probably remember that shortly after his presidential election victory in early
December last year Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called
on all the parties that support him to join together to form one united
party, the "United Socialist Party of Venezuela." Not every party agreed.
Jerónimo Carrera, Chairman of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), who has
recently been on a private visit to London, gave our correspondent
Kate Clark this interview, explaining his party's reasons for that decision. Mr
Carrera is a well-known journalist in Venezuela,
writing a weekly column for 2 Venezuelan newspapers, "La Razón" and "Tribuna
Jerónimo Carrera, Chairman of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV)
Venezuela's Communist Party and the PSUV: To Join or Not to Join?
By Kate Clark - Red Pepper Venezuela Blog
Friday October 11th 2007
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched his idea of a single leftwing party last December - during an event to celebrate his successful re-election - he threw down the gauntlet to all the parties on the left – join or risk being left out.
Not the most diplomatic of leaders, the charismatic Chavez announced the idea more as a decision already taken than a consultation with the parties which support him – something not perhaps calculated to bring on board any doubting Thomases.
So what has been the reaction so far of these parties? One of the most influential parties in Venezuela is the Communist Party. Whilst not huge in membership, it polled some 350,000 votes – almost 3% - in the last presidential elections. Formed in 1931, it's the oldest of all Venezuela's political parties. It has seen dictatorships and legal governments come and go, it has experienced operating both legally and underground, it has rebuffed perceived interference into its internal affairs by other Communist Parties, it fought an armed struggle for 3 years in the sixties, and now openly declares support for the Colombian guerrilla movement, FARC.
At 85, Jeronimo Carrera - Chairman of the Venezuelan Communist Party - has seen off many a party and many a government. Amazingly active and agile, he writes a weekly column for 2 independent newspapers and is instrumental in shaping the Party's policies. "We've got 3 generations of Venezuelans in our Party who have lived through periods of clandestinity and periods of legality and have experienced repression and difficulties in their careers because of their Party membership," Carrera explains. "Now all of a sudden we get this call for us to dissolve and join another party. But our Party is not like a car, or a house that I or the leadership can just dispose of as we think fit. We are merely the custodians of our Party, so we cannot take any hasty decisions concerning Chavez's proposal."
In March the Party held a 1000-delegate Extraordinary Congress which voted not to join Chavez's new Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela; PSUV), for the time being at least. "We fully support Hugo Chavez, and have done now for over 10 years," Carrera explained. "But the new party has yet to define its programme and its objectives, so we cannot risk dissolving our Party to join something as yet unknown."
"We don't yet know if it will be a social democratic or a truly socialist party. We don't know whether it will join the Socialist International, as the Sandinistas did in Nicaragua in the eighties. We couldn't accept the idea of joining the Socialist International, which has never done anything for the cause of socialism. Those social democratic parties get into power but then never really challenge the status quo. We could never be party to that."
After the Party's Extraordinary Congress, a small group including a few Central Committee members, decided to join Chavez's new party. "We haven't expelled them. No one is obliged to stay in our Party. They will see with time whether they will be more useful there than in our Party."
At present the Party has 7 deputies in Parliament and President Chavez recently appointed a leading Communist – David Velasquez - to his Cabinet. Chavez has also expressed understanding for the Party's position on remaining outside the PSUV.
"There is definitely a revolution going on in Venezuela," Jeronimo Carrera declares. "It's not a bourgeois one, nor is it a proletarian revolution. We think the term "Bolivarian Revolution" is correct, because it's not nationalistic, but it is patriotic and, like the dream of the great Venezuelan patriot of the 19th century, Simon Bolivar, aims to unite the different countries of Latin America."
"It's a revolution influenced by both Christianity and Marxism," he goes on, pointing out that Chavez himself is a committed Christian. "If the Revolution advances towards a socialist society, as for example in Cuba, then we'll continue to back it."
The immense support for Hugo Chavez among the Venezuelan people, Carrera says, is proof that the Venezuelan President is keeping his promises to the electorate – something rare in politicians throughout the world. It is undeniable that under Chavez Venezuela has made incredible progress in health and education, for instance. There's now free health care for all, what's more, healthcare made accessible to the poor by new clinics and hospitals in the areas where they live – the Barrios Adentro scheme – often staffed by Cuban doctors under bilateral government agreements. Mass literacy programmes and education for all sectors of the population are hugely appreciated by the voters, as are the new low-price supermarkets the Government has set up in the barrios, and all this translates into votes. Added to this, his undoubted huge personal charisma, the PCV Chairman says, has resulted in Chavez achieving almost 70% of the vote in 2 elections. For the first time in the country's history, people see that the revenue from Venezuela's massive oil reserves is being used for the benefit of the entire people, not just for one section as in the past. This has awakened new feelings of pride, self-confidence and of fraternity with other peoples – a spirit of true internationalism, according to the Communist Party Chairman.
Carrera worries about what will happen when the oil reserves run out. "Oil the world over is in the hands of monopolies," he points out. "The first country to escape from that stranglehold was Russia after the 1917 Revolution. But now we see that what was once Soviet oil in the Caspian is once again in the hands of Western monopolies."
"What we want to do is to wrest Venezuelan oil from these monopolies, but we cannot do it alone. We are one of the few countries in the world that have oil. When OPEC was set up, it looked as if there could be an escape from the West's monopolisation of the world's oil. But Saudi Arabia is controlled by US imperialism, Iraq has been invaded for its oil wealth, Libya's Gaddafi has been placated...."
"Chavez's rebellious, independent course is seen as a challenge to US hegemony, so the threat of invasion still hangs over us," Jeronimo Carrera warns. "Despite the failure of the 2002 right-wing coup, the US and the Right will use any possible pretext to bring down our Government."
"When you see what they have done in Iraq, you could say it's almost surprising that they haven't invaded Venezuela!" Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs, he goes on, and everything possible is being done to prevent aggression of different kinds, such as sabotage of the country's oilfields.
Hugo Chavez's policy is based on the concept of multipolarity, which means fostering the best possible relations with all the countries of the world without discrimination, including the USA and all the countries of Europe. The aim is to prevent George Bush being able to form a coalition against Venezuela of the kind there is currently against Iran.
"It would be very difficult for the USA to get any resolution against Venezuela passed in the United Nations," Carrera declares. "The world has changed: gone are the days when the US could, from afar, order a coup d'etat in some other country."
Mindful of the divisions within Chile's Popular Unity Government under President Salvador Allende 30 years ago, which surely contributed to that Government's demise, could it be that it might be better for the future of the Venezuelan Revolution if there were just one single party of government – the PSUV? His answer was unequivocal.
"In Chile President Allende had less than 40% of the vote, so he had to contend not only with the Right, but the centre too. By contrast, Chavez has won practically 70% of the electorate, and more than once. Also I think it was easier in the seventies for the USA to unleash aggression against Chile – the US Government is far more discredited now than it was then."
Whether the Venezuelan Communist Party Chairman's optimism on that score is misplaced or not only time will tell. When we see the sort of media campaign which was whipped up before the invasion of Iraq to convince the British public that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could reach us in 45 minutes, thus posing an imminent threat to us, it's not too difficult to envisage a scenario whereby an elected and charismatic leader like Chavez could be vilified, incessantly called a dictator and made to seem a threat to other countries. Already some sections of our media have been liberal in their use of the term 'dictator' in relation to Chavez.
"The formation of one single party of government in Venezuela would not, in our opinion, be the best option," Carrera concludes. "After all, there are many examples in history of disunity even within one party - take the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for instance. Within that party there were different groups, different interests, and so they lost power."
"Success in the revolutionary process does not depend on whether there is one party or more than one taking part in the process. Lenin would have liked to keep the Socialist Revolutionary Party as an ally of the Bolsheviks, but that didn't turn out to be possible in the particular historical circumstances."
What is important in Venezuela today, Carrera insists, is that the different parties supporting the process agree on one policy. They should have as a strategic aim to win over Christian left-wing opinion and not let it go to the Right. At present the country is divided into two camps – the Chavistas and the anti-Chavistas. Only about 10% can be considered of neither camp, he claims.
"We support the process, but we don't call ourselves Chavistas. We don't use the term Chavista, but we consider ourselves a part of the Bolivarian Revolution. We are not Chavistas because we don't believe in definitions on the basis of a particular personality. It's true that we use the term "Marxist", but that's just by tradition, it's not really correct. We are dialectical materialists, which is a philosophical, or ideological definition."
"But whether we use the term Chavista or not, we recognise that Hugo Chavez represents an extremely important and valuable card, not just for Venezuela, but for all the countries of America."
Jeronimo Carrera is understandably cautious when referring to Chavez, Chavismo and the future. The Communist movement has had enough setbacks due to "personality cults" that it has learnt to its cost not to make the same mistakes again. (He relates with distaste once having had to file past Lenin's body in its Red Square mausoleum as part of a Party delegation, and points out that neither Lenin himself nor his wife Krupskaya were ever in favour of his corpse being embalmed.)
"The Venezuelan Communist Party does not form part of the Government, but we are certainly not part of the opposition," Carrera says. Opposition parties such as the Democratic Action Party (AD) andthe Social Christian Party, COPEI, operate freely in Venezuela today.
"We consider ourselves allies of the PSUV, but we feel we can be most useful by offering 'critical support', or constructive criticism when needed." Another danger that worries Carrera is that of opportunism, which tends to arise when you have one single party of government.
But he decries the license, rather than freedom, enjoyed by some of the opposition media in Venezuela. "They openly insult and denigrate the President in the most scurrilous way possible," he declares. "I am sure in no other country in the world would the media be allowed to use such insulting language against an elected President."
It's no secret that Venezuela's Cuban allies would prefer Venezuela's Communists to join Chavez's PSUV rather than remain outside. For the time being, the PCV has decided to stay outside. Only history will determine whether it was the right decision.