Venezuela's regional and council elections

On Sunday, October 31, millions of Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect governors of the country’s 24 states and mayors for 337 municipal councils. Coming after the massive victory of the Bolivarian movement in defeating the presidential recall referendum on August 15, this election offers the possibility for the Bolivarian movement to take control of some key states and local councils.

On Sunday, October 31, millions of Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect governors of the country’s 24 states and mayors for 337 municipal councils. Coming after the massive victory of the Bolivarian movement in defeating the presidential recall referendum on August 15, this election offers the possibility for the Bolivarian movement to take control of some key states and local councils.

The blow dealt to the reactionary anti-democratic opposition on August 15 left them in a state of profound demoralisation and increased the divisions amongst them. Two and a half months after, they still have not recognised the results of the referendum alleging, against all evidence, that there was massive fraud.

The misnamed “Democratic” Coordination, the umbrella body that united the different groups that make up the Venezuelan reactionary opposition, is now all but defunct, with a number of parties and prominent leaders having publicly or de facto walked out of it. In many states and local councils the different opposition parties have not even been able to agree on a common joint candidate, thus decreasing even more any chances of getting elected. In some other cases, prominent opposition figures, like Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña, have withdrawn from the race in a move which is seen as motivated only by trying to avoid the embarrassment of defeat in the polls.

In fact the most extreme right wing groups, basing themselves on the frenzied middle class layers in the east of Caracas, have announced that they will not participate in the elections and are calling for abstention. In a sense their position is coherent, since the opposition leaders have been telling them there is already a dictatorship in Venezuela and that there was fraud in the August 15 referendum. What is the point in going to the polls again “in these conditions”?

Other opposition leaders are clearly aware that boycotting these elections would result in them losing important parcels of power and have thrown their weight into the campaign. There are a number of high profile State governor contests like in the oil rich state of Zulia, in industrial Carabobo, in Miranda (next to the capital Caracas), Bolivar and in Anzoategui. A victory for pro-Chávez candidates in a number of these states would be yet another major defeat for the opposition and make the balance of forces even more favourable to the Bolivarian movement. Another high profile race is that for the Caracas Mayor, which Bolivarian Barreto is likely to win.

Candidates and democracy

Closing rally of Tarek Saab in Anzoategui

One factor which weakens the Bolivarian forces in these elections has been the widely criticised way in which candidates have been chosen by those who support the government. These elections have been postponed a number of times so candidates were appointed nearly one year ago. At that time the leadership of the Bolivarian movement was in the hands of the Comando Ayacucho, which was a coordinating committee of all parties supporting Chavez’s government. This Comando proved in practice to be highly inefficient and massive criticism of its inability to deliver in the run up to the recall referendum forced Chavez to dismiss it in June.

However, the candidates appointed by the Comando Ayacucho, in most cases without any form of consultation with the rank and file, remained in place and are the official Bolivarian candidates now. Discontent with this situation led a number of organisations and parties to field alternative candidates in some places. This obviously has created divisions within the Bolivarian camp. During the campaign against Chávez’s recall many activists in the movement and even some leading figures raised the idea of the need for primary elections to choose united candidates once August 15 was over.

But this idea, raised amongst others by William Izarra, the Ideology and Political Education organiser in the national Comando Maisanta (the body which replaced the infamous Comando Ayacucho at the head of the movement), was decisively rejected by Chávez immediately after the August 15 victory.

To give just a few examples of the candidates that the revolutionary rank and file are opposing, we have the case of Vargas (a state next to Caracas) where the “official” candidate is current governor Antonio Rodriguez, who during the brief military coup against Chávez in April 2002 sided with coup president Pedro Carmona. Revolutionary organisations in Vargas did organise a primary election with the participation of nearly 14,000 people. Rodriguez got barely 1,700 votes as against nearly 10,000 who voted for Gladys Requena. Since Rodriguez refused to accept the verdict of the people, Gladys Requena is now standing as a candidate for the Vargas Revolution Collective (Colectivo Vargas RevoluciĆ³n). This is a clear case in which the blame for dividing the chavista vote lies with the “official” candidate.

Closing rally of Gladys Requena in Vargas (pic: CMR)

In other cases where imposed candidates have been challenged by rank and file revolutionary organisation, but where there was no alternative candidate, there have been mass meetings of the neighbourhood assemblies to discuss the programme that the revolutionary people want these candidates to adopt. There is in any case a strong feeling against bureaucratic impositions within the revolutionary movement and for the need for working people themselves to control the revolutionary movement.

These conflicts within the revolutionary movement have led to a mood of impatience and frustration amongst a layer of activists. Some have gone as far as to advocate abstention in these elections. This is completely wrong. All efforts must be made to defeat the reactionary opposition candidates on all fronts, but at the same time the level of organisation and democratic structures within the movement must be strengthened so that Bolivarian mayors and governors can be held to account. The Revolutionary Marxist Current (CMR) in Venezuela has been very clear in adopting this position in the electoral process.

Which way forward for the revolution?

A victory on October 31 will deal yet another blow to the reactionary opposition. Chávez has been touring the country supporting Bolivarian candidates in key states and has put a lot of emphasis on the need to advance the land reform. He has called on Bolivarian governors who get elected to immediately have meetings with big land owners and put before them the following: either a peaceful settlement is reached in which they give up large parts of their land, or the matter will be resolved through conflict. These calls are having a powerful impact on tens of thousands of peasants in states like Zulia, Yaracuy and others. But inevitably such calls will lead to conflicts with the landowners who have been largely untouched by the land reform so far (which has mostly consisted in the distribution of large amounts of state owned land), and will fuel class struggle in the countryside.

While being extremely belligerent towards landowners, the government has tried by all means to reach a modus vivendi with the private capitalists. A number of important concessions have been made in the form of tax cuts and incentives. Thus Economic Planning Minister, Jorge Giordani, has been very clear about the need for a “genuine national productive business class”. There is a contradiction here, since Chávez has at the same time said that capitalism has not been able to develop the country and that one cannot eradicate poverty in Venezuela unless capitalism is done away with.

There is a mood of confidence amongst the working class as well as the growing process of unionisation and of democratisation of the trade union movement, which is represented by the newly formed UNT. This will also lead to increasing conflict between workers and employers in the private sector.

The truth of the matter is that despite repeated appeals by Chávez to business not to get involved in politics and to concentrate on developing the country and the economy, the decisive sectors of the capitalist class in Venezuela have responded by organising military insurrections against the democratically elected government and sabotaging the economy.

Despite the fact that so far the Chávez government and the Bolivarian revolution have not attacked private property rights, the oligarchy (the alliance between capitalists, bankers, landowners and imperialist interests) cannot tolerate the Bolivarian movement, because they understand clearly that the revolutionary movement of the masses poses a direct threat to their domination of the economy and the country as a whole.

The struggle of the Venepal workers is one example of this contradiction. The owners of the company supported the military coup and the bosses’ lockout against the democratically elected government. The workers fought back. Now the owners have declared the factory bankrupt and the workers have occupied the premises and are demanding nationalisation under workers’ control. William Izarra has come out in favour of this proposal at a mass meeting he addressed in Venepal.

This conflict, over the control of the economy, will come increasingly to the fore in the next period, and the future of the Bolivarian revolution depends, to a large extent, on how it is resolved. The October 31 elections are an important battle in this war.