[DEBATE] : Party Disciplinarians: The Threat to Dissidence and Democracy in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela
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Wed Oct 3 02:33:15 BST 2007
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Party disciplinarians: the threat to dissidence and democracy in the
United Socialist Party of Venezuela
28 September 2007
The establishment of a disciplinary tribunal in Chavez's new socialist
party before it even has statutes and structures is a worrying sign
for those committed to radical democracy in Venezuela.
Introductory note: The United Socialist Party of Venezuela was
proposed by President Chavez during the 2006 elections after winning
several elections with a coalition and left and progressive parties.
His proposal to unite the Venezuelan left was accepted by several (but
not all) small parties who agreed to dissolve and help form the new
On 5 March 2007, Chavez announced the start of the process for forming
the party and the designation of a technical council to oversee the
process. He also outlined the first steps which would include
swearing-in and recruitment of members, formation of local "socialist
batallions", a founding assembly and elections of a party council.
Edgardo Lander is a TNI fellow and Professor of Social Studies at
Caracas University who has been part of the organising committee of
the World Social Forum and worked as part of the Venezuelan Government
negotiating team to defeat the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.
The style of debate and the mechanisms for resolving differences
currently being developed within the United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV) are extremely
serious. If its style of leadership, decision-making structures and
dispute mechanisms are not swiftly reversed, then the new party
structure will be one that develops Stalinist conceptions and
This is not an issue that only concerns present candidates or future
members of this party, but one that concerns the whole of the
Venezuelan population, and the millions of people on this continent
and the rest of the world who are monitoring the present Venezuelan
political process with the expectation that it is possible, in today's
world, to confront predatory-militarised capitalism and take steps
towards the construction of another possible world, a world of radical
democracy and never-ending democracy.
This is not about any old party, or about just one more among many
parties. It is about the party of the government (of the State?), the
party of President Chavez, the party which seeks to bring together all
the political sectors that support the government. Its more or less
democratic, plural or participatory nature or, by contrast, more or
less vertical or authoritarian nature, will be the measure of the
model of society that it will be possible to build as a result of the
present processes of change that are taking place in the country. It
will not be possible to make progress in the deepening of democracy,
in the construction of an ever more democratic society, with sustained
growth in popular participation if the main political instrument of
the process of change in society, in this case the PSUV in its
formative stage, is not a democratic organisation.
In this regard, the information that has recently been made public
with regard to the creation and operation of the Disciplinary Tribunal
of the PSUV is worrying.
Firstly, what is very striking is that a political party which is in
the process of creation, a party that does not yet have members or
doctrinal documents, has no statutes, and does not yet have organic
structures, should already have a Disciplinary Tribunal in operation,
a Tribunal which has already been sent its first case for
At the end of August, President Chavez addressed an audience of
'socialist battalion' members at the Caracas Polyhedron on the subject
of the high level of discipline that every aspiring member of the
future revolutionary party should have, and reported that a
'Provisional Disciplinary Committee of the United Socialist Party of
Venezuela' had been created, presided over by the governor of Miranda
State, Diosdado Cabello1.
The first action of this Disciplinary Committee came about with regard
to the conduct and declarations made by deputy Francisco Ameliach,
who, until then was the Coordinator of the United Socialist Block in
the National Assembly. As it has publicly transpired, deputy Ameliach
had expressed the opinion that if by the time of regional elections in
2008 the formation of the PSUV had not concluded, "we will revive the
organisations that are legally registered…"2 , that is, the Fifth
Republic Movement (Movimiento Quinta República, MVR,)3.
The response by Chavez was devastating:
"I have passed a national leader (who aspires to be part of the party)
to the Disciplinary Council for talking nonsense. I will be watching
closely … Critical thinking is fundamental to a revolution, but that
is very different to going around talking badly about a party that has
not been born, collecting signatures to present them who knows where.
Anyone who wants to be an anarchist, get out of here, you are not
wanted, what is needed here is a creative, but disciplined active
Immediately, in the National Assembly it was announced that Ameliach
was suspended, or had resigned, first from the Presidency of the
National Assembly's Defence Commission5, and the next day, from the
Coordination of the Parliament's United Socialist Block6. His
replacements were named immediately.
Recalling 'self-criticisms' from the past, deputy Ameliach declared a
few days later that it had been his decision to resign from the
Presidency of the National Assembly's Defence Commission and the
Coordination of the United Socialist Block, and that his conduct had
been a "political mistake", confirming his loyalty to the "only leader
of the process"7. He denied the existence of a letter signed by 140
deputies, and stated that "…what exists is a draft document that
collects some concerns of some deputies that I, Francisco Ameliach,
sent to President Chavez, so that he as leader, can take the decisions
he wishes to take"…. "I have been extremely loyal to President Chavez;
here a revolution is impossible without President Chavez".8
Despite the severity of the issues at stake, despite the fact that
this is about mechanisms which, if unresolved would point in
undoubtedly authoritarian directions, and of the fact that in private
conversations the concerns about the political implications of these
conceptions of the nature of the organisation being built and of the
role of leadership are very widespread, the public reaction among
government supporters has been very limited.
One of the most energetic reactions was that of two members of the
National Assembly, Iris Varela and Luis Tascon9. They defended
Ameliach and denounced what they considered to be a campaign against
the National Assembly:
"Francisco Ameliach is a 'Fatherland or Death man' with the revolution
and we have to reject that campaign which was started mainly against
him, including all the deputies who have even branded us traitors."
Nevertheless, this response neither directly questions the existence
of a Disciplinary Tribunal of a party that does not yet exist, nor the
use that has begun to be made of it.
The most direct questioning of the central issues at stake was
expressed by retired General Alberto Müller Rojas, ex-member of the
Commission to Promote the PSUV, who has recently had serious public
disagreements with the President:
"Although deputy Francisco Ameliach attacked me, I do not agree with
the idea of establishing a Disciplinary Tribunal in the United
Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
This breaks the idea of equality among party members and establishes a
precedent ... [the] understanding of discipline comes from within the
individual, through an educational process, and is not imposed by
force, because then it is no longer discipline, but training, it is
General Müller believes it is serious that a party that does not yet
have statutes should have a disciplinary committee10.
Other public dissident voices also exist, people who are clearly
identified with the processes of change that have taken place in the
country in the last few years. These people, who remember the negative
consequences of the undemocratic logics in the political organisations
that lead the socialist processes of the last century, have formulated
serious warnings about once again going down those paths. Examples of
these contributions to the debate can be found in the writings of
Javier Biardeau11 and Reinaldo Iturriza12.
The absence of other critical declarations by leaders and high-level
officials involved in the Bolivarian process has been notable. This
suggests that either they find it normal that a Disciplinary Tribunal
is created before the party as such exists, and that this Tribunal is
used to punish a high-level leader of the Bolivarian process "for
talking nonsense", for "talking badly about a party that has not been
born, collecting signatures to present them who knows where", that is,
for the serious crime of expressing "dissident opinions". Either that,
or they have decided on a discreet silence due to political
There have, on the other hand, been voices in support of these
disciplinary procedures. Such is the case of Freddy Bernal, Mayor of
the Libertador Municipality, and member of the Presidential Commission
of Promoters of the PSUV. He has said that if any aspiring party
member "wants to sabotage the process of building the party, they will
go to the Disciplinary Tribunal and we will talk to him, and if they
do not change their attitude, we will take the necessary measures".
They should have to identify themselves. The coordinator of the
commission, Jorge Rodríguez, has already said that the only current is
the one lead by the President of the Republic, Hugo Chavez Frias. To
those who think they can have other leaderships we would recommend
that they create a separate party, but noone will sabotage the PSUV
Confirming that these decisions correspond to the conception with
which the PSUV is being created, Diosdado Cabello has declared that
the new party will not be a replica of the MVR, "where people did what
they felt like and gave opinions depending on their mood when they
One of the potential advantages of the original dynamic of the
formation of the PSUV is that those who sign up and subsequently
become members of a party in the process of construction, will be able
to participate in the definition of its basic doctrinal and
organisational conceptions in an effective and democratic way. This
possibility, which requires a patient practical learning of a culture
of democratic debate, would disappear if divergent opinions were to be
forbidden through the use of disciplinarily methods. In the absence of
official doctrinal documents for the organisation, and given the wide
range of existing ideological and political positions in this
process15, it is not known what the criteria and the principles are
from which it is possible to determine which positions are acceptable
– ie. compatible with the party line - and which are not. It would be
very dangerous for the democratic future of the organisation if
agreement or disagreement with the opinions of the principal leader
were accepted as the criteria through which the limits of orthodoxy or
dissidence were defined. This would mean substituting debate and the
confrontation of ideas -a particularly crucial issue in this phase of
basic definitions of the party- with appeals to the criteria of
authority. Were this course to be consolidated, the Stalinist
mechanisms for managing the political organisation could not in the
future be blamed on "deviations" or to "mistakes", but rather would
become established as the accepted norms of its running.
1 Informó el Presidente Chávez: Diosdado Cabello dirigirá Comité
Disciplinario del PSUV, Radio Nacional de Venezuela, 28 de agosto,
2 Pedro Pablo Peñaloza, "MVR puede resurgir en elecciones regionales.
Ameliach opina que creación del PSUV no puede atarse a comicios ", El
Universal, Caracas, 23 de agosto, 2007.
3There has also been mention of an alleged document where he is said
to have collected signatures among deputies in support of his
4 Sara Carolina Díaz y María Daniela Espinoza "Ameliach fuera de
Presidencia de la Comisión de Defensa de la AN. El legislador presentó
descargos ante el tribunal disciplinario del PSUV", El Universal,
Caracas, 30 de agosto, 2007.
6 Pedro Pablo Peñaloza, "Ameliach apartado del bloque del PSUV. El
diputado enfrenta un 'proceso de esclarecimiento' por sus
declaraciones", El Universal, Caracas, 31 de agosto, 2007.
7 Pedro Pablo Peñaloza, "Ameliach admite 'error político' y vuelve a
enterrar al MVR. Abogó por la unidad y dice que entregó 'inquietudes'
a Chávez.", El Universal, Caracas, 6 de septiembre, 2007.
8 Ameliach: el único líder es el Presidente Hugo Chávez Frías,
Aporrea, Caracas, 5 de septiembre, 2007. According to the version in
Aporrea, Ameliach "Clarified that the guidelines of the PSUV are one,
and they are created by the President of the Republic, and also
through the Commission to Promote the PSUV."
9 "Denuncian campaña contra Francisco Ameliach", El Universal,
Caracas, 4 de septiembre, 2007.
10 "Müller rechazó creación de comité disciplinario", El Universal,
Caracas, 31 de agosto, 2007.
11 Javier Biardeau R, ¿Qué queda del Pensamiento Crítico Socialista?,
Aporrea, Caracas, 26 de agosto, 2007. Aporrea.
12 Reinaldo Iturriza, Sobre la disciplina revolucionaria y el
'centralismo democrático realmente existente', Rebelión, 6 de
13 "Bernal: No vamos a permitir que nadie por personalismos tuerza el
rumbo del PSUV", El Universal, Caracas, 5 de septiembre, 2007.
14 Cabello: Psuv no será una copia del MVR, Últimas Noticias, en:
Aporrea, Caracas 8 de septiembre, 2007.
15 This plurality ranges from leaders who have just very recently had
their first contact with the socialist tradition, Chavez's
announcement that the PSUV will not be a "Marxist Leninist" party,
(PSUV no será marxista-leninista porque 'es una tesis dogmática no
acorde con la realidad de hoy', afirma Chávez, Agencia Bolivariana de
Noticias, en Aporrea, Caracas 22 de agosto, 2007), to defenders of the
most orthodox Leninism.
Translation: Liza Figueroa-Clark
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