Since January 12, more than 1600 delegates to the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — along with thousands of local socialist battalions (branches — have been discussing the new party's program, principles and statutes, and in large part the future of the Bolivarian revolution.
The PSUV was initiated by President Hugo Chavez following his reelection in December 2006 in order to unite the many groups and individuals who back the revolution. Chavez spoke of the need to unite militants from the grassroots in a democratic mass party in order to overcome the problems of opportunism and bureaucracy that have developed within the revolution, hindering its advance.
Federico Fuentes, a member of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau, has interviewed a number of elected spokespeople from local battalions and delegates to the congress. Many have come from previously existing revolutionary parties and have now thrown their weight behind constructing the PSUV, forming left currents to wage a struggle against more right-wing forces seeking to transform the new party into an instrument of bureaucratic and opportunist sectors.
One such current is the Assembly of Socialists (AS), which brought together more than 20 revolutionary organisations in November 2006 as a step towards a united party. AS became a current inside the PSUV after Chavez announced its formation. Another current is Socialist Wave, formed by activists from a Trotskyist background previously involved in the Party of Revolution and Socialism, which had a strong base in the National Workers Union (UNT).
Below are some extracts from interviews with a range of these activists. The full interviews will soon be available on the site of e-journal Links, http://links.org.au.
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@question = What is the importance of this founding congress of the PSUV for the future of the revolution?
Ana Elisa Osorio, battalion spokesperson, AS — The revolution needs a party, a united party, a party that brings together revolutionaries, that outlines the principles of the Bolivarian revolution and marks out a program towards socialism ... towards a confrontation, an offensive against imperialism ... a party that can convert itself into a dynamic axis of ideological debate and formation.
Gabriel Gil, president of CatiaTV, AS — The importance of the founding congress has to do with the fact that we are going to have a democratic party, which has already declared itself socialist. Its importance lies in the fact that it unifies not only a great part of the left parties that previously existed, but has also incorporated many individuals actively into the ranks of the party, in a situation where a strong anti-party culture existed.
This culture exists around the world, and in Venezuela was very strong. But now the idea that you need a political party that can truly lead and organise the revolutionary process is being revived.
Sergio Sanchez, alternative congress delegate, AS — This is the founding congress of a mass party, which is very important. I think that Chavez has taught those of us on the left a lesson: the left has always had the policy of a "cadre party" — we here in the Assembly of Socialists think it is a trap.
It is not a choice between a cadre party or a mass party, rather it should be a party of millions of cadre — the people make the revolution and we need people to be involved politically in revolutionary activity.
Gonzalo Gomez, congress delegate, Socialist Wave — The congress is a step forward in structuring a political force closely tied to this revolutionary process — renovating it, allowing the coming together of the different tendencies, currents and forces within the revolutionary process. To have this united framework is a grand conquest.
@question = But can the PSUV be a useful vehicle given the number of problems we have heard about?
Gil — There are many opportunist and right-wing tendencies that will continue to try to control the party. I think one of the things we have to do is organise ourselves to prevent the party from being kidnapped and ensure it remains a democratic party.
Generally, the democratic structures and debate have been maintained. Our proposal is to defend and deepen the structures for debate and participation. I think that the people are participating [in the PSUV] and we have to be present, working with them.
Gomez — There is a process that has opened up valuable democratic space, although with methodological vices, problems and dangers. But there is a discussion among the grassroots.
The fact that we are discussing the principles, program and statutes of the party — that we can put forward positions about the way in which we should elect our leadership and select candidates for elections — is very important.
Osorio — I view it with a lot of expectations, with hope. That's not to say that I agree with everything that is occurring, but I think that the party will be cleansed through the course of the ideological debate and it will be strengthened — above all by strengthening a current within the PSUV that is truly socialist.
We believe that we have to be inside the party. We need to continue working towards the unity of the left, but [also realise] the party we have is an expression of the reality of the Venezuelan people — it is an expression of the Venezuelan reality.
Sanchez — In the battalion in the barrio where I live, I remember in the first meetings people would come to blows over silly things — that someone looked at them in a funny way, that she did such and such. The level of experience of political organisation is very, very low.
Creating a party culture will take some years. Any sector of the left that thinks the socialist revolution is around the corner is mistaken, because the people still lack a lot of experience in political organising.
@question = What do you think will be the key debate at the congress?
Gil — The fundamental point is the program, more so even than internal elections because one of the things we need is a collective leadership, and to accomplish this it is fundamental that we have [a good] program. It is not about having 13 learned people sitting next to Chavez, not knowing what they think. We need to have everyone, including the 2 million [PSUV] militants, together with Chavez, united behind a single program discussing the way forward. Those who veer away from the program will be seen as being outside the party line, and outside the party.
Of course there is also the issue of the organisational structures — that it remain democratic, and the people that who are elected to leadership bodies be those who are the most in tune with that program.
Sanchez — I have been receiving reports from the congress and they were saying that "Hell, the Marxist-Leninist sector in the PSUV have expressed themselves with a lot of force!" It is in a disorganised manner but this sector has control of the discourse at the congress, and the right is disorganised and don't know what to.
The problem is that the [left] is disorganised [as well]. The left hasn't made any written proposals. For instance, the left hasn't evaluated the statutes. So because they don't have a proposal, everything is left a bit in the air.
For me, the issue is not whether the ideas of the left prevail at this congress, but if we have the capacity of controlling the organisational aspects. This can occur only if the left converts itself into a current.
Gomez — One of the fundamental points put forward, but not taken up in a fully satisfactory way but in a partial manner, is the methodology of the congress. The directives for the congress come from [the support commission, and before that the technical commission, appointed by Chavez]. But it turns out that the PSUV has been adopting structures such as battalions, circumscriptions, with spokespeople, delegates, etc.
This commission, which is not made up of delegates, should have been transferring control over the congress — and the process of construction of the party — to the body of delegates, without this implying the marginalisation of the members of these commissions.
What is occurring is that we have been discussing some documents, in a rushed manner, that have not been discussed in the grassroots [as is supposed to occur]. It is not clear what mechanisms will be used to give them a final form, so that they the final documents truly emerge from the discussions in the grassroots and not from these types of commissions.
@question = What is the weight of the left within the PSUV?
Gomez — There is a very important layer of delegates strongly tied to the social and popular movements, in tune with the grassroots. It is a critical sector, a sector that appears to be very firm in confronting corruption and bureaucratism.
This sector proposes that PSUV commissions be formed to revise the situation among high-level state functionaries, governors, mayors etc, in order to ensure that no one who has been corrupt or is implicated in violations of human rights be allowed in its ranks.
Carlos Luis Rivero, battalion spokesperson, AS — There are a number of sectors inside the PSUV that are fighting for more profound changes and for the PSUV to be the expression of vast sectors of the people and not the expression of the cliques that have formed within the Venezuelan process.
There is a debate and that is positive. In this debate I think the correlation of forces is on the side of those fighting to deepen the revolutionary process. However, these positions could be defeated rapidly because of the lack of organisation. But all this is part of the debate, and part of the weakness of the actual process.
We cannot simply decree our strength and decree the organisation of the people. We are trying to take steps forward, and the AS is an effort in that direction in the PSUV.