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Here is an article by Jonah Gindin on the referendum process in Venezuela:

Overlooking the mass of revellers outside the Presidential Palace at 5am on August 
16th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías made the declaration that his followers 
were waiting for: "The recall referendum was not just a referendum on Hugo Chávez," he 
announced, speaking in the third person, "it was a referendum of the revolutionary 
process, and a majority of Venezuelans articulated their support!  It is time to 
deepen the revolution!"

Thus, Venezuela's experiment in revolution has entered a new phase.  The reaffirmation 
(as Chavistas have begun calling the recall referendum) of both Chávez and the 
Bolivarian revolution by 60% of the population marks a historical moment in the 
evolution of radical politics in Venezuela.  Never before has Chávez or 'el proceso' 
been so widely supported in Venezuela, nor so widely accepted - albeit reluctantly - 
by the international community.

For many, the upcoming regional elections, now tentatively scheduled for late-October, 
provide the first opportunity to deepen the revolution.  With the momentum from the 
referendum and the opposition in disarray, Chavista candidates have the potential to 
gain important political territory.

Many current members of the opposition in key positions were originally elected as 
Chavista candidates in the regional elections of 2000, only to switch sides in 2002-03 
when they felt the political winds turning against Chávez.  They guessed wrong, and 
may now lose their posts for their base opportunism.

Yet Chavistas stand to do more than merely re-gain positions that 'should' have been 
theirs for the last 4 years.  The 'No' vote in last month's referendum-a vote against 
recalling Chávez-won in 23 of 24 states, including the 8 states currently governed by 
the opposition, though the vote was close in some cases.  If those who voted 'No' in 
August, will vote for the Chavista candidate in October, this will reinforce the 
threat to the opposition in these states. 

Yet it is appearing more and more that this may not necessarily be the case.  Though 
the opposition as a national conglomeration of anti-Chavists was roundly defeated in 
the referendum, individual candidates for governor and mayor may maintain local 
support.  Furthermore, while a large percentage of Chavistas will likely vote for the 
official candidate in the regional elections, there is also an unknown number of 
Chávez-supporters, varying greatly from community to community, who may not.

This is a problem with roots deep in the gestation of the practical defensive-politics 
that have necessarily dominated in Venezuela since the attempted coup against Chávez 
in April 2002 (if not before).  During the coup, when the Venezuelan people flooded 
the streets all over the country, and hundreds-of-thousands surrounded the palace to 
demand Chávez' return, a siege-mentality set in.  This mentality was further 
entrenched in the following months when Venezuela's economy was effectively (if 
temporarily) destroyed by the oil-industry shut-down.

The threat to the Bolivarian revolution was especially grave since this "general 
strike" was led by the communion of Venezuela's corporatist union confederation, the 
CTV, and the largest Chamber of Commerce federation; between the two of them they were 
able to effectively shut down oil production for several months in 2003.  No one, 
least of all the Venezuelan people benefiting from this revolution, doubted the 
centrality of oil wealth in making 'el proceso' possible.

The opposition's identification of Chávez as the embodiment of everything evil they 
associate with this revolution, had the effect of confirming his uniqueness and his 
messianistic status in the eyes of his followers.  It was the incredible mobilization 
of 'Chavistas' that deflected or reversed the constant attacks on Chávez beginning 
with the 2002 coup.  The effect has been to create a mobilized and increasingly 
radicalized people, who are nevertheless Chavistas first, and revolutionaries second.

Chavez has well understood the danger to the revolution posed by this overemphasis of 
his own role.  Since he came to power his administration of the Bolivarian project has 
aimed at providing people with the tools to carve an autonomous, bottom-up path for 
the revolution.  Thus, his focus on education, which gives all Venezuelans access from 
basic literacy to university; and thus, his emphasis on community-based power 

Yet in the heat of the battle over the last five years, much of this emphasis on 
community-based power structures was put on hold-there were serious threats to the 
revolution itself that understandably took precedence.  Moreover, the immediacy of 
facing these threats required-in certain instances-Chávez' unfiltered leadership.  And 
of course, there is the reality of the prospective revolution still being based on a 
capitalist state that more than anything has continued to resemble the corrupt, 
paralyzed bureaucracy of the pre-1998 (4th republic) Venezuelan state.

The Current Juncture

How to move beyond the barriers that have so far limited the Bolivarian project?

How to deepen the revolution even in the context of continuing threats to its 

How to transcend the pattern of going from one electoral test to the next, in favor of 
permanent revolutionary creativity?

On August 20th, William Izarra-head of the ideology wing of Comando Maisanta, the 
campaign coordination team-held a conference entitled "Deepening the Bolivarian 
Revolution."  When asked what the role of the Electoral Battle Units (UBE) and the 
'Patrols' (groups of activists campaigning for the 'No' vote in the referendum) would 
be now that the referendum was over, Izarra responded: "Right now we don't have any 
specifics, but the patrols and the UBEs will continue as electoral battalions.  More 
than that, it is not yet clear...we don't have more specifics."

Yet the members of the UBEs and the patrols are not waiting for the National Comando 
Maisanta to give them direction-the answers to the above questions are being debated 
now, in communities across the country.  And what consensus has so far emerged appears 
to be clear on at least one front: any deepening of democracy must begin now; it 
cannot wait for after the regional elections.

As a result, a series of plans are emerging as to how to create the participatory 
structures and coordination that will form the foundation upon which this new stage of 
the revolution is launched.  This debate has been given a special urgency due to 
conflicts surrounding candidates in the regional elections-with disagreement over 
municipal candidates front-and-centre.

The experience of the 2000 regional elections clarified for many the need for an 
alternative, consistent method of selecting candidates.  Yet last April when the 
election date was declared (though the date has since been changed twice), instead of 
primaries, candidates were selected by the Comando Ayacucho - the disastrous 
predecessor to the Comando Maisanta. The need for primaries was raised, due to the 
Comando's apparent preference for candidates that appeared to fit their rigid 
definition of chavismo, as opposed to those candidates who actually have a base in the 
communities in question.  As a result many Chavista candidates decided to run 
anyway-on a Chavista platform, but against the official Chavista candidates.

In order for the Chavistas to take full advantage of the regional elections, unity is 
key.  To avoid splitting the vote another mechanism for selecting candidates must be 
developed (and implemented).  Unfortunately, instead of learning from the reluctance 
of the base and their candidates to give up their electoral ambitions simply because 
the Comando Ayacucho told them to, Chávez seems to be repeating the same mistake.  In 
last Sunday's weekly television address Alô Presidente, Chávez declared "We have 
already announced the candidates, and these are the candidates.  Those who don't want 
unity can join the escualidos (opposition)."

Meanwhile several exciting, innovative examples of grassroots initiatives are emerging 
to solve this problem.  Below, two brief examples illustrate two different approaches.


In one municipality in the interior in which various Chavista mayoral-candidates 
decided to work together to consult the community, they created a commission made up 
of agreed-upon members to organize the following three-stage process of consultation:

First, they would call a popular assembly in which each candidate would present his 
platform to the public.  Second, they would conduct a poll, which due to time 
constraints, would be limited to those sectors who had shown the highest levels of 
support for Chávez in the referendum.  Third, they would call another popular assembly 
in which supporters of each candidate would make a brief presentation to give the 
commission an idea of each candidate's support-base.

Only after this process of consultation would the commission evaluate the results of 
each stage of the process, and pronounce in favour of a single candidate, at which 
point the remaining members would be incorporated into the winner's campaign to foster 

Popular Participation

The second example comes from a Caracas-barrio, and Chavista-bastion.  Here residents 
decided to support the official Chavista candidate, but conditionally.  They have 
planned the "First Municipal Forum of Popular Participation: Constructing Popular 
Power," a 3-day conference at which community-members will conduct a series of 
workshops and hold debates designed to produce a manifesto outlining the specific 
advances in popular power deemed most pressing.  The manifesto will then be presented 
to the official Chavista candidate to sign, as a condition for the support of the 

Closing the Gap

Yet Chávez's most recent declaration seems to contradict these vibrant examples of 
participatory consultative politics.  And the existence of other such experiments in 
institutionalizing popular participation in the selection of candidates suggests a 
dangerous disconnect between Chávez and his supporters.

This disconnect is not entirely new; it has existed in one form or another since 
Chávez first came to power.  However, the debate over the regional elections may well 
be the first time it is forcefully vocalized.  If the goal is to deepen the 
participatory politics that form the rhetorical basis of the Bolivarian 
revolution-indeed to transfer these politics from rhetoric to reality-then there is no 
choice but to support each individual community's right to choose their own candidate 
(just as it is their right to vote for or against that candidate).

Up until last Sunday's program, Chávez was more aware of the abyss separating him from 
his people than anyone.  The very idea of a democratic revolution means that, at least 
initially, all that is achieved with an electoral victory is leadership of the state.  
But it doesn't yet suggest, nor is it possible for it to yet include, fundamental 
change in the state itself.  Transforming the state is perhaps the most strategic 
accomplishment the revolution can hope to achieve, and it is one that will remain out 
of reach until the Venezuelan people have been mobilized to having fully 
institutionalized their right to participate in politics at every level of 
government-and beyond.  That is to say, until they have internalized their right to 
participate in politics not only at the level of their community, state, or nation; 
but also at a regional, and even international, level.
Every advance in participatory democracy since Chávez was elected-and they have often 
been realized through his direct influence-was designed to close this gap.   The 
educational, health, and employment missions all represent a form of 'parallelism' 
designed to bypass existing state structures that are intrinsically unable to act as 
conduits for revolutionary transformation.

If that pattern is to continue, the debate over candidates demands public 
articulation, and official response.  As the arena in which this debate will likely 
play out, the upcoming regional elections may, ironically, represent the most profound 
test of the Bolivarian revolution since the April 2002 coup.  Not for Venezuelan 
society as a whole, but as a focal point of debates within chavismo.  At stake is the 
Bolivarian revolution's ability to transcend defending Chávez, in favour of advancing 
the revolution itself; to make the transition from one stage in the revolution to 
another; to move from chavismo towards revolution.



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