Photo: Primicias24 retrieved
We can’t understand Acción Democrática’s foundation without talking about the political change brought by Medina Angarita’s government in comparison to López Contreras’s. Medina’s openness was undeniable, and it was expressed in such a way that the government informed the PDN group (National Democratic Party) led by Rómulo Betancourt, that they’d be legalized if they requested it so. This is why they decided to create a new political party and, on September 13, 1941, Acción Democrática (AD) made its first public appearance in the Nuevo Circo of Caracas, headed by Rómulo Gallegos and with Rómulo Betancourt as General Secretary.
The new organization was structured much like the party founded by Lenin in the Soviet Union, but with significant ideological differences. The following year, many of its leaders presented their candidacies for municipal elections, although most seats were taken by the official party, Cívicas Bolivarianas. As we see, democratic freedom was already within reach. The only thing missing was the announcement of direct, universal and secret elections, in December 1945, but as we know, that didn’t happen.
We can’t understand Acción Democrática’s foundation without talking about the political change brought by Medina Angarita’s government in comparison to López Contreras’.
Many documents are usually referenced when recounting the birth of Acción Democrática. The speeches of Gallegos and Betancourt during the group’s inauguration have been quoted innumerable times, however, the document based on the party’s Constitutive Assembly, held in Rómulo Gallegos’s home, on May 11 of that same year, was very significant for its programmatic nature and its precision, being quoted less often. We refer to it, insofar as the document expresses the will of a considerable number of signatories. We’ll point out the most relevant aspects.
From the first paragraph, they proclaim “effective, universal and direct suffrage for the provision of posts representing popular will.” It’s worth noting that it includes all posts representing popular will, since it doesn’t discriminate between them. This is key, since the PDN’s 1936 document promotes direct elections for governors and mayors, which they don’t explicitly endorse here. Two possible interpretations: either they took for granted what they said in previous documents or, on the contrary, the imprecision works against the idea. Historical reality confirms the latter: it would be decades before we elected governors and mayors directly for the first time, in 1989 (we did it for a brief period during the 19th century).
The aforementioned point is tied with the document’s second paragraph which, being a programmatic cause, also had to wait decades to be fulfilled. It reads: “Effectiveness of the federative regime and the economic-administrative autonomy of the municipality.” We’re still waiting for tax autonomy for governor’s offices, a conquest that eluded us in the National Constitution of 1999. Both the former and the latter were increasingly becoming political debts in the system implemented in Venezuela starting October 18, 1845, and which took on a new air starting January 23, 1958. We’re talking about the municipality’s political and economic autonomy and the direct election of local authorities.
We can clearly read a request fulfilled since 1946, with the first universal Legislative Branch elections in our republican history, the National Constituent Assembly’s deputies. It reads: “Progressive incorporation of women in the nation’s political life.”
In the section relating to the “Policy for productive development,” there are several main points. “Credit, tariff and technical” support for the national industry, which already envisioned the ISI (Import Substitution Industrialization), advanced by the Governmental Revolutionary Junta (1945-1947) through the creation of the Venezuelan Development Corporation (CVF). The document also endorses the “development of immigration” and an integral credit system favoring the national industry, as well as a modern tax system, seeking direct taxes. In short, the section referring to production is based on the encouragement of the national private industry, a task for which the State is viewed as favoring leverage. This isn’t a nuance, but something substantial.
This paragraph already envisions the creation of the union movement, which will be the cornerstone of AD’s political project, and it renounces class struggle.
The section relating to social policy emphasizes labor legislation, particularly regarding the “right to unionize and union liberties,” as well as the extension of obligatory social security. This paragraph already envisions the creation of the union movement, which will be the cornerstone of AD’s political project, and it renounces class struggle. Evidently, they sought the path of productive conciliation, scrapping dialectic confrontation.
The section relating to education policy, proclaims the “fight against illiteracy,” the creation of “Normal, Technical and Vocational Schools,” as well as a system of rural school and a plan to build schools. The section endorses a reform in university education.
The section relating to administrative policy rejects embezzlement, which is how today’s administrative corruption was known at the time; it proposes the creation of an administrative career of law and the “full autonomy of the Judicial Branch.” Regarding health policy, it proposes the “decentralization of Health and Social Welfare,” which is coherent with the policy of municipalization of public life. Regarding National Defense policy, it endorses the professionalization of the Armed Forces and the “impersonalization of the Army.”
Lastly, the section relating to international policy proclaims integrating solidarity with bolivarian countries, the principle of self-determination of nations and solidarity with democracy. The document ends with the election of the party’s Board of Directors and is signed by a significant number of Venezuelans committed with Acción Democrática’s political project.
From the radical marxist postures of the first analyses, there was a movement towards moderate postures, without leaving the left-wing orbit.
Evidently, from the radical marxist postures of the first analyses (Barranquilla Plan, 1931; PDN, 1936-1939), there was a movement towards moderate postures, without leaving the left-wing orbit. Also, it’s worth noting that, in several opportunities, the analysis of socio-political reality is made through a marxist lens, although conclusions don’t match those of the era’s communist party; they endorse nationalism and the search for their own plan, far from Moscow and its purported internationalism. This already points to a marked distance between those who held on to Soviet influence and those who took on social-democratic stances.
In short, they proposed the creation of a partisan, representative democracy and the search for an economic development that favored the country’s independence. There was obviously a theoretical foundation for political change, and it started shifting from a kind of youthful feeling to a more elaborate set of rules. Evidently, this generation didn’t seek power for its own sake, but rather to implement a program of political and economic modernization that they drafted throughout these nascent years, between 1931 and 1941.
The entire theoretical proposal led to the establishment of a Rule of Law, a regime of duties and rights, where citizens would live in a legal framework and they would be part of a political community, where individuals were bound by the confines of the Law. This entire picture was obviously very different from the country where General Gómez’s will was more powerful than the Law, where national constitutions since Guzmán Blanco’s time had been written on the basis of each government’s particular interests.