On October 7, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect the president of the country. Nearly 14 years since Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998, this is a crucial test for Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. In numerous elections and referenda, the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan people have consistently ratified their support for the wide program of social transformation which has been taking place.
The Bolivarian revolution, which Chavez said should have the aiming of achieving “Socialism of the 21st century”, has transformed the lives of millions of people, despite the fierce resistance of the country’s oligarchy (backed and supported by imperialism).
Using the country’s oil wealth in the benefit of the majority, the revolution has created a whole host of social programs (Misiones) attempting to address the needs of the people. The education Misiones have eradicated illiteracy and incorporated millions of students to all levels of the education system, from pre-school to higher education, including the creating of the brand new Universidad Bolivariana.
The health care Misión Barrio Adentro (into the neighbourhood), has brought free primary health care clinics into the poor barrios (neighbourhoods) of the main cities, staffed by thousands of Cuban doctors. Mision Milagro, a joint project between Venezuelan and Cuba, has provided free eye sight operations to hundreds of thousands of patients, not only in Venezuela, but throughout Latin America and beyond.
Through Mercal and PDVAL, a network of subsidised supermarkets has been created covering the length and breadth of the national geography, providing cheap basic food products to the people.
The Bolivarian revolution is more than a collection of social programs, however important these are. It is an attempt to transform the living conditions of the majority of the population by giving them the power to run their own lives. Hundreds of thousands of organisations have been created to involve people directly in the running of the distribution of water, land reform, health care, education, etc.
As part of this we have seen the emergence of communal councils which are supposed to take control of all aspects of life in the communities in urban and rural areas.
There has been a flourishing of community and alternative media. With government support and backing communities, peasant and workers’ organisations have set their own newspapers, radio and TV stations.
There has been an effort to democratise access to the media in the face of a monopoly of the mass media by a handful of private groups virulently opposed the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution.
Workers have been emboldened by the Bolivarian revolution to take over factories which had been left idle by its owners and to run them under workers’ control and management.
Companies which had been privatised by previous governments have now been renationalised (like telecommunications giant CANTV, steel mills SIDOR, the main cement producers, etc). In the state-owned basic industries in Guayana (aluminium, steel, iron, etc) the workers have been given a say in the running of the companies.
The Bolivarian revolution has served as an inspiration for millions in Latin America and beyond and has challenged the domination of Washington in the continent.
These achievements have been made in the face of fierce opposition on the part of the oligarchy which ruled the country for many decades, with the support of US imperialism. Ten years ago, in April 2002, they organised a coup which removed the democratically elected president Hugo Chavez.
The masses came out on the streets and defeated it in less than 48 hours.
There have been many other undemocratic attempts to smash the Bolivarian revolution and remove Chavez from power (the sabotage of the economy in December 2002, the guarimba campaign of riots in the streets in 2004, election boycotts, bringing foreign paramilitaries into the country, etc).
What is at stake at the October 7th elections is more than a change of president. The Venezuelan masses are acutely aware that if the opposition wins all the social gains which have been achieved will be reversed.
The revolution is by no means completed and this has created a number of problems.
President Chavez himself has lashed against the bureaucracy within the Bolivarian movement.
There are many obstacles that the revolution must still overcome. A victory for Chavez will not automatically remove them, but a defeat would put all the advances the revolution has achieved in jeopardy.