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Venezuelan elections: Why the IMT supports Chávez

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The presidential election due on October 7 represents a decisive moment in the history of Venezuela. The outcome of this election will have a major impact throughout the continent and internationally. It goes without saying that the Hands Off Venezuela campaign is actively supporting the Bolivarian candidate Hugo Chavez and fighting against any attempt of the oligarchy and imperialism to sabotage the elections. The IMT stands firmly for the re-election of Hugo Chávez. Why have we taken this position?

Chavez at rally, September 2012. Photo: chavezcandangaChavez at rally, September 2012. Photo: chavezcandangaThe victory of Hugo Chávez in 1998 represented a historic advance of the workers and peasants of Venezuela. According to the UN Economic Commission on Latin America there was a 21 per cent reduction of poverty rates between 1999 and 2010. Illiteracy has been abolished. For the first time free healthcare has been provided for the poor.

All these gains would be threatened by a victory of the opposition. It is the elementary duty of every genuine revolutionary to defend these gains. Whoever is not able to defend the gains of the past will never be able to advance to the final victory.

The opposition’s claim that it will not reverse Chávez’s reforms is not to be trusted. Let us take just one example: housing. The Housing Mission has built thousands of homes for the poor. In May, information minister Andrés Izarra announced that the programme was on target with 200,000 units built since it began in 2011. The polling firm Hinterlaces indicates that, with a 76 per cent approval rating, the Housing Mission is the most popular government social programme. Yet the opposition coalition MUD calls the Housing Mission “a fraud and a failure” and criticizes the government for expropriating land to build housing.

When Capriles won the governorship of Miranda State in 2008, he unleashed his supporters against the Cuban doctors participating in the healthcare programs of the revolution, and generally attempted to close down the different social programs by expelling them from premises belonging to the governorship, etc. It was only the active mobilisation of the people in the streets that managed to defend the gains of the revolution.

The new Labour law recently reduced the working week from 44 to 40 hours, and pre- and post-natal paid time off has been increased from 18 to 26 weeks. On leaving a company, for whatever reason, workers will receive a payment based on their last monthly salary multiplied by the number of years of employment – a major trade union demand. This is at a time when in Europe, all governments are worsening workers’ conditions of employment.

Capriles has attacked the law on the grounds that it “does nothing to deal with unemployment or to benefit those with unprotected casual jobs”. That means that these reforms would be abolished by the opposition.

But it is not just a question of defending the conquests of the last 13 years, of preserving the reforms, the gains in healthcare and education, the Missions and other programmes in the interest of the workers and the poor. It is above all, the need to defeat the bourgeois counterrevolution and thus prepare the way for a decisive advance for the Revolution, which has not yet accomplished its fundamental goals.

The opposition says it is defending “democracy” against “dictatorship”. But the same opposition was behind the failed coup in 2002. If they had succeeded then, it would have been the end of democracy in Venezuela. The example of Chile shows the fate that would have been in store. Capriles himself, as the Mayor of the Caracas district of Baruta, participated in the attempt to storm the Cuban embassy during the April 2002 coup, in flagrant violation of its diplomatic status.

The bourgeois opposition showed its contempt for democracy and elections by its decision to boycott national elections in 2005. Now, however, opposition leaders are falling over themselves to “defend” the 1999 constitution – which they have always opposed tooth and nail, although it was approved by an overwhelming majority in a popular referendum.

Nobody can place the slightest trust in the democratic credentials of the opposition.

What the opposition stands for

The opposition claims to represent the middle classes. But that is a lie. The opposition represents the interests of the oligarchy – the big landowners, bankers and capitalists. They are completely subservient to the imperialists and the big oil companies that dominated and plundered Venezuela for generations.

The wealthy people hate Chávez, because they fear that he means to eliminate private property. They are motivated by class resentment toward the poor, who, after generations of neglect, have benefitted from progressive government programmes. The opposition is not the representative of the middle class but its political exploiter.

The candidate of the opposition, Henrique Capriles Radonski, calls himself a reformer. He claims not to stand for any sort of ideology. We have heard this story many times before: “I am non-political: that is, I am right wing.” But it is sufficient to cast a glance at the party to which this “non-ideological” politician belongs, to immediately grasp the real situation.

Capriles claims to be “progressive”. He says he will not repeat the “mistaken policies” of pre-1998 Venezuela. But the very parties that endorse his candidacy were responsible for these policies, which were not at all “mistakes” but were the direct expression of the interests of the super-rich clique that ran the country.

But the masses are not naive. They are not deceived by Capriles’ demagogy. They see that behind the smiling mask there lies concealed the ugly physiognomy of the oligarchy, which, if it returns to power, will trample them underfoot.

Capriles belongs to the Justice First Party (MPJ), a right-wing bourgeois party that stands for “private enterprise” and opposes the intervention of the state in economic life. This is ironical at a time when so-called “free enterprise” has been exposed as a gigantic fraud on a global scale.

Does Mr. Capriles not know that the capitalist system is in a deep crisis everywhere? When the private banks in the US collapsed in 2008, what did they do? Did they confine themselves to singing the praises of “private enterprise”? No, they ran to the state and demanded that the government hand over billions of dollars of public money to save them.

The failure of “private enterprise” is the reason why every government in Europe is deep in debt. They say there is no money for schools, hospitals and pensions, but there is plenty of money for the bankers.

In the last weeks an opposition leader revealed a document, written by the economic advisors of the Capriles campaign, with details about their real plans if he were to be elected. The document puts forward a classic austerity package, proposing cuts in pensions, social spending, the social programs, the “opening up” of PDVSA and other state-owned companies to private investment, etc. The plan is so scandalous that it led to four smaller parties in the joint opposition platform (MUD) withdrawing their support for Capriles and a whole host of other opposition figures also distancing themselves from him.

The workers and peasants understand what is at stake. At every decisive turn they have rallied to defend the Revolution against its enemies: the landowners, bankers and capitalists and the imperialists who stand behind them. They understand that a vote for Chávez in these elections is a vote against returning to the bad old days when a tiny handful of wealthy oligarchs decided everything and the poor majority counted for nothing.

Despite the opposition's claims that it is winning, Chávez is presently leading in the polls. The Datanálisis survey gave Chávez a lead of anything between 43.6 per cent and 27.7 per cent over Capriles. It also showed that 62.4 per cent of voters rate the president's performance as above average; while only 29.4 per cent consider it poor. These findings may be believed, since the owner of Datanálisis, Luis Vicente León is well known to be a supporter of the opposition.

Capriles and US imperialism

Chávez is regarded as Public Enemy Number One by Washington, who sees him as the main instigator of opposition to US imperialism in Latin America. Chávez energetically condemned the coup against President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Prompted by his friends in the U.S. State Department, Capriles criticized Chávez for recalling his ambassador from Asunción and cutting off the supply of oil to Paraguay.

Capriles pledges to re-establish friendly relations with the U.S., that is, to make Venezuela subservient to Washington, as it was in the past. He promises a thorough revision of Venezuela's aid programmes and alliances with the rest of Latin America. That means a break with Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, to please his “allies” north of the Rio Grande.

Shortly before stepping down as president of the World Bank in June, Robert Zoellick declared that “Chávez's days are numbered” and, with the elimination of his government's foreign subsidies, other nations such as Cuba and Nicaragua will “be in trouble.” Zoellick sees a Capriles victory as “an opportunity to make the western hemisphere the first democratic hemisphere” as opposed to a “place of coups, caudillos, and cocaine.”

These words accurately express the attitude of US imperialism to the elections of October 7. They see this as a decisive event. If the opposition wins, it will mean putting the clock back to the situation before 1998, when Venezuela was ruled by the big US monopolies. But if Chávez wins it will be a devastating blow to the counterrevolution, as Michael Penfold warns in in Foreign Affairs: “If Chávez wins in October, a vast majority of the opposition's political capital will be dashed; in many ways, it will be back to square one.”

That is why the imperialists and their local agents single out Chávez for special treatment. The expropriations, the reversal of “neoliberal” economic measures, the creation of a popular militia, the refusal to bend the knee to pressure from Washington, the attacks on capitalism and appeals for socialism – all this is a dangerous and explosive mixture that acts as a powerful catalyst to revolutionary tendencies in Latin America.

Yet another goal outlined in Chávez's electoral platform is the expansion of the power of community councils. Several hundred “communes in construction” are to be involved in such areas as gas and water distribution. Chávez proposes to promote the creation of new communes to represent 68 per cent of the population. The communes are to be granted the same prerogatives as state and municipal governments, including budgeting, participation in state planning and, eventually, tax collection. All these measures represent a gradual encroachment of the state in economic life.

The imperialists fear that a Chávez victory in October will mean further deepening of change in Venezuela. Chávez has said that the period 2013-2019 must see new state incursions into commerce and transport, to the detriment of middlemen, through the creation of “centres of local distribution for the sale and direct distribution of products.” This tendency towards new expropriations may eventually threaten the very existence of capitalism in Venezuela.

The real difference

The division between the two camps is the division between two antagonistic classes: on the one hand, the millions of poor people, workers and peasants, urban poor and lower layers of the middle class, on the other, the big landowners, bankers and capitalists and their well-to-do middle class hangers-on.

The real difference centres on the question of private property: the question of economic policy and in particular, expropriations. The overwhelming majority of Chávez supporters are from the former strata and they stand firmly for socialism, for the expropriation of the landowners and capitalists.

The Bolivarian bureaucracy has attempted to water down the socialist programme. Instead, they speak of a “mixed economy”, in which monopolies and oligopolies will face competition from public companies. This is the old idea of a “third way” between capitalism and socialism, which President Chávez has correctly described as a farce.

It is not possible to make half a Revolution. In the last analysis, one class must win and the other class must lose. Partial nationalization can never work because it is impossible to plan what you do not control, and it is impossible to control what you do not own. An economy which is only partly owned by the state cannot be properly planned.

At the same time, all the attempt to “regulate” capitalism in an attempt to improve the situation of the masses (through price controls, foreign exchange controls, etc) will prevent the normal functioning of a market economy, creating a chaotic situation of inflation, a flight of capital, falling investment, factory closures, artificially created shortages, hoarding and speculation with basic food products, bureaucratic bungling and mismanagement. In other words, you will get the worst of all worlds.

The private sector, which still controls a significant part of the economy, is in the hands of the enemies of the Revolution. The capitalists are doing everything in their power to sabotage the economy through a strike of capital. It is necessary to expropriate the land, banks and big business in order to put an end to this sabotage.

But Capriles has pledged to halt all expropriations. “I'm not going to squabble with businessmen or anyone else,” he says. Naturally! How can he squabble with the people whose interests he represents, and to which he belongs? Capriles himself comes from a wealthy business family with multiple interests (real estate, industry, media). He is also the former mayor of the municipality of Baruta, an affluent area of Caracas.

He promises to create three million jobs during his presidency. How is this miracle to be accomplished? By lifting restrictions or conditions on foreign investments, that is to say, by handing Venezuela on a plate to the same big foreign oil companies that plundered it in the past. Not accidentally, the alliance of parties that support Capriles, the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), advocates “making flexible” the legislation that asserts state control over the oil industry “to promote competition and private participation in the industry.”

The Revolution is not finished

A Chávez victory will encourage the swing to the left in Latin America at a moment when capitalism is in a deep crisis on a world scale. It will further undermine U.S. influence at a time when its plans for Iraq and Afghanistan are in ruins. On the other hand, a defeat for Chávez would put the clock back to pre-1999 Venezuela. It would deal a heavy blow to the Left everywhere. It would leave Cuba completely isolated, providing a powerful impetus to the pro-capitalist elements on the island.

The opposition has callously attempted to take advantage of Chavez's illness prior to the election campaign. They stressed Chávez's “frailty,” in contrast to the alleged youthful good health and energy of his opponent. In addition, they add, the chavistas do not have anyone who could take his place. On this they have a point. It is an undoubted weakness of the Bolivarian Movement and the PSUV that it depends so much on one man.

Chávez has gone further than any other leader in Latin America in challenging imperialism and capitalism and placing socialism back on the agenda. This deserves recognition. But there are deep contradictions within the Bolivarian Movement, where not everyone is in favour of socialism or opposed to capitalism.

When Chávez was first elected president in December 1998, he stood on a rather vague platform that did not mention socialism. But life teaches. On the basis of experience, he has come out in favour of socialism. That is a great step forward. But it still needs to be implemented. True, there have been some steps forward: he has partially nationalized some key sectors such as telecommunications, cement and steel. He has repeatedly attacked the bourgeoisie and the oligarchy (which is the same thing) and he has stood up against U.S. imperialism.

But the lack of workers’ control in state-run heavy industries such as steel, has given rise to many difficulties and labour unrest. The workers resent the bureaucracy that is trying to elbow them to one side and usurp control of the Bolivarian Movement. All the attempts of the workers to take the initiative and introduce elements of workers' control and management, for instance in the basic heavy industries in Guayana, with the support of the President, have been met with fierce resistance and open sabotage on the part of the bureaucracy. Taking advantage of the President’s illness, these elements are openly talking about “chavismo without Chávez.” This represents the biggest danger for the Revolution.

Today, thirteen years after the election of Chávez that final victory has still not been achieved. As long as the land, the banks and big enterprises remain in the hands of the oligarchy, the Bolivarian Revolution will never be safe. The deep bond that exists between Chávez and the Venezuelan masses is a reflection of the fact that Chávez aroused them to political life and struggle.

The truth is that a big section of the Bolivarian bureaucracy was never in favour of socialism. They have been constantly conspiring to put the brakes on the Revolution, halt expropriations and above all prevent the workers from taking control.

Le Monde Diplomatique recently revealed the attitude of the right wing of the Bolivarian Movement, which has long been dreaming of “chavismo without Chávez”:

“On a visit to Brazil in April 2010, he was asked about letting another leader emerge. ‘I do not have a successor in sight,’ he answered. But there may be a change in thinking. Last year Chávez told a former adviser, the Spanish academic Juan Carlos Monedero, who had warned of the danger of ‘hyperleadership’ in Venezuela: ‘I have to learn to delegate power more.’ During his extended medical treatment, several top leaders filled the gap and emerged as possible successors: foreign minister Nicolás Maduro (a former trade union leader), who headed the commission that drafted the new labour law; executive vice president Elías Jaua (popular among the Chávez rank-and-file); National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello (a former army lieutenant with a pragmatic approach and strong backing among the armed forces). In May, the critical Monedero remarked that formerly ‘some of us saw the difficulties of continuing this process’ without Chávez, but ‘now we have lost this fear because I see dozens of people who could continue the process without any problem’.”

That there are “dozens of people” waiting to seize control of the Bolivarian Movement the moment Chávez leaves the scene we do not doubt. But the advocates of “chavismo without Chávez” have no wish to “continue the process” of the Revolution. Rather, they wish to “continue the process” of derailing the Bolivarian Revolution, of watering down its programme so as to be acceptable to the oligarchy, halting the expropriations and putting the whole programme into reverse. In other words, they wish to implement the programme of the Fifth Column of the bourgeoisie within chavismo.

The key to the success of the Revolution is that control of the movement must be in the hands of the rank and file, not the bureaucrats and careerists who have done so much harm to the Bolivarian cause. It is the workers and peasants who have been the real motor force of the Revolution. They and they alone, must be in control. The only people who can lead the Revolution to victory are the workers and peasants themselves.

  • Defeat the counterrevolution!
  • Expropriate the oligarchy!
  • Power to the workers and peasants!
  • Carry out the Revolution to the end!

London, 24th September

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