Venezuelan presidential elections the state and the Bolivarian Revolution

We go to press on the eve of the October Presidential elections in Venezuela. The re-election of Hugo Chavez is crucial for the continuation of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that has decisively changed the political history of Venezuela and Latin America. Chavez’s opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski of the Roundtable of Democratic Unity coalition (Mesa de Unidad Democratica, or MUD) is a right-wing extremist who participated in the 2002 attempted coup against Chavez. Whilst even opposition polls give Chavez an 18% lead over Capriles, the political outcome of the election will depend on the strength of class forces in the coming battles to implement government plans for 2013-2019. SAM MCGILL reports.

As Lenin argues in the pamphlet State and Revolution, ‘The overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be achieved only by the proletariat becoming the ruling class, capable of crushing the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and of organising all the working and exploited people for the new economic system’.1 The problem for the Venezuelan working class is that the bourgeoisie has not been overthrown, resulting in a system of dual power which is inherently unstable.

Defending the gains of the Bolivarian Revolution

In 1997 the majority of Venezuelans had little access to decent housing, health care or education. Poverty in the oil-rich nation stood at just under 61%, with extreme poverty estimated at 40%. In response, the Bolivarian Revolution has begun a struggle to build socialism in Venezuela, characterised by an explosion of popular power and participatory democracy through the creation of communal councils, comunas and workers’ councils. By seizing control of Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), oil revenues have been channelled into social priorities, providing free health care and education, constructing decent houses to replace shanty towns and providing subsidised food. By 2010 Venezuela was recognised as having achieved most of the UN millennium goals for reducing poverty ahead of schedule,2 and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty had dropped to 7.3%. More recently, the focus has been on building three million new homes by 2019 through the Great Housing Mission Venezuela launched in 2011. To date, 243,990 new houses have been built. Despite these gains, the Venezuelan bourgeoisie remains firmly entrenched with 5% of the population still owning 70% of the land; controlling two thirds of the country’s media and over 60% of the banks. A state of dual power exists where, for example, mayors and governors compete for political power over participatory democracy, and private hospitals and elite universities run alongside the free health care system of Barrio Adentro and free Bolivarian universities.

Venezuela 2013-2019: a fork in the road

As part of their election campaigns, both Chavez and Capriles have produced government plans for 2013-2019. Capriles’ Hay un Camino (There is a way) programme3 is clearly designed for sloganeering on the campaign trail, referring to ‘solidarity’ and ‘inclusion’, whilst detailing very few concrete plans. It demands ‘that we all progress and that no one is left behind’ whilst simultaneously insisting that the public sector ‘promotes and orients to private initiative, immediately ending expropriations and negotiating with those who have been affected’ aiming to make a transition ‘from a model of sharing out the wealth, to one of creating wealth’.

Just how the MUD coalition plans to achieve this is set out in the internal document Primary ideas of economic action taken by the National Unity Government 2013 4 developed for discussion with the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the controversial cartel whose former president, Pedro Carmona, swore himself in as president during the April 2002 coup. The MUD document aims to cut a public sector deficit of 8% to 3% by decentralising services to municipal governments and offering up infrastructure to ‘private initiative’. The plan would remove all government subsidies for housing, cut food subsidies by 60% over the next three years and raise the price of travel by 5% every four months. All expropriated land would be returned to previous owners within two years, and the document opposes ‘excessive regulation’, advocating a banking sector reform to eliminate social responsibilities of the banks (which are currently required to pay 55% of their profits to social development projects including agriculture and housing). The plan concludes with the pledge to use presidential decree in order to ‘dismantle the socialised and collectivised state model that has been created by the so-called revolution’.

The document has been labelled the ‘packetazo’ in reference to the ‘Caracazo’ riots sparked by economic restructuring measures implemented by President Carlos Andres Perez in 1989. Perez subsequently sent the army into poor communities to violently suppress the uprising with an estimated death toll ranging from 400 to 10,000. If implemented, MUD’s economic plans would inevitably provoke similar resistance, and be met with the same ruling class terror and repression.

Whilst the MUD coalition seeks to roll back the gains of the last 13 years, Chavez’s Programa Patria5 sets out to deepen them. It outlines five major objectives including

• defending, expanding and consolidating national independence;

• the consolidation and continuation of building socialism in the 21st century, transcending the oil-rentier capitalist model for a productive economic socialist model;

• turning Venezuela into a country of economic, social and political power in the context of Latin American liberation;

• contributing to the development of a new international multipolar geopolitics;

• preserving the environment through working towards ‘ecosocialism’.

Central to building national independence are: ensuring continued state control of PDVSA; preserving state majority in any joint ventures; promoting worker participation; developing strategic secondary industries and deepening consciousness of oil as a collective ‘social industry’. With the MUD coalition exploiting the deaths of 41 people at the recent explosion at the PDVSA Amuay oil refinery on 25 August, political control over Venezuela’s oil reserves continues to be disputed. Despite government investments of $4.3bn since the start of the year in the Paraguana Refining Centre that includes Amuay, Leopoldo Lopez, National Coordinator of the MUD campaign, alleged that ‘poor and irresponsible management has made PDVSA one of the worst companies in the world’. Lopez was himself barred from holding public office for having illegally siphoned off thousands of dollars in donations while working at PDVSA in the 1990s. Amidst claims of opposition sabotage, a full investigation has been launched into the explosion.

The Programa Patria spells out that income tax on oil has increased from 34% in 1998 to 50%, whilst royalties have risen from as low as 1% to 33%. A similar process is proposed for mineral extraction: Venezuela has the potential to exploit iron, bauxite, gold and coltan. Diversifying oil exports is essential for national independence, reducing dependence on the US where exports of Venezuelan oil have fallen from an average of 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to 952,000 bpd in 2011. Currently exports to China amount to 400,000 bpd, and exports to 18 Caribbean countries 300,000 bpd under PetroCaribe, a preferential credit agreement with part-payment in agricultural goods. Programa Patria plans to double oil production to 6 million bpd.

In order to reduce dependence on food imports, Programa Patria aims to produce 90% of the nutritional requirements of Venezuelans by increasing grain production by 70%, irrigation by 202% and livestock by 38%. Chavez recognises that in order to achieve these targets, the Bolivarian revolution must ‘permanently eliminate latifundios’, the large estate holders of the ruling class that have underpinned rural poverty in Venezuela for decades.6 To this end, he calls for the creation of peasant councils, networks and militias, organising to implement and defend land reforms.

Venezuela’s National Land Institute reported in April 2012 that 224,000 families have benefited from land redistribution since the 2001 Land Law gave the state the authority to expropriate underutilised or illegally acquired land. 19 million acres have so far been expropriated. However, the Ezequiel Zamora National Peasant Front has documented the assassination of over 300 peasant land activists in response to this expropriation of land. It is evident that land reform in Venezuela is at the centre of violent class struggle which can only be won through the arming of the working class and peasants in ‘Bolivarian Militias’, organising to suppress the Venezuelan ruling class.

The key objective is to continue to build ‘socialism in the 21st century’ by democratising the means of production, strengthening central planning, developing worker participation and deepening popular power. Chavez argues for the need to ‘promote and consolidate a productive, redistributive, post-rentier, post-capitalist economy based on broad public, social, collective support of ownership of the means of production’, recognising that currently this requires the development of ‘diverse forms of socio-productive organisation sustained in a variety of property types’. To this end, Programa Patria aims to develop 3,000 socialist communes to group together 39,000 communal councils. If achieved, 68% of Venezuela’s population would be represented through the comunas. The plan aims to establish 3,000 socially-owned companies and 3,000 comuna banks to ‘consolidate the new financial architecture of popular power’.

In addition, within the ruling PSUV itself, changes have taken place that make it clear that the future of the Bolivarian Revolution is not dependent on one man. Opposition newspapers in Venezuela and abroad have contrasted the alleged ‘frailty’ of Chavez, who has been receiving treatment for cancer, with the ‘youthful vigour’ of his opponent, suggesting the PSUV lacks a second-in-command who could step into the presidency. But Chavez’s extended absence while undergoing medical treatment in Cuba forced him, in his own words ‘to learn to delegate more’, with several top leaders emerging to maintain the momentum of the Bolivarian Revolution, leading the Spanish academic Juan Carlos Monedero, a former Chavez adviser who has been critical of the movement, to remark that formerly ‘some of us saw the difficulties of continuing this process’ without Chavez, but ‘now we have lost this fear because I see dozens of people who could continue the process without any problem’ (Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2012).

With only 28% of Venezuela’s banking sector under state control, regulation and nationalisation of the banks is necessary to undermine the bourgeoisie. The success of building popular power through the system of comunas will depend on the erosion and destruction of the old system of mayors and governors, through which the opposition still wields significant power. 23% of governors and 20% of mayors are affiliated to the opposition, acting to block the progress of communal councils and missions. Given that Capriles is the governor of Miranda State and has used his local police force to physically confront pro-Chavez forces during his election campaign,7 resolving this issue of dual power will require bitter class struggle.

 The struggle for socialism in Venezuela is complex and fraught with dangers. Winning the October presidential elections with a clear majority is key. Essential to implementing Chavez’s Programa Patria is the need to strengthen working class power and dismantle the old bourgeois state, building a socialist society organised in the interests of the majority. The struggle in Venezuela carries significant lessons for all who seek the destruction of capitalism.



2. 100921_Venezuela.doc.htm





7. ‘Tension builds in presidential election race’, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

 RCG reportbacks from the Venezuela 2012 elections


Venezuela 2012

This year, for the first time, we are sending a delegation to Venezuela to cover the presidential elections and make a documentary about the process. We will be reporting daily from the streets of Caracas, challenging the media lies and slander about the revolutionary process in which millions of Venezuelans are engaged. On our return, there will be report backs, video showings and discussions all over the country. Join us!


Saturday 3 November 2pm

The Casa, Hope Street, Liverpool L1 9BQ


Saturday 3 November 2-5pm

Venezuelan Embassy, Bolivar Hall,

54 Grafton Way, London W1T 5DL


Sunday 4 November 2pm

Cross Street Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester M2 1NL


Tuesday 6 November 7pm

Barloco, 22 Leazes Park Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4PG


Wednesday 7 November 6pm

Plugged In, 29 Holmeside, Sunderland SR1 3JE


Sunday 18 November 3-5pm

The Piper Bar, Cochrane Street, George Square, Glasgow G1 1HL

Throughout October there will be street rallies in solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution and FRFI discussion forums on Venezuela and the presidential election.

Visit the events section on our website for more information:

You can also phone us on 020 7837 1688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like to host a reportback meeting in your area.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012


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