Venezuela's young militants: An antidote to the weaknesses of the revolution
By Tamara Pearson
July 30, 2008 -- We stayed up until 2 am two nights in a row -- students from a range of faculties, and young people from various movements and revolutionary organisations. In the campsite of La Mucuy in the Andean city of Merida, we discussed and debated the role of youth in Venezuelan’s revolution and the construction of a youth wing of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), while around us clouds hugged the buildings and mountain slopes, horses slept in the foreground and mosquitos made meals of our legs and faces.
Following the call for a youth wing of the party, various revolutionary youth in Merida had organised the camp as a space to meet and ensure that this new youth organisation would be specifically revolutionary, and that it wouldn’t contain the errors of the current PSUV. As well, it was important that this organisation be built by the youth from the ground, rather than declared by the leadership and built downwards.
Too often, in my opinion, the initiatives of the revolution come from Chavez rather from the base. When Uribe, the right-wing president of Colombia, came to Venezuela recently, Chavez came out against calls for protests against him. In Merida, it was the young people who protested anyway.
In the creation of a new society based on new ideas and ways of organising, the youth, not yet completely adjusted to the present world, are in a special position. In Venezuela, the organised revolutionary youth have the potential to be an antidote to the old capitalist habits of corruption, bureaucracy, competition and individualism. Youth-activist idol Che Guevara also believed that the creativity and spontaneity of young people could protect the revolution from sectarianism.
On Monday I went down to the bread shop to get some of the freshly cooked regulated bread (13 cents/roll) and bumped into a friend -- a man over 60, retired lawyer and life-long revolutionary. We sat down together and he complained about everything. "For every ten people wearing red", he said as he pulled at his own red shirt, "only one are real revolutionaries". He had more grievances: everyone’s buying Coke and eating at McDonald's; people are just in the revolution for the money; the discussions are pura paja (when you say something but don’t intend to do it) and so on. He remembered ``his time'' when people rode horses and exchanged fruit.
However, my discussions with revolutionary Venezuelan young people have left me with more hope. While youth activists are generally less experienced, their combative spirit and idealism also often make them less easily demoralised. We are frequently less chained up by the old established values of religion, gender roles, careers, etc. This freedom charges us with getting rid of the myths and stigmas that linger on.
Not yet having resigned ourselves to the world as it is, we dream, we construct, and create with passion. However, if we don’t organise ourselves, we are condemned to being a group of individuals, using "vulgar slogans" and lacking "profound ideology", as Che said.
Jorge Amorin, in an article on www.aporrea.org argued: "The PSUV is confronting a new challenge, to create a strong youth organisation that won’t be an answer to the ‘right-wing youth’, but that converts into the launching point of socialist politics in Venezuela."
Earlier this month, youth delegates from the 24 states of Venezuela met in Caracas to prepare a plan to form the youth organisation. The PSUV is calling on youth to meet within their branches throughout July in order to make teams with a minimum of 10 people aged between 15-28. In August, these teams should choose a coordinator, who in turn will choose a delegate among their circumscription (which groups 10 branches) to go to the founding conference in September.
In late July, I interviewed five young revolutionaries from Merida to get their perspective on these recent developments.
Luis Regalado, 29, pictured left, medicine and literature student, member of the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current) and the Victor Jara Collective (a student-based organisation). He has committed to being a doctor in either Haiti, Ethiopia, Bolivia or Nicaragua for three years after he finishes his degree. This will involve living with the poor communities and living as they do. He says a doctor must not be separate. He says he sees it as a test of himself as revolutionary.
Liliana Andreina Matheus, 27, is a social promoter for INJUVEM (Merida Youth Institute). She helps organise courses about socialism and short talks on a range of topics in the high schools and among other youth sectors.
Cesar Carrero, 23, physics student, member of MUSEC (Socialist University Movement–Science Faculty). Cesar ran in the student elections in March. He plays the guitar, likes heavy metal and insists that the revolution and partying go on into the early morning.
Maria Fernandez (Mafer) Colmenares, 22, president of the youth committee in the Legislative Council and political science student. On the first night of the PSUV youth camp, when one after another teenagers got hypothermia attacks, Mafer told stories to the others to calm them and keep morale high. Another night, late after the debating, we went to sleep in our tent and she sang revolutionary songs.
Daniel Rangel, 26, law student and director of the socialist school within the Frente Francisco De Miranda (FFM). Daniel gave his interview as we caught the bus down the winding roads into a poor community at the base of the mountains of Merida, then continued it in between making phone calls and talking to community members. Every time I bump into Daniel he is at a protest or a meeting, or sitting in a café trying to convince another young person of the struggle of socialism and to get involved in the FFM.
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How is the youth consciousness currently in Venezuela?
Luis: "Owing to the historic social process that Venezuelan is experiencing at the moment, the youth have had a protagonist role in the construction of the Bolivarian process and have also had an important role in the leadership of it. However, because we live in a capitalist country, a lot of the youth aren’t participating in the process of change and are easily manipulated and alienated by the capitalist system."
Liliana: "From my point of view, political consciousness today is critical because we are living in a period of change. The youth of Venezuela are divided in two -- those who are with the revolutionary struggle and those who are against it. Those who are with it are ready to struggle until the end for the objectives of the revolution."
[My experience shows that there is also a large group who are neither, who have no specific opinions and are just thinking about their personal lives, and there are also those who choose a ‘side’ but who do not feel strongly about it. These are people who need to (and can) be won over.]
Cesar: "Speaking in general terms the youth still don’t have a high level of consciousness, but of course there are many exceptions -- young people who are planting seeds of consciousness. However, people are starting to have consciousness. The fact that young people are incorporated in the communal councils and so on shows that something is happening and the consciousness is starting to increase, but there’s also a long way to go. The large majority of the youth are still thinking about earning money and living a life of ‘luxury’."
Mafer: "The consciousness of Venezuelan youth in the first instance is formed by global consciousness. That is, the absence of class consciousness. Only the poor sectors and some students are taking on the challenge of the transformation and the rebellion of the revolution."
Daniel: "Revolutionary consciousness is being born. We’re learning about ourselves, our history and our origins- lessons that are necessary for the emancipation of the Latin American people."
What is the composition of the youth as a revolutionary force today in Venezuela?
Luis: "The youth are in the Bolivarian Circles, the social fronts such as the Frente Francisco de Miranda and so on, there are militant youth in the left-wing parties and the social and popular movements and the communal councils. The thing is, the youth are dispersed and there are more youth in the social fronts, than in the INJ (National Institute of Youth) for example."
Liliana Andreina Matheus
Liliana: "A number of groups have been formed -- FFM, groups based on Che’s philosophy, the university groups, the youth of the Communist Party and of the Patria Para Todos (Homeland for All) and the OBE, the organisation of the high school students."
Cesar: "In terms of the party and the people in government, the majority of youth are linked in some way to the university, but in the government programs -- the missions and so on, the majority are youth who aren’t in the university. Together, though, we are involved in everything -- we are workers, farmers, students, etc."
Mafer: "Young people are in the student movements, are workers, are in the communal councils, the military reserve, the youth of the Communist Party, the Instituto Nacional de Juventud (National Institute of Youth), the network of young writers and fronts of musicians, artists, prostitutes, homosexual etc. The majority of the Venezuelan population is young."
Daniel: "The youth are made up of people who are starting to study and are in the missions, studying in the mission Che Guevara for example, who are learning philosophy and another way to live, these are the true revolutionary youth."
What role are the youth currently having in the revolution and how could this improve for the better?
Luis: "At the moment the youth have been mostly participating in a passive way, it would be better if they took on a more protagonistic role in the process, with all the responsibility that this involves."
Liliana: "I think that now the revolutionary youth are very dispersed. They see socialism from different points of view and in the end we clash. We need to unify criteria and define the socialism that we want so that we have just one objective."
Cesar: "When Chavez first became the president, a lot of the old corrupt layers of people joined the process, thinking about what they could personally gain from it. The role of the youth is to learn what revolution is, the theory of it and to see an end to this ‘cancer’ of corruption. The youth need to incorporate themselves and replace these people. The youth are the hope of this process, and they should take the reins in the PSUV to guard the line of the government, because one of the priorities of the revolution right now is to maintain the power we have."
Maria Fernandez (Mafer) Colmenares
Mafer: "The role of the youth in the revolution is indispensable. It should be to put pressure on the process of discussion and criticism and furthermore, it should be to substitute the old standards that make politics.
``Actually, the youth here have taken on the challenge of construction, transformation and subversion of the established order. We now have institutions specifically oriented to the youth, things which didn’t exist under past governments and we are the vanguard of this revolution. It will depend on us, the youth, to maintain and strength it."
Daniel: "All the youth have to identify with history and understand what it means to liberate. The historical role that we’ve had in the past is an example, and we must be ‘continuers’ of the project of Bolivar. We’re learning that we have a certain identity linked to the liberation of the people."
University students have historically played an important role in revolutions, do you think this applies to Venezuela? Why or why not?
Luis: "One of the particularities of the Bolivarian process is the central role the youth are playing in working in the community and with the most dispossessed social sectors. However, the youth have lost a lot of their rebellious character, and today in the universities and student centres the youth are colliding with two different visions of the world, one that defends the transformation and change for the wellbeing of everyone, and the other that protects the capitalist model."
Liliana: "Historically, since Venezuela’s independence, the youth have had an important role. Venezuela obtained its liberty in a large battle, the Victory Battle, fought by the youth. Also a group of young people were the ones who managed to topple the dictatorial regime in Venezuela on January 23, 1958. And today it’s the youth who lead Venezuela in the revolution -- there are many young people working in the institutions of the revolution.
``The role of the youth isn’t to struggle against the opposition in the university, but to contribute to the formation of the other young people in a conscious revolutionary way."
Cesar: "The students should have a fundamental role in the revolution but they still haven’t had the opportunity to be the vanguard, something for which we are struggling. The struggle consists in the formation of the consciousness of the youth because the problem is that a large part of the youth are opposition and are defending the interests of the Venezuelan oligarchy, including imitating the role that the youth had in the old Yugoslavia. The youth are weak because the media manipulates them, they are trapped in fashion (of clothes, music, etc.) and don’t have the capacity to analyse well."
Mafer: "The universities’ class composition is mostly upper and middle class. Therefore the students within the autonomous university education system take on the logic of the bourgeois class of the country. And this in turn corresponds to their political action. That is, they are against everything that is implied by the collective, by the new economy, and are against revolution or socialism. They are the organisations and movements who have direct links with the CIA, for example they brought the US ambassador to talk at a forum and they fight with the revolutionary students on the university. Their discourse is similar to that of the youth in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. There is also clear racism on the universities."
Daniel: "It’s different because in the years before the process of change, the students carried the flag of resistance to imperialism and neoliberalism, but what happened is that this movement left the university and went to work in the missions and this space was abandoned. Now the counterrevolutionary culture has taken the leadership. The teachers on the university lie and so you have young people who arrive at the university at just 17-18 years of age and they don’t have consciousness or political knowledge. They are taught to identify with the status of the teachers, and without a political foundation, they can’t criticise."
What should be the role of the youth within the PSUV and what do you think would be the best way to organise?
Luis: "The youth should be the transformers and should aim to finish with the current reform model. They should organise themselves as a youth front, so that they can have a voice in the leadership and deepen the Bolivarian process and increase the morale of the Venezuelan people."
Liliana: "Within the PSUV, first, in my opinion, the party should create a functional structure for the youth where its defined what our function or field of action is within the party, so that we can call to action the young people who still aren’t involved directly with the party…because the PSUV hasn’t yet developed a strategy directed by the youth -- that is, even though there are a lot of young people in the party they don’t have a collective line, they don’t have their own values -- just lines handed down by Chavez."
Cesar: "The role that we should have is mainly in the bases with the people, working with ideological formation and without forgetting at any moment the spaces of power. As to how we should organise, it should be an organisation that is completely participative, horizontal, where everyone has the right to give their opinion and we should work for the inclusion of those who still haven’t understood the role of the PSUV in the revolution."
Mafer: "First, we’re going to take the space of power within the party as youth and political leaders as well. The way we organise should be in agreement with the natural space that we occupy as young people, in the same way that farmers do in the farmer front and so on."
Daniel: "The youth of the PSUV can’t fail and commit the errors that we’ve committed in the past. When we stop being young -- when we become parents and so on -- we become absorbed into the system. So as young people we must be an example for the country, of community work etc., and be the vanguard of change.
``The youth are the ones who will achieve the objectives of the revolution. As youth we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The youth are the hope of the world."
In Cuba, the young people who initially lead the insurrection, and other young people since them, are the ones who are running the country now and keeping the revolution alive.
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To change society and construct the future, we must break with the past, and it is often young people who are most prepared to do this. And because the future is ours, and we will be maintaining the revolution for decades to come, we must be the vanguard of the revolution. And we must be organised, or as Che argued, our "ideas, after the first urge, start to lose effectiveness, gradually falling into routine, falling into conformity, then end into simply being a memento."
[Tamara Pearson is an Australia-Venezeula Solidarity Network activist resident in Venezuela. She maintains the blog, A Gringa Diary. This article first appeared at Upside Down World (http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1401/1/). It is posted on Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the permission of the author.]