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The Battle for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela

By Kiraz Janicke Venezuelanalysis.com

December 1, 2007 -- As the struggle to deepen Venezuela's revolution intensifies, so too does the battle to create the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Over the past four months some 14,500 "socialist battalions" of the PSUV have been discussing and debating the constitutional reforms and have formed the grassroots battalions of the Commando Zamora, created as a broad front to campaign for the reforms in the lead-up to the referendum. This follows what Luis Bilbao describes as "the extraordinary demand of Venezuelan society for social and political unification," [1] with a massive 5.7 million people registering their intention to form part of this new party over a six-week period from April to June this year.

The simultaneous campaign for constitutional reforms and the formation of the PSUV means the two are intricately connected - the reforms as a framework, and the PSUV as a tool, to drive the process forward. And it is through this struggle for the constitutional reforms that the PSUV will begin to pass over from a large mass of people loosely organized with little experience, to a mass revolutionary party with experience.[2]

The reforms, like the Bolivarian Constitution in 1999, represent the correlation of class forces within a particular political conjuncture of the Bolivarian Revolution. As Gabriel Gil writes, "the constitutional reform, in general, enables an advance towards the taking of power by the people," he continues, "The second bloc [proposed by the National Assembly] although it has some thorns encrusted there by the opportunism of deputies, contains in its general configuration important tools for striking blows against the ruling class."[3]

Despite their overall contradictory and transitional nature, key aspects of the reforms are aimed squarely at the heart of the capitalist system, specifically measures which although they don't abolish private property altogether, provide a framework for further inroads into the rights of capital and the "new geometry of power" aimed at transforming the capitalist state through the construction of organs of popular power, such as communes, workers councils, student councils, and campesino councils.

However, as the defection of former Chavez ally, General Raul Isias Baduel shows, the push to deepen the revolution is generating factures between the left and right of Chavismo, while they have not yet been openly articulated, these differences are also being reflected in the PSUV itself.

This article aims to briefly outline the relationship of the PSUV to the constitutional reforms and examine some of the positive and negative experiences, challenges and contradictions facing the construction of "the largest, most democratic and revolutionary political party in the history of Venezuela."[4]

Chavez's conception of the party

When Chavez first announced the formation of the PSUV in December 2006 he clearly conceived of it as an anti-bureaucratic measure, as a tool to broaden the leadership, overwhelmingly centered on Chavez himself, and push forward with the revolution. "A new party needs new faces," he said."How would it look in history if tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we create a supposed party, a front, and as a result...the same faces appear as always? We would have a simply coming together of what already exists...It shouldn't be like this, that would be fooling the people!"[5]

He went on to describe how the new party should be built from the bottom up. "In this new party the bases will elect the leaders. This will allow for the emergence of real leaders," and how the party should agitate and build revolutionary consciousness.

George Ciccariello-Maher also argues that the composition of the technical committee charged with formulating the basic structure of the new party and the national promoters commission of the PSUV appointed by Chavez in March this year, to a large extent by-passed the traditional party bureaucracies of the Chavista alliance, reflecting a "commitment to attack party bureaucracy."[6]

Participation and experience so far

Since July, the socialist battalions of the PSUV, predominantly organized on a geographical basis, but also in workplaces,[7] have been meeting every weekend, to discuss and debate issues of political program and structure, the proposed constitutional reforms, and how to organize the 5.7 million who originally signed up as aspiring members of the new party. Over the first week of October, the battalions directly elected recallable spokespeople and heads of commissions, which have then gone on to form socialist circumscriptions, grouping those elected form every seven to twelve battalions, these in turn have elected the delegates to the founding congress.[8]

While official participation figures of the PSUV national promoters commission claim that 25% or 1.4 million of the original 5.7 million are participating regularly in the PSUV battalions, it appears that in reality the level of active participation is much closer 15% or approximately 900,000.[9]

This gap between the massive numbers who registered their intention to join the new party and the level of active participation reflects on one hand, the lack of an historical experience and political culture of mass organization of the left in Venezuela and on the other hand the reality that not all these people will become militants in the new party, and signed up simply as a show of support for Chavez.

As Chavez has argued, "It is natural that this is so...We were sure that when we commenced the second stage of the process all these people that registered were not going to participate, for logical reasons - there are people that work on Saturdays, others that have family commitments and others that don't have the sufficient level of commitment to be a militant."[10]

In many instances the discussion within the battalions has been very elemental and the level of political consciousness is extremely heterogeneous. However, to expect anything else in a project the size of the PSUV would be utopian. For many it is their first experience of political militancy and many have simply joined up because "it is Chavez's party." The positive side of this is that many new faces are being drawn into political activity. However, the challenge in this situation is to take into account all the different political levels and create an inclusive pedagogy to collectively raise the level of political understanding.

In this context, Chavez argued that the constitutional reform is the "the fuel for the political and ideological debate in the battalions [of the PSUV]."[11]

Gonzalo Gomez, a PSUV promoter in Catia and delegate to the founding congress agrees, "The discussion of the constitutional reform in the PSUV battalions is the perfect way to talk about socialism concretely, because it deals with all the issues."[12] However, he clarified, the reforms, in and of themselves, won't mean that socialism has arrived, but rather they are transitional measures, that the people have to implement, and putting them into practice will deepen the struggle for socialism.

For Gomez, a long time Trotskyist, it doesn't matter that Chavez has said the PSUV is not going to be a "Marxist-Leninist" party, what matters, he argues, is the content. "We discuss Marxism every week" he added.

Many old faces remain

However, despite Chavez's intentions to build a party with "new faces" from below, many of the old faces remain and a key contradiction the new party faces is the struggle between the radical grass roots and what many on the Venezuelan left refer to as, the "endogenous rightwing" of Chavismo (based on a nexus between the state bureaucracy and sections of capital).

As Jose Miguel Casado points out, "This is the objective reality that reflects the true contradictions of the complex political universe that is the Bolivarian Revolution, it is the live expression of the class struggle, a phenomenon that the PSUV will not escape, nor any other social or political space."[13]

These pressures have already been reflected in the extremely uneven experience of constructing the PSUV so far. Some socialist circumscriptions, like in Barrio 23 de Enero, for example, build on strong pre-existing political organizations, hence debate is much more politicized, whereas others, such as socialist circumscription 16 in Catia, are comprised predominantly of activists from social organizations and Chavez supporters with little previous political experience, and yet others, such as Propatria, are characterized by strong divisions between the grass roots Chavez supporters and local municipal functionaries.

Carlos Luis Rivero wrote in August of "the insistence of some individuals or organized groups linked in some instances to government or a ‘leader with aspirations' to ‘kidnap' the debate in the battalions, to decide aspects that have not been debated in the battalions and to promote the practice of key decisions outside of the popular will."[14]

These tensions also surfaced with the elections of spokespeople for the socialist battalions in September as various reports emerged that certain governorships in Miranda, Anzoátegui, and Falcon sent people along to stack meetings and influence the vote, including reports of physical assaults against PSUV promoters in Anzoátegui,[15] as well as reports from a source in the governorship of Merida of attempts by people aligned with Diosdado Cabello, (governor of Miranda and former Vice-President) to influence the vote in that state. However on the positive side, in many cases these actions were roundly rejected with emerging grassroots leaderships winning the elections.

However, the most controversial incident during the formation of the PSUV is the "Ameliach affair."

In contrast to the MVR, which was controlled by factional power blocs, Chavez has repeatedly argued for the need for the new party to democratically elect all representatives, spokespeople, and candidates and so on from the bases. Additionally, Chavez has argued that the new party should not be an electoral machine, but rather prioritize ongoing organization of the grass roots.

So when parliamentary deputy and former MVR party boss Francisco Ameliach, on the right of Chavismo, argued on August 24, "We should revive the MVR; the PSUV is going very slowly, we have many elections in the coming year," Chavez responded that Ameliach's conduct was detrimental to the formation of the PSUV and called him to a meeting of a newly established provisional discipline committee headed by Disodado Cabello, another former MVR party boss with influence in the military. Ameliach, (of the same political faction as Cabello) subsequently apologized for his "political error" and resigned or was suspended from his position as coordinator of the pro-Chavez ‘Socialist Bloc' in parliament.

However, the incident is more complex than it appears at first glance. In June, a public debate errupted between Chavez and retired General Alberto Müller Rojas over the question of the politicization of the Armed Forces. In an interview in Ultimas Noticias on June 30 Rojas argued that Chavez that had a contradictory discourse, on one hand speaking of the professionalisation of the Armed Forces, while on the other speaking of peoples defense and a popular war of resistance; two "absolutely incompatible concepts." Müller Rojas also criticized the conservative discourse of outgoing Defense Minister Raul Baduel. Ameliach at that time came out against Müller Rojas, and along with Baduel argued in favour of the professionalisation of the military.

Chavez's initial announcement of his constitutional reforms on August 15 included a proposal for the creation of a Popular Bolivarian Militia and a restructuring of the National Guard, which reportedly generated discontent within the National Guard. Ameliach was called to a meeting of the discipline the day after Chavez had held a meeting with the Military High Command to discuss this and at the same time Chavez withdrew his proposal to restructure the National Guard, and changed his proposal from a Popular Bolvarian Militia, to a National Bolivarian Militia. The September 1 edition of El Nacional reported that Ameliach had been meeting with sectors of the National Guard and had failed to report on either the meetings or incidents of anti-Chavez material circulating in barracks. Ameliach was also removed from his position as head the National Assembly Commission for Defense, suggesting the incident was broader than just simply a question of dissenting views within the PSUV.

The whole affair generated a lot of criticism, particularly, the implications for dissent within the PSUV, despite Chavez's calls for "irreverence in discussion and loyalty in action," in the internal life of the party. Also questioned was the right of Chavez, "in a party of equals" to establish the provisional discipline committee, and in particular, the political basis for such a committee in a party yet to determine its political program, structure and statutes.

As Müller Rojas argued, the incident should have been dealt with politically rather than organizationally. "This breaks the idea of equality among party members and establishes a precedent ... [The] understanding of discipline comes from within the individual, through an educational process, and is not imposed by force, because then it is no longer discipline, but training, it is alienation."[16]

The incident also placed Cabello, reportedly one of the wealthiest businessmen in Venezuela, in a very powerful position within the PSUV and exposed the spill-over of some of the factional issues from the MVR. Specifically, it exposed a more conservative tendency aligned with Cabello, and a more left tendency called the Alternative Current, headed by parliamentary deputies Luis Tascon and Iris Valera, who sharply criticized the process.

More recently, Tascon, who also criticized the Cabello's response to the defection of Baduel, saying that it was necessary to tackle the issue politically rather than just attack Baduel personally, said he has been expelled from the PSUV. However, Roberto Hernandez also on the discipline committee denies that Tascon has been expelled and says he is "excluding himself". Cabello confirmed that Tascon had been called to a meeting with the discipline committee, but that he had not turned up. He also denied that the discipline committee had expelled Tascon.

There are certainly pressures that act to obstruct the open articulation of differences within the PSUV. Central to this is the fact that politics in Venezuela is viewed largely through the dichotomy of Chavistas vs. anti-Chavistas, hence the overwhelming emphasis on unity. There are also bureaucratic elements that exploit Chavez's popularity and immense political authority to consciously impede full democratic debate.

Chavez himself has often compounded these problems by declaring that all those who don't join the PSUV are "counter-revolutionary," as well as saying that the PSUV will be the party of government, meaning that bureaucrats and opportunists of all stripes have jumped on board. And although he has called on "all currents of the Venezuelan left" to become part of the PSUV, he has said they cannot maintain themselves as separate organizations.

Similarly, the repeated assertions by officials on the PSUV promoters' commission, such as Jorge Rodriguez and Lina Ron, that there are "no currents and factions," and "only unity" behind Chavez, can only serve to obscure underlying differences.

However, despite this there are in reality a myriad of radical left groupings organizing within the PSUV. These include; the majority of the most class-conscious workers from all the union currents that organize in the National Union of Workers (UNT), including the majority of C-CURA (whose rank and file workers agitated for and voted to go into the PSUV, while a smaller section around Orlando Chirino stayed out), the Revolutionary Front of Workers in Occupied and Co-managed Factories (FRETECO), and the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ).

As well as a number of small parties, including the majority of the former Party of Revolution and Socialism, who organize around the paper Marea: clasista y socialista, the Liga Socialista, the Revolutionary Marxist Current, and other groups such as the Tupermaros, radical Bolivarian currents, liberation theologians, individual workers, intellectuals, students, community, indigenous and social movement activists, and numerous non-aligned Chavez supporters. Chavez has also reiterated his call for the Venezuelan Communist Party and Homeland for All to join the ranks of the PSUV.

The founding congress of the PSUV has been postponed several times as the participants have found that the new party cannot simply be decreed to conform to a time line but rather must be built organically from the grass roots. In this sense the decision to postpone the founding conference has allowed more time for the socialist battalions to take shape, for the activists in the various communities to get to know each other and have a deeper discussion not only over the constitutional reforms, but also issues the political program, structure and statutes of the PSUV, including the existence of the discipline committee, the right to form factions and so on. This means that the founding conference will reflect this deeper political discussion and will ultimately be more useful than if it had conformed to the original timeline and been held in August.

Extraordinary potential of the PSUV

However, as Luis Bilbao points out, "To find within all these difficulties and trip-ups in the last few months in the organizational aspect of the PSUV a negative force is to not comprehend a contradictory totality."

"The process of construction of the party has to be understood in the context of what we are leaving behind us, and what we are leaving behind is the counter revolution, manifested in the most diverse manner, including manifested in an ultra revolutionary language," he continues.

Bilbao points to the extraordinary potential of the PSUV, "The possibility of carrying out the battle [for socialism] in a scenario of 5.7 million people who want to construct a revolutionary party is," he says, "something that changes the political face of the planet, not just Venezuela and Latin America."

Despite all the challenges, the most important aspect of the development of the PSUV is that the emerging grassroots leaderships continue to rise. The formation of the PSUV, which builds on the experience of the mass mobilisations against the military coup in 2002, the struggle to defeat the oil industry lockout, and more recently the massive push to organise the population through communal councils, has provided more political space for the grass roots than ever before in the Bolivarian process.

"Irrefutable proof" of this Ricardo Abud argues, "was the defeat conferred [to the bureaucracy] in the elections of delegates and spokespeople, where the majority overwhelmingly decided in favor of change - those who want to roll back this process before the founding congress are a minority in the circumscriptions. The people will not allow it!"[17]

What the struggle for the constitutional reform and the construction of the PSUV has revealed most clearly is that the battle lines are drawn between the endogenous rightwing and the revolutionary grassroots of Chavismo. Chavez has designated 2008 as the year of the "revolution within the revolution"- it remains to be seen if the PSUV can truly become "a political instrument that puts itself at the service ...of the people and the revolution, at the service of socialism."[18]


[1] Interview with Luis Bilbao, by Federico Fuentes, Sept 2007.

[2] Gabriel Gil, plenosocial

[3] as above

[4] Chavez, Dec 15, 2006

[5] as above

[6] Against Party Bureaucracy: Venezuela's PSUV and Socialism from Below By George Ciccariello-Maher - MRZine Thursday, 29 March 2007

[7] PSUV battalions exist in Inveval, a valve manufacturing plant under worker's control, the CVG Industrial Complex in Cuidad Guyana, the Nucleus of Endogenous Development (a network of cooperatives) in Los Cortejos and the recently nationalised CANTV among others.

[8] There are five elected commissions in each battalion; political and ideological, communications and media, logistics and organisation, social work and national territorial defence.

[9] Open letter from the 53 battalions in Barrio 23 del Enero, 10/08/07 - http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a39128.html

[10] Chavez, speech to the National Assembly of socialist battalions, Poliedro, Caracas, 24/08/07

[11] as above.

[12] Gonzalo Gomez is also editor of the paper Marea Clasista y Socialista. All quotes from Gomez unless cited otherwise are from regular discussions and observations of his PSUV battalion in Nueva Caracas since July.

[13] "PSUV: Socialismo vs. Reformismo La unión de los revolucionarios es impostergable" 09/10/07 - http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a42287.html

[14] Luis Rivera, Carlos "En Pleno Dessarollo." August 17 2007 http://www.socialistas.org.ve/

[15] "Comisión del Psuv-Anzoátegui denuncia actos violentos contra sus miembros" ABN 03/10/07

[16] "Müller rechazó creación de comité disciplinario", El Universal, 31/08/07.

[17] "Expulsión, autoexclusión? Luis Tascón y los que vienen." Ricardo Abud 14/11/07 - http://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/a44691.html

[18] Chavez, Hugo, "El discurso de la unidad." December 15, 2006

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Source URL: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/2939
Printed:
December 1st 2007
License: Published under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). See creativecommons.org for more information.

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[Kiraz Janicke is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective (http://www.dsp.org.au), a Marxist tendency within the Australian Socialist Alliance (http://www.socialist-alliance.org), resident in Venezuela. She also writes for Green Left Weekly (http://www.greenleft.org.au).]

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