Visit With Bolivarian Student Leaders
There are no classes today at the Morales campus in downtown Caracas, but the buildings are open; we meet about 20 students in the student union office. We have a spontaneous, varied discussion, in which about half the students take part. The following notes reflect the views of many participants.
In the past, they tell us, universities had strict entrance regulations that excluded most students from the poor backgrounds. In addition, there was deliberate discrimination on the basis of social origin, which they determine as part of the application process. These universities are autonomous, and their practices are little changed today. The elites aim to keep education for themselves as a basis for preserving their monopoly of the power to run the country.
The Morales campus is part of a public university, but it is elitist only to a degree. There is an effort here to end exclusion through entrance examinations.
The revolution met immense resistance from the institutions of the old universities. Today, half the universities remain conservative, but the other half are new experimental universities that have broken with the old model. This is simultaneously a class struggle and a struggle for access to education. A new legal framework is essential for this (referring to the Reform).
Any poor people that sneak in are limited by the traditional university structure to a given field: administration, accounting, IT—all taught in walled-off segments. We want to break from that and give a broader education. And through the social missions, it is now possible for people to get directly into the universities. We are challenging the old apolitical framework: it’s an issue of education for a job or a broader education.
The churches play a role in tricking the faithful into building opposition to Chávez. The capitalists too—so it is a real class struggle. And the students struggle not just for student rights but for a system of equality and justice for all.
The opposition uses their influence among the upper-class students to create a social time bomb. The time bomb’s fuse is lit by the media, which is the new elite, performing a monologue dictated by the United States. We agree with Chomsky: There are two major forces in the world today: public opinion and the private media.
There was an oppositional demonstration of 35,000 medical and science students in Merida. They come from elite families and defend the system of private clinics that have made so much money for their families. Their medical system is an industry of death, aiming not to benefit people but to dominate them.
The opposition is fascist: the politics of fear and intimidation. This fear is imposed on all, including their supporters, to justify the police state.
We are doing politics in a new way, different from the manipulation carried out by the old elites. There is an insurgent spirit among al Venezuelans, which is expressed by Chávez. He is not a messiah; he makes mistakes. But his heart is with the people. What we have here is a new paradigm of economic and social commitment for a new society. Workers must set aside dogmatic ideas to become part of the forces for change.As Mariátegui says, fascism is not just something in Europe but in Latin America too, and that the only answer is unity. He said fascism could only win through division of the left. And he insisted that no country provides a model for the revolution. [Jose Carlos Mariátegui, 1894-1930, was a Peruvian communist theorist whose views are very influential among Latin American revolutionaries today.]
We see fascism in the opposition student movement too. They feel the support of the whole institutional framework. They have moved from pressure to active violence. It would be a tragedy if students from different parts of the country did not unite to respond to this.
On unity and dogmatism: Mariátegui says the old dogmas are not enough for the new society. He was a great thinker who got only to the sixth grade and influenced Che and other Latin American leaders. He was a committed Marxist who saw Marxism as a method of analysis and a guide to action. As Lenin said, Marxism is not immutable. To transcend democracy we must go beyond Lenin. We have looked into the past to see what we should avoid doing. We take steps forward by analyzing errors of the past. Basic is the struggle against capitalism, against neoliberalism.
As for the PSUV, it is a great vehicle opening the road to a new society envisioned by Mariátegui, Douglas Bravo, and Che. The party is essential. Before there were many parties, but no party structured on a national level. It is a centre for tolerance and debate. Marxists, anarchists, socialists, and progressives can sit together for discussion. It is not an instrument for anew dogma. Through working in the barrios, the countryside, the new politics will arise to replace old dogmas. In the process, we will leave behind the old society based on alienation.
Five hundred years ago Western and Indian civilizations clashed here. The Western vision was developmentalist. All nature must be dominated. The Indian vision was that god created both nature and humanity, that we are part of nature and we must respect it. Now we see that the Indians were right. And now we must reverse the verdict of 500 years ago and build society by the Indians’ principles.