The 6 December National Assembly elections in Venezuela were marked by a low turnout in the midst of imperialist aggression and a deep economic crisis. The US and the EU had already announced in advance they would not recognise the results, but the Guaidó card is exhausted. The PSUV victory announces a deepening of its rightward political shift.
First thing to be noted regarding the Venezuelan election yesterday is the scandalous campaign of imperialist interference by Washington and Brussels. The US has clearly obviously failed in its “regime change” offensive in 2019/20 which included the self-proclamation of Guaidó as “president”, a failed military coup, a mercenary incursion, sanctions, threats, etc. This campaign of imperialist aggression has continued to this day with the refusal to recognise this election and its results. However, their man, Guaidó is clearly a spent force, which, having failed in its objectives to overthrow the Maduro government, is now widely discredited and does not even command the united support of the pro-imperialist opposition.
The EU, which backed Washington but only played second fiddle, attempted to get the elections postponed, which Maduro rightly refused. The Venezuelan people have their own government and they have the right to hold elections when they are due without Borrell, Pompeo or the sinister war criminal Abrams telling them.
Today, imperialist spokespersons in Europe and the US highlight the low turnout. The turnout was low and the reasons for this are discussed further down, however, in parliamentary elections in Romania on the same day, turnout was also only 31%, without imperialist threats nor an opposition boycott, and we do not see Washington nor Brussels railing against the Romanian election.
Perhaps the most scandalous example of reactionary double standards was Jeanine Añez’s tweet saying the Venezuelan elections were “false”. This is the person who became Bolivia’s “president” through a military coup, without a single person having voted for her to occupy that office and whose party had only received 4.2% of the vote!
The bulk (but not all) of the opposition (under instructions from Washington) decided to boycott the election, but did not really campaign for boycott nor attempted to disrupt the vote as they had done with the Constituent Assembly elections in 2017.
In these conditions, turnout was crucial for the government in order to strengthen its legitimacy. As well as opposition boycott the Maduro government was contending with disillusionment amongst chavista ranks. This is the result of the deep economic crisis (aggravated by sanctions), but also the fact that the government has been unable to fulfil its repeated promises to turn the situation around. People have lost count of how many times the government has promised to make Venezuela into an economic power and repeated concessions to the private sector have yielded no tangible results.
To this we have to add the rightward course of the government. In facing up to sanctions the government has become dependent on its trading partners (China, Russia, Turkey and Iran) which have pushed for a policy of restoring some sort of equilibrium by unravelling many of the conquests of the Bolivarian revolution and creating favourable conditions for foreign capitalist investment. Thus, we have seen the creeping privatisation of state-owned companies, many of which were nationalised under Chavez. In the field of agrarian reform there have been countless incidents in which comunero held land has been taken away to be handed over to private landowners, using the force of the state (the National Guard as well as the elite anti-extorsion and kidnapping FAES) and the judiciary against the campesinos. The Minister of Agriculture is a leading proponent of the idea of promoting a “revolutionary bourgeoisie”. Collective bargaining contracts were destroyed as part of an economic package in August 2018. Worker and peasant activists have been jailed, in some cases for years without trial, while reactionary imperialist puppet golpistas are free to continue plotting or are released from jail as a gesture of good will. This rightward move by the government has created a mood of disillusionment and opposition from among the chavista activists.
Having said that, the PSUV is a formidable and well oiled electoral machine, which still commands a degree of support amongst the poorest layers in society. This support can be understood partly because the party is associated with the legacy of Chávez and the real gains made by the revolution, partly because the party is associated to the CLAP food parcels and other social benefits delivered by the government, partly because of the deep hatred of imperialism and its local agents which leads to a closing of the ranks behind the PSUV. This is something capitalist commentators are completely unable to understand. How much of this still holds was one of the key questions in this election.
In the days leading up to the election it was clear that Maduro and the PSUV were worried about the possibility of a very low turnout (and they have the means to gauge that very precisely). This is the reason Maduro hinted that if he lost this election he would resign in an attempt to encourage the opposition vote. He also went out of his way to block the Venezuelan Communist Party from the viewers in a TV address, probably revealing that he knew the PCV was doing better than expected.
Usually, since Chávez won for the first time in 1998, Venezuelan elections start early in the morning and there are queues at polling stations until closing time and beyond. Polling stations are usually forced to stay open after closing time because there are still queues of people waiting in line to vote.
This time it was different. Participation during the day was low. Not just low, meaning the opposition voters didn't turn up (which was predictable), but low in terms of the hard core chavista vote not turning out in the numbers it had in previous elections. At the official closing time, the National Electoral Council declared that polling stations would remain open, even though there were no queues of people waiting.
According to the provisional results with 82.35% of the vote counted, the turnout was 31%. This is a low turnout, even considering the boycott of the majority of the opposition. The PSUV received 67% of the votes cast, which if we extrapolate to 100% of the vote, would be 4.3 million. This compares with 5.6 million in the previous National Assembly elections in 2015, 6.2 million in the 2018 presidential election (also with a boycott of the majority of the opposition, though these two elections cannot be compared directly). This was a bad result for the PSUV, which nevertheless will have a substantial majority in the new National Assembly, perhaps even a two third super-majority.
The emergence of the Alternativa Popular Revolucionaria is an important feature of this election. For the first time since 1998, there is a contender to the left of the main chavista party (if the PSUV can still be considered as such). However, the APR which was standing through the PCV election ticket had a number of factors against it. First of all this is a very recent alliance, which was only set up in August. It was hit by state meddling, including the fact that three of the component parties had their electoral register stolen by the Supreme Court. This meant that in some states with a strong tradition of the PPT, for instance, people might have voted for the party ticket, without realising that the ticket was no longer under the control of the party leadership, and thus voting for the PSUV rather than the APR. There were also incidents of harassment of APR candidates, by the police as well as the bosses in state owned companies. A scandalous campaign of censorship in the state media, made the APR invisible to most chavista voters, despite the fact that right wing opposition candidates were given ample coverage.
Additionally, the APR's strength and presence is uneven across the country. Its campaign had an important impact amongst the most active layers (on social media, rank and file organisations, etc), but was not really able to reach the masses of workers and poor, partly because of its own shortcomings and lack of resources, partly because of state boycott. It is also worth mentioning that the main parties in the APR refused to discuss a clear programme, which added to the confusion and made it more difficult to counter the campaign of lies and slander against it.
In the end the APR received 143,917 votes (in the first provisional official count), which could mean around 175,000 when all the votes are counted, 2.7%. That would be the same number of votes the PCV received in the 2018 presidential election when it was part of the coalition backing Maduro (in Venezuela it is possible to vote for a candidate but to do so on the ticket of each of the parties backing it). At this point it seems clear that the APR will elect deputies to the National Assembly, though it is not clear how many.
The PSUV, despite having a bad result, will have achieved its main aim: to take back control over the National Assembly. It will now have a freer reign in carrying out its policies and having them passed by the legislative body. If its recent track record is a guide, it will use this power to deepen its liberal turn. Two days before the election, President Maduro, in a televised address, issued a message to the capitalists: “to the businessmen, national and international, I tell them that with a new National Assembly new times will come and you will find us ready to implement any changes, reforms and adaptations to push forward the productive apparatus and support the private sector in its growth.”
Even if the PSUV on its own does not achieve the two thirds majority required to take certain decisions, it will certainly be able to count on the support of right wing opposition parties to carry out pro-capitalist policies. The strategy devised seems to be one of offering concessions to capitalist investment from China, Russia, Turkey, etc, in the hope that this would force the European Union to change its policies. With Guaidó firmly out of the picture (he based the little claim he had to legitimacy on the opposition majority in the National Assembly) and Trump on his way out, Maduro hopes he can reach an understanding with both the EU and Biden in order to lift or ease sanctions which have battered the Venezuelan economy. Some argue that this is the only possible and realistic course for a country subject to asphyxiating economic sanctions.
Of course, any country subject to sanctions should be prepared to trade with whatever countries are prepared to trade with it. However, the policies of Maduro’s government are not only based on trading with this or that country. At the core of his policies, going back to when he was first elected, but deepened and intensified since the economic package of 2018, is the idea of achieving a reconciliation with the private sector and the multinationals by making all sorts of concessions. Again, some will argue there is no other policy possible. This is only true if you accept the limits of the capitalist system. Within capitalism, once the oil prices collapsed in 2014/15, the policy of massive social programmes had to come to an end.
Another policy would have been possible, that of following the advice Chávez gave in his last speeches, including Golpe de Timón, where he argued that the way forward was a socialist economy and the pulverisation of the bourgeois state.
This is what the APR deputies in the national assembly should argue from now on. They must use the parliamentary tribune as a loudspeaker for the voice of the workers, the peasants and the poor and their struggles. They should argue for a bold socialist and anti-imperialist programme and reject the anti-working class policy of concessions to and conciliation with the capitalists. In this way, the APR can be built into a powerful socialist revolutionary alternative. This is what the comrades of Lucha de Clases, the Venezuelan section of the IMT have been pushing for.
The International Marxist Tendency took a clear stance of support for the APR and organised an international campaign of solidarity video-messages from comrades who over the years have played an important role in the solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution. Alan Woods' message had a big impact and received many complimentary comments. Amongst them, the Communist Party general secretary Oscar Figuera, who said: "Greetings to Alan Woods for his clear, firm and timely position. Fraternal greetings". Jesús Pino, a long standing revolutionary militant at the SIDOR steel mill in Guayana, said: "greetings to Alan from his communist friend and steel worker. I thank you for your support for the APR, for which I am standing in Bolivar state."