As the struggle to deepen Venezuela's revolution through the
framework of the pending constitutional reforms intensifies, so too does the
battle to create the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Over the
past four months some 14,500 "socialist battalions" of the PSUV have been
discussing and debating the constitutional reforms and have formed the grassroots
battalions of the Commando Zamora, created as a broad front to campaign for the
reforms in the lead-up to the referendum. This follows what Luis Bilbao
describes as "the extraordinary demand of Venezuelan society for social and
political unification," with a
massive 5.7 million people registering their intention to form part of this new
party over a six-week period from April to June this year.
simultaneous campaign for constitutional reforms and the formation of the PSUV
means the two are intricately connected – the reforms as a framework, and the
PSUV as a tool, to drive the process forward. And it is through this struggle
for the constitutional reforms that the PSUV will begin to pass over from a
large mass of people loosely organized with little experience, to a mass
revolutionary party with experience.
The reforms, like the
Bolivarian Constitution in 1999, represent the correlation of class forces
within a particular political conjuncture of the Bolivarian Revolution. As
Gabriel Gil writes, "the constitutional reform, in general, enables an advance
towards the taking of power by the people," he continues, "The second bloc
[proposed by the National Assembly] although it has some thorns encrusted there
by the opportunism of deputies, contains in its general configuration important
tools for striking blows against the ruling class."
Despite their overall
contradictory and transitional nature, key aspects of the reforms are aimed
squarely at the heart of the capitalist system, specifically measures which
although they don't abolish private property altogether, provide a framework
for further inroads into the rights of capital and the "new geometry of power"
aimed at transforming the capitalist state through the construction of organs
of popular power, such as communes, workers councils, student councils, and
However, as the defection of
former Chavez ally, General Raul Isias Baduel shows, the push to deepen the
revolution is generating factures between the left and right of Chavismo, while
they have not yet been openly articulated, these differences are also being
reflected in the PSUV itself.
article aims to briefly outline the relationship of the PSUV to the
constitutional reforms and examine some of the positive and negative
experiences, challenges and contradictions facing the construction of "the
largest, most democratic and revolutionary political party in the history of
Chavez's conception of the party
When Chavez first announced
the formation of the PSUV in December 2006 he clearly conceived of it as an anti-bureaucratic
measure, as a tool to broaden the leadership, overwhelmingly centered on Chavez
himself, and push forward with the revolution. "A new party needs new faces,"
"How would it look in history
if tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we create a supposed party, a front, and
as a result…the same faces appear as always? We would have a simply coming
together of what already exists…It shouldn't be like this, that would be
fooling the people!"
He went on to describe how
the new party should be built from the bottom up. "In this new party the bases
will elect the leaders. This will allow for the emergence of real leaders," and
how the party should agitate and build revolutionary consciousness.
George Ciccariello-Maher also
argues that the composition of the technical committee charged with formulating
the basic structure of the new party and the national promoters commission of
the PSUV appointed by Chavez in March this year, to a large extent by-passed
the traditional party bureaucracies of the Chavista alliance, reflecting a
"commitment to attack party bureaucracy."
Participation and experience so far
Since July, the socialist battalions of the PSUV,
predominantly organized on a geographical basis, but also in workplaces, have been meeting
every weekend, to discuss and debate issues of political program and structure,
the proposed constitutional reforms, and how to organize the 5.7 million who
originally signed up as aspiring members of the new party. Over the first week
of October, the battalions directly elected recallable spokespeople and heads
of commissions, which have then gone on to form socialist circumscriptions,
grouping those elected form every seven to twelve battalions, these in turn
have elected the delegates to the founding congress.
While official participation
figures of the PSUV national promoters commission claim that 25% or 1.4 million
of the original 5.7 million are participating regularly in the PSUV battalions,
it appears that in reality the level of active participation is much closer 15%
or approximately 900,000.
This gap between the massive
numbers who registered their intention to join the new party and the level of
active participation reflects on one hand, the lack of an historical experience
and political culture of mass organization of the left in Venezuela and on the
other hand the reality that not all these people will become militants in the
new party, and signed up simply as a show of support for Chavez.
As Chavez has argued, "It is
natural that this is so…We were sure that when we commenced the second stage of the process all
these people that registered were not going to participate, for logical reasons
– there are people that work on Saturdays, others that have family commitments
and others that don't have the sufficient level of commitment to be a
In many instances the
discussion within the battalions has been very elemental and the level of
political consciousness is extremely heterogeneous. However, to expect anything
else in a project the size of the PSUV would be utopian. For many it is their
first experience of political militancy and many have simply joined up because
"it is Chavez's party." The positive side of this is that many new faces are
being drawn into political activity. However, the challenge in this situation
is to take into account all the different political levels and create an
inclusive pedagogy to collectively raise the level of political understanding.
In this context, Chavez
argued that the constitutional reform is the "the fuel for the political and
ideological debate in the battalions [of the PSUV]."
Gonzalo Gomez, a PSUV
promoter in Catia and delegate to the founding congress agrees, "The discussion
of the constitutional reform in the PSUV battalions is the perfect way to talk
about socialism concretely, because it deals with all the issues." However, he clarified, the reforms, in and of
themselves, won't mean that socialism has arrived, but rather they are
transitional measures, that the people have to implement, and putting them into
practice will deepen the struggle for socialism.
For Gomez, a long time
Trotskyist, it doesn't matter that Chavez has said the PSUV is not going to be
a "Marxist-Leninist" party, what matters, he argues, is the content. "We
discuss Marxism every week" he added.
Many old faces remain
However, despite Chavez's
intentions to build a party with "new faces" from below, many of the old faces
remain and a key contradiction the new party faces is the struggle between the
radical grass roots and what many on the Venezuelan left refer to as, the
"endogenous rightwing" of Chavismo (based on a nexus between the state
bureaucracy and sections of capital).
As José Miguel Casado points
out, "This is the objective reality that reflects the true contradictions of
the complex political universe that is the Bolivarian Revolution, it is the
live expression of the class struggle, a phenomenon that the PSUV will not
escape, nor any other social or political space."
These pressures have already
been reflected in the extremely uneven experience of constructing the PSUV so
far. Some socialist circumscriptions, like in Barrio 23 de Enero, for example,
build on strong pre-existing political organizations, hence debate is much more
politicized, whereas others, such as socialist circumscription 16 in Catia, are
comprised predominantly of activists from social organizations and Chavez
supporters with little previous political experience, and yet others, such as
Propatria, are characterized by strong divisions between the grass roots Chavez
supporters and local municipal functionaries.
Carlos Luis Rivero wrote in
August of "the insistence of some individuals or organized groups linked in some
instances to government or a ‘leader with aspirations' to ‘kidnap' the debate
in the battalions, to decide aspects that have not been debated in the
battalions and to promote the practice of key decisions outside of the popular
These tensions also surfaced
with the elections of spokespeople for the socialist battalions in September as
various reports emerged that certain governorships in Miranda, Anzoátegui, and
Falcon sent people along to stack meetings and influence the vote, including
reports of physical assaults against PSUV promoters in Anzoátegui, as well as reports from a source in the governorship
of Merida of attempts by people aligned with Diosdado Cabello, (governor of
Miranda and former Vice-President) to influence the vote in that state. However
on the positive side, in many cases these actions were roundly rejected with
emerging grassroots leaderships winning the elections.
However, the most
controversial incident during the formation of the PSUV is the "Ameliach
In contrast to the MVR, which
was controlled by factional power blocs, Chavez has repeatedlyargued
for the need for the new party to democratically elect all representatives,
spokespeople, and candidates and so on from the bases. Additionally, Chavez has
argued that the new party should not be an electoral machine, but rather
prioritize ongoing organization of the grass roots.
So when parliamentary deputy
and former MVR party boss Francisco Ameliach, on the right of Chavismo, argued
on August 24, "We should revive the MVR; the PSUV is going very slowly, we have
many elections in the coming year," Chavez responded that Ameliach's conduct
was detrimental to the formation of the PSUV and called him to a meeting of a
newly established provisional discipline committee headed by Disodado Cabello,
another former MVR party boss with influence in the military. Ameliach, (of the
same political faction as Cabello) subsequently apologized for his "political
error" and resigned or was suspended from his position as coordinator of the
pro-Chavez ‘Socialist Bloc' in parliament.
However, the incident is more
complex than it appears at first glance. In June, a public debate errupted
between Chavez and retired General Alberto Müller Rojas over the question of
the politicization of the Armed Forces. In an interview in Ultimas Noticias on June 30 Rojas argued that Chavez that had a
contradictory discourse, on one hand speaking of the professionalisation of the
Armed Forces, while on the other speaking of peoples defense and a popular war
of resistance; two "absolutely incompatible concepts." Müller Rojas also criticized
the conservative discourse of outgoing Defense Minister Raul Baduel. Ameliach
at that time came out against Müller Rojas, and along with Baduel argued in
favour of the professionalisation of the military.
Chavez's initial announcement
of his constitutional reforms on August 15 included a proposal for the creation
of a Popular Bolivarian Militia and a restructuring of the National Guard,
which reportedly generated discontent within the National Guard. Ameliach was
called to a meeting of the discipline the day after Chavez had held a meeting
with the Military High Command to discuss this and at the same time Chavez
withdrew his proposal to restructure the National Guard, and changed his
proposal from a Popular Bolvarian Militia, to a National Bolivarian Militia.
The September 1 edition of El Nacional reported that Ameliach had been
meeting with sectors of the National Guard and had failed to report on either
the meetings or incidents of anti-Chavez material circulating in barracks.
Ameliach was also removed from his position as head the National Assembly
Commission for Defense, suggesting the incident was broader than just simply a
question of dissenting views within the PSUV.
The whole affair generated a
lot of criticism, particularly, the implications for dissent within the PSUV,
despite Chavez's calls for "irreverence in discussion and loyalty in action,"
in the internal life of the party. Also questioned was the right of Chavez, "in
a party of equals" to establish the provisional discipline committee, and in
particular, the political basis for such a committee in a party yet to
determine its political program, structure and statutes.
As Müller Rojas argued, the
incident should have been dealt with politically rather than organizationally.
"This breaks the idea of equality among party members and establishes a
precedent … [The] understanding of discipline comes from within the
individual, through an educational process, and is not imposed by force,
because then it is no longer discipline, but training, it is alienation."
The incident also placed Cabello, reportedly one of the
wealthiest businessmen in Venezuela,
in a very powerful position within the PSUV and exposed the spill-over of some
of the factional issues from the MVR. Specifically, it exposed a more
conservative tendency aligned with Cabello, and a more left tendency called the Alternative Current, headed by
parliamentary deputies Luis Tascon and Iris Valera, who sharply criticized the
More recently, Tascon, who also criticized the Cabello's
response to the defection of Baduel, saying that it was necessary to tackle the
issue politically rather than just attack Baduel personally, said he has been
expelled from the PSUV. However, Roberto Hernandez also on the discipline
committee denies that Tascon has been expelled and says he is "excluding
himself". Cabello confirmed that Tascon had been called to a meeting with the
discipline committee, but that he had not turned up. He also denied that the
discipline committee had expelled Tascon.
There are certainly pressures
that act to obstruct the open articulation of differences within the PSUV.
Central to this is the fact that politics in Venezuela is viewed largely through
the dichotomy of Chavistas vs. anti-Chavistas, hence the overwhelming emphasis
on unity. There are also bureaucratic elements that exploit Chavez's popularity
and immense political authority to consciously impede full democratic debate.
Chavez himself has often
compounded these problems by declaring that all those who don't join the PSUV
are "counter-revolutionary," as well as saying that the PSUV will be the party
of government, meaning that bureaucrats and opportunists of all stripes have
jumped on board. And although he has called on "all currents of the Venezuelan
left" to become part of the PSUV, he has said they cannot maintain themselves
as separate organizations.
Similarly, the repeated
assertions by officials on the PSUV promoters' commission, such as Jorge
Rodriguez and Lina Ron, that there are "no currents and factions," and "only
unity" behind Chavez, can only serve to obscure underlying differences.
However, despite this there
are in reality a myriad of radical left groupings organizing within the PSUV.
These include; the majority of the most class-conscious workers from all the union currents that organize in the National
Union of Workers (UNT), including the majority of C-CURA (whose rank and file
workers agitated for and voted to go into the PSUV, while a smaller section
around Orlando Chirino stayed out), the Revolutionary Front of Workers in
Occupied and Co-managed Factories (FRETECO), and the Ezequiel Zamora National
Campesino Front (FNCEZ).
As well as a number of small
parties, including the majority of the former Party of Revolution and
Socialism, who organize around the paper Marea: clasista y socialista,
the Liga Socialista, the Revolutionary Marxist Current, and other groups such
as the Tupermaros, radical Bolivarian currents, liberation theologians,
individual workers, intellectuals, students, community, indigenous and social
movement activists, and numerous non-aligned Chavez supporters. Chavez has also
reiterated his call for the Venezuelan Communist Party and Homeland for All to
join the ranks of the PSUV.
The founding congress of the
PSUV has been postponed several times as the participants have found that the
new party cannot simply be decreed to conform to a time line but rather must be
built organically from the grass roots. In this sense the decision to postpone
the founding conference has allowed more time for the socialist battalions to
take shape, for the activists in the various communities to get to know each
other and have a deeper discussion not only over the constitutional reforms,
but also issues the political program, structure and statutes of the PSUV,
including the existence of the discipline committee, the right to form factions
and so on. This means that the founding conference will reflect this deeper
political discussion and will ultimately be more useful than if it had
conformed to the original timeline and been held in August.
Extraordinary potential of the PSUV
However, as Luis Bilbao
points out, "To find within all these difficulties and trip-ups in the last few
months in the organizational aspect of the PSUV a negative force is to not
comprehend a contradictory totality."
"The process of construction
of the party has to be understood in the context of what we are leaving behind
us, and what we are leaving behind is the counter revolution, manifested in the
most diverse manner, including manifested in an ultra revolutionary language,"
Bilbao points to the
extraordinary potential of the PSUV, "The possibility of carrying out the
battle [for socialism] in a scenario of 5.7 million people who want to
construct a revolutionary party is," he says, "something that changes the
political face of the planet, not just Venezuela and Latin America."
Despite all the challenges, the most important aspect of
the development of the PSUV is that the emerging grassroots leaderships continue to rise. The formation of
the PSUV, which builds on the experience of the mass mobilisations against the
military coup in 2002, the struggle to defeat the oil industry lockout, and
more recently the massive push to organise the population through communal
councils, has provided more political space for the grass roots than ever
before in the Bolivarian process.
proof" of this Ricardo Abud argues, "was the defeat conferred [to the
bureaucracy] in the elections of delegates and spokespeople, where the majority
overwhelmingly decided in favor of change – those who want to roll back this
process before the founding congress are a minority in the circumscriptions. The
people will not allow it!"
What the struggle for the constitutional reform and
the construction of the PSUV has revealed most clearly is that the battle lines
are drawn between the endogenous
rightwing and the revolutionary grassroots of Chavismo. Chavez has designated
2008 as the year of the "revolution within the revolution"- it remains to be
seen if the
PSUV can truly become "a political instrument that puts itself at the service
…of the people and the revolution, at the service of socialism."
Interview with Luis Bilbao, by
Federico Fuentes, Sept 2007.
Gabriel Gil, plenosocial
Chavez, Dec 15, 2006
Against Party Bureaucracy: Venezuela's
PSUV and Socialism from Below By George Ciccariello-Maher – MRZine Thursday, 29
PSUV battalions exist in Inveval, a valve manufacturing plant under worker's
control, the CVG Industrial Complex in Cuidad Guyana, the Nucleus of Endogenous
Development (a network of cooperatives) in Los Cortejos and the recently
nationalised CANTV among others.
There are five elected commissions in each battalion; political and
ideological, communications and media, logistics and organisation, social work
and national territorial defence.
Open letter from the 53 battalions in Barrio 23 del Enero, 10/08/07 –
Chavez, speech to the National Assembly of socialist battalions, Poliedro, Caracas, 24/08/07
Gonzalo Gomez is also editor of the paper Marea Clasista y Socialista.
All quotes from Gomez unless cited otherwise are from regular discussions and
observations of his PSUV battalion in Nueva Caracas since July.
 "PSUV: Socialismo vs. Reformismo La unión de los
revolucionarios es impostergable" 09/10/07 –
 Luis Rivera, Carlos "En Pleno Dessarollo." August 17 2007 http://www.socialistas.org.ve/
 "Comisión del Psuv-Anzoátegui denuncia actos violentos contra sus miembros"
 "Müller rechazó creación de comité
disciplinario", El Universal, 31/08/07.
 Chavez, Hugo, "El discurso de la unidad." December 15, 2006