Recalling the words of Les MiserablesVictor Hugo, United Socialist Party of Venezuela Youth (JPSUV) leader Heryck Rangel said "nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and today in Venezuela, the time of socialism has arrived".
Rangel, who is now heading up the Youth Institute of Greater Caracas, a de facto youth ministry for Venezuela's capital, spoke to Green Left Weekly shortly before leaving for his tour of universities in Australia to speak about the powerful example of hope that Venezuela's socialist revolution, led by President Hugo Chavez, represents for the world.
Explaining the important role youth are playing in the revolution, Rangel said youth are fundamental to ensuring that the PSUV "is constantly mobilising the people, driving forward the process and acting as a watchdog over the government".
"Venezuela is a country of young people and the revolution is profoundly young and full of hope. Statistics show that the Venezuelan population is predominately made up of people under the age of 40."
More than 60% of Venezuela's population is under the age of 29
He told GLW that, during the recent campaign to sign up new PSUV members, close to 1.2 million young people joined up for the first time. This demonstrated "that the support base for Chavez has been growing over the last few years, and that the revolution that Chavez leads is profoundly young".
Rangel said: "We are going to construct a society of equals, the different society that we need, so that Venezuelans can live in better conditions than those which they previously lived in.
"Unfortunately, capitalism condemned us to be a rentist country". Although rich in natural resources such as oil, it was a country where wealth redistribution was weighted toward the wealthy elite.
The result was a country "full of poverty, misery and exclusion".
"We have to remember that everything was privatised here and that the country was dismembered."
But since Chavez was first elected in 1998, when most of the population lived in poverty, the government has been "able to weave a new social fabric in order to build that new economic structure that can liberate and take us towards that new society — socialism".
"That is why we are committed to building socialism. We have to construct an inclusive society, with a new productive model, where every man and woman can live with dignity — which the revolution has again returned to the people."
Crucial to this has been the creation of "social missions", which ensure people have access to free education from primary school to university, free health care and housing, as well as promoting environmental programs, among many other things. There are now more than 30 different social missions.
Changing the logic of education
Rangel said one of the biggest issues for the revolution was that "we have still not touched the superstructure in respect to Venezuela's public universities".
However, on August 13, a new education law was passed. It ends state funding for private schools, involves the grassroots communal councils in running public schools, ensure spending accountability in public universities, and allow students and staff to elect university authorities.
Opposition-aligned students have protested violently against the law.
Rangel said this response is because he public university system remains a bastion of the old elite. Rangel said it had taken "refuge under the guise of defending university 'autonomy', using it as a mechanism to avoid having to accommodate themselves to the changes taking place".
"These universities have turned their backs on the people. The country continues to advance, to grow and construct [a new society], while the universities remains closed off in their own shells."
But Rangel said the government is moving towards creating a revolutionary education system that "guarantees free education for all ... and the transformation of the education model. The education system we have today reproduces and justifies the [capitalist] system.
"What we need is a system based on education for liberation."
Ten years ago, there existed "only five public autonomous universities, a small group of experimental universities and the rest were private universities".
Since that time, the Chavez government has created the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV), which provides free university education to more than 260,000 students across the country, focusing on students from the poor previously excluded from higher education.
It has also expanded student numbers for the experimental universities, such as the Polytechnical Experimental National University of the Armed Forces.
A larger number of students are also studying as part of Mission Sucre, which was set up with the aim of taking the university education directly to the communities. More than 5000 spaces have been set up nationally where people of all ages can access higher education.
Rangel also said that through Mission Alma Mater, technical colleges and schools have been upgraded and transformed into polytechnic universities.
"The majority of the student population today study in the UBV, in UNEFA and the polytechnic and experimental universities."
Paraphrasing the former left-wing Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in a US-backed coup that established the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Rangel said, "the universities have to mould themselves to society, where those that go to university don't go just to enrich themselves but to serve society".
He pointed to the example of the recent graduation of 800 medicine students from the Romulo Gallegos University. They would have previously gone into the privatised health sector, but are instead working in the social missions dedicated to health and the public hospitals.
Similarly with the university professors who have graduated from the UBV in new degrees such as social and environmental management, "issues that for capitalism do not exist because they do not generate profit but instead help society".
"I think that the generation of this consciousness is the priority, and this is what we are doing with the UBV, and the education missions. We are changing the logic of education."
[For information on Rangel's Australian tour, visit www.venezuelasolidarity.org.]
A slide show of young Venezuelan revolutionaries, including Heryck Rangel. Photos by Peter Boyle.