Youth and the revolutionary process
Lucero Benítez Levy and Álex Marín are members of Marea Socialista Youth in Venezuela. The organization Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) is a revolutionary tendency operating within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). In an interview with and , excerpted here, Benítez and Marín talk about their experiences as members of Marea Youth and their hopes for the future of the struggle.
HOW DID Marea Youth get started?
Álex: Marea Youth was born alongside the creation of the PSUV Youth. On September 12, we hold the six-year anniversary of the PSUV Youth convention. We were part of a student core from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) that had been working within the student left, and we ran into Marea in a few of the student struggles. This led to us initiating conversations about the need to be organized politically.
We understood that the transformation of the university wasn't just the task of students themselves, but was much bigger than that. We also knew that we needed to engage with questions about the direction of the revolution outside of the university. In Marea, we found a space where the debate was open and democratic, and they were very respectful to the diversity of thought. They approached us, and we started a process of integration.
It wasn't easy...At the beginning, we had to overcome some of the sectarian traits that we had about labor unions and the old union model. But with Marea, we felt very free to debate these questions out.
WHY DID you join Marea?
Lucero: I was already active in a fighting collective in UCV, and there was no left-wing group for the youth that constituted an alternative to analyze and understand the problems facing the Bolivarian revolution. PSUV Youth was born, too, but there wasn't a lot of open debate for the base. Marea was that alternative, so I joined.
Álex: There is one main reason why we joined Marea. Marea exists as an integral part of the revolutionary process, and not as something outside of it. That's where we met, in the revolutionary process, and then we joined Marea because we needed a critical space inside the process. Chavistas first, and chavistas after.
In school, we tried to resolve some of the questions coming up by reading Lenin, and honestly, we couldn't find answers to the new developments. And so for us, it was very important to see that Marea came from that process and was born as a political expression of that process--involving people who have been fighting for years and others who just started fighting since the Bolivarian process started...It's a synthesis we needed.
Lucero: Yes, it's essential to re-emphasize the criticisms coming out of the revolutionary process because at that time, there was a debate going on about the errors that were being made in the revolution and the need to open up debate to everybody. Marea helped us understand what being critical meant within the revolutionary process. Within Chavismo, within the revolution, within the left, there was a space where we could debate all these issues.
HOW DO you develop leadership within Marea Youth?
Álex: There is no foundational text you need to read to join Marea. We can talk about political events that are fundamental, but not a text.
For example, something that helped us a lot was the debates leading up to the PSUV Youth Congress. The contributions that Marea made were essential. We argued for the defense of democracy and the need for diversity in the organization. It helped us be more clear in the political themes, such as why we need to defend diversity, democracy, the importance of the youth in the revolutionary struggle, etc.
IS THAT uncommon among the Venezuelan left--the recognition of the role of youth in the struggle?
Álex: Of course. There is a tradition in Venezuela--although I guess it seems more global--that accepts the Stalinist method of understanding the party, where the youth play a secondary role in the process. They think that the youth lack political maturity, and for that reason, they should only have a logistical and secondary role.
It wasn't like that for us. From the very beginning with Marea, we had guarantees that we had a space for the youth to be leading politically within the current, and not just tagging along. There was a strong political unity between the youth and labor.
For me, as a university student...I didn't like unions before because they were always presented as very much against the university...And the influence of sectarian Trotskyism made me pull away from Trotskyism as an ideology. Then, with Marea, we found a lot of elements that we used to think were bad, but we understood that the problem wasn't unionism or Trotskyism--the problem was sectarianism. We learned many things that we recognized as the need to find a new left.
As youth, we also approach the labor movement. One of the criticisms we have of the PSUV Youth is they see themselves as separate to all other sectors in society. We don't see them in solidarity with SIDOR or the autoworkers, because they don't see it as their problem. Likewise, we don't see them discussing economic issues, because to them, they need to focus only on developing cultural spaces...But to us, the youth, other than being young, also have to be militants of the revolution.
WHAT ARE the main problems facing the youth at this time?
Lucero: Right now, the youth in Venezuela are a bit demoralized...We have all grown up at the heart of this revolutionary process, and precisely for this reason, we are very aware of all the conquests that have been objectively beneficial for our development and our lives. Right now, all these benefits are under attack...
There are many sectors among the youth that hold the wrong position, I think, of saying that we used to be better off during the era of the Fourth Republic [before Chávez]. But of course, our point of reference was not under the Fourth Republic, but the beginning of this revolutionary process.
In that sense, the debate that needs to take place among the youth is key for this revolution. We are going to be deeply affected by the new economic measures. They affect our possibilities of getting a minimum wage, they affect that there is no planning around access to education, etc. Many of us are graduating, and then we don't find employment.
There are many issues affecting the youth, but they should all be seen from the basic understanding that we only know what we've had in this revolutionary period. The youth struggle should be one for the defense of all the conquests: the health missions, the planning of the economy, etc.
There is also this false idea that most of the youth are right-wingers now, and they are all for a coup...But we don't believe that this is true. We think that there are many people among the youth who, because they see that their future is at risk, are upset about what's going on right now. The best we can do is invite these young people to fight from a revolutionary point of view to defend the conquests that I mentioned.
Álex: I think the primary role of the youth is to be the defenders of the most important conquests of the process.
For example, there is an invaluable conquest in the opening up of the education system. But it is our role to clarify its contradictions. This policy has undoubtedly allowed for enrollment in university to increase dramatically.
But we've suffered from following the same logic that capital imposes. Around 900,000 educators graduate every year now, but the state only has the capacity to employ 200,000. That's 700,000 graduates who have to look for employment in an area that isn't the one they studied. We need to have a plan to solve this.
And then, of course, youth have the responsibility of taking up controversial topics that in our society remain taboo--and in a revolution, there should be no topics that are taboo.
For example, the topic of abortion. This is a difficult issue because religion continues to play a very significant role in this country. Abortion is harshly restricted here, with few exceptions. Of course, women with few economic resources are the ones to suffer the worst of the consequences. Wealthy women can still go to their private doctors, whereas the poor have to turn to very dangerous practices, and many of them are injured or die. This is an important issue for the youth.
There is also the taboo around sexual diversity. In many schools, being anything but heterosexual continues to be viewed as a disease, and the system doesn't respond to the many questions that may arise during these developing years.
There is a lot of diversity in this country--sexual, cultural, etc. The state has a tendency to want to limit them and put them at the service of the institutions. It should be the opposite. The idea is to promote this diversity without limitations.
IN THE U.S., leftists are participating in many debates among youth, especially students, centered around issues of oppression: homophobia, racism, sexism, and others. This debate often lacks a class analysis, and we see our role as socialists to make that analysis clear. Is there a similar pattern to the debate in Venezuela? How does Marea see these issues?
Lucero: We had a great debate about this in Marea. The groups and collectives that talk about those issues--gender queerness, feminism, ecological movements, etc.--have a postmodernist focus to these topics. They aren't linked to the general issues of the planning of the economy, and their class analysis is somewhat superficial. And so these debates are mostly left at the university level. It hasn't generalized to the rest of the youth.
Despite this, every time we have the chance to take part on these debates, we try to add this class perspective that is so necessary. From the point of view of feminism, the struggle can't just be about language, going back to our roots, etc.--it has to incorporate the struggles of the oppressed woman in the barrio. For example, the reality that young working class women die as a result of dangerous abortions because there is no guarantee of access for them. The same is true about the ecological debate and the discussion on gender queerness.
I think these debates are still very atomized. They aren't brought together as the generalized struggle of the youth. This is why it's still important for us to take them on.
Álex: I believe that on the left, we have a responsibility to incorporate new concepts as they arise--such as what happened in Madrid [with the youth uprising of the "indignados"] or with Occupy Wall Street. If you see these events from a dogmatic point of view, you won't be able to see them for what they are.
For example, the ecological debate isn't one that was taken into consideration by the left globally in the past. The main worry was that we had to produce enough to satisfy people's needs, whatever the cost. I believe we now need to incorporate this debate as socialists.
We also need to work from the idea that most people who are attracted to postmodernism are coming from the right place, I think. To give you an example, a young person who is anti-political party may be anti-party because they've had an experience that has made them come to this conclusion. For someone living in Europe, who has been raised with the understanding that the Soviet Union was a failure, that stalinism was a disaster...or someone in Cuba, where they have this experience of a revolution with only one party...it's understandable that the youth doesn't trust parties.
But I think we need to own that historical baggage and debate about the conclusions of those phenomena. For example, we are looking very closely at what's taking with [the new radical party] PODEMOS in Spain. It's a movement that is trying to initiate a dialogue with a large sector that is very much against the idea of a party...and we need to integrate that, too.
If we don't integrate these debates into the struggle for social transformation, we will lose many people. We need to form a new left--a left that is more fresh, one that is able to recognize the failures of the authoritarian Stalinist regimes, one that can incorporate these debates with people who might not have a clear view of what building a party means.
Also, there are people who are more sensitive about some issues than others. We talk to people who fight for the right to sexual diversity. That is not a fight that should only take place among those who are LGBT. This is a social struggle for all. Heterosexuals need to fight alongside homosexuals and trans for their freedom because it's their right.
Those are conquests on the democratic terrain. You have a Black president right now in the U.S., but he is responding according to class interests. The issue, then, is that we can't just respond to a social discrimination, which is very strong--we also have to bring up the issue of class.
NICOLÁS MADURO'S presidential campaign last year had a very strong homophobic component. How did Marea confront this?
Lucero: We in Marea bluntly rejected this homophobia. It is not a political debate to belittle a political candidate with a homophobic messaging. That's only damaging to the campaign. Instead of debating the topics for which we are fighting for, what his economic and political perspectives were about...everything was just about the belittling, with no politics. We did not agree with this.
Álex: Members of Marea are also affected by these social taboos. Now that we are opening up, we are welcoming sectors with members who are not that clear about the need to fight for the rights of sexual diversity, for example. But this can't stop us from working with them.
There is still a lot of weight placed on religion in this country, and that defines the moral values of the process. That's just how it is. It's a debate that is alive, and we are always going to be on the side of democracy, defending the right of everybody to be whoever they want to be.
AFTER THE open conference for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, held a week before the third congress of the PSUV at the end of July, Marea Socialista seems to be experimenting with ways to open up the left to new forces and organizations. What is this opening about? Why do you think it's necessary?
Álex: The change that Marea has gone through in the past two months has been enormous. We've been able to act as a pole of attraction to many people in the Bolivarian process who were saying to themselves what we've been able to state publicly. We are becoming a megaphone for those voices emerging from the base.
When I say it's an enormous change, the change is our own. We believe we're still small, but we are going in the right direction, toward the building of a political alternative that knows how to fight for the defense of revolutionary ideas. We don't just have to defend ourselves to those who think like us. If people want to criticize us, they should. We defend the right of everybody to say what they think--that's how you build a revolution.
If you want the specific details, we had small branches organized around political agitation in a total of eight states--now, we are intervening in 18 states. The growth has gone past our own capacity.
This has forced us to break with old practices. For example, one of our rules was that in order to create a strong party, you can't start any branches where you don't have cadre. We've had to scratch that completely--now, the way we think is that we have to recognize that the Bolivarian people have cadre built up among themselves in the course of this struggle. We can't postpone the job of party building just because we can't catch up.
Within the movement's framework, we are seeing a leadership emerge, and we need to recognize the different views within this leadership. There are those who still think the PSUV has possibilities to transform, and there are those who don't have a shadow of a doubt that we will need to form something else entirely new.
We are pushing for making that type of decision democratically. It won't be the PSUV leadership deciding, it will be us.
MAREA COMES from a very specific political tradition, tracing itself back through Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Moreno. With all these changes, what is going to happen?
Lucero: With this opening, we are being as public and open as possible about who we are and where we come from. Most of the groups joined after the open conference [before the PSUV congress], where we explicitly introduced ourselves as coming from a Morenist, Trotskyist tradition, which has links with other groups of the same tendency around Latin America. We aren't changing that.
The debates among the different sectors joining Marea have to be totally frank as we keep moving forward. We don't think they have to follow our tendency, but we invite them to know the different comrades we have around Latin America, as well as showing them some of the materials we use for education around the fights we support internationally--or more general issues, such as the state of the global economic crisis, what's going on in the Middle East, in Europe, in the U.S., etc.
Álex: I laugh because of an anecdote. When I joined Marea and saw that we were Trotskyists, I started researching online and came to realize that there were 14 international Trotskyist currents...And I was like, which one am I?
I believe our main interest is achieving international relationships that are truly tied to our struggles, and I believe we need to be mature and understand that we have to get over some of these historical debates. This doesn't mean that we need to erase them or not take them into consideration. But we really need to look for what unites us.
Of course, from its foundation, we can talk about the Morenista tradition...As Marea, we are part of an international nuclei, but we also were born out of a debate where it was necessary to transcend some of the differences we've had, which made us become observers of the Fourth International, a Mandelista current.
We have a big responsibility in Marea. Our politics within the Bolivarian revolution are a point of unity for different currents and tendencies within Trotskyism and the left internationally. We can contribute a lot to the transcending of very important historical debates so that we can work toward a unity that is necessary.
We are convinced that we need to break paradigms. You are not going to find a declaration about Marea saying that we are Marxists, Leninists, Trotskists and Morenistas. You are not going to find it because while some of us do come from Trotskyism, others come from different experiences...We prioritize the political unity of basic beliefs more than labels.
We are democratic, respectful, agitators of struggle...and we need to move this to the international level. We have Trotskyists groups in Venezuela that are fond of making proclamations. They put the book before the struggle, and they haven't been able to be part of the processes that are currently developing.
From the international point of view, we have to open up some important debates, too. To us, it's never been of any importance sitting down with someone to see if they are Trotskyists. We have to keep building. and that's what we are aiming at.
The youth have a very important role to play in this sense. We need to make use of the historical legacy of these debates, but approach them differently. How can we take advantage of that knowledge to then seek unity of the left? We first need to debate the current phenomena--what's happening in our reality. Then we can place them in whatever category we want, if we need to.
But sometimes reality overcomes categories. Concepts remain in time, but the reality of struggle transforms them. Parties don't make revolutions. Parties exist because of the revolutions that the people make. And if we agree with this premise, then we need to not only engage with and understand theory, but also learn how to make it accessible to all the people who are going to be leading, and might not have read everything we have.