Was the win last Sunday a straightforward vindication of moderation over “salidismo”? This is a key debate moving forward. As the government digs in to a maximalist strategy, the danger is that we over-interpret 6D, turn our backs on the street as a legitimate locus of political action, and silently allow the government to nullify our new majority without a proper fight.
On first reading, the election played out almost exactly according to what had been the moderates’ game plan all along: sit patiently, wait for society as a whole to understand how hideously counterproductive chavista policies are, and then court their votes.
In the context of the repeated salidista screwups and own-goals of 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2014, moderates can say with some justification that their strategy succeeded. Love him or hate him, Henrique Capriles is objectively right: the smart thing was to work hard, at the grassroots, to build a crushing electoral majority and then bring that majority to the polls.
This view has become Conventional Wisdom within the new majority, and nothing scares me more than a Conventional Wisdom that’s congealed overnight. There’s always a risk of overlearning the lessons from the last war, of latching rigidly onto tactics rather than focusing on strategies.
That risk is especially relevant now, as the ascendency of moderation could take more confrontational street tactics out of circulation right at the moment when they seem most likely to bear fruit.
Chavista maximalism operates by treating any defeat in exactly the same way they would treat a victory. And they’re at it again. Chavismo has already started to try to nullify the impact of the opposition’s majority: appointing new members to the Supreme Tribunal, putting the poster girl for the regime’s human rights abuses in charge of legal defense, etc. As the government’s huida hacia adelante becomes ever more aggressive, the challenge now is to protect not just the vote but its relevance.
What the New Majority must learn quickly is something the old opposition never quite caught onto: salidismo and the voting booth are complements, not substitutes. An agenda that leans entirely on one to the detriment of the other is unlikely to have much of an impact in the face of the outright thuggishness of this regime. It’s natural, right now, that salidistas must concede much of the argument to the moderate side. But it’s also true that their new electoral legitimacy allows moderates to own salidista tactics in a way that would’ve been unthinkable a month ago.
The new majority cannot allow itself to forefeit the street as a site of political action. The street is where a political movement proves its popular mettle. It puts party activists in the shoes of the person suffering, and in contact with local leaders and with the people. And street actions, in a moment of crisis, can precipitate the kinds of defection-cascades that bring down authoritarian regimes, Ceausescu style.
Faced with a recalcitrant government, the new majority needs to master the symbiosis between popular mobilization and its own newfound electoral legitimacy. That symbiosis will only become more relevant in weeks to come.
In Maduro and Diosdado’s hands, with the economy in disarray and a barrel of oil at $31, the “huida hacia adelante” becomes incredibly dangerous. A move that could have made sense in the hands of a skilled, charismatic politician with cash to spend looks like little more than a death wish in the hands of this bunch.
Still, the maximalist gambit is upon us. And none of the institutions of the republic will stop it from working. Without real mobilization on the street, it will be easy for chavismo to get away with its nullification strategy.
The challenge now is for the new majority to really master the symbiosis between voto y calle that for so long eluded the old opposition. That can’t happen if the lesson we take away from 6D is that there’s no room for active, direct citizen engagement on the street. It may be that, as Henry Ramos said, the regime “is melting” – but the heat lamp that will help it melt faster is the pressure that only mobilized citizens on the street can create.
In the current economic climate, more social conflict is virtually guaranteed next year anyway. The question is whether the New Majority can lead that conflict and turn it into a catalyst for change, or whether a triumphant moderate win will feel itself threatened by it and try, idiotically, to shut it down.
In fact, the electoral legitimacy that 6D confers gives the opposition a unique opportunity to put street tactics at the service of a certified majoritarian agenda. What we need now is, in part, for the salidisatas to moderate themselves, but also for the moderados to start acting like salidistas.