Müller Rojas: United Socialist Party of Venezuela is a `political necessity'

Alberto Müller Rojas, first vice president of the of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), speaks to Kiraz Janicke of Venezuelanalysis.com and to Federico Fuentes of Links - International Journal of Socialist Renewal about the significance of the formation of the PSUV for the Bolivarian Revolution -- debates within the new party, what its relationship with the government should be and the immediate tasks of the PSUV in the struggle for the socialist transformation of Venezuela

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March 24, 2008 -- Known as one of the most outspoken figures in the Bolivarian revolution, retired General Alberto Müller Rojas last year clashed publicly with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and warned that he was surrounded by ``nest of scorpions'' who wanted to depose him. In particular, he pointed to some of the political positions of then defence minister, Raúl Isaías Baduel, who only months later broke with the revolution and went over to side with the rightwing opposition.

Müller Rojas, after retiring from the military in 1985, became politically active in La Causa R (Radical Cause), at that time an important force on the Venezuelan left. Splitting over the question of support for Hugo Chavez's 1998 presidential campaign, Müller Rojas, along with a number of other important leaders went on to form Patria Para Todos (PPT, Homeland For All), with Müller Rojas assigned to heading up Chavez's campaign. After being assigned to the Venezuelan embassy in Chile, he was asked by Chavez to return to Venezuela and reintegrate himself into military service in order to be part of the chief of staff of the armed forces. Müller Rojas returned to the military on the proviso that he would continue to carry out political work, which was accepted by Chavez.

With the announcement of the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Müller Rojas was named to the Promoters Commission. Following his public clash with Chavez over whether those serving in the military could be active in the PSUV, he stepped down from the commission and was retired from military service. However, he continued to be active in his local socialist battalion [branch] of the PSUV, from which he was first elected spokesperson, and then delegate to the founding congress of the PSUV.

Following Baduel's decision to break with Chavez in the lead-up to the December 2 referendum on the proposed constitutional reforms, Müller Rojas received a public apology from Chavez on state television. By the time of the founding PSUV congress, once again working closely with Chavez, he was designated to the Support Committee entrusted with the organising of the congress.

On March 2, Chavez asked the PSUV congress to allow him to have the right to designate a number of vice presidents, and announced that the first vice president of the PSUV would be Müller Rojas.

 

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In your opinion, what is the significance of the recently concluded founding congress of the PSUV in the context of the revolutionary process unfolding in Venezuela today?


Müller Rojas: The party was a political necessity. The political process underway in Venezuela commenced in 1989 as a spontaneous movement, as a consequence of the imposition of the ``Washington Consensus''. In response, a spontaneous reaction occurred in Caracas; it was known as the *Caracazo*. But this response was not restricted to the capital; it was replicated in most of the large cities in Venezuela. This spontaneous process led, in essence, to the collapse of the structures of the established power.

Beginning with this process, a whole dynamic was unleashed. There was a fracturing of political parties, a fracturing of those forces that had dominated Venezuelan reality for 50 years, or more, since the 1920s. Venezuelans lost faith in government institutions, in social institutions like trade unions, bosses organisations. However, the armed forces remained untouched, to a certain extent, and the clergy: they were the two institutions which at the time, in the 1980s and beginning of the '90s, more or less, maintained some authority and influence within Venezuelan social and political life.

Historically, a left movement had developed within the armed forces, a movement that continued to strengthen. The repression carried out by the military against the popular movement [in 1989] -- where it is calculated that there were more than 2000 victims -- forced these officers belonging to the left to accelerate their participation in politics, and so in 1992 a military rebellion occurred, led by the current president Hugo Chavez.

The rebellion was defeated, the leaders went to jail, and in 1994 they were pardoned, incorporating themselves into the political life of the country. In the 1998 presidential election, they participated in the campaign, through which we were able to bring together all the left parties who were practically at war with each other. We were able to unite them in what was called the Polo Patriotico (Patriotic Pole).

I should humbly point out that I was perhaps an important factor in that development: at the time I belonged to a party call Patria Para Todos and I was named head of the presidential campaign.

But the dominant group in that coalition was a movement, which developed more within the framework of an electoral club than within the framework of a political party. It was called the Movimiento V Republica (MVR, Movement for the Fifth Republic). This movement was a very heterogeneous movement: there were people from all different political backgrounds who coexisted together. They disagreed with the existing political system and they wanted change, particularly in regards to recuperating a national identity that had been gradually lost under the impact of neoliberal policies and market globalisation.

It was a sui generis group that at no point received political and ideological orientation: it was simply an electoral machine. With this electoral machine they won the elections in 2000 following the approval of the new constitution, and then the recall referendum [in 2004] and various other electoral contests.

However, what we have never had is a structured force, with clearly established political objectives, that united all those factors that had participated in the electoral triumph that took Chavez to power, and which was able to reform the constitution and initiate a process, not simply around social demands, but a process of structural transformation of Venezuelan society.

The PSUV, today, is playing a determining role, not only as an instrument for electoral purposes, but as an instrument to seek the establishment of a socialist society, within a design that corresponds to our cultural values, our historic tradition and the general principles of socialism.


With the culmination of the founding congress, can we truly say that this crucial instrument, this party, now exists?


No, you cannot construct a party in one year. We have a multitude of 5.7 million people enrolled in the party; they have organised themselves, more or less, into cells of 300 or so people, that we have called socialist battalions, corresponding to the military culture of the president of the party, who at the same time is the head of the Venezuelan state. They have further organised themselves into what we call socialist ``circumscriptions'' that correspond, more or less, to the idea of the commune. They represent the coming together of various associated communities who face similar problems and share a similar cultural, political and economic development, within the concept of radical geography, which differentiates the state of development of populations that occupy different areas of the country.

As you can imagine, the culture of those 5.7 million militants varies greatly, particularly in a society where over the last 40 years some 40% to 50% of society were excluded: excluded from economic life, excluded from political life, excluded from social life. They lived in barrios [poor shantytowns] and continue to live there, because this situation has not been overcome in the last nine years. So the issue we face is how to include that multitude into a social unit, and give a political content to that, which in some way or another, those 5.7 million people expressed themselves as in favour of.

To construct the party as a unit of action is a task that will take several years; our effort in this regard only began last year -- it is only one year and four months since it began [when on December 15, 2006, Chavez formally announced his intention to build a new party]. What we have done until now is establish the formal characteristics of a party, but to unify ideologies will take time.

However, personally, it has been a big surprise for me the level of knowledge and consciousness of the people that have participated in the deliberations which are occurring from below, from the assemblies of the battalions to the founding congress, which had more than 1600 delegates elected from the socialist circumscriptions. It has been very surprising for me because I have the experience of being a university lecturer for more than 25 years in the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV, Central University of Venezuela) and I was pleasantly surprised by the political level of people who come from the most humble social classes in Venezuela and how well informed they are.

Over the last few years in Latin America we have seen the election of several left parties into government. Perhaps here in Venezuela it is possible to talk of an inverse process, where the party comes into being after the movement has become government. All this has opened up an important discussion here, and across the continent, regarding the party-government relationship.


What should be the relation between the PSUV and the government?

 

Well firstly, it is important to point out that the foundations of the structure that elected Chavez to the presidency were made up of left parties. The Polo Patriotico was fundamentally made up of the Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV, Communist Party of Venezuela); Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS, Movement Towards Socialism), which later abandoned the process; the party in which I was active, Patria Para Todos; and the Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo (MEP, Electoral Movement of the People), which was also a left party. Those parties constituted the fundamental political support that the government has had in these first nine years.

The majority of the components that made up the governmental team of the president of the republic were drawn from the cadres of these left parties. Within the leadership of the PSUV, elected to politically direct the party for one year, the great majority were previously members, or cadres, of left parties that have existed in Venezuela, some that have existed since the 1920s.

They were parties that in the 1970s were part of an important movement of rebellion. What we have to remember is that these left parties in Venezuela, given that they were parties that for the majority of the time existed illegally, were not parties of the multitudes, they were parties made up of cadres.

In the development of the party-government relationship, some of them have abandoned the process, but the majority, the great majority of the members of those parties, have integrated themselves into the PSUV.

Given how this process has developed, the relationship between the two is that we are the government and the government is the party. That is to say, the relationship is intimate: we are not dealing simply with an external support for the government; rather, we need to commit ourselves to seeking the highest efficiency possible in regards to implementing public policies, cooperating with the government in its implementation.

That is why politically, for instance, we will have an extraordinary amount of work to do regarding the development of popular power, more so given that here, as opposed to other governments of the left, we are trying to minimise the role of the bureaucracy and maximise the role of the ``adhocracy'', of ad hoc structures. The members of those parties are already involved in those ad hoc structures, where they have been working with a lot of effort, supporting health programs, such as the project know as Barrio Adentro (Into the Neighbourhood, a community health program), in the literacy programs, in the training and specialisation of workers. Here, the political cadres have not committed themselves to the bureaucracy, but instead to an adhocracy, in order to achieve aims that allow us, in the shortest time possible, to overcome the enormous differences that existed in our society.


You have already mentioned the composition of the newly elected leadership of the PSUV, in which a majority come with previous experiences in different political parties. Moreover, there has been a lot of talk about the existence of different currents or tendencies within the PSUV. What is your opinion on this question?


To begin, my personal opinion is that I see currents as very positive. I don't believe in a pensamiento unico [no English equivalent, but which roughly translates to mean single thought], nor do I believe in dogmatic thought, nor do I think Marx thought like that.

That idea perhaps corresponds more to the Stalinist current; nevertheless, within the movement there are people whose view of socialism comes from a Stalinist, dogmatic conception. I think, however, that the discussion and debate that is occurring will allow us to go along adjusting our political praxis and even adjusting the content of the political thesis. I don't believe in dogmatism, and in general terms I don't think many people agree with dogmatism, except those sectors that come from the Communist Party, who in Venezuela are more hardcore, and where the Third International has had a big influence. But there is a very interesting debate that is being had.

I believe that this enriches socialist thought and strengthens the party. That is why we do not call it the Partido Unico (Single Party) but rather the Partido Unido (United Party), understanding that a perfect unity between human beings does not exist, because each mind is a world of its own. So, we need to allow debate, consultation, negotiations.

I think that was one of the most important contributions made by my party, PPT, to Venezuelan revolutionary thought, because coming out of the crisis in Czechoslovakia [in 1968], this party which originated out of the Communist Party of Venezuela [1], recognised Stalinism as an error, and proposed the necessity to facilitate and promote debate.

However, this internal situation has not transformed itself here [in the PSUV] into the existence of currents, or factions. There is a debate in which everyone participates, because the grand majority of the members of the party do not come from the old parties of the left, they are people who were previously politically apathetic, and with the hope of transforming the country have incorporated themselves into the party. They do not have any previous political experience. This enriches the discussion a lot because we have even had to confront people who still profess the liberal capitalist culture.


In your opinion, what have been some of the most important decisions that have come out of the debates surrounding the program and principles of the party?

 

The first point is the party's definitive position against capitalism: the party presents itself as an anti-capitalist party.

Second, it has declared itself anti-imperialist and in favour of a humane societal structure based on a multi-polar world, recognising not only the differences that exist between nations, but also sub-national differences, a result of ethnic or cultural identities: this is another very important point.

Another point is the desire to push and open up opportunities to develop the productive forces that are present and that in many cases are underutilised. I would say that more than 70% of the national territory does not contribute to the process of generating wealth, and these are areas where a significant amount of natural resources exist that could be processed and help generate work. We have a workforce in which a great proportion, more than 40%, are unqualified, who we are trying to train. We also have capital which many times has been employed in an inefficient manner, using imported technology, creating a situation where many of the modern elements of production that we have here have converted themselves into enclaves: it is necessary to liberate those productive forces, this is one of the aims, one of the principles of the PSUV.

There are also some considerations regarding the issues of ethics: we are guided by the ethics of life; everything that favours life is good, everything that goes against life is bad. This includes looking after nature, looking after renewable and non-renewable natural resources, reducing the contamination of the environment, which is something that is very difficult to do because this is a petroleum-producing country. Nevertheless we are in favour of a systematic revision regarding the protection of the environment.

Here in Venezuela, where there is a proliferation of polluting traffic, particularly in the large cities, we are attempting to transform that reality in order to use non-polluting public transport. This has been very difficult given the tradition and the weight of consumerism in our society, above all amongst the middle classes, who have been truly indoctrinated into that way of thinking. It is exactly there, in the middle class, which represents barely 12% of the population, where we find the strongest resistance to our process.


In a number of recent articles, you have warned of a series of dangers confronting the new party and the revolution. What do you view as the biggest danger today?


Like Trotsky, I think that the first danger is bureaucratism. Bureaucratism tends to create a new class that makes party life much more rigid, where it loses its flexibility, and what happens is what we saw happen with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It's a danger, I would say, which is a bigger danger than the resistance of the right and the offensive by the [US] empire against the Venezuelan state: it is more dangerous than those two factors, because those factors have to confront not only socialist consciousness, but the strong national sentiment that exists within the Venezuelan people.

National identity within the popular classes is very strong; no other identity exists. They understand perfectly well that their possibilities to develop are tied to being within this group, and not outside it. Bureaucratism tends towards the breaking down of this strong sentiment, which the PSUV has today incorporated within its notion of nationality -- one seen from an internationalist perspective, not isolationist dogmatism. Historically, the Venezuelan people have internalised the idea that we form part of a grand nation, the Indo-American nation.


In the last few weeks there has been quite a lot of talk about the dangers of ultra-leftism, starting with Chavez's comments on the alleged role played by ultra-left or extremist groups in the downfall of the Salvador Allende government in Chile. How do you view this question in the Venezuelan context?


A curious thing occurs here in Venezuela: those that represent ultra-leftism are not in the Chavista movement, they are with the right, or they accompany the resistance of the rightwing, as opposed to what happened in Chile, where they were in the Allende government. Here, that radical, anarchistic left, perhaps who's best political expression is an organisation called Bandera Roja (BR, Red Flag), work with the conservative right, so they form part of the government's adversaries. Those radical, anarchistic groups do not form part of, and are not present within, the movement.

There are some expressions of it, there is a woman leader of the party, whose name is Lina Ron, who every once in a while carries out actions that aim to cause a splash, but she does not really represent a radical, anarchistic position. When she is told to return to her place, she accepts the discipline of the organisation.

The most extreme position within the government, within the movement, is that of the Partido Comunista de Venezuela, that is the most extreme position, inside a very heterogeneous group, like that which makes up the new socialist party, which recognises the social content of Christianity through what is known as Liberation Theology being incorporated into the socialist thought of the party.


What are the immediate challenges that the PSUV faces coming out of its founding congress?


Müller Rojas: Firstly, we have an immediate task, which is to organise the party territorially. On this issue we have two currents. There is one which inclines towards a position, that I also defend, of applying the theory of radical geography, which considers spatial divisions according to the level of development of the populations that occupies each space in the national territory, creating the possibility of homogenising the differences that occur between different populations from different regions, including in urban spaces.

There is another current that wants to respect the traditional geographical political culture of the Venezuelan state. This will be debated out and it is an immediate task because the manner in which the party will act on the national scale depends on this.

I hold to the position of applying the ideas and concept of radical geography because, within the concept of radical geography, the socioeconomic conditions of each social group located in a defined space determines the type of politics that needs to be applied in that space. We cannot do what is generally attempted, which is to apply policies for the whole of the population in a uniform manner: policies need to respond to the cultural, economic and even geographical plurality that is present in the Venezuelan reality, which is very varied.

Another issue will be the formation of the Polo Patriotico, because despite the fact that the greater part of the militants from our allies incorporated themselves into the new party, there is an irreducible sector who want to maintain their own political organisations, who have a history and traditions, and who occupy a space in the political and social life of the country. I think that in some way we have to perfect that alliance; that is also one of the tasks that we have to confront, to think through what mechanism we can utilise so that, together with us, they can participate in the development of socialism in Venezuela.


The party began its process of formation through local units organised on a territorial basis, and while there has been talk of creating social fronts to organise and integrate people on a sectoral basis -- workers, peasants, students etc. -- into the party through these fronts, until now this has not occurred. Some have said that this has led to a situation where the presence of the organised working class is not felt within the new party. What is your opinion in this regard?


When we talk about the working class here in Venezuela, or better said, when you talk about the working class, you are referring to the idea of a working class in a developed country. Here in Venezuela the working class represents an enclave of capitalism, because the working class, if we want to put it one way, is a privileged class if we compare it to those sectors that have not been incorporated into society.

Those sectors, which represent 40% of the population, were often viewed by traditional left organisations as falling within the category of lumpenproletariat, but they are not lumpenproletariat because they do not live off other people's work, they live off their own labour, which is not based on accumulation but simple subsistence: they work to subsist, without accumulating.

That was one of the discussions we had in my party [Causa R]. A current emerged within the party, led by Andrés Velásquez, who belonged to the working class, that considered that those excluded people were lumpenproletarians; in the same category as thieves and bankers, who are lumpenproletarians according to Marx's thesis because they live off other peoples' labour.

So to talk about an industrial proletariat here in Venezuela, when 40% of the labor force is not incorporated into a job, has no meaning. Our non-privileged class, our class is that sector that has been marginalised from society, which represents 40% of the population and which we have to incorporate into society so that they can live like people.

The biggest union federation that dominated the trade union movement in the country, which was much more powerful than the left, than the Partido Comunista and my party,[2] which carried out important union work, was a union federation whose interests corresponded to the interests of the bosses, it did not respond to the interests of the workers. It was a totally corrupt organisation that, together with the bosses, exploited the workers.

Workers here in Venezuela have their own house, car. They have the characteristics of what we could call the petty bourgeoisie: a worker in Venezuela was a privileged person. Moreover, the working class in Venezuela had living conditions in some cases superior to that of the professional middle class. The oil workers here in Venezuela lived in much better conditions than a doctor or an engineer working for the state, and this situation continues today, that has not changed. Now, can someone really think that within those people who live with that standard of living a revolutionary spirit can exist? The revolutionary spirit exists in that group of people who were excluded from Venezuelan political and social life.

Notes

[1] In 1971, the PCV underwent a split with one part of the organisation leaving to form MAS. Out of this split also came a small group, including well-known revolutionary leader Alfredo Maniero, who would later go on to form Causa R (Radical Cause). In the 1980s, and particularly the early 1990s, Causa R underwent a rapid growth, making it the third main party in Venezuelan politics. Following the split, out of which the majority went on to form the PPT, Causa R today is shadow of its former self and is part of the opposition.

[2] Müller Rojas is referring here to the important union influence built up by Causa R, particularly in the state of Bolivar, home of the majority of Venezuela's basic industries. In the 1990s one of its central leaders, Andrés Velásquez, who was the head of the union at the steel plant SIDOR, was elected governor of the state.

[Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes are part of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau, and are members of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist group in Australia that is part of the Socialist Alliance.]

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