According to official figures, over 1 million aspiring members of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) participated in the election of spokespeople, as part of the latest phase in its construction, which will culminate with a founding congress scheduled to begin on October 27. Congress delegates will be elected from the spokespeople.
This has followed the massive outpouring of support for what Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has called "a political instrument that puts itself at the service of the people … at the service of socialism". More than 5.7 million people registered their intention to be part of this new party. Articles in Green Left Weekly #722 and #723 carried some of the background to the call for a new party and what it means for the Venezuelan revolution. In this article, Kiraz Janicke, from GLW's Caracas bureau, outlines some of the challenges the project faces.
Each Saturday, for the last two months, aspiring members of the PSUV have been meeting across Venezuela in their local schools. Vice-president and coordinator of the PSUV's technical commission Jorge Rodriguez estimated that some 89,000 meetings have taken place. However, despite the massive numbers that registered to join the new party it appears that the level of active participation is 10-15%. As Chavez has explained, "We were sure that when we commenced the second stage of the process all these people that registered were not going to participate, for logical reasons — there are people that work on Saturdays, others that have family commitments and others that don't have the sufficient level of commitment to be a militant".
As is to be expected, the level of political consciousness is extremely uneven and heterogeneous. For many it is their first experience of political militancy; many have simply joined because "it is Chavez's party". The challenge is to take into account all the different political levels and create an inclusive pedagogy to collectively raise the level of political understanding.
In this sense Chavez has argued that current campaign for constitutional reform should provide "the fuel for the political and ideological debate in the [PSUV's] battalions".
Gonzalo Gomez, the promoter a socialist battalion in Catia agrees: "The discussion of the constitutional reform in the PSUV battalions is the perfect way to talk about socialism concretely, because it deals with all the issues". However, he added the reforms in and of themselves won't mean that socialism has arrived, but rather they are transitional measures that the people wage a struggle to implement, and putting them into practice will deepen the struggle for socialism.
Another thing that PSUV activists have discovered is that a mass revolutionary party cannot be built simply through debate alone — it has to be tied to a revolutionary praxis. That is, putting their ideas into action — PSUV battalions need to engage in the political activity in their local communities as well as the broader political struggles.
A key challenge the new party faces is how to deal with the spill over of factional issues from Chavez's old party the Movement for a Fifth Republic (MVR) and attempts to control the party from the top down. After the September 29 elections of spokespeople for the socialist battalions, reports surfaced that certain governorships in Miranda, Anzoategui and Falcon sent people along to stack meetings and influence the vote. However, they were largely rejected by the grassroots. In some cases these bureaucrats were physically kicked out of meetings, as people refused to have things imposed on them.
Unlike the MVR, which was controlled by factional power blocs, Chavez has argued for the party's grassroots to democratically elect all representatives, spokespeople, candidates and so on from the base. Chavez has also emphasised that the new party should not be an electoral vehicle, but rather prioritise organising the grassroots in the struggle for socialism.
So when former MVR party boss Francisco Ameliach, considered to be on the right of the Chavistas, argued on August 24 that the MVR should be revived because "the PSUV is going very slowly, we have many elections in the coming year", Chavez responded that Ameliach's conduct was detrimental to the formation of the PSUV and called him to a meeting of a newly established provisional discipline committee headed by Miranda Governor Disodado Cabello (another former MVR boss). Ameliach subsequently apologised for his "political error" and resigned from his position as the head of the pro-Chavez "socialist bloc" in parliament and the National Assembly Commission for Defence.
However, the way the incident was dealt with generated a lot of criticism — particularly the formation of the provisional discipline committee in a party yet to determine its political program, structure and statutes. Former military advisor to Chavez and retired General Alberto Muller Rojas argued that the incident should have been dealt with politically rather than organisationally, "as this can only lead to alienation".
The issue had the potential to degenerate totally, as various parliamentarians started to call for other people such as Lina Ron, a member of the PSUV's national promoters' committee who has said the parliament is "full of traitors", to be sent to the disciplinary committee for "violating revolutionary unity".
Despite the repeated claims by Rodriguez that there are "no currents and factions" in the PSUV, it is clear that certain political alignments have emerged. Some have been carried over from the MVR, such as a more right-wing section aligned with Cabello and a left tendency called the Alternative Current, headed by parliamentary deputies Luis Tascon and Iris Valera.
However, more radical left currents are also organising in the PSUV, including grassroots activists and the majority of members of C-CURA (Unitary Revolutionary Autonomous Class Current), one of the largest currents in the National Union of Workers (UNT), as well as other union currents, intellectuals, students, community activists from the barrios and members of numerous social organisations.
The evolving provisional structure of the PSUV includes the technical commission (also called the national promoters' commission), the provisional discipline committee and approximately 14,500 "socialist battalions". Within each socialist battalion, there are five elected committees: a political and ideological commission, communications and media, logistics and organisation, social work and a commission for national territorial defence. All of these structures, along with the political program and statutes of the new party will be decided at the founding congress.