- Created: Thursday, 09 October 2014 12:57
- Written by Sam Mcgill
In July 2014 the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) held its third Congress, the first since the death of the party’s founder Hugo Chavez in 2013. The Congress ratified the political programme put forward by Chavez and reaffirmed Nicolas Maduro as party leader. It identified the fundamental tasks of the Bolivarian Revolution over the next five years as ‘the construction of a productive economic apparatus and the advancement and transition towards a socialist economy’, with ‘state transformation’ a key objective. The subsequent cabinet shake-up, campaign against smuggling and focus on food production and popular participation are crucial steps in the struggle for socialism in Venezuela. Sam McGill reports.
The economic offensive
On 12 August, the National Commission for the Struggle against Contraband began operations to combat the smuggling that sees 40% of Venezuela’s subsidised food and consumer products sold on the lucrative Colombian informal market. The smuggling of Venezuela’s heavily-subsidised petrol into Colombia reached an estimated equivalent of 100,000 barrels a day. In co-operation with the Colombian government, the Bolivarian armed forces have closed the Colombian border at night, shutting smuggling paths and waterways. By 29 August, the Venezuelan border state of Zulia reported a 40% decrease in contraband. In September, Vice-President Jorge Arreaza announced a 53% reduction in fuel trafficking whilst Maduro ordered an investigation into Venezuela's national fuel supply network, citing ‘strong evidence’ of criminal groups colluding with state-owned companies. Over 230 arrests have been made, including 21 members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces.
A new biometric system has been introduced to prevent bulk buying of 23 basic subsidised products. The lengthy queues for food, highlighted by bourgeois media, have been reduced, as the new system precludes the need for till staff to laboriously write down each customer’s ID number. Stores face fines if they understaff check-out tills.
The government has initiated an import audit whilst a special commission investigates distributors, importers and individuals implicated in fictitious imports and currency scams worth $20 billion between 2011-2013. Venezuela’s Central Bank reported inflation down from 5.7% in May to 3.9% in August. However, accumulated inflation still totals 63.4% since August 2013, with living costs up 39%, outstripping April’s 30% minimum salary increase. Confronting currency fraud and stimulating domestic production are essential for tackling the problem.
New Cabinet to lead ‘five revolutions’
In August, all government ministers resigned to allow a fundamental restructuring of ministries. The PSUV Congress agreed ‘five revolutions’ in economic production, scientific and technological knowledge, improving the social missions, developing the communes and participative democracy, and promoting a multi-polar world by building alliances within Latin America and beyond. These correspond to the five strategic objectives of Programa Patria 2013-2019, on which Hugo Chavez was elected in 2012. Programa Patria was ratified by the National Assembly, but financial instability and opposition orchestrated street violence following Chavez’s death stalled its implementation. The restructuring merges ministries to create six new departments led by vice-ministers.
- Economy and Finances – incorporating the former ministries of Commerce, Industry, Tourism, Transport, Oil and Mining;
- Security and Food Sovereignty – formerly Food, Agriculture and Land;
- Planning and Knowledge – formerly University Education, Science and Technology, Culture and Education;
- Social Development and the Missions – formerly Youth, Sport, Indigenous Peoples, Work, Women, Health and Justice;
- Political Sovereignty – formerly Foreign Relations, and Communications;
- Development of Territorial Socialism – formerly Communes and Social Movements, Housing and Environment, Eco-socialism, Electrical Energy, Public Works and Transport.
These will be linked to presidential councils of popular power, where elected bodies of women, youth, indigenous peoples, workers, commune representatives, cultural representatives, farmers and fishermen will have input. For example, the Vice President for Security and Food Sovereignty, Yvan Gil, has set up an office to oversee the production and distribution of food, incorporating a presidential council of farmers, fishermen and rural producers to work alongside the newly-merged state food production and distribution chain, Corpo Pdval-Mercal, and with the agricultural suppliers’ corporation, sourcing from small businesses and co-operatives. The Agricultural Bank of Venezuela will be re-launched to oversee agribusiness plans, while the Centre for Food Balance will monitor food supply and production. ‘Mission Zamora’, the national food production plan, will receive 2.5bn bolivars ($396m). Gil announced that Venezuela now produces 50% of what the country consumes, but recognised that to fight the ‘food mafia’ monopolies, the state needs to advance control over food distribution, still largely in private hands.
Tensions in the debate around economic productivity have centred on the dispute in the state-owned steel plant, Sidor. July and August saw clashes between the National Guard and Sidor’s trade union Sutiss when 14 striking workers were arrested during a two-year struggle over renegotiating a collective contract and frozen pay. National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello, leading PSUV member and former Sidor director, refused to meet with Sutiss, describing it as a ‘union mafia’ that had delayed the new collective contract. He was initially backed by Maduro, prompting criticism within the PSUV. As support for Sutiss spread, the Ministry of Industry agreed a new collective contract on 4 September, including backdated pay rise, pension and investment plan for production. The democratic participation of workers’ councils and trade unions in state-run industries is a challenge, that has to be resolved if Venezuela is to build a socialist economy. The popular presidential council of workers could be crucial in addressing this, with sufficient authority.
Democracy and participation
The PSUV Congress recognised the need to accelerate participatory democracy and planning. A national presidential council of communal governance was created in May for consulting the communes; regional councils of communal governance are now being established to facilitate input locally. A new Bank of Communal Development will bring all existing development banks under one umbrella. In June, an independent National Communard Council was formed by grassroots activists, determined to incorporate the commune movement’s demands into these presidential councils.
Every branch of the PSUV branch was asked to submit ten proposals to Congress. Initially electoral campaign cells, these 13,500 branches are now required to discuss and implement Congress proposals, with the priorities of stimulating production and confronting hoarding, speculation and smuggling. This is a key step in transforming the PSUV from a cross-class electoral machine to a socialist party of the working class and oppressed; it is backed by the decision to create PSUV cadre schools for political training in each state.
There was dissent around the Congress, with political currents writing open letters criticising the PSUV for insufficient democracy. A key demand was an end to co-option, whereby the national leadership hand-picks candidates for elections or party positions. Of the 985 delegates to the congress, more than 400 mayors, governors and other PSUV politicians had been allocated seats automatically, leaving only 540 delegates nominated and elected by the party’s grassroots. In response, Maduro promised an end to co-option in the regions and municipalities, saying that there would be ‘from bottom to top, legitimate leadership’ and a ‘process of renewal, reorganisation and legitimacy of all bodies of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, from 31 July until 28 January .’
The PSUV has to walk a difficult line, aiming to become a socialist party and propel the Bolivarian Revolution forward, whilst elected to run the very bourgeois state it seeks to dismantle. It is forced to find solutions to inflation, shortages and social needs whilst confronting private control over imports and distribution, solving the riddle of smuggling and speculation that subsidised food and fuel produced. It has to develop the communal state based on participatory democracy, transforming an under-developed, distorted economy away from oil extraction and import dependency, whilst battling an imperialist-backed opposition and false friends within its own ranks. As Maduro reiterated in his opening speech to congress, constructive criticism to guide action is fundamental, and militants should be the first to recognise this: ‘That everything is not perfect in the party? That not everything works as it should? It’s true. But in the PSUV is a creative force to decide what we have to decide.’ Giving expression to this creative force in pursuing the interests of the masses will be critical if the PSUV is to lead the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014