Venezuela: a revolutionary constitution

‘The socioeconomic regime of the based on the principles of socialism, anti-imperialism, humanism, co-operation, efficiency, protection of the environment and solidarity, to the ends of assuring the development of the complete person living a dignified existence to the benefit of all’ (Article 229, Venezuelan Constitution). ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

The revolutionary campaign to change 69 articles of the 350 in the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution began with huge rallies on 4 November, two days after the start of the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The referendum on the changes takes place on 2 December. Attacked by its opponents as anti-democratic, the campaign will establish a firm basis for a revolutionary social and political system, a horrifying prospect for the small Venezuelan bourgeoisie. As they are implemented, the changes will have enormous significance for the oppressed world wide. That is why the US government continues in its efforts to undermine and depose President Chavez.

33 of the amendments were proposed by the government, and 36 came from popular suggestions made through the National Assembly. In this battle the PSUV has launched Campaign Zamora organised through 24 regional committees. Socialist battalions – batasos – have been formed with 100 PSUV militants each. Every militant is responsible for nine voters so that over 12,750,000 voters will be met to have the proposals explained.

In preparation for the PSUV’s founding conference, its members elected more than 11,000 spokespersons from 25,000 socialist battalions on 29 September. Prior to this, communities throughout the country held more than 91,000 battalion meetings to prepare policy. Nearly six million have joined the new party, more than 35% of all voters, 51% of them women. On 10 October over 14,000 spokespersons were sworn in by President Hugo Chavez: ‘Women are going to save the world!’ he said. On 20 October the spokespersons elected the delegates for the conference.

Revolutionary amendments to the Constitution
These revolutionary changes express the new ‘geometry of power’ – the replacement of the bourgeois state with the communal state announced by Chavez in December 2006. Changes to legislative regions and districts, popular councils and citizens assemblies, will promote the maximum political participation of the people. The right to revoke mandates is protected. The right of political association is guaranteed.

Consultative referenda on communal, municipal and state issues can be held if requested by more than 20% of the relevant electorate. Changes in law by referenda (excluding the state budget, international treaties and human rights) require approval by 30% of the registered electorate. The voting age is reduced to 16. All foreigners resident for 10 years may vote. The state alone will finance electoral activities. Foreign financing of political parties is outlawed, undermining electoral manipulation by the wealthy and their US backers.

The city becomes the centre of a network of smaller political units in the surrounding territories. All citizens have a new ‘right to the city’, that is, equal access to the benefits of urban life wherever they may live, breaking the infamous inequality between town and countryside imposed by capitalism. A national system of cities is established and urban land speculation is prohibited.

Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, health, creed, political views, social or religious position is outlawed. Positive steps must be taken in favour of those currently discriminated against. All Venezuela’s cultures are equal. Aristocratic titles and hereditary distinctions are no longer recognised.

Everyone has the right to adequate housing ‘that humanises family, neighbour and community relations’ with priority to the family, especially the poor, with credits for housing. Everyone has the right and duty to work. All employers must guarantee healthy, secure and dignified working conditions, with paid holidays.

All independent workers, from home makers to domestic workers, temporary workers, artisans, taxi drivers, small farmers etc will benefit from a Social Stability Fund to help ensure basic rights such as pensions and holidays. The working week is reduced to 36 hours, and for night workers to 34. Workers’ co-management is to be promoted. The state will promote facilities for the development of physical, moral and cultural qualities of all. Education, a priority, is free and obligatory up to pre-University level. Prison reform guarantees human rights. Universities are self governing and University precincts inviolable.

The state will promote a productive economy based on common, not individual, needs, to achieve ‘the greatest possible happiness’. It guarantees different forms of property ownership. It will create state economic units, communal or mixed and private in nature, but prohibits monopolies so to promote fair competition. The central bank loses its independence, that is, its role in promoting neo-liberal economic dogma. Balanced development between regions, a transparent and efficient administration and a fight against corruption are embodied in the amendments. Agricultural development is a priority. Privatisation of state industries is forbidden. Latifundio – large usually uncultivated private landholdings – are prohibited, and are to be transferred to the state or other productive social organisations.

The new constitution will allow re-election of any presidential candidate without restriction (as in 170 other countries), and extension of the term of office from six to seven years. This will mean that Chavez will not be forced to step down at the end of his current term. The armed forces are at the service of the people and may never serve an oligarchy or foreign power.

From July onwards, as debates over the proposed changes in the Constitution started and as the process of creating the PSUV continued, the right wing and many centrists began a new terror campaign. US-sponsored right-wing students – shocked by the imminent disappearance of their class privileges – started clashes on the streets of Caracas. Masked gunmen have fired on university campuses; the purpose of these actions is to provoke a state crackdown to ‘prove’ the accusation of President Chavez’s ‘authoritarianism’.

Anti-government propaganda has been circulated in army barracks. Former Defence Minister Baduel, who resigned in July, called a press conference on 5 November, to which only opposition media were invited. He claimed that the proposed reforms would ‘seize power away from the people’. Although he had sided with Chavez during the attempted coup in 2002, it was only because of his anxiety at the huge and potentially explosive mass support for the President. In government Baduel had pushed for reconciliation with the political right and big business. He opposed the extension of public ownership and favoured close collaboration with the far-right Colombian Defence Ministry. As minister, he failed to stop the murder of over 150 peasant land reformers and his military officials collaborated in the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the foreign affairs emissary of the FARC in broad daylight in the centre of Caracas. But he is isolated and although he seeks a leading role in reversing Chavez’s achievements, the intense solidarity shown by the masses with the government remains a solid and growing barrier to any government defeat in the referendum. Baduel was quite right though to say that the proposed amendments mean ‘a transformation of the state, and a different model for the country’. He knows his class interests and he knows he is on the losing side.

FRFI 200 December 2007 / January 2008