Venezuela: A tale of two elections

Lucha de Clases and Jorge Martin analyse the recent regional elections and the upcoming municipal elections in Venezuela, and the lessons these elections hold.
Lucha de Clases and Jorge Martin analyse the recent regional elections and the upcoming municipal elections in Venezuela, and the lessons these elections hold.

We publish here two articles analysing the latest developments in Venezuela. In the first, Jorge Martin looks at the upcoming municipal elections in Venezuela, which have provided a platform for revolutionaries to oppose the bureaucracy. In the second, Lucha de Clases in Venezuela provide an in-depth analysis of the October regional elections and the perspectives going forward.

The fact that the main Venezuelan opposition parties have decided to boycott the 10th December municipal elections has opened the space for candidates representing the revolutionary wing of the Bolivarian movement to stand against official hand-picked candidates from the ruling PSUV party.

The bureaucracy and the state have responded by using all sorts of tricks to prevent them from running. The campaigns of Eduardo Samán in Caracas and Angel Prado in Simón Planas (Lara) have brought out the simmering contradictions within chavismo.

Splits in the opposition

At the present time the Venezuelan right-wing pro-imperialist opposition is in a very parlous state. The Constituent Assembly elections on July 30th, which they were unable to prevent and which saw a massive turnout, marked the end of their four-month long sustained attempt to overthrow the Maduro government by force.

The October 15 regional elections increased the divisions within the opposition, with some parties boycotting while others participated. The PSUV victory in 18 out of 25 regions created havoc amongst the opposition ranks, with some parties denouncing election fraud while others took the office they had won.

Rather than an increase in the support for the government policies, what we have seen is a demoralisation of the opposition ranks combined with a healthy class instinct on the part of the working and poor masses, which were determined to block the opposition at the ballot box.

The economic situation remains dire and there is strong criticism of the government and the Constituent Assembly which don’t seem to have any clear or effective strategy to deal with it. Hyperinflation continues to eat into wages, the devaluation of the currency continues apace and the government has been forced to open talks with bond holders about restructuring and refinancing the debt of the state and PDVSA (state-owned oil company). This is aggravated by Trump imposed financial sanctions which are aimed at strangling the Venezuelan economy by denying it access to international funding.

Tensions within the Bolivarian movement

It is in this context that the municipal elections have reopened debates within the Bolivarian movement - debates that had been mostly suppressed previously by the need to close ranks against an extremely virulent and violent opposition assault.

The tension between the rank and file, revolutionary left wing of chavismo and the bureaucratic and reformist wing which dominates the PSUV and the state apparatus has burst into the open.

In a number of municipalities, mainly rural, alternative Bolivarian candidates are running against the PSUV. This is the case of Angel Prado, of the El Maizal Commune (Simon Planas, Lara); Augusto Espinoza of the Cajigal Commune (Cajigal, Sucre), Jesus Silva of Alexis Vive (Moran, Lara); and Jose Maria “Chema” Romero of the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current, involved in the building of the Simon Bolivar Communal City (Paez, Apure).

Some of these candidates are standing under the banner of the Communist Party or the Tupamaros, but they all have in common the fact that they represent areas where the communal movement has taken real roots and developed. These are also areas where the struggle against the reactionary offensive earlier this year took on a revolutionary character with the organisation of self-defence committees, the occupation of land belonging to land owners linked to financing and organising the reaction, etc.

Some of these communes also involve occupied factories, mostly linked to agricultural production. These communes have had to fight against the power of the capitalists and landowners but also against the sabotage of the bureaucrats in the local municipalities, the regional governors and different government institutions and ministries. In a very sharp article, former Communes Minister Reinaldo Iturriza describes the importance of these electoral challenges.

“Although it can’t be spoken of as a massive phenomenon, it is undoubtedly a deeply significant event for various reasons. There has always been a tense relationship between communes and mayorships. With some exceptions, such as that of the Torres municipality in Lara state (first with Julio Chavez and currently with Edgar Carrasco), those who assume government functions at the municipal level tend to view with suspicion those spaces where there are initiatives of popular self-government, even if it’s just a modest communal council. This is no ordinary tension: at no other level is the clash between representative and participatory political logics so clearly expressed. It could be said that the political earthquake that is the Bolivarian revolution has its epicenter there: these political logics are tectonic fault lines in constant movement.”

The response of the bureaucracy has been furious. The case of Angel Prado is perhaps the most scandalous of all. After using mass mobilisation to overcome all hurdles put in his path to register as a candidate, finally the Electoral Council said he needs permission from the Constituent Assembly, of which he is an elected member, in order to stand. The fact is that several other high profile members of the CA are also standing as candidates but no obstacles have been put in their way, as they have been officially chosen by the PSUV leadership.

Finally, on November 28, in an outrageous decision the CA denied him permission to stand. The only reason is that if he was allowed to stand he would certainly win the election. His candidature has been backed by 9,000 votes in the municipality and he was elected with 13,000 out of 17,000 votes cast for the CA in his constituency.

The bureaucracy is mortally afraid of the challenged posed by a candidate who is a genuine representative of the voice of the rank and file of the movement and who stands for revolutionary democracy and no compromise with the capitalist class.

Eduardo Saman’s candidacy in Caracas

Perhaps the highest profile case is that of Eduardo Samán - because of the office he is standing for, the mayor of Libertador Council, which covers most of the capital Caracas.

Samán is not the only alternative candidate to the official PSUV candidate Erika Farias. Initially, Oswaldo Rivero had announced his intention to stand and he had the support of the Tupamaro Revolutionary Movement. Rivero is the popular presenter of TV show Zurda Konducta, through which he has given voice to the uncompromising revolutionary rank and file struggle against the bourgeois opposition. He played a role in the protests which demanded a radical course for the Bolivarian movement after the defeat in the National Assembly elections in December 2015.

A few days after he had announced his candidacy, the Tupamaros decided to withdrew it and he was left with no opportunity to stand. Clearly they had come under heavy pressure from the bureaucracy to drop him.

That left only Eduardo Samán, who had won the support of the Communist Party, the PPT and the MEP. The MEP later withdrew its support but the PCV and PPT stood firm.

The National Electoral Council attempted to block the registration of Samán, but a campaign of public pressure finally got his candidature allowed. The CNE then resorted to an another trick. As both the PPT and the PCV had already pre-emptively registered their candidates, the CNE argued that the names on the ballot box next to these parties logos could not be changed. Therefore, Saman’s name will not be on the ballot paper at all. People wanting to cast a vote for him will have to chose either the PCV or the PPT withdrawn candidates, but the votes will be counted as Saman’s. This is a complete scandal as it will create unnecessary confusion and there is no real technical reason why his name cannot appear next to the PCV and PPT logos.  

To this it must be added that Samán has denounced a boycott against his candidature in the state media. Sources in some of the state media outlets have said that there are clear instructions that neither Saman nor the parties backing him can be mentioned. This was put to the test on 30th November when Saman was invited to a TV interview in the state-owned ViveTV.

Vive has always been more independent from the government, giving voice to worker-occupied factories, local communes, rank and file revolutionary initiatives, etc. Samán was interviewed for half an hour in a morning talk show. The scandal came later when Saman publicly denounced that the channel’s director, the channel’s press officer and the channel’s coordinator had been sacked as a direct result of his interview! The channel’s director later on rebutted this statement and said that his removal was the result of putting his job at the disposal of the new minister as it is customary with political appointments. Other journalists, however, corroborated Saman’s allegations.

Eduardo Saman is a very well known figure in the Chavista left. Over a period of time he occupied different government positions and then was briefly the Minister of Commerce. In those positions he became known for fighting corruption, giving support to the occupied factories movement and attacking speculation, profiteering and the black market. At one point, in 2010, Saman issued a call for the formation of a “radical current” within the PSUV which had a massive echo in the movement. Under pressure from the bureaucracy he finally abandoned the idea.

It is clear that the bureaucracy of the PSUV is in panic over his candidature. As Saman himself has explained, there is no danger of any candidate from the bourgeois opposition winning the race. He has added that if there was he would be prepared to stand down in favour of a mutually agreed joint Bolivarian candidate. The danger, from the point of view of the bureaucracy, is not that the opposition could win, but rather that Saman could defeat the official PSUV candidate Erika Farías.

Support Saman - fight for revolutionary socialism!

For the Bolivarian rank and file, Saman represents the struggle against the black market, the speculators, the capitalists and multinational companies, the struggle for accountability within the movement, for revolutionary democracy and workers’ control. The Lucha de Clases current in Venezuela (the Venezuelan section of the International Marxist Tendency) has given full support to Saman and is participating fully in his campaign.

The comrades are correctly arguing that this struggle is not only the way in which the gains of the revolution can be defended in the face of the reactionary opposition. It is also a necessary struggle in the face of a government whose only strategy seems to be to make concessions to the capitalists and cling to power for the sake of it.

The International Marxist Tendency therefore supports Eduardo Samán, argues for a revolutionary socialist programme and the need to organise the revolutionary vanguard at a national level during and after the December 10 municipal elections.


Venezuelan regional elections – why did the PSUV win?

Statement by Lucha de Clases, Venezuelan section of the IMT

MaduroRallyIn October this year, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won a decisive electoral victory in the face of an extremely difficult economic and political situation.

Despite temporarily stabilising the political situation in Venezuela, however, this victory has done nothing on its own to alleviate the growing tensions in Venezuela.

The pressures of inflation and the shortage of goods, which have been weighing heavily on the masses for several years, require an urgent solution.

Now, with Venezuela’s future looking increasingly uncertain following the recent downgrading of its credit status amidst fears of a default, we republish a statement (originally published in Spanish) of the Venezuelan section of the International Marxist Tendency, Lucha de Clases, which analyses the PSUV’s election victory, the threats facing the Venezuelan working class, and the way forward for the Bolivarian revolution.


A first balance sheet of the regional elections

Last Sunday [on 15th October], contrary to many predictions, the PSUV achieved an overwhelming victory over the MUD (“Roundtable of Democratic Unity”) in regional elections. Of the 23 states which comprise the nation, the PSUV gained victory in 18, including states with an important urban population such as Carabobo and Aragua, and recaptured states such as Miranda and Lara, which had been in the hands of the opposition for almost a decade, while the MUD only achieved victory in 5, including 3 border states, namely Zulia, Táchira and Mérida.

As has become customary, as soon as the final count was announced, the MUD declared that it did not recognise the results. Hours later, various MUD candidates, including Carlos Ocariz and Henry Falcón, recognised the results in their respective states, and once again the matrix of “fraud” collapsed.

If in our analysis we start by recognising that today there is an atmosphere of profound discontent and rage throughout the country as a result of the brutal deterioration of the living conditions of the working masses, it may be difficult to correctly understand how the Right was defeated and also how results of such magnitude were obtained.

As we have explained in other articles and statements, in recent years the working masses in Venezuela have been affected by an acute process of demoralisation and demobilisation, as a consequence of the rapid deterioration of their material conditions of existence. This was clearly reflected in the outcome of the parliamentary elections of 2015, but has continued to worsen to the present day, as inflation increases faster month by month, and the increase in prices of ‘basic basket’ goods strikes savagely at the working masses. This year, for example, it is estimated that inflation will reach over 1,000%.

On this basis, and in view of the increasing level of discomfort at the base of Chavismo, given the critical economic situation in the country, it was perfectly logical to think that the MUD could have easily defeated the PSUV in regional elections, or in any case, that the gap between the number of governors won by the PSUV and by the MUD would have been considerably smaller.

However, with the convocation of the Constituent Assembly the political scenario has changed completely. The working masses came out massively to vote in spite of their acute discontent, exhaustion and demoralisation (which has not gone away), because in the first place they considered the National Constituent Assembly as a means of blocking the Right and imperialism, which at that moment represented a very serious threat – that is to say, they showed a fine class instinct – as well as being tired of the guarimbas (riots).

In the second place, they saw in the Constituent Assembly an opportunity to renew Chavismo from below, with the direct participation of the people and ultimately, due to the hopes placed in the Constituent Assembly, as the instrument for the definitive defeat of the economic war, and the resolution of the pressing material problems of the masses.

As a result, more than eight million people mobilised on the 30th of July to elect their deputies to the Constituent Assembly, which allowed for the defeat of the fascist vanguard of the counter-revolution, demoralising and demobilising the bases of the opposition, and isolating the bands of rioters in small groups, which provoked new fractures and tensions in the leadership of the MUD, ultimately debilitating in an important manner the forces of counter-revolution.

Here you have, in the first place, the main cause for the opening up of a much more favourable political scenario for the PSUV to hold regional elections. Indeed, these had been postponed for roughly 10 months, and not due to empty reasons of a legal or technical nature, but to the fact that the Bolivarian leadership was aware that had such elections taken place in the midst of the political conditions that existed before the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, the counter-revolution would have obtained an overwhelming victory, which would have strengthened in a notable manner the fascist offensive of the counter-revolution and the possibility of an effective coup d’état.

It is precisely for this reason that, once the Constituent Assembly had been set up, the Bolivarian leadership decided to rapidly bring forward the regional elections, taking advantage of the temporary demobilisation of the opposition’s base and the disorientation of its leadership, in order to try and get the best result possible, which it has in effect done.

Secondly, there is the exceptional combativity and strength of the Venezuelan working masses, who once again came out into the street in order to defeat the counter-revolution and defend the social conquests which they have won through the Bolivarian Revolution, even though many of these have in fact disappeared in practice, as a direct consequence of the unrestrained inflation and the scarcity of food and medicine.

This constitutes without any doubt, from an historical point of view, an extraordinarily remarkable quality. Never before in the history of the workers’ movement has the working class of any nation maintained itself on a war footing against the attacks of the counter-revolution for so long, still less with the savage economic assault from which it has been suffering progressively over the last five years.

Thirdly, there is the role played by the PSUV party machinery, which applied a great deal of pressure on its Chavista base in order to mobilise it into the voting stations. It could even be said that, in a much more accentuated way than in previous elections, the cadres of the party apparatus used social benefits such as the “CLAP” (government provided food parcels), old-age pensions, special pensions such as “mothers of the barrio” and the “chamba juvenil” plan, in order to pressurise recipients of these benefits to mobilise for the vote, practically a clear act of blackmail. The same thing occurred amongst sections of public administration workers who were pressurised by their bosses to go and vote.

The attitude of the party tops and those charged with the direction of the state on Sunday was very reminiscent of the old “adeco” style of doing politics, in that the will of the working masses and poor was bought with a mix of offering food bags and social benefits along with threats of the suspension of those benefits previously granted.

These three factors permit an understanding of the contradictory and paradoxical fact that the PSUV, in spite of the country living through one of the worst situations of social crisis in its history - certainly as a consequence on the one hand of the economic sabotage of the bourgeoisie, but also due to the narrow reformist policies of class conciliation and concessions to the capitalists - was able to “reverse” the political situation and crushingly defeat the right in the regional elections.

Perspectives for the coming months

Although the victory won on Sunday was very important, in that it signified a new defeat for the forces of counter-revolution, the only real advantage of such a victory is that it allows the working class to gain time to organise and prepare itself for the necessary class combat which must take place against both reformism and the bourgeoisie.

Although the possibility of a new counter-revolutionary offensive was defeated on Sunday, by itself this does not change the desolate picture which exists in economic matters for the working masses. During this week, the dollar has reached 34,000 Bs and prices of basic products continue to rise without stopping, pitilessly asphyxiating working families. The price of meat, for example, rose by approximately 100% to over 40,000 Bs, but there are shops in which an even higher price can be found, even over 70,000 Bs.

Despite the atmosphere of drunken triumphalism which reigns today amongst the Bolivarian leadership and within party structures, as well as the understandable and sincere happiness amongst sections of the workers because of the new defeat which has been dealt to the counter-revolution, if there are not forceful and decisive changes in the country’s economic situation over the next weeks or months, such a state of mind will end up turning into its opposite.

The role of reformism and its bankruptcy

While the bourgeoisie and imperialism are the principal enemies of the working class, reformism does not allow the workers to fight effectively against them and defeat them definitively. From the government itself, the reformist social democracy is carrying out a policy of class conciliation, of dialogue with the class enemy, which can only benefit the bourgeoisie to the detriment of the workers because the interests of both classes are historically irreconcilable, and when both interests are conciliated, it is because the interests of the proletariat have been subordinated to those of the bourgeoisie.

This policy has been deepened in the last months, as far as the capitalists and imperialism have applied greater and greater pressure, through the economic sabotage, speculation, and the financial sanctions against the country.

In practice, such a policy has meant shifting the weight of the crisis onto the shoulders of the workers, while the bourgeoisie amasses enormous and grotesque riches at the cost of the greater and greater exploitation and suffering of the workers. While dollars and new credits are given to parasitic enterprises, while concessions are granted to transnational corporations to exploit the mineral belt of Orinoco, while the ‘DICOM’ dollar is devalued and special economic zones are created which privilege the right of the transnationals to parasitically reproduce their capital over and above the rights of the Venezuelan working class, while the wages of the working masses continue to decline at an impressive rate, day by day.

Although minutes after the results of the elections were announced, President Maduro pointed out that Chavismo had “obliterated” the opposition in the regional elections, and declared that he would not accept guarimba rioters and coup plotters as governors, not much time passed before he invited the Right to dialogue, so much so that yesterday, during his speech in the Miraflores palace, he declared that he was prepared to sign the “dialogue agreement” that was discussed in the Dominican Republic weeks ago, between interlocutors of the government and the bourgeoisie.

Declarations and actions of this nature reveal the patent insufficiency of the government, before the historical necessity of carrying out the revolution to its conclusion, in order to defeat the counter-revolution once and for all. The whole history of the class struggle of the last century has demonstrated that this policy, clearly reformist and social democratic, does nothing but prepare the ground for the definitive victory of the counter-revolution.

The only revolutionary way out of the crisis is by the expropriation of the capitalists

The crisis the country is living through is the consequence of not having taken the existing means of control over the economy and the nationalisation of certain sectors to their conclusion. The control of prices and exchange rates, as well as the nationalisation of the latifundia (the large landed estates), banks and industries during the Chavez government, were applied with the intention of protecting the people, which along with the retaking of control of PDVSA, and the enormous rise in oil prices, provided an impulse to the conquest of the great social demands which the workers achieved between 2004 and 2012.

But, such measures only constituted partial reforms of the capitalist system and, keeping intact the great majority of the same capitalist economy, such methods of control did nothing but distort the functioning of the same, and besides, combined with the abrupt collapse in oil prices and the conscious and deliberate economic sabotage on the part of the bourgeoisie, have provoked the situation we are living through today.

This situation of crisis can only be resolved in two ways, and only one of them favours the workers. The policy of class conciliation that the government is applying consists in the granting of greater and greater concessions to the capitalists. This means shifting the weight of the crisis onto the shoulders of the workers.

Only a genuinely socialist policy, based on the expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control, the destruction of the bourgeois state, the building of a workers’ state based on socialist workers’ councils, revolutionary communes and militias, and the democratic planning of the whole economy, can offer a revolutionary way out of the crisis which the country is living through and ensure that it is not the workers who bear the weight of the crisis.

However, the current leadership of Chavismo, which as we have highlighted before shows a clearly reformist and conciliating policy, will not carry out a programme of this nature. Thus, it is necessary and urgent that the working class take a step forward to break down the policy of class conciliation and carry out the socialist revolution to its conclusion.

For this, it is essential to build a revolutionary organisation that will fight the reformist social democracy, and that can push forward a programme of struggle based on the ideas and methods of scientific socialism. It is time for the battle against the reformist Fifth Column. Time is short. Let’s build the Marxist tendency in the PSUV.

Down with class conciliation!

Neither dialogue nor pact!

Complete the socialist revolution!

For the expropriation of the bourgeoisie under workers’ control!

Join the Marxist current of the PSUV!