Venezuela: Assembly of Socialists activists on the referendum defeat and the PSUV

Federico Fuentes, a member of the Green Left Weekly/Links Caracas bureau, interviewed a number of elected spokespeople from the local grassroots units and delegates to the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. This is the first in a number of interviews that will appear in Links -- International Journal of Socialist Renewal.


Since Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez announced the intention to create the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in December 2006, hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries and grassroots activists have thrown themselves into the process of constructing a political instrument that will be at the service of the progressive mass movements and the Bolivarian Revolution. For most of the second half of 2007, some 14,000 socialist battalions (the local grassroots units of the PSUV) will meet every weekend, first to discuss the program and principles of the party and then to organise the campaign in support of Chavez's proposed constitutional reform.

In a demonstration of the grassroots democracy that is pushing forward the construction of the party, some 14,000 spokespeople from local battalions, along with over 80,000 heads of commissions [each battalion has five commissions: politics and Ideology, propaganda, social work, organisation and logistics, and territorial defence], formed local socialist circumscripcions [electoral districts] that elected 1676 delegates to the PSUV's founding congress, which convened on January 12. Addressing the inauguration of the congress Chavez stated: ``In order that [the] December 2 [narrow defeat of the referendum for constitutional reform] ever happens again'' it is necessary to go on the offensive with the PSUV ``as the spearhead and vanguard'' of the revolution. ``We have arrived here to make a real revolution or die trying,'' Chavez declared. Since then, the congress has begun its deliberations to craft a program, and principles and statutes, for the new party. The congress is scheduled to finish on March 8.

Within the congress, participants include militants from existing revolutionary and Marxist parties that have decided to join and actively participate in the creation of a real mass revolutionary party. One important group that has thrown its weight behind the PSUV is the Assembly of Socialists (AS).

Formed in November 2006, the AS began as a convergence of several existing revolutionary parties and popular movements that saw the need for a united party. Among the more than 20 organisations were groups such as the Socialist League, Utopia, Popular Coordinator of Caracas and the Socialist Front of Merida. Soon after Chavez's announcement, AS decided to integrate into the PSUV while maintaining AS as a current within the new party.

Over the weekend of January 26-27, several hundred people from across the country participated in the second AS national assembly to discuss the failure of the December 2 referendum and the creation of the PSUV. Federico Fuentes interviewed a number of organisers of the gathering for Links -- International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Fuentes spoke to: Ana Elisa Osorio, battalion spokesperson and former minister for the environment in the Chavez government; Nora Castañeda, ex-guerrilla fighter, president of Banmujer (Women's Bank) and leader of the Socialist League, which is in the process of dissolving into AS and the PSUV; Gabriel Gil, president of Catia TV, one of the most important community TV stations, and former leader of Utopia, which last year decided to dissolve in order to focus its energies on building AS and the PSUV; Sergio Sanchez, alternative delegate to the founding congress and former secretary general of Utopia; and Carlos Luis Rivero, battalion spokesperson and former vice minister in the Ministry of Popular Economy.


Federico Fuentes: In your opinion, what were the factors that led to the defeat of Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms on December 2?

Ana Elisa Osorio: I think there were multiple reasons; it is very hard to simply single out one factor in particular. Perhaps it was not the best time to present the reform proposal. I think that there was a problem in the way the proposal was carried out, where perhaps it was not sufficiently explained and discussed; there wasn't sufficient time.

There was also the fact that there were two blocs [of proposed reforms] presented by the president. The result would have been different if the referendum had been solely around the first bloc of reforms because we had already gone some way in discussing that bloc, but the second bloc brought with it confusion.

So there is all of this on the one hand, but on the other hand, I think there are some weaknesses in the process. From the point of view of the expectations of the people, there has been a certain stagnation, above all regarding the solution of the most immediate problems of the people. We have advanced in many areas, all of which are very important: health, education, the distribution of wealth and attacking poverty. The people continue to live with many expectations and not all of the problems are being resolved. So the everyday experiences of the people have led them to sense a certain stagnation in the process. I believe that not going to vote, that is, not voting against [the reforms] but instead deciding to not vote at all, was a way of complaining or of demonstrating that many did not agree with what was occurring.

Another issue is that there is still not a culture in our country of voting in referendums. We saw a very important participation when the referendum revolved around Chavez, for example in [the recall referendum of] 2004, which was around whether he remained president or not; it was a vote for Chavez. This time, the consciousness of the fundamental necessity to support this reform did not exist.

I think all of these issues were part of explaining what occurred in the referendum. However, I am sure that President Chavez did not lose support, despite of the result of the referendum

Carlos Luis Rivero: Well, I think we lost on December 2, in some ways, because of the level of [political] consciousness of the Venezuelan people. But the responsibility [for that ...] lies with those of us who are leading the revolutionary process.

This lack of consciousness meant that many were won over by the anti-communist campaign unleashed by the right wing, by the Venezuelan right wing and the international right wing. It the same arguments they have used for more than 40 years: ``They are going to take away your home'', ``They are going to take away your child'', ``The communists want everyone to be poor and not rich''.

They had an easy path because, despite the fact that the people are committed in general to supporting President Chavez, they don't comprehend what socialism means. Moreover, if we go back a year, we could say that voting for Chavez [in the December 2006 presidential elections] did not necessary mean demonstrating support for a proposal with a socialist character.

We could also add other elements on top of this. I think that another important, but not crucial, element had to do with government management. There was very inefficient government management which did not effectively reach the people, the progressive wearing down of revolutionary policies, such as the social missions, that today are in crisis. This [played a role in the referendum] defeat, but if the people had had a higher level of political consciousness, even while criticising government management, they could have understood that beyond the issue of government mismanagement was the issue of the path towards socialism. That is why I think the basic issue, the basic cause of the referendum defeat was the level of political consciousness of the Venezuelan people.

Gabriel Gil: First, there are many reasons which combined and led to the electoral defeat on December 2. The fundamental one has to do with the lack of political leadership, an error by the leadership -- with includes the left sectors within the PSUV, which includes the revolutionary sector. The people had the capacity of assuming the reform as their own, but instead went in the other direction. This has led some to say that the people lacked [political] consciousness, but the people are politically conscious, they demonstrated this in April 11 [2002, when they defeated the US-backed military coup against Chavez]; they demonstrated it during the bosses' lockout [in December 2002-January 2003]; they demonstrated it during the [2004] recall referendum.

During those events we also had to tackle the problems of lack of food, of transport; there were more things missing then than there was this time, yet this time the people considered that it was much more important to attack these details.

Furthermore, we can see that the reform proposal had a grand defender, which was President Chavez, but in his cabinet there were people -- who make up the political leadership of the country, of the revolution -- who were not capable of defending the proposals in the media and among the people.

Nora Castañeda: I agree with what President Chavez said recently: ``The dominant ideology dominates because it also dominates inside the minds of our people.'' It is true that powerful economic sectors utilised the mass media, utilised schools, they utilised primary schools to spread information, or better said, misinformation, to the people. It is true that all this occurred and that was why we lost.

It is true that during the campaign we didn't reach many areas, but it is also true that we didn't get to the Indigenous communities and the Indigenous communities voted ``Yes'', that is also true.

But what is most true is that, and the President has said this, we conquered a hill in the elections when he was re-elected president, and he thought we could move to take a bigger hill, but he did not take into consideration that that bigger hill had to do fundamentally with the ideological struggle, it had to do with advancing more rapidly in the construction of socialism, and in one way or another, the fight against capitalism and imperialism. Well, our people weren't prepared for this, neither were we prepared for it. And because we were not prepared, we saw what occurred: we lost.

The president said that there are people going around saying that we are going to try and hold the referendum again in the short term, with the initiative coming from the people, but we are not prepared yet. We have to have a profound ideological debate, that is what I believe. A debate that allows us to understand what is really going on, because when we see many of the conclusions that are being reached, we realise that we still don't understand what is occurring. We begin to blame ourselves, without taking into consideration that an ideology is dominant because it dominates within our minds, the minds of the people in our neighbourhoods, in our communities.

The class struggle, looked at from the ideological viewpoint, is fundamental, and if we don't wage this battle we will lose again. That is what I think occurred: there was an insufficient advance in the political consciousness of the people, we were not prepared to take that second hill and that led us to defeat.

But I am also one of those who believe that we lost a battle, we did not lose the war. It was just one battle.

Sergio Sanchez: December 2 demonstrated various things. One factor was the tiredness of the people, and their intolerance of the serious deviations that have occurred in the Bolivarian Revolution.

Second, it demonstrated that the leadership of President Chavez had a ceiling point, it has a limit. The campaign did not focus on raising the people's understanding of what was at stake in the referendum; it focused on the idea that if we supported the president we had to vote ``Yes'' in the referendum, and that those who voted ``No'' or abstained were against the president. It was emotional blackmail. It was never a process of political consciousness raising because the president believed, as did many others, that his leadership was enough to make the revolution, yet it was demonstrated that it is not. In 1998 it was enough but today it is not.

There have been important leaps forward in the political consciousness of the people, so much so that the opposition obtained practically the same vote [in the referendum] as in [the 2006 election], it was just that we obtained some 3 million votes less this time around. That is something very important to take note of. The revolutionary sectors did not decide to pass over and support another cause, it's just that they did not support the proposal, but they continue to support the revolution, just in a much more critical way. We could say that out of 7 million people, 3 million are in the position of being very critical, and at the point of breaking discipline regarding the political line set by the president, and there is another group within the 4 million who are also very critical, but who said that we have to vote for the proposal because of discipline and also because of what it would mean to lose the referendum.

In any case, there is a crisis within Chavismo that expressed itself on December 2, and which places us at a crossroads: do we implement the necessary structural measures that the people are demanding in order to straighten out the path of the revolution or do we end up demoralising the people, and reach a point where the revolution is defeated either via the ballot box and or via the armed road.

Given all this how do you judge the shift in discourse by Chavez since January and some of measures he has implemented such as, for example, the amnesty decree for some of those involved in the April 2002 coup, the lifting of price controls and the talk of putting a brake on the revolution?

Rivero: First, I believe that the call by Chavez to revise, rectify and relaunch is correct, but it has to mean a profound revision, a profound reflection and a profound rectification. If that does not occur, there will not be any significant changes and we will find ourselves at the beginning of the end of the Venezuelan revolution.

I believe that the first indication coming from the President is that there has not been a profound reflection. He has situated the errors simply at the level of appearance and has not gone to the roots, the profound causes of the problems. This seems to lend credence to the idea that we could be beginning the path that will return to the society we had before.

Yet, I believe that there is a large reserve of support for the process, despite the fact that the people do not have a socialist consciousness. There is a sector of the people that has acquired socialist consciousness, and there is a sector of the people that, at a minimum, won't allow anyone to take away what they have gained. Even though this is not necessarily a socialist consciousness, it is an important reserve of support for the process.

I think we are heading towards the flowering of important internal contradictions between those who support the revolutionary process in Venezuela, because it has become evident that differences exist, and appears to have become evident to the people. We have situations, of instance, where a road needs to be repaired, the road was set to be fixed, the person who came to fix it got their money, some functionary made some money out of the deal, meanwhile the road has still not been fixed. Speeches will not put an end to this; it will not convince the people if their reality is different to the discourse. I think this has begun to generate a process of disassociation. Just as we talked about the disassociation of sections of the right who did not recognise that reality was effectively changing for the better, I think that we are also entering a process of disassociation, where presidential speeches go in one direction and reality in another. In the end, it will be reality that imposes itself. The people can have a lot of confidence in the president, but if the president tells them one thing and they are seeing something else, they will end up believing what they see and not what the president says.

I believe that the electoral results of December 2 have affected the credibility of the president, but I think that each process, each battle, each defeat, can be taken advantage of for good. Now there are sectors that previously were playing a more passive role, who are now organising themselves.

I believe this is also a consequence of the defeat. I think the fact that many sectors of the people are asking that people in positions of power be elected by the grassroots is another consequence and this is also something good -- not everything is bad.

There is a Venezuelan saying that goes: ``There is nothing bad out of which something good doesn't comes from.'' I think that this defeat could be converted into a great victory if we are able to assimilate the causes of the defeat.

Gil: I would say that we haven't lost course; rather the pace has been slowed down. That is how President Chavez puts it, attempting to understand what occurred and, in some way, thinking that the media had an impact within the population with its anti-communist propaganda. I think that is the reason why he is doing this.

I don't share this view as a whole, I share parts of it, for example, the proposal that it is necessary to revise, rectify and relaunch. The lifting of price controls was something that was already unavoidable, because the price controls were introduced, but they didn't solve the problems of production. It was very difficult to continue maintaining the price controls unless there was finally control over the food production chain. One of the things we need to get clear, if we are going towards socialism, is are the people going to or not going to have control of the food productive chain.

This also has to do with December 2. On numerous occasions we have heard, ``No, we are not going to take control of this'', but the people respond by saying, ``Well, if we are not going to have control, we are not going to solve the problem''. It was contradictory to defend the reform based on the argument that it was not going to affect the interests of the oligarchy. The people, in a certain way, have a clear vision that there are interests of the oligarchy that have not been touched by some ministries, by some state institution, that we need to begin to touch. I think that if we are going to put forward the lifting of price controls, then we need to also propose a definitive solution to the problem, not just band-aid solutions.

Sanchez: As is always the case, the discourse and actions are a bit contradictory. On one hand, Chavez proposes something that from my viewpoint is correct; he says ``We don't have the necessary force, and we wanted to advance in one go but we couldn't because we do not have the necessary level of organisation and consciousness to do so.'' That is true: the PSUV is only just being born, there doesn't exist a party of the revolution. This is something illogical, how are we are going to make a revolution without a party?

He also says that it is necessary to win over the middle class and those sectors that, although they are not socialist, could be willing to transform society. I also agree with that. I believe that sectarianism and dogmatism have caused us a lot damage, and we are not even talking about a sectarianism where there is at least a profound debate, it is a sectarianism based on sloganeering, there is no depth to it, and so we are pushing away sectors, even from the left, who demand greater ideological depth, because we are confronting the enemy with a simple ``Uh, ah, Chavez no se va'' [``Uh, ah, Chavez is here to stay''], which makes no sense. So I am also in agreement that our discourse should be more inclusive of sectors that are more likely to side with us than to side with the exploiters.

This is something important that socialist parties the world over should reflect on: dogmatism. We arrived here and though we could just follow the recipe, ``Ok, so we got here, let's expropriate the means of production'', as if there is not a period of transition between capitalism and socialism, the product of the fact that we do not yet have the objective and subjective conditions.

In Venezuela's case, we don't have a party, the development of the productive forces is very precarious, 91% of our income from exports come from petroleum, which is produced by some 25,000 workers, while we have 27 million inhabitants. So 25,000 workers produce 91% of the country's export income. Clearly, we have a very complex problem in Venezuela, from the point of view of the productive apparatus. We want to expropriate, but who do we expropriate if in Venezuela there are around 4500 factories functioning, whilst in Argentina there are 100,000. The productive apparatus does not exist here and it is not simply a case of ``with the workers, we will set up the factory''. With the workers perhaps we can start up the factories that have been closed down or expropriate the factories that are functioning, but the immense majority of products we consume, starting with the food we eat, are all imported.

If we do not have experience producing these things, how are we going to do it? We have no other choice that to, on one hand, make alliances with companies that transfer technology, and on the other hand, seek out other sectors, particularly from the universities, involved in this issue. But the students in the universities are not on our side, they are on the other side of the fence, despite the fact that universities have always been rebellious. This is product of the fact that we haven't established a political policy for winning over those sectors.

All this has to do with the issue of slowing down the pace, but maintaining the course. I can agree with this as long as it is seen as a tactical decision.

What don't I agree with? Of course, I have a level of information different to what President Chavez has. He needs to resolve concrete problems for the people. How are we going to make a revolution without milk, with the level of unemployment that exists, when there are shortages of a number of products, crime is exploding, when corruption exists? If we are not capable, in the preamble of a socialist revolution, of resolving the most elementary problems, which even capitalism has resolved in many countries, how the hell are we going to tell people that we are going towards something much more complex, without even solving these elementary issues. The people will ask ``If you are not even capable of resolving the issue of milk, why am I going to take the risk of going along with you, expropriating companies etc? Are you crazy?''

In this sense, the government has done the correct thing, calling for more efficiency in the government, but at the same time the cabinet changes are fundamentally a shift to the right, where sectors who are the furthest to the right in the government, who are in favour of ``Chavismo without Chavez'', have taken control of the majority of the cabinet. In this scenario, he is assuming that those technicians will provide a response to the problem of inefficiency, but those technicians are not going to provide answers. They are going to set up what we call in Venezuela “pot of smoke” [a smokescreen], creating the illusion of supposed achievements that are not real.

For example, they told the president that 170,000 houses had been built, but there were not 170,000 new houses. If someone went to ask for a loan for their house, they were lumped into the number of houses built. So they lied to the president, the president believed the lie, and so he makes that person who lied to him vice president of the republic.

What is occurring is that those sectors are appropriating more control within the state and, of course, are continuing to carry out their business. They will not achieve the efficiency that the government is demanding, and what is going to happen is that unless there is a loud wake-up call, in the upcoming elections for governors, we are going to lose a large number of governorships, I repeat, unless there is a change.

The other thing, which I think is the most pathetic, is that the Venezuelan left, after nine years of the Bolivarian Revolution, has not been able to construct an alternative with real strength, including in order to help the president. In some ways you can understand [the cabinet changes] in the context of the correlation of forces: if the left is each time weaker, more fragmented, more divided, what are we going to say to the president when he finds himself alone? Me personally, I am not going to ask anything more of the president, I believe he has done a lot, of course, he is not a Marxist-Leninist, he has never said he is, but I believe that we have not been up to the level of this historic moment. As revolutionaries, the different organisations and individuals from the left, despite knowing the script well, knowing who the enemies are, having much more clarity about what needs to be done, we have been incapable of uniting, because sectarianism and dogmatism are dividing us.

Castañeda: We can understand many of these actions [by Chavez]. Take for instance the question of the amnesty. Why an amnesty decree? Because the imperialist and national oligarchy had proposed to turn January 23 [the day marking the uprising that overthrew the Perez Jimenez military dictatorship] into an intense showdown over the presence of what they call political prisoners. To do that by uniting with the so-called student movement (misnamed because we call them the students but they are only a sector of the students) that shares their ideology.

So what did the president do when he decreed the amnesty? He took a banner away from them, and they couldn't do anything. Aha, but they are they free? Yes, they are free, but what this is about is that now our people are discussing ``Why did they give them amnesty? They shouldn't have done that'', so there is a debate amongst ourselves. They are free, we are debating, and moreover, we took a banner away from the opposition, and they couldn't use it to mobilise on January 23. Instead January 23 belonged to us, not them.

Of course, if we don't know how to handle what Mao called the contradictions of the class struggle, antagonistic contradictions and contradictions that are not antagonistic, if we don't know how to use these contradictions in order to take away banners from the opposition, then we will have problems. We are always clashing head-on and we are not doing what, we the guerrillas used to call ``the war of movements''; this was part of the war of movements in my opinion.

Osorio: The amnesty decree occurred in the midst of the struggle Chavez was waging for the liberation of the FARC hostages [in neighbouring Colombia], securing the release by FARC of the hostages Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzales. The opposition were preparing an offensive behind the banner of the ``political prisoners'' (in fact, we do not have political prisoners here in Venezuela, the people who are in prison are there because they were found guilty of actions that go against the constitution, the security of the nation; they were involved in a coup, in signing a decree that nullified all the principles of the constitution). This was a way of beating them, which worked because it took a banner away from the opposition who were preparing an offensive.

Now the president is talking about the three Rs: revision, rectification and relaunching the revolution, and all these changes in the cabinet fall within this process of rectification. The president understands that we need to relaunch the revolution, deepen some of the processes that have to do with the resolution of some everyday problems of the people -- crime, food shortages -- which imperialism and the oligarchy are behind, but there is also the need for more efficiency to confront and resolve these problems; likewise it is necessary to seek out alliances to in order to continue advancing.

In this context, what is the importance of the founding congress of the PSUV?

Osorio: It is very important because the revolution needs a party, a united party, a party that brings together revolutionaries, that effectively outlines the principles of the Bolivarian Revolution, that marks out a program towards socialism, and towards a confrontation, an offensive against imperialism. There is also the issue of internationalism, of Latin American and Caribbean integration; a party is important.

We need a party which inside Venezuela converts itself into a dynamic axis of ideological debate, for ideological formation, the formation of cadres, and to be the vanguard of the revolution. A party that becomes the grand organiser of the Venezuelan people, the grand organiser of popular power, the promoter of the transformational dynamic in this transition towards socialism.

Rivero: We still don't know if the PSUV will be the party that will lead the revolution and the process of change in Venezuela. What we do know is that we need a party in order to continue moving forward. The revolutionary process cannot be in the hands and mind of one single person, no matter how lucid he is, and with the best intentions that person might have.

There will not be revolutionary change unless the people effectively incorporate themselves into the revolution, and one of the ways to incorporate them is through the party. The party is an instrument, not the only one, but it is an important instrument.

Gil: I believe that the importance of the founding congress has to do with the fact that we are going to have a democratic party, one which has already openly declared itself socialist. A party whose program should be a program that is deeply rooted in the population, but which also has a clear idea of where we are going, without ambiguities or vacillations.

Many times -- and this is part the errors that occur a lot in the Bolivarian revolution -- we go around saying that we are revolutionaries and at the same time say that we are not going to touch the interests of the oligarchy in order not to scare them. In this sense there needs to be more clarity, and the importance of the party is that it unifies not only a great part of the left parties that existed previously, but also actively incorporates many individuals from the grassroots movement into the ranks of the party.

This is in a context where there existed a strong anti-party culture, which exists the world over, and which in Venezuela was very strong, but where now the idea of the need for a political party that can truly lead and organise the revolutionary process is being revived.

Sanchez: This founding congress is the founding congress of a mass party, which is very important. I think that the president has taught those of us on the left a lesson; the left has always had the policy of a cadre party, which I think is a trap. We in the Assembly of Socialists think it is a trap. It is not about having a cadre party or a mass party; it needs to be a party of millions of cadre, to put it one way. That is, the people make the revolution and we need the people to be involved politically in revolutionary activity. The people should make the decisions. The people are not just there to raise their hands and legitimise a revolutionary vanguard that falls short of the task. That is something we learnt from other revolutions. Therefore, party activities should involve millions of people.

Moreover, I am not saying anything new. Engels said in Principles of Communism that the party had to be made up of millions of workers. What happened was that at some moment in history, bad interpretations and deviations took us towards the idea that the party was a club of the super exquisite and totally clear, isolated from the masses, which would go to the people to illuminate them and chart the course. That is where the absolute separation began and the inevitable failure of the revolution.

A revolution can only be irreversible if it is the product of a leap in political consciousness of the people; the rest is secondary. We can have a tremendous party, we can have developed the productive forces, expropriated the factories and removed all the monarchs or capitalists, but if there is no leap in the consciousness of the people, there is no point of no return: everything can be reversed.

This leap in political consciousness has to do directly with the level of mass organisation, this is what generates a point of no return. Of course, the masses are not going to organise, nor will there be a leap in consciousness, if a skeleton does not exist, and that skeleton is the party. That is why a party is so important, a Marxist-Leninist party, but not a Marxist-Leninist party of 300 or 400, but of millions.

This can only be the result of a long-term process, although in the conditions which Venezuela finds itself, timeframes are shortened. Lenin said that in times of revolution the people learn in one day what in other moments would take 10 or 20 years, and the Venezuelan people never before have been in such a predisposition, in such a marvelous ferment, for the development of revolutionary ideas.

Castañeda: What is occurring is that an ideological debate is unfolding. It is a debate that is occurring within the party, and in many places across the country. The battalions did not exist previously; now there are battalions where these discussions are occurring, good ones, bad ones, but there is a discussion, which is very important. There still exists many weaknesses but we needed to have this founding congress.

But is it possible for the PSUV to be the party of the revolution given all the problems we have seen in the first year of its formation?

Obviously, there are many opportunist and right-wing tendencies that will continue to try to control the party. I think one of the things we have to do is organise ourselves, so as to not allow the party to be kidnapped and ensure that it remains a democratic party. In general terms the democratic structures and debates continue to exist. Our proposal is to defend and deepen the structures for debate and participation and not allow the party to be kidnapped. I think that the people are participating there and we have to be there present working with them.

Osorio: I have a lot of expectations for the party. It's not that I agree with everything that is occurring, but I think that the party will be cleansed through the course of the ideological debate, and it will be strengthened, above all, by strengthening a current within the PSUV that is truly socialist, something that we are trying to do with the Assembly of Socialists: integrate and articulate socialists so that they can be an impulse towards that transition towards socialism.

This has to occur inside the PSUV, always inside the PSUV. We are not proposing a structure outside of the PSUV. We believe that we have to be inside the party, that it is necessary to push it forward, strengthen it. We need to continue struggling and working for the unity of the left in this country, but the party we have is an expression of the reality of the Venezuelan people; it is an expression of the Venezuelan reality.

It is fair to say that, quantitatively, the left in this country has always been very small; quantitatively speaking we are very few. But we have to aspire towards a party that is not only made up of those from the traditional left. This has to be an educational process which is opened up, that is why we believe there needs to be a dialectical alliance between what we could call the cadres and the multitudes, the masses, in such a way that in the midst of this confusion, through this dialectical relationship, each time more and more cadres are being created within the party, and there is an exchange of knowledge between the people and what traditionally has been referred to as the vanguard.

Rivero: [The different] ideas that exist within the process are being debated [inside the PSUV]. This is very important because, despite the fact that they have tried to create a media blow-up around the PSUV, attempting to talk it down, there are a number of sectors which are inside the PSUV fighting for more profound changes; for the PSUV to be the expression of vast sectors of the people and not the expression of the cliques that have formed within the Venezuelan process.

What are the most important issues that need to be debated at this congress?

Gil: The fundamental point is the program, more so than the election of leadership bodies, because one of the things we need is a collective leadership and to have this it is fundamental to have program. We are not talking about having 13 learned people, who we don't even know what they think, sitting next to Chavez; we want to have everyone, including the 2 million militants, sitting together with Chavez, united behind a single program charting the way forward, and where those that veer away from the program are seen as simply acting outside the party line, and therefore outside the party. I think that is what is fundamental, the program.
Of course, there is also the issue of the structure; that it remains democratic and the people who are elected to the leadership be those who are the most in tune with that program.

Sanchez: Out of the congress will come the statutes, the program and the declaration of principles. But it is true that this congress caught us disorganised. I think that perhaps our work will begin to bear fruit in the second congress, that is, I think the fight is a long-term one.

When one goes to a meeting of a battalion, for instance a battalion in the barrio where I live, I remember the first meetings: the people in the battalion would come to blows over silly things, because someone looked at them in a funny way, because she did such and such, that is, the level of experience of political organising is very, very low.

Creating a party culture will take some years. So any sector of the left that thinks the socialist revolution is just around the corner is mistaken, because the people are still lacking a lot of experience in political organising. They need to learn how to carry out an assembly, take minutes, how to resolve internal contradictions. This is going to take time; that is why a current is so important.

Castañeda: Furthermore, there is the question that if we want to participate in the electoral process [in November 2008 to elect governors and mayors], we have to register the party with the CNE [National Electoral Council]. If we are not able to decide on statutes, on principles and all those things, we cannot register the party, and if we do not register the party we cannot participate in the elections and so they are going to beat us. Whilst we beat them previously, they are going to beat us now if we do not do what we have to do. What we have to make sure of, though, is that the party is not created simply as an electoralist party; we run that risk, but we have no other option but to run that risk.

What is the weight of the left within the PSUV at this founding congress?

Surprising things have occurred. For example, yesterday I received a report from the [PSUV] congress, which has been meeting yesterday and today in Barquisimeto, and they were saying that ``Hell, the Marxist-Leninist sector in the PSUV have expressed themselves with a lot of force''. In a disorganised manner sure, but they have control of the discourse in the congress and the right is disorganised, they don't know what to do, they don't have agitators, they don't have important spokespeople, and the socialist viewpoint has been dominated by the Marxist-Leninist sector.

The problem is they are disorganised, they haven't made any written proposal for instance, they haven't evaluated the statutes. So because they don't have their proposals, everything is left a bit up in the air, but we are much stronger than what we had first calculated. We thought we would represent some 15-20% of the congress, now they are saying that, while we are not hegemonic, we are the major force in terms of determing the discourse in the congress, and that is very positive.

For me, the problem will not be if the ideas of the left prevail in the PSUV in this congress; the key issue is whether we have the capacity to control or hegemonise the organisational aspects of the congress, and this can only occur if the left converts itself into a current, which is a big debate.

This is one of the things we have discussed in the Assembly of Socialists, and which we have been debating for two years. There are conservative sectors within the left across the country, who are doubtful about the need to construct a current within the PSUV. The PSUV needs a Marxist-Leninist current inside it and that is the proposal that some sectors have brought to the Assembly of Socialists, and which is also manifesting itself within the PSUV.

The PSUV will depend on the capacity of sectors of the left to build a current and hegemonise the discourse and organisation, which in turn will depend on the maturity of the left.

Rivero: There is a debate there, and that is positive; it is debate within which I think the correlation of forces are in favour of those who are fighting to deepen the revolutionary process. The problem is these positions could be defeated rapidly because of a lack of organisation. Some key is lacking, which is a clear idea of which direction, of what course should the party take, but that is part of the debate and part of the weakness of the actual process. We cannot simply decree our strength, we cannot decree the organisation of the people, we are moving in the direction of articulating ourselves, of organising ourselves and the Assembly of Socialists is an attempt in that direction, to articulate and organise those sectors in the PSUV.

Gil: The left within the PSUV is very fragmented. To a certain extent there is still sectarianism, individualism; what we call petty-bourgeois vices that have been sown by capitalism. We have to figure out how to defeat these vices in order to truly be able to construct a real left force.

Social democracy continues to govern in its majority, but we know that the people who are inside the PSUV could accompany the revolutionaries if it has a clear proposal, and if it is united.

Castañeda: I think the left is strong within the PSUV, but so is the right, as is the dominant ideology. So I think the left has to work a lot in that sphere. In this sense, this meeting is fundamental.
I think that we shouldn't create factions within the PSUV. What we need to create, as the president himself has said, is a current, an ideological current, just as there will be others, and those ideological currents will have to confront each other.

During Alo, Presidente number 299, we were there, and the president spoke about currents and all of a sudden he asked ``Isn't that right, Nora?'', and I said, ``Of course''. We had to say yes to that; the left as an ideological current has to be inside the PSUV waging the battle, the ideological battle, but to wage that battle we need to prepare ourselves and that is something we are yet to do.

What would you say is the importance of the PSUV and the Bolivarian Revolution for the rest of the world?

The party of the socialist revolution needs to have an international expression, it has to be a promoter of the anti-imperialist struggle, it has to be a defender of Latin American and Caribbean integration, of the construction of the great homeland, the South American homeland. That is an important role for the party.

It also has to be a party that spreads information about the advances made by the Bolivarian Revolution; about the roots of the Bolivarian Revolution. We think it is important to recognise the philosophers, the theoreticians of scientific socialism, but at the same time we have our own Venezuelan and Latin American roots based on the thought of [Simon] Bolivar, of [Jose] Marti, the thoughts of Simon Rodriguez, of [Ezequiel] Zamora.

Gil: I think that the PSUV, in its birth phase, is demonstrating to revolutionaries across the world, and not just in Latin America, the necessity, above all else, of the need to come together behind a common goal.
We are finishing off two myths: the anti-party culture, the myth that parties are bad; and a second myth, that we don't need to take power. Here we are talking about creating a party in order to take power, so that the people take power and make the revolution. I think that it is an example of the fact that times are changing and the realisation that it is necessary to organise ourselves.

Around the world organisations have proposed the idea of not taking power, stating that they are not a party but instead fragmented organisations, which focus on environmental issues, women's issues, or other struggles. But what is fundamental is the class struggle, and we are working towards a party that takes as its starting point the class struggle, the struggle of the exploited classes, and that strive towards the power of the exploited.

Sanchez: [Venezuela's revolution] has a very important, and specific, weight in the world today, especially in Latin America. I have no doubt that if the revolution is defeated the revolution in Bolivia will fall immediately. It is one of the ones that needs the most help. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in all of the Americas; the ministers travel on foot because the ministries don't even have cars for moving around. They don't have a state channel so they are in a very precarious situation and the help of the [Venezuelan revolution] has been crucial.

On the other hand, there is the objective and subjective help provided to the struggle in Colombia. We need the triumph of the guerrilla forces in Colombia, without a doubt, but the guerrillas need Venezuela's revolution to continue. It provides them with an important breathing space.

I think that it is also important because it demonstrates that, yes, it is possible to once again raise the banner of socialism. Maybe the way Venezuela is doing it is not the correct one; I think there are many things that are not being done correctly Nevertheless, we are retaking up the banner of socialism, we are once again putting the question of socialism on the table, of whether or not it is possible to build socialism, and correct the errors that were previously committed, because without a doubt there were errors. I think that is the most important thing.

The importance of the PSUV is that it has to do with the issue of power. Neoliberalism and post-modernism greatly damaged [the left]. On one hand it ``anarchised'' the popular movement, anarchism gained a dramatic boost, causing a lot of damage within the movement, where organisations began to say: ``No to forming a party'', ``zero power'', ``All of them must go''. So the championing of the party is something that is essential, above all a Marxist-Leninist party.

But I'm not talking about the type of Marxist-Leninist party that was championed in some countries, where the central bureau decided absolutely everything that was done. Of course, there are levels of decision making, but the PSUV is a party in which the grassroots participate, the grassroots are constantly making decisions.

Rivero: I think that the Bolivarian process is much more important for the rest of the world than for the country itself. I think that the expectations that President Chavez has raised with his anti-imperialist positions, his disposition to help the poorest peoples in the world, the search for broadening out international relations, all of these are elements that have shifted world geopolitics.

Today, in Lebanon, President Chavez is a symbol of hope. For the Palestinian people, Chavez is a symbol of hope. Among the people of Bolivia, sectors of the Argentine people, including sections that oppose [Argentina's] current president, Chavez is a symbol of hope for them.

We are living through a process in a time when it was said that socialism had already been buried, but I think that today that situation has been reversed. I think it is clear that socialism has not been buried, that the ideas, even if they are not totally clear or are not expressed totally clearly by the president, are not dead, and that there is a search for ways to make these ideas a reality in Latin America and in many parts of the world.

It's not just socialism, but also those struggles with a national liberation character in many countries; anti-colonial struggles that have been strengthened by the discussion that President Chavez has generated. That Venezuela continues to move forward is vital for the balance of [class] forces at the world level.

[Federico Fuentes is a member of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective living in Venezuela, where he reports for Green Left Weekly. Fuentes works at the Miranda International Centre, in the ``The Political Instrument for the 21st Century'' program.]