Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Numbers, Enmity, y una Pausa

The final numbers for all the races from last Sunday are finally being published. All in all, the news remains mixed. The PSUV, in all the races, won with approximately 53%, or 5,073,774 votes. The opposition took 3,948,912 or 42%. If we compare these numbers to those of the failed recall referendum of last December, the Chavistas were able to mobilize more of the base, while the opposition did significantly worse than they did during the ‘no’ campaign.

The PSUV also dominated the mayoral seats up for grabs, winning 263 (in many key cities) compared to the opposition’s 48. Where the PSUV lost its most significant ground, in Caracas, (including the post of Alcaldía Mayor, mayor of Sucre and governor of Miranda) the blame can only lie with the performance of the previous Chavista Alcalde Mayor Juan Barreto, whose performance was so poor he was basically told by Chávez not to stand for reelection, even though he was eligible.

It looks as if the mobilization of the middle and upper middle classes against the PSUV was decisive last Sunday. Venezuela is thus as polarized as ever. The poor majority backs the Socialist project en masse, while the business classes remain fearful of Socialism on an abstract, ideological level. PSUV candidate of the ‘internal right’ (and loser in the municipality of Sucre) Jesse Chacón lamented this fact yesterday, suggesting that the middle and upper middle classes weren’t sufficiently convinced that “socialism also includes them.”


The elections went off peacefully enough, and the aftermath has been uniformly tranquil in all but a few places throughout the country. Here in Caracas, the opposition victors have been sounding a conciliatory tone, promising to govern ‘for all caraqueñas and caraqueños.’ Symbolically, Antonio Ledezma, the metro mayor elect, is calling for the city to be cleaned of election propaganda, to wipe away the appearance of a divided city. However, some Chavistas are already preparing for the worst. Members of the ‘hot corner collective,’ who meet in Plaza Bolívar (which is also the location of the metro mayor’s offices) held a meeting on Monday in which they reminded themselves and the public of the last time Caracas had an opposition mayor.

Describing the mayor-elect as a ‘coup monger, yankee wannabe, and guarimbero (a proponent of the violent street protests and blockades mobilized by the opposition in 2004),’ the collective expressed the fear that the hard rightwing opposition will feel emboldened and protected by the mayor. This is a pretty common fear among Chavistas, and the next few years promise to be interesting, to say the least.

However, I can’t help but see a silver lining in all this. Throughout the past ten years of Chavismo, every radicalization of the movement has been triggered by the opposition’s missteps and attacks. With the likelihood of an emboldened opposition and the loss in stature of rightwing Chavistas like Chacón – whose above quote suggests he has a rather weak notion of what Socialism entails – the possibility of deepening the Bolivarian Revolution may have increased in the past few days.

The key contradiction to pay attention to, however, is that between the politics of enmity – which on an affective level are quite intense here in Venezuela – and the faith in democracy and the rule of law exhibited by nearly all quarters of national politics. That is to say, the politics of enmity calls for the eradication of the enemy, for the creation of a space devoid of their presence, where as democracy in its western liberal guise (including Venezuela’s radical and more direct democracy) is based on a formal pluralism which puts a premium on tolerance. And we see this daily in Venezuelan politics. The constitution is one of the most common political props in the land, and all PSUV victory or concession speeches have included a phrase along the lines of “we respect the constitution, we are democrats.”

Yet, at the same time, Venezuela is one of the most partisan places in the world (in both the stupid sense of US politics as well as in the notion of militancy and one sidedness that transcends mere party platforms and competitions). Chavistas and opposition alike see their other as a blight on the country and the world. The difference of course is that the opposition’s position is of necessity agonistic in that their notion of enmity requires the maintenance of the poor (who else would clean their toilets?) whereas the Chavistas hold a very real antagonism that goes beyond bourgeois dialectics. Their fight is that absolute and destructive one that desires a world without the bourgeoisie, without this particular generation of domestic opposition, without the class structure that persists in Venezuela despite four years in the pursuit of 21st century socialism.

Y una Pausa:
I’m off to the west of the country for a week or so. I’ll be in Maracaibo (center of the opposition’s strength) and Mérida, in the Andes. I’m not taking my computer, so I’ll also most likely not post until I’m back in Caracas. Cheers.

No comments: