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You may have already read in the sidebar that 863 workers in the Mitsubishi plant in Anzoategui state voted to occupy the factory premises and reinstate 135 subcontractors that had recently been laid off. It was an overwhelming vote in solidarity with the subcontractors, in which only 25 voted against the occupation, or abstained.

From Marxist.com:

In the afternoon of Wednesday, January 29 (Venezuelan time), two workers were killed by police in the state of Anzoategui, Venezuela. The workers killed are Pedro Suarez from the Mitsubishi factory and José Marcano from nearby auto parts factory Macusa. They were killed when regional police of Anzoategui was attempting to evict hundreds of workers who had been occupying the Mitsubitshi (MMC) factory.

As well as demanding the reincorporation of the 135 as full contracted workers in the Mitsubishi plant, the employees were also overwhelmingly supporters of the revolutionary process in Venezuela, and had identified their actions with the wider (yet still young) struggle against private ownership of production. Many of them have pledged themselves as active campaigners for the constitutional amendment vote on February 15th.

So, when a judge decreed that the workers be immediately evicted from the Mitsubishi plant, and police forces arrived fully armed and ready for a fight, the workers were not about to roll over. They had received comprehensive support from others in already-occupied factories, as well as those in Ford and Toyota plants who are currently considering similar actions.

These deaths, combined with the numerous other wounded, illustrate that despite revolutionary governorship in Anzoategui state (Tarek William Saab), many regional police are still detached from popular sentiment and a law unto themselves. They were prevented from causing even more injury and deaths by the National Guard. The judge, while in all probability not sympathetic to the workers’ cause, was likely following the letter of the law. Clearly, there is something wrong with a law that prevents the will of such a majority overcoming the rights of an exploitative and extremely slim minority.

Equally, there is something gravely wrong with a police force that can bring arms to bear against an unarmed crowd, let alone such a clear example of democracy. We can hope for successful convictions, but the long-term solution is a truly popular police force, which identifies with citizen rights just as the armed forces have been encouraged to do since the arrival of Chavez in the presidency.

Changing the law to permit (and thereby encourage) such actions on a national scale is an eventual necessity, though today it may well result in the emergence of mercenary forces and greater loss of life. The only option for now appears to be a gradual advance of revolutionary influence, not only on the legal system, but also in terms of policing, PSUV communications, and the tactics of workers themselves.

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The opposition are right about one thing: if Chavez’s goal was to become a dictator, it would be necessary to remove term limits. But supporters of the revolution are equally right on another point: if Chavez’s goal is indeed to transform Venezuela into a world power, and construct the purest form of democracy ever seen, it makes sense that continuity of good government be prioritised.

Today, after barely five years of concerted government spending, many of the least privileged Venezuelans readily claim that levels of confidence, health and education are rising. These are three of the most important factors which determine how difficult a population is to govern; how demanding they are, and how likely they are to vote.

If people are organizing themselves, being included in decision-making, having their voices heard, learning, increasing in consciousness and being relieved of general worries such as bad health and debt, it is highly probable that the elimination of presidential and other term limits would be beneficial. It would increase the likelihood of these trends becoming more engrained, and developing more rapidly.

In such a climate, it is more imperative than ever that good governance (i.e. the leadership most responsible for such trends) is rewarded, and thereby permitted to continue pursuing long-term objectives. A change of leadership at a time when things are progressing as well as can be imagined is more likely to hamper progress than improve it. As we know, leaders have varying ideas, visions and priorities. The general feeling among Chavistas today is: why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Of course, the opposition have a rather different perspective. They seem to see things progressing as badly as could possibly be imagined. They would argue that any growing confidence of the poor is a false confidence, that health and financial worries have been replaced (if at all) with the fear of crime, that their education contains a strong element of propaganda, that their newfound decision-making only exists in a narrow and illusory context, and that their voices are only heard if they conform to the party line.

While you can endlessly twist and select facts to portray the Venezuelan revolution in such a fashion, the important point is that those who see this contorted picture are invariably not the ones who needed confidence, healthcare, or education in the first place, and so have been out of the loop throughout these last years! With little or no experience whatsoever of social programs, healthcare services, communal councils or grassroots media, they are attempting to speak on behalf of (and directly contradicting most of!) all those who in fact possess all the relevant experience!

If the constitutional amendment is likely to benefit a sector who already claim they are benefitting from revolutionary policies, and is simultaneously opposed by another sector who are effectively detached from the entire experience, it is only fair to give the benefit of the doubt to those with the authority on the matter.

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It would be ridiculous to oppose eliminating term limits if you were in a minority of one (i.e. if there was 99.9% national consensus). That would be an outright repudiation of democracy itself, in addition to a repudiation of additional democratic rights.

The novel aspect of this upcoming referendum is its dual-democratic aspect: a free & fair vote on a question of expanding voting rights. The prospect of 51% of the electorate being able to deny everybody (but particularly the other 49%) such additional rights, based on their majority alone, appears to border on the absurd.

It would be far less absurd if it was 90% of the electorate denying the other 10%. After all, both arguments have merit, even the prima facie anti-democratic one. There is no question that the legitimacy of the eventual democratic result, whichever way it goes, is very much dependent on the size of the majority behind it.

But which would be more legitimate in the moral sense: 51% of voters denying the right to all, or 51% of voters “forcing” the right upon all?

I’d argue the balance is firmly tipped towards the latter. After all, if a minority is against being granted a certain right, they can thereafter freely choose not to exercise it. For a minority (of equal proportion, for the sake of argument) to be denied such a right by a majority who happen to oppose it on principle, would undoubtedly be less fair.

The case in Venezuela today is that the opposition are not even so much against the amendment in principle as they are against it in their particular circumstances! In fact, they see Chavez’s popularity as so disadvantageous that one can assume (with great confidence) their principled arguments are mostly — if not entirely — opportunistic.

Who would bet against them turning around and exercising this right were the circumstances ever in their favour? Not me, that’s for sure.

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CHAVEZ UNTIL 2031?

planillaBREAKING: Chavez says all elected officials should have the same right to indefinite reelection, suggesting that a forthcoming constitutional amendment encapsulate this principle, in a “rupture” with the old form of democracy. This will promote “good government” in the long term and maximise electoral choice and democracy in general.

If a proposed amendment to Venezuela’s constitution passes by way of democratic majority this March, the most popular man in the country will be eligible to seek his party’s nomination for the general election in 2012, and indefinitely thereafter.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela has six million members, and all would have an equal vote in the nomination of the next presidential candidate. The constitution currently restricts presidents to only one immediate re-election, but doing away with that clause would mean Chavez’s hands-on leadership is all but guaranteed through to 2019.

His supporters have long taunted the opposition with cries of “Chavez until 2021”, the year in which poverty is scheduled to be eliminated entirely. But given his current age of just 54, the reality for his detractors could be far worse. Winning a trio of additional 6-year terms, to pose a feasible scenario, would enable the socialist president to guide Venezuela’s “permanent revolution” until 2031.

The opposition are quite rightly scared stiff at the prospect – Chavez, a military man and an enthusiastic apprentice of Fidel Castro, surely represents the quickest route to full expropriation of the landowners and oligarchs. To ensure he isn’t able to run in 2012 might, at the very least, throw up the opportunity for a lesser leader to derail the “Bolivarian revolution” by ensuring real power never arrives at grassroots-level.

This amendment was narrowly rejected along with 68 other proposed constitutional changes in December 2007. Thus the opposition now proclaim “No means no!” while understanding perfectly well that the result could be very different this time around. More fluster surrounds the alleged unconstitutionality of the presentation of this proposed amendment, and warnings of impending dictatorship.

Behind this morbid fear lies recent electoral history, in which the opposition’s ceiling (across the last three national contests) stands at a solid 4.4m votes – more or less the same as the revolution’s guaranteed base level of support. The last election in which Chavez’s personal fate was decided, just two years ago, saw 7.3m voters out in support. Based on these numbers, and with no obvious replacement in sight, the odds of 2009’s referendum spelling Chavez’s imminent departure are slim indeed.

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FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION

nojusticenopeaceIn response to Carlos Marx’s comment:

I don’t say that this revolution must be peaceful. The only way it can succeed is by dispossessing the elites of all their wealth, property and power! That isn’t going to be peaceful by anybody’s standards.

Where we seem to depart is on practical grounds. The electoral battle is, as you say, a bourgeois concept, but it is nevertheless being won and we are thereby clearing the path ahead. Sooner or later we’ll have to drop our bourgeois pretenses to achieve the fundamental revolutionary goals. It will be a shitstorm, no doubt about that; my concern is that we unleash a manageable shitstorm and not an unmanageable one.

The difference between ‘manageable’ and ‘unmanageable’ is only *partially* to do with the revolutionary consciousness of the people and the education of the workers. A more critical element, as I just said, is clearing the road ahead before stepping on the gas, and in particular, carrying a majority of popular support. Once you hit the pedal, there’s no going back.

Though we may be confident of gaining 80% or more support within the next decade, it’s also true that in the meantime we might have to face a short period of dipped support which reflects uncertainty among moderates. To borrow an English phrase: “We’re not out of the woods yet!”. In all probability, our best window of opportunity is not at the present time!

You assert that the revolution is being lost at present. To the contrary, the opposition are well aware that in both 2007 and 2008, massive and determined moves against their interests were made. They can expect more of the same in 2009: more nationalizations, more factory takeovers, more integration and empowerment of communal councils, more regional integration, and so on. The reduction of the working day will take popular organisation and local radicalisation to another level.

Remember, we are only disagreeing on the practical concerns of the immediate future: whether to keep up pretenses until a more perfect opportunity, or to throw caution to the wind and make sure fundamental goals are achieved as soon as possible. Of course, this implies I cannot maintain my point of view indefinitely. My opinions are based only on short-term strategic considerations.

Unlike Cuba, which effectively exported the counter-revolution out of sight and mind, Venezuela is stuck with it. And whether we like it or not, maintaining an optimum electoral majority is an important element of convincing the wider world that Venezuela can serve as a universal example; a beacon demonstrating the most effective application of socialism in its particular circumstances.

Once the Venezuelan revolution has achieved its fundamental goals, other countries can feel more confident about emulating this feat within a shorter timeframe. In short, Venezuela’s position at the forefront of world revolution burdens it with an immense and immeasurable historic responsibility. Its oil wealth compels it to be the one leading global change. Chavez appears to understand this responsibility, but at the same time, has said he can’t do everything. Ordinary Venezuelans will have to radicalise more frequently and more fervently in the years ahead.

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07-ao__6432_0Signature collection starts today as a symbolic measure to demonstrate the popularity of the upcoming referendum. Instead of actually requiring 2.5m signatures (15% of the electorate) to initiate the referendum, that responsibility has been passed to the National Assembly, and the process of taking signatures is suddenly converted from an uncertain task into a potent weapon.

Without pressure to get signatures, the important 2.5m marker may not be achieved quite as quickly. But with up to 10 weeks of collecting ahead (it can theoretically continue even after the NA presents the proposal), and no target to reach, the ‘Si’ campaign could potentially surpass 5m signatures before the day of the vote has even been scheduled. What better way to ridicule the polls of the opposition and achieve a demoralising victory before the scare tactics reach fever pitch?

It’s also the first time Chavistas have had the opportunity to participate in a signature drive. The only precedent to date has been the opposition’s attempt to recall Chavez in 2004, but in the future we’ll increasingly see examples of revolutionaries driving their own initiatives and demands for change. Thus, just as 2007 gave the population the experience of discussing a broad set of reforms (though not their own ones), these signatures provide experience of the actual process of presenting an amendment. Even small details such as the difference between reforms and amendments are now crystal clear in the minds of most revolutionaries.

The next step should be the PSUV formulating its own set of laws, reforms or amendments through democratic consultation, then organising their own popular signature drive, then taking the discussion to the organs of public and community media, and finally, enacting the laws/changing the constitution through a show of transparent democratic force.  They are learning to take control of the direction of their own country through example.

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vivalopez

Here are some bits from Next Step is Strengthening Venezuela’s Communes, says Chávez by Tamara Pearson.

The commune is the fundamental element of the third stage of socialism,” said Chavez.

A commune would be the basic organizational structure of the country, and a self-governing body made up of several of the now-existing communal councils.

The communes are like nests of cells where they must cross lines, the popular government, the people’s power,” Chavez said.

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