Meeting the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV)
We attended a meeting of PSUV activists in the “Manuelita Saenz” battalion (branch) in the Caracas district of Catia on Sunday, November 25. We talked to Roberto, an assistant spokesperson (vocero) in his early twenties.
“There is no culture here of coming together for meetings,” Roberto said. “But more people are starting to break through to become active in the PSUV battalions. They see the importance of the struggle and of making their voice heard within it. There are many social activists in the new party, but it is only in formation, with no statutes yet in place.
“The party exists not just for electoral purposes but to let people know about the revolution. Many issues that come from Marxism and other revolutionary traditions are entirely new for people here. Chávez throws in a lot of enthusiasm, and this is central to the new Venezuela. Each battalion has a unit for territorial defence, to protect the district from radical opposition elements.
“Spokespersons are chosen by the battalion membership. The battalions make decisions and the spokespersons are bound by them. Today we meet to discuss strategy leading up to next Sunday’s vote. Our task will be to ensure that no obstacles are placed in the way of the vote by the radical opposition. Workshops for poll-watchers are being held today, followed by a meeting.
“A battalion has on average 220-250 members of whom about 50-60 are active. Meetings are held weekly, and sometimes more often. The old parties have just one big rally; the PSUV has frequent little meetings taking place everywhere. Delegates from the battalions form a socialist circumscription (district), which elects a delegate to the founding conference. We are in the 16th circumscription, which includes seven battalions.
“In most battalions, 70% of the members are women, but they tend to elect men as leaders. Men are the majority of the commission in this battalion, but the battalion itself makes the decisions. The vast majority of members are poor working people, although there are one or two lawyers and a few retired. Lengthy working schedules get in the way of attendance. We meet Sunday, but some members work on that day, and others work very hard Monday-Saturday and have little time Sunday.
Some members are old revolutionaries from 30-40 years ago [three in this battalion]; some come from the AD and COPEI—now rightwing parties—and are trying to find their way to the party. Some were part of Bolivarian organizations formed for prior elections, but they lapsed after the vote. This time we have a structure, albeit partial, going into the elections.”“
“The big media campaign against us is similar to last year, but then the issue was clearer. These reforms are something new, so the right-wing media attacks have more impact. People who are active in the community councils understand better this issues at stake in the reform. We are in regular daily contact with our members. There are Red Points to distribute the reform and talk to people. And the big demonstration is coming up Thursday. We get instructions from the Zamora command (organizers of the “yes” campaign), which do not always correspond with our experience of the right way to do things.
We attended a meeting of the circumscription, including about 50 battalion representatives, 50% of them women. Most participants were 30-50 years old.
There was a long and animated discussion—sometimes with several discussions going on at once—and most members spoke at least once. A typical issue: one polling booth has in the past been very hotly contested, with long line-ups to vote. Last time the pro-government forces won by only four votes. There were fist-fights. This will be a big job for the battalion, but it is a weak battalion and weakly represented at this meeting. They get 15-20 to meetings and can get 10 to the polling booth.
Comment by a couple of participants: We should have done all this work several weeks ago. The opposition is very well organized, but we’re in the final week still trying to figure it out.