Venezuela: the revolution in danger?

Tim Bowron

(first published on Socialist Democracy blog)

Having suffered a narrow defeat in the constitutional referendum held last December, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has signalled that plans to accelerate his Bolivarian socialist project will have to be placed temporarily on hold.

On January 6 he announced during his weekly television show “Alo Presidente”:

I’m obliged to slow down the pace of the march. I’ve been imposing on it a speed that’s beyond the collective capabilities or possibilities; I accept that, that has been one of my mistakes… Vanguards can’t lose their contact with the masses. They must stay with the masses! I will stay with you, and therefore I have to decrease my speed…

However, despite the referendum defeat, the right-wing opposition forces have not gained significantly in terms of their actual support. In the December poll the “No” vote increased by only some 300,000 over the vote total of the opposition candidate in the previous year’s presidential elections.

What was decisive, though, was the abstention of some 3 million Chávez supporters, who this time simply stayed home and did not vote.

These voters, concentrated in the poor barrios where joblessness and inadequate housing are still widespread, clearly felt that the priority of the socialist revolution should be economic transformation and not constitutional window-dressing.

As the leaders of Marea Clasista y Socialista, a Marxist current inside Chávez´s newly formed party, the United Socialist Party (PSUV), wrote in an analysis of the referendum defeat:

The government talks of the project of socialism and equality, but it does not always resolve key social problems like insecurity, housing, the wages of big sectors of the population, whereas other wealthy sectors still dispose of big companies and maintain their economic and political power. We all know that there are very positive social gains and that the reform brought others, but revolutions have unavoidable laws: to advance; it is necessary to take clear measures which weaken capitalist economic power and orient according to social needs.

There are signs that Chávez has at least partially assimilated this essential lesson. In his speech to the opening congress of the PSUV on January 12 he warned of the dangers of the new party being infiltrated by bourgeois or middle-class elements, only out to enrich themselves and betray the revolution.

This should be kept in mind when analysing Chávez’s other recent statement (widely reported in the capitalist press) that the revolution “must seek out an alliance with the middle classes, even the national bourgeoisie”. This remark was made in a separate speech on January 2, which also included an announcement of a government amnesty for the supporters of the failed 2002 CIA-backed coup against Chávez.

But although it may be necessary for Chávez to outwardly conciliate with pro-business forces and “play to the gallery” of foreign diplomats, he is clearly still aware where his true support base lies and also of the need to build the PSUV as a combative party of the workers, peasants and urban poor.

As Chávez summed it up in his speech to the delegates at the PSUV congress, at the end of the day the revolution “cannot depend on one man or an elite, rather it must be built by the people”.

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