Friday 25 January 2008

Draft program and principles of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)

Draft program and principles of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) from Links: International journal of socialist renewal. Below are transaltion of the draft program and principles of the provisionally named United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which are currently being discussed at its founding congress. The documents were drafted by the provisional leadership of the PSUV. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez made his first public call for the creation a political instrument to unify the country's revolutionary forces in December 15, 2006. Convened on January 12, 2008, some 1676 congress delegates elected from almost 15,000 socialist battalions - local units of the PSUV - will discuss and debate this draft program, as well as the proposed priniciples and statutes of the new party, over the next two months. In between congress sessions, delegates will return to their local regions and battalions to ensure the widest possible discussion of these documents among the ranks of the new party. The documents were translated by Federico Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke. Fuentes and Janicke are members of the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspective living in Venezuela, where they have been reporting for Green Left Weekly. Fuentes works at the Miranda International Centre, in the "The Political Instrument for the 21st Century" program.Janicke also writes for Venezuela Analysis.] I. About the program All revolutionary organisations contain three essential elements: 1. A politico-ideological doctrine 2. A critical analysis of the past and present, and 3. A program for an ideal future with the methods of action through which to make possible the transition from the present to this ideal future. This program for the future is a “catalogue” of solutions to the evils of the past and present. It is the product of a mixture of discontent with what one has and the hope for what one aspires to have; an amalgam of bitterness and illusion. There are programs that focus essentially on the ethical and legal and there are others that seek to first find a solution to the social-economic problem. The methods of action contemplate, in a mixed or simple form, one of various types of “evolutionism” or “revolutionism”. Although, in some cases, those that adopt a “gradualist” evolutionary method to start with, get to a point where they agree to accept the possibility of “revolution” as a last resort, once the doors in the democratic system have been closed off. Of course, all methods of action lead to an end: the taking and exercising of power. This is because possessing power signifies the possibility – the only concrete one – of directly carrying out in practice the programs for substituting one political structure for another, and for changing a defective society for an ideal society. A political party that does not aspire in some way to take power has no reason to exist. Therefore, all programs should contain a “catalogue” of solutions and the manner in which (times, moments and places) these solutions can be carried out, understanding that not all elements of this program can be applied rigidly, indiscriminately and indefinitely in times or places where conditions are not the same or similar to those when they were first conceived of. That is why, although the Declaration of Principles or the Statutes of an organisation tend to be more permanent, its program or programs of action have to be periodically revised by the organisation (leadership bodies and congresses). New possibilities and new necessities are constantly emerging, as well as new problems and new solutions. In regards to the “Programs” of the traditional politics, they were something which that that were to suffer from were not to be told about. II. The program of the PSUV 1. Defence of the revolution. Build socialism Taking as its starting point the championing and unconditional defence of the government of the Bolivarian revolution, led by President Hugo Chavez, and the will of the Venezuelan people to construct the socialism of the 21st century, the program of the PSUV is the instrument with which to set out the objectives, forms and methods of this revolutionary project, and express them at each moment through slogans that can facilitate the transition from the immediate reality to the end goal; slogans that, by definition, adapt themselves permanently to the immediate circumstances. 2. Internationalism The Bolivarian socialist revolution is unfolding within an international framework and a national reality. The programmatic definitions are therefore rooted in two different spheres: on one side, in the will for transformation based on an interpretation of the material fundamentals of historical development at the world scale and, on the other, in the immediate conditions of our country at a given moment. Basing itself on the Bolivarian tradition, the program of the PSUV champions internationalism and takes as its starting point the belief that the grand objectives of the revolution will have only been obtained when 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. But the concept of internationalism that the Party holds is not one of simple “international fraternisation between peoples”, nor one of simply exhortations for “tolerance”. The Party fights to create a truly international united front of the peoples that is anti-imperialist and confronts the aberrations that imperialism pretends to universalise where they appear. The PSUV will work tiresomely to: * Favour all activities that favour the unity of the people based, more than just on a simple exchange, but on the principle of “doing things together”, so that the people get to know each other and feel a commitment to each other. * Diversify international relations and create new alliances in order to construct new axes, different to those favoured by the interests of the international market, transnationals and neoliberalism. * Favour a solidarity-based exchange of resources with other countries, particularly with Latin America and the Caribbean, where the solidarity-based and humanist dimension prevails over merely commercial interests. 3. Build Popular Power. Socialise power The program of the PSUV has as its objective making reality the slogan “in order to end poverty you have to give power to the poor”, or better said: the people. That is to say, build a government based on Councils of Popular Power, where workers, campesinos, students and popular masses are direct protagonists in the exercising of political power. The program of the PSUV proposes the socialising of political power, establishing the direct exercising of decision-making power by the masses in their organisations; their unrestricted right to scientific research and the free artistic creation, and the democratisation of access to all cultural policies. The PSUV will carry out a constant struggle to: * Promote democracy and a assembly-based culture within the Party, and in all spheres where it is present (communities, work fronts, areas of study, activity etc.) * Struggle to make self-government a reality, with cities, communal councils and communes as the basic political units. * Promote, where necessary, the creation of new territories and/or municipalities in areas of human settlements, that, for historic, geo-political, cultural, productive or strategic reasons require the overcoming of fragmentation, along with the creation of their respective self-governments. * Struggle for the transference of the largest amount possible of the planning, execution and control over public policies to these city governments, communes and community councils by the constituent powers and its institutions. * Promote direct and constant participation. That the largest amount of men and women possible be involved in the resolution of all the problems posed by the struggle in its different phases and levels: from the socialist cities to the commune and the communal councils in different areas (popular power, social missions, water committees, sports committees, cultural committees, housing committees etc) up to the military reserves. In regards to the specific area of industrial workers, two fundamental axes for the implementation of this task should be the concepts of popular control and self-management. 4. Planned economy. Communal state The program of the PSUV proposes to move in the direction of a democratically planned and controlled economy, capable of ending alienated labour and satisfying all the necessities of the masses. Throughout this period of transition, which at this moment marches from a state capitalism dominated by market forces towards a state socialism with a regulated market, the aim is to move towards a communal state socialism, with the strategic objective of totally neutralising the law of value within the functioning of the economy. The PSUV proposes to build: * A productive, intermediary, diversified and independent economic model based on the humanistic values of cooperation and the preponderance of common interests. * A society that prohibits latifundio, transferring these lands into property of the revolutionary state entities, public companies, cooperatives, communities and social organisations capable of administering and making the land productive. * A society that prohibits monopolies and the monopolists of the means of labour, that is to say, of the “sources of life”, or any other activities, agreements, practices, behaviours or omissions by them that make vulnerable the methods and systems of social and collective production. * 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. * A society that defends non-alienated labour, with sufficient free time so that human beings have time for voluntary work and rest time for scientific and humanistic creation, as opposed to the capitalist productive system that revolves around the prolongation of the work day, the prolongation of free labour (for the capitalist owner) or increasing “productivity”, that is, accentuating the stress levels of the labour force. * A society that is inclined towards collective forms of property and labour, that is capable of distributing the “social product” in order to maintain the means of production, broaden out production, create funds or insurance against accidents or natural phenomena, cover administration costs, satisfy collective necessities (schools, hospitals etc.) and sustain people who are unable to work, and afterwards proceed in “dividing up” for consumption purposes. 5. Defence of nature. Planned production The program of the PSUV proposes the preservation of nature and the planning of production for the satisfaction of collective necessities in harmony with the requirements of the ecosystem. The PSUV fights for: * The non-proliferation of highly contaminating industries that are not of a highly strategic interests for all the nation. * The development of technologies in accordance with the socialist and humanist model of society. * Respecting for popular, traditional and millenarian technologies which produce in harmony with human beings and nature. * The preservation of water basins and sources of water. * Raising consciousness about the preservation of nature and against the consumerist model of society that leads to the production of useless objects at the cost of exhausting natural resources. * The promotion of consumption of ecological products. * The promotion of collective and public transport use. * The promotion of developing alternative sources of energy. * Raising consciousness about saving energy usage. 6. Defence of the revolution and sovereignty The program of the PSUV takes up the issue of the defence of the revolution, national sovereignty and public security through an indissoluble union of the FAN (National Armed Forces) and the people in arms. In this sense, the PSUV takes up the tasks of: * An alliance with the Armed Forces. A central issue of revolutionary strategy is the alliance of the people as a whole with the National Armed Forces, as well as the workers with the middle classes of the countryside and city (small and medium-sized peasantry, small industrial and commercial bourgeoisie in urban and rural areas). * The organisation of Popular Militias. * The organisation of Defence Committees in the Communal Councils, together with the reserves. * The application of the principles of integral military defense and popular war of resistance. 7. A state based on Popular Power The program of the PSUV proposes the construction of a state based on Councils of Popular Power, with the full and democratic participation of workers, campesinos, students, housewives, intellectuals, artists, small producers and petty traders from the countryside and cities, guaranteeing the widest possible participation and protagonism of the people in determining and realising their destiny. Based on these fundamentals, the search, elaboration and formulation of a Program of Action is the most delicate task of the Party. It is also the issue that verifies if its leadership bodies respond or not to the expectations of the Party militants, whom, by definition, must be the most finely honed antennas for detecting all the necessities and requirements of the people as a whole, as well as the changes in collective behaviour and transformations in the mood of the masses. Draft declaration of Principles of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) 1. The Threat With the beginning of the 21st century, humanity has entered full speed into the most dangerous crossroads in history. Capitalism, in its imperialist phase, has reached its limits. After the successive palliative postponements of a structural crisis, which has been corroding the foundations of the system for decades, the dominant socio-economic mechanisms in the planet are jammed and threatening to explode. The crisis of this irrational mode of production, based on the exploitation of countries, classes and individuals - along with the destruction of nature - pushes the imperialist centres of the world economy further into competition in a savage struggle for control over markets. Pushed, firstly by the logic of this competition, and then by the necessity to find rentable forms in which to invest massive amounts of excess capital (above all in the arms industry); and at the same time, by the imperative of destroying excess commodities in order to fix up the mechanism and reinitiate the economic cycle, imperialism is dragging the world to war. With the current level of scientific and technological development, unlike the two world wars of the 20th century, this war will not limit itself to destroying human lives, goods and commodities, so that they can once again be produced and sold: it will end all forms of life on this planet. The atrocities committed by the United States and smaller powers in the invasion of Iraq is only an ominous prologue to what awaits humanity if it is not able to put a brake on this deadly dynamic. Stopping imperialism and impeding war are therefore the most transcendental priorities for the peoples. With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, the floodgates that stopped capital easing its crisis were broken, unloading it, without extenuating circumstances holding it back, onto the dependent nations and its workers, peasants and middle classes. Since then, the brutal cost of sustaining the system has fallen on the shoulders of thousands of millions of people. The price of the capitalist crisis in the imperialist centres is the dizzying increase of misery in the Third World. An unprecedented concentration of wealth into the hands of a few has as its consequence degradation, suffering, hunger and death for the immense majority of humanity, including in an increasing manner the peoples of the imperialist countries. This avalanche of poverty is the other side of the crisis that threatens life on Earth. Faced with the growing incapacity of the institutions and alliances with which it maintained its power in the 20th century, imperialism now appeals to the desperate necessities of millions of human beings in order to pit one against another in fratricidal wars, which can result in nothing but destruction, degradation and death on a scale never seen before. 2. Defeat poverty Ending poverty, abandonment, marginalisation and the forced dehumanisation of hundreds of millions of people is therefore another priority, inseparable from the previous one, in this current historical moment in which we live: without ending the polarisation of wealth and the growth of poverty beyond anything ever seen in history, war will be inevitable. At the same time, world history, and most clearly of all, the Venezuelan experience, has demonstrated that capitalism, even less so in the era of the crisis of imperialism, far from ending poverty, increases it everyday with its irrational evolution, showing the world that socialism is the only rational, necessary and possible direction to take at this crossroads for humanity. 3. Exercising power The conclusion is clear: in order to end poverty, it is necessary to give power to the poor and build socialism; to impede war, it is necessary to end imperialism. 4. The necessity of internationalism The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela has placed itself at the vanguard of this struggle, which from within our national borders has projected itself to the world as a whole. The Bolivarian ideal - that Latin American internationalism, which 200 years ago raised the banner of union south of the Río Bravo, independence, sovereignty and the search for the largest sum of happiness possible for the peoples - defeated at the time by the collusion of imperialism with the local oligarchs, today is being reborn through the socialist revolution which, from Venezuela, marks out a horizon of life, peace, liberty, democracy and happiness for all, converting itself into a beacon for thousands of millions of human beings in America and the world. Venezuela is the victim of attacks, conspiracies and war preparations by the United States not just because of its immense petroleum wealth, which the greed of the industrial powers have always longed for, but because the Bolivarian Revolution is an example for a world submerged in capitalist crisis. 5. Defence The defence of sovereignty is identified with defence of the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution. It converts itself into a landmark as to whether imperialism can advance or not in its bellicose, annexationist, divisive and destructive dynamic across the world. 6. Unity In order to confront such an enormous challenge, the Bolivarian Revolution needs to accrue, consolidate and articulate, with maximum efficiency, the union of the Venezuelan people as a whole; it needs to work tirelessly for Latin American-Caribbean unity. It must join with the nations of the South and the peoples of the entire world to create a force capable of countering, neutralising and defeating imperialism. The (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela is the instrument for carrying out these strategic tasks that history has placed once again on the table, now behind the banner of socialism. Above all, it will be the political instrument for uniting into revolutionary and socialist action all the victims of capitalism in Venezuela. This social and political unity of the grand majorities will allow the Bolivarian Revolution to carry out the tasks it has set for itself: education, health, housing, work and wellbeing; and will allow for the preparation of the people as a whole, so that together with the FAN [National Armed Forces] at the vanguard, it will be possible to face up to the challenge of defending our sovereignty in the face of the threats of invasion and violence that imperialism will use as a last recourse in order to impede the advance of the Revolution. The Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela is born as an expression of the revolutionary will of the people and their political leadership. It is the product of the revolutionary unity of the majorities and sees the supreme value of a plural, multifaceted unity that encompasses the broadest diversity in regards to ethnic, ideological and political origins, and around which the destiny of the homeland will be forged. Given that it summarises the most outstanding effort towards national and social emancipation of our past, the most genuine Latin American internationalism, and because it has been the motor of the socialist revolution underway in Venezuela, Bolivarianism is at this moment in history the point of unity of all the perspectives of revolutionary and socialist thought. 7. Direct participation This unity 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. An instrument of struggle made up of millions of free men and women, the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela at the same time ratifies the necessity for an effective centralisation for action in the great battles already laid out: against poverty, against exploitation, against the degradation of human beings, against internal reaction and their imperialist masters. A tool for the unification of the grand majorities, the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela is born nevertheless with the conviction that it faces a constant military threat from internal and external enemies of the Revolution, which is why it assumes responsibility, at all levels, for the defence of the homeland, in order to confront and defeat imperialism if it dares to tread on our land. Brought to life by the government of the Bolivarian Revolution and under the impulse of President Hugo Chavez, the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela nevertheless is not the government. It is the political controller of the objectives of the government and will keep a watch over it to ensure these objectives are carried out. At the moment of its conception into national and international political life, the nexus point between the government and the Party is Commandante Chavez, and the full adoption by the Party of the five motors and the seven strategic guidelines that today summarise the program, the strategy and the tactics of the Bolivarian Revolution. 8. The principal responsibility The responsibility of the Party consists in organising the people on a territorial basis and through fronts: workers, peasants, students, youth, intellectuals, artists, housewives, small producers and petty traders from the countryside and the city, around their necessities and concrete demands and in the function of those strategic and tactical guidelines and the Program adopted by the Founding Congress of the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela. The Party is therefore the point where the expression of popular will and the application of those guidelines of the Revolution (from the construction of houses, sanitary attention, education, up to the armed defence against an eventual foreign invasion) come together. 9. Overcome fragmentation and anarchy This symbiosis, the dialectical interaction which must materialise constantly in the Party, overcomes all notions of abstract autonomy, as much from the government, as from the social movements, in order to make way for a constantly changing synthesis, in which the Party acts at the same time as a two-way transmission belt and leading motor. The Party is constantly constructing spaces of unity within diversity. Considering the construction of socialism as a great strategic objective, the Party treats all tactical and programmatic proposals, concrete actions, and decisions taken in line with this objective with the necessary tolerance and broadness, in order to achieve consensus amongst the forces that support the Bolivarian Revolution. The Party understands the possibility and necessity of diverse layers of the population coming onboard the process of constructing socialism as a result of a collective or individual understanding of the risk that the prolongation of capitalist society means. 10. Original and creative Following Simon Rodrigez’s maxim, “we invent or we err”, the socialism of the 21st century that the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela fights for will be original, its own, creative and will have a profoundly collectivist sense of exercising power. The Party will go to great efforts to educate itself and others in human experiences that have distant antecedents, such as American Indian cosmovision and primitive Christianity and more recent experiences like those that from the 20th century that gave rise to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. But the socialism of the 21st century will be the consequence of a creative praxis, the free exercise of the will and desires of the Venezuelan people. It will be “neither imitation nor copy”, to borrow the expression of José Carlos Mariátegui, but rather a “heroic creation”. It recognises the diversity of our origins and values the Indigenous, European and African roots that gave rise to our great South American nation. It incorporates from the doctrine of Simon Bolivar, in particular his anti-imperialist vision and his ideas about the necessity of the union of Latin American and Carribean countries; from Simon Rodriguez, his struggle of a liberating, popular education for all; and from Ezequiel Zamora his struggle for social property of land, his confrontations with the oligarchic powers and his program of social protection. 11. The construction of socialism: the only way out Just as it is indisputable that private property over the means of production in any society determines the relations of labour, human relations and all aspects of life, negating the objectives of a humanist, solidarity-based, socialist society, it is no less true that the transition, above all at this current moment in humanity, demands a careful, objective evaluation of each step taken, in order to always, and at all times, guarantee the conscious participation of the majority and the necessary efficiency to carry out all the requirements of national life, including its defence. One does not have to be religious in order to identify with and be at one with basic principles of Christ that champion justice, equity and human and fraternal relationships between persons. “You will not oppress the poor and needy day labourer, be they from amongst your brothers or a foreigner that lives in the lands within your city”, “Woe to me if you build your house without justice, and your rooms without equity, living off your neighbour for free, and not giving him the salary for his work!”, “No one can serve two masters because he will loathe one and love the other. You can not serve both God and wealth”, “Blessed are the poor, because for them is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are those that have a hunger and thirst for justice, because they will be quenched, blessed are the merciful, because they will receive compassion”. One does not have to be an atheist in order to agree with Marx’s scientific analysis which led him to affirm: “in the capitalist system of production, labour is external to the worker it does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore, does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind. The worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. This produces the reversion of all human values”. The exploitation of human by human is an impediment to being able to see and recognise the human being within oneself and the one in front of them; it contradicts the sentiments of solidarity; it mutilates the ties of friendship. Capitalism kills by hunger or by glut, but it always kills. Capitalism contradicts the human condition and goes against the survival of the species. The planet is being destroyed. The irrational imperative for growth is provoking the destruction of ecosystems and threats to extinguish the sources of life on Earth. This catastrophic dynamic is caused by the irrationality of a socio-economic system that omits the necessities of humanity and acts under the obligation of its own logic, compelled towards constant growth in the pursuit of profit. In this crazy race, capitalism provokes periodic moments of crisis where, again in the pursuit of profit, it is necessary to destroy massive amounts of human lives and material goods.Ever since human society was divided into classes, there has been resistance and struggle against oppression and exploitation. But with the victory of capitalism over feudalism and the dominance of the capitalist mode of production at the world scale, the social struggles of the industrial workers' movement fused with the most advanced thought of its time and gave rise to the struggle for a socialism based on science and the most deeply felt sentiments of human beings. Simultaneously, in our continent, Simon Bolivar was laying the foundations for national and social emancipation with his liberatory struggle and his humanist and revolutionary vision, affirming words that today are fundamental for the union of our peoples and the social transformation of our time. Faced with the crisis of the system and the grave threats that come with it, the contemporary challenge consists in guiding action in such a way that the exploited and oppressed masses of Venezuela assume the maximum amount of knowledge of history, the economy and political theory, in order to tackle the immense task of responding in an original manner, embedded in concrete reality, to the roots of what it means to be Venezuelan, the cultural particularities, including of each region and social group, in front of every normal day demands, each difficulty put forward by the transition from capitalism to socialism. For the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela there are no recipes from a manual, nor can there be, nor impositions by anyone who is not the conscious, organised Venezuelan people themselves, standing up and ready for combat. Inter-imperialist competition opens up cracks between the owners of the world and by default creates a multi-polar world in constant turmoil, to which the United States can only counterpose its military supremacy. Simultaneously, due to the demands to maintain its rate of profit, the out of control voracity of imperialism subjugates the bourgeoisies of sub-developed countries beyond what is tolerable. Those who for two centuries were submissive minor partners, who benefited from the looting of their own peoples, see themselves pushed into conflicts that fracture their former association of convenience. While the disputes between imperialists paralyses the world institutions that came into being at the end of the Second World War, and fragments at every point on the globe the hegemonic bloc comprised of imperialists and subordinated capital, the combined impact of this phenomena, within a framework of constant and growing popular rebellion, has worked towards demolishing the institutions through which political power was sustained in countries with dependent and sub-developed economies. The world is therefore witnessing realignments of all types, always to the detriment of the power of the United States.This conjuncture opens up the perspective of calling for an international anti-imperialist bloc on a grand scale, with the participation of national, provincial and local governments, different types of social movements and political forces from a broad ideological viewpoint. The idea is to unite in action hundreds of millions of people throughout the entire world against imperialism and its wars. Similarly, in Latin America there exists the possibility of producing a qualitative transformation in the politico-organisational reality of tens of millions of exploited and oppressed. The Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela therefore sees the necessity of forging instruments in which they can converge, and at the same time remake universal revolutionary thought, as the vanguard in an era of immense challenges and great victories: capitalism is international; the revolution is international; our thought and the action must be international. Action in function of the notion of a global anti-imperialist bloc and the revolutionary and socialist convergence of the Latin American-Caribbean peoples, will guide the steps taken by the Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela with the certainty that making these objectives a reality will change the relationship of forces at the international scale and inaugurate a new historic era. The agony of imperialism is an unavoidable fact. The Party (Bolivarian Party for the Socialist Revolution) of Venezuela is born in order to defend the homeland, to lead the revolution towards its emancipatory objective, to join with all the other peoples of the world in the task of burying imperialism and building a new world, fit for a free and full humanity.

Monday 21 January 2008

Contrasting articles on Chavez's actions post-referendum defeat

Green Left Weekly correspondant in Caracas, Federico Fuentes, has written a good article on the actions of Chavez in response to the referendum defeat and the real problems facing the revolution. It differs in tone and argument from Alex Callinicos writing in the British Socialist Worker. Alex's article is framed by a negative attitude towards the leadership of Chavez and prospects for the revolutionary fighters within the PSUV. Venezuela's Chavez: Socialism still our goal by Federico Fuentes, Caracas 19 January 2008 A collective discussion is occurring throughout the revolutionary movement led by President Hugo Chavez following the defeat of the proposed constitutional reforms — that were intended to deepen the revolution to help open the way towards socialism — in the December 2 referendum. Defeated by the narrowest of margins, the result took both sides by surprise. A cocky Chavista camp that had won 11 straight election victories was sent into a tailspin. The US-backed pro-capitalist opposition was forced to think up a new strategy, as the next stage in its well-orchestrated destabilisation campaign — taking to the streets against supposed electoral fraud — had to be postponed after Chavez graciously accepted defeat. "For now we couldn't do it!" explained Chavez in his concession speech. Discussion and debate has exploded as the battalions of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — initiated by Chavez to unite the grassroots leaders of the process of change — convened to debrief. State television has hosted wide-ranging discussion. Left-wing websites such as were flooded with opinion pieces. Chavez gave his first sign of things to come on New Year's Eve, announcing a decree giving amnesty to the 400 people who had signed the infamous "Carmona decree" that dissolved all public powers during the April 2002 right-wing coup against Chavez. A few days later, speaking on state television, he noted: "We need to improve our strategy in regards to alliances. We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged along by extremist currents … No! We have to seek out alliances with the middle classes, even with the national bourgeois." Chavez explained on his first Alo Presidente TV show for the year on January 6 that "I am obliged to slow down the pace of the march. I've been imposing on it a speed that's beyond the collective capacities or possibilities; I accept that, it is one of my mistakes." U-turn on socialism? A "u-turn on socialism" is how Stephanie Blankenburg described it, writing in the January 8 New Statesman. Chavez "had decided to abandon his socialist agenda 'for now'" because the country was not "ready for" for "his socialist project". Yet, argued Blankenburg, the December 2 vote "was essentially a protest vote by the 'Chavista street' against the 'Chavista elite'". Chavez's "strategy of a shift to the 'right'" — which she argues gives a "free reign to the 'Chavista elites'" — was "unlikely to boost [his support] with the popular base". Alex Callinicos, a central leader of the British Socialist WorkersParty wrote in the January 19 Socialist Worker that these moves were"cause for alarm" and "dangerously reminiscent" of those taken by the left-wing Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 when he "sought to make a deal with the right" while the right-wing were preparing to violently overthrow him and place General Augusto Pinochet in power. Callinicos writes Chavez's shift is based on acknowledging popular discontent with food shortages, inflation and corruption, but argues that dealing with these problems involves "not slowing down the revolutionary process, but accelerating it — breaking the hold of private capital on the economy." Corruption can only be rooted out by dismantling the existing state apparatus and replacing it with institutions of popular power. But Chavez is moving in the opposite direction." However, how accurate is this analysis of Chavez's change of tact? Self-criticism It is clear that Chavez has listened intently to the wide-ranging criticisms of his government in order to formulate his response. His most thorough statement on the situation was his speech to the National Assembly on January 11. He pointed to a number of issues confronting the revolution: the weight of the corporate media and lack of strategy to counter it; crime; food shortages; and especially the crippling problem of bureaucratism, inefficiency and corruption. The latter has led to a weakening over 2007 of the social missions —which represent significant gains for the poor majority — and in particular the healthcare Mission Barrio Adentro and the cheap food distribution Mission Mercal. Chavez raised the "harm done to the confidence of the people … being done everyday with a certain type of publicity, coming as much from local governments as the national government over which I preside; deceitful publicity, demagogic publicity, which many times contradicts the reality that the people live everyday …" Part of the problem is presenting inflated figures that give an exaggerated view of the gains being made. For instance, at the end of 2007, the government claimed there were 30,000 communal councils (grassroots bodies of popular power), but at the start of this year revised the figure to 18,000. Attempting to meet the arbitrary target of 50,000 councils in one year led to many problems as the process was rushed, rather than focusing on ensuring the councils were being formed correctly and at a pace appropriate to people's ability to ensure they function properly. Similar problems were associated with the PSUV — which signed up 5.7 million people last year, with more people listed as joining in some states than had voted for Chavez in the previous election. Official figures for ongoing participation in PSUV brigades were put at 1.5 million, which was clearly inflated and probably at least double the real figure. Chavez pointed to the "contradictions between the discourse of the leader and the reality of bad management or bad political practices …The revolution needs to strengthen the confidence of the people … We have to convince and demonstrate at the same time." Chavez insisted: "This year, which I want to declare the year of 'revolutionary impulsion', must be a year of solutions of the small problems, the concrete problems of the people." It is partially true, as Blankenburg argues, that one factor in the referendum defeat was a protest vote against the bad management by different tiers of government. Also there is no doubt a section of the Chavista camp and the state bureaucracy whose privileges have been threatened by the push for socialism, worked to sabotage the campaign. How else can you explain the fact that problems such as the food shortages were allowed to continue for several months without serious action by government or state institutions to tackle it? This suggests that rather than attempting a rapid deepening of the process while confidence of the people has been undermined on one hand and serious political weaknesses exist within the Chavista camp on the other, the correct course is to prioritise overcoming these twin problems in order to lay the ground work for the necessary significant advances. This appears to be the essence of the plans set out by Chavez for 2008. Strategic error The strategic error, Chavez said he took full responsibility for, was that "it was not the moment to launch this new attack … we needed to have consolidated, we needed to have launched, relaunched, government projects, sought more efficiency …" Chavez described the referendum defeat as like a boxer being dealt a blow but not knocked out. The boxer remains on his feet. The revolution did not advance but nor did it go backwards. Reaffirming "that the only and true road to the definitive liberation of our homeland is the path of socialism", Chavez said: "I call on everyone to make this a year of more advances." Chavez has set plans to bridge the gap that grew between him and the people, leading to the loss of nearly 3 million voters who backed him in the presidential elections, but abstained in the referendum. The aim is to find the ways to combine measures to solve the problems facing the mass of people with ways to raise the level of organisation and consciousness. Doing this will inevitably bring the process into conflict with capitalist interests, as it already has. However, it doesn't mean a forced march into a decisive battle without allowing for the necessary preparation of the working people. New cabinet Rather than giving free range to the "Chavista elite", Chavez sent a clear message in his recent cabinet reshuffle: ministers have to be effective. The clearest example of this is the new vice president, Ramon Carrizales, who is known for the fact that more houses were constructed last year with him as housing minister than in any previous year under the Chavez government. He is also known for having led the successful project to rebuild the vital bridge between Caracas and the international airport in record time while he was infrastructure minister. In a sign that the cabinet reshuffle doesn't represent a fundamental political shift, the former vice president, Jorge Rodriguez, who was seen as a radical has been freed up to focus full time on heading up the PSUV — the key political instrument to take the revolution forward. On the January 13 Alo Presidente a number of ministers came under fire for not moving fast enough on projects, sending a further signal to them and the people that the government is intent on making real changes. The call for seeking agreements with middle class opposition supporters and national capitalists is partly due to a common complaint among the poor that Chavez's rhetoric is often too confrontational and risks unnecessary conflict. The amnesty for some of those involved in the coup was in response to the campaign by the opposition around supposed "political prisoners"and does not include those involved in crimes against humanity or those who fled the country to escape responsibility — in other words the key coup leaders are excluded from the amnesty. In this way, Chavez has undercut the opposition campaign — leaving them defending those who cannot be defended. Popular power and political organisation In the same speech that Chavez mentioned an alliance with the national bourgeoisie he also called on people to read V. I. Lenin, emphasising that the central priority has to be deepening the social and political organisation of the people — principally through the communal councils and the PSUV. Declaring the promotion of communal power a central task, Chavez said:"The issue of the communal councils cannot limit itself to the transfer of resources … The most important thing is that you organise yourselves, become conscious of the social battle and go forward in consolidating the community …"" In order that December 2 never happens again", Chavez said at the opening speech for the PSUV founding congress on January 12, it is necessary to go on the offensive with the PSUV "as the spearhead and vanguard" of the revolution. "We have arrived here to make a real revolution or die trying." Venezuela: the street vs the elite by ALEX CALLINICOS From British Socialist Worker, 19 January 2008 “Fatherland, socialism, or death.” With these words, Hugo Chavez just over a year ago took the oath as president of Venezuela following a triumphant re-election campaign. By the logic of this oath, Chavez’s announcement last week that he was slowing the pace of his “Bolivarian revolution” is cause for alarm. “I’m forced to reduce the speed of march,” he said. This move follows the government’s defeat in the referendum of 2 December on its proposed new constitution. Chavez captured the imagination of all those around the world opposed to neoliberalism and imperialism with his defiance of George Bush’s administration and his championing of alternatives to capitalism. His call for “21st century socialism” seemed to mark the end of the period since the collapse of the Soviet Union when capitalism seemed to be the only game in town. But Chavez’s position has always been based on a contradiction. It was the poor of Caracas who saved him from overthrow at the hands of the right wing in April 2002. They surrounded the presidential palace and forced the plotters to release him. But Chavez remains the head of a bureaucratic state riddled with corruption and repression that presides over an economy in which capitalist social relations still predominate. So his policies pull in different directions. He has sought to sustain his popular base by using Venezuela’s swollen oil revenues to push through social reforms. Institutions such as the Bolivarian circles and the social missions were intended to bind together grassroots activists and mobilise them in support of presidential initiatives. But, faced with the hostility of Washington and the Venezuelan oligarchy, Chavez and his allies have also been tempted to concentrate on strengthening their control over the state apparatus. Thus the creation of a mass pro-government party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), was a top-down initiative intended to channel popular support. The proposed constitution contained worthwhile reforms, but also allowed Chavez to stand for re-election indefinitely. Corruption The referendum result wasn’t really a triumph for the right. The No vote was only 200,000 votes more than those received by their defeated candidate in the last presidential election. The real problem was that the Yes vote was three million lower than Chavez had won in those elections. Stephanie Blankenburg, an adviser to the Venezuelan government, writes in the New Statesman, “The result of 2 December was essentially a protest vote by the ‘Chavista street’ against the ‘Chavista elite’.” Discontent at food shortages, inflation, and corruption led a large section of Chavez’s base to stay away from the polls. His U-turn is intended to acknowledge this discontent. Chavez promised to address crime and food shortages. The trouble is that really dealing with these problems would involve, not slowing down the revolutionary process, but accelerating it – breaking the hold of private capital on the economy. Corruption can only be rooted out by dismantling the existing state apparatus and replacing it with institutions of popular power. But Chavez is moving in the opposite direction. He has amnestied the perpetrators of the 2002 coup and appointed as vice-president Ramon Carrizales, a military officer with links to big business. This is dangerously reminiscent of what happened under the left wing Popular Unity Coalition in Chile in 1972-3. As the right, backed by president Richard Nixon’s US administration, became more open in its attacks, workers reacted by building their own defence organisations, the cordones. But president Salvador Allende restrained these initiatives and sought to make a deal with the right. The resulting demobilisation gave the right the confidence to mount the military coup of 11 September 1973, in which Allende and thousands of other left wing militants perished. This point hasn’t been reached yet in Venezuela, but Chavez’s retreat marks the most dangerous moment yet for the revolutionary process.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Venezuela's communal councils in action

People's Power in Venezuela

"If we want to talk of socialism," says Argenis Loreto, "we must first resolve the people's most urgent needs: water in their homes, accessible health care, easy access to housing."

In the Venezuelan municipality of Libertador (state of Carabobo), of which Argenis is mayor, "we have 90% poverty. Ending that is our first task. I am convinced that the existing state cannot do this." It's essential that "the majority of the people become part of the decision-making process."

But when Argenis was elected in 2000, the second year of the Bolivarian government headed by president Hugo Chávez, he found that "the people did not possess the tools needed for their participation."

That insight led Chávez and the Bolivarian government to initiate the formation of neighborhood councils across the country -- councils that they view as the embryo of a new people's state.

Suzanne Weiss and I spent two days in Libertador, one of the first municipalities where such councils were formed, talking to Argenis and dozens of others. This report is based on what we saw; it also draws on Marta Harnecker's outstanding study of the Libertador experience.*

A Devastated Community

With 200,000 residents, Libertador sprawls across a mainly rural territory the size of Metro Toronto (20 km. x 30 km.). Most of its employed population works in nearby Valencia, the country's heartland of privately owned industry. Jouncing over its ruined roads in the back of a pickup, we saw a district that had been devastated not by natural catastrophe but by a social calamity -- decades of systematic neglect.

"Before we had many problems," recalls Félix Hernández, member of a community government. "The roads were super-awful. The electricity worked one or two days and then shut off. Health service was chaotic. Water service was complete chaos."

Appealing to city hall was a waste of time. "It was horrendous," says another council member, Virginia Diaz. "We'd go with petitions and explain. They'd visit and approve the project." But nothing would happen. "When we went back to the office, they'd never heard of us, didn't know anything. . . . As useful as tits on a bull."

The result was public apathy, says municipal social activist Fidel Hernández -- like Argenis, a published poet. "The people had let itself be convinced that it could not govern. There was a deliberate policy for this . . . that's why we had 1 1⁄2 million who were illiterate."

Tools for People's Power

Of peasant origins, Argenis Loreto finished only six years of schooling before starting his working life in factories, industrial management, farming, and again in factories. He joined a revolutionary group at age 17, took part in the Bolivarian movement's unsuccessful coup in 1992, and became mayor after two decades of underground activity.

Convinced that only the poor and disenfranchised could reconstruct his municipality -- and his nation -- he sought to bridge the gulf between them and the instruments of government. Argenis and his colleagues set out to do this by extending governmental structures to the community level and by delegating power to community governments. Such a shift was authorized by a decentralization clause (Article 184) in the Bolivarian constitution adopted in 1999.

Progress was slow at first. The right-wing coup and bosses' strike of 2002-2003 delayed restructuring. The Libertador plan ran into strong opposition from some Bolivarian national legislators, who accused Argenis of "creating illegal associations."

Finally, in 2006, the community structure was in place: 35 "social territories," which united residents who shared similar problems, a common project, and a sense of belonging to a common environment. They ranged in size from 1,000 to 15,000 residents. Each territory elected a government through assemblies of its residents, usually choosing between competing slates of candidates. All community government work is voluntary -- no salaries are paid -- but relevant expenses are reimbursed.

In one of the social territories, skeptical residents declined to name a council. In another, a center of Libertador's small middle class, the opposition slate was elected. "Many right-wing oppositionists join in community council activity," says Argenis. "They feel they cannot stand aside from the social programs and local projects that the councils carry out. . . . The opposition's role in local government has helped ease political tensions here."

The people's power structure has two tiers. Each social territory or commune includes smaller and more homogenous communities, each of which has its own communal council. The size of component communities is determined by social geography: urban councils typically unite 200-400 families; rural councils, 20-50 families. The smallest social territory by population (Mont Vernont) is composed of dispersed mountain hamlets: it therefore includes the largest number of communities. In Libertador, there are 204 such communal councils.

Participatory Budget

Each communal council and social territory holds assemblies to choose and prioritize its ten most needed projects for the coming year. The municipal planning council then evaluates the top three proposals from each territory -- more than three, if finances permit. A value of 1 to 9 is assigned to each of a number of criteria: number of residents, number who will benefit, cost, how long the request has been pending, the number of previous projects in this community, etc.

This ranking creates a proposed project list that is presented to an assembly in each territory, which can change its priorities and request reconsideration -- if for example a favored project turned out to be impossibly expensive.

Once the project list is decided, the required funds are allocated to the community bodies, which handle administration, buy materials, and engage workers or contractors, giving preference to cooperatives. Community networking and know-how helps keep costs down, and any savings stay in the community for other purposes. Argenis estimates that $1 million a year is saved simply by eliminating private profits.

"For example, a flood control project was approved with a budget of 184 million bolivars [about $90,000]," says Fidel Hernández. "But in fact the community councils did it for 47 million and had lots left over for fixing roads.

"In another case, the local council got a price of 80 million to bring electricity to a district. But in fact they managed to do three districts for that price.

"Last year the community councils spent 84% of the municipal budget [for projects]," Fidel notes.


Popular control has steered funding toward small, plain, and inexpensive projects densely spread through local neighborhoods. Urgent human needs have taken priority over infrastructure requirements like road upgrades.

Argenis highlights the 74 primary-care health centers built by neighborhood councils, which at first sometimes even manufactured the bricks. "We had only nine centers before," he says. In addition, Libertador boasts four Integral Diagnostic Centers -- small hospitals -- "the pride of our community," according to Felix Hernández. Another community government member, Aixa Silvera, calls the Cuban doctors working in these centers "the most spectacular thing we have in the communities.

Indeed, Libertador led the way in Venezuela by arranging for Cuban doctors to work in the communities, before this became a national program.

Argenis says that community governments are building 48 primary schools this year -- mostly one-room structures serving a neighborhood. There are also now three university campuses in Libertador -- part of a national program to "municipalize higher education."

"As for sports, there are now only two or three communities that do not have a minimal installation" which means a playing field.

The citizens of Libertador are also trying to establish cultural centers in each social territory, usually an "open-air amphitheatre." Eight cultural centers are now under construction. In some cases, resident assemblies gave building a cultural centre priority over fixing the road or installing street lighting. "You can't have a revolution without beauty," Fidel Hernández says.

The obvious progress is confirmed by two surveys that were taken at the beginning of the community government program and again in May 2007. The first survey showed that the most urgently felt needs were for health care and educational facilities. In the second, no one cited health care as a concern, and almost no one mentioned education. Moreover, "we now have hardly any kids on the streets," says Argenis, "and the problem of homelessness is almost solved."

The Housing Bottleneck

According to official estimates, Venezuela has a shortage of 2.7 million homes, while another 1.3 million dwellings are inadequate home-made shacks. In 2006, 200,000 homes were built -- a positive achievement, but far less than what is needed.

Argenis believes that community councils, who feel this urgent need acutely, are best suited to build houses. Sometimes they "build 10, 12, even 15 houses with the money provided for seven," he says.

"But we desperately need raw materials. Our economy was destroyed, and now we don't have the capacity to make the cement blocks, the paint, the ceramic toilets. We're working with Iran, China, and Brazil to meet these needs."

And Venezuela is building six factories to produce plastic building materials -- "we have oil, after all," says Argenis. This project, called Petrocasa, will supply materials for 15,000 new houses a year. One of these factories, is close by, in the state of Carabobo.

National Expansion

In 2006 Hugo Chávez endorsed the establishment of communal councils as a priority across Venezuela. In January 2007, he declared them institutions of "people's power," an embryo of a new people's state. An enabling law was passed in April, and there are now more than 10,000 councils across the country.

While vindicating the innovative program in Libertador, this expansion also caused the municipality many headaches. The national government intended the councils to be free of the deadening hand of the traditional state bureaucracy. Among other things, word went out that mayors should not get involved with these people's organizations. This directive might be appropriate in the nearby industrial city of Valencia, ruled by the opposition, but in Libertador it was totally at odds with reality.

Unfortunately, the Carabobo state government, led by critics of Argenis's initiatives, seized on this opening to create problems for Libertador's government. Utilizing its own statewide network of paid social activists, it promoted the notion that communal councils don't need to work with Libertador's larger social territories or with the city government.

"That caused a terrible process of fragmentation and division between the two levels of popular power," says Argenis.

Much effort has gone into knitting the two levels of people's government back together, Argenis says. "When they work together they're unbeatable."

People's power was an element of the constitution reform narrowly defeated in the December 2, 2007, referendum. The communal councils are still authorized under Article 184 of the constitution and the April 2006 legislation, and there is no legal barrier to expanding the structures beyond this framework. However, the referendum setback may encourage the councils' critics.

Bureaucratic Obstruction

The community government bodies in Libertador aren't perfect. Among the occasional abuses noted by Argenis:

  • Only one community is represented in a social territory council.
  • One slate takes all the leadership positions.
  • Elected officers take decisions on their own without convening the residents' assembly.
  • The assembly functions poorly because of lack of interest.

These can be viewed as growing pains. As community government officer Omaira Carvallo comments, "When people see what is accomplished, it will break through their apathy."

More troubling is the conduct of other branches of government, such as the problems with Carabobo State. Among the many stories of this sort that Argenis tells, the pig manure episode is enough to illustrate what people's power is up against.

The city government makes special efforts to help Libertador's many farmers, a number of whom raise pigs. Some time ago the Ministry of the Environment banned hog-raising in the municipality because of concerns for water quality, but did not enforce the regulation. Libertador tried to help farmers solve the water problem on their own, by providing septic tanks for environmentally safe treatment of pig manure. The manure's polluting gas discharge was captured and burned for cooking. "This is a miracle," says Argenis. "It cuts out the smell and uses the gas!"

But the ministry intervened and nixed the project, which they said broke their rule against raising pigs. The bureaucratic method could not be better demonstrated: only the formal regulation counted; the real-life problem of manure pollution was of no interest.

What explanations do the ministry provide? "None whatsoever," says Argenis. "Just as we always say: this bureaucracy is eating us alive. . . . We can't change things with this type of state."

Even among inherited municipal officials, "the apathy is barbaric. We have to establish a new conception of a staffer," Argenis says. "I'd like to dissolve the municipal administration . . . and create a confederation of community governments."


At first glance, Venezuela's people's power can seem to be just a formal structure -- municipal government on a street level. This is misleading. The councils have appeared and made gains only as part of an immense popular movement on a national level: the Bolivarian revolution.

This revolution was born in the mass mobilizations against the U.S.-backed oligarchy's attempts to overthrow the country's elected government -- by a military coup in 2002, by an economic shutdown in 2003, and by an anti-Chavez referendum in 2004. All were defeated by the initiatives of masses of working people.

In Libertador, Argenis recalls, the embryonic community governments acted as defense committees, struggling to ensure that food, cooking gas, and gasoline reached the people. "That was just so wonderful," he says. "Quickly we had a network of more than 200 Bolivarian shops," distributing necessities and helping defend the revolution. Such national struggles were the true birth of people's power.

Venezuela's success at forging constructive ties with other non-imperialist states has also played a role, not just through Cuba's contribution to health services, but above all in building alliances to help fend off, for now, a U.S.-led assault.

The sometimes destructive role of national and state authorities is also a reminder that the power of working people will not flourish at the street level unless it is consolidated nationally.

Yet the community councils in Libertador call to us, Sí se puede! -- Yes we can do it! Enlisting the majority, the working people, in government is indeed possible. Venezuela's people's power -- while still embryonic -- is a living, viable reality.

PSUV congress opens

Chavez Inaugurates Founding Congress of New Socialist Party of Venezuela

Coordinators of the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Francisco Batista/RNV)
Caracas, January 14, 2008 ( - Over one year after he first proposed the formation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez opened the founding congress of the new party on Saturday with a four hour long speech in the San Carlos de Caracas prison-where he himself spent two years imprisoned after leading a military rebellion in 1992-now converted into a historical museum. Referring to the recent defeat of his proposed constitutional reform proposal, Chavez argued that it was necessary to go on the offensive with the "United Socialist Party of Venezuela as the spearhead and vanguard" of the revolution, "In order that December 2nd never happens again." "Enough with betraying the people. We have arrived here to make a real revolution or die trying," he said, while summarizing how previous governments had betrayed their promises time and again. Speaking to the 1,676 delegates and invited guests from more than 20 countries, Chavez stressed that the formation of the PSUV was necessary to push forward the Bolivarian process. A revolution "cannot depend on one person or an elite, rather it must be based in the people," he said. In order to guarantee the continuation of the revolution, the PSUV had to become a party that would subvert the historic capitalist model of the bourgeois state, Chavez said. It is also necessary for the PSUV to carry out a struggle to avoid the rise of a "new Bolivarian oligarchy," of a new bourgeoisie, he warned, because these groups could easily convert themselves into traitors and counterrevolutionaries. It is therefore important to combat any infiltration by the bourgeoisie in the PSUV, he added. Chavez also argued that the PSUV needs to link up with the trade unions and social movements and that the social movements needed to transform themselves into a political force capable of driving forward the revolution. Referring to Mission Ribas, which has organized some 500,000 previously excluded Venezuelans into secondary education, Chavez stated, "This is a social movement which at the same time should form itself as a political force, as should the unions and other organizations". This transformational political force, said Chavez, requires a united and coherent leadership in order to propel the movement towards its goal, whilst tackling the issues of lack of cohesion and internal disorder between the pro-Bolivarian revolution parties that threatened the continuity of the revolution. Chavez reiterated his recent call for the formation of a Patriotic Alliance of all forces that support the Bolivarian revolution and withdrew his public criticism of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and Homeland for All (PPT) for not dissolving to join the PSUV. "Many of their leaders were tortured here in this prison" under previous governments of the Fourth Republic Chavez commented. Understanding the real history of the country and the rise of revolutionary processes was important argued Chavez, recalling that 2008 marked 100 years of US domination over Venezuela, when US intervention resulted in the overthrow of then president Cipriano Castro and ended the Liberal Restoration Revolution he had led. As part of learning about history, revolutionary processes, and the training of cadres, he announced that a printing press for the PSUV would be shortly inaugurated to publish books and ideological texts. The PSUV will be "a school to transform and create the new historic bloc and construct socialism in all its ambits." To fund this, an account would be set up for PSUV militants to deposit money Chavez said. The promoter commission of the PSUV, which has been converted into a technical commission of support, in order to organize and facilitate the founding congress, also distributed two documents, one of 24 pages and the other of around 40 pages, which outlined draft proposals for the program, principles, statutes, and structure of the party. Some of the draft proposals include; the election every two years of a National Committee of 281 members and the formation of a Committee of Disciplinary Ethics, composed of 7 members, who would be elected by the National Committee. Over a six week period in April to May 2007, a massive 5.7 million Venezuelans registered to become members of the new party. This was followed by a process of convoking grass roots assemblies or "socialist battalions" to discuss issues such as the political program and statutes of the PSUV as well as general education on socialism and Chavez's project of constitutional reform. On September 29 a total of 14,368 spokespeople from each socialist battalion were elected, with spokespeople from every 7-10 battalions forming a socialist circumscription, which in turn each elected one delegate to the founding congress. The congress is scheduled to last for two months to allow time for delegates to report back to the socialist circumscriptions and socialist battalions. The PSUV will then elect candidates for the upcoming elections for mayors and governors in October.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

"How to do the revolution better": a critique of the British SWP on Venezuela

(We reprint the article below by Phil Cournoyer as a very interesting contribution to the ongoing debate about the way forward for the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, and how revolutionaries should behave towards broad radical parties and movements. Socialist Worker - New Zealand feels that this article hits the nail on the head by tying the two themes together, though we do not necessarily endorse all its statements and political formulations.)
Posing straw questions usually leads nowhere
The article { Lessons from Venezuela's referendum } appearing in the current edition of International Socialism Issue: 117 is not signed and hence appears to have the status of an editorial from the leadership of the British Socialist Workers Party, the axial hub of the International Socialists current.
I read it hoping to learn something about Venezuela that is not common knowledge among activists in the international solidarity movement with the Bolivarian revolution and the anti-imperialist alliance whose flagships are ALBA and PetroCaribe.
Unfortunately, that did not happen.
On other questions, such as the imperialist offensive against the Muslim world, I have found the publication to be very acute and in some ways an indispensable source of analysis on the Eastern Mediterranean and Iraq-Iran-Palestine struggle. Likewise, it is difficult to appreciate and understand the evolution and current stage of the international antiwar movement without following the information and analysis provided by the SWP UK.
When it comes to Latin America, it seems that the comrades need to send a delegation to a few of the countries they write about and do some on the ground interviews with key activists.
The editorial article makes some good overall points; a similar description of some physical process or phenomenon would have to be described as very course-grained. That’s how satellite shots taken from very distant orbits appear on a cloudless day – vital detail is lost in the coarse-graining involved, but it could be captured from a lower altitude. The level of fine or course graining needed, of course, depends on the purpose of the exercise. The authors of the SW editorial have no influence in Venezuela or for that matter in most of Latin America, but they do influence significance forces in the British left. The article is written for them for reasons I will suggest below.
What strikes me most is its wooden tone and spirit. It does not appear to be written by someone with a passionate identification with Venezuela in its showdown with the empire and its allies and agents within the Venezuelan political and economic system.
We are led through a series of admonishments about how to do the revolution better, and then into author’s main concern, it seems – to convince readers that the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is an obstacle to the advance of the mass movement in Venezuela. The author affirms that
“The [referendum] defeat was the outcome of relying on a top down approach which introduced some reforms but left intact the capitalist economy and the main parts of the machinery of the state. More defeats will follow unless the movement from below develops structures of its own capable of acting independently of the presidential palace.
“We have insisted before [ see ] that the PSUV is not such a structure. Established by presidential edict from the top down, it includes, alongside hundreds of thousands of dedicated activists, a good number of corrupt bureaucrats, refugees from the pre-Chavista parties who still exist at every level of the state apparatus, people who dream of an authoritarian Cuban model, and even some capitalists who profit from their Chavista connections. If it failed to motivate nearly a fifth of its members to vote in the referendum, it is certainly not a tool for carrying through a real revolution or even combating counter-revolution…”
“At best,” we are told, the PSUV “can provide a debating forum out of which can emerge a real revolutionary current—and then only if the leadership allows freer debate than hitherto.”
This editorial is clearly not aimed at the broad solidarity movement. Many solidarity activists have travelled to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and many more follow the events there closely via many good websites. Most such activists would easily see through the shallow line being set forth. It seems, rather, to be written as part of an effort to shore up support for, or indifference to, a sectarian and ultra left line on Venezuela being promoted by the central leadership of the British SWP. The general British political culture of insularism and indifference to Latin American affairs that affects broad sectors of the British left, with some commendable exceptions, is a likely source of the erroneous approach taken by the author or authors. Dismissal of the leadership of the Cuban revolution is another source because that is a symptom of an essentially Eurocentric judgmental stance of analyzing struggles from a distance of oceans and continents, and delivery tactical advice carrying with it a high risk of error or irrelevance. That attitude is reinforced and sustained, IMHO, by the jaded atmosphere of the British and Scottish campus where many of the Marxist academics responsible for growing “analyses” spend their lives.
Hence, the editorial article offers another serving of yesterday’s supper – the false counterpoising of “leading from above” against “leading from below.” This error is old hat for the Marxist movement, a position that Lenin, among others politicized against.
Saddled with that hat, we are walked through an argument that not only writes off the mass party of the revolution, the PSUV, but also the Venezuelan army.
"One of the most dangerous myths surrounding Venezuela is the one spread in books and articles by Marta Harnecker, Diane Raby and others that its military officers are different to those elsewhere in Latin America. It is even claimed that it was the army, not the mass movement, that saved Chavez in 2002. That myth received a serious blow weeks before the referendum when the officer who had been portrayed by official Chavismo as the “hero” of 2002 , Raúl Baduel, turned against Chavez only weeks after resigning as minister of defence. There will be many others still on active service who share the upper middle class’s hatred of Chavez. No doubt the Venezuelan rich and their allies in the CIA will seize any opportunity to begin organising them."
This single paragraph is replete with errors, both through false insinuation about the views of Marta Harnecker and Diane Raby about the character of the Venezuelan army high command, and through dismissal of well known historical and current facts.
The fact is that the April 2002 coup provoked a split in the army officer corp. Neither Harnecker nor Raby argue that the army alone, and not the mass movement, saved Chávez. Clearly the key was the mass uprising, but without the split that occurred in the army that movement could and likely would have been drowned in blood, and the authors of the massacre applauded as heroes by Washington, as was Pinochet in his time. Hence, the coup was defeated by a combined effort of mass mobilization and action of Bolivarian leaders in the army. That history evidenced the positive achievement of years of clandestine political work in the armed forces by Hugo Chávez and his movement. Further evidence of that is the fact that Baduel’s appeal to the army to oust Chávez during the last stages of the referendum debate went unheeded.
The Venezuelan military high command is not monolithic. But it is not the same kettle of fish as the army in Brazil or Colombia – to mention only two neighboring countries. The Colombian army is steeled in a permanent war against the revolutionary left, the campesinos, and the urban labor movement. It is organically tied, at the level of the officer corps, with the drug lords and trafficking.
Can we attribute to the Venezuelan army even a drop of that reactionary mix? It seems that some do in Britain.
Harnecker and Raby, were they at all interested in replying to the International Socialism article, would have a field day replete with a picnic. They would be in their full right to turn the question back. Do the editors of International Socialism (UK) say that the two country’s armies are but peas in a pod, serving the same bourgeois interests, but of different nationality? Do the editors of the London publication really believe that it was only the mass movement, and not also a decisive component of the army high command, that saved Chávez?
Someone with an intimate knowledge of how Chávez’s life was saved and how he regained the Presidency – Fidel Castro – has written conclusively on this issue; and he comes down on the side of Harnecker and Raby, and many others on that issue. Castro’s testimony is especially relevant because he and other leaders of the Cuban Communist Party played an important role in enabling the forces opposed to the coup to communicate with one another, and to recognize a favorable relationship of forces for them in their resolve to smash the coup.
The editorial’s argument hinges on posing of straw questions and argument from abstractions; and it falsely counterpoises rigid either-or propositions such as the pitting a from below strategy against an only from above strategy – allegedly held and pursued by Hugo Chávez and his closest allies in the leadership. This formalism blinds the editorialist from seeing the complex reality of the PSUV. Hugo Chávez launched this party to mobilize the ranks against the state bureaucracy and the careerists who have surrounded him from the beginning of the Bolivarian government in 1998. This he states openly in a myriad of ways. Broad layers of the grassroots of the party also see that as one of its principal goals – to isolate the parasitic elements and melt them down under the heat of a mass movement. But Chávez and thousands of the best Bolivarian militants in the PSUV see the party also as a crucible for forging revolutionary unity, for drawing together the best of the broad vanguard in the country around a clear, anti-imperialist and anti-imperialist program.
It is true that much remains to be done to achieve that goal, but abandoning the PSUV to draw together the many, many activists who are beginning to see that the reformist road of socialism from above is not a viable option” is a recipe for ultra left abstention from the real arena of struggle, and pure unadulterated Viagra for hand-on political self-gratification.
This editorial may convince the already convinced in the SWP ranks to maintain their distance from the Bolivarian revolution, and to stand aside from efforts in Britain to build ongoing solidarity with Venezuela, with the ALBA, and with revolutionary Cuba. However, it is unlikely to convince anyone else.
From the point of view of the British ultra left alphabet soup, the editorial adds to their arsenal of arguments for maintaining hostility to Bolivarianism and to the Cuban communist leadership. Although they despise the UK SWP for all the wrong reasons – because it does not advance ultra left policies for British politics, for building the antiwar movement, or for defending immigrants of Islamic faith from ruling class campaigns to stir up Islamophobic campaigns. But the SW editorial on the Venezuelan Referendum is or to their mill because its approach and methodology, if applied to struggle elsewhere in the world, including Britain, would tilt the organization radically and set in down an ultra left, sectarian path not much different from the course of anti-Chavistas in the Venezuelan far left who are implementing it. And the editorial will be a boost to the sectarian left, helping them to make sure none of their folks are taken in by “people who dream of an authoritarian Cuban model” for Venezuela.
Despite many differences on the fine points, they march to a common drummer who keeps them in step in pursuit of the fetish of the WORD – sure in the conviction that without THE WORD (theirs, of course) nothing can be achieved down there on the southern shores of the Pirate’s Sea.
I don’t think the British SWP leadership really want to go down that road, but there’s time and room enough to pull back and about face, and throw its energies into the Bolivarian process in Indo-Afro-Latin America and the Caribbean.
Phil Stuart Cournoyer
Venezuela's referendum
Lessons from Venezuela's referendum
International Socialism
Posted: 18 December 07