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The Whitewashing of Criticism Caused Much Damage to the Revolution (interview w/ Reinaldo Iturriza López)

March 1, 2011

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela / PSUV) retained its majority in the National Assembly after the latest elections in September of 2010. Nonetheless, the opposition made major strides, taking 67 of the total 165 seats, thus (barely) preventing the PSUV and the allied Communist Party of Venezuela (Partido Comunista de Venezuela / PCV) from holding the 3/5 absolute majority needed to pass an enabling law. Perhaps more significantly, the PSUV won only a plurality – not a majority – of the popular vote.

Though the PSUV celebrated its victory, the message to party leaders was clear: after over a decade in power, support for officially recognized representatives of the Bolivarian revolution had fallen to uncomfortable levels. This realization led to a process of introspective debate that resulted, in January of this year, in the articulation of five key strategic lines to be implemented over the next two years with the goals of reestablishing trust and retaining the presidency in 2012.

The following interview with Reinaldo Iturriza López provides an insightful analysis of the causes of the PSUV’s diminished support and some of the changes needed to reverse the trend. Iturriza López lives in Caracas, blogs at saber y poder, is regularly featured on, and has appeared on Venezuelan state television. He is a respected critical voice within the Bolivarian Revolution. The interview, which is available in spanish at saber y poder, was conducted by Vanessa Davies and published on February 6 in La Artillería [Artillery], the Sunday supplement of the state-run Correo del Orinoco newspaper.

The Whitewashing of Criticism Caused Much Damage to the Revolution

Do you feel partly responsible for the review undertaken within the PSUV?

  • Yes, but only so far as the public posture that I’ve assumed tries to summarize and transmit the criticisms, proposals, and also unease of the very many compañeros that are active in the party, or that are active in the bolivarian revolution without belonging to the party, and for whom the necessity of this review was so evident, that they couldn’t understand why it continued to be put off. Which is to say, my voice is only one of many, and only carries importance to the degree that it contributes to the multiplication of voices.

In your judgment, had the PSUV moved away from the people?

  • Yes, definitely. In the first place a dangerous distancing was produced between the directive bodies and the party’s bases. Then, between the party and the people. The party/machinery ended up imposing its logic, according to which the fundamental purpose of the party is to win elections, even if it resorted to patronage or simply demagoguery. The tendency towards the bureaucratization of policy was accentuating. The party was progressively delinking itself from popular struggles, neglecting the existence of the popular movement. Here it came to pass, for example, that the popular movement would be organizing a demonstration, and the party was trying to persuade its militant base to not attend, or organizing some parallel mobilization. That arrogance, that blackmail, this sort of drive to monopolize revolutionary politics terribly damaged the popular movement, and produced the results that we now see: demobilization, disarticulation and even disdain for politics. All of that was done in Chávez’s name. The worst part is that the party/machinery has demonstrated that its not even capable of winning elections, and that’s normal: the people that follow Chávez rose up more than once against that form of politics, and they’ll keep doing it. I don’t share the opinion that our electoral results, in the cases where they’ve been adverse, can be explained by the people’s lack of political formation. On the contrary, I think that the majority of the people are quite clear about which politicians they reject and which politics they want. It’s the party that has to rise to the height of the people.

Can we speak of a resurrection of the political parties of the fourth republic due to the errors of the revolutionary party? [Venezuela’s fourth republic lasted from the fall of Pérez Jiménez in 1958 until the approval of the 1999 constitution and the beginning of the fifth, “bolivarian” republic.]

  • As far as I’ve advanced in the analysis, the loss of support for the bolivarian revolution hasn’t translated into an increase in support for the old political class. That’s the opposition’s big problem: that none of their parties enjoy true popular support. Up to now there’s been nothing like a migration from the social base of chavism to the ranks of the opposition, and if it exists, it’s hardly significant. However, it’s also certain that the vote against Chávez is slowly, but surely, growing. These aren’t absolutely contradictory data: you have to remember that in each electoral competition the number of votes increases. The opposition vote is constant, and rises with the voter roll, while the chavista vote is variable: it goes up, goes down, goes up again. This picture of forces, so to speak, is what explains the effort made by part of the opposition to spread a social discourse, trying to appropriate some of the ideas/force of the chavista discourse: participation, people power, etc. After the parliamentary elections, part of the opposition is convinced that it can win the support of a part of the social base of chavism, [which is] essential for defeating Chávez in 2012.

Do the strategic lines of the PSUV capture what you had suggested in your reflections?

  • Yes, they capture part of what I’ve been suggesting, but beyond that coincidence, the document develops other vectors of analysis that I consider essential. In the fourth point, for example, one reads that the party “can’t be identified as a sort of State appendage, but an instrument that accompanies the people in their struggle.” Not demarcating a clear, impassable line between party and State is the source of many political vices: clientelism, “assistencialism” (asistencialismo), sectarianism, nepotism, and corruption. A party that confuses itself with the government is a party unable to boost popular control of administration. We’ve seen it with the primary elections: candidates imposed for governor or mayor positions, when candidates of a revolutionary party should come from the base. The important point is that conditions must be created so that the base really has a voice and a vote.

You allude to original chavism. What is, in your opinion, original chavism? Can it be recuperated?

  • The idea of “original chavism” lends itself to many errors. I don’t think, and it has never been my intention to suggest that there exists something like an “essence” of chavism that we’d have to recuperate in order to resolve all our problems. In any case, I was referring to the necessity, for example, of remembering that the chavism of the first few years didn’t hide it’s profound distrust of parties. Chavism rose up against the party-ocracy (partidocracia), including against the traditional left, against its dogmatism and shortsightedness. Therefore, when I spoke of “original chavism” I wanted to call attention to the risks implied by a single process of “party-fication” (partidización) of chavism, especially from 2007 onward, that in my judgment ended up expressing itself in the forced disciplining of a group of really fierce and unsubmissive subjects. Many compañeros feared this result, and didn’t join the party. An infinity of accusations rained down on them: traitors, anarchists (anarcoides), etc. At this point, I think it’s been sufficiently clear that chavism isn’t a uniform mass that dresses in red to attend a rally, which is the dream of those who assume the logic of the party/machinery: chavism as a manipulated mass (masa de maniobra). It’s also been clear that there’s chavism beyond the party. There are compañeros that even prefer to not talk of chavism, which doesn’t imply that they aren’t revolutionaries, and I think that they are well within their rights.

You speak of re-politicization? How do you understand this re-politicization? Is it good for the PSUV, is it good for the opposition?

  • Re-politicization primarily has to do with the administration of the government, more than the party. There is much evidence of an important shift in oppositional discourse since 2007, after Chávez’s overwhelming triumph in the presidential election of 2006. From then on, and progressively, a good part of the opposition left aside the confrontational and violent discourse, and concentrated, above all, on a critique of government administration. This discursive tactic acquired greater force in 2008, after the frustrated attempt to approve a constitutional reform. For the opposition, what had been defeated was socialism. According to the oppositional discourse, socialism implied an ideological “excess”, an abstraction, that didn’t contribute in the slightest to the resolution of the population’s concrete problems. If you add to that ideological “excess” a denouncement of government inefficiency, you have the nucleus of the oppositional discourse from then on. What’s the problem? That the government took a long time to decode this important tactical shift in discourse. On the contrary, it responded by “administrating” (gestionalizando) politics, concentrating almost all its efforts in “demonstrating” the successes of the bolivarian revolution, but above all, and here is the key, making popular criticism invisible, the popular demands and struggles. It’s absolutely certain that the government has an obligation to disseminate its achievements, and it’s just as certain that the opposition is incapable of recognizing any government achievement, of which there happen to be many. What can’t be done, in any case, is to condemn and dismiss popular criticism, under the argument that it provides ammunition to the enemy. Making criticism invisible really damaged the revolution. To the degree that Chávez takes up the popular challenge, promotes, stirs up, and instigates popular criticism of government administration, to that degree he will be re-politicizing administration.

How do you understand re-politicization in the context of a society in which supposedly there is chavism-antichavism and neither-one-nor-the-other?

  • When I speak of re-politicization, of the need to recognize, in order to be able to overcome, the crisis of chavista polarization, I’m referring to the group of tactics designed to recuperate the mechanisms of mutual interaction (interpelación) between Chávez and the broad social base of chavism, but also between the government, the party, and the people. Why crisis of polarization? Precisely because, for quite some time, the weight, the importance of popular interaction, was underestimated. Criticism was silenced, many problems were made invisible, and this produced unease, tedium, popular demobilization. Contrary to the biased interpretations made by the opposition, the idea of re-polarization doesn’t imply the promotion of “class hatred”, nor anything of that style. It has to do, in the first place, with anchoring democracy inside chavism: Chávez should rule by obeying, the government should open up to popular interaction, the base should hold greater prominence in the party. It’s in this sense that I speak of democratic radicalization: chavism constitutes, without a doubt, the principal political force of the country, and everything that leads to its democratization will contribute not only to its consolidation as a political force, but also to the democratization of Venezuelan society. Anti-chavism, or a part of the opposition, knows this very well, and as a result it’s launched its own tactic of re-politicization: adopting a “social” discourse, even re-vindicating “popular power”, or the necessity of “dialogue”, in contrast with the “class hatred” that Chávez supposedly promotes. In that manner it tries to unite forces, capturing a part of discontented chavism. Don’t be surprised if we see them talking, very soon, of popular interaction.

You say that it’s an error to become immersed in a fight against the party-ocracy (partidocracia). Can a political party like the PSUV not be part of the party-ocracy?

  • In the first place, conflict with the party-ocracy is inevitable. In the second place, the PSUV is obligated to not reproduce the same old exclusive and anti-popular logic of the old political class. What I’ve referred to in various opportunities, is the need to not immerse ourselves in a deaf and useless fight with the opposition. The fight has to be in the first place against the people and together with the people. To illustrate it, with could talk about our public media: for a long time we’ve concentrated too much effort on taking apart the “matrices” of anti-chavista media, while meanwhile making invisible popular demands. Now let’s talk about the National Assembly [ie. uni-cameral congress]: so many expectations for the first intervention of María Corina Machado, and it ended up a complete fiasco. No one, or a small amount of people, is paying attention to what the representatives of Acción Democrática have to say. The Assembly makes sense to the degree that it functions as an echo chamber for popular struggles and demands. Which means that the priority of our representatives can’t be to respond to copeyanos [members of Copei] – I don’t even know if they have representatives in the Assembly – but to make the slogan, “the people as legislator” (pueblo legislador), a reality. If it doesn’t happen, our population will pay as much attention to our representatives as it does to Andrés Velásquez: none. The same thing happens with the public media: talk to me about Leopoldo Castillo [a television journalist at Globovisión], all right, but first about the barrio, the youth, jails, police, judges, and corrupt prosecutors. Let’s take for example a possible debate over the Tenancy Law (Ley de Arrendamientos): millions of Venezuelan families live in rented spaces. That debate would, without a doubt, awaken their interest. Beyond just holding the majority, our representative should have the debate. Be the majority. But that’s only possible if you listen to the popular majorities, and that includes the Venezuelans that are against Chávez.
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