Venezuela: Reaffirmation, warning and encouragement for the revolution
On April 3, Nicolas Maduro visited Merida state. Crowds filled the central city bridge, equalling crowd sizes when Hugo Chavez spoke in Merida in September in the lead-up to last year’s election. Photo by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis.
By Luis Bilbao, Caracas; translated by Jacqueline Reinel and Fernando Torres
April 30, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- With 50.75% of the votes, Nicolás Maduro was elected president of Venezuela. In 14 years, it is the sixth presidential election victory by the revolutionary process. Despite the magnitude of an unprecedented mass mobilisation in defence of the revolution, the opposition’s vote rose to 48.98%, five points higher than the same candidate's outcome in October.
The difference is a warning that the president acknowledged in his speech following the announcement of the result by the National Electoral Council (CNE). Now comes the implementation of the Plan for the Homeland, the enormous economic challenges of transition in times of capitalism's agony, the struggle against inefficiency, sabotage and insecurity, the defence of the regional union, the consolidation and projection of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). All this within the opposition's offensive and an emboldened imperialism.
But the real result of strategic significance is the role of the masses in a campaign that counterposed explicitly and directly the “worker candidate” against the “little bourgeois one”; the “son” of Chávez against imperialism's delegate, socialism against capitalism.
It was the longest and biggest mobilisation in memory. It started in every corner of the country in December 2012, when due to the risks posed by a fourth operation, Hugo Chávez designated Nicolás Maduro as candidate for a possible new presidential election. It culminated with the anniversary of the 2002 coup on April 11, 2013, with Caracas overwhelmed by an unprecedented human flood. Before that, with a different character, Venezuela went through a similar mass mobilisation for the October 7 presidential election.
As on April 14, 2013, 11 years ago, Chávez — embodied in the figure of Nicolás Maduro — returned to the presidential palace of Miraflores. Unlike that symbolic date in which the masses arose spontaneously to defeat the coup remote-controlled from Washington, this time an explicit strategy of transition to socialism won, it was the organised consciousness in an electoral struggle: 50.66% for Chávez's candidate; 49.07% for the White House’s and local bourgeoisie's candidate. It is a result that takes on another dimension considering that it comes after 14 years of a revolutionary government in constant confrontation with the bourgeoisie and the capitalist centres of world power. With the passage of time we will know details of the number of sabotages to power grids, the maneuvres to impose food shortages and impact on the cost of living, and the activity of undercover foreign mercenaries who acted in favour of the right's candidate.
Nevertheless, the formidable mass mobilisation resulted in victory for the candidate of the revolution. It did not happen by simple spontaneity; the masses would have won the street under any circumstances: it was the action and determination of the political-military leadership of the Bolivarian socialist revolution, that translated into a favourable outcome: working class, peasants, students, armed forces, with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as the centre and leader, led by the team closest to Chávez: presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro, Diosdado Cabello from the directorate of the PSUV and the National Assembly, minister of foreign affairs Elias Jaua and Rafael Ramírez, president of the Venezuelan state petroleum company (PdVSA) and key figure in the finely tuned Chávez core.
Also part of the political-military committee are ministers and military leaders, tested and committed cadres of the PSUV, the communal councils, union leaders and other social organisations, all united around the Homeland Plan and the figure of Maduro.
Advocacy of the masses
It is impossible to quantify the mass eruption of these 120 days. Hopefully someone will work on a rigorous survey about the many rallies, marches and acts of this period (which between April 2 and 11 attracted 7 million). Millions upon millions of people took to the political stage to defend Chávez after his last surgical intervention, to mourn his death, lift his legacy and ensure continuity of the revolution, from March 5 onwards.
That prodigious mobilisation is not reflected in the vote. Until late, the author of these lines expected a significantly greater difference. Local consultants’ polls had similar forecasts – even the official report of the CIA did. They all predicted Maduro's victory with an advantage of more than 10% of the votes. In light of the results, a hidden discontent is revealed that, with Chávez’s absence, was demonstrated with a slight decrease in turnout (79.8% against 80.67% in October) and a significant voter crossover to the opposition candidate.
The right itself was surprised with the result and had no adequate reactions to the new situation open to them. In his speech at midnight on April 14, on a mounted platform in Miraflores and in front of thousands of people in and out of the palace, Maduro said that the losing candidate had called him to ask for delegates from both sides to negotiate an agreement with the National Electoral Council. The threat was to ignore the official data and launch a mobilisation. The president rejected the claim and the defeated candidate finally announced that he considered the results of the CNE as temporary, while ordering street protests. When this article was finished, the protests were reduced to small pockets in neighbourhoods of the oligarchy.
Then Maduro reiterated the points made during his campaign, the factors that resulted in the loss of votes. Days ago these were admitted as serious problems in the march of the revolutionary government, now they explain the countless attacks and constant power outages, insecurity, inefficiencies, pockets of corruption, inflation, shortages and incompetence to combat food shortages and the cost of living.
These confirmed that the solution was to strengthen the revolution, for a greater role and power by the communal councils and, ultimately, a more radical advance toward “building a Bolivarian, Christian, Chavista socialism, in democracy and in peace”.
It is important to note that in the very short time stipulated by the constitution for the election after the death of Chávez, the government could not respond with a firm hand to pre-election tactics such as sabotage and shortages and other destabilising actions. That would have been an excuse for worldwide condemnation, the justification for the withdrawal of the opposition candidate and preparing the ground for a violent offensive articulated by Washington.
In the week prior to the election, groups of students were sent to violently protest at military installations. They were obviously seeking to provoke bloody confrontations to be blamed on the authorities.
Thus, the government had to move within a very narrow space, while the opposition would get the benefits in either their actions or in the government's reaction. In any case, to be effective, the authorities’ actions required to stop the violent protests could not be superficial nor merely rhetorical. It is obvious that in addition to these factors, the results were significantly influenced by Chávez’s absence.
One hypothesis to be corroborated with specific studies indicates that the bulk of the votes that migrated to the counterrevolutionary candidate came from the middle class. Again, the traditional political flip-flopping of the petty bourgeoisie came to demonstrate and teach a lesson to the revolutionary forces. However, this cannot tarnish nor diminish the huge challenge of replacing — socially and politically — a figure of Chávez’s stature in just one month and 10 days of effective campaigning.
Even before the election period formally started on April 2, Nicolás Maduro had weathered the toughest test: the people recognised him as the son of Chávez. Gone are empty speculations engaged in pointing out the “lack of charisma” of the unexpected candidate. It seems that bourgeois thought cannot understand the reality and can only repeat stereotypes. If it is certainly true that Chávez’s traits helped the majority of Venezuelans to assume a revolutionary and socialist perspective, it is also clear that without this perspective those traits could not have stood the test of time. Just as obvious is the fact that Maduro's identification with the socialist strategy paved the way, and in a dramatic timeline, endowed the disciple with the characteristics of Chávez, that up until now were invisible in Maduro.
There was, as expected, resistance and resentment in the middle class and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to willingly accept the final strategic decision of the Comandante. But Maduro managed to communicate with the masses of workers and dispossessed; he vigorously promoted the Plan of the Homeland (which he called “Chávez’s testament”); maintained the symbols; gained supporters and affirmed the socialist path. And when he began the journey “from Barinas to Miraflores” on the morning of April 2, the battle was already decided. However, what came in the next nine days astonished even the most optimistic connoisseurs of the grassroots revolution: in a poignant mix of sadness, pain, joy and combativeness, streams of men and women joined the slogan, “Chávez, I swear to you, my vote is for Maduro.”
Chávez, revolution, socialism, homeland – these were the most repeated words through these days. Shouted by millions, put into dozens of songs of all styles and acknowledged by Maduro in each of the 25 campaign events. An overwhelming synergy among millions of wills was expressed loudly and the candidate ensured the determination to fight and the certainty in the continuity of the anti-capitalist transition.
Clear objectives, unparalleled energy, a determined and organised vanguard plus the unique traits of this exceptional people was the cement with which the collective spirit was recomposed after the severe blow caused by the death of Chávez. That force in action, rooted in the masses, cornered the bourgeoisie and defeated their candidate once again.
From Sabaneta to Miraflores
The starting point of the last stretch of this electoral campaign was a humble house in Sabaneta de Barinas, where Chávez lived his childhood and adolescence with his beloved grandmother Rosa Inés. That place, now a historic landmark, is the PSUV's headquarters. In the large backyard, two trees planted years ago by Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez grow. They named them Rebellion and Revolution respectively, as if another symbol to proletarian principles was needed. Under their shadows, Maduro gathered parents and siblings of the Comandante to a round of anecdotes and remembrances. On the verge of tears, such a firmness of purpose made no slogans nor elaborated phrases necessary. It was crushing and yet genuinely invigorating emotions, no feigned mourning, culminating in music and songs from the plains, a constant combination that characterised every rally to come.
Outside, thousands of men and women, exuding strength, conviction and a stunning clarity of purpose gathered. But that burst of fervor was nothing compared to what came next: on the road between Sabaneta and the state capital Barinas, when Maduro drove a simple open-top vehicle first and then a public bus.
The bourgeoisie tried to discredit Chávez's candidate, remembering his past as a bus driver at the Caracas' subway company. Far from being intimidated, Maduro claimed proudly his working-class background and made it his campaign image: a worker against a “little bourgeois whim [of Capriles]”. He arrived at every rally driving a bus and often drove hundreds of kilometres between each state capital.
The attempt to disqualify him became its opposite: it gave the campaign an unequivocal class content and gave Maduro an opportunity to show his grassroots upbringing and to broaden his popularity.
This writer knows what he’s talking about when he says that Maduro is a veteran driver. His many years in this profession are revealed when he sits behind the wheel, talking to the passengers, greeting the escorting flock of motorcycles and the crowds on both sides of the road.
The bikes loaded with parents and one or two children intersect like bees slowing down or speeding up to approach the bus. Red berets and Venezuela's flag abound. Chávez's photos hoisted from the bikes as spears pointed at an imaginary interlocutor.
What invisible force moves these people? Where does that fervour come from? The outstanding religiosity of these people stands out; a feature which is at once a powerful force in the anti-capitalist struggle and yet also a flank for penetration, which the enemy has already devised a strategy for. But there is more. They have seen a horizon of emancipation.
Adán Chávez, governor of Barinas and brother of the Comandante, analyses the event with a sad smile. The question everybody asks is how there are no accidents. But like a swarm, each bee has an invisible sensor which allows them to intersect, buzzing between thousands without even touching anyone. In this apparent irrationality there is intelligence and order.
What comes next is even more astonishing. A motley crowd waiting for the bus near the rally. Jumping, dancing, shouting slogans, always accompanied by smiles and flying flags. The furor seems to be contagious and spreads like a flame. From balconies and roofs, perched in trees and on columns, thousands of men and women of all ages want to say hello, touch, give him a message. And always, repeated with ardor, resonates the name of the deceased Comandante.
Behold the revolution’s engine, the infinite energy of the masses inspired by the idea of a better world, waving red flags and reaffirming socialism. “Ideas are a material strength when they penetrate the masses."
Maduro ceaselessly greets, pounding his left fist into his open right palm; a characteristic Chávez gesture that the people assumed as their own and use to convey unequivocally a political proposal.
Invisible, the PSUV's oiled machinery acts as an organisational guide in what the poet Herbert Read called the “higher order of a vast upheaval”. The political leaders in Europe and Latin America are confronting the capitalist crisis without the historical legacy of the class struggle, the notion of a revolutionary party. Will they learn these lessons?
The present situation prevails and shortens the time for reflection: the candidate steps up to the stage with all his companions. And the great test begins. From a recording, the national anthem sung by Chávez as he always did in his rallies. Everyone ripples with excitement. The Comandante is present and Maduro does not try to hide this fact, quite the opposite, he stands as a humble and loyal disciple.
A video is shown where Chávez announces that "if something happens to me", the candidate is Maduro. "That's why I'm here", says Maduro. Then he takes the flag that the Comandante gave to him. Because of his legacy and the Homeland Plan – the program with which he won the elections last October 7 – Chávez still is in command of the revolution.
Maduro spends long minutes searching for the invisible contact between the speaker and the masses in which each component feels and acts as an individual. Finally, the time comes and the contact is affirmed. Then Maduro displays the government program. An explosion of endorsement. Barinas, Chávez’s birthplace, has acknowledged and accepted his son.
Hours afterwards in Maracaibo, capital of Zulia state, key in the nation, the point of reference is what happened in Barinas and the candidate is now established. From there with each act is a growing quantitative and qualitative expression on both sides: above and below the stage. Maduro applies all the resources utilised by Chávez to make his speech simple and friendly, but he doesn’t copy the maestro. He introduces variants that some like and others don’t, but it always impacts those who are up close.
With an average of three events a day, followed with long marches among the multitudes and then hours of exchange with the crowds, more music and, each time, with singing as the climax. It almost seems impossible that the energy of the masses and the strength and voice of the candidate can keep on going. But they do.
As what happened with Chávez in October, each event brings larger crowds and more fervent combativeness. But with a difference: although it is impossible to measure precisely, this observer is convinced that the revolutionary determination is even greater.
It is not illogical: one of the most repeated slogans of the Comandante was when he explained that “We are all Chávez.” It is obvious that the idea penetrated the masses. Millions of people realise that in the absence of the revolutionary leader, their role is crucial. And it fits with Maduro’s attitude, facing the opposition’s claim that he is not Chávez, he agrees that the deceased leader is irreplaceable and only together, the people in its entirety — the leadership of the party, the mass organisations and the armed forces — can take his place and carry the revolution forward.
On April 11 in Caracas, millions of people packed seven central avenues. The aerial shots prove it is not an exaggeration. But the direct experience in the streets tells a different story beyond the numbers: the organised contingents were complemented by spontaneous crowds there to affirm the continuity of the revolution. When enormous screens showed the image of Chávez in that same place, on October 4 in the rain, with his strident voice and even stronger concepts, an irrepressible emotion broke over the boundless crowd.
The contrast with the opposition gatherings could not be greater, doubly sparse. In its closing rally in Caracas four days before, barely two blocks and a half of Bolívar Avenue were filled with apathetic and thin lines that began to break up at the very moment that the ultra-right candidate began his speech. Some of the opposition’s events in other states were even weaker.
We can presume that his more reactionary sectors will move toward an open break, especially if, as Maduro stated in his speech as elected president, the revolution’s forces move to renew, correct errors, energise and achieve their objective, to recover a new and more solid, broad majority. Because of all this, it is erroneous to characterise what has occurred as an “electoral campaign”.
What we have is an eruption of the masses in an attitude of combat to defend and push the revolution forward, understanding that Chávez himself was preparing for his third government an acceleration that would be capable of sweeping away all the obstacles that held back and diverted from the transition to socialism.
These four months, crowned by nine days, mark a strategic victory of the revolution.
Definitions and perspectives
In tune with this collective affirmation, during the campaign events Maduro repeated his commitment with the Plan of the Homeland and his speeches produced a polarisation. “There are two models — he repeated time and again: Homeland or treason; there are two systems: neoliberal capitalism or Bolivarian, Christian and Chavista socialism; there are two candidates: one, the son of the bourgeoisie and the other a worker, a man of the people, formed by Chávez, son of Chávez.”
Against that dynamic — proposals were teeming from reformist sectors inside and outside of the Patriotic Pole and the state apparatus, for changing that radicalism starting April 15. Sinister interpretations about current and future economic difficulties, defending the idea of a strategic step backwards, negotiations with bourgeois circles and the abandonment of the perspective of radicalising the transformation of the productive apparatus, such as is called for in the Plan of the Homeland.
It is highly improbable that the political-military leadership of the revolution would opt for such a solution.
Regardless of conjecture about the behaviour of these men and women who have sworn to give their lives for the revolution and legacy of Chavez, the final power of the masses is in the streets. It is not realistic to assume that after this workers’ and people’s epic, the protagonists will return to their homes to hear how 80% of television stations, 90% of the national newspapers and 90% of radio stations in the hands of the bourgeois opposition attack the revolution, while in the feverish dreams of the reformists, the government led by Maduro makes concessions to those whom he defeated in the streets and at the polls, despite the extreme resources used by the opposition.
There is no political willingness nor historical space to go backwards. The Bolivarian socialist revolution has won another great battle at the polls, but above all in the articulation and motion of the social and political forces committed to the transition to socialism. Regarding the risks that are posed by the electoral gains of the ultra-right, as Chávez would repeat in quoting Trotsky, “sometimes the revolution needs the whip of the counterrevolution”. This is one of those cases.
The intelligent and effective counterattack that circumstantially diminished the relationship of forces of the government on the electoral plane compels the revolutionary leadership to assert where it is strong and improve, as Maduro anticipated, the revolutionary gains.
That means making the confrontation with the bourgeoisie and imperialism more direct and efficient. The bourgeoisie and the imperialists will not relent in their counterrevolutionary efforts. In turn, the popular power unleashed since December will oblige — and at the same time permit — the government to take all the necessary steps for effective action, the only way to strengthen its relationship with the masses.
At that point the strategic value of the PSUV will resurge, not limited to the role of an electoral machine but as a living organism within the working class in all its strata committed to the transition.
They will be a rare exception, the cadres who do not understand these demands of the moment. The same team that was able to overcome the death of Chavez, promote and give direction to the mass mobilisations, will know how to improve itself to face this new stage. Venezuela will continue to lead the Latin American Caribbean-anti-imperialist course. It remains to be seen whether the people and their vanguard will assimilate in time the legacy of Chavez and this new lesson of the Bolivarian socialist revolution.