Some thoughts of the Creation of the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela

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By Andy Goodall - VSC Coordinator December 23rd 2006

Over the coming weeks much discussion will be had on the new Socialist party announced by President Chavez. Arthur Shaw’s article contains useful analysis and interesting opinions in “It is premature at the organizational stage to talk about ideological unity”, on Axis of Logic (Dec. 21st) , and deals with the political changes due to take place in Venezuela. It concerns the creation of the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and the ideological obstacles facing some of the main parties – the PPT (Homeland for All), Social Democrats, PODEMOS and the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV). It covers among many important points the political will necessary for the parties to dissolve themselves and merge into the PSUV.

However, other questions need to be posed to clarify the implications of the future political scenario in Venezuela from 2007 onwards.

1. Why did Chavez suddenly “spring” the announcement of the PSUV on the unsuspecting audience in an event to congratulate his campaign organisation, the Comando Miranda?

2. Why did Chavez adopt a “take or leave it” attitude and present the creation of the PSUV as a “fait accompli” to the other parties and refuse to engage in discussions on the matter which he said would be “sterile”.

3. How does Chavez intend to create the mechanisms which will lead to unity in the PSUV?

4. How will the inherent corruption of old be prevented from infecting the new party?

Chavez’s point, which he has emphasized over and over again as the greatest threat to the revolution are bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption.

The greatest threat to the revolution are bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption.

The landslide election victory on December 3rd may well have led many of the parties supporting Chavez, including the MVR (Fifth Republic Movement), to rest on their mental laurels expecting that the party system which has dominated politics in Venezuela since the Liberator’s death in 1830 would probably continue ad infinitum.

As an aside to the main thrust of this article it should be noted that the opposition press, radio and TV stations, still run by the oligarchs and the local bourgeoisie, are misinforming the public about the creation of this unity party, the PSUV. “Same as Cuba – one party”, screams a headline, implying that the opposition parties will somehow be illegally forced to disband. Nothing could be further from the truth. The PSUV will be a unity party of all 24 parties which supported Chavez in the 2006 presidential elections. The opposition parties will continue as they have always done – or hopefully more democratically and legally.

First of all let’s take a look at the way politics is run in any Latino country. The state structure inherited from colonial Spain lends itself to foster corruption when political parties attain their “quotas” of power within the state apparatus itself and create their own little “clubs”. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. These quotas of power normally expressed in terms of political members of a party, occupying bureaucratic positions in a ministry or town hall, for example, reflect what happened in the detested IV Republic. Since these attitudes were deeply engrained into the political and cultural mindset of Venezuelan politicians at all levels, the example of the IV Republic was being repeated in many parts of the local, regional, state and national bureaucracy.

For example, friends of mine have experienced great delays and difficulties at all levels of the Venezuelan state. It is typical that in order to have a cheque generated it would have to pass through 35 different pairs of hands, before being presented to the beneficiary. Other examples are funds being transferred to a locality to carry out a project and would then remain stuck in the bank accruing interest. Finance officers in hospitals disappearing to Miami with 3 years bonus payments for hospital domestic staff. People go to pick up an ID Card and it never arrives….unless they pay one of the middle men standing outside to “collect” it for you in exchange for an agreed sum. Much has been written on this and the list is endless, read Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America *. It is obvious that IV Republic bureaucracy bred inefficiency and corrupt practices which continue to prejudice the very heart of the Revolution itself.

The other reasons for such inefficiency in the state bureaucracy are that many members or ex members of the two traditional parties, Accion Democratica and COPEI, still occupy positions in the state structure. It is impossible to fire them due to Venezuelan Labor Laws and they have carried on much as before. Before expecting favors just for doing their jobs and now with the added incentive of sabotaging government projects bureaucratically as described above.

Some have hardly ever placed a foot in a barrio to solve the people’s problems, or to put it another way, the problems of their own voters.

People said to me that Chavez lost votes in the December 3rd election due to the dissatisfaction of people who had been promised projects but which were not executed due to the lack of performance of local officials not doing their jobs efficiently. The mindset they have variously stated in many parts is that if some public official generates a document for you then the official is doing you a favor, never mind that it is the person’s job. Apparently, many local councilors are still a law unto themselves and being on Chavez’s rollercoaster of the MVR and other parties, were elected and some have hardly ever placed a foot in a barrio to solve the people’s problems, or to put it another way, the problems of their own voters.

This is the reason many have said, why there were so many glum faces in the audience on December 15th in the Teresa Carreno Theater since many of the people present knew that the creation of the PSUV means that they will lose their quotas of power. This is grave for them since many have lived off politics all their lives. Chavez also said that parties not dissolving themselves and joining the PSUV would have no part in government any more.

Chavez’s “take it or leave it” attitude is based on his clear understanding that in the next stage of the Revolution, the mechanisms which foster bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption have to go. In summary, the structure of the state itself and the party political way politics has always been run since the Liberals and Conservatives in the mid 19th century. With 7.3 million votes Chavez is in an unassailable position since the votes were primarily for him and not for any particular political party, as Chavez’s face was superimposed on all the parties’ logos on the electoral card. He knows that there is dissatisfaction amongst the mass of the poor with the course the political parties have taken by imitating their corrupt predecessors of the IV Republic.

Internal discussions are taking place in PODEMOS and the PCV as I write. The PPT has said it will join the PSUV and dissolve itself. The MVR in Aragua State has already been dissolved. This state, coincidentally, is the stronghold of PODEMOS with several mayors and national deputies located there. Perhaps it is not a coincidence, since Rafael Isea, a participant in the 1992 military rebellion led by Chavez and one of the future politicians Chavez is grooming as well as being the financial controller of the Comando Miranda at national level, was instrumental in dissolving the MVR there. Talk about leading by example.

The influence of PODEMOS and its general secretary, Ismael Garcia, began to wane in early 2004. Garcia, as head of the Comando Maisanta set up to organise signature collections to trigger recall referendums against opposition deputies in the National Assembly, could not account for thousands of signatures which went missing or were unaccounted for. In the parliamentary elections of December 2005, the MVR obtained 114 seats out of 167 up for grabs, giving Chavez’s party the qualified majority or 2/3 to pass any legislation it wanted. In other words, Chavez no longer needed the PODEMOS votes in the National Assembly, whereas from November 2001 onwards PODEMOS support was vital for the chavistas to have a working majority in the Assembly.

At present PODEMOS does not have any government ministers, whereas the PPT has four, amongst them the crucial Ministry of Oil and Energy, and the PCV the Second Vice President of the National Assembly, Roberto Hernandez.

One of the major hangovers from the dominant parties of the IV Republic was the lack of internal democracy within the political parties themselves. Candidates were chosen by the leadership rather than being elected by the grassroots, which caused discomfort in many sectors. The MVR held internal elections in June 2004 to elect candidates for local councils but not much more than that.

Chavez has stated that all candidates of the PSUV will be elected internally at local, regional and national levels, and this will effectively undermine the power being wielded by political leaders in arbitrarily nominating candidates and effectively excluding grassroots opinion. This is a necessary step since it is a glaring contradiction to state in the Preamble of the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution that democracy in Venezuela is “participatory and protagonistic”, and not apply it to the internal elections of the political parties.

In addition, participatory democracy is from “the bottom up”, and not from “the top down”. The creation of the Communal Councils in April 2006 where the population from a barrio can elect its spokespersons (note: NOT representatives) in a citizens assembly, the decision of which is legally binding under the 1999 Constitution, is the starting point. In the coming constitutional reform, the Communal Councils and their role will be legally strengthened and they will replace local councilors and perhaps even the town halls and mayors, which are a throwback to Spanish colonial days.

It is this aspect of the wider economic and political changes that the party is being proposed and created. It is also this aspect which links in local people at grass roots having the opportunity and power to determine local priorities and resources who are also being invited ( and are likely to take up) to create the party and elect its leaders. With this true devolution of power, within a national revolutionary situation, the creation from the base of a new party, with strong internal democracy and full transparency – alongside a firm commitment to building social justice under socialism, the age old problem of corruption can be broken. Chavez calls corruption a cultural problem, however this is being tackled at a fundamental rather that cosmetic level with the increased vigilance of the tax collectors, gaining control of the oil company, PDVSA, and general large scale decisions clearly being taken for the general social good. With numerous good examples of effective mega infrastructure projects and effective management, this shines an uncomfortable light on those areas where the money ‘disappears’.

Participatory democracy is from “the bottom up”,

Democracy in Venezuela will be deepened and widened in this way and within the context of the PSUV whose base of members will be formed by the almost 5 million people who participated throughout the country in the Comando Miranda. Many people who never joined a political party due to the machinations nested therein, will also step forward. Don’t forget, it is getting close to four years since the mass literacy campaigns and education opportunities. Over the next 2 – 4 years many of these will start to play a role in building the new party. Any reader can appreciate that the old style politicians and the bad habits they may have will feel threatened both personally and economically.

There are a lot of worried officials in Venezuela, and they should be, since it is probable that Chavez will demand that all elected officials belonging to the PSUV tender their resignations and be obliged to face a recall referendum. The grassroots voter knows who are the counter revolutionaries, the bureaucrats, those on the take and those who simply did not perform or speak on behalf of their constituents.

Chavez is leaving the democratic decision making to the ballot box and in this way is aiming to clear out infiltrators, the corrupt or even lazy by peaceful, democratic and constitutional means. If any official refuses to face the recall referendum this will immediately be a cause for concern, not to mention suspicion, and there will then be a signature collection to legally trigger the recall in any case. There’s no escape for those who just came along for the ride on the “Chavez express train”.

New enemies may well have been created

The timing and the implications of the PSUV is truly revolutionary. It is also obvious that new enemies may well have been created – only time will tell. Chavez has proven many times to be strategically brilliant over a large range of crises. He often states that the biggest lesson he has learned is that it has only been with the participation of the mass of the population that successes have been achieved. He is using this strategy to build the party knowing full well that alongside this is the increased organisation of millions of historically excluded. With strong participatory democratic mechanisms in place as well as the direct participation of the population commencing with the Communal Councils, it will be a major step to accelerating the revolutionary process up to the end of Chavez’s 2nd term February 2013.The process of radical change and the push to creating Socialism of the XXI Century has taken another step forward.


My thanks to Venezuelan comrades Hector Diaz and Ubaldo Rosales for their valuable input into this article

  • Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America by Walter Little, Eduardo Posada-Carbo
  • Review author[s]: Joseph S. Tulchin, Ralph H. Espach
    The Americas, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Oct., 1997)

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