The Struggle for a Mass Revolutionary Party in Venezuela

On January 12, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez opened the founding congress of the provisionally-named United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Chavez argued it was necessary to go on the offensive with the PSUV “as the spearhead and vanguard” of the revolution his government is leading.

In drawing up a balance sheet of why Chavez’s constitutional reform
proposal — that aimed to create a framework for the transition towards
socialism — was narrowly defeated in a national referendum on December
2, one factor stands out. The Bolivarian revolution’s Achilles heel is
the lack of a political instrument capable of confronting the
challenges faced in the struggle to construct a new, socially just,

For a popular movement to shift from simply opposing the
established order to constructing a new political power to create a new
system, it requires a political instrument — a party — capable of
leading the process.

In Venezuela, such an instrument would unite the most enthusiastic
and dedicated Chavistas from the grass roots in order to advance their
collective class interests and democratically plan the path forward. It
would bring the currently fragmented social movements and political
groups that back the revolution into an organisation that would resolve
a major weakness — uniting the militant grass roots with the central
revolutionary leadership — until now almost entirely embodied in

This is essential to combat the major problems of bureaucracy and
corruption that affect state institutions, working to sabotage
government programs in favour of the poor and attempts to construct
popular power. These weaknesses are reflected in the Chavista camp,
which has in home to many careerists and bureaucrats, including those
who hold important positions.

Such a party may have been able to overcome the twin problems that
led to the referendum defeat: the undermining of the confidence of the
people due to a range of problems with government programs, and the
serious political weaknesses within the Chavista camp.

By organising the Chavista ranks and mobilising them in their
communities and workplaces to fight for their interests — against both
the capitalists and state bureaucracy, in which an emerging political
and economic elite has found its base from which to protect its
interests — such a party could be decisive to helping resolve the
unfinished struggle for power between the oppressed (led by the Chavez
government) and the oppressors.

Constructing the PSUV

It is in this context that the 1676 delegates elected to the PSUV’s
founding congress are meeting to debate the program, principles and
statutes of this new political instrument.

The crucial questions facing the congress are what sort of political instrument and whose interests will it serve?

The draft statement of principles of the PSUV presented to the
congress argued that this political instrument “is born as an
expression of the revolutionary will of the people and their political

The purpose of such an instrument, according to the draft program
of the PSUV under discussion, is to make the slogan “in order to end
poverty you have to give power to the poor” a reality. “That is to say,
build a government based on Councils of Popular Power, where workers, campesinos [peasants], students and popular masses are direct protagonists who exercise political power.”

Chavez commented that the PSUV had to become a party that would subvert
the historical model of the capitalist state — which exists to serve
the interests of the wealthy.

According to the draft program, in order for this instrument to be
an anti-capitalist tool, it “requires the full and democratic
participation of workers, peasants, youth, intellectuals, artists,
housewives, small producers and petty traders from the countryside and
the city, in the formation and running of all its component organs, in
discussion and decision making in regards to programs and strategies,
and in the promotion and election of its leadership”.

Chavez argued that the PSUV had to fight to avoid the rise of a
“new Bolivarian oligarchy”, of a new layer of capitalists, because
these groups could easily convert themselves into traitors and
counterrevolutionaries. He added it is important to stop capitalists
infiltrating the PSUV.

Fifty roundtables have been established in which delegates from
across the country are debating these proposed objectives and program.

The congress convenes on weekends, with delegates reporting back to
their socialist circumscriptions (districts) that unite between 7 to 12
socialist battalions (local branches) during the week. Before final
decisions are taken, scheduled for March, a discussion of the issues
from the congress will take place at all levels of the

Road to the congress

When Chavez first announced the formation of the PSUV in December
2006 he made clear that the party “needs new faces”. He went on to
describe how the new party should be built from the bottom up and how
the party should build revolutionary consciousness. “In this new party
the bases will elect the leaders. This will allow real leaders to

The formation of the first technical committee charged with
coordinating the development of the party until its founding congress
also echoed this sentiment and to a large extent by-passed the
traditional bureaucracies that dominated the major parties in the
pro-Chavez camp.

However, problems began to emerge on two fronts as the PSUV
prepared its public campaign to register potential members. On one
hand, there was the disorganisation during the first few months in
organising some 20,000 promoters for the registration campaign.

This led to moves by those associated with different power blocs in
the now dissolved Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR) — Chavez’s
party and the largest pro-Chavez group until the PSUV — to make moves
towards controlling selection of promoters. These promoters went on to
become de facto organisers of a large number of the local battalions.

At the same time, the aggressive discourse of Chavez who called on
existing pro-Chavez groups not willing or reluctant to dissolve and
become part of the new party “to go over to the ranks of the
opposition”, increased scepticism among some groups about joining the

Such groups, such as the Venezuelan Communist Party, saw the
dangers of dissolving what they had built up over decades, especially
in a context where many could see the same power blocs and right-wing
elements from the MVR reappearing in the PSUV.

5.7 million people registered to become members of the PSUV between
April and June, a massive display of the deeply felt sentiment for
political unity.

Yet, the actual numbers who turned up to meetings of the local
battalions (a requirement of membership) was much lower. While PSUV
spokespeople claimed 1.5 million people were participating in the
battalions, most local activists agree that the real figure was less
than half that number.

Some of this was to be expected, given the different levels of
commitment, consciousness and time among the great mass of supporters
of the revolution. However it is certain that the massive number of
registrations, which in some states exceeded the number that who had
voted for Chavez in the December 2006 elections, was in some areas the
result in part of “stacking” and pressure.

Problems also arose because already existing local leaderships
formed through years of community work were overlooked as promoters
were imposed from above. Many feared the PSUV would become one more
space to fight it out for positions in the bureaucracy, leading many
activists to devote their efforts elsewhere.

Problems were compounded with the establishment of a disciplinary
committee in July — making the PSUV perhaps the first party in history
to have a disciplinary committee before it had even decided on a

As evidence began to emerge of competing power blocs and left and
right factions, PSUV officials went on a concerted campaign to deny
this reality, arguing that no factions existed or were allowed —
creating the image of a monolithic party where no debate was to be

Cases of battalions being “kidnapped” by “aspiring leaders” linked
to the old power blocs came to light as elections for spokespeople and
delegates began to occur in October. In some cases this lead to violent

By this time many spokespeople were being elected from meetings of
less than 30 people in battalions that were supposed to have 300
members. This situation contributed to the lack lustre campaigning of
some sections of Chavismo in the referendum campaign.

PSUV’s future

Yet in spite of all these problems, the PSUV has until now provided
an important space for activists to discuss politics and exchange
ideas, creating a previously lacking communication network.

Despite the best attempts by the emerging power elites to kidnap
the PSUV in order to advance their interests, many agree that
grassroots leaders and left currents are well represented at the
founding congress, or at least well enough to make their presence felt.

The thoroughly revolutionary content of the draft program and
statement of principles are another positive sign. Of course, these are
simply words on paper, but these documents can provide a basis to fight
for a genuinely revolutionary party — in practice.

The “rebellion of the battalions” against the provisional
leadership of the PSUV in the aftermath of the referendum was another
example that the bureaucrats haven’t been able to get it all their own

Delegates have already voted to reopen discussion on the way the
congress functions, as they feel the methodology set out by the
organising committee is not the most conducive to ensuring wide ranging
democratic discussions in the battalions.

Ultima Noticias
reported on January 23 that the congress had
also voted to allow media access to the congress. “Sometimes it seems
that they don’t want people to know what is happening in the congress.
The governors fear losing their positions because that is where they
get their money from” said Henry Soto, a delegate from the state of
Falcon. He added that he regretted the fact that some delegates “were
imposed in order to maintain quotas of power”.

While reasons for scepticism remain, the movement behind this new
party has far from lost its initial spirit. While those that are afraid
of facing the ranks begin to publicly announce their candidature for
the elections for mayors and governors later this year, the ranks are
focusing on the congress. Chavez has repeatedly stated his refusal to
appoint candidates from above, as he use to.

Acknowledging some of the errors, Chavez has withdrawn his call for
all Chavista parties to dissolve, instead calling for an alliance of
all “patriotic and revolutionary” forces to fight the elections. He has
also publicly stated that tendencies and currents are part of the new

There is now a proposal to call this the Revolutionary Bolivarian
Party for Socialism, recognition that full unity is yet to be achieved.

What will be crucial over the next few weeks is that the battalions
organise themselves in such a way as to guarantee full discussions and
to ensure delegates represent their views and not that of various
bureaucrats. One important issue will be that of the selection of
membership to the new party.

It seems unlikely that either the right or left wing of Chavismo
will be able to win a complete victory, however the struggle at the
congress will go a long way to determining which forces get the upper
hand. Some compromise may be necessary, however democratic elections
and structuring of the party around a good program in order to win back
those that have drifted away is a task that cannot be postponed.

[Federico Fuentes is a member of the Australian Democratic
Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance,
and is part of the Green Left Weekly
Caracas bureau. He also works for Miranda International Centre on its
“The Political Instrument for the 21st Century” program. English
translations of the draft program and statement of principles are
posted on the Links e-journal.]