Nicolás Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chávez, won the Venezuelan presidential election on 20 May – a result that offers little for workers in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America.
Maduro received two-thirds (67%) of the vote, defeating rivals Henri Falcón (21%), Javier Bertucci (10%) and Reinaldo Quijada (<1%), with turnout less than 50%.
Maduro rules as a capitalist politician with burgeoning Bonapartist tendencies, presiding over a declining capitalist economy and an increasingly dysfunctional bourgeois state.
Maduro was backed by the Chavista coalition, which included the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV), the Communist Party of Venezuela, the Tupamaro party, Homeland for All (PPT) and others. His campaign slogans were “Together anything is possible” and “Let’s Get Going Venezuela”.
Falcón is a former Chavista who was the main right-wing opposition candidate in these elections. He joined Chávez’s MBR-200 movement, the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) and the PSUV. Falcón was the Chavista governor of Lara State, before defecting to the right-wing opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Bertucci is a conservative leader of the evangelical movement “The Gospel Changes”. He stood on the slogan “Hope for Change” and was backed by leaders of Christian Democratic COPEI party, one of the old ruling parties before Chávez.
Quijada is also a dissident Chavista, who demanded a return to the Chávez’s original political direction. He was also previously a member of the MVR and PSUV. He has edited the left-wing news website Aporrea and written for the Chavista Diario Vea national newspaper.
In 2015 Quijada founded the Popular and Political Unity 89 (UPP89) party. His election slogan was “Let’s go out and vote for the future of our country”. He was supported by Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide), a Chavista kitsch-Trotskyist group. Marea was part of the PSUV from its foundation until last year.
None of the candidates stood for independent working-class politics or made authentic socialist propaganda. Understandably, some socialists and activists in Venezuela called for abstention or boycott of the elections. Those like the Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo de Venezuela (LTS) argued that none of the candidates represented working class interests. Others emphasised the political and legal conditions (weighted towards Maduro), which made such an election illegitimate.
On the international left, the Chavista apologists around Alan Woods (Socialist Appeal in Britain) called for a critical vote for Maduro. Having functioned for years as a mouthpiece for pro-Chávez propaganda, they have become more critical of Maduro’s disastrous rule. However they still argue to support him, largely on the grounds of keeping out the right-wing opposition. In the circumstances, given the state of MUD, this seems overblown.
More importantly, they put off for the distant future the central task of building an independent working class party in Venezuela that could stand against both the neoliberals and the Chavistas.
Venezuela is currently mired in a severe economic crisis and contraction. Both Chávez and Maduro responded by printing money to finance the fiscal deficit, but this has led to the drastic devaluation of the currency and hyperinflation. The launch of the Petro crypto-currency is a desperate gamble to escape the quagmire.
The slump in the global price of oil, Venezuela’s main export, is part of the cause. US, British and other economic sanctions also exacerbate the situation. But government failure, as well as corporate corruption and mismanagement have also contributed. Although oil and some other firms are state-owned, most of the means of production remain in private hands. Working class living standards have been hammered, with government subsidies failing to make good the shortfall.
Worse – almost two decades of Chavismo have decimated the labour movement. In 2003 the UNT emerged as an important trade union centre. Today, although the remnants survive as the UNETE and other independent unions, the Chavista split off to create its own trade union front, the CBST CCP, has divided and weakened workers and effectively prevented a more belligerent fight back.
Socialists in Venezuela have a massive job putting independent working class politics on the agenda – starting with the creation of their own party.