Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Quebec view of Venezuela's referendum

The Quebec web publication Presse-toi-à-gauche carries a report on Venezuela's referendum result by David Litvak, writing from La Grita, Venezuela. The title, "Un référendum à la québécoise" refers to the close vote, roughly 51-49% against the proposed constitutional changes -- almost identical to the thin margin separating the successful No from the Yes in Quebec's 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Litvak, who writes as a supporter of Hugo Chávez and the proposed reforms, notes at the outset of his analysis that "the major implication" of the vote is that under the Constitution as it remains the Chavista movement will have to find another candidate to replace Chávez in the next presidential election, in 2013. This, he says, may well prove to be a good thing, as it will force the movement to "depersonalize" itself and develop a more collective leadership. He cites Chávez: "On other occasions, we have managed to convert apparent defeats into moral victories, which then were turned into political victories."

This, says Litvak, is an "important, but not insurmountable, challenge" and the PSUV, the new party of the socialist revolution that is now being organized, can probably be the uniting and driving force behind this democratic exercise.

Like many other observers, Litvak notes that a major factor in the high abstention rate was the confusion over the nature and scope of the reform. This enabled the opposition -- a broad front ranging from the church hierarchy to university professors, orchestrated by the mass media -- to spread all kinds of disinformation about it. He also attributes the lack of clarity to the linking of the issue of presidential re-election with other proposals that would help lay the basis for deepening the Bolivarian revolution. In effect, Litvak says, the referendum had two components: a de facto plebiscitary question on Chávez's political future, and a constitutional dimension embodying a distinct political agenda for the country. As a result, this "national magna carta" became inextricably bound up with "a particular circumstance, that of a man in power".

Litvak also notes that the total number of votes in favour of the reform, 4.5 million, was less than the 5 million persons who had signed up to join the PSUV. This reflected in part the defection of the social-democratic party, Podemos, and the former Defence minister Raúl Baduel, from the ranks of the Chavistas, as he notes. But it also revealed, of course, the immense political challenge facing the PSUV militants as they participate in the debates and grassroots activities that will select the cadres to found the party on a firm political basis.

In Litvak's view, the proposed reforms "did not go far enough". There was "nothing really revolutionary" about them, he says. "It was a step, not a leap. The reform proposal did not resolve the problem of inequality, [control of] the media, or the problem of [people's ] power."

He does not explain how a mere constitutional reform, no matter how radical on paper, could do these things. For that, the masses of Venezuelans will have to continue in their difficult process of self-organization and mobilization in the barrios, factories, farms and the streets, developing much more experience in collective action, decision-making and leadership. There is no reason to think that this process will not continue, under a leadership chastened by the lessons of this setback but committed to deepening Venezuela's national and social revolution.

David Litvak's report can be read at Presse-toi-à-gauche.

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