Venezuela’s Education Law Restructures, Democratizes Elite Institutions
Posted by Enaemaehkiw Túpac Keshena
United Socialist Party of Venezuela mobilizes to defend new education law
On Aug.14, the National Assembly of Venezuela passed the Organic Education Law, which seeks to restructure the university system, opening it to the working class.
The first draft of the law was completed in 2001 and became part of a national debate, carried out in virtually every sector of society over the last eight years, to uphold key constitutional principles.
Article 102 of the Bolivarian Constitution, ratified by popular referendum in 1999, states that “education is a human right and a fundamental social duty; it is democratic, free of charge, and obligatory.” The Organic Education Law establishes the institutional structures and the guiding principles for the state to make this right a reality for all Venezuelans.
For months, major opposition groups, including the association of rectors of Venezuela’s major autonomous and private universities, all major opposition parties, the privately owned media and the Catholic Church have waged a campaign against the legislation. Demonstrations held by these groups often turned violent, and their campaign has only intensified since the signing of the legislation into law on August 14.
With classes set to begin Sept. 15, the right-wing opposition has threatened to sabotage any attempt at change in the education system. The president of Venezuela’s Chamber of Private Education, Octavio de Lamo, declared publicly, “We are organizing national networks that will connect with public establishments to confront the law, and avoid government intervention.” (Venezuelaanalysis.com, Aug 21)
The right-wing opposition, led by large sections of the Venezuelan ruling class and supported by U.S. imperialism, is bent on destroying the gains of the Bolivarian revolution. They have engaged in coup attempts, violent demonstrations, propaganda campaigns, referendums and more to achieve their aims.
But the Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian government have successfully blocked their efforts.
In response to open calls for the sabotage of the Organic Education Law, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will designate the defense of the new legislation as one of the immediate tasks of newly formed Workers Patrols.
These Workers Patrols were formed as part of an internal reorganization of the party in the lead up to its national congress in October. The local units will be comprised of 20 to 30 party militants within a community, workplace or education center. According to the PSUV’s newspaper, the patrols will be the organizational basis for a “process of collective construction that will take the message of socialism house to house, street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood, and parish by parish.” (A La Izquierda, Aug. 10)
Indeed, among the stated functions of the Workers Patrols include the “organization of workers from the job site” and the preparation of “conditions for the building of socialism in the process of production and distribution of social wealth” and the “taking on of tasks of social control in the stages of planning, processing, and distribution.”
Law democratizes universities, increases access to education
The PSUV is mobilizing to protect a law that is directly intended to open universities to the most oppressed sectors of society and establish a more popular definition of the educational community.
As a sign of the democratization in the education process, the law expands the legal definition of the educational community to include families, community organizations and wage laborers who perform tasks not usually considered to be part of the education process, such as cooking and custodial work, in addition to the formal education workers and students.
The law will be decisive in the restructuring of the nation’s autonomous universities. These universities, which are funded by the state but run independently, have long been a hotbed for counterrevolutionary forces because of admission processes that favor students from the upper and middle class.
Administrators run the institutions like personal fiefdoms. Corruption is widespread, and aid to violent opposition groups is routinely provided.
Until now, top posts were chosen by a small group of administrators and other positions were subject to an electoral system based on a sliding scale, where the votes of students and professors counted less than those of top officials, and laborers were completely excluded.
Now, the entire university community will elect university officials. The law calls for anti-corruption councils to be established and subjected to popular vote. All elected authorities will be subject to recall.
The right of self-determination for the indigenous community is strongly protected in the law as well, keeping with the constitutional principle that native people will have “the right to their own education, and an education system of an intercultural and bilingual nature, taking into account their special social and cultural characteristics, values and traditions.”
Further laws of a lower legal stature must still be passed to govern specific areas of the legislation. Given the right-wing opposition, this aspect of the class struggle in Venezuela is far from over.
However, the reorganization into a system of “liberating education” will deal a serious blow to the legacies of colonialism and neo-liberalism. The new education structure also removes elite, exclusive universities, which have been a key weapon of the right-wing opposition, from their arsenal.
The mobilization of workers to defend advances, along with a nation-wide education campaign taking places in wide sectors of society, will strengthen the ideological foundation of the Bolivarian revolution.