Last week, as hundreds of community activists gathered in downtown Caracas to demonstrate their steadfast support for the socialist policies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, he reiterated once again that, “Venezuela’s communes must be consolidated if we are to truly carry out the program elaborated by our leader, Hugo Chavez”.
Duilliam Virigay agrees. National Spokesman of the Simon Bolivar National Communal Front (FNCSB), he was in Caracas last week to participate in the national assembly of the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current (CRBZ), a social movement dedicated to pushing the Bolivarian Revolution forward. In this interview, he describes the interesting yet difficult challenges faced by Venezuela’s radical experiment with participatory democracy.
How did the FNCSB first come together?
Before the FNCSB came to be, our people were actively involved in building the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ). In 1998 and 1999, the FNCEZ was working with rural people in the struggle for agrarian reform. This struggle for land was extremely violent, with the Venezuelan oligarchy, the landed elite, murdering over 300 rural leaders. As the FNCEZ consolidated itself and became strong, we identified the need to build other organizations that could attend to the needs of other sectors of society.
In 2005, we brought together some 350 communal councils in the first constituent assembly of the Simon Bolivar National Communal Front (FNCSB). Thanks to the grassroots organizing we had been doing for years, we were able to mobilize active leaders of these communal councils and form what is today the FNSCB.
Why did you, as a social movement, decide to prioritize the formation of communes?
All we did was to follow through with the vision outlined by President Chavez, a vision that proposed we re-found the Republic, re-found it from below from the neighborhoods, from the countryside. Chavez understood the need to build a new and revolutionary institutionalism from deep within the roots of Venezuelan society. To do this, Chavez proposed the consolidation of neighborhood-based communal councils, the joining of these councils into communes, joining these into communal cities, and so on. That is Chavez’s proposal for dismantling the bourgeois and oligarchical state that exists in Venezuela today, and that is why we’ve prioritized the communes.
We began our communal work in the state of Apure, a very difficult area to do grassroots organizing because of thefts, contraband, irregular forces that exist along the border (with Colombia), paramilitaries, and assassinations carried out by local elites. There in Apure we got started. The first thing we did was to bring together 39 communal councils and form eight communes. Once that was accomplished, we formed the country’s first communal city, now known as the Simon Bolivar Socialist Campesino Communal City (CCCS-SB).
It wasn’t easy, but we’ve made real progress since then. We’ve built communes and communal cities using nothing more than hard work, dedication, and our philosophy of organizing, educating, and mobilizing. We’ve helped build the consciousness necessary to bring people together. Today, and I say it with all humility, the CCCS-SB is the best example of social organization that exists in Venezuela. Of the 420 communes that are formally registered with the Ministry of Communes and Social Movements, 269 are communes that the FNCSB organized. That’s 60%.
Building communes isn’t just about defending the Revolution, it’s also about moving forward, being on the offensive. What we propose, as the CRBZ, is a nationwide strategic counter-offensive against the right. We want government policies to be implemented all across the nation. Policies that aren’t put into practice everywhere are policies that remain incomplete. That’s also why Chavez proposed the communes – so that policies turn into concrete actions in every corner of the country.
Private media in Venezuela and abroad tend to demonize the communes. Why do you think that is?
The communes pose a real threat to the Venezuelan opposition. Not only to the Venezuelan opposition but also to the rightwing all over Latin America and to US imperialism, to capitalism on the whole. The fear they have is that we Venezuelans, we in the Bolivarian Revolution, have up until now been playing the game of bourgeois democracy. To build communes is to force the Venezuelan right, the continental right, and imperialism into a terrain that they don’t control. That’s the real danger the communes pose and that’s where their fear comes from – if our Revolution advances in the construction of the communes,in building our new institutionalism, we will have broken with the limitations imposed on us by bourgeois society.
Any thoughts for readers living outside of Venezuela?
For all those who look to Venezuela from a distance, through a computer or television screen, or perhaps through the opinion of a journalist in their country, all I can tell them is that this Revolution is being made by, for, and of the people. President Chavez sowed a deep patriotic spirit in people that didn’t exist here before. He taught us to value ourselves, to care for one another. He taught us to understand that the problem of the other is our problem, that the problems of others are the problem of the republic.
In Venezuela we had extreme poverty. We were a nation rich in mineral resources, in oil, water and biodiversity, but we were also a nation in which those riches were exported off to the so-called “developed” world. Now we understand that these riches belong to the entire nation, that we have the responsibility to manage them well so that they reach the greatest number of people, the poorest people first, to the most humble in Venezuela as well as in other nations where people have real needs.
The majority of Venezuelans, those who vote for the Chavez platform, for socialism, those who keep the Revolution going, believe strongly in this struggle. Sure, we have difficulties. We have delinquency, we have corruption, and we have many other problems that we inherited from the capitalism that came before us. Those who want to come and see Venezuela should do so. They should come to Venezuela, visit a neighborhood, visit the countryside, visit a commune. They’ll see how we’re solving our social problems. We invite all people to come and see our country, but we also invite people to make an effort in their home countries to build concrete alternatives to capitalism. Their alternatives need not be the Venezuelan alternative. Instead, they should be the alternatives allowed for by the conditions in each country.