Saturday, December 1, 2007

Russia and Venezuela: Possible Left Gains

Russia and Venezuela will both hold elections tomorrow (Sunday) and both carry the possibility of strengthening the left and working-class current. While in Russia Putin’s United Russia party is expected to win over 50 percent of the vote, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) - one of several communist parties - may score significant gains, continuing a trend began last March in local elections. In fact the CPRF might be the only opposition party to enter the Duma, Russia’s national legislative body because of a new 7 percent threshold required under their proportional representation system. In Venezuela, voters will decide whether to adopt a sweeping constitutional reform that will lay the basis for carrying the Latin American country’s revolution to a new stage. Much of the debate there is centering on the issue of term limits for the presidency, however the reforms are far more involved and substantive.

Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal carried op eds by leading figures in the opposition former defense minister, Raul Baduel, in Venezuela and ex-world chess champion Gary Kasparov, respectively. Interestingly, Kasparov is identified as a contributing editor of the Murdock’s Wall Street Journal. That both chose election eve to publish in New York’s leading papers is worth musing over. Certainly it wasn’t to influence the thinking public in their countries.

Kasparov, who recently served a week-long jail term complains of Putin’s tyranny and Russia’s drift toward oligarchy. Baduel, makes clear that his opposition, rather than to term limits as such, is centered in the socialist orientation of Venezuela’s revolution, which he mischaracterizes as a form of state absolutism. He writes:

“The proposal, which would abolish presidential term limits and expand presidential powers, is nothing less than an attempt to establish a socialist state in Venezuela. As our Catholic bishops have already made clear, a socialist state is contrary to the beliefs of Simón Bolívar, the South American liberation hero, and it is also contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society, because it grants the state absolute control over the people it governs.”

With conservative Catholic bishops as his ideological point of departure, it’s clear the former general is no devotee of liberation theology. That he chooses to publish in the New York Times also indicates what section of Venezuela electorate he chooses to rely on. No wonder Baduel recently retired as defense minister, as he was unable to defend Venezuela’s border with Manhattan.

In both countries, the left seems to grappling with the issue of unity, with Venezuela’s revolutionary coalition apparently narrowing in face of the Sunday referendum. It will be interesting to review the size and scope of Communist vote in Russia as its still splintered Communist movement struggles to reverse the electoral setback of the country’s last parliamentary election. The important thing however, is that the Marxist parties and movements are deeply involved in the electoral process, which is more than one can say for the US.

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