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Some thoughts on outcome of Venezuela referendum

Here are some initial comments on the Venezuelan referendum from Stuart Munchton shared on the GLW list.
Note from Stuart:"I should stress these are just initial thoughts, people may have different takes on all aspects of this. More than anything, the people who will have the clearest view on it will be those who are there on the ground. Some of my impressions are based on conversations with comrades in Venezuela, but obviously they will be able to give the best feel by a long way for not just why the result was what it was, but what is much much harder to get a sense of especially if you are not there, which is what does it mean now.
by Stuart Munckton

A few things to think about in relation to it: These are some of my initial thoughts, although obviously people on the ground will be able to give the clearest explanations. The actual figures show the story very clearly.

No: 4.504.354, 50,70 %
Yes: 4.379.392, 49.29 %
Votes counted: 8.883.746
Nullified: 118.693
Total votes: 9.002.439

Abstention 44,39 %

B Block, second part of reform

No: 4.522.332, 51,05 %

Yes: 4.335.136, 48.94 %

If you compare this to the December 06 presidential elections, the vote for Chavez was around 7.1 million and for the opposition I think 4.4 million. So what has happened is not that the opposition necessarily won anyone over, as there is vote is only 100,000 or so more. They held solid. What has happened is the revolutionary camp lost 2.8 million votes. There are 2.8 million people they were able to convince to cast a ballot for Chavez one year ago, who they could not convince to participate and cast a vote in favour of the constitutional reforms this time.

Given a number of factors this is not so hard to understand, and indicate some of the very serious problems that the revolution needs to overcome. Clearly the revolution was unable to properly explain the reforms and convince people of their necessity. The reforms included some quite radical components - power to communal and workers councils etc etc, deepening road to socialism. Support for the reforms requires a much higher level of consciousness than to simply back the social missions and liking Chavez. It required a leap forward in ideology and consciousness. Clearly this happened has happened in an uneven way - it is no mean feat to convince 4.3 million people to vote for the type of radical measures in the constitutional reform proposals. But it has hasn't happened on a large enough scale by a long way.

However it was also not a straight forward fair fight between competing ideologies. The capitalists don't fight fair. A major factor from the sounds of it is the role of the capitalist media which remains dominant in Venezuela (again making a mockery of the "dictatorship with no free press" claims). And they lied and spread all kinds of positions. It was said the state would be able to take you children and your home, that small shops would be nationalised etc etc, and of course the standard ones about Chavez seizing power etc.

This clearly had an impact in confusing people, causing people to abstain as they were either confused or bought the lies or just didn't understand what the reforms are really about - hence abstention from the less conscious layers of the Chavista support base who didn't caste a vote for the opposition, but didn't caste a vote for the reforms either but abstained.

This gets to the key problem of the serious weaknesses in the Chavista camp, clearly they failed to run a successful campaign that was able to counter the lies of the opposition and convince a whole layer of people on why the reforms were necessary. Partly they were at a severe disadvantage against the corporate media, but that can't explain it alone. Comrades on the ground there will be able to give the clearest picture about this factor - what the problems were.etc. But it sounds like the propaganda wasn't that convincing or well done, it was too legalistic and hard to follow. So people were confronted with 69 legalistic dense reforms on the one hand, and the opposition propaganda blaring on the other.

It would seem to also be a problem of disorganisation within the Chavistas - the fact the PSUV is still being formed. The PSUV was made the key body to drive the "Yes" campaign, which was done to give impetus to the PSUV in order to allow to form properly, but this was obviously a gamble because it left the Yes campaign in the hands on something still forming, not necessarily up to the job. One other factor that may come into play and would be interesting to hear about, is the sort of problems that have been raised with past election campaigns of them being dominated by bureaucrats who tend to runt hem inefficiently from the top down, and undemocratically - various party heads running the show etc. I don't know how much this was the case, but perhaps this time the problems caused by this couldn't;t be overcome by the sheer momentum from below as i the past.

One other thing to consider is the actual size of the task the revolution set itself to achieve. This was the first battle since 2002 not waged under the cover of defence against right-wing attacks. It was not about defending the democracy , the new constitution people believed in, defending the gains being made for the working people and poor from the old forces wanting to take it all back. This was the case in April 2002, the bosses lock-out, the recall referendum in 2004.

Even the presidential election last year seemed to have a fair element of that, even though it included an attempt to go on the offensive around socialism. There was a strong comment of "don't let those bastards back in" and support for the gains that existed around the missions etc. Rosales was a coup plotter and they used ads of him shaking Carmona's hand etc etc. As Chavez has quoted Trotsky repeatedly as saying "the revolution advances under the whip of the counterrevolution"

But this was an attempt to go beyond that, and go on the offensive. This was the first battle to be waged under the steam of the revolution alone. This was not waged as an act of self defence, but this time it was the revolution that started the battle. And it required a much higher level of consciousness etc.

So in a sense, it also plays the role of giving an account of the real situation. What is the real support out there for the project of socialism, as opposed to merely supporting Chavez and the missions etc? How deep is the consciousness? Obviously it is not good to lose a battle like this, but at least it reveals what the actual state of play is. The revolution can see exactly how many put up their hands to significantly deepen the process, and it shows the size of the task for the vanguard organised in the PSUV - the ideological battle that must be waged. It shows how successful that battle has been and what the clearly very real weaknesses are.

There is a further question, that is bit more complicated in Venezuela because of how the revolution has developed, which is the inherent problems with bourgeois democracy. It is rigged to favour the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie have a huge advantage in this kind of referendum through their control of the media especially. That isn't to say the process shouldn't have happened like this, or that this is an excuse for the defeat. It just states the truth - it wasn't a fair fight.

There is also an element that this type of atomised, individualised voting inherently gives weight to the layers with the weakest consciousness, who are the less clear etc. You have two solid blocks on either side, then a big layer who it seems back Chavez but whose consciousness is more limited, not necessarily understanding or supporting socialism - and it this vacillating layer that determines such votes.

Direct democracy, organised democracy of the working people taking control in their communities and workplaces, has a very different dynamic. It puts the weight on the vanguard, the most conscious, who can help lead others. The most conscious will be the most active in the councils and most able to give a lead on what to do, will most likely be elected to the next layer up in the inverted pyramid built from the ground up. This way those four million people who understand what is at stake and agree with the way to advance the revolutionary course, are able to help lead in their areas in the actual governing of society.

Of course, this type of democracy is exactly what they are trying to construct - and would have been given a mandate and institutional framework had the reforms passed. But there is still a "parallelism" that has contradictions - the developing of a new revolutionary state based on direct democracy that empowers the working people, and the existing old structures that are based on representative democracy . That isn't to say it is wrong to try and advance the way they have, there may well be no other road but the one they are on, or at least, having taken this road, they are not in opposition to suddenly jump to another track. It just sets out the challenges.

Obviously, no one knows what will happen next. But it sounds like Chavez gave a very good speech that was pitched right, fully accepting the result, but with the famous "For now" indicating the battle continues. Losing a battle does not mean losing a war. The revolution still exists, the revolutionary government still exists, the communal councils, the missions, etc etc all still exist.

Sometimes you lose battles. The revolution has won every battle since 2002 - its winning streak has been ended, and this indicates things are not just going to continue sailing smoothly into the socialist future, but that the problems beneath the surface, that have been much talked about - ideology, bureaucracy, divisions among revolutionaries etc, must be overcome.

The counterrevolution is obviously strengthened, although by how much remains to be seen, as is the damage this defeat will do to the revolutionary camp - whether serious demoralisation, or whether they can rebound reasonably quickly. It may embolden the counterrevolution to greater efforts to destroy the revolution based on gaining momentum - and we should keep eyes wide open for need for solidarity against fresh attempts to overthrow the government. Of course wining a vote on the reforms is one thing, it is another to confront the organised and increasingly armed working people in an all out battle for power. But if this causes widespread democratisation, confusion and disorganisation among Chavistas then that could be an opening for counterrevolution.

The corporate media will gloat. But this defeat is far from total, there are plenty of battles ahead it is just for now, the institutionalising of a dramatic step forward (which would have had to be fought out on the ground anyway) has been stopped "for now"

2 Com:

Dave Riley | December 04, 2007

President Chávez "I'd rather this way"

ABN 03/12/2007 Caracas, Distrito Capital

Caracas, Dec 03 (ABN).- "I'd rather this way", the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, said regarding the reslts of the referendum on the constitutional reform.

From Miraflores Presidential Palace, the President stated that: "with a minimum difference of 1.41% the opposition tendency of No won with 4 million 504 thousand 354 votes for the block A and 4 million 522 thousand 332 votes for the block B".

"It is a great political jump that 49% voted for the socialism. We stay in battle building a political framework in the measure this
Constitution of 1999 allows it", he said.

"I hope those opposition leaders that were nervous thinking I was not going to admit this reality, I hope the stress goes down. I hope they feel happy, celebrate, and then go back home respecting the rest of the people and its institutions" .

"The people that believe in me: courage. This Bolivarian Republic will keep getting stronger. This is not a lose, for me this is another for now".

At the Miraflores Presidential Palace, the President of Venezuela ratified that the results of the constitutional reform "do not mean the way is closed".

"This proposal carries out the political-estrategi cal intention of widening the framework of progress inside this project (the socialism), to widen the path. It also carries the intention of extending the the horizon perspective of the socialist democracy construction process", he added.

"I will not erase a single coma of this proposal. It is still alive", Chávez stated.

Translated by Ernesto Aguilera

John Riddell | December 04, 2007

Stuart Monkton?s comments on the Venezuelan referendum, posted on the Green Left list and on the Socialist Voice list earlier today by Fred Feldman, hit the main issues. I?ll touch on three points: Chávez?s assessment of the vote; some observations by Suzanne Weiss and myself from the streets of Caracas; and the issue of ?defensive? struggles.


The referendum?s outcome was the second major defeat that the Bolivarian movement has suffered in its 15-year history. In conceding defeat, President Hugo Chávez used the same words he spoke on admitting the failure of the
movement?s initial bid for power. As I said on February 4, 1992, we could not do it for now.

In 1992, the Venezuelan masses seized on the words for now (por ahora) as a commitment to fight onwards until victory was won. Today as well, Chávez pledged to continue the struggle in this case for the measures contained in the constitutional reform: ?I do not withdraw a single comma from this proposal. The proposal is still on the table.

Despite what he called a photo finish, with only 1.5% separating the yes all those who participated in the voting both those of the yes camp and those who voted no.

Chávez appealed to oppositionists who had possibly been nervous regarding the fairness of the process to take heart and be confident in Venezuela's democratic institutions.Let us hope they will forget forever these leaps into the void, initiatives toward violence, and destabilization.

A 49% vote for socialism was a great step forward politically, Chávez said. The Bolivarian Republic will continue to gain strength. For me this is no defeat; it is another for now, he added. We will continue in struggle to build the political framework permitted by the 1999 Constitution.


We talked to many of those waiting to vote yesterday at a polling station in the January 23 district, a barrio of working people of many income levels built on the hills in west Caracas.

One of those who intended to vote no stressed his opposition to the proposal in the reform for a six-hour-day. This infringed on the right of workers to enter freely into contracts with their employers, he said. The implication, which we heard elsewhere, was that if a worker needs to work more than six hours, in order to earn more money, he or she should have that

We saw Chávez on TV explaining to a meeting of employers that this reform would be introduced gradually, in consultation with employers, and in a manner that did not compromise their viability. Probably he made a similar explanation with regard to workers, but we did not see that. And in any case, such explanations are not picked up in the mass media.

Similar distortions were circulated about many other aspects of the reform such as the completely false claim that it challenged the right to hold private property. A couple of days before the vote, during a meeting with students, Chávez talked effectively on state TV about how the government?s housing program is creating private property. But it did not
seem that explanations on these and other points were been conveyed effectively to the mass of voters.

?No? supporters that we talked to specialized in vague charges and warnings. They claimed that the text included a commitment to communist dictatorship, etc., but offered no specifics.

We arrived in Caracas 12 days before the vote. At that time, posters calling for a yes vote were prominent all over the downtown and working-class areas (we did not visit the apartheid-like preserves of the rich). These posters remained unchallenged the no campaign conceded the streets, relying on its control of the media.

We also noted an effort to circulate to the population the text of the reforms, which filled several dozen pages of dense legalistic prose. At first, we saw these distributions only in the city centre. Not until the last few days did we see some red points with tables, banners, and music carrying out the distributions across the city. In the last week, a dual-column version was also distributed at some points. We spent time pouring over it, trying to grasp the changes. It was slow going. Only in the final few days did we see several leaflets attempting to summarize the changes.

On the whole, we did not see a concerted effort to explain why the changes were necessary. The whole debate seemed rigged against the yes : to vote yes, you had to support a very large array of proposals, which were hard to grasp. To vote no or abstain, it was sufficient to object to any one of them, or just be uneasy or uncertain. And the mass media made certain that everyone heard lots of reasons for unease and uncertainty.

Given the complexity of the issues, it was striking that yes supporters we talked to almost invariably understood the reform well and in detail. When we asked, Which change is the most important,? we got specific and thoughtful responses, often with mention of the paragraph number in the constitution, and often about sophisticated topics remote from the immediate
interests of the speaker.

The spirit of these responses was symbolized by a worker we met on the ?January 23 voting lineup. When we asked about the most important paragraph, he replied, Well, I d say article 115, and after that articles 289, 124, and 63.? (Pardon us for misremembering the numbers.)

This awareness shows the success of the broad popular discussion of the reform that took place this autumn. The discussion did not embrace everyone, but involved a considerable part of the working masses 80%, according to one off-the-cuff estimate that we heard. One acquaintance, generally critical of the Chávez leadership's limitations, argued that this discussion
was sufficient to clarify the issues for everyone and nothing more was needed. In fact, however, half of the constitutional amendments were proposed only after the popular discussion had been concluded.

We took part in a pro-reform student demonstration of 60,000-80,000 the largest such action so far and a campaign windup that mobilized some 750,000, perhaps more, in downtown Caracas. Both actions were many times larger than anything the ?no? forces managed. At both events the mood was confident, joyous, and militant. And as Chávez points out, the vote of 4.3 million for reforms that endorsed a course toward socialism is a major achievement. We can think of no parallel where a socialist program has received such a strong endorsement in bourgeois elections which, as Stuart points out, are heavily weighted to favour the status quo.

Yet the vote was lost, and this is a bitter setback.

The defeat did not come as a surprise. Again and again, yes activists told us that support for the reform in their milieus was noticeably less than support for Chávez in the presidential elections last year. This trend ate into a Bolivarian majority that even last year was not so great. The vote for Chávez last December was 61%, and 8% of that went to a party that has since defected to the opposition. Several state governors and other prominent figures in the Bolivarian movement have also defected. Many Bolivarian activists told us that defeat of the reform was quite possible.

In this context, it seemed urgent that the revolutionary forces organize an intensive dialogue with the wing of the Bolivarian rank-and-file that was uncertain about the reform. We expected there would be efforts at intensive canvassing in working-class areas. We did not see this. The meeting of the new socialist party that we attended concerned itself with the organizing of scrutineers at polling places a crucial and complex task rather than with organizing discussions with voters in its region and getting out the pro-?yes? vote. For the newly formed party branch we visited, just getting the scrutineers in place and provided with logistical backup was a major challenge, undertaken only in the last week of the campaign. (We?ll write
separately on our experience with the PSUV, a very hopeful development.)

Suzanne and I don?t know enough about Venezuelan working-class traditions to say whether such ?canvassing? was appropriate. But it does appear that in the heat of the referendum debate, a division opened up in the Bolivarian ranks, and no way was found to bridge the gap.


Stuart Monkton notes that the Bolivarian victories in several recent elections and confrontations took place in conditions of fierce right-wing assault on the popular government. In this referendum, he points out, the revolutionary forces were not on the defensive but on the attack?seeking support for a socialist course. And it is much easier to mobilize for defense than for offense.

On a deeper level, the reform can be seen as a defensive action. As Chávez has explained, the socialist course is not a change from the Bolivarian movement's original goals, which included national sovereignty, a break from neo-liberalism, endogenous development, popular democracy, and the well-being of the working masses. Socialism is the only means through which
these goals can be achieved, he says.

This fact has been made clear by the attitude of the right-wing opposition. It claimed in the referendum campaign to be defending the 1999 Bolivarian constitution against irresponsible change. This stance was dishonest it opposed the 1999 constitution as well. Moreover, its actions have made clear a determination to forcibly destroy the Bolivarian revolution root and
branch and fully restore U.S. domination and oligarchic rule. In view of Venezuela's oil wealth and world political influence, the oligarchy?s masters in Washington can settle for nothing less.

The task of international solidarity is thus more urgent than ever.

Broadly speaking, socialist revolutions succeed not merely because the masses believe socialism is a good idea, but because they become convinced that conquering political and economic power is the only way to save themselves and society from calamity at the hands of the capitalist rulers. The Russian October revolution, for example, was ?defensive? in this sense.

The right-wing campaign poses the danger of such a social calamity, and its reactionary agenda was clear during the referendum campaign. Opposition supporters carried out repeated attacks on the revolutionary forces,including three wanton killings of yes supporters. Ominous calls were circulated for civil insurrection. Supposedly moderate opposition leaders
did little to counter and prevent such actions.

Chávez and other government leaders called strongly for united defense against this threat. Still, these appeals related to right-wing attacks carried out by small groups, after a year in which the oligarchy and its U.S. backers had been relatively quiescent.

The referendum results show that a segment of the Bolivarian movement is uneasy about the risks and uncertainties involved in an advance to socialism. However, given a determined and now confident right-wing movement that aims to sweep away all their gains, the Bolivarian movement cannot stand pat. The referendum results, while a setback, show the strength and
vigor of the movement's revolutionary wing. There is every reason to hope that this wing organize itself to reunify the movement and lead its renewed advance.

John Riddell (with information and editing help from Suzanne Weiss)

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