Opinion and Analysis: Participation
Developing the Power of the Community
[RCG 29.09.12] Today we had the chance to visit the Alexis Vive collective near Agua Salud, Caracas and interview Ana Marin, militant of the the collective and key member of the 'El Panel 2021' comuna .The Alexis Vive collective is famous for its autonomy and independence, yet it is a crucial part of the Bolivarian process as a whole. We were given a first hand account of the dialectical relationship between the development of popular power in these collectives, and the development of the Bolivarian Revolution nationally in the progression towards socialism.
The Alexis Vive collective was formally created in 2004, but this was the realisation of community work that has been developed since 1993, following the response to the Caracazo in 1989 and the failed uprising that Hugo Chavez led in 1992. Based on political lessons they had drawn from studying the Paris Commune, the Zapatista movement in Mexico and the soviets of the Soviet Union, Ana explained that the aim was to 'develop the maximum participation of the community in producing what is needed to live' .
Named after Alexis Gonzalez, an activist from the community who was killed on 11 April 2002 whilst defending the sovereignty of Venezuela against the coup d'etat, Ana explained that 'Alexis lives in all of us, in the development and defence of our community spaces, our politics, our process, our practice, the creation of our comuna '
She explained that the collective currently organises around four pillars, social production, defence, the development of the comuna and REDES*, a political party that has been created nationally to mobilise for the presidential elections. The collective seek to involve everyone in their community, regardless of whether they identify themselves as Chavistas or not, through participation in developing the comunas, developing proposals and representing these in the National Assembly, producing goods to sustain the community or through the councils that are developing community education, sport, culture an social media amongst other sectors.
Ana emphasised 'we aim to involve everyone in something, respecting political and cultural diversity. This is because the revolution is a way, a mode of life, its not just about wearing a T-shirt or a jacket from a political party, not everyone fits in the same mould, there are various moulds.'
Underpinning each of the four pillars is the development of popular power and political consciousness. The comuna has its own sugar packing factory, textiles workshop, alternative radio and TV station, bakery, urban farm and a brick factory for producing the materials necessary for constructing houses.
Ana explained the process of empowerment inherent in this social production, 'We receive financial support from the government but we work to develop our independence from the state, the government gave us funding to buy tools, for example in the bakery, but on the basis that we use these tools to produce, we're not just parasites taking from the government, we don't just ask the state to give,give, give, we need to diversify the economy and produce the basic necessities to survive. With this development of popular power, we seek to redistribute the riches of the country, we don't depend on the mayors, the governors, the people can solve their own problems given the means, this strategy is what we are fighting for' she added 'It is our role to develop the political will, to be motors that drive forward the process of empowering the people'
The theme of defence is crucial, the collective polices itself and is an organized, armed community, a practice which is firmly located in political theory and understanding. Comparing the difference between a paid soldier under capitalism, and the political approach of the Alexis Vive collective, Ana pointed out 'In the constitution we are charged with the responsibility of defending the country, take the example of the paid soldier, they receive money from the state, and under capitalism, if they don't get paid, they are not going to defend their country, they are only paid to defend the capitalist state, they act as mercenaries. Our method of defence differs from this, in our community we don't believe in remuneration for the defence of our sovereignty, we believe in defending the revolution through political consciousness, where the people are organised and armed for the love of their community and country. Defending our way of life'
Ana also spoke of the importance of alternative media as a method of defending the gains of the revolution, and specifically their community, 'Our role is to raise consciousness, to be protagonists, exercise our power, for this we produce our community newspaper and radio which is called 'Arsenal', this is to disseminate the ideas and vision of the the Alexis Vive collective, to explain our successes and achievements. Since the last century when TV's became the norm in most peoples homes, this created public opinion, dominated by capitalist consciousness, we have to break the modes of capitalist media, to provide an alternative'
The development of popular power, through the comunas and the communal councils is a key process in the destruction of the old bourgeois state. The ruling class continues to wield a significant amount of power in Venezuela and there exists a state of dual power, where the comunas and social missions continue to grow and strengthen but the old structures of mayors, governors and private services are still maintained.
In discussing the necessity of destroying the bourgeois state, replacing it with a socialist state, Ana argued that 'we have to remember that following the Caracazo in 1989 and the failed 1992 uprising, the Bolivarian revolution has assumed a democratic path through elections, beginning with the election of Chavez in 1998. We've not seen a revolutionary war like in the Cuban or Russian revolution. Of course we study the teachings of Mao and Lenin in the necessity of insurrection and the destruction of the capitalist state. However, at this point, in order to destroy capitalism we have to compare the approaches, capitalism produces death, we produce life, in a capitalist bakery, they produce exploitation, we have a bakery where we develop consciousness, where we work as a collective, this is our insurrection, to show that there is another way of life, another system. Currently our form of insurrection depends on developing the consciousness of the Venezuelan people, creating popular power, if you ask me how do we overthrow the old state? My answer is through the comunas'
Whilst mobilising for the presidential elections is certainly a necessity at this moment in time, Ana was completely clear that in order to advance the socialist process, they have to look beyond the elections. 'whilst we are participating in REDES and mobilising for the election, our politics and aim is to develop the comunas'.
This is not solely an organisational question but based in Marxist politics, 'whilst its true that these ideas didn't originate from our continent, you must remember that colonialism brought capitalism to Latin America, the merchants developed capital and capitalism, from this developed trans and multi national companies that robbed our continent. We have experienced the globalisation of exploitation, the globalisation of hunger, of death, so now we believe in the globalisation of ideas, Marxism isn't a dogma, a doctrine, its not copy and paste, its a knowledge that allows you to interpret the world and to change it, transform it, its a science. Marx analysed the reality of capitalism, exploitation, and its contradictions, this is why these ideas remain so important to us today.'
The process of communal power in Venezuela demonstrates the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, it is not possible to develop the politics of the bolivarian revolution without community organisation, neither is it possible to achieve the aims of the collective by organising autonomously outside the struggle for socialism.
Whilst Ana was showing us round the comuna bakery, it struck me how the experience of Alexis Vive contained vital lessons for the Bolivarian process as a whole, simultaneously developing popular power, the forces of production and raising socialist consciousness. Calling for the development of 3000 comunas, that will represent 68% of the population, Chavez clearly recognises the value of the comunas in building the Bolivarian revolution, as a tool in dismantling the old bourgeois state.
*(Comparing the role of REDES, a new party based on communal councils and social missions set up to mobilise and politicize for the elections amongst those who don't identify with PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela) or other existing parties, Ana stressed 'REDES political aim currently is solely to mobilise for the election, and whilst we are participating in REDES, our politics, and our aim is to develop the comunas' she further explained 'REDES is not against the PSUV, the PSUV was formed by Chavez, our commandante, but it has a rigid structure, it doesn't always respond to our needs, so we have created REDES to reflect this, though we work together, its important to remember that PSUV is one only part of the platform of the revolution')
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