The Bureaucratic Distortion of the Strategic Lines of the PSUV

Given that prospects still exist for analysing the results of the discussion assemblies on the so-called five “Strategic Lines of PSUV Political Action” (which will now be 6), it’s necessary to demonstrate the most evident symptoms of bureaucratic assimilation and neutralization of radical criticism to the “party-machine” logic, which began to be voiced following the problematic results of September 2010. 

Given that prospects still exist for analysing the results of the discussion assemblies on the so-called five “Strategic Lines of PSUV Political Action” (which will now be 6), it’s necessary to demonstrate the most evident symptoms of bureaucratic assimilation and neutralization of radical criticism to the “party-machine” logic, which began to be voiced following the problematic results of September 2010.

On the 20th of December 2010 in a meeting with the national leadership of the PSUV, our very own Chávez began the first debate regarding the Strategic Lines of Political Action of 2011-2012. There, in the presence of Cilia Flores (first Vice-president of the PSUV), Elias Jaua Milano (Vice-president of the Los Llanos region), Nicolas Maduro (Vice-president of the Southern region), Francisco Ameliach (Vice-president of the Central-Western region), Aristobulo Isturiz (Vice-president of the Eastern region), Diosado Cabello (Vice-president of the Central region), Héctor Rodríguez, Carlos Escarrá, Jorge Rodríguez, Darío Vivas, Érika Farías, Freddy Bernal, Héctor Navarro, Jacqueline Faria, Luis Reyes, María Cristina Iglesías, Alí Rodríguez Araque, Ana Elisa Osorio, Antonia Muñoz, Noelí Pocaterra, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, Tarek El Aissami, Yelitze Santaella and Rodrigo Cabezas, amongst other members, Chávez outlined the reasons why 2011 and 2012 would be crucial years for the Bolivarian Revolution.

“The main reason for this meeting is to begin a discussion on the content of the “Strategic Lines of Political Action”, a document which is a draft. We have paid attention and interest to a series of constructive ideas. It is us, the national leadership, alongside the bases of the party, who will construct a new reality”.

Chavez indicated that the document contained fundamental ideas for tackling the tasks of 2011-2012 which relate to the political continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution.

“The next two years will be crucial for the Bolivarian Revolution. That’s how the militancy and leadership of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela should see it”.

Chávez set out clearly at the time that “beyond the PSUV, we have to increase our forces, a reunification of patriotic and nationalist forces, on course for the creation of the Patriotic Pole”. The interpretation of “beyond the PSUV” implied a counterweight to the logic of the party-machine, to overcome any overbearing intentions on the part of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), or of any of the political organisations that support the Bolivarian Revolution, leaving behind sectarianism, dogmatism, and bureaucracy, that historically have done so much damage to the construction of unified forces; preventing the formation of a great platform of revolutionary parties, social movements, collective fronts now called the “great patriotic pole”, but also similar to other experiences on the continent called “the revolutionary broad front.

In a war, the formation of the “great patriotic pole” is a superior and principal objective for tackling the strategic political tasks of 2012, which in itself, allows for a “democratic deepening” of Venezuelan society, in order to guarantee the “socialist horizon”; given that to not do this would be to go backwards, not only to the neanderthal obscurantism of the Fourth Republic, but also to a “low intensity democracy”, a neo-colonial protectorate controlled by Washington.

That is how Chávez, in those days of 2010, reiterated the fundamental importance of carrying out “critical and self critical” efforts to debate, without losing our main and superior objective. In conclusion, he called for a constructive debate which produces proposals that add to and multiply within the process of accumulating revolutionary forces, not proposals which subtract from and divide those forces in a suicidal process which weakens the revolution. 

If there is a political-ethical element which defines “socialist militancy”, it is precisely the need for honest debate of ideas (not disqualification amongst peoples, groups or currents), amongst those who consider the socialist horizon to be a great project of liberation, democratisation, substantive justice and social inclusion.  From our point of view, the transition from a political capitalist culture to a socialist militancy would involve a sustained and consistent “intellectual and moral reform”, an active assimilation and rethinking of Gramsci’s teachings on the construction of a cultural counter-hegemony from the very horizon of the struggle and from the lives of the popular and subaltern classes. This would involve the overcoming of the conception of a hegemonic world, as it has been up until now, of its value system, of its ethical cultural codes and its behavioural maxims.

From another point of view, it would involve making a great effort towards creating a permanent cultural revolution, a radical response to both local and global hegemony which reproduces the spiritual domination, on a global-system modern-colonial scale, of the dominant transnational classes every day. Not only confronting specific elements of the ideological formation of the dominant local sectors and their political representatives, but undertaking a necessary diagnosis with regards to the new character of the system of global domination, its role in defining the positions and functions adopted by each country, group, sector and class, still engaged in processes visibly controlled by the imperial spirit of restructuring towards “neo-liberal globalism”. Changing capitalist political culture is a profound revolutionary task, with advances and retreats, with ambushes and its own inconsistencies, it shouldn’t be analysed in a superficial way.

“This first [strategic] line is the essence of the battle, a change in customs and culture. This is the biggest of all of the challenges within a revolution. It’s necessary to develop it, beginning with conscience and values. There we have to make a huge effort. That selfish capitalist culture, of individualism, we have to combat it, and replace it with our own values.” (Chavez, December 20th 2010)

This change in customs, habits, uses and imagination, cannot be decreed or imposed from “bank conceptions” (Freire) which reproduce the cultural action of the dominant local or transnational classes. It involves putting an insurgent counter-culture on the scene, as a spiritual climate of plebeian power, projecting a whole new kind of life, relations and way of living together, which will inevitably end up overcoming the deep characteristics of our specific capitalist culture (rentier but capitalist), deeply rooted and solidified in our relations, practices, environment, representations, attitudes and speech.

First of all, the spirit of capitalism (with its incessant search for capitalist accumulation through exploitation and domination of other human beings) must be recognised as being embodied in our everyday lives, in our practices, in our institutions and in our logic, even in our political institutions.

Additionally, overcoming a political capitalist culture involves overcoming structures of political leadership as well, conceiving of politics as something which goes beyond the calculation of power quotas and privileges, overcoming the stains of corruption within the politician, as Latin American Enrique Dussel calls it – who developed the Philosophy of Liberation – a workfar removed from much of the dogma and reasoning of the old Latin American Left.

“First of all, it would be necessary to try debating what politics “is not”, in order to understand what it is. Politics is not exclusively one of a its components, but all of them together (…). We must know how to describe him in totality (…) Politics ends up corrupted in its totality, when the its essential functions are distorted, when the origins and sources of politics are destroyed.” (Dussel: 20 political thesis).

“Corruption originates from the political, from what we will call a power fetish, which lies within the political actor (the members of the political community, whether that be a citizen or representative), who believes he is able to assert himself, either through his own subjectivity or through the institution in which he holds some kind of position (which can be called a government employee), whether that be president, representative, judge, governor, military, police, as the main source of political power. In this way, for example, the state is able to affirm its sovereignty as the last instance of power, within which the fetishism for state power and corruption in all of those that claim to exert state power is defined. If the members of the government, for example, believe that they exercise power from their positions of self-referred authority (as in, referred to by themselves), then their power has been corrupted”. (ibid)

This covers up and conceals the source of power: which is the constituent or institutionalised power of the people or community. Here, Dussel suggests that we should undertake a radical criticism of the political culture of capitalism (and of bureaucratic socialism), understanding it as a radical criticism of power fetishism, of the fetishism of representation, as a criticism of those who believe that they exercise power from referring to their own authority.

Dussel continues: “Why? Because the whole exercise of power in each institution (from the president down to the policeman) or in each political function (when, for example, the citizen meets in open town council, or elects a representative) has the power of community politics (or of the people, in the strict sense) as its first and last reference. Not referring to, or isolating or curtailing the relationship of the delegate exercise from the power determined by each political institution with the political power of the community (or people), fetishises, corrupts and makes absolute the power of the representative, whatever his role”.

To put it more succinctly: the exercise of power as a privilege, as a power quota, as an authority which is not subject to popular legitimization, power which is not at the service of or delegated by the community or the people.

The corruption is double: from the governor who believes himself to be sovereign and from the political community which allows it, which consents to it, which becomes servile, as opposed to being a constructive actor within politics.” A double responsibility which passes through a double interpellation and power checks.

“The corrupted representative can use his fetishised power for the pleasure of exercising his will, as an ostentatious vainglory, like a despotic arrogance, a kind of sadism before his enemies, an improper appropriation of goods and riches. It doesn’t matter which benefits are provided to the corrupted governor, the worst aspect of the situation is not the ill-gotten gains, but the fact that his attention is diverted from being a representative: the servant or the obedient exerciore of power in favour of the community is transformed into something which sucks it dry, a bloodsucker, a parasite, its weakness, even resulting in its extinction as a political community.” (ibid)

The corruption of the political transforms itself into a process of extinction for the political community. In the long term, this consists of the doubtless “professionalization” of politics, what we call “ representation” within the capitalist political culture: “professionalised political corruption”: the fight for one’s own interests, one’s own centuries, one’s own power quotas, one’s own spaces to control resources and decisions, be it those of an individual (a dictator), a class (the bourgeoisie), of an elite (like the Creoles), a “tribe” (the heirs of old political commitments), or of representatives who do not have an imperative mandate from their social bases –  all are political corruption.

Within Dussel’s conceptual prism, it is senseless to debate over changes within the capitalist political culture, to criticise representative democracy or the leadership and major players of the Fourth Republic, only to end up drowning in a sea of coarse procedures, such as “co-optation”, a method of “internal democracy”. For this to be happen, what Dussell calls double corruption must be committed. We end up with a contradiction in terms, a contradiction of the phrase: “I’m sticking with my social bases”. It isn’t a matter of calling primary elections for anything, but about casting doubt on the act of rejecting the face-to-face interpellation of a community, of a popular assembly, of  politics which (at the very least) engages in an open consultation process with the popular bases. In this sense, the first symptom of the bureaucratic neutralisation of the “Strategic Lines of Political Action”, has been an act of machinery praised by our very own Chávez (in agreement with the evaluation of circumstances), it is called co-optation.

How do we transform the logic of the party-machine into that of the party-movement, if we are beginning by using the worst tricks of the party-machine, if the first act of “questioning” the capitalist political culture is to widely reproduce it? Yes we know what an asymptote is, whilst we are fighting with weapons that have been moulded by the capitalist political culture, our rapprochement to a socialist militancy will be equal to zero: just illusion, fiction and simulation.

Moving on, let’s suppose in good faith that (as a product of a weighted evaluation of circumstances) a section of virtuous politicians within the party leadership, uncontaminated by a “power fetish”, are going to use the process of cooptation adequately and for the benefit of the collective, of the community and the people. Let’s keep going: Are we really transforming the conception of power as a fetish, as an element of domination, in order to create institutions (authorities) at the head of those from which relative authorities will emerge, that administer that power by obeying the wishes of the people (a power which obeys) and not leading by convincing themselves that they are the sovereign origin of power?

If the answer is positive, then I believe we are advancing towards moving on from the capitalist political culture; if it is not positive, then we are splashing around in the capitalist political culture’s puddle. At least, from Dussel’s perspective. Obviously, Dussel could also be wrong.

However, there is also political corruption when we are unaware of the principal of direct popular sovereignty in our carta magna (art.5), when we no longer have a passionate attachment to the most beautiful values, principles and norms which sealed our commitment to the popular constituent process activated in 1998, when we rip participatory democracy into shreds; when the so-called “protagonist revolutionary democracy” (National Simon Bolivar Plan) moves from “leading through obeying the constituent power” to self-referential power, when revolutionary politics, upon falling victim to bureaucracy, is a symptom of the conversation of its authorities into “oligarchies”.

The best way of looking at the decadency of a revolution that has plebeian and popular bases is to look into the historic mirror towards the much forgotten, but extremely well quoted Mexican Revolution, to observe step by step what the institutionalisation of a revolution consists of: to experience in every detail the trajectory of its corruption.  

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela can avoid this tragic trajectory and ending, it could still be a driving force for the direct participation of the people, and a wide, efficient and well-aimed instrument for the construction of “socialist and participative democracy”. It could be one of the exemplary organizational axes in the creation of a new socialist, nationalist, anti-imperialist and revolutionary political culture through the great patriotic pole. If it assumes with honesty (getting rid of lethargy and the numerous counts of self-deception), not a “rhetoric of self-criticism”, but a vast campaign of restructuring and  a renewed drive from the top-down: from the president, that’s to say, Chávez in full recovery, passing down throughout the leadership, right to the popular bases, such as the patrols, which are right now newly enlisted, registered and drawn towards a plan of political activation in stages, similar to that driven forward by Bolivar-Command-200.

This restructuring and renewed drive could be a motor for vast, democratic and comprehensive participation made up of workers, peasants, the youth, intellectuals, professionals, artists, women, children, medium-sized producers in the city and countryside, indigenous peoples and the non-submissive black population. It dependson if the effort to include, reunify and regroup does not reproduce the vices of the logic of the party-machine in the creation and functioning of all its bodies of power, in the production, discussion and resolution of its programmes and strategies, in the promotion and election of its spokespeople, delegates and leadership, in equality of conditions, in order to create a collective leadership for the revolutionary process, concentrated within the construction of the great patriotic pole. Could the party really be this?

Let’s say yes, on the condition that the strategic lines of political action are taken seriously, and not converted into a document which “is complied with but never carried out”. When we talk about converting the PSUV machine into a party-movement, that means, at the service of the people. We are almost convinced that everything is being done in order to create the conditions for a strategic defeat of the revolution; if instead of aligning all forces in the direction of creating the great patriotic pole, we claim to prioritise and consolidate the logic of the vanguard apparatus and of the electoral machine at the heart of the PSUV.

If the announced transformations of the “strategic lines of political action” document point towards weakening the increasingly needed and deep politics of the alliances between revolutionary parties, social movements, collectives and individuals, and instead strengthen the exclusive horizon of the party-machine, then we will have a very unfavourable panorama for a resounding victory in 2012.

When Chávez has spoken about the second strategic line for converting the machinery of the PSUV into a party-movement, at the service of the popular struggle in order to satisfy human necessities and not just to deal with electoral events, at least it was clear that: “This is extremely important, because that’s where the MVR is (the Fifth Republic Movement), which ended up being just an electoral machine. It is an extremely dangerous deviation, because the MVR ended up distanced from the everyday struggles of the people. We cannot let that happen with the PSUV. We have to tackle this from now on”.

Is it really being tackled? The creation of the great patriotic pole, as a daring policy of reunification, re-politicisation and re-polarisation, involves having political organisations that will be something more than vanguard apparatuses or electoral machines. The call to currents, social movements, patriotic and nationalist forces, to join together in support of a great patriotic pole must go beyond the prestige and credibility of those who set it in motion, it involves assuming that sectarianism, opportunism, bureaucracy and dogmatism are being effectively eradicated. This involves creating spaces and requests which force criticism in order to construct alternatives, even Chavez is open to critical voices:

I call on all the currents and movements. The more critical, the better. A call to all sectors of national life. Without sectarianism, let us see ourselves with humility. I am saying this to all the militants of the party. The party cannot assume the attitude of being the main player. It is a party, an open system which can unify and empower – here there are two paths: That which we are taking (socialism) or we go backwards, which would be a catastrophe that leads us back into the past”.

If the new strategic map is honestly being re-thought, then there is a strategic window and it is important to put to use visions such as the conception of a “party-movement”, as if it were a “machine in movement”. Will it really be a great patriotic pole, or a great agglomeration of “machines in movement”?

It would be very irresponsible politically (and our history has demonstrated that the left was capable of being extremely irresponsible in the 20th century), to deal with the immense strategic objectives of the reunification of political, democratic and revolutionary forces with a view to creating the great patriotic pole, through the logic of the party-machine.

Without socialist self-criticism, the revolution will not be able to go hand-in-hand with the people, in spiritual accompaniment, in order to “suffer and be questioned by the people, those who hold true power”. We are saying this for the following reasons:

  1. The failures of the revolution are named: bureaucracy, opportunism, sectarianism, nepotism, the gradual distancing of itself from its Bolivarian base, the imposition of party leaders’ will, a lack of compromise, passivity within militancy, individualist protagonism, elitism, corruption, disinformation, exclusion, disloyalty, a lack of ideological training, however, what are the concrete ways of correcting these problems? Who are their perpetrators? What is the plan of action and a timetable for carrying i tout? What are the consequences of these problems?
  2. The thesis of “the organic development of the party” is prioritised, assuming that ideological training through courses and grassroots workshops is sufficient for the political work of the masses; as well as implementing punitive action and obtaining a direct social link to the diverse examples of popular power, when it has been the party leadership which displays the greatest distancing and removal from the problems of the community and from popular demands.
  3. Exemplary behaviour, high morale, an active insertion into the agenda of the popular struggles and the ethics of compromise within the party-leadership, are necessary conditions to re-propel, re-politicise, re-unify and re-focus on the construction base of the majority in the current conjuncture.
  4. Ideological debate and attention to the problems, needs and demands felt by the people are not separate aspects of political work. To know and apply the rules, to declare principles and the programmatic bases of the party, to be worried by the “organic functioning of the party”, is not an excuse to abandon political work with those sectors which are not “organic militants” of the PSUV, who form great majorities of the people, including sectors, collectives and movements with social base organisation, but also with those who are still seen as “beneficiaries” of politics and not as “protagonists of the transformations”.
  5. The hidden preoccupation with activating “disciplinary tribunals” is a possible symptom of the lost capacity to articulate criticisms, process differences, articulate unsatisfied demands, to look for “scapegoats” in the face of this loss of connection between the organic structures of the party and popular problems, accusing any manifestation of unease as a case of indiscipline, disloyalty or even betrayal.
  6. It is pre-supposed that the socialist transformation depends almost exclusively on the party-instrument, without taking into consideration the meaning and autonomy of the social movements, the popular base organisations, the organisational mechanisms of the workers, peasants, professionals, settlers, students, women, indigenous peoples and other collectives within the struggle. We are returning to the old thesis of the party-apparatus, which manages and colonises a whole range of organisations within society and acts as a “mass which carries our manoeuvres”.
  7. The continuous control of the time of leadership responsibilities or of the government by the same people has generated power quotas and a control of resources which has prevented the effective execution of internal democracy within the party as a result of imposing personal loyalties;  limiting the action and promotion of natural leadership from the base, generating a system of clans and internal strongmen (caudillos) with almost life-long positions within the party, government, mayoralties and other bodies of national power.
  8. The dynamic of the party is being drowned in its internal functioning, in its organic structures, in its management of the political, in informational meetings and internal coordination, instead of working politically with the communities and sectors of the people’s struggle. The party is going through a process which limits itself and alienates itself from popular demands, it conceives of itself as a separate entity which is superior to the people, an entity that imposes its will over the “masses who have no ideological consciousness”. It conceives of the people as a beneficial client, and not as a protagonist of change, it conceives of itself as a checkpoint which hands out favours and privileges.
  9. Any party thesis as a school for the public service, to spread out a permanent politics of alliances and mutual beneficial and respectful relationships with social movements, communities, organisations of workers’ demands, peasants, students, public sector employees, professionals indigenous peoples, women and a whole conjunction of citizenship organisations is omitted. Without this politics of activity and popular leverage, the everyday struggle to transform living conditions, satisfy human necessities, channel institutional responses and social responsibility, the party becomes a type of toll gate or road block in the relationship between the government and the people. 
  10. The party s perceived of as a separate entity which does not include, convoke incorporate or add itself to the revolutionary cause and movements within the population, which maintains itself on the margins of political life. The popular organisations are sick, tired and disillusioned with being treated as “beneficiaries” or as an “electoral flock” and not as protagonists of the “democratic deepening of society”. 
  11. The party does not perceive, echo or channel the unsatisfied demands of the people, it represents itself as the party of the government; it does not critically question state bodies, or their directors, for making it difficult to satisfy social demands or needs.

These reasons and others are responsible for blocking the internal restructuring of the PSUV as it advances towards the creation of the great patriotic pole, a fact which transcends party authority, since this fact involves the deployment of a revolutionary politics (of alliances and articulation of forces, social movements, groups and individuals) which go beyond revolutionary political parties.

If the great patriotic pole does not conceive of itself as something which goes beyond electoral calculations, and apply itself to a project which articulates a strategic content for the construction of Bolivarian, democratic and revolutionary socialism, accelerating the construction of spaces and instances of popular power, such as the defence of national sovereignty and the democratic radicalisation of Venezuelan society, then the future of our revolutionary advances will remain confined to the defence and preservation of the social victories which have been won up until now. In order to leave this stagnation behind, which serves to advance the rightwing and its imperialist interests, it is necessary to climb out of the puddle of the party-machine logic, exorcise vanguardism, accumulate forces for a wide revolutionary front, which draws its inspiration once again from the plebeian power of different social fronts, of a sectorial and territorial character, which in its constituent power can create new positions that consolidate an authentic and mended socialist horizon. 

Translated by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis.com