Saturday, December 8

Venezuela's Referendum Results and the Struggle for Socialism

The Following is a presentation which I wrote for a Party for Socialism and Liberation Branch Meeting digging into the reasons why the December 2nd reforms failed in Venezuela, and what it means for the movement; and intensification of the tightening of the struggle for socialism

On December 2nd, Venezuela’s bolivarian revolution faced its first real setback since the US backed counter-revolutionary coup of 2002. 69 constitutional reforms proposed by Chavez in order to solidify the revolution in Venezuela further were defeated by barely more than 1% of the vote. The next day as results of the referendum hit the press, Chavez boldy conceded defeat, “for now”, promising that the struggle was far from over and Venezuela would continue on the road to socialism.

Venezuela’s bolivarian revolution has been a process which began back in 1989 with the Caracazo where the people took to the streets rebelling against neoliberal reforms which had stripped them of basic social services. The uprising was suppressed, but the impoverished living conditions of the vast majority of people in Venezuela as a result of the neo-liberal reforms did not stop, thus the struggle for change would continue. In 1992, Chavez and the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement led a military uprising which was defeated. Chavez was then imprisoned however he became a national hero when he appreared on air after he was captured to tell the revolutionary forces to stand down... “for now.” While in prison people started organizing in their communities and neighborhoods in support of Chavez throughout the country. When he was finally released Chavez had massive support and decided to run for president in 1998. Chavez didn’t win the election because he had the most money and corporate funding as past Venezuelan presidents had, but because of his intense popular support. Since the revolution has achieved state power and consolidated itself more and more there have been massive gains for the working class from healthcare and housing in the barrios, to free university education for working class students and communal councils that empower the people. But with every inch gained by the working class, the old ruling class has fought back

In the old Venezuela, the capitalist class had complete control. This means that the US and European oil barrons and a few wealthy landowning families had complete control of Venezuela, its economy, and its oil wealth leaving the millions and millions of Venezuelans who actually produced the wealth living in dire impoverished conditions. A class with that much power is not going to give up without a fight. The loss of the Referendum is due to a variety of reasons but it stems from this class struggle between the working class, the vast majoirty of society, and the capitalist class, and in every fight or struggle, even the best fighter will take a hit. Venezuela’s revolution is no different, and socialist revolutions in the past from Russia to Cuba and China to Korea have been no different.

With this is mind, its easier to really understand why the referendum lost so narrowly. The first major reason goes back to what Russian Revolutionary Vladmir Lenin stated a little over a century ago. In order for the working class to make a revolution, it needs a party to unite itself. This party needs to lead the people to taking power and in order to do so, it naturally needs experience. In Venezuela, the “vanguard party” as Lenin called it, is the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The party is brand new, forged out of the leftist parties which backed the bolivarian revolution and out of the struggle that defines Venezuela today. When the party was formed, corporate media all over the world was alarmed calling the formation a totalitarian move and other nonsense. The reality was that they were scared of the people uniting under one party and of the left uniting, for them, it could only spell trouble. Yet some of the groups which had supported Chavez decided to go down a road of opportunism. They took this opportunity to publicize themselves by breaking off with the movement and attempting to split the left for their own ends. Groups like Podemos campaigned for the “No” vote to the referendum under the banner of 21st century socialism, confusing supporters of the bolivarian revolution. This as well as General Baduels’ defection to the opposition make up the “fifth column” of the Venezuelan Revolution. They are liberal elements which as the struggle sharpens are begining to fade out. They’re the careerists, the bureacrats, and the liberals and they’re presence has been crushing to the Chavista movement. It is this segment of the movement which has held back socialism and the referendum’s failure should be an awakening to Venezuelans who want to see real change. It was Fifth column bureacrats who failed to organized succesful pro-si campaigns in communities and districts all over Venezuela while the opposition went door-to-door threatening working class Venezuelans and claiming the government would take their car, house, and children away if the reform was passed.

This leads to the Second major reason the referendum failed. It wasn’t just that the non-revolutionary wing of the movement and party essentially worked against the reforms confusing people by claiming to be for socialism but in fact aiding capitalis, it was the vicious campaign of the ruling class against campaign. In Venezuela there have been alot of gains for the people but the bourgeoisie still control the media. Newspapers throughout Venezuela ran editorials which spread disinformation on the nature of the reforms and ads which made outrageous claims showing supposedly Cuban butcher shops which were empty and claiming that this was Venezuela’s future if the reforms were approved. Bourgeois democracy is all based on money and corporate investment. While the Si campaign was funded grassroots from the people, the no campaign was funded by corporations, oil barrons, landlords, and business federations. A few days before referendum Venezuela uncovered CIA documents in support of the No campaign which advocated a campaign of destablization to stop the reforms. With the backing of the corporations and US imperialism the “No” campaign was able to get its message out far easier than the “Si” campaign based in the support of the working class in the barrios which have gained so much from the revolution. Thus the reality is that until capitalism is fully overthrown, there can be no real democracy just democracy of the rich.

The failure of the reforms simply serves as a reminder that socialism cannot be built just through the ballot box, it comes from the streets, from popular struggle. In Venezuela the bourgeois still have power and until they are fully expropriated and the people gain control of everything for their benefit and use, they will continue to spread their misinformation and lies. Through their wild campaign of deeming Chavez a “dictator” they scared some 2.5 million voters who had voted for Chavez and Socialism in the past away from the voting booth. The opposition gained only a small number of votes, a fraction which led them to barely win, it was the misinformation spread on individual reforms of the 69 proposed and the failure of the Bolivarian movement to respond to these lies because of the opportunist wing of the movement and their sabotage which led to the defeat.

In short, the loss of the referendum will be wake up call for the revolutionaries in Venezuela, people who have seen the benefits of the revolution and want to see it defended and progressed will now tighten up, they will correct the mistakes pointed out, and the struggle in Venezuela will only intensify. The reality is that the people are on the side of the revolution. Over 5 million people have signed to the PSUV, now its time for the PSUV to step up and lead this revolution. Revolutionaries in Venezuela will now turn to more intense struggle to defend the revolution and advance it so that Venezuela can finally be free from US imperialism.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

I agree with your analysis.

I have had encounters with people from the Venezuelan embassy at conferences and Hands Off Venezuela work. There are some who are authentic radicals, and some who are total oppurtunists. These guys always talk about "The Venezuelan Model," and other trite phrases. If the reforms passed, they would have lost power.