Venezuela’s Communist Party and the PSUV: To Join or Not to Join?

Shortly after his presidential election victory in early December last year Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called on all the parties that support him to join together to form one united party, the "United Socialist Party of Venezuela." Not every party agreed. Jerónimo Carrera, Chairman of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), explains his party's reasons for that decision.
Jerónimo Carrera, Chairman of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV)

Shortly after his presidential election victory in early
December last year Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called
on all the parties that support him to join together
to form one united
party, the "United Socialist Party of Venezuela." Not every party agreed.
Jerónimo Carrera, Chairman of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), who has
recently been on a private visit to
London, gave our correspondent
Kate Clark this interview, explaining his party's reasons for that decision. Mr
Carrera is a well-known journalist in
writing a weekly column for 2 Venezuelan newspapers, "La Razón" and "Tribuna

When Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez launched his idea of a single leftwing party last
– during an event to celebrate his successful re-election – he threw
down the gauntlet to all the parties on the left – join or risk being left out.

Not the most
diplomatic of leaders, the charismatic Chavez announced the idea more as a
decision already taken than a consultation with the parties which support him –
something not perhaps calculated to bring on board any doubting Thomases.

So what has been
the reaction so far of these parties? One of the most influential parties in
is the Communist Party. Whilst not huge
in membership, it polled some 350,000 votes – almost 3% – in the last
presidential elections. Formed in 1931,
it's the oldest of all
Venezuela's political parties. It has
seen dictatorships and legal governments come and go, it has experienced
operating both legally and underground, it has rebuffed perceived interference
into its internal affairs by other Communist Parties, it fought an armed
struggle for 3 years in the sixties, and now openly declares support for the
Colombian guerrilla movement, FARC.

At 85, Jeronimo
Carrera – Chairman of the Venezuelan Communist Party – has seen off many a
party and many a government. Amazingly
active and agile, he writes a weekly column for 2 independent newspapers and is
instrumental in shaping the Party's policies. "We've got 3 generations of Venezuelans in our Party who have lived
through periods of clandestinity and periods of legality and have experienced
repression and difficulties in their careers because of their Party
membership," Carrera explains. "Now all
of a sudden we get this call for us to dissolve and join another party. But our Party is not like a car, or a house
that I or the leadership can just dispose of as we think fit. We are merely the custodians of our Party, so
we cannot take any hasty decisions concerning Chavez's proposal."

In March the
Party held a 1000-delegate Extraordinary Congress which voted not to join
Chavez's new Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of
Venezuela; PSUV), for the time being at least. "We fully support Hugo Chavez, and have done now for over 10 years,"
Carrera explained. "But the new party
has yet to define its programme and its objectives, so we cannot risk
dissolving our Party to join something as yet unknown."

"We don't yet
know if it will be a social democratic or a truly socialist party. We don't know whether it will join the
Socialist International, as the Sandinistas did in
in the eighties. We couldn't accept the
idea of joining the Socialist International, which has never done anything for
the cause of socialism. Those social
democratic parties get into power but then never really challenge the status
quo. We could never be party to that."

After the
Party's Extraordinary Congress, a small group including a few Central Committee
members, decided to join Chavez's new party. "We haven't expelled them. No one
is obliged to stay in our Party. They
will see with time whether they will be more useful there than in our Party."

At present the
Party has 7 deputies in Parliament and President Chavez recently appointed a
leading Communist – David Velasquez – to his Cabinet. Chavez has also expressed understanding for
the Party's position on remaining outside the PSUV.

"There is
definitely a revolution going on in
Jeronimo Carrera declares. "It's not a
bourgeois one, nor is it a proletarian revolution. We think the term "Bolivarian Revolution" is
correct, because it's not nationalistic, but it is patriotic and, like the
dream of the great Venezuelan patriot of the 19th century, Simon
Bolivar, aims to unite the different countries of Latin America."

"It's a
revolution influenced by both Christianity and Marxism," he goes on, pointing
out that Chavez himself is a committed Christian. "If the Revolution advances towards a
socialist society, as for example in
then we'll continue to back it."

The immense
support for Hugo Chavez among the Venezuelan people, Carrera says, is proof
that the Venezuelan President is keeping his promises to the electorate –
something rare in politicians throughout the world. It is undeniable that under Chavez
has made incredible progress in health and education, for instance. There's now free health care for all, what's
more, healthcare made accessible to the poor by new clinics and hospitals in
the areas where they live – the Barrios Adentro scheme – often staffed by Cuban
doctors under bilateral government agreements. Mass literacy programmes and education for all sectors of the population
are hugely appreciated by the voters, as are the new low-price supermarkets the
Government has set up in the barrios, and all this translates into votes. Added to this, his undoubted huge personal
charisma, the PCV Chairman says, has resulted in Chavez achieving almost 70% of
the vote in 2 elections. For the first
time in the country's history, people see that the revenue from
massive oil reserves is being used for the benefit of the entire people, not
just for one section as in the past. This has awakened new feelings of pride, self-confidence and of fraternity
with other peoples – a spirit of true internationalism, according to the
Communist Party Chairman.

Carrera worries
about what will happen when the oil reserves run out. "Oil the world over is in the hands of
monopolies," he points out. "The first
country to escape from that stranglehold was
after the 1917 Revolution. But now we
see that what was once Soviet oil in the Caspian is once again in the hands of
Western monopolies."

"What we want to
do is to wrest Venezuelan oil from these monopolies, but we cannot do it
alone. We are one of the few countries
in the world that have oil. When OPEC
was set up, it looked as if there could be an escape from the West's monopolisation
of the world's oil. But
Saudi Arabia is controlled by US
Iraq has been invaded for its oil wealth, Libya's
Gaddafi has been placated…."

rebellious, independent course is seen as a challenge to
hegemony, so the threat of invasion still hangs over us," Jeronimo Carrera
warns. "Despite the failure of the 2002
right-wing coup, the
US and the Right will use any possible pretext to bring down our

"When you see
what they have done in
Iraq, you could say it's almost surprising that they haven't invaded Venezuela!" Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs,
he goes on, and everything possible is being done to prevent aggression of
different kinds, such as sabotage of the country's oilfields.

Hugo Chavez's
policy is based on the concept of multipolarity, which means fostering the best
possible relations with all the countries of the world without discrimination,
including the
USA and all the countries of Europe. The aim is to prevent
George Bush being able to form a coalition against
of the kind there is currently against

"It would be
very difficult for the
USA to get any resolution against Venezuela
passed in the United Nations," Carrera declares. "The world has changed: gone are the days
when the
US could, from afar, order a coup d'etat in some other country."

Mindful of the
divisions within Chile's Popular Unity Government under President Salvador
Allende 30 years ago, which surely contributed to that Government's demise,
could it be that it might be better for the future of the Venezuelan Revolution
if there were just one single party of government – the PSUV? His answer was unequivocal.

"In Chile
President Allende had less than 40% of the vote, so he had to contend not only
with the Right, but the centre too. By
contrast, Chavez has won practically 70% of the electorate, and more than
once. Also I think it was easier in the
seventies for the
USA to unleash aggression against Chile
the US Government is far more discredited now than it was then."

Whether the
Venezuelan Communist Party Chairman's optimism on that score is misplaced or
not only time will tell. When we see the
sort of media campaign which was whipped up before the invasion of Iraq to
convince the British public that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction
which could reach us in 45 minutes, thus posing an imminent threat to us, it's
not too difficult to envisage a scenario whereby an elected and charismatic
leader like Chavez could be vilified, incessantly called a dictator and made to
seem a threat to other countries. Already some sections of our media have been liberal in their use of the
term 'dictator' in relation to Chavez.

"The formation
of one single party of government in
would not, in our opinion, be the best option," Carrera concludes. "After all, there are many examples in history
of disunity even within one party – take the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union for instance. Within that party there were different
groups, different interests, and so they lost power."

"Success in the
revolutionary process does not depend on whether there is one party or more
than one taking part in the process. Lenin would have liked to keep the Socialist Revolutionary Party as an
ally of the Bolsheviks, but that didn't turn out to be possible in the particular
historical circumstances."

What is important
Venezuela today, Carrera insists, is that the different parties supporting
the process agree on one policy. They
should have as a strategic aim to win over Christian left-wing opinion and not
let it go to the Right. At present the
country is divided into two camps – the Chavistas and the anti-Chavistas. Only about 10% can be considered of neither
camp, he claims.

"We support the
process, but we don't call ourselves Chavistas. We don't use the term Chavista, but we consider ourselves a part of the
Bolivarian Revolution. We are not
Chavistas because we don't believe in definitions on the basis of a particular
personality. It's true that we use the
term "Marxist", but that's just by tradition, it's not really correct. We are dialectical materialists, which is a
philosophical, or ideological definition."

"But whether we
use the term Chavista or not, we recognise that Hugo Chavez represents an
extremely important and valuable card, not just for
but for all the countries of

Jeronimo Carrera
is understandably cautious when referring to Chavez, Chavismo and the
future. The Communist movement has had
enough setbacks due to "personality cults" that it has learnt to its cost not
to make the same mistakes again. (He
relates with distaste once having had to file past Lenin's body in its Red
Square mausoleum as part of a Party delegation, and points out that neither
Lenin himself nor his wife Krupskaya were ever in favour of his corpse being

"The Venezuelan
Communist Party does not form part of the Government, but we are certainly not
part of the opposition," Carrera says. Opposition parties such as the Democratic Action Party (AD) andthe
Social Christian Party, COPEI, operate freely in

"We consider ourselves
allies of the PSUV, but we feel we can be most useful by offering 'critical
support', or constructive criticism when needed." Another danger that worries Carrera is that
of opportunism, which tends to arise when you have one single party of government.

But he decries
the license, rather than freedom, enjoyed by some of the opposition media in
Venezuela. "They openly insult and denigrate the
President in the most scurrilous way possible," he declares. "I am sure in no other country in the world would
the media be allowed to use such insulting language against an elected

It's no secret
Venezuela's Cuban allies would prefer Venezuela's
Communists to join Chavez's PSUV rather than remain outside. For the time being, the PCV has decided to
stay outside. Only history will
determine whether it was the right decision.