign committee against the 2004 presidential recall referendum.

[3] From the term “cargo cult”, which “is a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of the advanced culture through magic and religious rituals and practices.” (Wikipedia)

[4] Adeco: comes from “belonging to AD,” or Acción Democrática, one of Venezuela’s former governing parties.

[5] Refers to a process of “Revision, Rectification, and Re-advance” first proposed by President Chavez in December 2007 and again in 2009.

[6] Neither-nor: People who identify neither with the pro-Chavez camp nor with the opposition camp.

[7] Chilean Economy Minister under President Salvador Allende.

[8] Referring to the ideas and actions of the Argentine-Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

[9] Romulo Betancourt, from the political party Acción Democrática, was the first president of Venezuela following the overthrow of the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958. He politically isolated the Communist Party of Venezuela, which took up arms against his regime in 1962, and fought alongside other leftist guerrilla insurgencies in subsequent years.

[10] The political period preceding the 5th Republic that began with the presidency of Hugo Chavez.