Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process, Democracy, and Socialism: A View from the PSUV in Mérida

Canadian socialist Jeffery R. Webber interviewed Oscar González, Coordinator of Organization of Social Movements for Popular Power in the Mérida branch of  the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Canadian socialist Jeffery R. Webber interviewed Oscar González,
Coordinator of Organization of Social Movements for Popular Power in
the Mérida branch of  the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) –
Mérida, Venezuela, September 5, 2008.

JRW: First, can we start off with your name and position in this organization?

My name is Oscar González.  I'm the Coordinator of Organization of
Social Movements for Popular Power, within the United Socialist Party
of Venezuela (PSUV).  I am also the publicity representative, for one
of the socialist battalions of the grassroots of the PSUV in Mérida.

JRW: How did you become a political activist in this organization?

I responded to the call of our comandante Hugo Chávez Frías, in April
2006.  We began to form, from the grassroots, a new party, the United
Socialist Party of Venezuela.  Various activists began to organize the
people in communities, organized meetings, essentially founding the
grassroots of the socialist party.  This base can be found in the
socialist battalions.  Each poor neighbourhood (parroquia) has
a number of them.  The socialist battalions have on average 300 members
who meet every week.  They elect a spokesperson, a committee person for
policy, a committee person for propaganda, for territorial defense. 
These are the grassroots, the basic cells, of the PSUV.  

Can you describe the trajectory of the Bolivarian process in general
terms since 1998?  How has the process radicalized over the years?

OG: This process did not begin in 1998.  It began with the Caracazo
on February 27, 1989, when the people took to the streets in reaction
to the policies imposed by the former President Carlos Andrés Pérez. 
And then there was barbarous military repression on the part of that
government of the fourth republic.1

this context, comandante Chávez founded the Movimiento Bolivariano 200,
which made an oath [inaudible]. . . .  Next, the coup of February 4,
1992 took place, led by Hugo Chávez Frías.  He tried to take power,
precisely to return it to the people.

All of this led
to him going to jail.  The coup failed.  However, the people began to
see hope.  And this hope materialized in 1998 when Chávez won the
elections, and arrived in the presidency.

After this
moment, there was a radicalization of confrontation.  Not on the part
of the sectors that supported President Chávez, but rather on the part
of wealthy sectors, people who have economic power, and who felt this
diminishing in the sense that this government has tried to give power
to the poor.2 
But Chávez didn't cause this, it's a question of the class struggle. 
As you know, this is the eternal struggle that we have to confront.

JRW: What have been the most important successes of these years from your perspective?

OG: The most important successes of the revolutionary government of President Chávez have been the missions.3 
The education missions have achieved almost 100 percent literacy in the
national territory.  They have achieved the inclusion of people who
were totally excluded from middle and higher level education, with the
Mission Río and the Mission Sucre.  They have brought medicine to the barrios,
the poor sectors, with the Mission Barrio Adentro.  They have solved
grave problems with the Mission Milagro, operations for people who
couldn't see.  They have implemented operation [inaudible], for the
people living in the streets.

I think that the
missions, with all that they lack and all their errors, have been the

leading force of the Bolivarian government of Chávez.

JRW: At this conjuncture, what are the most important weaknesses that must be overcome?

I think that the weaknesses are internal.  We live in a capitalist
society.  We're capitalists.  From when we're very young they plant a
capitalist chip in our heads.  For example, when you buy a sweater for
your kid, you don't say, "take this sweater, it's for when you are
cold," you say, "take this sweater, it's yours," and you plant the
chip.  So this makes it very difficult to introduce socialism
overnight, or to assimilate ourselves to socialism.  Proof of this was
that we lost the reform [the referendum on reforming the Constitution
in December 2007].  The reforms signified the start of socialism in
Venezuelan territory.4

I think that the principal weakness is ideological.  I think that we
have to strengthen ourselves in this sense, so that the people really
understand what socialism is and the benefits it brings.

it doesn't mean that your kids will be taken away, or that your house
will be taken away [in reference to the scare tactics of the right-wing
opposition in Venezuela].  This government is the only government that
has given property titles to those [impoverished] people who were
living on municipal property.  The idea that we are going to take away
people's houses is very frustrating.  It's all lies.

So, I think that the biggest weakness is ideological, and we have to overcome it.

JRW: From your perspective, what does Twenty-First Century Socialism mean, what does is mean for the PSUV?

Twenty-first century socialism is a socialism that we are building, and
we have scarcely started constructing it.  One hundred years could pass
quickly, and we may still not have become socialists.  But we are
beginning to establish the foundations in the grassroots.  Twenty-first
century socialism is what we want, it's what all the Bolivarianos and
socialists hope will occur in the future.

What is the relationship between democracy and this type of socialism? 
Does it mean the deepening of democracy, and, if so in what way?

That's correct.  The socialist democracy that we are trying to
introduce is a participatory democracy, not a representative
democracy.  Capitalist democracy is distinctly representative.  That is
to say, you elect people to represent you.  For us, no, we want to give
power to the people, the communal councils, to the communes, so that
the people really exercise power.5  Is there anything more democratic than that?  It's impossible.

How has the formation of the new party, the PSUV, gone?  Has it been a
success?  What are its strengths and its ongoing weaknesses?

Obviously, it's been a success, because there is no other party that
has been born with 5,700,000 members.  Apart from this, the party has
allowed for the popular sectors, the people of the grassroots, to
participate in many of the structures that were still in the hands of
people from the fourth republic.

All of the statutes of
the party were discussed in assemblies of the socialist battalions.  In
this sense, the party has been a success.

Of course, there are weaknesses.  Principally, as I told you, they are
ideological ones.  But I think that the strengths of the PSUV are what
will allow for the success of this revolution.

JRW: The last question.  What kind of Venezuela are you struggling for?  What type of Venezuela to you want to build?

I want a Venezuela, we want a Venezuela, in which all the necessities
of being a human being are covered.  In which, as Bolívar said, there
exists the highest level of happiness possible.  That is to say, no one
lacks housing, food, medical services, and satisfactory work.

more than that, I want to go beyond that.  We want a Venezuela where if
you were born with a dream . . . if your dream was to be a painter, if
your dream was to be a sculptor, if your dream was to be a musician,
but you ended up deciding to try to become an engineer because you
couldn't earn enough to live doing these other things. . . .  We want a
Venezuela where dreams become reality, where people live satisfactorily
and satisfied, according to their dreams.

1  The Caracazo,
named for the events in the capital city of Caracas in February 1989,
actually involved protests and rioting against the introduction of
neoliberalism across the entire country.  Andrés Pérez had just been
elected on an anti-neoliberal platform but was now attempting to ram an
orthodox restructuring program down the throats of Venezuelans.  The
president decided to make an example of the protesters, and the urban
poor more generally, giving the green light for military and police
repression for days, leaving a large number of dead.  Estimates range
from 300 to 3,000 dead.  The "fourth republic" is the pejorative term
that Chavistas use to describe the post-1958 era of elitist
"pacted democracy," or the arranged sharing of power between the
ideologically indistinguishable AD and COPEI parties.

Most important in terms of failed counter-revolutionary measures
carried out by the far-right were the April 2002 coup attempt, backed
by the United States, the oil lockout of 2002-2003, and the 2004
presidential recall referendum.

Beginning in 2003, the Chávez administration began its mission
programs, which are special programs principally in health and
education that are effectively parallel structures running alongside
the old ministerial and legal infrastructure of the health and
education system.

The reform referendum included sixty-nine reforms to the 1999
Constitution that were proposed by the President and the National
Assembly.  The reforms were defeated in a vote on December 2, 2007 by
less than 2 percent.

At the outset of 2007 roughly 20,000 communal councils had been formed,
each consisting of between 200 and 400 families, and operating
essentially as neighbourhood councils, with a budget provided by the
government for infrastructural and social programs.  See Steve Ellner, Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict, and the Chávez Phenomenon, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2008, pp 127-128.

Jeffery R. Webber is a member of the Canadian New Socialist Group.

Source: MRZine