On October 7 the people of Venezuela elected Hugo Chávez president for the third time in a row, in elections that have seen successive increases in his total vote. Despite an organized right-wing campaign, that had to campaign to the left promising to maintain some reforms, people democratically decided that Chávez best represented their aspirations for a better world. With a mass voter turnout of 80 per cent, a majority of voters demanded “socialism for the 21st century,” a rebuke both to imperialism and austerity that dominate the world, and to claims that Chávez’s rhetoric has no support.
After decades of neoliberalism, the Bolivarian revolution has challenged the corporate agenda from below through assemblies and protests demanding change. Chávez has given a voice to this movement, while using increased state control and distribution of oil resources to bring policies that have improved poverty, health care and literacy. But capitalism remains, and the right-wing—backed by Western powers—have tried to undermine this process at every step and with every means—violently through a coup, economically through lockouts, and politically through elections. Every time the masses of Venezuela have mobilized to defend Chávez, but there is growing tension.
Despite Chávez’s greatest total vote, his share of the popular vote has fallen to its lowest. While he won the 2006 election with 62 per cent of the vote and a 25 per cent lead, in 2012 it was down to 55 per cent with a 10 per cent lead. This can’t just be attributed to the right-wing menace, which has been there all along. There is also growing frustration at the base of Venezuelan society, which is starting to shift away from Chávez—not because of his radical words, but because of the limits to his ability to make them a reality. After 14 years in power there remains widespread inequality, and corruption and bureaucratization within the ruling party, that threaten the self-organization of the masses upon which the revolution depends.
21st century socialism will only be won through self-emancipation, and across borders.
With capitalism intact and a right-wing taking advantage of creeping disillusionment, it will take deepening self-organization in workplaces and neighbourhoods to push the Bolivarian revolution forward and shift power from the state to the masses. The best way people in the West can help is to challenge our own state and corporations, and spread the inspiration and best lessons of Venezuela.