[For Venezuelan sociologist Javier Biardeau the scenery of a political defeat with a high abstention rate, even if it had resulted in a pyrrhic election victory, places the strategic leadership of the revolution in the only rational and emotional space necessary to overcome the current situation: to recognise mistakes and correct them, starting with the one sided view of the infallibility of the leader. Click here to read the original Spanish version of this article.]
Why did Abstention Win?
By Javier Biardeau
Monday, December 3, 2007
There were no surprises actually. Wishes alone do not come true. The stark reality imposes constraints on unbridled illusions. The scenery of a political defeat with a high abstention rate, even if it had resulted in a pyrrhic election victory, places the strategic leadership of the revolution in the only rational and emotional space necessary to overcome the current situation: to recognise mistakes and correct them, starting with the one sided view of the infallibility of the leader.
With an abstention of close to 7,200,000 voters (45%), and the extremely narrow margin between the YES and NO (CNE has accounted for 4 million 504 thousand 354 votes (50.70%) in favour of NO, and 4 million 379 thousand 392 votes for the YES, which represents 49.29%), the reading is that the worst-case scenario: a tie with a catastrophic high abstention, was not only the most probable event but the actual one.
The opposition stayed in neutral gear in relation to December 2006 (in fact the united opposition failed to take off significantly in 2006), and the stark truth is that there was a runoff in the social base of support of the revolution, a real evaporation of the Bolivarian vote. Not only are there not 4,000,000 million oligarchs, but neither are there 3,000,000 "abstentionist traitors ", former voters of the revolution. The rejection of the reform is very high, no matter what rationalisations are elaborated over a supposed a-political and anti-political basis of the abstention. The revolutionary social base signalled a political abstention towards the reform proposal. This is the first sensible conclusion in the face of the electoral results.
Secondly, we must not give undue importance to the media campaign of manipulation of fear launched by the supporters of the NO as an explanation of the current situation. It played a role no doubt, but it was not essential. It was predictable that the migration of the Bolivarian vote would go not towards the NO, but towards abstention. In fact, contrary to the propagandistic blackmail that wanted to convert the referendum into a plebiscite, and bring the decision to the terrain of loyalty, it evidenced a deep sense of protest in the Bolivarian camp. To 3,000,000 Bolivarians, neither the way in which the Constitutional Reform was handled, nor some core aspects of the draft constitutional reform seemed appropriate, which, if it had been voted thematically, would have resulted in a lower abstention.
The largest share of the responsibility for the defeat lies in those who convinced Chavez that the revolution depends exclusively on his personal figure. This is an error. Probably without Chavez there would be no revolution, but only with Chavez neither. There is a need to correct the tendency to minimise the leading role of the people in times of important deliberations and decisions. The "Chavismo apparat" (the leadership of PSUV, [United Socialist Party of Venezuela[) was defeated. The revolution is built from the bottom up, or it wears down from above. It is not a question of "it was not possible for now." I will not tire of repeating this. The path chosen for the construction of the political feasibility of the reform was wrong. The proposed reform was very badly designed and handled. There were substantive issues which go beyond a constitutional reform, which did not break with the old bureaucratic socialism, and that now require a radical debate. The minefield of the constitutional reform exploded in the electoral field, and it did not make it possible to move forward. Even its constitutional legality was severely questioned, despite attempts by the Constitutional Chamber to iron out the wrinkles. The mistreatment of disagreements has exacted a heavy toll on the vertical style of doing politics. Decisions are not imposed, they should be discussed.
There is no protagonic revolutionary democracy without deliberative democracy, without internal democracy in the Bolivarian camp. I will not repeat the errors contained within the text: Why is the minefield of constitutional reform now exploding? Chavez persists in error if he thinks that "3 million votes are missing" and that "these people did not vote against us, they abstained”. They abstained because essential aspects of form and contents of the draft reform, without any modification, do not constitute a proposal for a democratic counter-hegemonic project. Do not underestimate the people, nor its intuition or capacity for political, intellectual and moral autonomy.
The struggle for socialism must go on, but a distinction needs to be made between authoritarian hegemony and democratic counter-hegemony. Unity in diversity is the viable path to a plural and libertarian socialism. Any socialism that liquidates democratic pluralism, either by word or by deed, will not pass the test of popular sovereignty. Not only has the maximum degree of social equality to be achieved but of political equality too. The Jacobin vision of revolutions directed from above by vanguards and singular personalities has to be done away with. It is time for profound reflection in the revolutionary leadership, time to finish with both the pragmatism of the domestic right and the Stalinism of the domestic ultra-left, time to end corruption and bureaucratism, time to stop the drift towards ceasarist-populism and time to renew critical socialist thought. It is also time to ask forgiveness for the many abuses committed and to show some humility.
It is time to resolve a dilemma that is not an electoral one: either we build a truly democratic socialism, led from the bottom up, from the popular power, organised in its diversity and multiplicity, or we end up compromising with the right and all those who want to take a populist path without profound changes. There are four great defeated here: the apparat bureaucracy, the domestic right and its cesarist myth, the Stalinism and the authoritarian attitudes of the ego-politik that exists, I hope temporarily, in Chavez. The aim is to construct a socialism of the democratic majorities. Nothing more, nothing less. For this, we must not radicalise the discourse; we must deepen and renew socialist democratic and revolutionary practice, from the bottom up, towards the construction of an autonomous, democratic and revolutionary popular power.
Translated by Roberto Navarrete