Socialism: Practice or Principle First?

As socialist enterprises and workers cooperatives are dwindling in Venezuela, there is a new emphasis on the creation of Networks of Free and Associated Agricultural Producers (REPLA). In this article, the author offers critiques of the socialist enterprises and calls for localized production that emphasizes processing raw materials closest to where they originate. This perspective is offered based on organizing efforts with a REPLA in Barlovento, Venezuela.


September 11, 2014 – (Correo del Orinoco) Which should come first, the practice, and then the principle? Or first the principle, and then the practice? Here in Barlovento, we, a group of RPLAs (Networks of Free and Associated Agricultural Producers), have come up with some guiding social principles to keep us focused on our duties and responsibilities towards society. One of the principles is: All raw materials should be processed into finished products in the area where they are produced, and by the same people who produce them, before they are distributed for consumption.

Yes, of course it should be like that!” shouted one of the members of a RPLA after hearing the explanation of the principle in a meeting. Another member said, “We should become an enterprise and not just be simple peasants producing for the rich or middleman.” It was very exiting and inspiring indeed to watch these RPLA members discussing their guiding principles.

President Hugo Chavez once asked President Fidel Castro in one of their meetings in Cuba, “What was the hardest thing you ever encountered as a leader of the Cuban revolution?” Castro answered, “I thought there was a manual,” that is, a guiding manual for socialism. “Well it’s true there wasn’t a manual, but there are principles that can guide us in building a new society that is just, democratic and sovereign.”

The RPLA principle is one of them. In this principle there is no scope for intermediaries or rich people to take advantage of the small and medium-sized farmers to enrich themselves. If the RPLAs are able to process their produce into a finished product, and then distribute it to the market or straight to the consumers, they automatically eliminate the intermediaries and the rich capitalists who in most cases take the role of processing the raw material produced by the farmers, and get most of the profit of the product. The RPLA can ask a good price for their products because they have eliminated the two factors that make any product very expensive.

This principle also creates jobs for the people of the area, avoiding an exodus to the big cities of people looking for jobs which means the prevention of more slums. Also this system avoids an ecological disaster that is common to big manufacturing industries that have no means to control their waste materials. Instead the RPLAs organize only small and medium scale industries that are easier to manage and control the waste materials. These are just some of the benefits of the many principles that the RPLAs have.

There is a huge milk processing industry that just has been inaugurated in Valle del Tuy. I think there is no problem in building one especially when raw materials are produced in the area. The problem comes when the milk comes from distant places to be finally processed in the factory. In the area where the factory is, I can count with the fingers of my two hands all the milk producers, while here in Barlovento in the same state of Miranda, in just one municipality called Paez there are more than 240 meat and milk producers.

Physics teaches us that to move any object on earth you must apply kinetic energy and continue providing enough energy to overcome friction. So unless there are other mitigating reasons, raw materials should be processed as close as possible to where they are produced to avoid unnecessary transportation, which increases the cost of the product. We can make many small scale industries that will benefit more people and communities than big factories. These small scale industries uplift the livelihood of the community where they are and they don’t create slums or waste products.

I hope the government will always follow principle first, then action, to avoid projects like the milk factory of Valle del Tuy, where there are not many cows or farmers. The government should be proud to inaugurate small scale industries that follow the fundamental principles of socialism, instead of a huge and complex industry which does not follow those principles.

Dada is Project Manager of Centro Madre, San José de Barlovento, Miranda State