by the ideas of 18th century Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar,
Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution, led by President Hugo Chavez, has been
shaking up Latin America and the world over the past decade in its struggle for
independence from United States imperialism and for an alternative to rapacious
Chavez declared the aim of the revolution was to build socialism of the 21st
century. This new kind of socialism, he said, would be a "humane socialism''
and emphasise democratic participation.
democracy and popular participation has certainly flourished in Venezuela, expressed
in a range of organising forms including urban land committees, health
committees, grassroots assemblies, workers' councils and communal councils.
However, many of these developing bodies remain localised or disconnected from
each other, and often come into conflict with the traditional structures of the
A new but
developing initiative that aims to connect and extend popular participation in
the struggle towards a new political and economic system is the formation of "socialist
communes." Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network member Kiraz Janicke, who is
currently living in Venezuela, spoke to Daniel Sanchez, a leader of the Rebirth
of the South Commune in the city of Valencia, about how the development of "people's
power'' is transforming Venezuela.
Sanchez and Yoly Fernandez will be addressing public forums around Australia in
their "People's power speaking tour" during August and September. See the
accompanying advertisement for details.
The idea of the commune
formation of the communes in Venezuela comes from a proposal by President
Chavez, Sanchez explained. "We know that the idea of the commune is not new;
communes have existed in the past and exist in various countries today," he
added, pointing to examples such as the Paris Commune in 1871 and forms of
organising by indigenous communities in Latin America.
Venezuela, we are not copying other models. Our model is constructed by
ourselves, by the people themselves, by the grassroots organisations
themselves, in the specific geographic territories where the commune experience
is being developed."
emphasis on experimentation is a key feature of the Bolivarian revolution,
perhaps best encapsulated in an often quoted phrase by Bolivar's teacher Simon
Rodriguez: "We invent, or we err." Sanchez explained that there is no blueprint
for building the communes: "Up until now we have been experimenting."
part of a national network of communes that we have been developing over the
past two years in collaboration with the Ministry of Participation and Social
Development. Now, a new Ministry of Communes has been created and together with
both ministries we are developing a network of 17 communes nationally."
on the relationship between the communes and the traditional state structures,
Sanchez said, "There is a direct relationship with the national executive, but
we are working at the grassroots level to make sure that this relationship is
not one of imposition and control, and that there is a harmonious relationship
of working together."
aspect of this relationship between the popular and communal organisations and
the government, he said, is to facilitate the search for solutions to community
issues, such as housing, transport, crime, poverty and other social problems.
in urban zones present different challenges to those being built in the
countryside, Sanchez explained. "Most of the experiences [of communes] are in
the countryside. I work in an urban zone, in Valencia, Carabobo [state], one of
the most important cities in the country, and in one of the poorest parishes in
the country, Miguel Pena parish."
One of the
most important challenges in the debate about how to build the communes "is to
make sure the people are incorporated – the popular organisations, the cultural
organisations, and the revolutionary organisations and parties," he said.
There is no
exact number of communal councils or organisations that form a commune. Rather,
Sanchez said, an ongoing discussion is needed about the "best mechanisms to
integrate all the different organisations in the same geographical area, and
the best structure for the people to govern themselves in a commune. The
structure of the communes is fundamentally a socio-political question, which,
of course, has to do with empowering the social bases."
important aspect of the communes, Sanchez said, is "to achieve the equitable
distribution of resources. As President Chavez explained, the ownership of the
means of production has to be in the hands of the commune."
to show the world what this socialism we are talking about really is," Sanchez
declared. "We are putting it into practice, designing our own forms of communal
government, advancing in our own project so that everyone can participate in
transforming the current reality."
addition to transforming people's material reality, Sanchez argued, it is also
necessary to transform human consciousness in order to achieve socialism.
want to transform Venezuela just on a material level; we don't believe the
communes should simply be directed at resolving the material problems of the
communities, such as housing, schools, transport, work, etc. All this is very
important, but what is also important is the transformation of the human being,
the development of human potential."
"the type of structures we create logically have to correspond to the type of
socialism we want to build; that is, a humanistic socialism. We are building
structures based on a social sensibility, a human sensibility, that promotes
solidarity and participation."
believes that "the biggest challenge we face in building a new society has to
do with the construction of the new human being. We need to leave behind
individualism, egoism and consumerism – all the ‘isms' of capitalism."
what Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution represents for the world today,
Sanchez replied with one word, "Hope."
a better world is possible," he added.
article is from the Australian-Venezuela Solidarity Network broadsheet,
published as a supplement in Green Left Weekly 808. Daniel Sanchez and Yoly
Fernandez will be addressing public forums around Australia in their "People's
power speaking tour'' during August and September. Visit the AVSN site for