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Newsletter (in English)


What kind of party is the United Socialist Party of Venezuela?

“The Association of Socialist Capitalists” is just one component of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The PSUV, which is still awaiting its often postponed founding congress, has one in four Venezuelans signed up for the party, and of all the parties in the world claiming to be socialist, it is second in size only to the Communist Party of China.

The aim of the PSUV is to convert the loose coalition of parties which support the government of President Hugo Chávez into a single political structure. A debate is raging within the radical left in Latin American about whether or not to join this party,1 but very little of this has trickled into non-Spanish language publications. The formation of the PSUV deserves the careful attention of revolutionaries internationally, not just because it marks an important milestone in the “Bolivarian process”, but because it poses questions central to revolutionary tactics and strategy in semi-colonial countries.

Analysing the PSUV is, in contrast to most new parties, remarkably easy: the PSUV is in the unusual position of being founded as a government party. So there is no need to speculate about what policies the party would carry out if in power – it is possible to examine what policies it has carried out in the eight years that Chávez has been president. It is clear that such a massive political formation is not like an empty bottle into which different wines can be poured – there are specific class interests behind the project and it is possible to determine the party’s class character, even now, even before its founding.

In order to develop a correct analysis of the PSUV, this article will begin with a brief overview of the class struggle in Venezuela and the Chavista project in general (1). Then there will be more specific observations about the party itself.

Don’t listen to Chávez quotes!

Chávez talks – and talks and talks and talks – at rallies or on his weekly television program “Álo Presidente”. He can provide just about anyone with a quote to their liking. For example, worn-out Trotskyists looking for a hero get a speech about the need to abolish capitalism and even to read the Transitional Program of the Fourth International. “Today we buried the ALCA, and soon we’ll do the same with capitalism!” (2)

But Venezuelan capitalists seeking compromise with the Chávez regime get promises of the inviolability of private property. “We have no plan to eliminate the oligarchy, Venezuela’s bourgeoisie. We have demonstrated this sufficiently in our eight years.” (3) So capitalism is to be abolished but the capitalist class maintained? Clearly, information about the economy in Venezuela will be more useful than Chávez quotes.

It cannot be denied that the Bolivarian government has done a great deal to alleviate the misery of Venezuela’s poor: for example, the number of people living in extreme poverty has gone from 20% to 10% since Chávez became president (4). But this in itself says nothing about the class character of the government.

The best information is provided by the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington. He regularly soothes the imperialists with newspaper editorials full of cold, hard facts. For example: “It is ironic that Venezuela has come under such attack for its policies when, even with the changes that have been made in our oil sector structure, the openness of our oil market to US companies . . . remains extensive.” (5) A supporter of Chávez might argue this is just a deception to satisfy the demands of the imperialists. But doesn’t it seem more likely that the very different speeches by Chávez are a deception to satisfy the demands of the masses?

Venezuela is, according to the Chavistas, a testing ground for “Socialism of the 21st Century”. This concept has been loosely defined by German professor Heinz Dieterich, but it remains many things to many people. Socialism, as a scientific term, refers to a society in which the working class has seized political power, expropriating the means of production and beginning the transition to a classless society. “Socialism of the 21st century”, in contrast, generally “accepts diverse forms of property”, i.e. it does not require any expropriations or nationalisations. The regime propagates a model of “five types of property” (public, social, collective, mixed and private property) – but decisive is the fact that private property is, according to the constitution, “recognised and guaranteed”.

So this “Venezuelan socialism” is to be constructed together with capitalists, on the basis of private property. The magazine New Yorker, beyond all suspicion of anti-capitalist sympathies, put it simply: “If this is socialism, it’s the most business-friendly socialism ever devised.” (6) This “socialism” does not conflict with the profits of multinational corporations (in 2006, trade between Venezuela and the USA increased by 31%) and does not envision eliminating private property. There has been a lot of talk about “nationalisations” by the Chávez government, but since the former owners have gotten handsome compensations, it would be more accurate to speak of the state simply buying these companies at market prices. The most important sector of the Venezuelan economy, the oil industry, was nationalised in 1976 by a decidedly bourgeois government.

The role of the masses

Hugo Chávez Frías began his political career as a nationalist, claiming the tradition of the Latin American independence fighter Simón Bolivar as his own. Beginning in 2005, Chávez’s rhetoric became much more radical, referring to himself as a socialist and attacking capitalism. He continued referring to God, Jesus and Bolívar, but now also to Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. This change was not based on Chávez buying some new books or getting some advice from centrist-Trotskyist theoretician Alan Woods. Repeated mobilisations of the masses in Venezuela shoved Chávez to the left – he had to radicalise his speeches to maintain the support of his radicalised electoral base.

The coup attempt in April 2002 and the employers’ lock-out (sometimes referred to as a “strike”) in December 2002 were beaten back by mobilisations of the poorest sectors of Venezuelan society. During the coup, it was the masses on the streets of Caracas who pressured a part of the military apparatus to change sides and rescue the Chávez government. During the lock-out, it was workers in the state-owned oil company PDVSA who kept oil production (and thus the Venezuelan economy) alive, despite the boycott by the management.

Recently a whole series of small and middle-sized factories that were closed down by their owners have been re-opened by the employees, who continue production under workers’ control. But in all these cases, the “socialist” bourgeois state has tried to limit the self-organisation of the working class, opposing workers’ control with proposals for co-management between workers and the state ministries. And where the former owners have demanded their property returned or workers have refused to accept the state’s moderate line, there has also been brutal repression by the police (for example, in the occupied ceramics factory Sanitarios Maracay).

There is much talk of “popular power” and thousands of communal councils being established across Venezuela. But these councils, much like the “participatory budget councils” in Brazil under Lula (7), only decide on the local administration of funds controlled by the executive branch. This means these bodies are not the basis of self-rule by the oppressed, only of clientalism by the state bureaucracy: “I’ll give you funding today, and you give me your vote tomorrow.” In this situation, socialists need to defend the basic conclusion of Karl Marx from the experience of the Paris Commune: the bourgeois state cannot be transformed into a state of the workers, even by the most well-meaning government. It must be broken up and replaced with organs of working class power – bodies of elected and recallable delegates created from the base upwards.

El Presidente’s constitutional reform

Parallel to the foundation of the PSUV, Chávez is attempting to change the Bolivarian constitution, which was adopted in 1999 by a referendum. The stated goal of this reform is to deepen the revolution and create people’s power. But the 33 proposed changes were worked out behind the backs of the workers and poor, without any discussion amongst the masses or even in the National Assembly. They are now being presented to the population as a packet, and they can say “yes” or “no” in a referendum. This is a typical plebiscitary measure designed to create support for the regime without permitting any real mass democracy.

Most of the changes are designed to concentrate power in the person of Chávez. The proposal to eliminate the current two term limit for the presidency – which would make it possible for Chávez to be elected to as many seven year terms as he wants – is the least of the problems. “Supreme authority” over the military will be given to the president (including the power to promote officers in all ranks) and the proposed “popular militia” is nothing but a new name for the army reserve, which is under the command of the officer caste, and thus of Chávez. The executive will be allowed, without consulting the National Assembly, to create new provinces or federal territories and then name vice-presidents to rule these new administrative units. The president will gain personal control over the central bank, the currency reserves, and the entire treasury, in addition to the control of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, which he has already (8).

With regards to private property, the constitutional reform would of course leave it untouchable. Recently there has been some dissent from Chavista deputies in the National Assembly about a proposed article which would allow the government to declare a state of emergency, suspending basic rights laid out in the rest of the constitution. But the reforms have been approved, in slightly modified form, by the National Assembly and the people can only decide on the entire packet with a “yes” or a “no”.

The most startling thing about the proposed constitutional reform is this: with so many powers concentrated in the hands of the president, why is there a National Assembly at all? It is a bit ridiculous to imagine, as Chávez and his supporters present it, that peoples’ power could be strengthened and the state bureaucracy weakened by a reform carried out without the active participation of the people themselves.

The only way to strengthen the role of the masses is for them to organise themselves in independent councils, composed of delegates of factory workers, slum inhabitants, peasants and agricultural laborers, school and university students and the rank-and-file soldiers of the army. These councils, organising a “People’s Assembly” or some other type of congress based on delegates directly elected by and accountable to the masses, could lead the fight to establish a workers’ government and expropriate the capitalists. This form of mass democracy, of self-rule by the oppressed, is a pillar of socialism – and the Chávez regime rejects it completely.

How the PSUV works

The basis for joining the PSUV is support of these constitutional reforms and this diffuse “socialism of the 21st century”. Accordingly, the party’s membership is not limited to workers, peasants and the urban poor. When Chávez first presented the project he announced: “I invite the workers, the housewives, the professionals and technicians, the nationalist businessmen . . . to build a single political instrument.” (9) His “Venezuelan socialism” does not include any special role for the working class. As he explained on TV, Marxism “is a dogmatic thesis which is out of style and doesn’t conform to today’s reality.” He also opined, “the thesis that the working class should be the motor of socialism or the revolution are obsolete.” (10)

Within its ranks the PSUV includes the recently created “Association of Socialist Businessmen of Venezuela” (AESV) (11), which is led by the former leader of the party, Democratic Action (AD) (12). Other prominent PSUV members in this association include bankers, textile manufacturers, and well known functionaries of both former ruling parties (13).

Nonetheless as many as six million people (out of a total population of 24-27 million in Venezuela) have signed up for the PSUV. Only around 900,000 of these six million members – about 15% – have ever participated in a party meeting, according to the official figures.

The almost instantaneous appearance of this mass party cannot be explained simply by the great popularity Chávez enjoys amongst the country’s poor. It is a sign that a massive apparatus is at work, namely large parts of the state apparatus. Accordingly, there have been countless reports of state employees or workers in state-subsidised collectives being obliged to sign up in order to keep their jobs.

Even though the party has not been constituted – the PSUV has never held a congress of any kind – it already has a “disciplinary commission” which decides who can join and has even gone so far as forcing well known politicians to resign from the party. In this party, “discipline” – which means nothing other than submission to Chávez and his state apparatus – has a higher status than any political principle. Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez explained in September of the PSUV (again before it’s foundation!) that, “there are no internal tendencies because the principal leadership is held by the president, Hugo Chávez.” Consequently, revolutionary socialist groups that have aspired to join the PSUV as a political tendency have been blocked from doing so. (14)

But iron control over this “revolutionary party” is not enough. In September, Chávez in a speech lashed out at the autonomy of Venezuela’s trade unions. Absurdly, he cited Rosa Luxemburg as an authority: while she argued that trade unions should not be apolitical but rather be led by socialist parties, Chávez translated this into the necessity of trade unions submitting to his (capitalist) state.

The shadow bourgeoisie

Supporters of Chávez will ask: if this is a bourgeois regime, why is it so fiercely opposed by the bourgeoisie? The majority of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie supports the anti-Chávez opposition. In a semi-colonial country like Venezuela, the development of the productive forces and thus of the bourgeoisie has been handicapped from the start by the domination of imperialist capital in all sectors of the economy. In this situation, the state apparatus – the administrative bureaucracy and the army – takes on a special role.

At times, a semi-colonial state will be completely subservient to imperialism and sell off the country’s wealth as fast as possible. But at other times, a regime can come to power which aims to make the dominated country more independent, to keep a larger proportion of the wealth extracted from the country by the imperialist powers. In order to create pressure against their imperialist masters, these regimes need to mobilise the masses of workers and peasants, and to this end will take up anti-imperialist and even anti-capitalist slogans. Often such “caudillos” will concede small reforms to lessen the misery of the masses (think of Evita Peron’s philanthropy!), but their policies don’t challenge the private ownership of the means of production.

The bourgeoisie of a semi-colonial country is far too weak and afraid of the toiling masses to lead such a struggle. Therefore nationalist intellectuals and military officers take the lead (and Chávez is both), fighting for a larger part of the wealth exploited from workers and peasants to remain in the country. They reshape the national bourgeoisie in the process, often against the enraged opposition of important sectors of the ruling class. This in no way changes the bourgeois character of their historical project: the state apparatus becomes a kind of “shadow bourgeoisie”, carrying out a painful but necessary restructuring the ruling class so that it can increase its wealth in the future. This is the meaning of the so-called “Boliburguesía”, new bourgeois sectors that have adapted to the Bolivarian state or who have acquired their wealth via Chávez’s clientalist projects.

But far from the whole Venezuelan bourgeoisie has signed up for the “Bolivarian” project. Many were happy in submission to US imperialism, living off commissions from foreign exploiters. This explains the bitter resistance to the Chavista project by the capitalists’ associations, the corporate media, the church and the officers’ caste in the army.

Based on Leon Trotsky’s assessment of the Cardenas government in Mexico in the 1930s, the regime in Venezuela could be characterised as “semi-bonapartist”. Such a regime balances between the struggling classes, basing itself at times on the bourgeoisie and at other times on the mobilised workers and peasants, gaining the appearance of autonomy from all classes and concentrating tremendous power in the hands of the state executive. For the working class, this means an irregular mix of mobilisations and repressions – the proverbial carrot and the stick.

The struggle for a revolutionary party

Chávez’s drift to the left has been the result of increasing struggles and processes of organisation by the masses. The most important of these has been the formation of a new trade union federation, after the old yellow trade union CTV participated in the coup attempt in 2002. The National Union of Workers (UNT) was formed in 2003 and grew rapidly to include more than one million members, while the CTV all but disappeared.

Left wing leaders of the UNT who were grouped in the trade union’s “Class-based, Unified, Revolutionary, Autonomous Current” (C-CURA) formed their own political party, the Party for Revolution and Socialism (PRS), in July 2005. Even though its leaders were well known trade unionist like Orlando Chirino and Stálin Pérez Borges (both national coordinators of the UNT with a Trotskyist background), the PRS grew slowly. The leadership did not concentrate on building a political project besides C-CURA and, crucially, the party did not fight for workers’ political independence from the Chavista establishment, for example in the form of workers’ candidates in elections.

The PRS was often critical of Chávez, but it supported Chavista candidates – in the last presidential election they even went so far as to form an electoral alliance with the plebeian-populist Venezuelan People’s Unity (UPV) to support Chávez.

With the formation of the PSUV, the PRS has split. One wing, led by Stálin Pérez Borges, has entered the PSUV and, as a loosely organised tendency, publishes the magazine “Marea Clasista y Socialista” (Class-based and socialist tide) as the “paper of aspiring members of the PSUV”. Naturally, they were prevented from joining the new party in an organised form – the “promoting committee” and the “disciplinary commission” decide on rules like that, even though the party has no programme and no constitution.

Stálin Pérez Borges and his comrades, as well known trade union leaders, have made a fatal mistake in joining a political party that includes capitalists and the Minister of Labour. The basic principle of the International Workers of the World, “the working class and the employing class have nothing in common” (15), applies in Venezuela in 2007 just as much as in the USA 100 years earlier. What will the “Trotskyists” in the PSUV do when “their” party and “their” government attack trade union autonomy, refuse collective contracts for state workers, etc?

Another wing, around Orlando Chirino, has remained outside the PSUV but has done very little to build the PRS – in fact even the rump party seems to have entirely disappeared. As part of a debate within C-CURA about the constitutional reforms and the PSUV, Orlando Chirino wrote:

“It does not question at all capitalist property. The fruit of our labour and our surplus value that we produce as workers will be appropriated by the minority of businessmen and under the best of conditions by a state that administers the means of production from the point of view of capitalism. The real exercise of power is not transferred to the mobilised people so that they can make basic decisions to transform the country. The possibility is now open that the multinationals will have legal rights over the soil, marine areas and our natural resources through mixed corporations. Bourgeois justice remains intact, the administration of which remains in the hands of the capitalists and will continue favoring the exploiters and the thieves in white shirts. The defense of the revolution will continue to be in the hands of a professional army and not the armed people trained to defend themselves against the enemies of the people and revolution.” (16)

In another article, Orlando Chirino presents the alternative needed by the working class: “We workers must draw one single conclusion: Our place is not in the PSUV, we must create our own space, our own workers’ party. A party that defends trade union autonomy, that mobilises workers in defense of their rights, that genuinely breaks with the businessmen and multinational corporations, that fights for the expropriation and socialisation of the means of production, the property of the big landowners, the big stores and banks. That is socialism, everything else is trying to make capitalism more pretty. We don’t want a party that only lives from criticism of the government, we want a party that fights for the seizure of power and the government of the workers.” (17)

These statements are absolutely correct. Despite the huge pressure to join the PSUV, which has sucked in a whole layer of activists who were previously critical of Chavismo, there are discussions going on within the organised workers’ movement of Venezuela about the necessity for an independent “political instrument” or party of the working class. Such initiatives need to be pushed forward by revolutionaries, especially as the working class in Venezuela has never had its own mass party. The debates around the formation of such an “instrument” or party provide revolutionary forces with an excellent opportunity to explain their programme for a wide audience and can, in some circumstances, lead to the creation of a mass revolutionary party. But only if the lessons are learned from the failure of the PRS: it is central that any workers’ party aiming for socialism consistently fights for independence from the bourgeois state.

To join or not to join?

Chávez called on all parties currently supporting his government to dissolve and join the PSUV. But the social democratic parties “Fatherland For All” (PPT), “Podemos” and the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) have refused. Chávez and his supporters accuse these parties of only being interested in government positions and privileges. But the PCV, basing itself on the Stalinist tradition of class-collaboration, can hardly be outdone in its enthusiastic support for the “Bolivarian revolution”: they call for the formation of an “anti-imperialist front” together with the PSUV and “patriotic” sectors of the bourgeoisie. But as General Secretary Oscar Figuera explained: “We haven’t joined the PSUV because it is a policlassist (i.e. multi-class) party where businessmen, owners, workers and other social layers including sectors that are not socialist live together, and we have a very well-defined class position. We are the party of the class of workers and laborers.” (18)

It is disappointing that, while a Stalinist party can defend such basic Marxist positions, there is hardly a Trotskyist group or activist in Venezuela ready to offer a principled objection (not just a tactical objection) to joining a cross-class party. (19)

Without a doubt, it is necessary for revolutionaries to be as close as possible to the working class. Communists must be prepared to work within any mass organisation of the workers (including, under conditions of fascist dictatorship, the fascists’ yellow “trade unions”) in order to connect workers’ struggles with the scientific socialist programme. Throughout history, Marxists have been at the forefront when the working class has formed its own political movements and parties, even when these formations have not had a revolutionary orientation. It is for these reasons that a number of Trotskyist activists in Venezuela and internationally advocate joining the PSUV. But is the PSUV even a “worker’s party”?

Doubtless many of its members are proletarian. But the class character of a party is not primarily dependent on its members, even if the large majority are workers and peasants. The ruling classes in capitalist society are numerically insignificant, so even the most thoroughly bourgeois party will count a majority of workers and peasants amongst its members and voters.

Trotsky explained that the class nature of a party isn’t defined by 99% of the members, but rather by the party’s leadership and the class interests the party defends. As was explained above, the “Bolivarian revolution” and the PSUV serve a section of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie who want a stronger position relative to US imperialism – they need to mobilise and organise the masses to implement this project. In this sense the PSUV isn’t a workers’ party. It wasn’t initiated by the activity of the working class, but rather by Chávez and the state bureaucracy. The PSUV is a plebeian-populist party.

The limits of populism

There have been countless examples of populist parties in the history of Latin America: the APRA in the 1930s in Peru, the Peronist party in the 1940s in Argentina, the FSLN in the 1970s in Nicaragua etc, etc. Only in one case has the victory of such a party led to the abolition of capitalism: in Cuba in 1959, because of the ceaseless attacks by US imperialism, Fidel Castro’s bourgeois nationalist M-26-J was forced to form a Stalinist party and expropriate the capitalists. A planned economy was created, but it was achieved without workers’ revolution and lacked any organs of working-class power (20). In all other cases, these parties, which had come to power promising to fight imperialism and end capitalism, failed in their stated goals. They either became agents of the World Bank and IMF themselves, or they were toppled by the “patriotic” military officers and state bureaucrats they had put so much trust in.

For revolutionary communists it is of central importance to have not only a correct analysis of these parties but also, when they have influence over large sections of the exploited population, to develop correct tactics for winning their working class supporters to an independent, proletarian party with a revolutionary programme. Because only such a party can lead the struggle to expropriate the means of production and smash the capitalist state, which is the first step the transition to socialism.

In general, revolutionaries must find opportunities to struggle together with the members of these parties in a united front, while not dropping any criticisms of their leaderships, in order to demonstrate the superiority of the revolutionary programme in practice. But under no circumstances is it possible to abandon a central tenet of Marxism – the need for independent proletarian organisation – by calling on workers to vote for or join these bourgeois parties (21).

On the APRA, a progressive bourgeois party in Peru with large working class support, Leon Trotsky wrote in 1938: “For a while I wasn’t able to form a clear picture about the programme of the APRA. But the latest letter from the boss of this party is clear. It is a popular front party. A popular front is included in the party, as in every combination of this nature. The leadership is in hands of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie is afraid of its own workers. For this, this party, even if it is strong enough to take power for the revolution, is afraid to commit itself to this path. It has neither the courage nor the class interest to mobilise the peasants and the workers, and it will replace them with military manoeuvres or a direct intervention by the United States. Naturally, we cannot enter such a party, even though we can set up a nucleus there to win workers and break them from the bourgeoisie. But under no circumstance should we repeat the idiocy of Stalin with the Kuomintang in China.” (22)

The formula of a “nucleus to win workers and break them from the bourgeoisie” is precisely the tactic that Venezuelan communists need to confront the phenomenon of a plebeian party with hundreds of thousands of workers, workers who want to eliminate capitalism but think their “máximo líder” will do it for them. A revolutionary organisation can send cadre into such a formation to participate in debates and try to win workers away from Chavismo, but must maintain complete freedom of criticism and action in the form of an independent structure. Obviously it will be impossible to break workers from such a party if revolutionaries don’t, from the outset, make their principled opposition to such a multi-class party clear.

Not an empty bottle

At the beginning of this article, it was argued that the PSUV is not an empty bottle waiting to be filled with “bourgeois” or “proletarian” wine. Some might object that this is “fatalistic”, since the large proletarian base could assert itself within the new party. But to this, Trotsky, writing about the Chinese Kuomintang, answered: “The need to enter the Kuomintang was defended by pretending that, because of its social composition, it was the party of the workers and the peasants; that nine-tenths of the Kuomintang belonged to the revolutionary tendency and were prepared to march together with the Communist Party. As is well known, bourgeois society is constructed in such a way that the non-possessing masses, discontented and deceived, are at the bottom, while the deceivers are at the top. This is the way every bourgeois party is built, if it is truly a party, i.e. if it includes the masses in considerable proportions. In a society divided into classes, there is nothing more than a minority of exploiters, deceivers and profiteers. In this sense, every capitalist party must reproduce and reflect, in one way or another, the relationships that exist in bourgeois society in its internal relationships. Therefore, in every mass bourgeois party the base will be more ‘democratic’ and more ‘left wing’ than the top. But the top of the Kuomintang is the soul of the Kuomintang, its social essence.”

Trotsky added: “Considering the Kuomintang is not a bourgeois party but a neutral arena in which one can fight side by side with the masses – talking about the nine-tenths made up by the base to camouflage the question of who is the owner of this house – means consolidating the strength and the power of the tops. They [the Stalinists] believed that by simple re-elections in the congress of the Kuomintang, power would pass from the hands of the bourgeoisie to the hands of the proletariat. Can one imagine a more touching, more idealist devotion to ‘party democracy’ when we’re dealing with a bourgeois party? The army, the bureaucracy, the press and capital are in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and this is precisely what assures that the party’s steering wheel remains in their hands as well. Using these powerful means, the upper bureaucratic caste maintains its control not only over the nine-tenths of members who are the ‘left’ of the party, but also over the popular masses in their entirety.” (23)

The base and the bureaucracy

The party base of the PSUV is still in flux – it’s not clear how many of the six million people who signed up or the 900,000 who ever attended a meeting will actually be active. But the party bureaucracy is already more or less established, as it was taken over from the bureaucracies of government ministries and the old parties. The class character of such a state party cannot be changed any more easily than the class character of the state itself. So any debates about the tactical relationship of revolutionaries to the PSUV must be based on the strategic goal of breaking workers from the PSUV, not of herding them into it. The command of the hour is to “say what is”, rather than strengthening illusions about the possibility of transforming the PSUV into an instrument of proletarian revolution.

The working class in Venezuela needs to – and will inevitably – defend the improvements in terms of democratic and social rights that have been won under the Chávez government. This also means defending the government when it is under attack by imperialism or internal reaction. However, they must provide this defence not as Chavistas but rather as workers with a temporary convergence of interests with the bourgeois regime. In this way, they will be politically ready to fight against Chávez and his state apparatus when they go through a change in policy or an economic crisis and unleash the forces of repression against the workers’ movement.

The central struggle for revolutionaries at the moment is to fight against illusions in “revolutionary” military officers, “socialist” state bureaucrats and “anti-capitalist” capitalists – that is, to fight for independent policies and organisations of the working class. The slogan of independent working class policies, of course, loses all meaning when a revolutionary proletarian organisation dissolves itself in order to join the PSUV. Therefore we need to support revolutionary groups in Venezuela fighting to build a revolutionary workers’ party, but we can’t spare any criticism when these groups abandon the principle of working class independence.

Trotskyist tendencies

The International Marxist Tendency (IMT) has a section in Venezuela composed mostly of students, The Militant (El Militante). They refuse to criticise – or even analyse the class character of – the Chávez project, arguing to mobilise workers in the framework of Chavismo. Accordingly, they present the constitutional reform as a step towards socialism and accuse anyone not letting themselves be forced into the PSUV of “sectarianism”.

The International Workers’ Union (UIT) was the main political sponsor of the PRS leadership, even though they didn’t have a formal section in Venezuela. Since the PRS split, they (and the MST of Argentina, who for unknown reasons are no longer part of the UIT) are the main international supporters of the group around Stálin Pérez Borges who entered the PSUV.

The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) has a few members in Venezuela. The CWI’s position on the PSUV is ambiguous, explaining that CWI members “won’t not join” the party, and presenting the possibility that the PSUV could be “fully democratic, with an active rank and file and a revolutionary socialist programme” (24).

The International Workers’ League – Fourth International (LIT-CI) has just recently founded a section in Venezuela, the Socialist Workers’ Union (UST). The UST declared, quite correctly, that “We’re workers and we’re not going to the PSUV”. The LIT-CI, which has a history of entryist work lasting more than a decade, published an article explaining “Why joining the PSUV is not the same as joining the Brazilian PT in the 80s”.

The Trotskyist Faction – Fourth International (FT-CI) has a small section in Venezuela composed mostly of students, the Youth of the Revolutionary Left (JIR). They participated in the PRS but formed a public faction “for real class independence” when the party leadership gave almost uncritical support for Chávez. They call for a “big movement for an independent party of the workers” and propose an international campaign for class independence in Venezuela.

Wladek Flakin, November 11, 2007

first published in the journal “Permanent Revolution” #7, Winter 2007


1. For a more thorough look at the class nature of the Bolivarian project, see Stuart King, “Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution – What type of socialism in the 21st century?”, Permanent Revolution #3

2. Quoted by the German language “Hands off Venezuela” site,

3. Speech from 4 June 2007,

4. “The Perils of Petrocracy”,

5. Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez, Speech in Washington on July 25, 2007,

6. “Synergy With the Devil”,

7. see: Brazil’s participatory budgets,

8. For more information on the constitutional reforms, see “Una reforma cocinada a espaldas del pueblo”, or “Sozialismus des 21 Jahrhunderts” – eine Sackgasse”, Gruppe für revolutionär-marxistische ArbeiterInnenpolitik, Sozialistische Perspektive Nr. 14.

9. Speech from 15 December 2006,

10. “El debate sobre un gran partido de trabajadores”,

11. These are the “socialist capitalists” referred to in the title of the article.

12. One of the two bourgeois parties that ruled Venezuela in rotation since the 1950s

13. “¿Ingresar al PSUV es lo mismo que ingresar al PT brasilero?”,

14. “Sin Corrientes pero con Tendencias”, el 20% del PSUV elegirá voceros,

15. Preamble of the Industrial Workers’ of the World,

16. “UNT leader argues against PSUV”,

17. “Nuestro lugar no está en el PSUV”,

18. Interview with Oscar Figuera,

19. There are some smaller groups like the UST/LIT-CI and the JIR/FT-CI

20. This abolition of capitalism with virtually no independent activity by the working class was possible only with the support and under the direction of the ruling bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. The changing foreign policy of the USSR was one of the reasons that this phenomenon was not repeated in 1979 in Nicaragua when the FSLN came to power (i.e. they did not fundamentally alter the economy). Now that the former degenerated workers’ states have collapsed or re-introduced capitalism, there is little possibility of a left-populist party transcending capitalism.

21. Revo Germany did call for critical support for Chávez in the presidential elections of December 2006 because there was no workers’ candidate (see REVOLUTION 21), but we have since changed our position.

22. León Trotsky, Escritos Latinoamericanos, Buenos Aires 2007, p. 125.

23. León Trotsky,


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