Venezuela: Socialist party elects delegates amid debate over direction


The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), led by President Hugo Chavez and created to help deepen the process of radical change, held nationwide delegate elections on November 15 for its First Extraordinary Congress. The congress will be held over the next several weekends in Caracas.

Up for discussion at the congress are the party's program, principles, organisational structure and most likely the mechanism for selecting candidates for the 2010 national parliamentary elections.

A total of 7800 members competed in the elections for 772 delegate places to the congress. Although the PSUV nominally has nearly 7 million members, voting in the delegate elections was open only to the 2,450,377 "active" members of the party who are registered in patrols.

Jorge Rodriguez, the PSUV's national coordinator, did not present official figures of overall member participation in the elections. Informal estimates suggest between 40-50% of the active membership, or around 1 million people, participated.

The more conservative sector of the Bolivarian revolution, often referred to as the "endogenous right", is overwhelmingly dominant in the PSUV, but left-wing PSUV activists said a number of respected revolutionary delegates had been elected.

Left-wing activists elected to the congress include: Gonzalo Gomez, one of the founders of the pro-revolution website and member of the Marea Socialista union current; Nora Castaneda, the head of the Women's Bank; National Assembly deputy and economist Jesus Faria; Sergio Sanchez and Lidice Navas from the Socialist League; Fredy Acevedo from the Revolutionary Marxist Current; and Julio Chavez, the former mayor of Carora who pioneered a process of direct democracy and community budgeting in his municipality.

At the PSUV's founding congress in early 2008, about 1600 delegates elected the national leadership. A program was adopted defining the party as anti-capitalist, socialist and internationalist.

However, discussion about the party's constitution and structure was postponed. This led to ad-hoc regional leadership bodies appointed from above by the national leadership, rather than being democratically elected.

Frustration over the lack of democratic structures and spaces for participation has led to a decline in the PSUV's active membership. Differences of opinion over whether the party should be simply an electoral organisation or a political instrument to deepen the Bolivarian revolution towards socialism are clearly marked.

The extraordinary congress will serve as a measure of the competing tendencies within the PSUV struggling to determine the party's direction.

Left-wing members say they will fight to extend the PSUV's democratic structures and defend the adopted program against efforts by conservative sectors to overturn it.

Chavez, who is also the president of the PSUV, voted in the party's internal elections in the poor 23 de Enero neighbourhood, which has a strong radical tradition. He said he voted "overwhelmingly for women".

"It is very important what is happening", Chavez said on the delegate elections. "There is a good turnout throughout the country, and our party is giving an example of democracy from below."

With these internal party elections, "we are breaking the culture of elites, fake democracy, where the people were called on [to vote] every five years. The PSUV has to be a motor force of popular power."

Chavez also called on PSUV members and regional PSUV leadership bodies to debate and discuss with minority parties that support the revolutionary process but are not part of the PSUV, including the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and Homeland for All (PPT).

"They decided not to join the PSUV. Well, it is respected that they maintain their own profile, their cadres, hopefully they continue strengthening their ranks", Chavez said.

Chavez said the revolution has an important challenge in the National Assembly elections scheduled for next September.

"Next year there is going to be a tough battle. The opposition is doing the math and believes it will win a majority in the National Assembly, but we're going to give them a knockout in those elections."

The latest survey by the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) shows support for Chavez remains high at around 62.4%. However, support for the PSUV is much lower at 32.3%.

The PSUV remains the most popular political party, however, with opposition parties trailing far behind. The Democratic Action (AD) party enjoys 5.3% support, Justice First (PJ) 4.4%, A New Era (UNT) 2.5%, COPEI 2.2%, while other smaller parties account for 4.8%.

[Abridged from]