Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Por ahora no pudimos


I shouldn't really stress myself so much. I spent the whole of the last week thinking about the constitutional referendum, working out possible scenarios in my head and talking about it with everybody and their dogs. Fuck, I even had dreams about it. The last time I was stressed over a political event that much was just before the Scottish Parliament elections. Both times, anxiety gave way to profound disappointment.

However, having reflected on numbers, results and a series of articles my innate optimism has started crawling back in. This was a serious setback, but we have not been defeated. Chavez has still 5 years left in his term, the opposition barely made any gains relative to the presidential election and the magnitude of the pro SI rallies relative to those organised by the opposition clearly shows that the class balance of power leans heavily to the side of the conscious working class. Certainly, the slight victory of the No vote will give the shattered Venezuelan opposition something to rally around, as the calls for the convening of a Constituent Assembly by former Chavista General Baduel clearly show. However the very fact that the opposition will have to organise centred on a former enemy, around calls for national friendship and unity is clearly a sign of its own weakness suggesting that a well calculated, organised and swift political offensive by the Bolivarians is bound to shatter them. We have to keep in mind that revolutions are not linear processes where one side makes gains against the other until it wins; they unfold dialectically with each victory throwing up new obstacles and dangers and each defeat opening up new roads to success. What where the July Days preceding the great October Revolution if not a decisive defeat, with many good activists dead, leaders arrested and others going underground? The setback suffered by the Bolivarian movement is not even slightly comparable to that.

So what happened? It is evident from the numbers that the defeat of the reforms can be entirely attributed to the inadequate mobilisation of the Bolivarian camp. While the opposition gained a mere 100,000 votes (compared to the last presidential election), the Bolivarians lost some 2.8 million votes to abstention, with turnout reaching a very mellow 56% against approximately 70% last year. A lower turnout, in every situation, necessarily favours the forces of reaction, as the well-fed bourgeois and their satellite strata dutifully turn up to vote every time; it is the impoverished workers and peasants who abstain, for one reason or another. The question is why did they abstain on Sunday, a mere year after they overwhelmingly voted for Chavez routing both the counterrevolutionary and "revolutionary" oppositions?

The answer I believe lies in a combination of factors. First, we have to keep in mind that in any given situation, it is rather unlikely, if not impossible, that the oppressed classes will have achieved full consciousness down to the last person, especially when the situation is still prerevolutionary. For the unconscious masses, it was far easier to grasp the importance of the presidential election, as what was at stake was Chavismo itself; a defeat would have meant a regression back into the quagmire of traditional Washington Consensus neoliberalism. Reports from the ground also suggest that the opposition, with heavy financial backing from the United States, managed to mount a very effective, high intensity campaign of lies and misinformation (and terror), even if their concrete mobilisation was not much too look at. As you have probably already read elsewhere, "the state will take away your children" replaced the now cliche image of the baby eating communist.

This brings us to another, arguably the most important, question. Why did the conscious Bolivarian movement fail to agitate effectively and mobilise the masses to support the constitutional reforms? And also, why did they not effectively respond to the lies and filth propagated by the opposition? I can think of no other reason than the lack of an organised party of the bolivarian movement. In the absence of such, the campaign had to be based on largely ad hoc gatherings organised by the local socialist battalions that will form the basis of the PSUV. While the activist fervour of those should not be underestimated, their effectiveness cannot be compared to that of a integrated apparatus. The lack of a central coordinating organisation meant that the campaign had to be taken up by the state bureaucracy. These people have little in common with the working class and they would have failed to connect with it even if they had actually wanted to. The bureaucrats of the Bolivarian movement want nothing to do with socialism and they will consciously sabotage any attempt to destroy them as mediators of power, including the strengthening of community councils. It is then not really surprising that they made little effort to produce material refuting the outrageous claims of the opposition, basing their campaign on a theme of loyalty to Chavez, despite the fact that Chavez himself had often reiterated that a SI vote was not a vote for himself but a vote for the Revolution. No mention of the 36-hour week, or the community councils!

The entirely reactionary role played by the right wing of Chavismo has been sharply grasped by the radical activist base. The HOV referendum blog reports that on Monday a spontaneous gathering organised through text messages took place outside Miraflores palace in order to express solidarity with Chavez but more importantly raising the demand for a "clearing of the house" and denouncing certain officials as traitors.

The key task facing the socialist movement in Venezuela now is the foundation of the PSUV on an explicitly radical socialist basis. This will require back breaking mobilisation in the very near future (as in from January onwards). For the moment, the organised right wing has done a good job of excluding itself from the formation of the party, but it is certain that the sharper bureaucratic elements will not make the same mistake. Following that, it is imperative that the movement concentrates on a relentless attack against the dual fifth column that fetters is its development. I say dual, for apart from the state bureaucracy and the reformists, a war must be waged against the rererevolutionary ultra left that refuses to join the PSUV, the latter-day WRPs like the Argentinian PO and the neo-Kautskyite democrats who called for a spoiling of ballots at the referendum. Letting them cut themselves out of the working class movement, as they will, is not enough. In such social conditions, the minds of people are open to radical ideas, whether progressive or entirely stupid. Having said that, it must be stressed, despite being entirely obvious, that the prime threat remains the bureaucracy, the enemies within that want Chavez without socialism. They must be removed from the movement and the state at all costs and by any means necessary. Let them join the opposition and expose themselves for the hypocrites that they are. At this stage, without support from the inside, the counterrevolution will never manage to become a serious threat. Bring on the Cheka!

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