[MRZine's George Ciccariello-Maher argues that while both
internal and external critics of the Unified Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV) speak of an impending authoritarianism, their stance
obscures the pernicious influence of party bureaucracies masquerading
as "pluralism." In the end, if the party's formation blunts the
influence of these bureaucracies, this "crisis" may be a blessing in
disguise for the PSUV and the Revolution as a whole. --Ed]
Against Party Bureaucracy:
Venezuela's PSUV and Socialism from Below
By George Ciccariello-Maher - MRZine
In recent weeks, it has become clear that three of the major parties constituting the Chavista coalition will not immediately dissolve themselves to pave the way for the construction of the unified socialist party (PSUV) that president Hugo Chávez has demanded be created to usher in the next phase of the revolution. These "dissidents" include the Homeland for All party (PPT), the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), and the broad-based social-democratic party PODEMOS.
Their refusal has created a political firestorm of sorts: Ismael García, head of PODEMOS and perhaps the most openly critical of the president's proposal, refused to be forced into any "single line of thinking." He was promptly attacked by many Chavistas, and Chávez himself indirectly accused García of "raising the flags of the right." García himself has perhaps deepened the tensions on both sides by attacking the "fascist mindset" of those who would oppose pluralism within the Chavista ranks.
This falling-out has been deemed a serious crisis by many, but, while both internal and external critics of the unified party speak of an impending authoritarianism, their stance obscures the pernicious influence of party bureaucracies masquerading as "pluralism." In the end, if it blunts the influence of these bureaucracies, this "crisis" may be a blessing in disguise for the PSUV and the Revolution as a whole.
A Constituent Assembly for the PSUV?
As an example, we could consider the recently named "technical committee" whose task it will be to formulate the basic structure of the PSUV and push forward its consolidation during the next few months. This committee was named directly by the president (another authoritarian gesture, according to critics) and consists of six members: vice president Jorge Rodríguez; governor of Miranda state, former vice president and minister, and longtime Chavista heavy-hitter Diosdado Cabello; minister of education (and president's brother) Adan Chávez; militant activist and head of Venezuelan Popular Unity (UPV) Lina Ron; former nutrition minister and head of the Francisco Miranda Front (FFM) Erika Farías; and the last-minute addition of Antonia Muñoz, governor of the state of Portuguesa.
Now consider, if you will, the demand issued by PODEMOS: the election of a constituent party assembly as the first step to constructing a unified program. If such an election were held today, according to the breakdown of Chavista votes in the December presidential election, this committee would (hypothetically) look much different: it would most likely consist of three members of the Chavista MVR (the largest vote-getter by far, which has already announced its intention to dissolve to pave the way for the PSUV), one member of PODEMOS, one member of PPT, and perhaps one member of the PCV.
What does a comparison between the existing technical committee and a hypothetical election tell us? For starters, of the technical committee that Chávez named to drive the PSUV, only Diosdado Cabello raises eyebrows as a potentially opportunistic party bureaucrat. Rodríguez, a psychiatrist by trade whose father was tortured and murdered by police in 1976 (and whose sister is a member of the Socialist League which their father founded), has remained largely outside official politics, with the exception of a brief and commendable stint as head of the National Electoral Council. While Adan Chávez, Farías, and Muñoz are all MVR members, they also attest to the internal variety of the central organ of Chavismo: Muñoz, for example, is a self-described "fighting woman" who was even expelled from the party for 22 months for breaking ranks to run against official MVR candidates. (The fact that Farías is an out lesbian and that Muñoz was added to create a gender balance speaks for itself).
The naming of "Commander" Lina Ron is even more revealing. Ron is as hard-line as they come: a street activist by nature, she has shunned all offers of institutional positions in favor of mobilizing the poorest sectors of Venezuelan society to the radical wing of the Chavista movement. Formerly linked to the Bolivarian Circles, Ron defines her UPV as an organization populated by "radicals, hardliners, men and women of violence," the shock-troops of Chavismo, whose devotion to the revolution is unshakeable (UPV's logo speaks for itself: a fist punching a palm). Chávez has on many occasions distanced himself from Ron, especially around the time of the 2002 coup when his government was forced to take a decidedly moderate tack (he once described her as "uncontrollable"). Praise has not been lacking, however, as Chávez has also referred to Ron as "a soldier who deserves the respect of all Venezuelans."
The naming of Ron to the PSUV technical committee reveals one thing above all: a commitment to attack party bureaucracy. This, too, explains the cool response of organizations like PODEMOS who, according to Lina Ron herself, are only seeking to protect their privileged position within the revolution: these privileges, in the form of governorships and mayoralties, belong not to the parties but to the Revolution. Rather than recognizing this, according to Ron, PODEMOS had chosen the path of "gathering a club of friends in the Hotel Hilton, covered by the major press, to challenge my commander-in-chief." As Ron sees it, the future PSUV will finally dispense with this internal hierarchy: "the hour has come, in the united party, for everyone to enjoy equal conditions." Indeed, a full-page communiqué from UPV published recently in Últimas Noticias takes aim at PODEMOS, which it argues has "created a rupture within the Chavista bases only for the sake of the arrogance of party managers," and who as a result are weakening revolutionary unity and "doing the Empire a favor."
A similar pattern emerges when we consider the PSUV's "promotional commission," a body dedicated to the ideological development of the embryonic party (and which was also named by the president). This committee also includes some more conservative Chavistas like MVR general director Francisco Ameliach, but what is particularly notable is that nearly half of this commission have a past in guerrilla movements of one kind or another. This extends from octogenarians Guillermo García Ponce, formerly of the PCV and several armed movements and currently editor of Diario VEA to a younger generation of urban guerrillas like Ali Rodríguez Araque, who also served as head of PDVSA, and William Fariñas, formerly associated with the far-left Bandera Roja (Red Flag). While the PPT and PCV are represented, in Rodríguez Araque and current minister of popular participation (and author of the Law on Communal Councils) Davíd Velásquez, respectively, PODEMOS is conspicuously absent.
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