Venezuela: The PSUV congress – what is at stake?

The Venezuelan revolution has been going on for almost ten years now. The idea of socialism has been discussed seriously on an international scale. It is in this context that all socialists should be watching Venezuela with great interest, where the new socialist party, the PSUV, has entered a two month congress period.

The Venezuelan revolution has been going on for almost ten years now. It has been an enormous source of inspiration for workers and youth all over the world. For the first time since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the idea of socialism has been discussed seriously on an international scale. Many have seen a concrete alternative to imperialism in the Venezuelan revolution, which has given hope and confidence that a socialist world is possible.

PSUV congressIt is in this context that all socialists should be watching Venezuela with great interest, where the new socialist party, the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela - United Socialist Party of Venezuela), has entered a two month congress period.

The idea of forming the PSUV was originally put forward by president Hugo Chávez in a speech on December 15, 2006, barely two weeks after the overwhelming victory in the presidential elections, where 63% voted in favour of Chávez' political project. In the speech at the December 15 meeting, Chávez suggested that the PSUV should be formed to unite all revolutionary forces into one party and that the pace of the revolution towards the building of Socialism be accelerated.

The party should not be a mere continuation of the old corrupt political parties, but a party with genuine discussions and rank-and-file-democracy.

At the same time he made it clear that what he wanted was not a copy of the old Stalinist party scheme, because it had led to an "unnatural deviation" of Lenin's original Bolshevik party.

As we have explained in other articles recent events in Venezuela have confirmed that the revolution - after 10 years of struggle - has not been finished. There are serious problems with economic sabotage against the revolution, which has led to shortages of basic food products. This has been combined with the beginnings of tiredness amongst some layers of the masses who are frustrated with the long speeches about socialism and revolution without any clear action or concrete measures for the implementation of socialism being adopted.

All this was the main reason why Chávez and the Bolivarian movement lost the Constitutional referendum on December 2, 2007. The result did not show any big advance for the opposition (they only managed to increase their vote by 200,000 after a huge campaign). However, nearly 3 million who had voted for Chávez in December 2006 abstained in the Constitutional referendum. These 3 million did not go over to the opposition, but to abstention. They have obviously not become counter-revolutionaries, but are tired of words and slogans about socialism and want clear, decisive action.

The PSUV and the masses

It is against this background that we must understand the building of the PSUV. After the victory of December 2006 and throughout the year 2007, the masses have been striving to radicalise the revolution and materialise what Chávez has called revolución dentro de la revolución ("Revolution within the revolution").

By this, they understand an internal struggle inside the movement, that is to say an end to corruption and bureaucracy. Many of the politicians in the movement are not revolutionaries at all, but reformists who argue that the revolution must "slow down" its pace or make some kind of pact with the opposition. The masses have - correctly - seen this as a capitulation to the oligarchy and imperialism and thus as a betrayal of the revolution. 

When Chávez first proposed the founding of the PSUV more than one year ago, he appealed to the masses by explaining, "you know the people in the communities, we must not allow thieves, corrupt people, drunkards in". "This party", he said, "will be the most democratic party in the history of Venezuela, there will be discussions, and the genuine leaders will rise from the rank and file" and he added "enough appointments from above".

As Marxists we understand that the masses in Venezuela see the big lines in Chávez' speeches, take what they perceive as the main message and try to transform it into action. In this case, it was the idea of the PSUV as a tool to complete the revolution and destroy the bureaucracy that gripped the minds of the masses  - and this idea corresponded very well to the aspirations of the masses and the reality that they see every day.

This - and this alone - can explain why the masses received the call for the PSUV with such a level of enthusiasm; in the course of 8 weeks from April-May of last year, 5.6 million registered themselves to apply for membership of the PSUV.

There are 1.4 million unskilled workers, 500,000 skilled workers, 750,000 service sector workers, 180,000 administrative and office workers, adding up to a total of 3 million workers who have registered for the PSUV. Also registered are 1.2 million housewives, which makes the PSUV the largest women's organisation in Venezuela and probably the largest in the world. This is unprecedented.

In some areas, such as the Alto Apure, a peasant region organised by the FNCEZ (Ezequiel Zamora National Peasants Front), more people registered to join the party than had actually voted for Chávez in December! The reason for this was a conscious campaign on the part of the FNCEZ appealing to every man, woman and child in the area to join the PSUV. The leaders of the FNCEZ commented: "in 1998 we also joined the MVR, but we were not organised and the bureaucracy took control, now we are joining the PSUV and we are organised to prevent that".

The founding congress of the PSUV

On Saturday, January 12, the founding congress of the PSUV was opened. Approximately 1600 delegates were present from all over the country. The congress had previously been planned for September last year, but was postponed for January due to the constitutional referendum in December.

PSUV congressThe congress is set to last two months and culminate at the beginning of March. The themes which are up for discussion are all of crucial importance for the future of the Venezuelan revolution: The PSUV "Declaration of Principles", the programme, the ideological foundation of the party, its statutes and its electoral strategy. All this will be debated and voted upon in the congress. 

The almost 1600 delegates have been elected from below; in each of the over 20,000 battalions, a vocero (spokesman) was elected. These have then joined with 10 other voceros to elect one delegate per 10 battalions. All in all, 1.4 million people showed up for the elections of voceros in the 20,000 battalions.

By now, the congress has already had two plenary sessions. One in Charallave, south of Caracas and the other in the capital of the Lara region, Barquisimieto. Between the meetings, the delegates are supposed to go home to their home regions and discuss and meet with the delegates from the other battalions, in order to transmit the discussions of the congress and debate them with the rank and file.

If we look on the one hand at Chávez' opening speech and on the other hand at the statements that some delegates have expressed in the firsts days of the congress, it is obvious that the fight for socialism and the struggle against bureaucracy are widely recognized problems;

Thus, one could read the following in Ultimas Noticias on January 20:

"Nelson Becerra, a delegate for Táchira, said that they would make a proposal to the plenary to include the struggle against corruption in the Declaration of Principles.  It is fundamental that mechanisms are created so that the party can exercise control", he said.

Jose Ezequiel Ortega, from Portuguesa, expressed similar concerns.

"We want the party to be really socialist, and to contribute to putting an end to the corruption that still exists within the revolution".

The issue was raised by a series of delegates. Miguel Montes, from Vargas, pointed out that the struggle against corruption must be amongst the priorities for the organisation, but also the internal purge of the party that is being created.

He said that "a real change in the method of building the party" is needed. "The rank and file must be listened to and we must kick out those who conspired against socialism, and made us lose the reform referendum".

Roberto Gonzalez from Zula, indicated that they will propose a review of the track record of the delegates "because the rightwing is also present here".

Planned economy or market-economy?

The draft of the "Declaration of principles" and the draft programme that has been circulated for discussion by the promoting committee, led by ex-vice president, Jorge Rodríguez, have both been translated into English and can be read here.

Both texts reflect accurately some of the contradictions that we have seen up to now, both in the speeches of Chávez and in the policies of the Venezuelan government as a whole. In the first paragraphs of the programme, it clearly states that the goal is socialism and that this can only come about as an international revolution:

"The Latin American and Caribbean people obtain unity and national and social emancipation, and together with the people of all the world we have buried capitalism in order to open the door to a new era in the history of humanity."

In part 4 of the programme, which deals with property forms, it states that that PSUV suggests a transitional process towards the building of a "democratically planned and controlled economy" which is "capable of ending alienated labour and satisfying all the necessities of the masses." In order to accomplish this, the programme proposes two concrete measures: the prohibition of monopolies and the monopolists of the means of labour and prohibition of the latifundio, that is to say the dominance of the big landowners in the countryside. All these are very good measures that Marxists will support whole-heartedly.

However, there are also some formulations that are ambiguous and open for interpretation. Thus, in the same chapter about property, we read that the PSUV fights for:

"A society with property models that privileges public, indirect and direct social, communal, citizens' and collective property, as well as mixed systems, respecting private property that is of public utility or general interest and which is subjected to contributions, charges, restrictions and obligations."

What kind of private property is "of public utility or general interest", is a bit unclear. What is within this criteria and who decides it?

Obviously, Marxists do not advocate the expropriation of ALL private property. We would never take away the small possessions of individuals, as for example individuals who own two refrigerators or two cars. This was part of the anti-communist campaign based scare tactics and fear that the opposition launched for the constitutional referendum on December 2.

What Marxists fight for is the expropriation of the oligarchy, that is, of the capitalists that own the big factories, the banks, the food distribution chains, plus a radical land reform that destroys the rule of the big landowners in the countryside. 

The draft programme is open for various interpretations. Its content can be interpreted in two ways; either a "mixed economy", where most industries are under private ownership which are accompanied by some elements of common ownership (this is what led to a disaster in Nicaragua) or it can be interpreted as a justification for a fundamental break with the capitalist mode of production. 

It will be exciting to follow the proceedings of the discussions of the PSUV programme in the coming weeks. However, it is important to emphasise that the concrete implementation of the programme will be far more important than its formulation. Many times Chávez has said this or that thing, but his words have not been put into practice. The point is that it is the class struggle and the very development of the revolution in Venezuela that will decide the destiny of PSUV. 

A rebel against bureaucracy?

In relation to the PSUV, the question of struggling against bureaucracy is also of vital importance. This struggle cannot be seen as something isolated from the general political battle between reformist and revolutionary ideas in the PSUV. Most of those workers and youth who have joined the PSUV have done so with very clear objectives in mind: to stop the economic sabotage, the shortage of basic food products, stop all corruption in the state apparatus, abolish unemployment, poverty, homelessness, etc. 

A serious end to bureaucracy can therefore only come about if a clear political alternative is being put forward and which shows in practice how a socialist democracy can be build from below.

In a statement on January 28, Jorge Rodríguez, as part of the promoting committee of the PSUV, declared that the electoral strategy would also be discussed during the congress period of the party. In his weekly TV-programme, Aló Presidente, on January 20, Chávez said that the members of the PSUV in the different regions of the country should investigate whether the different Bolivarian mayors and governors had started their electoral campaign prematurely, and that these candidates ought to be elected by the PSUV rank and file.

This can be one of the central fields of battle between reformists and revolutionaries in the next couple of months. The regional and local elections are scheduled for August. It is a public secret in Venezuela that a big amount of those governors and mayors, who in words swear loyalty to the revolution and socialism, in practice are carrying out a pro-capitalist policies, making local agreements with the opposition and opposing all attempts on the part of the workers, peasants and youth to change society.

This is not only true of the most well-known examples, such as the governor of the Aragua-region, Didalco Bolivar from PODEMOS, who originally was elected as a supporter of the revolution, but who sent in the police against the workers of Sanitarios Maracay and advocated a NO in the recent recall-referendum. It is also true of other, lesser known examples throughout the country. Such is the case in the eastern city, Ciudad Bolivar, where mayor, Lenín Figueroa has betrayed the struggle of the poor neighbourhoods for an end to price rises for the public transport.

 These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. The chavista masses will see the PSUV congress - and the coming months up to the elections in August - as a good opportunity to demand candidates who genuinely represent the interests of the masses and who are loyal to the revolution and socialism.

Sectarianism and Marxism

On the left, internationally and in Venezuela, there has been a lot of debate about the attitude of socialists towards the PSUV (and to the revolutionary process in general). A number of groups and organizations have advocated an extremely sectarian approach and denounced the PSUV as a "multi-class" and even "authoritarian" project and have refused to join, simply because Chávez was the founder and because the party is linked to the Bolivarian movement of which he is the leader.

This attitude has been supported by a group inside the UNT, around Orlando Chirino, a Venezuelan trade-union leader, who calls himself a Trotskyist.  Orlando Chirino even went so far as to recommend "a spoilt vote" in the constitutional referendum of December 2 and thus assisted the right-wing in winning a small victory. He has also chosen to go out in the bourgeois press and denounce the Chávez government in very hostile terms, such as for example in the semi-fascist right-wing paper Tal-Cual, which is led by the coup-supporter Teodor Petkoff. His record also includes speaking on the same platform as Froilán Barrios of the CTV (the right-wing opposition trade union that was part of the coup against Chávez in 2002).

 This happened in April. But just a few months afterwards - in July 2007 - Chirino appeared as a speaker at a meeting of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. This is an organization named after Ebert, who was a right-wing social-democrat, Chancellor of the Weimar-republic, and who used the army to suppress the Spartakist uprising of 1919. Thus, he was directly responsible for the assassinations of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and the slaughtering of the German revolution. One should think that this says everything about the functioning and aims of this organization. But at the same time, it is a fact that they work under the influence of the German Social Democratic Party and has links with the CIA (see here and here).

All these actions on the part of the Chirino-tendency of the UNT, and those sectarian groups in Europe that support him, are a disgrace. These people have become so blinded by their hatred for Chávez, that they are no longer capable of distinguishing between revolution and counter-revolution. Their actions do not serve the cause of revolution and socialism, but discredit the name of Marxism and Trotskyism. These people are not Trotskyists - on the contrary, by their actions, they are helping the counter-revolution and the rightwing.

All this has also led these sectarians to call for the forming of "a new workers' party", as a direct rival to the PSUV. These policies will only cut them completely off from the hundreds of thousands of workers and youth who are trying to use the PSUV as a vehicle for radicalising the revolution. 

Genuine Marxists are never afraid of working within a broad mass movement. As Ted Grant, a Marxist theoretician, used to say; "outside the organised workers' movement there is nothing". This is even truer for Venezuela. If Marxists stay outside the PSUV, we will give the bureaucrats and reformists a blank cheque to destroy the PSUV from within and prevent it from becoming a real vehicle of revolution. 

That is also why the CMR - Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria - the Venezuelan section of the IMT (International Marxist Tendency) choose to join PSUV from the beginning and work for the party to adopt a Marxist programme. In the internal struggles inside PSUV we will join forces with the tens of thousands of revolutionary workers, youth, poor peasants and small shop-keepers who are seeking for a final struggle against bureaucracy and for socialism to be materialized.

The tasks of the working class

The most important thing for the PSUV will not be the congress in and of itself, although this can be the scene of a battle between reformists and revolutionaries. More important will be how the PSUV, as a party, intervenes in the coming events and what policies it will adopt in practice.

How will the party tackle the widespread economic sabotage of the bosses? Will it propose expropriations of the food industry? Or will it try to make some kind of agreement with the opposition? How will the PSUV respond to the coming aggressions of imperialism and the oligarchy against the revolution? How will the PSUV rank and file, organised in the Socialist battalions, react to the appeal for a direct election of the candidates for communal and regional elections in August?

All these questions are remain to be answered. This is a unique opportunity that should be seized with both hands.

The decisive factor will be if the working class intervenes in the PSUV with a clear socialist programme. The Venezuelan workers have shown time and again that they are the only ones who can save the revolution from disaster, as they did during the bosses' lockout of 2002/2003, where they stopped the economic sabotage by means of factory occupations and workers' management in the oil industry. The working class is thus the only class that can lead the revolution to victory and fight effectively against bureaucracy and corruption.

Unfortunately, the internal bureaucratic fights inside the UNT trade union confederation has led to the complete paralysis of that organisation. In this, both wings - the Marcela Máspero wing and that of Orlando Chirino - played a miserable role. Instead of focusing on the central task of extending the factory occupation movement and the building of a clear socialist programme, a sectarian power-struggle about elections in the union emerged and the second congress of the UNT in May 2006 was effectively dissolved. In reality, the UNT has been paralysed ever since. It hasn't played the role it should have, although it is still a point of reference for many workers throughout Venezuela.

Meanwhile, a number of workers in different factories have united in FRETECO (The Revolutionary Front of Workers in Occupied Factories), which is a front of occupied and worker-managed factories. This front was started in February 2006 by workers of Inveval (a factory under workers' control) and now counts more than 15 associated plants as members. FRETECO had its biggest gathering on Saturday, 20 January when 80 workers and guests gathered to discuss how the movement of factory occupations and workers' control should proceed.

This is precisely what is necessary in the PSUV - that the working class intervenes with a revolutionary socialist programme with concrete slogans; for workers' control in industry, expropriation and nationalisation of the biggest companies and the banks, for a radical land reform, abolition of the latifundio, etc.

A new offensive on part of the working class would seriously put the question of nationalisations on the agenda in the PSUV. All the conditions for this are ripe. In fact, a new wave of factory occupations could pave the way for the liquidation of capitalism in Venezuela. This is what the Marxists organised in the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria are fighting for.

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