The viability of the “handpicked” successor is being strenuously tested in the left-leaning governments that composed the ‘pink tide’ in Latin America. Two weeks ago Christina Fernandez de Kirchner’s chosen successor, Scilio, was defeated by the ring-wing Macri for the presidency, though Christina should herself be considered the chosen successor of her late husband, Nestor Kirchner. Likewise, Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor, Nicholas Maduro, today is likely to face a rebuke of his presidency when voters give the majority to the opposition party in the National Assembly. In effect, we see a rebuke to the successor through a politically symbolic vote against another entity.
Both Fernandez de Kirchner and Maduro have failed to live up to achievements of their predecessors – though voter disenchantment is in indirect response to the socioeconomic conditions caused by the machinations of global capitalism, namely China purchasing less industrial commodities from Argentina and an oil glut diminishing the value of Venezuela’s primary, nearly sole, export. However, Kirchnerism and Chavism differ markedly as philosophies.
Kirchnerism indicates an expansion of human and political rights, government investment towards industrialization in the private sector, and the purposeful devaluing of the currency to create an export economy, with an increase in social welfare programs to offset declining wages. Chavism represents the nationalization of industries and services, particularly strategic oil-related firms, steel, telecommunications and electricity and so a disregard for private property rights in production, government subsidized commodities and imposed price ceilings, state support for small businesses and cooperatives, creation of Local Public Planning Councils, incredible spending on education (“missions“) that has bred empowerment, and rural and urban land reform, the latter being particularly popular with the poor living in barrios, who are able to own the homes they have built on the land they have occupied.
Those on the Left inclined to support the social programs of the Chavistas are confronted with the authoritarian tendencies that seem to be a common thread running through “really-existing” socialism, to refashion the qualifier. There are very public cases of opposition leaders being arrested on dubious charges. According to reports in the Guardian, one must attest to support for the party in order to get many of the services the government provides. Chavez banned collective bargaining by public sector workers and employees of the petroleum industry. The conflicting reports on political repression and violent suppression of protests are numerous enough from either side that one should be skeptical in coming to any firm conclusions, at least those of us outside of Venezuela. Gustave Cisneros’ use of his ownership of Venevision to continuously smear the Chavistas and distort events on the ground should give pause to the Left in accepting the main narrative coming out of Venezuela. Given Cisnero’s support of the attempted coup by the capitalists in 2002, is not too hard to believe that a more subtle coup is occurring by the capitalist’s starving of the people of basic goods, creating false scarcity as Maduro has argued, and propagated as the fault of the Chavismos’ by Venevision.
With this uncertainty in mind, the global Left should stand by the socialist project in Venezuela, and yet embrace the dictates of the idea of democratic socialism in accepting the outcome of the elections. The lesson to be gleaned from Argentina and Venezuela could indeed be that a handpicked successor of a social democrat or a democratic socialist, respectively, even by the hand of a predecessor with strong support, can never lead with the same mandate, due to this process being a failure of intraparty democracy. Contra Zizek, democracy is necessary, even if it is not sufficient, for the legitimacy of social and economic outcomes.