Left Electoral Victories in Several Countries
The last couple of months saw encouraging electoral victories of the Left in four countries. Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant, an Occupy Seattle activist, won a citywide City Council seat in Seattle in early November, defeating a long-time Democratic incumbent. The victory of Sawant—and the close second position occupied by another Socialist Alternative City Council candidate, Ty Moore, in Minneapolis, Minnesota—reflect growing popular alienation from the Democrats and Republicans in the backdrop of continued economic and social crisis. Significantly, 39% of Americans surveyed for a November 2012 Gallup poll said they had a positive image of socialism.
Very recently the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and its allies in the Great Patriotic Pole coalition have won in 58% of the country’s municipalities with over 49% of the total vote share. The results are particularly encouraging because Nicolas Maduro had won the presidential election early this year on a slender margin, which emboldened the opposition to present the municipal elections as a plebiscite on Maduro’s presidency. Evidently, the PSUV under the new leadership is gradually regaining the old Chavismo social base.
Ms. Michelle Bachelet, the candidate of the center-left New Majority alliance who served as President of Chile from 2006 to 2010, was elected to the office once again in mid-November. Bachelet’s father was a high official in the government of Salvador Allende and the whole family faced extreme torture and expatriation during the Pinochet regime. Along with Bachelet, four leaders of the militant demonstrations of 2011 also won congressional seats, including the Communist Party’s students’ union leader Camilla Vallejo who led the student movement against privatisation. Bachelet’s earlier tenure had disappointed those who had hoped for a change of course from the economic policies of privatisation and liberalisation. This time, again, the new Government headed by her is backed by the expectations of powerful people’s movements against privatisation.
India’s immediate northern neighbour Nepal, had a remarkably quiet and peaceful election even though the breakaway Maoist group had vowed not only to boycott but resist the elections. The results show a major decline in the strength of the Maoists who had swept the polls only five years ago. From the peak of 120 seats won in April 2008, the Maoist tally dwindled to 26, and their vote share too dropped dramatically from 30% (3.1m) to 15% (1.4m). The vote shares of the Nepali Congress and CPN(UML) both rose marginally, but in terms of seats Nepali Congress led the tally with 105 seats with CPN(UML) finishing second with 91 seats.
The Maoists have complained about various irregularities and ordered an ‘internal probe’, but there can be no denying the fact that they have squandered the gains and goodwill they had achieved in the process of abolition of the monarchy, and the present elections reflect an unmistakable mass disillusionment with and desertion from the Maoist fold. The Maoist plank that a constitution could only be ensured by ensuring 2/3rd majority for Maoists has evidently not cut ice with the people. The Maoists frittered away the initial advantage they had got by ignoring the core agenda of constitution-making and instead getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty of rehabilitation of Maoist cadres. Corruption and other allegations followed and they lost their appeal and initiative.
While the Maoists fell from their high pedestal, UML recovered some lost ground and regained its erstwhile position as the leading party of the Left. There has also been a perceptible revival of royalist forces, although the royalist Rashtriya Prajantrik Party polled 4th in terms of proportional seats. But the Nepali Congress, the old bourgeois party of Nepal which did not play much of a role in the popular upsurge that overthrew the monarchy in Nepal has now occupied the number one political slot. The coming years will be years of close contention between the Nepali communists and the Nepali Congress and it will be interesting to see how the communists handle this contention and mobilise the positive democratic aspirations and energy of the people to carry Nepal forward.
How a Socialist Candidate Won an Election in Seattle
(Slightly edited version of a piece by Clay Showalter, Nov 22, 2013, in Socialist Alternative)
As Socialist Alternative goes to print, Kshama Sawant is set to make history, becoming the first open socialist elected to a major city council in many decades. This likely victory will send shock waves through both the establishment and the left by showing how much of an impact socialist ideas can make. While Sawant is at present in the lead, and the trend is in her favor, there are thousands of votes still to count. There could also be a recount or court battles by the Seattle establishment to dispute our dramatic success. Please follow votesawant.org and socialistalterantive.org for updates. The article below describes how the campaign made this all possible.
In the August primary election for Seattle City Council, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant won a stunning 35% of the vote in a three-way race against two Democratic Party candidates. This was the best showing for a socialist in decades, and our campaign picked up tremendous momentum as we entered the final stretch of the general election. The final weekend of the election season, we held “100 Rallies for Sawant,” supported by a growing coalition of labor activists, Greens, immigrant community leaders, and socialists.
Kshama Sawant’s campaign translated a socialist program to the immediate pressing concerns of Seattle workers and youth. We put forward three main demands and connected them to the need to build a working-class political alternative while holding our socialist banner high. The three key demands were a $15 an hour minimum wage, a rent control ordinance to make housing affordable, and a tax on millionaires to fund transit, education, and other public services. This message gained a tremendous echo.
Our demands resonated so well that we completely shifted the debate. “The election isn’t for 10 days,” wrote Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat in late October, “but we can already declare the big winner in Seattle. It’s the socialist. . .[W]hat’s most notable about Seattle politics this year is that nearly [Sawant’s] entire agenda has, over the course of the campaign, been embraced by both candidates for mayor,” (10/26/2013).
Both mayoral candidates vaguely said they support a $15/hour minimum wage. Other parts of our platform, like rent control and taxing the super-rich to fund mass transit and education, have been the continual focus of debates in all the city races. In August, the Seattle Times dismissed the Sawant campaign as “too hard left” for Seattle. But now they acknowledge the resounding impact of our campaign!
Surge in Support
In October, Sawant was featured twice on the front cover of Seattle’s second-largest newspaper. Our active volunteer base surged to more than 300 people, with dozens of high-schoolers and immigrant workers getting involved. Six unions have endorsed us, and Seattle Weekly labeled Sawant as “Seattle’s Best Politician of 2013.”
Support came from musicians such as Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Serj Tarkian, formerly of System of a Down. The local hip-hop community rallied around Sawant with a successful fundraiser with the best-known local performers participating. Obafemi Martens, a local and Nigerian soccer star, prominently endorsed the campaign. The Seattle Somali community as well as disaffected basketball fans were also campaign supporters.
Seattle has been controlled by Democrats for decades, and there was no Republican challenger in this race. Without any of the pressures of “lesser-evilism,” this openly socialist campaign has become a pole of attraction for many people disillusioned with the Democratic Party.
Divisions among the Democrats
The real opening for socialist politics is exemplified by the way our campaign has strained ties between long-time allies and the Democratic Party. For example, the county-wide labor council, which has consistently endorsed our opponent, voted 28-21 in favor of a dual endorsement for Sawant.
Unfortunately, this did not reach the two-thirds majority needed for an official endorsement. Dozens of top labor and environmental leaders have told us privately that they are supporting Sawant even though the organizations they lead have endorsed our opponent.
Groups like Labor for Kshama Sawant and Small Business for Kshama Sawant worked hard to break the unconditional support that the Democratic Party often receives from these constituents. But the most striking example of strained relationships - and political confusion - is the formation of Democrats for Sawant. We accept the support of Democratic Party voters and activists, but we are clear about our socialist ideas and the need for independent working-class politics while we refuse to take a single dime in corporate donations. This patient approach combined with a positive alternative can effectively break the base of the Democrats away from the party’s corporate masters.
We have popularized socialist ideas, further exposed the Democrats as beholden to big business, helped build local movements from below, and demonstrated the huge potential for independent politics in local races. We hope this victory inspires others to run independent left challenges all across the country in 2014 and 2015, as an important step toward the formation of a new, genuine political alternative for the millions, not the millionaires.
Venezuela winning the war waged against it
(Tamara Pearson, December 9, 2013, Venezuelanalysis.com)
Following a hard year for us, yesterday’s positive election result came as a relief. It is a hopeful result that gives a well deserved finger to the bitter, whinging opposition, and their private media buddies. However, the political significance of the result is also more complicated than that, and it is now time to focus our energy on really consolidating this revolution.
The exact overall difference between those who support the revolution, and those who are against it, depends on how you read the numbers. There are three different ways to do that: according to each organisation’s vote on its own, according to the candidates’ votes (as most Chavista candidates were supported by multiple organisations) and according to candidates’ politics, where independents may support one side or another, or where there were split votes (with the Communist Party of Venezuela -- PCV -- running against the PSUV for example, but both are counted as being pro-revolution).
Going through the results respectively (mostly based on the first bulletin, with 97% of votes counted): in the first instance, the PSUV as an organisation got 4,584,477 votes, or 44.16%, the MUD got 40.96%, the PCV got 1.6% and other organisations got 13.36% of the vote. In the second instance, PSUV candidates, supported by a range of organisations, received 5,111,336 votes, or 49.24%, and the opposition candidates, supported by the MUD and by other opposition parties, got 4,435,097 votes, or 42.72%, and others received 8.03%. In the last instance, one divides the “others” in to pro-revolution and against the revolution. According to President Maduro, that makes the spread 54% pro-revolution to 45% against it, though of course these numbers are more subjective, depending on one’s interpretation of each independent and small party’s politics, and verifying those numbers would involve going through thousands of individual candidate results.
On a municipality basis, the PSUV won outright, as it has much more support in the more rural and poorer areas, while the opposition’s support is almost entirely concentrated in the wealthier areas of the big cities. So far out of a total of 337, the PSUV has won 210 municipalities, the MUD 53, other parties eight, and the rest are still undecided. The opposition won by some decent margins in some of Venezuela’s biggest cities, with 67.6% of the vote in San Cristobal, 63.88% of the vote in Merida, 55.87% in Carabobo, 51.8% in Maracaibo and 50.81% in Metropolitan Caracas. Caracas was clearly quite close, and the PSUV won Libertador municipality, Caracas, with 54.55%. Detailed CNE results can be found here.
Whichever numbers you use though, the revolution clearly won. Further, despite being local elections, because of the political weight they were given, particularly by the opposition, the results consolidate Maduro’s leadership. The number breakdown is also very consistent with results for other non-presidential elections over the last seven years or so.
Media still parrots Capriles, and the question of where to now for the opposition
After the results were announced just after 10 pm last night, Henrique Capriles, who had basically abandoned his job as Miranda governor and had been campaigning for the opposition, tweeted the following: “2014 is looking like a very difficult year for Venezuela, and we’ll be there with you all to look for ways out of the economic chaos”. He also tweeted repeatedly, “No one is the owner [head] of Venezuela, the country needs unity, dialogue ... we have a divided Venezuela”.
Private English and Spanish language media parroted his analysis, with AP headlining, “Split results in Venezuela mayoral elections” and referring to the election results as a “political stalemate”. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal headlined, “Venezuelan Vote Reflects Deep Divide”, and BBC World in Spanish, “Venezuela is still divided”.
Nevertheless, most mainstream international and Venezuelan media was forced to recognise that the PSUV won yesterday’s elections, and fairly. The Guardian and Reuters headlined, “Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro cements power with victory in elections” and noted, “President Nicolás Maduro’s party won the most votes in Venezuela’s local elections on Sunday, disappointing the opposition and helping his quest to preserve the late Hugo Chavez’s socialist legacy.”
So that leaves us wondering what the opposition will do now. It tried a coup in 2002, and since around 2005 it has tried a more indirect, psychological war approach, while pretending to accept some of the revolution’s main facets and demonising it at the same time. It has lost again and again, with the exception of the 2007 constitutional referendum. I repeat -- the opposition has lost 18 out of 19 elections in the last 14 years. The death of Hugo Chavez, and its economic attacks this year have been the best chance it has had, yet even under those conditions around 5 million Chavistas have stayed strong. With the “electoral fraud” angle looking pathetic, what will the opposition do now? Will it wait and maintain it attacks, until attempting a presidential recall poll in 2016, which it may not win?
A significant victory in difficult circumstances
I remember the April presidential election, walking past the Libertador high school in Merida at night after booths had closed. There were two large military tanks parked outside it. Perhaps 200 people from both sides had gathered there and were exchanging chant attacks. It was tense. The opposition was alleging problems in the vote counting in the booth. This time, I went back there, and children were playing out the front of the booth on bikes and roller skates. The booth witnesses from both camps were waiting to go in, but it was calm, they joked together, and when the booth closed, they clapped. The opposition’s strategy and discourse of violence, hate, fear and tension had an impact in April, but despite maintaining it through to these elections, it has been unsustainable in the long term.
Furthermore internationally, these elections largely nullify claims of fraud and an unreliable electoral system. Praise for Venezuela’s system is high and ongoing, and the participation rate this time was 59%, despite the elections being local only, being held close to Christmas and school holidays, and despite being the fourth in 14 months, speaks to the people’s faith in the system. According to Bipartisan Research Centre, a smaller percentage of eligible voters turned out to the US 2012 presidential elections.
More importantly, this is an electoral victory after exactly one year without Chavez at the helm, and after almost a year of higher inflation, some scarcity, ongoing media attacks and a psychological war, as well as an almost nationwide blackout last week. The 5 million who voted for PSUV candidates are politically consistent, strong and prove that this is a socialist project, not something that can be reduced to the charisma of Chavez, as the media tried to do.
Victory at what price?
Yet the numbers from yesterday are limited in their ability to measure the strength of the actual revolution.
Let’s not forget how many of the PSUV candidates were chosen without any consultation, by state governors usually. Many activists resented that, but voted for PSUV candidates in order to safeguard the revolution in general. Also, in the long term we’d like to see the mayors have less and less power and resources, and the communes and councils more.
The elections are one type of battle, but it could be argued the national economic and class one is even bigger. Maduro’s response to the economic attacks and the generally greedy profiteering of the business class has been firm. Their attacks and his response has seen an increased class consciousness, as the economy becomes an even more tangible part of our everyday lives, rather than just something for the experts to chat about. People are politically clear, and are angry, but there’s been a disappointing lack of increased class organisation, or organisation to defend our economic rights. There has been some, but the situation warrants more. I think many people fortunately and unfortunately believe the government will solve it all.
We have two years until the next election; national assembly ones in 2015. Hopefully now we can focus our energy and time less on electoral campaign tents and posters and word battles with the opposition, and get down to consolidating the communes, communal councils, national and democratic production and distribution, land and indigenous rights, gender and sexuality issues, pro-environmental measures, and the participatory organisation of those who support the revolution.
All these things are outlined in the Socialist Plan 2013-2019. There is the political will, now let’s see now if we have the political determination.