Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has recently announced that the current governing coalition, the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), should be dissolved, making way for the construction of a new United Socialist Party (PSUV).
This announcement has received a mixed response from the left in Venezuela.
Speaking at a gathering of supporters at a post-election celebration on 18 December, Chavez said that in order to build a socialist Venezuela, “We need one party, not an alphabet soup with which we would be falling over each other in lies and cheating the people.”
The new party, he said, would provide a forum for debate and would have a democratic structure with the grassroots nominating candidates for election to the national assembly.
At the moment, the MVR’s candidates are selected by the respective party leaderships and the parties are little more than election mobilisation machines. There is hardly any forum for debate or discussion of political programme.
For many, Chavez’s proposed change can’t come soon enough. The parties are seen as corrupt and wedded to the same kind of practices that were rampant in the old regime.
Clientelism is rife. A majority of the members of these parties are social democrats rather than socialists. They will be uncomfortable with Chavez’s proposal.
But even among those who are happy to call themselves socialist there is some disagreement. Miguel Lagos is an activist in the barrio (poor neighbourhood) of Petare in Caracas.
He sees the new party as being the necessary driving force of the revolutionary process. Provided it is constructed in the correct way, it could also be an educational establishment for activists.
Miguel said, “The party must be from the beginning a space where, in an environment of solidarity and respect, the different currents can come together and join forces to develop ideas that can be put into practice. In that way the socio-political formation of members will go forward with the party.”
Orlando Chirino, a leader of the more critical C-CURA faction of the National Union of Workers (UNT), also says that he is strongly in favour of a new revolutionary party but will wait and see what kind of party is being proposed.
“For it to be successful in getting rid of the capitalist system, a true revolutionary party must have an internal democratic regime and must have the workers as its backbone,” he said.
The UNT itself is riven with divisions that have virtually paralysed it as a working class force.
However, not all activists are so warm to the idea of a unified party. Roland Denis, a grassroots political activist, is very critical of the proposal.
He thinks it will lead to a top down structure that could paralyse and squeeze the life out of the current process.
He thinks that from good intentions, Chavez may achieve the opposite of what he wants.
“You can see in the idea the influence of Cuba where the party becomes the guarantor of popular unity against imperial aggression and where socialism is built from the top down by an elite,” explained Roland.
This is the problem that Chavez must overcome. At the grassroots of the barrios in Caracas many activists, while not subscribing necessarily to Roland’s view of “the party”, are very distrustful of the idea.
They will need to be convinced of the merits of this proposal.
This debate is taking place against the background of several positive developments. Chavez has announced plans to nationalise the main telecommunications, gas and electricity companies.
This was done without any democratic debate. Chavez was elected on the promise to “deepen the revolution” and not much else was said.
If policies were made within a new party then it would make possible a discussion about nationalisations, how they are managed and the position of workers within these industries.
According to Miguel, this is why it is essential. He said that how the party is formed will be down to people getting active and participating in its construction.
“This will be an important struggle and people should not sit on the outside complaining from the sidelines but get involved in shaping it,” he said.
Steve Mather is a contributor to www.venezuelanalysis.com