Venezuela: Socialist Tide (Marea Socialista) activists on the referendum defeat and the PSUV
Federico Fuentes, part of the Green Left Weekly/Links Caracas bureau, spoke to two of the key leaders of Socialist Tide (Marea Socialista), asking them their opinions on the PSUV and its founding congress, particularly in light of the defeat of the December 2, 2007, referendum on Chavez’s proposed constitutional reform.
During the first week of February 2008, he spoke to Gonzalo Gómez and Stalin Perez Borges. Gomez is a delegate to the founding congress from the well-organised area of Catia in Caracas, a journalist and co-founder of the Revolutionary Popular Assembly (Aporrea), which was formed in the wake of the April 2002 coup. It brought together a large number of the social and community organisations in Caracas to organise in defence of the revolution, and whose website is the most read website of news and analysis on the Bolivarian Revolution.
Stalin Perez Borges is a national coordinator of the UNT and a key union leader in the state of Carabobo, the private industrial heartland of Venezuela.
Following the completion of the congress Links will publish interviews with a number of delegates and revolutionary activists in the PSUV to get their views on what occurred.
Over the weekend February 29-March 2, the provisionally named United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held the last general assembly of its founding congress. The 1671 delegates, who since January 12 have been meeting each week to discuss and debate the key documents of the new party, will vote on the party’s declaration of principles, program and statutes. The following week, the elected spokespeople and heads of commissions from the more than 14,000 socialist battalions (the local grassroots unit of the new party) voted for the provisional leadership of the party.
Since Chavez’s call on December 15, 2006, to launch a new party of the revolution -- a political instrument at the service of the social movements and the revolution – many previously existing revolutionary groups have joined the PSUV fighting to ensure it truly becomes a mass revolutionary party. Amongst those are the militants now organised around the newspaper Socialist Tide.
Many of the key leaders of Socialist Tide have been decades-long militants in the Trotskyist movement in Venezuela. Coming from a range of different organisations such as the Socialist Party of Workers (Partido Socialista de Trabajadores), The Spark (La Chispa) and others. During Hugo Chavez’s first presidential campaign in 1998, the Trotskyist movement in Venezuela split over support for his candidature. Over the next few years, many of these militants went on to form the Option of the Revolution Left (Opcion de la Izquierda Revolucionario) and consolidate an important base in trade union movement.
Some of them played key roles in the defeat of the bosses’ lockout in December 2002-January 2003, organising amongst the oil workers, and afterwards in the creation of the revolutionary trade union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), which quickly replaced the rotting carcass of the corrupt Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). With the formation of the UNT, a number of national and regional UNT coordinators, involving many of the current militants of Socialist Tide, went on to form the Classist, Unitary, Revolutionary and Autonomous Current (CCURA), today arguably the largest current within the UNT.
In 2005, a number of these union leaders and social movement activists launched the Revolution and Socialism Party (Partido Revolucion y Socialismo, PRS) as an attempt at creating a ``independent workers’ party’’.
With Chavez’s announcement of the formation of the new party, the PRS underwent a split with the majority of the party, and in particular its union base decided to join the new party. CCURA also overwhelmingly voted to go into the new party, as did all the other major union currents in the UNT.
Federico Fuentes: What were the reasons behind the defeat of President Chavez’s constitutional reforms in the December 2 referendum?
Stalin Perez Borges: There were many factors, there was no single cause. The principal one was the situation of the government not resolving the fundamental problems in society, the bureaucratic actions and corruption that exist in the institutions of the state. This affected hundreds of thousands of militants, the people for the barrios [poor neighbourhoods] who have defended the process, who have risked their lives. So for this sector, when the bureaucracy grows and the problems are not solved, the people do not feel any incentive, they do not feel enthusiastic about accompanying the process of change.
Along with this the [opposition] campaign, a terrible, diabolic campaign of fear, of scaring people, was dominant; that also influenced people. We still have hundreds of thousands of people who have repeatedly voted for Chavez, but whose consciousness is a not fully class conscious, and who believed it when they were told that their houses were going to taken away from them.
I personally had an experience with someone who works at a newspaper stand here at the entrance of the La Paz metro station, I used this example in a number of speeches I gave during the campaign. One day there was a headline on El Mundo and I made a comment about it and he said that, yes the people were very angry because the Chavez government was going to taking their property away from them, that the government was going to interfere in their ability to drink whisky. So the problem there was that this person was lacking consciousness; he was going to benefit from the reforms but the campaign had convinced him that he was going to be negatively affected by the reforms because ``they were going to take away’’ his property, even though he didn’t own an type of property.
So these factors influenced the result: the incapacity to resolve problems, the growth of the bureaucracy and the propaganda of the right. Those three, and other factors as well.
Gonzalo Gómez: I believe that that there were diverse causes; that any analysis is complex. But, taking into consideration the debates that have unfolded in Aporrea between different writers, the discussions that have occurred in the battalions [local units] of the PSUV and amongst the popular organisations, and my own reflections, I think that one of the causes was the manner in which the reform was proposed. It was very rushed, very much done on the run, without giving the organisations, the movements and ordinary people time to assimilate it. There weren’t sufficient opportunities to incorporate contributions from the workers, peasant and popular movements.
It is true that there were events held as part of the ``parliamentarism of the street’’, and there were a few modifications made, but it was not an organic, systematised process. Who was responsible for whether proposals from the movement were accepted or not? Who determined this? Who decided it? It was not an orderly consultation.
It was certainly much more democratic than anything else we have seen in this country in the past, before we had this revolution. Yes, the revolution has widened the framework of participation, but this participation is yet to be channelled in the manner it should be.
So the National Assembly continued to decide on its own what should go in the reform, and President Chavez made his own decisions over what went in and what stayed out. This led to a situation where there wasn’t sufficient [popular] identification with the proposals.
Of course, despite this we supported the reform -- we fought for a Yes vote -- but we also brought along with us many concerns, worries; there were observations, criticisms against some elements, some aspects which could have been improved considerably.
This was the democratic, or methodological, problem; there was also the problem of timing, of the moment chosen, given that the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as such had still not been constituted; the programmatic discussion hadn’t yet unfolded. What was our reference point for pushing forward with the reform? Was the reform going to determine the principles and program of the party, should the principles and the program of the party guide us in our proposals regarding the necessary reforms to the state? The cart was put before the horse; the process was inverse, the reverse of what it should have been.
It would have been preferable to wait, because the discussion that was unfolding in the PSUV was halted and it was necessary to dedicate ourselves to the reform campaign and the referendum, as I said before, in a rushed manner. This led to a situation where there wasn’t the necessary consistency and where the PSUV was not able to create its own electoral apparatus to confront this challenge.
There were some who used this to say that it was necessary to go back to the previous structure of the MVR [Movement of the Fifth Republic], because that was an electoral machine. Despite all this, [the PSUV] worked quite well, [even though] the PSUV had never [before] intervened in elections.
I believe that the other fundamental problem that has to be taken into consideration is that the government did not adequately confront the campaign run by the oligarchy, by the bourgeoisie. It let itself be cornered in regards to many aspects because it did not take the opportune measures, for example measures that are now being adopted in relation to food shortages, the speculation of food. The lack of milk and other products had been impacting negatively on the people for some time and the government did not implement any measures, took no action, and the people began to ask ``Why the hell do I want the reform?’’, ``What reform are they talking about if I don’t even have milk to give to my child’’. Moreover, the right-wing took this up as one of their slogans, they utilised this situation to manipulate popular sentiment.
Similarly, there were other situations that led to sectors of the mass movement refusing to vote or demonstrating their discontent, their lack of enthusiasm with government policies. For example, take the workers’ movement. They can be offering you the six hour day – which is a grand conquest – but if at the same time they are not discussing your collective contracts; they keep you on individual contracts, labour casualisation-style, with neoliberal-type employment relations, including in the public sector, where ministers have workers in precarious conditions; they don’t respect union rights; there are experiences and situations of workers’ control and occupied factories and the same state functionaries come and seek to give back the factory to the boss and pay workers their redundancy, even financing the business owners.
Are these functionaries being guide by a principle that points towards deepening the revolution and pushing forward the transition towards socialism? Are they trying to favour and support social production and collective forms of property? No! They are there doing business, who knows what, trying to make sure that the bourgeoisie is not bothered; they have an interest in pleasing sectors of the bourgeoisie or the most conservative sectors of the middle class so that they do not become irritated.
There they leave the people to the side, the Chavista people, those who could be willing to wholeheartedly support the president. These are some of the examples that one could give as to why the people did not go to vote en masse in support of the government and the president’s proposals as they had before.
It has to do with the issue of how to resolve problems. Take the example of the informal economy, that encompasses some 48% or 49% of the labouring masses … it is true that there are distortions in the informal economy, there are individuals who own many stalls and charge others to manage them and attend to the stalls. In reality some of them are capitalists or are parts of the roscas and mafias linked to narcotrafficking, there are sectors that are even linked to hired assassins… But the government has not had a policy to combat this, appealing to the democratic organisation of the buhoneros (street vendors), taking into consideration their concerns and seeking out opportune solutions, instead, when the situation gets to an extreme, where they are affecting the right to a clean city, the right to health and the ability circulate through the streets, it reaches a point where they come into contradiction with the rest of the citizens. Then the local mayor steps in and resolves the problem by evicting the buhoneros, removing them from their areas using the police.
OK, one part of the population applauds this as an alleviation of the problem, but the other part of the population, who have children to feed, who have a family, have no jobs, etc., is left feeling resentful, attacked, and this leads to a loss of votes for the government.
This is not the way to resolve problems. The way to resolve them is through democratic discussion, attacking the capitalist and corrupt elements that exist within this sector, fighting for leadership, opening up alternatives in the social economy for these sectors, seeking jobs for them, and not having to end up opting to negatively affect their interests and earning the antipathy of a sector of the population who were part of our voting base, or which continues to be, but which does not manifest itself. Therefore, many of them abstained in the referendum; they didn’t participate as they had at other times.
All these things really have to be taken into consideration, because what most affected us is the fact that we are not applying the measures that the actual revolution puts on the table, and which the government offers but afterwards does not follow through with in action. Measures [are] announced, [but] they stop halfway. This leads to a deterioration of the situation.
What is your opinion of the actions and statements of the government following December 2, for example the cabinet changes, the seeking alliances with the national bourgeoisie, etc.?
Borges: I don’t believe that President Chavez is correct when he said that the people did not have the capacity to take up the changes he proposed. There were some important changes, but I also don’t believe that, with the changes that were being proposed, we were going to go directly to socialism. There were small advances; the social and popular movements would have been able to assume greater initiative and power, but it was a lie that we were going to socialism.
Moreover, President Chavez has been talking about socialism for two or three years -- he was elected president campaigning for socialism -- so it wasn’t a fear of socialism, it was an expression of anger against the bureaucracy, against talking about socialism but not resolving problems. For the people, whose political consciousness has been growing, socialism is where there will not be a few people who grossly enrich themselves, where there will not be bureaucracy, where things will be shared by all, where it is possible to resolve problems regarding food given that there is so much land in this country. So I would say that it is wrong to say that because they were not socialist they did not vote for the reform.
For me, I am not so worried about the result: I thought that defeat, as we always say, borrowing a phrase from Trotsky, would serve as a whip -- the whip of the counterrevolution – that it would serve the revolution, but I’m are not sure it will be like that.
Parting from the assessment that he took out of the referendum, that the people were not prepared, we have seen a process of rectification, which has left in place the majority of the ministers, and where the majority of the changes signified little change at all. This cannot lead to the serious rectification that is needed.
I think that the three R’s [revision, rectification and relaunch] are a necessity, but it needs to be a serious effort towards rectification. Who’s going to carry out this rectification, the same people who have made the mistakes? Meanwhile, the people have no say in making these decisions. There will be no improvements if it is done in this manner. So what most worries me is not the defeat, but rather the changes that have been announced and the assessment of the defeat, the new ministers.
The people are also unhappy about this. I spend most of my time in the workers’ sector, the trade union sector, and by leaving the same minister of labour who we have denounced 20,000 times, because the minister, who comes from one of the union currents within the UNT [National Union of Workers] that has wanted to position itself as a supposed majority within the unions, has carried out actions of favouritism, attacking all the other currents, including many times in collaboration with business owners; that is not the way to build a real union movement with revolutionary class consciousness. Progressive things such as labour solvency have been thrown in the bin; many of the functionaries in the ministry are more interested in doing business.
If there is not a real change, there is a big risk than we could face another defeat and lose the process. I’m optimistic in the sense that I know that this process has created hundreds of thousands of people who today want change, but we have a problem of leadership, as well as of the apparatus that has been kidnapped; if we do not get rid of that bureaucracy in the state apparatus and institutions, I’m not sure what will happen to those people who want change.
Gómez: It seems to me that now that the three R’s have been proposed, all this has to be done. But my question is: who is going to revise, rectify and relaunch? Is that for the cabinet and President Chavez to do on their own, separately, or is it something that needs to be done involving closely the social and popular movements to see what type of revision is carried out?
Because, if not, President Chavez can reflect with the Minister of Labour about labour policies and policies towards the workers’ movement…aha! But why not involve all the currents of the National Union of Workers (UNT)? President Chavez has said that he is annoyed by the division, the fragmentation of the workers’ movement into different currents, that’s ok, but you can’t solve this problem by opting for one of the currents, which moreover, is a minority current, or by cosying up to one of the sectors that is not exactly the most free of bureaucrats.
Why not create a consultative body involving the social movements and the president of the republic, and the government, where proposals and policies are placed under consideration so that all of us can intervene in their design, their elaboration? That is popular power.
Popular power cannot remain solely at the local level -- communal councils that resolve the problems of so many streets, so many blocks. It also has to involve the big national organisations that the Venezuelan people have at hand, with all there defects, no more than the defects that the government has. It is fundamental that we are able to intervene in leading the country. So, if we are going to revise, if we are going to rectify and if we are going to relaunch, let’s do it together with the grand social organisations, with the organised workers’ movement, with the peasants, with the organs of popular power. Let’s summon all of them to sit down at the table, instead of putting things in terms of ``dialogue’’ with the bourgeoisie, of meeting with business sectors, with the Church, which is something we are beginning to see an inclination towards.
In that regard, I don’t think they have the best reading of the situation: it is not that the people were not mature enough; it’s that the political leadership did not know how to do it. Through the process of struggle, in the dynamic of the struggle, it is the people setting the standard. Take the example I put to you before, of workers’ control: if the workers are occupying factories and putting them under workers’ control, the workers are more mature than many government functionaries who, instead of supporting this initiative, backing it so that it comes out in front, so that it is strengthened, so that it is extended, they sit down with the bosses to see how they can give them back their factories. So, who is mature? Many of the functionaries of the state are the ones who suffer from a lack of maturity; there are sectors of the people who know much better what they have to do, what is necessary to make a revolution...
We do not need a dialogue which is fundamentally with sections of the opposition; I am not against dialogue, but the first dialogue has to be with the people ... to see how we should deal with the problems, with different situations and [resolve] conflicts in our favour, and not to give concessions to sectors that are seeking to utilise any weakness in the process to finish off everything we have achieved, and finish off the government and President Chavez.
I think that this is fundamental: what is needed here is for popular power to go beyond the local sphere….. There are social organisations in this country that are being ignored, there are peasant movements with a national scope such as the National Peasant Front Ezequiel Zamora, there is the National Agrarian Coalition, there is the National Workers Union, divided, but well… call all the currents, sit down with all of them, rather than telling them off because they are divided; sit them down, all of them and see what is put forward, let them intervene and discuss, along with other sectors of the popular movement.
I believe that in any case, the objective situation is obliging the government to once again take a confrontational stance, because the bourgeoisie, with the continuation of this sabotage of the food security of the people, with their contraband, their hoarding ... are obliging the government to have to take harsher measures. The government wants dialogue with the bourgeoisie, and at the same time the bourgeoisie sabotages the distribution of food, so the government is obliged to radicalise: they detain trucks, confiscate hoarded food, raid factory sheds where milk, rice, coffee are being hoarded. Aha! But what other measures need to be taken? Are we going to continue to live with problem? With the National Guard having to chase the trucks of business owners trying to smuggle food over the border to Colombia? Or are we going to take other measures?
On one hand, the government is trying to develop national state food production, which should involve social participation in its control and management. But on the other hand it will also be necessary to expropriate some capitalists, to control the foreign trade of basic food produce.
Didn’t we want to prohibit monopolies in the reform? Well, which are the monopolies in the food sector, in the production, processing, distribution and commercialisation of food? Do monopolies exist in this sector or not? What is Polar [the largest food distributor in Venezuela]? Should we touch their interests or not? And we do not need to reform the constitution to do this: the 1999 constitution already takes up the issue of monopolies in some form and there is the legal backing, and moreover there exists the element of mobilisation and struggle.
More decisiveness is required. The bourgeoisie itself is presenting us with an opportunity, and therefore measures should be taken with the support of the people. The people will, as we say here, ``jump on one leg’’ and will vigorously demonstrate their willing to back President Chavez in any new electoral contest. But if this does not occur, we could continue to go backwards, or we could suffer new defeats, because if the revolution does not continue resolving problems, and therefore begins to go backwards or comes to halt, it will mean that capitalism will continue to destroy us and continue to destroy the conquests of the revolution.
In this context, what is the importance of this founding congress of the PSUV?
Gómez: Well, the importance of the congress is that it is a step towards structuring a political force closely tied to this revolutionary process, renovating it, allowing the coming together of different tendencies, currents and sectors within the revolutionary process that were not all contained in the previous political formations, that were not just the MVR or PPT [Homeland For All]; it includes many sectors of the left that have been working in the social movements. To have this space, this unitary framework is a grand conquest.
A second conquest is that we have a process with valuable democratic spaces, although with methodological vices, with problems, with difficulties, with threats, but in general terms the people are discussing in the grassroots. The fact that we are discussing the principles, the program, the statutes of the party, that we can put forward positions regarding the manner in which to elect our leadership and candidates for the next electoral processes, all this is very important.
And the internal debate, in and of itself, is something very rich and very positive; the process itself, more than the specific results that it may have in the immediate term, because this party has to intervene in the class struggle.
That said, there are some things that we consider to be weaknesses: it would have been very important to have had a greater presence of the organised workers’ movement. The weight of the organised working class has been diluted by the initial territorial-based formula chosen for the construction of the party, where the social fronts where never established. These two things should have been combined because one finds at the congress that there is a lack of presence of the organised working class, of workers. The composition is essentially popular-communitarian, with some elements of the peasant movement and the organised working class.
We need to workerise the PSUV, insert the working class into the PSUV, because otherwise there will not be a sufficient counterweight to those sectors, that do exist, who have committed acts of corruption, who have bureaucratic practises, who we know have accumulated wealth, who aspire to be capitalists or who are already part of the bourgeoisie, who do not aspire to be part of a socialist economy but rather to enrich themselves, to have their own property, exploiting workers. We do not want to build a party with people like that. They are passing over to the side of the class enemy and this is something that needs to be resolved. But this will not be simply be resolved with a congress.
Borges: Everything that I have said to you -- about the possibility of rectifying, and the grassroots imposing themselves on the institutions and the apparatus so that changes occur – almost 80% of this passes through the PSUV, and what it could end up being. The PSUV has created great expectations for the millions of people who have expressed their will to belong to the party. Those aspirants who have become active in their battalions, constituting a vanguard ... intend to make real changes and know what has to be done.
But if that does not become a reality -- in the form of a good program; punishing the corrupt ones and making sure they are not able to continue to act with complete impunity; where unlike the past when the government told the party what to do rather than the party becoming an instrument of the social movements and the grassroots of Chavismo to democratically define policies and decide the candidates to stand for elections for public posts -- it will be a failure.
What are the fundamental points that need to be dealt with at this congress?
Borges: The whole future of the revolution should be dealt with at the PSUV congress! Though, I don’t know if they will be able to do this. Nevertheless, the necessary issue is the birth of the party. Many of those that are part of the Technical Commission, who are directing the construction of the party, and many government functionaries are not too worried about what type of program, what type of declaration of principles the party will have. Instead, they see the need for this organisation purely so that they can begin their electoral campaigns. Of course, we need the party [to contest the elections], working together with the other parties of the Patriotic Pole [pro-revolution parties outside the PSUV], and the social movements -- because the challenge of the elections for governors and mayors cannot be left only to the parties - they have to link up with the popular movement and the small parties from the left, beyond just the PPT and PCV [Communist Party of Venezuela].
I believe that the party needs to discuss how we can build a truly socialist economy, because today we continue to live in capitalism. How do we truly build socialism?
Another issue that cannot be simply seen as of secondary importance is the role that Venezuela plays in Latin America, serving as an example, a reference point for other countries to begin to take the path towards a democratic, revolutionary socialism, with Venezuela leading the way. Why is this important? Because no matter how much force and resources Venezuela may have, no matter how much force there is in the grassroots, wanting to advance towards socialism, we all know that capitalism is a global system and that is it a lie that Venezuela can defeat it on its own. To be able to defeat capitalism and build socialism in a few countries, it is also necessary to count on the capacity to extend the revolution to other countries, because otherwise that experience will go backwards. So alongside discussing how to advance the revolution in Venezuela, we need to begin to elaborate ideas about how we can help construct a continental revolution.
The party needs to discuss what democratic methods it will use so as to not exclude anyone from the discussion and from participation: to ensure that criticism is not sanctioned as is the custom, believing that democratic centralism and discipline means excluding criticism regarding how different people see the process. We need to guarantee that in a democratic manner all these discussions and different opinions come together in a big melting pot, where the possibilities exist to enrich proposals, creating the real possibility that everyone will feel like it belongs to them.
The party also has to be the most important watchdog, keeping a close watch on state functionaries, governors, mayors, ministers etc., in order to put an end to the two scourges that are dealing enormous blows against the revolutionary process: corruption and bureaucracy.
The party has to be capable of at least doing four things: implementing an agro-industrial program for development that tackles the problems of unemployment, provides dignified wages, contributes to an end to crime -- which is a very grave problem-- and that contributes to providing resources to guarantee dignified social security; helping promote the continental revolution; creating democratic structures that are open to all types of debates and criticisms; and closely monitoring state institutions in order to tackle the problems of corruption and bureaucratism.
Gómez: One of the fundamental points [which] has not been dealt with in a fully satisfactory manner, is the method of functioning of the congress. [The functioning of the congress is being overseen by] a nominated Presidential Commission and Technical Commission, and now the Support Commission. From these emanate the guidelines for the congress. While the PSUV has been adopting a structure of battalions [local grassroots part units], circumscripcions [party electoral districts that unite eight to 12 local battalions], of spokespeople, of delegates etc, these commissions are not made up of delegates. They should have been transferring the direction and control of the congress – and of the process of construction of the party – to the main body of delegates, without that implying the marginalisation of the members of commissions, ... but who now [should] integrate themselves with the delegates.
They should discuss with the delegates in order to take account their points of view, the concerns they have over how things are proceeding, above all else to synchronise the discussion of the congress with the discussions in the battalions, in the circumscripcions.
What is occurring is that we have been, in a rushed manner, discussing documents that have not been discussed by the grassroots and it is not clear what mechanisms exist to give these documents their final form, so that the definitive formulation truly emerges from the grassroots ... so we can vote on something that has truly emerged from the grassroots discussion.
In my opinion, the problem began before the congress. We should have convoked a period of pre-congress discussion of some three months; of course, the constitutional reform was thrust on us in the middle and it ate up what could have been a pre-congress period. During this period, discussion of the documents could have unfolded, giving time to elaborate and present other documents.
If someone wants to present a document, how do they do it? How do they distribute it at the national level? How do they ensure that it gets to everyone [for discussion]? Is it only the documents that come from the Support Commission that can be distributed at this scale or can other contributions emerge? So, there are some important details that it is necessary to solve during the course of the congress.
Some of the organisational questions in the congress have been improving, things are functioning a bit better, but undoubtedly, before dealing with the next issue or session, there has to be a discussion of the methodology -- which is what the delegates from Caracas proposed -- so that we can adjust this methodology and that the congress can have a presiding commission made up of delegates, together with members of the Support Commission, but one that is elected and designated by the congress itself.
Because, if you find yourself reporting back from one of the discussion tables, standing on the stage, and there is no an adequate control of the congress session, where there isn’t adequate [chairing], minutes are not being taken of the plenary, nor are things being put to a vote if there is a proposal to be voted on; all these affect democracy, the principle of participatory, grassroots democracy... There continues to be a grand democratic participation, never seen before, but it needs to fine-tuned, because organisational difficulties continue to exist that affect the full exercise of democracy.
Moreover a request to discuss the role of the regional liaison delegate [who were elected the day before the congress began, on the basis of one from each state] by discussion table* 11 and conveyed to congress floor by myself as the spokesperson of this table was put to a vote during the plenary session at Charallave [in the state of Miranda, where the first general assembly of the congress was held over the weekend of January 19-20] and approved by a great majority. However, it seems that this vote was ignored by the [Support Commission].
[*As well as having plenary discussions, the 1671 delegates at the congress were organised into 50 mesas de discusion (discussion tables) or mesas de trabajo (work tables), in which they debated the program, principles and statutes of the party and then reported back to the congress on their deliberations.]
Another thing is that there are some prerequisites [required] in order to be able to do things. For example, a programmatic document can’t be discussed without having previously having clearly approved and established [political] principles... Moreover, it is necessary to have a discussion about the political conjuncture, or the social-historical context, an evaluation of the revolutionary process and the characterisation of the Venezuelan revolution -- what type of revolution we have. How are we going to identify the problems that we have to resolve, and how are we going to formulate slogans, if we do not have an analysis of the context we are in?
You cannot just take a document that has been handed to you and begin to look it over, make criticisms and evaluate it. What reality do you take as your point of reference? What each person has in their mind or something that is contained in a document that we can approve, that we can amend, that we can add to, or where we can present alternative document? This has not been resolved; it is a very important issue.
It would be good for the congress to discuss immediate responses to issues that are emerging in the current context. For example, it is very important to issue a pronouncement backing the policy of President Chavez’s humanitarian mediation in the internal conflict in Colombia, and in support of the president in the face of the offensive that imperialism has launched to discredit him, of putting President Chavez in the terrorist camp, things like that. This is a very delicate situation. We have to issue a firm pronouncement backing the president and the government, and the policy of denouncing Plan Colombia.
Another is giving our support to firm, energetic measures that are being taken, or that could be taken, by the government in regards to the issue of hoarding and contraband, the sabotage of the distribution of food, but also proposing social control by communities, together with the social organisations, the workers in the food sector, the organs of popular power, the communal councils, to carry out the task of inspections, of social intelligence. Where the government takes measures, that we [should propose] to carry out a grand mobilisation in support of measures against the monopolies and financial empires of production, distribution and commercialisation of food, as is the case with Polar, already implicated in other the petroleum sabotage [of December 2002–January 2003]. We have to take measures such as expropriation under the control of the workers and the communities, and hand them over to the state, because they are acting against food sovereignty and the security and health of the population, which is a fundamental right.
Another thing that we should take a position on has to do with opposing moves by those who are attempting to benefit from the amnesty [decreed by Chavez for some of those involved in the April 2002 coup attempt] who were involved in violations of human rights and in crimes against humanity. This is the case of those found responsible for the acts of April 11, members of the Metropolitan Police and the ex-commissioners of [Caracas Mayor Alfredo] Peña, who assassinated dozens of people in Baralt Avenue and Puente Llaguno, utilising the arms and vehicles of the police of the ex-mayor Peña, a fascist mayor...
Meanwhile the victims of the coup need more solidarity, and greater support, so that those responsible for the assassination of their relatives, or those that injured them, are not let off the hook as if nothing had happened, because here we are dealing with a threat for the rest of the social, popular organisations that fought on April 11 against the coup. This is a very important point.
As well, as this, we need to supporting the proposal of the president for a referendum, which could include a recall referendum on the president – in which we would be obviously in favour of keeping the president, of ratifying the government – but where we would once again have the opportunity to allow President Chavez to be re-elected in order to maintain the impulse of the revolutionary process, with the leadership that is at its head. I do not see another candidate emerging from within Chavismo for the next period that is not President Chavez. There are many sectors that have pretensions, who are to the right of the president. There is no figure that could impose themselves from the left, and the social, popular movements etc. have to back the re-election of Chavez. No other leadership has emerged from the social movements that is sufficiently strong enough to be able to relieve the president from his position as head of the government..., that has to mature, develop.
Of course, President Chavez has to work together with the social and popular movements, to ensure a very tight and very strong alliance, to ensure that this bond is not broken, and from there comply with a series of tasks so that the people are satisfied, so that they see a determination to continue deepening the revolution.
Within this framework, the social movements, the popular movement, needs to take up elements of the constitutional reform in order to once again put them forward, with the necessary adjustments, and fight via the legislative road or via the carrying out of a new referendum, alongside fighting in the streets, in the daily struggle, in the class struggle, so that the social, democratic conquests that were contained in the proposals of the constitutional reform can be carried out.
We cannot remain with our arms folded; we had the possibility of approving the six-hour day, are we going to give that away? We had the possibility to move towards the recuperation of retroactivity of social security benefits, are we going to give that way? There are the issues of social security and the pension, the coverage for non-dependent workers; the protection of families in the face of possible judicial measures to evict them from their homes; the possibility of students, together with workers in the universities, having a vote equal to that of professors, of strengthening the democratisation of the university and its autonomy. There were grand conquests in elements of the constitutional reform that had to do with the new geometry of power and the development of popular power, communal councils, communes, the self-government of cities. We have to relaunch all this; this has to be part of our program.
So now it is our turn. It was unsuccessful via the path that was taken, through the executive and the National Assembly, but I believe that the social movements have the capacity, if we all come to an agreement, because it is us who will benefit or lose out, because they are things we can enjoy or be deprived off. Those are some of the things that I believe need to be pushed at the congress.
What is the strength of the left inside the PSUV congress? Is its presence being felt? What about the weight of the UNT?
Gómez: There is a very important layer of delegates closely tied to the popular movements, who are in tune with the sentiments of the grassroots, who have a critical stance. It is a critical sector, a sector that stands firm in the face of corruption and bureaucratism, that proposes the formation of commissions within the PSUV to review the situation of high functionaries of public power, of governors, mayors etc., to make sure we do not have anyone in the party who has committed acts of corruption, who is implicated in violations of human rights and are in a position incompatible with the principles of the party.
For example, a latifundista (large landowner) who owns a large number of haciendas cannot be a member of the party, much less of its leadership. On what moral basis can big business owners involved in large business dealings speak about socialism? What socialism are we talking about where those that exploit workers in their factory afterwards talk about socialism in general terms? Is dedicating some resources towards creating a mirage of workers’ participation the formula for eradicating exploitation, whilst maintaining private property? Capitalist private property implies exploitation, [the extraction of] surplus value.
There can agreements made in the economic sphere, in the political sphere with some of these sectors, but we cannot have the bourgeoisie in the party, we cannot have the bourgeoisie within the government. We are talking about giving power to the poor, to the exploited; you do not give power to the poor by allowing the participation of supposedly nationalist business sectors in the government. I have never met these sectors that are consistently anti-imperialist. I would like someone to name them to me, to talk about their trajectory, to say what it is that they have done against imperialism, against the exploitation of [human by human], how they carry out their business; I believe what they are doing is complying with their role as a class.
Borges: Now, I’m not a delegate, I [missed out] by one vote, but I have information from comrades that have participated, and they have been surprised by the enthusiasm of many of the delegates there. Unfortunately, there is a lot of disorganisation in that has occurred in the congress. But the determining factor is that there exists an enthusiasm [among] a large layer of delegates, a big percentage, almost 40 or 50%, [who] really want to have a party that is capable leading the revolution.
Regarding the UNT, the UNT is in no way represented at the congress. As Gonzalo mentioned, one of the errors was the character of enrolling in the party, where people enrolled to become a militant within a territorial structure. This has meant that the social movements, as movements, are not represented in the party as such. Sooner or later this will have to be corrected. Similarly with the intention from the start to try and impose the idea that there were not going to be any currents, tendencies [within the PSUV]. It is inevitable that different opinions will arise in a process as rich as that in Venezuela… there are going to be contrary opinions, differences, criticisms that this situation will not be able to be contain.
This has means that the UNT, or the trade union movement in general, is not represented... Once there is an opening up within the PSUV of spaces for the different expressions of the social movements, then the UNT, all the different currents, will also be expressed there.
What is the importance of the construction of this party, which has emerged out of a revolutionary process, for the world today?
Gómez: Today, Venezuela is the vanguard of the world revolutionary movement, or part of it, and it is a very important reference point for Latin America. Other processes are occurring, such as in Bolivia, or the process in Ecuador, all these countries that are part of ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas]. I think that there is a lot of sympathy from left and progressive sectors towards the Venezuelan process; it is a voice on the international stage that is strongly taking political ground away from imperialism, constantly denouncing, pointing out the wrongs; this is something that irritates imperialism. Much more concrete measures could be taken in the economic terrain, for example expropriations, or in relation to investments by transnationals in Venezuela. The political problem is fundamental and Venezuela has escaped from imperialism’s control. It is a country that has an independent international policy.
Moreover, in defining itself as a party with an internationalist character and program the PSUV says internationalism does not only imply establishing ties with movements of other peoples in struggle, not only implies solidarity, but it also implies the construction of forms of integration between nations shaking off the yoke of the transnationals, of imperialism, of neoliberal policies. This points towards the formation of a international front on the world scale of the peoples, movements and organisations that are fighting against imperialism and capitalism.
Borges: As a mentioned before, the PSUV needs to discuss the issue of how it is going to come together with the other processes in Latin America, demonstrating the example that Venezuela poses in two ways: what is beginning done here to resolve the problems of the people, and providing an example for how to construct a democratic socialist party, that can act as a reference point for other countries.
How is this resolved concretely? Well, by converting itself into a democratic and revolutionary party that aids the construction of other organisations in other countries in order to -- I’m not sure if it will be a new international, or at least an international coordinating body -- contribute in some way to the revolutionary process in each country by setting a good example, and by having the capacity, the cadres that will be able to help in other countries in the construction of revolutionary parties. That is what was done during the Russian Revolution, where cadres went to other countries to help contribute to other revolutionary processes.
However, the best way the PSUV will be able to aid other processes is by carrying out concrete action here and deepening the revolution towards socialism.