The Ethical Reorganization of Politics: A Conversation with Rafael Uzcategui

A historical figure from the left examines Venezuela’s insurrectional past while offering a critical reading of the current state of affairs in Chavismo.

Rafael Uzcategui is the Secretary-General of Patria Para Todos (PPT), a party within the Chavista Patriotic Pole alliance. Since its early days, PPT has pursued a patriotic and ethical reconstruction of politics in Venezuela. In this exclusive interview, we talk to Uzcategui about the trajectory Venezuelan class struggle since the 1960s. He tells us about the forming of a revolutionary movement inside the military in the 1970s and 1980s, which eventually led to Chavez’s 1992 insurrection. Uzcategui also offers his views on the current state of affairs in Venezuela.

You participated in the armed struggle against the Fourth Republic regime [1959-1999] in the 1960s and beyond. Let’s talk about that period.

I got politically active in 1959. It was a time marked by the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and the entrance [of the 26 of July Movement] into Havana on January 1st of that year. Those of us in Caracas and Vargas State had seen airplanes cross the sky exactly one year before in an attack on the Miraflores Palace.

It was the beginning of the end of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship [1953 to 1958]. That military insurrection had been led by Colonel Trejo, a person of enormous prestige in the armed forces. A few days later, on January 23, the dictatorship came down due to mass mobilization and party activity.

How old were you at that time?

I was ten years old, and when I turned eleven, I joined the Venezuelan Communist Youth [JCV]. Those were times when being a left militant was fashionable. As a JCV militant, I became immersed in the official Moscow line…

But then came May ‘68 and that marked a rupture with the old order. The French May traveled across the Atlantic, arriving to Tlatelolco in Mexico and also to Venezuela with the “Movimiento de Renovacion Academica” [Academic Renovation Movement, 1968-1969]. Of course, the Cuban Revolution in power and its independence [from the Soviet line] had also stirred up the waters.

The Movimiento de Renovacion Academica blossomed into a student insurrection and led to the occupation of many universities around the country. All this was happening while Venezuela’s Communist Party [PCV] was in the process of leaving behind the armed struggle. First, they called it a “tactical retreat,” and later it became a strategic decision. Actually, somewhat later, they even participated in counterinsurgency in an indirect manner.

The first steps in this reorganization of the PCV’s tactic took place around 1966 and 1967, in the 8th Plenary. The debate was intense, very heated actually, and finally, the withdrawal from the armed struggle won out.

Many of us didn’t agree with this decision, and we formed the PRV, the Party of the Venezuelan Revolution, joining the FALN [National Liberation Army], which continued the armed struggle initiated by the PCV in 1962. The MIR [Revolutionary Left Movement], founded in 1960 as a left faction of Accion Democratica, was also active within the FALN.

Years later, in 1970, the MIR would break into two: on the one hand, Bandera Roja and the OR [Revolutionary Organization], which continued to participate in the armed struggle, and on the other hand, the MIR, which became a legal party. Of course, all the organizations had legal branches. The PRV’s legal arm was Ruptura, Bandera Roja had Que hacer, and the OR’s legal party was the Liga Socialista.

I’m a founder of the PRV, not one of the key founders, but I was among those who had an organizational responsibility. Some of the key founders where Kleber Ramirez, Ramos Elias Morales Rosi, and Luis Rafael Guzman Green, who was later assassinated in Yumare [nine leftists were massacred by state forces in 1986 in Yumare, Yaracuy State]. The FALN, the joint military arm, remained under the command of Douglas Bravo, who had been the FALN’s commander since 1962.

As for myself, I was among a group of young kids who left the JCV and did organizational work for the PRV. The PRV’s initial structure was closely tied to the armed struggle, so our task was to begin building an organization in the cities.

That is the story of our rupture with the PCV which, by the way, had much to do with the French May and the Cuban Revolution, but also the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The latter was quite important for us, and we sent three delegations to China. I was lucky enough to go there, where I saw the Cultural Revolution. I also saw Mao in Tiananmen and we met with the Gang of Four [top Maoist figures in the Chinese government].


When did you go to China?

We went to China after our escape from the San Carlos prison in 1974. There were 23 of us who managed to flee: 21 men and two women, Emperatriz Guzman, from Bandera Roja, and Mariluz Rangel, who was later my life companion and we had children together. After the escape, Ali Rodriguez Araque and I went to China.

Later, several of us from the PRV went to fight in Central America. We were part of the PRS [Salvadoran Revolution Party]. We fought in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

The PRV, which had had great popular legitimacy, dissolved in the late 1970s. What brought that about?

By the end of the ‘70s, the PRV entered a crisis. An internal process led to the decision to dissolve the party. That was during Luis Herrera Campins’ presidency in 1979. However, an important seed had been planted: the “Frente de Oficiales de Carrera” [Career Officers’ Front], a group that operated in the military and fostered revolutionary currents there. We had brought officers on board with the project of insurrection… That current influenced Chavez, it affected him directly.

When I was in exile, and under Douglas Bravo’s leadership, I worked as a liaison with patriotic Venezuelan soldiers abroad.

What did you do after the dissolution of the PRV?

After the PRV dissolved, I began working in Causa R, which was a very creative political proposal. Even though Causa R participated in elections, I joined because it did insurrectional work within the armed forces, just as the PRV had done, incorporated working-class organizations, and rethought grassroots work under a new schema. Actually, returning to Chavez, he established a relationship with Causa R after the dissolution of the PRV.

I joined Causa R not so much because of its electoral project, but because there was an insurrectional plan involving the armed forces. Causa R had a very rich program and strategy. There was an electoral front; there was the work within the armed forces; there was working-class and union work; and there was grassroots work in the barrios.

To understand Causa R, one has to go back to the Cabimas Cultural Congress [1970]. That congress was held in that inhospitable oil city [Cabimas, Zulia state]. Right in the midst of the armed struggle, hundreds of people mobilized and participated in rich and important debates, and those debates inspired a new way of doing politics.

Causa R was born in 1971. In its plans, it renounced the Stalinist past and committed to restoring democracy: making democracy a revolutionary concept. That is why we talked about “radical democracy.” Opening up a path towards radical democracy wasn’t a naïve proposal.

Alfredo Maneiro, the key figure in the movement, maintained the thesis that, first, a movement had to be formed, then a party. The party would be a result of the movement, and it would constitute a small nucleus of insurrectional ideas, ideas of rupture. The movement included legal and clandestine fronts.

Causa R was accompanied by movements such as Matanceros, Procatia, La Casa del Agua Mansa, the “Nuevo Sindicalismo” [New Sindicalism] movement, and a student movement. There were a number of organizations from the “extramural” [non-Soviet] left, which was very rebellious, and they were able to advance together.

Maneiro would often say that the way out was beyond the left. He was trying to break with what he understood to be a historical obstacle in the path to power. In other words, Maneiro proposed to go beyond the Stalinist conventions, which had yielded no results.

Causa R was, in those days, a very democratic organization and its influence began to grow. Causa R also had a different set of international relations. The key project that it looked at was China. In fact, the Causa R press – and that press was really important because it produced newspapers and other propaganda by the thousands – was donated by China. With the press as a base, Maneiro created a whole constellation of newspapers, bringing together movements and creative ideas.

Does the PPT come out of the Causa R?

Yes, Alfredo Maneiro’s thinking inspired the formation of the PPT in 1997, although currents that came from the PRV and the Socialist League also joined the new party.

Maneiro died in 1982, but the big crisis in Causa R came in 1992. One of the initial Causa R hypotheses was that the electoral project should grow (as it did), alongside the work with grassroots organizations, unions, etc. At the same time, the core of the organization would accompany an insurrectional plan that would kick in once an electoral victory of the left was disregarded by established power.

The insurrectional project was led by Hugo Chavez, who had founded MBR-200 [Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement] under the positive influence of both the PRV and Causa R. That project advanced quicker than the electoral one.

The February 4, 1992 insurrection left us, and many others, unable to participate. February 4 was, in fact, an almost exclusively a military insurrection. November 27, 1992, on the other hand, was a different story. Diverse sectors and tendencies accompanied the insurrection, including Causa R sectors. Our participation in the insurrection divided the party, even though the insurrectional plan had been there, in the party’s conception, since its early days.

Causa R’s problems had begun before. Toward the end of the 1980s, neoliberal theses began to penetrate the same sectors of the party that would later reject participating in the November insurrection of 1992, and the whole concept of class struggle was lost. Andres Velasquez, who was by then the leader of the party, began to espouse these ideas at the same time as he became governor of Bolivar state in the late 1980s. There was a simultaneous loss of political principles, ethics, and integrity when this happened.

After the 1992 events, Andres Velasquez himself called for the separation of the party, and the sector he represented kept the name.

Through the 1990s there was a growing discourse about the patria [homeland], and Chavez was forming a movement that grew with time. The PPT was founded in 1997 after a long debate. The name came after more than six months of going back and forth, and it comes out of the recognition that sovereignty, and the reconstruction of the patria, were the key issues of the moment. One year later, in 1998, the PPT put Hugo Chavez on its ballot as its presidential candidate.


Let’s come up to the present. What is your reading of the current political situation?

The government is nothing but the expression of its contradictions. When Chavez won the 2006 elections – his greatest victory ever – he did so by joining forces with all progressive parties. He also brought out the message of socialism some fifteen years after the fall of “real socialism.” That was very important!

However, after that victory, Chavez decided to make a single party. Single parties are built with no other objective than defending power. Chavez didn’t understand that the construction of what would become the PSUV amounted to the liquidation of the democratic flow of the Bolivarian Process. He tried to put all of us in one bag.

The PSUV’s statutes conditioned the militancy to recognize Chavez as the sole leader which, for us, was not only an alienating perspective, but it was also retrograde. It’s like going back to a monarchic logic, and it created a sycophantic culture among many leftists.

We were not in agreement with the party conception, so we did not dissolve the PPT into the PSUV, which created a few problems for us. We recognized Chavez’s charisma and we acknowledged his ideas as the guiding ones, but we had a different conception of what a party should be.

For us, the party is not only an ideological instrument, but it also has to guarantee ethics and form a counterweight to power. The party must orient people. and its ethical force must be based on principles, not on individual leaders. That is why the PPT didn’t dissolve itself into the PSUV.

Now, the PSUV and the government have created a culture of self-enclosure and have no willingness to hear from others.

However, I want to begin by recognizing that to understand the current situation, one should acknowledge that there is an imperialist project of bringing the government down, and that there is a blockade which has real consequences. Imperialism has its claws now in countries that were formerly part of the Pink Tide, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, and El Salvador… and they want Venezuela too.

However, we should understand that the retreat of the Pink Tide has its roots in class collaboration, which is obviously nothing new. Class collaboration is one of the problems that we have here. That is obvious when you look at the policy setbacks in the labor context, or at the agrarian policies (and the persecution of campesinos and communards).

In Venezuela, a sector of Chavismo became wealthy in the government. This sector has entered the bourgeois class. In economic and cultural terms, they are one and the same. They have appropriated an important part of the oil rent. It is a bureaucratic, parasitic, speculative bourgeoisie. It has nothing to offer the country, and this has gone so far that a minister has talked on TV about the “revolutionary bourgeoisie.”

As revolutionaries, we must advance with candor. One cannot be against the US blockade and not voice one’s concerns regarding the process of [capitalist] accumulation underway [within Chavismo]. As I see it, as Marxists and socialists, we must all denounce what is happening, because a country under siege will only stay afloat if the boat has no holes. Otherwise, this will all come crashing down, one way or another.

So what should revolutionaries do?

Let’s confront imperialism and the old oligarchy, but we cannot stay with arms crossed when it comes to demanding an ethical reorganization of politics. We have to address ethical issues and the problems with production. We need to produce, we need to overcome the rentier logic expressed in the speculative, bureaucratic bourgeoisie which is investing in real estate and entertainment. We are not destined to relive Carlos Andres Perez’s [Venezuelan president from 1974 to 1979 and from 1989 to 1993] clientelistic and corrupt logic all over again. The price of it is too high for the common people!

So I call on all revolutionaries to investigate what is going on and to denounce what is happening. Some may say that dirty clothes should be washed at home. To that I say: “Dirty clothes should be washed, period.”

Finally, I want to conclude with a case that is close to my heart. The countryside is getting a double punishment now. Many campesinos are awaiting trials, and in Barinas state we have a particularly messed up situation.

Nine communards are in jail for the “sin” of building a commune. They have been presented to tribunals fourteen times so far, and the process is still pending. One day the judge doesn’t arrive, another day the prosecutor isn’t there… Each time a different excuse is used and in the meantime, these men are locked up. They are not being given access to justice, and much of the left is keeping its mouth shut about it.

However, not everything is lost. The revolution is still here with us. It has been saved by what it has sown with the communal project and with continental solidarity and integration. The revolution wove a new social logic, but that logic is not activated. It must reactivate and people must stand tall in this situation.