Until yesterday, the last time an Acción Democrática anniversary came around with one of its leaders holding a great office of State was back in 1998. And the last time they came together with a veritable potential presidential election winner within their ranks was, arguably, 1993. This time around they have both, in the person of Henry Ramos Allup, and so we are witnessing a resurgence of adeco identity (my social network might bring a skewed sample -I know a lot of people in politics, after all) but I have seen more than a hundred profiles wearing proudly the adeco white, and reading “Pan Tierra y Trabajo”, “El Partido del Pueblo” or, more succintly #SiVolveran.
AD’s overall record is one of success: and no party had a bigger stake in the transformation of Venezuela from 1936 onwards than the tolda blanca.
I’m not here to ponder AD’s chances of returning to the presidency, or its pivotal role within the MUD, or the status of its membership and professional party apparatus, or whether it has enough figures to lead a cabinet as a dominant party in a national unity government. That deserves analysis, but I just like to gaze into the past.
The party reaches its 75th year (or its 80 somethingth, if you count the clandestine iterations prior to AD). Taken as a whole, AD’s overall record is one of success: and no party had a bigger stake in the transformation of Venezuela from 1936 onwards than the tolda blanca.
Electorally, AD won all but three presidential elections it has contested since 1947: in the span of 50 years (ten of which it suffered horrendous persecution), the party won six times, coming in second every other time but in 1998. They also won a majority of governorships in three of the four regional elections held before 2000. Their organization and political machinery was so in tune that it became a model for every other major party to follow, copy and tinker: we do not have a fabled maquinaria copeyana or maquinaria urredista, but every person of a certain age can remember the “maquinaria adeca” as stuff of legend, a machinery that not only weathered dictatorial repression, but also did not fizzle after losing major elections.
Given that most contemporary historians actually rebelled against AD at some point in their careers, their ultimate appreciation is all the more impressive.
Alas, many other parties have been politically dominant: the Liberales Amarillos had no match between 1870 and 1899, the MVR-PSUV has commanded the State resources and institutions to bolster its erstwhile grip on the national majorities for almost two decades. But AD actually changed the country, and at some point in time, it could be argued that it not only had the most important political program in the nation, but also redefined what the Venezuelan nation could be through the single most star-studded and influential political committee in our history: Romulo Gallegos, Andres Eloy Blanco, Raul Leoni, Valmore Rodriguez, Leonardo Ruiz Pineda, Luis Beltrán Prieto, Gonzalo Barrios and primus-inter-pares Rómulo Betancourt. Given that most contemporary historians actually rebelled against AD at some point in their careers, their ultimate appreciation is all the more impressive.
Success breeds contempt.
Of course, Venezuela’s transformation was not only AD’s brainchild, but the leading version of that change came into the fore through its will. The party forced the end of Post-Gómez Venezuela, through its 1945 Revolution. The coup accelerated political, social and economic change, and gave us the 1947 Constitution as a new national idea, so powerful that it was cherished and reformed with care with its former zealous adversaries in the Puntofijo Pact and the 1961 Constitution. For better or worse, our most lasting representative democracy system had a radical revolution as its first rough draft: the creation of a true national party that overcame regional and class differences, the use of State power as a tool for social improvement; the aggressive redistribution of oil wealth; the promotion of widespread public works projects in housing, electrification, sanitation and education; the expansion of economic nationalism and the inextricable link between political democracy and growing equality. There is a famous essay by Jose Ignacio Cabrujas where he parodied that the party’s leaders, after realizing they had fulfilled most of their original program, decided the dissolve the party.
Success breeds contempt. So much has been written about the old party system’s decline, that any fair assessment reeks of nostalgic lionization. AD fulfilled its promise but in turn was hostage to the social and political culture dynamics that it criticized, though it was optimistically convinced would it could overcome them by sheer political tenacity. Administrative corruption, nepotism and cronyism, distrust of free-market capitalism, the siren song of cozying up to old and uncompetitive economic elites, and bouts of popular repression, mar the party’s legacy. Were those mistakes inbred into AD’s ideology, or were they the unintended consequences of unforeseen developments?
Conventional wisdom has it that the founders’ presidencies were, if a bit overzealous, honest and progressive, while the administrations led by the second generation pilfered and profaned that tradition.
Conventional wisdom has it that the founders’ presidencies were, if a bit overzealous, honest and progressive, while the administrations led by the second generation pilfered and profaned that tradition. Surely, reality is much more complex than this, but the decline is hard to overlook in the face of its bold achievements.
Alas, and this might be the most contentious argument for the party’s place in our nation’s history, AD brought about the until then unheard-of notion that the common folk could organize, galvanize and ultimately be trusted and heard in matters of policy and power. El partido del pueblo defeated the notion that only aristocrats or strongmen should have a say, and paved the way for modern politics in our country. Given that most Venezuelans hope for an electoral resolution to our dire state, it is a nice legacy to think about.
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