Venezuela: Chavez pushes forward with united party

On his Alo Presidente radio program on March 5, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez reiterated his call for the creation of a united party of all those who support the Bolivarian revolution that his government is leading — a process that is struggling to transform Venezuela to overcome underdevelopment and poverty.

A March 7 Venezuelanalysis.com article reported that Chavez presented a plan for the formation of the new party, provisionally titled the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), in the next nine months. A large number of different organisations support the revolutionary process, and many supporters are not involved in any party. "What I want is true unity, organic unity. I say before the country that the revolution needs a revolutionary party, it needs unity", Chavez explained.

One of the most significant announcements after Chavez's massive December 3 victory in the presidential elections — scoring 63% of the vote with the largest number of votes cast for any presidential candidate in Venezuelan history — came on December 15 at the president's speech to the Units of Electoral Battle (UBEs — grassroots bodies that campaigned for his re-election) when he called for the formation of the PSUV.

Chavez insisted that the election was a mandate for the construction of socialism, and urged the creation of a new party, to be built democratically from the ground up and based on the most militant and politically conscious elements in working-class neighbourhoods throughout the country, in order to lead the new phase of the revolution. He argued the new party would "be the most democratic party in Venezuelan history".

The president insisted that the PSUV would not have a narrow focus on elections, but would be based on "socialist battalions" that would be capable of leading the "battle of ideas over the socialist project". Party militants should lead discussions across the country over the revolutionary project, which Chavez explained involves "Transforming the economic model … we have to socialise the economy, the system of production, create a genuinely new system". Chavez urged the UBEs not to disband, arguing they should form the basic structure of the new party.

Although the US-backed right-wing opposition, and commentators in the corporate media, immediately attempted to claim this signified a move in the direction of a "one-party state", the plan for a united party of supporters of the revolution does not involve any moves to ban opposition parties, and Chavez has emphasised that the decision for any organisation to join the PSUV is entirely voluntary.

Chavez said the rank and file should be able to democratically control the new party, including the selection of candidates for elections, arguing, "The grass roots will elect genuine leaders". A lot of the forces that dominate the main pro-Chavez parties are seen by the grassroots as undemocratic cliques, functioning in a bureaucratic and sometimes corrupt fashion. A particular source of frustration has been the behind-closed-doors selection of electoral candidates, meaning many pro-Chavez candidates are unknown or distrusted by the ranks.

Almost immediately after Chavez's speech, the president's own party, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), announced it was willing dissolve into the new party and place its assets at the PSUV's disposal. The MVR is easily the largest pro-Chavez group, holding over two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. A number of smaller parties have since announced their willingness to dissolve into the new formation.

On Alo Presidente, Chavez announced the formation of a special committee of political leaders, including Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez, to oversee the process leading to the formation of the PSUV. The process involves organising revolutionary militants into "socialist battalions" to act as "promoters" of the party. These battalions will be tasked with motivating popular participation in the PSUV, and carrying out a census and registration of those who wish to join.

Following this process, elections for delegates to the founding congress, scheduled to begin on August 15, will be held. The congress will hold discussions on a political program for the party until November when a final program will be adopted. This program will be put to a party-wide referendum.

Emphasising the importance of the process of forming the new party, Chavez said: "This government is committed to the workers, but even more to the country, to the revolution, to the unity of the working class. So we must go into the factories, the shops. The promoters and the battalions — into the countryside."

Since Chavez's initial call, three of the larger pro-Chavez parties have expressed reticence about dissolving into the new formation, at least until the process of discussion about the new program and structures has been completed. The three groups are Podemos, the Homeland for All Party (PPT) and the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV). Podemos, a self-described social-democratic party, has 19 seats in the National Assembly, the second-largest number after the MVR. The PPT has the third-highest number of seats at nine; the PCV has six seats.

On March 4 Associated Press reported on the PCV party congress that discussed the question, noting that the PCV's "popularity has surged" in recent times. One of the original parties to back Chavez, the PCV has played an important role in pushing for popular power. This was recognised in the post-election cabinet reshuffle that led to 28-year-old PCV militant David Velasquez becoming minister for popular participation, the first time in Venezuela's history the PCV has been part of a government.

Velasquez was responsible for drawing up the legislation on the Communal Councils in April last year. The grassroots councils have since become the most important expression of direct democracy and Chavez has called for an expansion of the councils in order to create a new, revolutionary state.

The PCV has also introduced legislation into the National Assembly that would allow workers' councils to be formed in both private and state-owned companies, opening the way for workers' control over production, according to a February 1 report in the US People's Weekly World newspaper.

At its congress, the PCV resolved not to dissolve into the new formation. According to Associated Press, PCV president Jeronimo Carrera stated: "We have decided to wait a bit for now before deciding definitively and categorically on our inclusion or not."

There are clearly different opinions on how to relate to Chavez's call for a new party, with some PCV members publicly disagreeing, resulting in the congress allowing individual members to decide to join the new party if they want to.

A document adopted by the congress argued that the PCV supported a broad front rather than a new party at this stage on the grounds that the revolution remained in the phase of "national liberation" rather than socialism, and therefore required a front of all social classes willing to support the revolution. This argument runs counter to Chavez's repeated insistence that Venezuela needs to begin constructing "socialism for the 21st century" immediately.

It also appears to be contradicted by other sections of the document, which call for moves to "destroy the capitalist state" and for the "transfer of power to the people". The document not only expresses support for the nationalisations carried out by the Chavez government since the president's re-election, it calls for such moves to be extended to other sectors of the economy, including banking and agriculture.

In response to strong criticism from Chavez of groups, including the PCV, that have expressed reluctance to join the PSUV, Venezuelanalysis.com reported on March 19 that PCV general secretary Oscar Figuera clarified that the Communist Party might support the new party by participating in discussions leading to its formation without dissolving the PCV, in order to be able to contribute constructively. However, the PCV would wait for the outcome of the process before making a final decision.

Venezuelanalysis.com reported that on the March 18 edition of Alo Presidente, Chavez "vented his frustration" with the parties withholding support for the PSUV, arguing: "If they want to leave, they may do so. They are not indispensable."

Chavez directed his strongest fire at Podemos, often regarded as the clearest expression of the right-wing of the pro-Chavez forces. Podemos has taken the hardest line against the new party, with its general secretary Ismael Garcia justifying Podemos's wait-and-see approach by saying his party opposed the imposition of "a single line of thinking".

Chavez slammed Garcia's speech, saying: "I have concluded that at least their spokespeople do not want to incorporate themselves in the effort to construct the PSUV. Fine! That is their right! But leave us in peace to construct our great party and they continue on their path. Do not start throwing stones our way." A March 18 article on Aporrea.org reported that Chavez accused Podemos of not supporting the socialist direction of the revolution: "they say they do not like the slogan 'homeland, socialism or death' ... They say they don't like the new economic system."

Venezuelanalysis.com reported on March 7 that Chavez responded to the accusations about attempting to enforce a "single line of thinking" by declaring, "Who said here there was a single line of thinking? Where? When? Imperialism is the one that has a single line of thinking … Now, those who don't like [the proposal] don't have to like it. Now we will hit the streets to ask the people what they think."

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