Venezuela: Socialist party congress ends

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) concluded its five-month extraordinary congress on April 25 with the approval of highly anticipated party principles and statutes. This was just in time for primaries on May 2, in which millions of PSUV members will choose parliamentary candidates to run against a newly united opposition platform called the “Democratic Alternative” in September.

The PSUV is the only party to hold nationally monitored primary elections by its membership to choose its candidates for local, regional, and national public office — an indication of the party’s effort to set itself apart from the older opposition parties that still adhere to the country’s traditional, top-down political culture.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is also PSUV president, said the newly approved party documents were produced through a nation-wide process of deliberation and reflect the ideals of 21st century socialism.

“These principles were made neither by intellectuals nor by an elite, but by the people themselves and the party base”, Chavez said in his closing speech. “We are activating a distinct way of doing politics.”

The principles include solidarity, inclusiveness, respect for others’ opinions, protection of the environment, national identity, a commitment to building a new socialist system, and the elimination of imperialist capitalism.

Party members should act in their communities and for the benefit of “the great majority, the dispossessed, disabled people, women, indigenous peoples, and all who were excluded for so many years”, Chavez said.

He called on the party to be “the standard bearer in the fight against corruption” both within and outside of its ranks. He created a commission to set up a disciplinary tribunal whose directors will be appointed by national party executives.

The 772 delegates to the party congress were elected in a nation-wide vote in November, in which the two-and-a-half million most active members of the party, out of a total of seven million members, were eligible to vote.

A central theme of debates during the congress was how much power would be conferred to national party leaders and regional vice presidents, and to what extent decisions would be made from the ground up, with direct participation from local activists.

An organisational shift that began last year was to turn the original 300-person party “battalions” into even more local “patrols” made up of 10-30 party members who operate in their communities and workplaces.

Chavez said that according to the new party statutes, “the socialist patrols are the basic and primary cellular component of the party. They are linked to the popular forms of organisation and power and they constitute the fundamental basis of the network of articulation, social policy, and the ideological formation system of the PSUV.”

Congress delegates also established a mechanism for selecting candidates for this year’s National Assembly elections, scheduled for September 26. The PSUV primaries will take place on May 2, and all of the party’s registered members will be eligible to vote for nearly 4000 candidates, each of whom will be elected by a simple majority vote.

Chavez warned the top party officials, especially ones who serve in powerful government posts such as the ministries and state governor offices, to refrain from campaigning for or against candidates at the local level.

“The party base should be the ones who decide”, he said.

Also, during the congress 14 working commissions were set up to craft the party agenda around distinct issues of national importance. The final version of the principles and statutes has yet to be publicly released.

The relatively young PSUV was founded shortly after Chavez’s re-election to a second presidential term in late 2006. Chavez called on all pro-revolutionary parties to unite into one organisation described as “anti-capitalist”, “socialist”, and “internationalist”.

However, internal quarrels over party procedures have repeatedly postponed consensus and resulted in frequently changing, ambiguous rules and regulations, provoking disillusionment among the party rank and file.

National public opinion polls indicate support for the PSUV hovers between 30-35%, even while public support for Chavez remains consistently above 60%.

Despite its low popularity compared to the president, the PSUV is still the most popular party nation-wide, with opposition parties such as Democratic Action and COPEI garnering 5.3% and 2.2% support, respectively.

[Abridged from]