Hugo Chavez has once again been elected to the presidency of Venezuela with just under 62 percent of the total vote, an increase on previous elections and referendums. More than ever, it was an election posed in stark class terms.
Manuel Rosales, the opposition candidate, presented himself as a decent, honest democrat – a change, then, from his outspoken support for the failed coup against Chavez in 2002! He spoke for the Venezuelan elite, and in support of the neoliberal policies that brought misery for most people in the 1990s.
Chavez’s support, by contrast, came from the urban poor, peasants and organised workers.
The Bolivarian Revolution that Chavez began in 1998 has brought real improvements for many Venezuelans, especially through major projects – the missions – to improve health, education, and to redistribute land.
For the first time, Venezuela’s massive oil revenues have been used to benefit working people. That alone explains the rising mass electoral support.
In the wider context of Latin America, Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution both reflected and influenced the growing confidence of the mass movement across the region.
Just a week before Chavez’s return to power, presidential elections in Ecuador defeated the candidate favoured by global capital and added a further name to the roll call of candidates who won with mass popular support – alongside Evo Morales in Bolivia and the all-but president of Mexico, Lopez Obrador.
Small wonder, then, that there are grim faces in Washington, where the catastrophe of Iraq has made it much harder for George Bush’s administration to act in its usual way to attack and undermine any and every anti-imperialist regime.
That is not to say that the US did not give support to its natural allies in Venezuela – the globalisers and neoliberals. It has made three attempts to rid itself of Chavez, and failed.
And most significant of all was the manner of those failures.
They were defeated by the mass movement – it forced the return of Chavez after the attempted coup, broke the bosses’ strike that followed at the end of 2002, and beat off the recall referendum two years later.
As Chavez himself said, this election must be the beginning of the next phase. Last year, Chavez announced that the revolution must be socialist, but the interpretation of what he meant by that remains a source of much debate.
What is clear is that the enemies of the revolution are not only to be found on the right – among those who are prepared to sabotage the process by any means possible. There are also dangers in the Chavez camp.
It was very significant that Chavez chose his victory speech to announce the beginning of a “great struggle against counter-revolutionary bureaucracy and corruption”.
For while Venezuela under Chavez has seen huge advances in many areas, over 60 percent of Venezuelans still live in poverty, many workers live and work in wretched conditions, and much of Venezuela’s land and wealth remains clutched in the fists of the old elite.
There are many reasons why this is so – but a major cause lies within Chavez’s own government, many of whose departments and ministries are run by people who leapt very late on the Chavez bandwagon in order to enrich themselves. They have no interest in a revolution of any kind.
The next steps will need to involve a definitive shift of power. Chavez will be a key to this process, but it is not about Chavez’s personal positions nor about his public declarations, but about where control of this process really lies.
The new trade union confederation, the UNT, made very clear in its post-election declaration that “millions of us voted for Chavez in the full knowledge of the dominant bureaucracy in parts of government, of the corruption in many areas, and the lack of response in many others to pressing and immediate problems”.
The defence of and support for Chavez holds the line of the victories already won. The important struggles, however, are yet to come.
That is why the UNT calls for the mass mobilisations that carried Chavez to power to continue and deepen.
The economy is growing, but private capitalists are still the major beneficiaries. The mass media and significant parts of the economy remain in private hands.
A deepening Bolivarian Revolution will be forced to challenge those inequalities before long. And as before, it will be the mass movement of workers, peasants and the urban poor that will be decisive in shaping the future.
Their capacity to act, their level of confidence and organisation, and above all the readiness of Hugo Chavez to place them in the leadership of the process will determine where this new phase of the Venezuelan revolution will lead.
Mike Gonzalez is the author of Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. Available from Bookmarks 020 7637 1848