Venezuela: Socialist Tide activists on the referendum defeat and the PSUV


Federico Fuentes, part of the Green Left Weekly/Links Caracas bureau, spoke to two of the key leaders of Socialist Tide, asking them their opinions on the PSUV and its founding congress, particularly in light of the defeat of the December 2, 2007, referendum on Chavez’s proposed constitutional reform.

 

During the first week of February 2008, he spoke to Gonzalo Gomez and Stalin Perez Borges. Gomez is a delegate to the founding congress from the well-organised area of Catia in Caracas, a journalist and co-founder of the Revolutionary Popular Assembly (Aporrea), which was formed in the wake of the April 2002 coup. It brought together a large number of the social and community organisations in Caracas to organise in defence of the revolution, and whose website is the most read website of news and analysis on the Bolivarian Revolution.

 

Stalin Perez Borges is a national coordinator of the UNT and a key union leader in the state of Carabobo, the private industrial heartland of Venezuela.

 

Following the completion of the congress Links will publish interviews with a number of delegates and revolutionary activists in the PSUV to get their views on what occurred.

 

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Over the weekend February 29-March 2, the provisionally named United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held the last general assembly of its founding congress. The 1671 delegates, who since January 12 have been meeting each week to discuss and debate the key documents of the new party, will vote on the party’s declaration of principles, program and statutes. The following week, the elected spokespeople and heads of commissions from the more than 14,000 socialist battalions (the local grassroots unit of the new party) voted for the provisional leadership of the party.

 

Since Chavez’s call on December 15, 2006, to launch a new party of the revolution — a political instrument at the service of the social movements and the revolution many previously existing revolutionary groups have joined the PSUV fighting to ensure it truly becomes a mass revolutionary party. Amongst those are the militants now organised around the newspaper Socialist Tide.

 

Many of the key leaders of Socialist Tide have been decades-long militants in the Trotskyist movement in Venezuela. Coming from a range of different organisations such as the Socialist Party of Workers (Partido Socialista de Trabajadores), The Spark (La Chispa) and others. During Hugo Chavez’s first presidential campaign in 1998, the Trotskyist movement in Venezuela split over support for his candidature. Over the next few years, many of these militants went on to form the Option of the Revolution Left (Opcion de la Izquierda Revolucionario) and consolidate an important base in trade union movement.

 

Some of them played key roles in the defeat of the bosses’ lockout in December 2002-January 2003, organising amongst the oil workers, and afterwards in the creation of the revolutionary trade union federation, the National Union of Workers (UNT), which quickly replaced the rotting carcass of the corrupt Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). With the formation of the UNT, a number of national and regional UNT coordinators, involving many of the current militants of Socialist Tide, went on to form the Classist, Unitary, Revolutionary and Autonomous Current (CCURA), today arguably the largest current within the UNT.

 

In 2005, a number of these union leaders and social movement activists launched the Revolution and Socialism Party (Partido Revolucion y Socialismo, PRS) as an attempt at creating a “independent workers’ party”.

 

With Chavez’s announcement of the formation of the new party, the PRS underwent a split with the majority of the party, and in particular its union base decided to join the new party. CCURA also overwhelmingly voted to go into the new party, as did all the other major union currents in the UNT.

 

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Federico Fuentes: What were the reasons behind the defeat of President Chavez’s constitutional reforms in the December 2 referendum?

 

Stalin Perez Borges: There were many factors, there was no single cause. The principal one was the situation of the government not resolving the fundamental problems in society, the bureaucratic actions and corruption that exist in the institutions of the state. This affected hundreds of thousands of militants, the people for the barrios [poor neighbourhoods] who have defended the process, who have risked their lives. So for this sector, when the bureaucracy grows and the problems are not solved, the people do not feel any incentive, they do not feel enthusiastic about accompanying the process of change.

 

Along with this the [opposition] campaign, a terrible, diabolic campaign of fear, of scaring people, was dominant; that also influenced people. We still have hundreds of thousands of people who have repeatedly voted for Chavez, but whose consciousness is a not fully class conscious, and who believed it when they were told that their houses were going to taken away from them.

 

I personally had an experience with someone who works at a newspaper stand here at the entrance of the La Paz metro station, I used this example in a number of speeches I gave during the campaign. One day there was a headline on El Mundo and I made a comment about it and he said that, yes the people were very angry because the Chavez government was going to taking their property away from them, that the government was going to interfere in their ability to drink whisky. So the problem there was that this person was lacking consciousness; he was going to benefit from the reforms but the campaign had convinced him that he was going to be negatively affected by the reforms because “they were going to take away” his property, even though he didn’t own an type of property.

 

So these factors influenced the result: the incapacity to resolve problems, the growth of the bureaucracy and the propaganda of the right. Those three, and other factors as well.

 

Gonzalo Gómez: I believe that that there were diverse causes; that any analysis is complex. But, taking into consideration the debates that have unfolded in Aporrea between different writers, the discussions that have occurred in the battalions [local units] of the PSUV and amongst the popular organisations, and my own reflections, I think that one of the causes was the manner in which the reform was proposed. It was very rushed, very much done on the run, without giving the organisations, the movements and ordinary people time to assimilate it. There weren’t sufficient opportunities to incorporate contributions from the workers, peasant and popular movements.

 

It is true that there were events held as part of the “parliamentarism of the street”, and there were a few modifications made, but it was not an organic, systematised process. Who was responsible for whether proposals from the movement were accepted or not? Who determined this? Who decided it? It was not an orderly consultation.

 

It was certainly much more democratic than anything else we have seen in this country in the past, before we had this revolution. Yes, the revolution has widened the framework of participation, but this participation is yet to be channelled in the manner it should be.

 

So the National Assembly continued to decide on its own what should go in the reform, and President Chavez made his own decisions over what went in and what stayed out. This led to a situation where there wasn’t sufficient [popular] identification with the proposals.

 

Of course, despite this we supported the reform — we fought for a Yes vote — but we also brought along with us many concerns, worries; there were observations, criticisms against some elements, some aspects which could have been improved considerably.

 

This was the democratic, or methodological, problem; there was also the problem of timing, of the moment chosen, given that the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) as such had still not been constituted; the programmatic discussion hadn’t yet unfolded. What was our reference point for pushing forward with the reform? Was the reform going to determine the principles and program of the party, should the principles and the program of the party guide us in our proposals regarding the necessary reforms to the state? The cart was put before the horse; the process was inverse, the reverse of what it should have been.

 

It would have been preferable to wait, because the discussion that was unfolding in the PSUV was halted and it was necessary to dedicate ourselves to the reform campaign and the referendum, as I said before, in a rushed manner. This led to a situation where there wasn’t the necessary consistency and where the PSUV was not able to create its own electoral apparatus to confront this challenge.

 

There were some who used this to say that it was necessary to go back to the previous structure of the MVR [Movement of the Fifth Republic], because that was an electoral machine. Despite all this, [the PSUV] worked quite well, [even though] the PSUV had never [before] intervened in elections.

 

I believe that the other fundamental problem that has to be taken into consideration is that the government did not adequately confront the campaign run by the oligarchy, by the bourgeoisie. It let itself be cornered in regards to many aspects because it did not take the opportune measures, for example measures that are now being adopted in relation to food shortages, the speculation of food. The lack of milk and other products had been impacting negatively on the people for some time and the government did not implement any measures, took no action, and the people began to ask “Why the hell do I want the reform?”, “What reform are they talking about if I don’t even have milk to give to my child”. Moreover, the right-wing took this up as one of their slogans, they utilised this situation to manipulate popular sentiment.

 

Similarly, there were other situations that led to sectors of the mass movement refusing to vote or demonstrating their discontent, their lack of enthusiasm with government policies. For example, take the workers’ movement. They can be offering you the six hour day which is a grand conquest but if at the same time they are not discussing your collective contracts; they keep you on individual contracts, labour casualisation-style, with neoliberal-type employment relations, including in the public sector, where ministers have workers in precarious conditions; they don’t respect union rights; there are experiences and situations of workers’ control and occupied factories and the same state functionaries come and seek to give back the factory to the boss and pay workers their redundancy, even financing the business owners.

 

Are these functionaries being guide by a principle that points towards deepening the revolution and pushing forward the transition towards socialism? Are they trying to favour and support social production and collective forms of property? No! They are there doing business, who knows what, trying to make sure that the bourgeoisie is not bothered; they have an interest in pleasing sectors of the bourgeoisie or the most conservative sectors of the middle class so that they do not become irritated.

 

There they leave the people to the side, the Chavista people, those who could be willing to wholeheartedly support the president. These are some of the examples that one could give as to why the people did not go to vote en masse in support of the government and the president’s proposals as they had before.

 

It has to do with the issue of how to resolve problems. Take the example of the informal economy, that encompasses some 48% or 49% of the labouring masses … it is true that there are distortions in the informal economy, there are individuals who own many stalls and charge others to manage them and attend to the stalls. In reality some of them are capitalists or are parts of the roscas and mafias linked to narcotrafficking, there are sectors that are even linked to hired assassins… But the government has not had a policy to combat this, appealing to the democratic organisation of the buhoneros (street vendors), taking into consideration their concerns and seeking out opportune solutions, instead, when the situation gets to an extreme, where they are affecting the right to a clean city, the right to health and the ability circulate through the streets, it reaches a point where they come into contradiction with the rest of the cit

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