President Chavez’s call to unite the Venezuelan left in the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) came after his third, crushing, election win on 3 December 2006.
The media in America immediately, and falsely, claimed the President intended to outlaw all political parties, and US newspaper editorials continued their strikingly unoriginal echoing of the Bush administration’s opposition to the Bolívarian revolution, to claim that Venezuela would soon become a single party state.
What Chávez had actually declared was the formation of a new revolutionary party to attempt to unite the Venezuelan left. No rightist or opposition parties would be closed or banned, and even the leftist parties currently forming part of the Bolívarian coalition would be free to choose to unite in the new party or not.
One of Chavez’s intentions was to try to avoid sectarianism and political infighting within the governing coalition, and to avoid implications for clientilism associated with the discredited COPEI and Acción Democrática regimes of the past, when political party bosses dispensed favors to their supporters.
Although Chávez’s own Movimiento Quinta República (MVR) party won 42% in the elections, and organizes the great majority of Bolívarian revolution activists, other militants, union workers and communists were organized in small, splintered political parties that together contributed another 20% to the vote to re-elect Chávez.
At a 15 December 2006 political meeting in Caracas, Chávez recalled that a splintered left coalition allowed the contradictions between diverse political parties in Chile to divide President Salvador Allende’s progressive government, letting the right take advantage and depose him in a military coup.
Chávez, having defeated one US inspired coup through the collective force of Venezuelans taking over the capital, Caracas, believes ‘there is no time to lose’ to unite the various political parties supporting the Bolívarian revolution into a single force.
The president immediately dissolved his own MVR organization into the PSUV after the election, and called on all the other organizations that supported his re-election to call congresses and meetings to put his proposal to a vote among their party members.
Completely contrary to the American media’s unoriginal cartoon image of the Venezuelan revolution, President Chávez made clear that ‘no-one should feel obliged to join the PSUV,’ and in his own characteristic style, Chávez compared the act of joining the new party to the ‘act of love’, telling activists in the other parties comprising the Bolívarian coalition that, ‘if you don’t feel it, it’s better not to do it… it is not obligatory, and we are not going to reject you if you don’t.’
Nine leftist parties have now decided to participate in the PSUV, but the largest organisations in the coalition — the Communist PCV, Patria Para Todos (PPT), and Por La Democracia Social (Movimiento Podemos) — took the decision to remain independent while continuing to support the revolution.
In the case of the Venezuelan Communist Party, which originated in 1931 and endured persecution under the dictators Juan Vicente Gómez in the Thirties and Marcos Pérez Jiménez in the Fifties, the reluctance to unite in the PSUV reflects a long history of independent activism.
The PSV’s popularity has surged under Chavez’s presidency due to its active participation in the Bolívarian revolution, and last year a member of the Central Committee, David Velásquez, became the first Communist to be appointed to a cabinet position.
After a Communist Party congress in March to discuss the president’s invitation to unite in the PSUV voted to remain independent, PCV leader, Oscar Figuera, declared that the party would still continue to be part of the Venezuelan revolution, and will contribute to the PSUV’s ‘construction’, but ‘without dissolving the Communist Party’.
PCV president, Jerónimo Carrera, 84, who was imprisoned three times under Pérez Jiménez’s dictatorship, declared that the party ‘will wait for the moment… it is not possible to dissolve the Communist Party into a new organization that still doesn’t have democratic structures or a program. The Communist Party continues to exist.’
Despite this, the congress resolved to delegate activists to assist in building the PSUV, and the PCV intends to present its opinions to the new party to be considered for incorporation into the PSUV’s policies, in the hope that the new party will have strong Marxist credentials.
However, some communists believe their party is missing an opportunity to strengthen the Bolívarian revolution, and in the face of individual members, including 13 on the Central Committee, joining the PSUV, the PCV has been obliged to declare that ‘double militancy is not permitted’ — effectively expelling these activists.
Similar difficulties have arisen in the Patria Para Todos (PPT) party — heirs to the leftist opposition La Causa R (Radical Cause) party that had opposed the corrupt COPEI and Acción Democrática governments since 1971. The PPT won a 5% vote in December 2006 to contribute to Chavez’s re-election, and its decision not to unite in the PSUV has caused prominent leaders such as union organizer and former Caracas mayor Aristóbulo Istúriz, and former foreign minister Alí Rodríguez Araque, to leave the party.
The third significant party to decide not to unite, Podemos, justified its decision claiming that Chávez intended to use the PSUV to close political space in Venezuela. ‘We don’t participate, and we will never participate in pensamientos únicos (a single line of thinking),’ said the party’s president, Ismael García, ‘because Venezuela is a diverse society.’
President Chávez criticized Podemos for this claim, suggesting that some PSUV critics were ‘raising the flags of the right,’ and forcefully stated that he wanted the revolution to encourage a ‘debate of ideas’ to counter ‘capitalism’s pensamientos únicos.’
Following the president’s criticism, several Podemos congressional deputies and state governors left their party to unite in the PSUV, declaring that Podemos’ 7% share of the December vote was not a sectarian, or separate vote, but a vote for Chávez and the revolution.
The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, which these dissidents and the remaining nine leftist parties have united to create, ‘should be the most democratic political party in Venezuelan history’, Chávez declared after his re-election, ‘there have been too many leadership appointments from above, including by me, but the PSUV’s leaders will be elected from the base. Choose the people you have faith in — there shouldn’t be the same faces as always — a new party needs new leaders.’
Activists uniting in the PSUV believe the president will be more responsive to decisions and demands made through a single, united democratic party, rather than to those made by individual supporters or activists in various splintered coalition partners, but more than this, Chávez is encouraging Venezuelans to raise their sights and take their political participation further.
‘Make the PSUV a party that doesn’t just fight elections,’ Chávez wrote in a pamphlet distributed to the hundreds of thousands of workers who took to the streets all over Venezuela on International Workers’ Day, ‘make it more a party that can fight the battle of ideas… one for which we should study, read and discuss the way forward.’
It is envisaged that elections will take place in July for the PSUV’s leadership and for delegates to the first party congress, to be held in August or September. The political program and priorities decided at this congress will then have to be ratified in an all-party ballot in November.
Inscriptions to the PSUV are already estimated to have reached more than 1,000,000, while some Bolívarian government officials are anticipating that three million PSUV members will eventually be registered when the first congress is held.
It’s clear that the revolution’s reality is far from the black and white caricature the American press constantly represents. It is also obvious that President Chávez’s united party initiative represents a more democratic and inclusive vision of participatory politics than the United States’ corporate parties, millionaire candidates and exclusive politics of a self-selected elite could ever do.
El discurso de la unidad, Hugo Chávez Frías, Caracas, 15 de Diciembre de 2006
Para la bancada roja la doble militancia es una ‘ambiguedad inaceptable’, Últimas Noticias, Caracas, 11 de Mayo de 2007
Marxismo, Leninismo, Bolívarianismo, Pedro Dumo, Caracas, 1969
Partido Comunista: Somos parte del proceso revoluciónario venezolano y no nos disolvemos, report in Tribuna Popular, Caracas, 8 de Mayo de 2007
Chávez aclara: No rechazamos a los que no quieren afiliarse al PSUV, report in Aporrea, Caracas, 6 de Mayo de 2007
Comunistas venezolanos definen postura ante partido unido, report in Prensa Latina, La Habana, 5 de Marzo de 2007
Rodríguez: PSUV es una necesidad estratégica, Agencia Bolívariana de Noticias report in Aporrea.org, Caracas, 12 de Mayo de 2007
Se resisten comunistas venezolanos para integrar partido único, AP report in El Universal, México, 4 de Marzo de 2007
El partido de la Revolución será el más democrático de la historia, Jorge Rodríquez, Agencia Bolívariana de Noticias report, Caracas, 20 de Abril de 2007
‘Patria, socialismo o muerte,’ Valentina Lares Martiz, El Tiempo, Bogotá, 11 de Enero de 2007
¡Uh, ah, Chávez no se va! Reportaje, Semana, Bogotá, 11 de Diciembre de 2006
Más de 1 millón de militantes captó el PSUV, Últimas Noticias report on Aporrea.org, Caracas, 15 de Mayo de 2007