Venezuela: United socialist party, popular power advance

According to a June 25 Venezuelanalysis.com report, the formation of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has entered a new phase. Officials and party militants had met in Caracas the previous weekend at the "National Meeting of Candidates for PSUV Militants in Caracas". According to the report, "Record numbers of Venezuelans have registered to be members of the new party" and the grassroots process of forming the PSUV "continues with wide participation".

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, called for the formation of the PSUV following his re-election in December on an explicitly socialist platform with 7.3 million votes — the highest number in Venezuelan history. Chavez has called for the party to be built democratically, from the ground up, in order to unite revolutionary militants from across the country into a weapon to advance the revolutionary process that his government is leading.

Through the revolutionary process, millions of people have become involved in political activity for the first time. However they have often been dispersed over a wide range of organisations. The main pro-Chavez parties have been criticised by many grassroots activists and Chavez himself for bureaucratic and opportunist practices. Chavez has insisted the new party should make a decisive break with such practices.

In one month, 5.7 million people have registered with the PSUV, far exceeding expectations, indicating the enormous enthusiasm among the poor supporters of the revolution for the project. According to Venezuelanalysis.com, Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez said that the second phase will involve the formation of more than 20,000 popular assemblies of those who registered their desire to join the PSUV to debate and discuss the party's political program.

More than 25,000 activists will form "socialist battalions" that will organise the assemblies across the country. The article reported that the battalions "will start to meet in community assemblies beginning on July 21 ... Each battalion will hold a total of three community assemblies before electing a battalion spokesperson to participate in the elections for the founding congress that is expected to be convened in August and last for three months."

Rodriguez explained that those who have applied for membership of the PSUV must use the assemblies to study and debate "important topics for the process of the foundation of the party such as its structural basis and concepts like democracy, socialism, sovereignty and anti-imperialism". He argued that the community assemblies could be converted into centres of revolutionary political discussion that continue after the PSUV's formation.

Addressing the Caracas meeting, "Chavez explained that one important reason for the united party was to consolidate the revolution and not rely on the leadership of only one man but rather make a party that can last forever". Referring to the need to overcome the reliance on his personal authority and to replace it with a broad-based leadership, Chavez said that "Human beings are transitory". "The party must be eternal, the most powerful revolutionary motor."

The push for a new revolutionary party to unite revolutionary militants has occurred hand in hand with a government push for an "explosion" of popular power, which has been centred on the communal councils. These are grassroots bodies elected from no more than 400 families in a particular community, with a general assembly of the community as the highest decision-making body. All Venezuelans over the age of 14 are able to participate in the councils' election. The councils are directly funded by the government and have control over the running of their local area. A June 21 article posted on Venezuelanalysis.com explained that "most councils have their own communal banks and command centers to organize public works projects, 30 percent of which are related to infrastructure".

Some 18,000 communal councils currently exist. Chavez, speaking to members of the Presidential Committee for Communal Power that was formed in January, argued that the councils needed to unite to form "popular power" federations. "We're beginning a new era: We're going to expand popular power, communal power, and include it in the Constitution", the president said.

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