National Sections of the L5I:

PSUV: Fight begins over programme of new socialist party

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Since his landslide re-election last December, during which he openly pledged a transition towards socialism, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has launched a campaign to found a new party - the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Since March, 5.7 million people have signed up, and 18,000 branches or “battalions” have been founded.

Chávez has called for all other socialist parties to dissolve, putting special pressure on the three largest: the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), Homeland for All (PPT) and Podemos (Por la Democracia Social), a social democratic party. Some 70 per cent of their members have enrolled for the PSUV. Even the far left Party of Revolution and Socialism has split over the question of whether to join the PSUV.

Of course no working class party should be pressurised to dissolve. But given the mass character of the PSUV, the fact that these masses are overwhelmingly workers, peasants and the urban and rural poor, and that socialist and revolutionary ideas are being debated in it, it would be sectarian for revolutionary communists to do anything other than join this party and participate vigorously in these debates.

Even more important, Chávez has called for the PSUV to be part of the founding of a new International. He stated in August:

“2008 could be a good time to convoke a meeting of left parties in Latin America to organize a new International, an organisation of parties and movements of the left in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A revolutionary programme?
The documents drafted by the PSUV National Promoters Team for debate in the party’s base units include some bold anticapitalist formulations. One document, starting from the recognition that “capitalism in its imperialist phase has reached its limits”, goes on:

“The conclusion is clear, to end poverty, it is necessary to give power to the poor and construct socialism; to end war, it is necessary to put an end to imperialism”.

Another document argues that the PSUV should set as its objective the construction of “a government based on councils of popular power, where the workers, campesinos [peasants], students and popular masses are the direct protagonists of political power.”

It sets as its goal a socialist society: “a democratically planned and centralised economy, capable of ending the alienation of labour and satisfying all the necessities of the people”, one which would “plan production and the satisfaction of collective necessities in harmony with the requirements of the ecosystem.”

Where the proposals are much weaker is on the central question: how can the workers and peasants lay their hands on political power, how can they use that power to create a planned economy? How can the armed power of the businessmen and bankers, the generals and police chiefs, the judges - all of whom oppose such measures - be broken once and for all?

Venezuela, despite having entered a revolutionary situation since the masses crushed the anti-Chávez coup in 2002, remains a country with a predominantly capitalist economy, and a capitalist state that defends the property of big business.

True, the large, partially armed, popular militia, the new communal councils, the minority of factories under some degree of workers control, the cooperatives, all show that there are important elements of dual power existing between the workers’ new organisations and the institutions of the capitalist state. A revolutionary period has begun, but the revolution, that is the overthrow of this state, has not yet occurred.

To date many statements by Hugo Chávez show that he does not envisage any necessity for such an overthrow. Chávez insists that that the PSUV is not “a Marxist-Leninist project” and that “the dictatorship of the proletariat… is not viable for Venezuela in these times”. Instead, he argues for “a Venezuelan socialism, the original Venezuela socialist model” and for the PSUV to be “a political instrument that helps us conquer that objective”.

For Chávez, the PSUV is not envisaged as a weapon for making a revolution but a means for reforming the state machine by a series of presidential decrees and referendums.

It is precisely on this key question - what social class shall lead the revolution and take the power - that the Promoters’ document becomes deliberately vague.

The party, it says, should represent “the alliance of the people with the Armed Forces, just like that of the workers with the middle classes of the countryside and city (small and medium campesinos, small industrial bourgeois and urban and rural commerce).”

This multi-class alliance, what Leon Trotsky called a popular front party, has been witnessed many times before in Latin America. The radical parts of the bourgeois state apparatus, especially junior military officers, want to give themselves the maximum independence from foreign imperialism. To do so they must mobilise the masses by promising to meet to their urgent social needs. But they must also stop the working class going on to establish its own class rule, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Nevertheless, the PSUV is in the process of debate and its outcome - revolutionary socialist or bourgeois populist - is not yet decided. If it is debating socialism, organs of workers and peasants’ power, workers control of production and the planned economy, it would be shameful sectarianism for revolutionaries to stand aside from this process. They should argue that the PSUV becomes the revolutionary party of the Venezuelan proletariat, not a party existing to support a great leader or the armed forces.

Revolutionaries in the PSUV should argue that the party still faces the task of leading workers and peasants councils to seize power, smash the old state machine, expropriate capitalist property and run it under workers’ control. They should argue that the party must indeed become Marxist and Leninist and adopt a Trotskyist transitional programme.

These are the central tasks of Marxists who join the PSUV and any international initiative Chávez may promote in the months ahead.