Venezuela: October Presidential Elections, Crucial for the Revolution

Jorge Martin and Patrick Larsen argue that Venezuela’s October presidential elections are pivotal for the future of the Bolivarian Revolution, and that “unless the revolution is completed, with the overthrow of capitalism, then, at certain point, the whole process can be reversed”.


On Sunday February the 12, the long-awaited opposition primary elections took place in order to select the candidate who will face Hugo Chavez in the presidential elections due for October this year. Cápriles Radonski, the present governor of Miranda state won a clear victory with 62% of the vote, compared to only 28.9% for his contender Pablo Perez, present governor of Zulia state.

It is difficult to estimate the real voter turnout in these primaries, but some figures indicate that around 16% of the electorate took part, compared to the 20% of the electorate that signed the opposition petition in the 2004 recall-referendum. Since then the Venezuelan opposition emerged strengthened in 2010 when they won a third of the MPs and garnered around 4 million votes, practically resulting in a “technical draw” with the PSUV.

Who is Capriles Radonski?

Although Capriles Radonski is now promoting himself as a social-democratic candidate, who, according to The Economist, takes a “a gradualist approach to restoring confiscated property, undoing currency controls and abolishing unconstitutional laws”, this is certainly more pretence than real content. During the April 2002 coup d’état, in fact, not only was Radonski part of the illegal overthrow of Chavez, he was also involved in the violent assault against the Cuban embassy.

At that time he was the mayor of the Baruta, the Caracas district where the Cuban embassy was located. He joined the fascist gangs attacking the embassy and entered and violated diplomatic territory. They told the Cuban ambassador to hand over alleged “political exiles” who were supposed to be hiding there. At the same time he defended the violence – which included destroying the cars of embassy functionaries and cutting off electricity and water supplies – and backed this up by saying (and this is recorded by cameras) that “the people can protest as they wish”. [LINK VIDEO]

Radonski was never prosecuted for any of these crimes, although the revolutionary lawyer Danilo Anderson tried to get his legal immunity as a mayor suspended in order to get him prosecuted. This was unfortunately cut across in 2004, when Anderson was assassinated by a car-bomb in Caracas and the assassins were never found.

The reason why Radonski has now adopted a “soft” line and pretends to be a moderate is to be found in the fact that he knows that the counter-revolution is still not strong enough to stage an all-out offensive. He needs to appear as a moderate in order to attract a layer of voters who might be vacillating between the Bolivarian revolution and the opposition, but who are repelled by the undemocratic antics of the coup plotters of 2002.

The state of the economy

The general situation in Venezuela is very critical. It is true that the economy has seen a recovery during the last twelve months. While 2010 saw a 1.5 per cent contraction, 2011 ended with a 4% growth in GDP. However, this has been almost exclusively based on the high oil revenues and not on a real development and expansion of industry. The conflict in Libya was decisive in fuelling the price of oil which reached a record US$101 per barrel.

Even Nelson Merentes, the president of Venezuela’s Central Bank, has admitted that more than 1.8 percentage points of the growth was simply a product of the huge amounts of money from oil revenues which have been pumped into the economy in social spending. Significantly, the boom is largely based on growth in commerce, due to bigger consumption.

Much of the state investment in infrastructure and housing has created temporary jobs in construction. All this is the result of the big state expenditures in an electoral year. Chavez is aiming to build houses and finish many metro works before the elections in October. But these measures have also triggered inflation which reached 27.6% in 2011.

However, the strike in investments and the sabotage of the economy on the part of the capitalists continues. The Venezuelan Central Bank has not yet released the figures for private investment for 2011, but in the period 2008-2010 private investment in machinery, equipment and buildings collapsed by 43%. The combined figure for public and private investment in 2011 was 4.4%, but this masks the fact that private investment continued to fall, while public investment was the main driving force of the economy. The reason is clear: the capitalists are not investing in Venezuela because they do not think their investments are safe. On the contrary, combined with the strike of investment there was also a massive flight of capital, to the tune of 12 billion US dollars in 2011.

Without a real expansion of the industrial sector, it is impossible to get sustainable growth and reduce inequality. Venezuela is extremely dependent on the world economy and the most basic consumer goods are still not produced in the country but are imported en masse, a situation which has worsened, not improved since the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution. This puts Venezuela at the mercy of the world economy, which could seems to be heading for a double dip recession.

For a revolutionary way out

Although most opinion polls suggest that Chavez maintains widespread support, it is also true that the bureaucracy at the top of the movement has a tendency to undermine the movement when the battle has just started.

For the Bolivarian masses, Chavez represents the conquests of the revolution, in terms of the concrete advances in the fields of healthcare, education and others, but also in terms of the political awakening of the people, the feeling of defiance against imperialism and the oligarchy and the moral uplifting of the masses that any genuine revolution brings.

However, his illness has also raised the very question of the survival of the revolution in the minds of everyone in Venezuela. The different cliques within the state bureaucracy are manoeuvring to see who will be the likely successor. Most workers, peasants and youth in the rank and file cannot see any of the present government officials as their representatives and there is a deep mistrust in them.

Decisions like the removal of Elio Sayago as the worker-director of state owned aluminium smelter ALCAS represent a frontal assault against the elements of workers’ control which had been introduced in the basic industries in Guyana, a key conquest of the workers in the Bolivarian revolution. That decision was taken just as Chavez had left the country to undergo further treatment in Cuba.

The Bolivarian bureaucracy is playing a clear counter-revolutionary role. At each juncture they roll back, undermine and block the revolutionary initiative and gains of the rank and file revolutionary activists. The risk in this is that it introduces the very dangerous poison of scepticism, ultra-leftism and demoralisation amongst the Bolivarian ranks and this is precisely the layer which can go out and mobilise the masses in the electoral battle.

The surprising thing is that this scenario, in which neither the working class nor the capitalists have been able to win a decisive victory, has been extended for so long. This is an indication of the high level of consciousness and fine revolutionary instinct of the Venezuelan masses which have defeated reaction in more than one battle.

However, even this has its limits. A situation of growing inflation, increased criminality, the continuation of the sabotage of the economy on the part of the capitalist class which will increase as the elections approach, the constant barrage of the mass media, etc., all of this has its impact on the Bolivarian masses that support the revolution but do not see it being completed and dealing a serious blow to the political and economic power of the oligarchy.

It is impossible to predict the exact outcome of these elections. Should Chavez win, it is likely that the enraged oppositionists – and their shock troops among many petit-bourgeois and lumpen proletarian elements – will launch a furious campaign against alleged electoral fraud. On the other hand, should Radonski manage to beat a weakened Chavez, he will face a very difficult task in dismantling all the revolutionary conquests of the last 12 years. As we saw when the opposition won the governorship in Miranda, any attempt on the part of the ruling class to destroy the gains of the revolution would provoke a counter offensive on the part of the masses.

Thus the scene is set for new decisive clashes between the revolution and the counter-revolution, and the struggle will be decided in the factories, army barracks and poor neighbourhoods. The workers’ movement – which is presently discussing the proposal for a new Labour Law – must go on the offensive and put its stamp on the campaign with revolutionary slogans and a plan of action to strengthen and defend the elements of workers’ control.

As Marxists we wholeheartedly support the campaign to achieve the re-election of President Chavez, but at the same time it is our duty to warn that unless the revolution is completed, with the overthrow of capitalism, then, at certain point, the whole process can be reversed.