A decisive battle has been going on within the PSUV in Venezuela, a battle over who are to be the parliamentary candidates for the party in the elections later this year. The left have been fighting an unequal battle, where more right-wing candidates have had much more resources and official backing locally than candidates who genuinely represent the workers and poor. It is a key battle in the Venezuelan revolution.
In the run-up to the September 26 Parliamentary elections a mood of urgency has developed among the rank and file of the Venezuelan PSUV, who see the need to defend the revolution against the attempts of the counter-revolution to get control of parliament. However, at the same time there is an extremely deep-felt mistrust towards the bureaucracy and huge discontent with the present state of affairs. The events around the recent May 2 primary elections in the PSUV for the Parliamentary seats have confirmed this.
Irregularities and inequality in campaign
Initially there were certain illusions in these elections and 3,527 registered as candidates in the 87 constituencies. The turnout in the elections was very high with some 2.5 million voting, amounting to 38% of the total PSUV membership. This is an impressive turnout for primary elections, which once again shows the extremely favourable situation which exists for completing the revolution and finally moving towards Socialism. It was also a resounding blow to the opposition, which had a ridiculously low mobilization in their own primaries and only held elections for a small part of the constituencies.
Nonetheless, many PSUV rank and file members complained that the campaign, which only lasted for two weeks, was marked by significant inequality in the sense that the candidates with big amounts of money had huge advantages as they were able to promote themselves with flyers, posters, etc. and pay people to do leafleting, etc.
Another aspect which reinforced the unequal conditions was the fact that some candidates who already held positions within the state apparatus or in the party leadership, were able to use these positions in order to appear frequently in the media and/or to convene official parties with the sole aim of promoting their candidature.
A lot of other irregularities were reported by PSUV grassroots activists on election day itself. On the website Aporrea.org, a number of reports were collected in an article which documented how candidates associated with the apparatus, such as Freddy Bernal, the ex-mayor of Caracas Libertador, had systematically violated the rules which had been approved for the election campaign.
Discontent in the rank and file
The days after May 2, party members from every corner of the country produced articles and letters, many of them reproduced in Aporrea, which showed that there was a generalized phenomenon. The apparatus (“las maquinarias” as it is referred to in Venezuela) did everything possible to avoid any left-wing candidates from winning. There were even claims of fraud in Bolívar, Trujillo, Zulía and other places. The letters explain it their own words. We will reproduce only a small selection which captures the anger of the PSUV rank and file after the elections:
In an article entitled “When will the President free himself from the chameleons and scorpions?” Alirio Coromoto Gil from Trujillo State writes:
“To all these irregularities should be added the threats against thousands of contract workers that they will be fired if they did not go to vote for the three candidates of the endogenous right of the PSUV. They also immorally abused state resources, money, cars, full-page adverts in the newspapers, radio spots on sports programs, promotional openings of some works and days of the missions and social programs where candidates appear as ‘nuns of charity’.
“Apparently the endogenous right of the National Leadership of the PSUV worked out an electoral strategy in the country to halt the advance of leftist trends by putting up barriers, benefits, abuses of power, so that no left candidates could win or reach second place. For this purpose they have been able to count on the complicity of the CNE [National Electoral Commission, Editor’s note] officials in the regions, who so far have not given any explanations as to what happened to the votes of the other candidates.”i
Jhonny Navas from Zulía State writes the following:
“In the internal elections to choose the deputy representative of the PSUV, fraud was noticed on the part of Mr. Lisandro Cabello and Ms. Aleida Cardozo which consisted of:
- Both took advantage of the economic weakness of the other candidates, and used the political machinery of the municipalities in Cabimas and Miranda, placing in the polling station staff they had personal confidence in, in order to achieve total control, thus disobeying the orders of President Chavez, to guarantee fair and equal elections.
- In the absence of witnesses, all staff who were working at the tables repeatedly voted, which is clear from the highest vote recorded in the constituency, one of the highest in the country, despite the absence of voters at the polls.
- They reached agreements with opposition members, who unfortunately mobilised the members that they have registered in the PSUV to vote for Hair and Aleida Lisandro Cardozo. This was witnessed by the very coordinators of the opposition in the tents that the municipal government had put up, these same coordinators who were our enemies in the previous election.
- The use of tents, trucks, buses, motorcycles, patrols belonging to the municipalities in Cabimas and Miranda, to transport the PSUV supporters of Lisandro Cabello and Aleida Lisandro Cardozo. The supply of water, food, refreshments for staff and support tables, released by the mayor mentioned above. ”ii
In an article entitled “The apparatus defeated the rank and file”, Juán Linares from Bolívar State writes:
“But in the election campaign one began to notice the opportunism and bias towards their followers, all the social promoters, who received instructions and were given the previously established slate of their candidates, this time of Tito and Gil Barrios. On Sunday 2nd May, all state officials and their leaders intervened, adding their weight to this imposition and checking on the social promoters, so that they did not support any other candidate. The social promoters were concerned about keeping their positions and one can understand why. For most of them, their job is their only means of survival, because they only receive a minimum monthly wage barely enough to feed themselves and cover their very basic needs (...)
“It was the endogenous right that was bringing on their people and distributing their slate and promises so that people would vote for their candidates. Nothing has changed. They pay lip-service to the revolution, in order to live off it. The mobilized apparatus, the huge resources and logistics worked, and the 50 dreamers woke up. It was total lack of respect and a mockery of the RULES GOVERNING THE CAMPAIGN FOR ASPIRING CANDIDATES IN THE PSUV PRIMARY ELECTIONS TO CHOOSE PROSPECTIVE PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES FOR THE 2010 NATIONAL ASSEMBLY. Another anomaly is the fact that no one knows why in the constituencies the results of all aspiring candidates have not been released. We all want to know how many votes we got.”iii
Similar quotes could be multiplied at will. The picture anywhere you go in Venezuela is the same: the apparatus used every possible and impossible trick to crush the left. The results themselves reflect this victory of the apparatus.
The electoral campaign of the left and of the right
Even in spite of this, the masses managed to get some “popular” figures onto the final winning list, such as Andreina Tarazón (winning her seat with 37.36% of the votes) who belongs to the M-28 student movement and the J-PSUV. The candidates supported by the Marxists of Lucha de Clases also did very well, although they were subjected to the same disadvantages as the rest of the left-wing candidates.
Comrade Geovanny Peña, Member of the present Parliament, was struggling for his re-election in Barinas, was just some 74 votes from winning the seat! According to the CNE official results, he received 11.089 votes, amounting to 18.77% in the constituency where he was standing, thus giving him the status as candidate for Alternate MP. Comrade Elías Chacon, standing in Chacao in Miranda State, was the 5th most voted in his constituency, out of a total of 46 candidates. Although his vote has not been announced, it seems that he received between 7-8%, amounting to more than 2,000 votes, compared to 3,790 of the number two on the list who won one of the two nominations in that constituency.
Other left-wingers, such as Juan Contreras of the extremely militant 23 de Enero neighbourhood in Caracas ,also did well and was the second most voted, receiving 3,231 (11.44%) and thus ending as a candidate for the Alternate MP.
The campaign of the left in general differed very sharply from that of the right-wing candidates. The comrades around Aporrea.org organized a campaign called “¡NI BURÓCRATAS NI CAPITALISTAS! LUCHADORAS Y LUCHADORES SOCIALES A LA ASAMBLEA NACIONAL!” (Neither bureaucrats, nor capitalists! Social fighters to the National Assembly!, Aporrea apoya a luchadoras y luchadores sociales en Primarias del PSUV), which had the support of a big number of revolutionary groups within the PSUV, including many trade union leaders, local community radio-stations, organizations in the poor Chavista neighbourhoods and so on. The basic points of their campaign, which also characterized the slate that they promoted, were the following:
Not to vote for any candidate linked to the bourgeoisie or one who accumulated private capital at the expense of the exploitation of others.
Vote for candidates with a political background of social struggle who have not lost their ties to the working class and the Bolivarian people.
In the cases of candidates that had previously held positions within the state apparatus, only recommend a vote in favour for those who had used these positions to defend and deepen the revolutionary process, and not for their personal benefit.
The specific campaign of the Marxists around Lucha de Clases, who also supported the above mentioned points, focused on the need to abolish the power of the bourgeoisie. In the campaign of Elias Chacon, that has already been mentioned, the comrades produced a number of leaflets along these lines (Material electoral de campaña del camarada Elías Chacon). In this propaganda, they outlined the need for the nationalization of the banks, health care, heavy industries and the land. They also argued in favour of the introduction of workers' control in the newly nationalized companies, as the only means of combating mismanagement, speculation and sabotage. These arguments found a very good response in the mass assemblies that the comrades attended. In just two weeks they managed to attend nine assemblies with more than 100 attendants at each, just in the constituency were comrade Elías Chacon was standing.
Need to organize the PSUV left wing
The protests against inequality and fraud after the elections have been overwhelming. A meeting called with only two days’ notice in Caracas, was organized by left-wing sectors of the party with the aim of drawing up a “Critical balance-sheet” of the primary elections. 150 people gathered to hear left-wing figures such as Fernando Soto Rojas (a veteran of the movement), Gonzalo Gómez (the founder of Aporrea.org), Juan Contreras and others.
There was an extremely critical mood at the meeting, with the presence of activists from all the major Chavista strongholds in Caracas and also from Vargas and Miranda States. A detailed report, including images of the assembly, was produced by the Venezuelan Marxists of Lucha de Clases and reproduced on the home page of Aporreaiv.
It was significant to see comrades who had supported Chávez since he was imprisoned in 1992 in a state of profound concern over the course that the revolution is taking. Many of the most advanced sectors in the vanguard are feeling that the destiny of the revolution is slipping from their hands. In a certain sense this corresponds to the same process that Leon Trotsky outlined in his book The History of the Russian Revolution. There comes a specific juncture, where the masses, beginning with the most advanced layers, feel that the initial power they had won is being taken away from them, that the revolution is being hijacked by people with different aims. This is exactly what is happening in Venezuela now.
The party tops are already beginning to take a step back, faced with such huge pressure from below. On Thursday, Cecilia Flores, vice-president of the party said that the National Leadership was “investigating the claims of inequality in the campaigns” and that they were “considering the social composition of the PSUV candidates”v. This is clearly a way of saying that the party leadership is worried about the explosive effects that the manoeuvres are having among the rank and file.
On the other hand, president Chávez continues with a very radical line. In his speech to the 110 winners of the elections on Friday, he said that "We must prepare for the demolition of the bourgeois state and the hegemony of the oligarchy". He appealed to the PSUV parliamentary candidate and said that, "You must put yourself at the service of the people, not of yourselves, nor of a governor or a mayor, but of the people who are still suffering”. In the same speech he threatened the speculators in the food industry with expropriations and ended by saying that “We have to finish with representative democracy, which is the bourgeois form. We must prepare to introduce participatory democracy.”vi
Many activists in the PSUV see a huge gap between this line of Chávez, who they continue to see as their representative, and the official party leadership, the ministers and the professional politicians who are doing everything to hold back the movement. The recent developments have exacerbated and deepened this contradiction. Through events, such as these primary elections, the activists in the vanguard are learning and drawing conclusions.
The Marxists and the PSUV left in general will of course do everything in their power to help the victory of the party in the September legislative elections. But this can only be done if the Bolivarian masses feel that they have something to vote for, i.e. a viable alternative to the present impasse. On the contrary, if the masses do not feel that the party candidates represent their interests and are not capable of fighting for the Socialist revolution, as they are supposed to, then it is very likely that a high level of abstention will occur.
It must be admitted, that the victory of the apparatus was made easier by the fact that the left is fragmented, disorganised and has no clear programme or national campaign. The left did not intervene in any organised way in the PSUV congress, although there were elements pointing in this direction, and it only participated in the primaries at the last minute without a well-prepared platform. The left wing has huge possibilities for growth and ultimately winning a majority within the party. But only on the condition that it is organized.
In our opinion, a left wing could be mobilized around the following basic points in relation to the parliamentary elections and internal democracy:
Every winner of the primary elections must publish a full balance sheet of their expenditure and income in relation to their campaign. In that way everyone can see how the winners financed their campaigns.
An internal control commission, elected by representatives of the PSUV branches, must be set up in order to investigate the claims of fraud and inequality, taking into account the proof provided in the alternative media.
The PSUV masses must have the right to recall MPs, should they go against the interests of the people who elected them.
The MPs must be accountable to the PSUV members in their constituencies.
The party rank and file must demand that a new PSUV majority in the National Assembly be used to approve the immediate introduction of an Enabling Act which expropriates the major capitalist companies, the remaining private telecommunication companies and banks, the food sector, the heavy industry and the land.
For the immediate convening of an Assembly of Elected Representatives of the PSUV Workers' Patrols and the PSUV branches in the poor neighbourhoods. The aim of such an Assembly must be to discuss and vote on a joint left opposition platform.
Now is the time to act. It is necessary to set up a solidly organized left-wing opposition in the PSUV which can struggle against the right wing and challenge their grip over the party. This will be a decisive question in deciding the fate of the Venezuelan revolution.
Caracas, May 8, 2010.