Venezuela: Political crisis hits the Chávez government

Smaller coalition parties say no to joining the United Socialist Party of Venezuela

When President Hugo Chávez won the presidential elections in December last year he announced a "great leap" forward towards socialism. In a speech before the assembled new government, Chávez spoke about the need to build a united socialist party, the PSUV. He and his supporters put forward the idea that this would be a party built by the rank and file, as a democratic force against bureaucracy, and a party that would put the socialist transformation of Venezuela on the agenda.

For good measure he added that the parties of the pro-Chávez coalition should dissolve themselves or face being excluded from the new government. Since then negotiations have taken place between representatives of the president and the leaders of the different parties. Garcia Ponte, the special advisor to the President, was doing the rounds of the different party headquarters to get agreement. He declared to the press that he had not invited these leaders to his office "to avoid them feeling pressured" (sic).

Until now there has been little evidence that this party is going to be built from the ground upwards. The dissolved MVR, the main Chávista party, is seen to occupy the main position in an alliance with elements from the army, close to the president. The debate about the new party has been limited to the corridors of power and the existing parties.

Chávez and the MVR, made a political miscalculation. Instead of Podemos, Patria Para Todos (PPT) and the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) accepting that they would be subsumed in a united party dominated by the MVR, they came out in favour of keeping their independence and refused to dissolve their parties.

Political significance

Podemos and the PPT represent the right-wing of the pro-Chávez coalition. Ismael Garcia, the leader of Podemos, announced that his party would not join the PSUV because Podemos does not believe in "unitarian thinking, neither in a Unitarian party but in pluralism and democracy". Garcia repeated that for him socialism should be democratic socialism, that is to say "a socialism that respects private property". The MVR, which already had dissolved itself, was quickly resuscitated to deal with the political storm. Lina Ron, one of the leaders of the MVR, and member of the coordinating committee to prepare the formation of the new party, accused Podemos of stepping outside the remit of Chávez and added that "My comandante gives the order—we obey." (Economist, 8 March 2007).

Chávez reacted with fury, denouncing "parties on the left who use the banners of the right-wing". He cancelled negotiations and appointed a committee to promote the new party. Amongst its members are two ex-generals favoured by Chávez. This gives the impression that it will be ‘the military way or the high way’ for the parties who want to keep their seats in government. As far as building the party from below is concerned, the government has recruited people to agitate amongst the working class and the poor neighbourhoods to promote the new party. However, at the same time, they stated that those who organise the party locally, have no right to attend the founding conference in August.

Next week public meetings will take place to discuss the new party and the ideas of socialism. The speakers at these meetings will be government ministers and ‘the people’ are invited to take part in education courses about Socialism. The material for these courses consists of speeches and writings of Simon Bolivar and other heroes of the Independence struggle, and also selected speeches of Hugo Chávez.

Communist Party characterisation of the Venezuelan revolution

The PCV, on the left of the coalition, also refused to integrate itself in the new party. The PCV held an extraordinary congress on the 3 – 4 of March where it decided to keep its party structures and continue the debate about the new party. As an alternative it proposed the creation of a ‘Frente Amplio Nacional Patriotico’ (Broad National Patriotic Front).

They explained in their congress resolution, "The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) decided in its 12th congress that we are in the midst of a revolutionary process of national liberation that has to succeed in conquering complete national independence and liberation, advance the conquest of social justice and equality and deepen the popular revolutionary democracy with a participative and protagonist content to the transformation and liquidation of the old oligarchic bourgeois state that, to be able to achieve the historical tasks which exist in society, necessarily has to overcome the unjust mode of capitalist production of exploitation of man by man, the principal cause of all inequality and threats that affect human kind".

In the real world of food, housing, wages, employment and other conditions which determine the standard of living of the working class and poor "the protagonist and participative content of the transformation and liquidation of the old oligarchic bourgeois state" does not instil the reader with much confidence or clarity about how these tasks will be fulfilled. Even less clear is which class in society will play the leading role in overthrowing capitalism.

Venezuela has been in the grip a revolutionary process of change since 1998 when Hugo Chávez came to power. The participation of the masses, primarily in defeating the forces of reaction on the numerous occasions they have attempted to drive Chávez from power, has pushed the government and president to take ever more radical measures. The Chávez government’s pro-poor programmes in healthcare, food provision and education are to be applauded and defended. The CWI fully supports these measures.

The ruling classes around the world, particularly those from the leading imperialist nations have poured scorn on even these modest pro-poor reforms. The Venezuelan elite, supported by US imperialism, are preparing to turn back the clock on the pro-poor reforms and reinstall their dictatorship of the market at the most convenient time. The Chávez regime’s failure to take full control over the economic and political levers of capitalist power leaves the ruling class able to organise a counter revolution.

The only way nations in the neo-colonial world can achieve national liberation and complete independence is through the socialist transformation of society. To break the spider’s web of ties between international capital and its subservient agents of the Venezuelan ruling class means expropriating the main sectors of the economy and placing them under the control of the organised working class leading the urban poor and the poor peasantry.

The PCV document starts from the premise that it is possible to liberate oneself from imperialism and the "old oligarchic bourgeois state" on the basis of "popular revolutionary democracy" i.e. on the basis of some halfway house between capitalism and the expropriation of the capitalist interests in the decisive sectors of the economy.

The falseness of this idea has been demonstrated in the last few days, not in the reading rooms of ‘revolutionary’ intellectuals, but in the butcher shops and supermarkets of Venezuela. The food industry, 80% of which is controlled by the Mendozas and the Cisneros, the two most powerful families in the country, is on strike against the government imposed price controls. The government has responded with a new law against hoarding and speculation and threatened to nationalise some of the smaller enterprises involved. It has not said a word about of these two multi billionaire families whose rapacious profit seeking manoeuvres are pushing the working class further into poverty. It means complete freedom for the oligarchs to continue their sabotage of the national economy.

The inflationary pressures created by this situation of between 20 and 36% for food products, are hurting the working class and poorest families. They are also undermining, slowly but surely, support for the process of change. The working class, generally is prepared to make sacrifices, if necessary during a revolutionary situation which has its aim the building of a better world. This is on the basis that they have a perspective of real improvement in living conditions, employment, housing and all the other aspects of life. When this possibility ceases to exist, the involvement and participation of the working class begins to decline.

The first step to overcome the oppressive capitalist mode of production would be to expropriate the trusts of these families and place them under workers control and management. What better "protagonist and participative" content to give to the transformation of the old state than to organise the working class and call on its initiative to take over these factories and start production themselves. This is what the Bolsheviks did during the Russian Revolution which threw up, through the initiative of the working class, the embryonic organs of the future workers’ state in the form of the workers’ councils or soviets. It is in these workers councils that the political battle for the leadership of the working class took place. After that no doubt was allowed about which class in society played the leading role in the revolution and the leading role in constructing socialism. The most revolutionary sections of the working class used the soviets and their authority to build a strong alliance between themselves and the poor peasants and exploited masses.

Same mistake

The PCV is repeating the same mistake it made in the period of 1958-1959 when it played the leading role as the main organiser of the Venezuelan working class, in mobilising against the dictatorship of Marco Perez Jimenez. The fall of the dictatorship created a power vacuum. The working class could have taken power.

However, the PCV was scared of its own shadow and followed the Stalinist "stages theory". This maintains the necessity for firstly struggling for a ‘democratic modern capitalist state’, and postponing the struggle for socialism until sometime in the future. In countries like Venezuela, given the conditions of imperialist domination and the weakness of the national capitalist class, it is impossible to have a modern democratic capitalist state. Under the circumstances that exist today genuine revolutionaries argue that the only course is for the working class to struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and building of a socialist society.

At the time the PCV called for the formation of a provisional government with the "the bourgeoisie unaligned to international capitalism". This was a call on the working class to allow "patriotic" capitalists to rule. The result of this woeful period in Venezuelan history was that the working class was blocked from taking power and the ruling class was invited to take revenge against the workers and their organisations.

The PCV agreed to a Washington sponsored pact, the pact of Punto-fijo, which handed over political power to AD, the social democracy, and Copei, the Christian democracy. The government of Romulo Betancourt, AD, came to power in 1959 and started the persecution of the Communist Party and its militants. It drove the PCV underground killing many of its members and destroying the painstaking work of the PCV activists in building the trade unions and organisations of the Venezuelan working class.

El Frente Amplio Nacional Patriotico

As far as the PCV is concerned, the main enemy of the Venezuelan revolutionary process is imperialism and especially US imperialism. But it makes a completely artificial divide between imperialism and the Venezuelan capitalist class who are its agents in the country. While it is true that under certain circumstances the Venezuelan capitalist class and the imperialist powers could have different interests, in the last analysis they defend the same social and economic system. The PCV does this so that it can claim that the main motor of the revolutionary process in Venezuela has to be the alliance between "sectors of the working class, the workers and the working class in general, the peasantry as the main ally of the working class, the petty bourgeoisie, the middle classes and the progressive intellectuals".

While the ruling class is not mentioned specifically in this quote, it is implied that it is necessary to link up with ‘progressive’ sections amongst this section of society. In fact the proposal in the conference document is that the PCV will set up the Frente Amplio Nacional Patriotico to create this "multi-layered alliance" to confront imperialism and "especially American imperialism". The PCV says in its congress document that this proposal is for an "alliance of classes that has no internal contradictions, who permit a tactical unity and [of which] contradictions will be defined in the future".

Prior to this proposal they conclude that their general proposal for an alliance "which we have to construct and maintain as people, popular movement and revolutionary state, is one under the indisputable leadership of the Comandante and President Hugo Chávez Frias to advance victoriously towards socialism".

The contradictions which, according to the PCV, will be defined in some unknown "future" are staring us in the face. These contradictions are, at the moment, a greater threat than that of imperialist invasion or US support for a new pro-opposition coup. The document itself reveals what these contradictions might be under the heading the "threat of restoration". The document speaks about the deformations within the ‘revolutionary process’ in Venezuela, saying: "corruption, bureaucracy, inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the new institutions of the state, enrichment and confrontation of new pseudo-revolutionary economic emergent groups, lies about the real developments of processes, reformism, internal disputes about who controls public functions and resources."

This adequately explains what the dangers are. But where do they come from if not from the "multi-layered alliance" which has taken control of the political state apparatus, and the abundance of oil-money? Before now, there has been no attempt to set up real workers control with a view to create a workers’ government and workers’ management of industry and society.

Democratic rights

Chávez’s proposal to constitute the United Socialist Party of Venezuela needs to be studied by all working class activists. This party should be created on the basis of mass participation, and democratic elections of representatives. There should be the right of recall of all representatives by the bodies that elected them, and a genuine debate about its program and tactics. The existence of different political currents and tendencies should be part of the functioning of this new party. The political programme of such a party should be based on the necessity to complete the revolutionary process, overthrow capitalism and build a socialist society. This would be based on the nationalisation under workers control and management of the major sectors of the economy under a democratic plan of production. If these conditions exist then the new party will be a step forward for the Venezuelan working class.

At present the United Socialist Party is not a reality. It is a project discussed in the head offices of the different pro-Chávez parties. Whether or not this party will be of any use to the working class and poor of Venezuela will be decided in practice over the course of the coming months but the first signs are not promising. The political crisis which has developed in the government is the consequence of the lack of political clarity, and of the repeated calls made by Chávez for dialogue and compromise with the Venezuelan ruling class. It also reflects the failure to develop a mass movement with the working class at its head, leading the urban poor and peasantry, in the struggle for revolutionary socialist change in Venezuela.

Socialismo Revolucionario, the CWI in Venezuela, stands for genuine socialism. While we support all pro-poor reforms, and will, without allowing a second of doubt, fight to defend all the gains of the working class and poor, the main task of the working class is to conquer political power. For this we need to build our political organisations, armed with a revolutionary socialist program, and maintain our class independence. Only this will allow the working class to gain the necessary experience in the class struggle to abolish capitalism and lead the fight for a new socialist society of plenty.

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