With the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) getting demolished in the recent elections, it is worth looking back to this interview/article from about a month ago with Javier Biardeau, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, and what he sees as the current problems of chavismo and the necessary changes needed to bring the construction of socialism back on track. Biardeau identifies a number of factors that he believes are contributing to the current crisis.
First, Biardeau argues that the PSUV was far too centered on the personal leadership of Hugo Chavez, at the expense of creating “a culture of collective leadership” at the top levels of the party. He argues further that this was an issue that was latent since the very beginning of the party’s rise, as “Chavez practically devoured any competitive leadership”, and in general that the PSUV was, and continues to be, top-heavy:
There were also very consolidated beliefs among top government officials regarding how the popular sectors were represented in the collective leadership of Venezuela. It’s still a very conventional framework, in which the strong man predominates over all other figures. It seems that if [a figure] isn’t a strong man who projects authority, he is not presidential material.
Second, Biardeau differentiates the Chavez administration against the Marduro administration by describing the former as “maximalist” and the latter as “minimalist”, in terms of the nature of stated goals, and a general moderation of the party’s efforts to transform Venezuelan society and political economy–and thus alienating the more radical sectors. This, combined with an increasing spotlight on corruption at the highest levels of the state apparatus, has been creating more and more discontent at the grassroots levels and a split between the party leadership and its supporters on the ground.
Third, Biardeau points out that the material base of the chavista project–oil prices– has been undermined, and that there has been a demonstrated inability of the party to seriously take this into account for strategy for state-run social programs and spending on the various projects that emerged during the era of high oil prices.
These future planning errors at the level of the world economy are now being recognized. But there is no self-critique in relation to other changes that were made, such as the modification of the Central Bank law and the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund, among others. These funds were transferred to international reserves and these have been wasted in the last three years. There is no room for maneuver.
Fourth and finally, (and in my mind, most important), Biardeau criticizes the rigidness and alienation from the masses that has beset the party leadership, and prevents it from reacting constructively to the discontent that prevails today in Venezuelan society.
…[discontent] has not been politically analyzed, nor has it been turned into a process of rectification, of correcting the course, of self-critically taking responsibility for the grave situation, because the problem in my opinion is that there’s a sort of blindness [to this discontent by the government leadership].
And furthermore, Biardeau sees the rigidness of the party as translating into a narrow organizational focus on defensive electoralism that undermines the party’s connection with its social base, and further entrenches “a clientelist and populist political pattern” that is incompatible with the radicalization and popularization of political power that is necessary for the genuine continuation of chavismo and the construction of socialism.