Presidential elections in Venezuela: Both Chavez and the opposition parties are against the working class
We are publishing below the translation of an article written by Internacialismo, our section in Venezuela, which was written before the election result was announced.
The presidential elections of 7 October in Venezuela represent a moment of heightened tension between bourgeois factions: the ‘Chavistas’ and the opposition parties. The latter, grouped together in the Platform of Democratic Unity have chosen Henrique Capriles as their candidate, while the official power is counting on its perpetual candidate, Hugo Chavez, who disposes of his party apparatus and hundreds of millions of bolivars1, to win votes, mainly among the working masses, who have been ground down since the arrival of the Chavista regime and before that by thirty years of political confrontations.
Decomposition and crisis behind the ‘final battle’
The rise of Chavez was the product of the decomposition of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, in particular the political forces which governed the country prior to his coming to power in 1999. Because of his strong popularity, various sectors of capital supported him, with the aim of struggling against very high levels of corruption, of re-establishing the credibility of official institutions and above all of the government. In other words, of improving the system of oppression and exploitation in the interests of the nation and thus of the bourgeoisie. The opposition forces, though weakened, quickly entered into a trial of strength with the regime, most notably at the time of the coup d’Etat in 20022 and the blockade of oil production at the end of the same year. This proved fruitless in the end and merely reinforced the power of Chavez, who was re-elected in 2006.
After more than a decade of Chavismo, the crisis has pushed the different factions of the bourgeoisie into dispute over the central state power. The opposition forces are benefiting from the regime’s loss of popularity, which can be traced to two main causes;
the growing decomposition of the Chavista regime, which we characterised in a previous article in Internacialismo: “New civil and military elites have been formed and divided up the posts at the top of the state bureaucracy. They have failed in their aim of overcoming the problems accumulated by previous governments since they are much more concerned with their personal interests and with dividing up the booty from the oil industry, resulting in an exponential growth in corruption and a progressive abandonment of serious state management. This situation, intensified by the megalomania of the Chavez regime which has the ambition of extending the “Bolivarian revolution” to the whole of Latin America, has little by little emptied the state coffers. It has also exacerbated the political and social antagonisms which have raised the inability to govern to a level even worse than it was in the 90s”.
the intensification of the crisis of capitalism in 2007 acted against the aspirations of the Chavez regime to develop its project of “21st century socialism”. Although Chavez, like other governments, declared that the Venezuelan economy was “armour-plated”, in reality the world crisis of capitalism has shown up the historic fragility of the national economy: it is utterly dependent on the price of oil. To this can be added the fact that the regime’s populist schemes have been made possible by attacks on wages and the reduction or suppression of ‘gains’ like the collective agreements which Chavismo has got rid of, referring to them as ‘tips’ for the workers.
The strategy of the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, based on daily ‘house to house’ tours trough the towns and villages of the country, is to exploit the failures of Chavismo and widespread feelings of social abandonment. According to the opinion polls there has been a sharp rise in his popularity. His tactic is to propose social, populist programmes similar to those of Chavismo, while avoiding direct confrontation, and it has brought results. Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, has put a lot of emphasis on the (pseudo-)success of his projects towards the poor and on his quality as the “guardian or order” against the anarchy threatening Venezuelan capital as a whole.
Despite all its weaknesses (losing control of provincial governments, conflicts of interests in its own ranks, the illness of Chavez, etc) Chavismo does not intend to abandon power and in the last few month has not neglected any details in areas where the opposition might draw an advantage: it has introduced obligatory membership of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (the Chavista party) for public sector employees; placed obstacles against votes from abroad, especially from Miami and Spain; neutralised the parties which support the opposition (PODEMOS, PPT, COPEI) through convictions pronounced by the supreme court, etc. To which can be added the control exercised over the media and the means of communication which gives Chavez a decisive advantage at the level of election propaganda.
Chavez has also elaborated other strategies aimed at helping him win. He as already announced that the opposition has a plan for denouncing electoral fraud. To carry through this strategy, he is relying as always on the state power and especially the army, which has abandoned its status as “professional force at the service of the nation, non-decision making and apolitical” in favour of being “a patriotic, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and Chavista force”. We can understand from this what lies behind the frequent threats made by Chavez and his entourage against opponents.
The party in power also accuses the opposition of refusing to recognise the results that are due to be announced by the National Electoral Council (NEC): this is why the government is issuing an alert to prevent opponents from agitating the population when the NEC announces the triumph of Chavez. For its part, the opposition has explained that it can’t give a blank cheque to the NEC, which is both judge and participant, and which has issued sanctions against the opposition without criticising the government’s manipulation of the rules. To sum up: this is simply a confrontation between bourgeois parties in which each clan is using the tricks typical of that class to boost its bid for power.
The workers must reject all divisions among themselves
The Venezuelan proletariat has to stay on its guard and not become the victim of this ‘final battle’ between the forces of national capital, who are trying to mobilise it behind their power struggles.
Chavismo has some very powerful ideological weapons for mobilising the “poor” and the “excluded” who still hope that Chavez will keep to his promises, especially those about the “Missions”, which are in theory directed “against the predatory bourgeoisie, who want to go back to the past”. But Chavez is also preparing for an armed confrontation if that proves necessary. He knows he can count on the Bolivarian militia and on the shock troops constituted in various “collectives”, both in Caracas and in the interior of the country, and which are armed by the state.
The opposition forces, for their part, although they don’t have a public strategy in case there is a show of strength, won’t stand with folded arms. They include traditional parties like the social democratic Democratic Action, which has decades of experience in the organisation of armed “collectives”. In the ranks of the opposition, there are also organisations of the left who supported Chavismo in the beginning and are well acquainted with its methods of confrontation.
The workers must be aware that it is impossible to fight against precarious work and exploitation by changing the government. The crisis of capitalism will remain and deepen whoever wins, Chavez or Capriles. Both will bring in austerity programmes.
We must not fall into the ideological trap being dug by those who claim that this election is about ‘communism vs democracy’ or ‘the people against the bourgeoisie’. Chavez and Capriles both defend state capitalist programmes that can only be based on the exploitation of the Venezuelan proletariat.
The electoral dispute is just a moment in the confrontation between different factions of national capital. The proletariat must refuse to let itself be pulled into the conflicts between bourgeois gangs. It has to break with democratic ideology, draw the lessons from its own struggles, continue its efforts to rediscover its class identity, its unity and solidarity.
Revolucion Mundial, October 2012.
1 The local currency
2 Between 11 and 13 April 2002 the coup, led by Pedro Carmona, vainly tried to dislodge Chavez from power