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Chavismo, Part 5: The Party of the Revolution

  • In the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), a mirror of what we are is condensed, writes Marco Teruggi.

    In the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), a mirror of what we are is condensed, writes Marco Teruggi. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 May 2018

In the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), a mirror of what we are is condensed, writes Marco Teruggi.

The party of Chavez. That represents for many in the Chavismo the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Chavismo in the neighborhoods, rural areas, Chavismo of the humble, that is to say the majority of the Chavismo. It was he who called for the formation of a new party at the end of 2006, proposed the name, led the founding congress at the beginning of the year 2008. That day he spoke and the defeat of the constitutional reform which failed to win approval at the polls on December 2 was still fresh. The line had to be corrected, revised, rectified, restarted. That required a new political party.

Chavismo, Part 4: 'We Are All Soldiers'

The political instruments of the Chavista universe had been several until that moment. The Bolivarian Movement 200, space of the conspiracy that culminated in the attempt to unleash the insurrection of February 4, 1992. It was followed by the Fifth Republic Movement, created in 1997 as an electoral platform by deciding that the tactic would be through the votes, instrument to which the Communist Party of Venezuela joined, the Patria for All Party. The Patriotic Pole was also formed, as a platform of unity with different actors for the 1998 elections, the first that Chavez won. The issue was to form a tool of their own as well as a national, revolutionary, patriotic alliance, on which he insisted on the founding of the PSUV. 

"The advance of our forces is too disorganized, confronted with each other, lacking in coordination between commanders... the parties are fragmented, limited to occupy some spaces, the classic partisanship got into us... that is why the fragmented outpost has no capacity to articulate the great social, popular movement," said Chavez on the day of the founding of the PSUV, the new unitary political instrument. With a warning: the continuity of the revolutionary process was in danger. Two million votes had been lost between his presidential election in 2006 and the constitutional reform of 2007. 

Electoral Machinery

The first congress was attended by 1,676 delegates, 5,722,000 aspiring militants registered, and of that total Chavez identified one and a half million cadres: a frontline vanguard. A party of cadres and masses, an electoral machine, with the task of leading the process towards Bolivarian socialism: the revolution must win elections while advancing in strategic goals.

Both objectives, one periodic, the other permanent, were proposed to go hand in hand: the way to win elections was thought, in large part, through the same development of the process of expansion of popular power, politicized subjectivity, rights built. The PSUV had to become "a space of moral, political power, efficiency... away from the demagogy, populism, classic clientelism of the old parties," said its conductor. If he warned about the dangers it's because these were within the ranks of Chavismo, it was a developing trend, a solid root of the old political culture. The cadres that made up the PSUV did not fall from the sky, some came from the radical politicization of Chavismo, others from old political experiences, vitiated, careerists, those against whom the revolution took place.

The electoral machinery logic predominated, which brought negative impacts in strategic terms. "It is necessary to win elections so that the revolution is possible, no matter if to achieve electoral victories we adopted anti-popular tactics and the old partycracy because the end justifies the means," wrote Reinaldo Iturriza in 2010 to explain these entrenched practices. It had the effects of demobilization, depoliticization, distaste for politics, the old, the non-Chavez present in Chavez's Chavismo. That diagnosis is still valid eight years later, with the aggravation of the picture of war/crisis that is more than economic.

Chavismo: An Organizational Path

The party has a greater complexity: it is at the same time the direction of the revolution, as well as the government, both in elected and appointed positions. Almost all the mayors, governors, ministers, are from the party. The decisions of tactics, priorities, strategies, which are taken in the PSUV are then also, to a large extent, those of the government, institutions, in the hands of the management. Just as the majority composition of the party is popular, from neighborhoods, peasants, the leadership, expressed for example in a congress, as was the third, in July 2014, is a space dominated by mayors, governors, ministers, government offices in different levels. The separations between spaces are the exception: the direction of the party is at the same time the direction of the government, the institutions, the revolution. For example, a governor is in turn the party leader in his state.

Strategic Objectives

The tensions that derive from this are several. The party was created to push a strategic objective beyond itself: socialism, through the permanent deepening of popular organization, centrally in the communal form. The difficulty is that those who lead the party, and at the same time spaces of state power, usually defend the existing state to the detriment of that strategic perspective. The communes come to be seen as threats by mayorships, governorships, and from that place, as well as party leadership, they are unaware of their accumulation, they bet on organizational forms that they can directly control, to which they can tell what, how, when and with whom.

It is not the only party. It is Chavez's, the revolution, immense majority, where the base, neighborhood Chavismo is inscribed. It has that legitimacy of origin that no other possesses, and the electoral capacity, even with the client tensions. Burden on the other hand with the wear and tear of being a government party, official red, while the weight of their mistakes, enlarged by this time of material needs caused by war and own failures. It is an expression of the difficulty of the party in each revolutionary process, of the own limitations of the forms of political organization of Chavismo, of the same Chavismo as a historical movement. What happens with the game impacts fully on the daily and horizons.

In the PSUV, a mirror of what we are is condensed.

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