Interview with Francisco Rivero, Spokesperson for the ‘Armando Reveron’ Battalion of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)
El Militante: How is the process of creating the structures of the PSUV and the election of spokespeople, committee members and delegates developing in the run-up to the founding congress?
Francisco Rivero: In my area, Carabelleda, in Vargas, as in the rest of the country, the structures of the Battalions began to take shape on Saturday 28th July. We held an all-day meeting. Although in the initial sessions there was a degree of disorganisation, and failure in certain aspects of preparation and orientation, from the third session onwards the Battalions began functioning efficiently. In my district, the average attendance at meetings has swung a little towards the middle class. Battalions in the poor areas have an average attendance of some 80 comrades; in the middle class areas the average is 25 to 30 comrades.
A noticeable thing is the composition of the Battalions. It is striking that the vast majority of the men, women and youth who are active had no previous membership of other parties. The majority were not even members of Venezuelan Revolutionary Movement (RMV – the previous Bolivarian party). These are people who had despaired of politics during this revolutionary process, who support President Chavez and call themselves revolutionaries, Bolivarians, anti-imperialists and socialists. The only ideological education the majority have received is their own experiences during these ten years of revolution, and from the President’s speeches. Among these sections of the population there is vision, a motivation to participate in politics, huge enthusiasm and revolutionary will.
Over August and September, various issues relating to the agenda proposed by the National Policy Office which is presided over by Comrade Jorge Rodriguez, Vice-President of the Government, began to be discussed. In each Battalion, various commissions were organised:
Politics and ideology
Propaganda and mobilisation
Due to the fact the political situation become more acute as a result of the hysterical reaction of the right-wing to the proposed changes to the Constitution, which aim to move the revolution forward and promote popular power, President Chavez proposed speeding up the timetable for the party’s Founding Congress. The date for elections of spokespeople and committee members was brought forward, and these took place on October 8th. Over the past few weeks the political debate has centred around discussion of the proposed constitutional reforms.
EM: How were the elections conducted?
FR: During weekly meetings of the Battalions throughout August and September, the members of each battalion had the opportunity to get to know each other, debate politically, listen to every comrade’s views, hear what their proposals for political action were, and judge their capability, the steadfastness of their ideology and their revolutionary conviction. In my Battalion I put forward, from the start, a Marxist method and programme.
I think that the clarity of Marxist methods allowed me to gain the respect of the group, which elected me its spokesman in bringing about the socialist federation of the different constituencies.
The procedure for electing spokespeople, committee members and delegates was as follows: each Battalion elected one spokesperson and five committee members – one for each committee. The committee members were not elected by the committees themselves but the by Battalion as a whole. All elections were by secret ballot. The spokespeople and committee members of 10 Battalions in a given district come together to form a socialist federation. Weekly meetings take place in which they debate their positions and get to know each other, and one delegate from each federation is then elected to the Founding Congress, which is on 2nd November.
EM: What have been the main issues and concerns during the debates in the Battalions and socialist federations?
FR: The discussion over constitutional reform, which has raised very interesting views and proposals that reflect the aspirations of the revolutionary rank and file, and also concerns about particular mistakes and failures. There were also very strong criticisms over certain local and regional authorities (governors, mayors, councils). There were many speeches against the bureaucracy and concerns over ethical and ideological deviance – corruption and so on – that we are seeing among some public officials.
There was huge concern about the need for local councils to conform to revolutionary policies. We discussed how the PSUV and, specifically our Battalion, would run the local councils and develop popular power in our region.
EM: Some ultra-left sects who call themselves revolutionary, and even Marxist, say the the PSUV is not a revolutionary party, that it is ‘bourgeois’, ‘multi-class’. They offer as proof the fact that bureaucrats and even entrepreneurs have joined the party. As a PSUV activist, what is your reply to them?
FR: The wide popular participation in the formation of the PSUV, with more than 5 million waiting to join in support of the President’s proposals and a current membership of 1,500,000 activists, has been a blow against the bureaucratic elements. These controlled the MRV (Venezuelan Revolutionary Movement) and other parliamentary parties through the methods of cunning and cliqueism, using manoeuvres on quotas and eligibility in elections.
Now these bureaucratic and reformist elements, the counter-revolutionaries who infest the revolutionary movement disguised in red clothing, have reacted virulently to the clear evidence that they have lost control over the revolutionary organisation. These elements are doing, and will continue to do, all they can to try to prevent the participation of the rank and file, and try to control the Battalions and federations. But the results remain to be seen and will depend on the development of the class struggle and the revolutionary process. The important thing is that revolutionaries should work shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses in this struggle, and to win it. For now the bureaucratic elements are facing many problems, and their manoeuvres are being repudiated by large sections of the rank and file.
EM: How is the struggle between the reformist, the bureaucratic and the revolutionary factions within the revolutionary movement developing within the PSUV?
FR: One example of the fear of democratic debate and the participation of the rank and file, following the President’s proposal to create the PSUV from below, can be seen in the declarations of member of parliament Francisco Ameliach. Ameliach is a leading national protagonist of these reformist and bureaucratic factions. He went so far as to declare publicly that it was not timely to continue developing the PSUV and even gathered signatures from MPs calling for a return to the old structures of the MRV, at least until after the reform referendum. These proposals met with general rejection and were strongly criticised by President Chavez himself.
These elements, and their attempts to prevent debate and the participation of the rank and file in decision-making, have made their appearance in my Battalion. To cite one example, on the day of the election of spokespeople and committee members, various Vargas local government officials, who had scarcely attended a single meeting of the Battalion in the previous months, turned up to vote. This caused huge indignation among the other comrades in the Battalion, who reacted strongly, accusing them of political immorality and lack of revolutionary ethics. This, such as it is, is the situation in other Battalions.
Unfortunately, a last-minute manoeuvre succeeded in the National Policy Office changing its original position, which was that only those who had attended at least 50% of all meeting could vote or stand as candidates, to one which allowed those who had attended two meetings, including that on the day of the election, to vote.
In addition, and this is a sad observation, these bureaucratic and pro-capitalist elements are using their positions of power in relation to election of delegates to the Founding Congress in the federations to try to prevent the true reflection of the will of the rank and file. Spokespeople and committee members in some Battalions have been subjected to pressure. Some who work in public administration have even been threatened with the sack by some bureaucrats.
There have been campaigns to discredit some individuals and others have been offered bribes in the form of cushy jobs. In some Battalions where spokespeople who are not under the influence of the bureaucracy have been elected, the bureaucrats have challenged the results and in some cases have organised violent provocations. For instance, in another Battalion in my own district, Comrade Oduber (known as ‘Professor Oduber’), a well-known local social activist and fighter, who was elected spokesman for his Battalion, was even arbitrarily detained by the Chief of Police for denouncing these bureaucratic activities.
However, the most significant factor is the widespread and apposite response to the bureaucracy’s desperate actions in the overwhelming majority of Battalions. An example: in my federation during a political debate among the spokespeople and committee members elected by the different Battalions, a known representative of the regional bureaucracy – who demonstrated during his intervention a complete lack of understanding of revolutionary politics – in desperation at seeing he was in a minority, recommended that there be no election of delegates (‘because it would be divisive’) but rather an ‘entente cordiale’ between those in the federation with the most ‘political experience’. The spokespeople and committee members insisted that we were not interested in agreements between groups and cliques, but wanted democratic discussion, accountability and right of recall of delegates.
EM: What ideas, methods and programme do you, a Marxist elected as spokesman and candidate, and delegate for your Battalion to the Founding Congress, think the PSUV should defend?
FR: There is a strong yearning among the rank and file for the political programme of the PSUV to serve the interests of the people, that the PSUV become a genuine socialist, revolutionary party and that it not be under the control of hierarchies and cliques. As Marxists we have a responsibility to defend these wishes. We must participate in the process and through our ideas and methods strive to ensure the political programme of the PSUV is infused with the ideas of scientific socialism, the permanent revolution, and the central role of the working class in the revolutionary process; that we help bring about the expropriation of the oligarchs and replace the exploitation and barbarism of capitalism with a democratic, planned, socialist economy under workers’ control.
Equally, Marxists must openly support President Chavez’s proposal to press forward with the workers’, community and youth councils. At the same time, we call for the unification of these councils, that they be accountable and subject to recall at any time, at local, regional and national level, in order that they form the basis of a genuine revolutionary state to replace the capitalist state apparatus that remains in existence.
EM: What is your general overview to date on the establishment of the PSUV, and how do you think the party can develop in the future?
FR: If we draw a balance sheet, we can say with all certainly that the establishment of 15,000 Socialist Battalions throughout the country, that are discussing socialism, the constitutional reform and how to use it to overthrow capitalism, and so on, represents a revolution in the history of political parties in Venezuela. It is a crushing blow against the traditional way of doing politics in Venezuela, where previously everything was decided bureaucratically from above.
There is complete freedom of discussion and analysis within the debates we are conducting in the PSUV Battalions. There are no demarcation lines, there is complete freedom to implement changes, and everyone has equal right to participate. It remains for the Founding Congress, and thereafter, to fight to ensure it continues this way, and to enable the millions of Venezuelans involved in the PSUV to fight for socialism and a genuine revolutionary, Marxist, socialist programme – a democratic organisation with a leadership under right of recall that expresses the will of the rank and file, responds to it and is under its control.
The most significant element in all this is that for the first time a political organisation is being created from below, with the participation of workers, housewives, youth, peasants, professionals, etc., united in their neighbourhoods and districts or, in many cases (also very important) in their workplaces.
In this sense, I think it’s particularly important and significant that the workers in the abandoned factories taken over by the workers are running them under workers’ control. Inveval has formed its own Battalion and the vast majority of the workers in the factory are members of it. This is the way forward. The revolutionary union leaders must build PSUV Battalions in every factory so that the working class can play its appropriate role in the revolution.
Regardless of the balance of forces between the reformist and revolutionary factions, which will be reflected in the elections of delegates to the Founding Congress, we must be clear that the process towards the establishment of a mass revolutionary party in Venezuela has only just begun. It is a dialectical process that will be subjected to changes produced by the different junctures that will occur during the class struggle. The most important thing, over and above the concrete results the workers achieve in the election of spokespeople, committee members and delegates to the Founding Congress, is the existence of the 15,000 Battalions where there will be continued debate and revolutionary watchfulness, and where the struggle to defend the revolution and take it forward to its final victory will deepen in the coming period.