Solidarity Gathering with Simon Planas Commune Movement, A Place of Popular Unity

In an exclusive article for Venezuelanalysis, local commune activist Gerardo Rojas reflects on a historic gathering of Venezuelan popular movements at the El Maizal commune in Lara state and its implications for the future of Venezuela’s communal socialist struggle.

El Maizal commune

Hundreds of activists from diverse spaces and latitudes of the Bolivarian revolution came together this past 23, 24 and 25 of February with the common goal of taking the communal path as that which leads us to the construction of socialism.

The El Maizal commune [in Simon Plana municipality, Lara state] was the focal point for the gathering in solidarity with the entire Simon Planas commune movement, which is currently fighting for the electoral recognition of Angel Prado, a member of our movement who achieved victory in the last municipal elections [in December 2017].

The gathering was not only an expression of solidarity but also an exchange of various diverse community experiences which struggle for the same goals and with the same practices. It allowed a debate on how we consider it possible to continue down this path in the context of the current crisis, where the strategic enemy lurks as never before and when a policy for communes does not appear as a coherent line of action from the [current] Bolivarian Government.

On El Maizal and the construction of hegemony

March 5 is upon us, an important date for millions in Venezuela and beyond, when we lost the physical presence of Commander Chávez, an absence that still weighs upon us and that leaves a bad taste in our mouths. But [it is an absence] that also allows us to identify challenges and make efforts to analyze Chávez’s contributions and his relevance today.

This same date in 2009 refers to another event, when the Commander in his ‘Alo Presidente’ TV program talked from a piece of retaken land between the states of Lara and Portuguesa. In this episode, the President showed us that he was able to connect with his people in their fight against the large estates and unproductive lands. In 2009 these were policies which were still on the agenda of the government. At that time, though, such issues were linked to another political context which encouraged the organization of the people for the promotion of popular self-government: the socialist communes.

The El Maizal commune is almost reaching its ninth anniversary. It was born from that same interaction between Chávez and the humble producers which raised the flags of the Bolivarian process from the first moments. Much has happened in these years in this land, so much in fact that we can say that the commune has become clear evidence that the wager of handing over the means of production to a people with a work culture and organization, who also have chosen the accumulation of forces for their general development as their path, is an effective way to advance towards socialism in Venezuela.

El Maizal’s productive capacity has enabled the building of the material basis for diverse social relations as well as struggles associated with the recovery of unproductive lands and areas. Such lands under community management and activation have been put at the service of the people, and we can say that the commune’s food distribution capacity has been very important in slightly mitigating some of the harsh conditions that the economic war, which is driven by the enemies of the revolution against the population.

The more than 1,100 hectares sown with corn last year by the El Maizal commune was mostly sold to the Venezuelan state, but an important percentage was also distributed in the communal direct markets.

Likewise, only in the month of December, more than 12,500 kg of meat, 1,000 kg of cheese, as well as coffee, vegetables, and various fruits were distributed, benefiting the population of at least 80 communal councils in a municipality with less than 30,000 inhabitants. Following the prior approval from the Communal Parliament, all of the resources generated from the sales (after covering costs) are directed to social investment in different areas and projects. Two schools have been built, general maintenance has been carried out to the municipal hospital, and agricultural roads have been restored, to give a few examples.

With a strong presence in the Simón Planas municipality and being as we are the first formally constituted commune in this municipality, the organizational development of El Maizal has contributed to the momentum of other communes beyond the scope of 22 communal councils which make up the former.

We have led the way to the creation of eight more communes which cover territorial areas not only in Lara state but also in Portuguesa state, as does El Maizal, as well as in Yaracuy state. The conformation of these other communes has developed according to historical and geographical conditions, overcoming traditional political territorial divides. Because of this, today we raise the issue of the Communal Federation and its local motor of agricultural/food development, which is what the formation of two Communal Cities is designed for (1).

Ultimately, this is an example of self-government with real capacity to govern on the basis of the dynamics which the commune develops autonomously: the commune’s accumulation of forces implies that by building hegemony we can go forward and occupy all the spaces necessary to continue advancing.

This is why the name of Angel Prado was proposed as a territorial candidate by the Simón Planas municipality to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC). Prado is a member of the El Maizal commune and one of the spokespeople for their Parliament, obtaining victory with more than 80% of the votes in July 30 ANC elections. He embodies the transcendent projection of an effort that goes beyond the scope of the formally constituted commune.

In order to achieve this triumph, the members of the communes of the municipality constituted a structure that guaranteed their presence in all polling stations. The same community mobilized itself to ensure a mass of votes [necessary] to win again in the October 15 gubernatorial elections. Hence, it was logical that when the commune movement appealed to the same Prado to stand in the December 10 mayoral elections, our triumph was assured.

Thus the development of “the new” had sufficient popular backing which enabled it to assume the formal power structures that has always been the enemy of the commune. Using popular consultation to clear the way of opponents has been a common method in these years of revolution, but in this case the opponent turned out to be the same political apparatus that leads the revolutionary government.

On November 1, the day that the candidates registered, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) told us that it was not going to support Angel Prado, and in agreement with the decision of a popular assembly it was decided to register him on our own initiative, thus starting a long struggle that continues to this day.

Thousands of obstacles have been overcome to get to the elections, which we won with 57.45% of the votes, meaning that Prado should have been accredited as the legitimate mayor of Simón Planas municipality in Lara state. However, his victory has not been recognized by the National Electoral Council (CNE) on the grounds that he was not approved as a candidate by the leadership of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) who justified their decision by stating that he is the ANC territorial delegate for the same municipality.

The struggle for power, direction, and a strategic horizon within Chavismo

What happened in Simon Planas represents a fight that transcends the mayorship of a small municipality. It is the central dispute in the heart of Chavismo at every level, or at the very least it reveals the development of internal tensions over how to govern and how to continue the process from within, beyond the permanent confrontation with the opposition and the foreign interests which look to end the Bolivarian process.

The way that some exercise power can be defined as limiting the development of forces that internally oppose them, denying the resolution of differences at the heart of the revolution with codes of conduct that have been elaborated consistently with the postulates of democracy, all the while preventing the possibility of finding ways of resolving these tensions which should rather give vitality to the exercise of government.

Moreover, such behavior puts in doubt the meaning of the revolution itself, in terms of the possible avenues to advance and triumph in moments in which hopelessness predominates and the socialist horizon looks increasingly diffused.

The Bolivarian revolution, with all its nuances, takes as part of its identity that which was proposed by Chavez on multiple occasions, from the Blue Book to the “Golpe de Timon”*: “One of the essentially new things in our model is its democratic character, a new democratic hegemony, and that compels us not to impose but to convince.”

This must be paired with another insight, namely “the transformation of the economic base of the country to make it essentially and substantially democratic” for the purpose of “changing all the geographic-human, socio-territorial, and cultural relationships.”

Much of what defines the communal movement and what was expressed in our solidarity gathering with the communal movement, as well as what motivated many to attend, is defined in these phrases (2).

The unity of Chavismo necessary for relaunching the communal movement

In the gathering, present were a diverse array of subjects that heeded the call: grassroots activists from diverse experiences, communities, and cultures, intellectuals, alternative and community media collectives, political parties, amongst others.

This demonstrates various circumstances that intertwine in this moment in time, especially the effective existence of a political subject which has been built in these years since Chavismo took up the communal path as a way of constructing the revolution, contrary to the present ethos in the bureaucratic spaces or in the traditional exercise of politics.

It also shows the weakness of this communal path: despite the existence of hundreds of experiences, it can be said that the development of its potential is limited.

In spite of the advances that have been achieved, these weaknesses include the impossibility of raising autonomous plans of struggle, of managing economic projects which would allow a real productive development, and advancing in the aggregation or articulation to define an identity of a movement beyond those existing organizations.

The overcoming of these weaknesses would allow us to press for the implementation of a clear agenda, which may include that approved by President Maduro in the Presidential Councils for Communes or their defense against the attacks and obstacles put in place by bureaucracy and political interests at all levels, especially in local government.

To all of these weaknesses we must add the failure to view the communes as a project that transcends communal councils and communes themselves, as if it were a task of just a certain sector and not of society as a whole. These are some of the reasons, certainly not the only ones, that explain the lack of effort to orientate the direction and necessary horizon of the Bolivarian revolution.

Without a doubt, the logic emerging from Venezuela’s extractive economic model has had an influence in every political arena, and the communal arena is no exception.

To reconfigure the way we do things so as to overcome this is one of the urgent tasks that we are looking at. The continued practical survival of the communal experiences has much to do with this, but this reconfiguration of ideas is an active process which we must encourage. Keeping the essence of the communal struggle is fundamental so that it doesn’t disappear in the context of the crisis and so that it isn’t re-formulated by some of the spokespersons of the Government, who themselves are disassociated from the projects of self-government and its revolutionary potential.

In addition, it must be said, the crisis has delivered a hard blow to the entire social fabric of the revolution, and regrettably some of the plans to overcome it have, so far, boosted the Government’s formulas of individual solutions or solutions through forms of cooptation instead of encouraging communal organization as key. Such formulas are at odds with the experience seen so far in the revolution, and while they have always existed, previously these options were combined with others aimed at expanding the social base of Chavismo by motivating the popular organizations of diverse nature.

From this point of view, the gathering is an important milestone that allows us to challenge these governmental plans to overcome the crisis, to challenge them with several urgent tasks, many of which were presented as workgroup agreements, including: the necessary construction of unity within Chavismo, which must be seen as a diverse construction that has allowed a political project to carry on from a hegemonic position that must be recovered; the strengthening and qualification of the economic enterprises pointing towards the development of a real communal economic system, contrary to that which has been expressed by government officials, who propose a step backwards in economic terms, moving away from socialism; as well as moving forward with the development of systems of coordination outlined by the laws of popular power, making it clear that the Communal State is not only a task of communal councils and communes.

As such, the commune and the sum of its parts cannot only be seen as the receiving of the registration form in the Ministry of Communes, nor can it be seen as a sector, but rather as a synthesis of the strategic task of the building of the Communal State, which was a task proposed by Commander Chávez and also by President Maduro in his first address to the National Constituent Assembly.

Here we think that the construction of the Communal State is an inescapable task of revolutionaries active in diverse sectors: workers, peasants, students, women, and local expressions of popular power, which include communal councils and communes (in all of their possible presentations). All of these subjects must come together in a common struggle, as it was shown at the gathering. We must claim ourselves as communards seeking to build a historic bloc of the oppressed for the defense of life and of the commons, necessary as it is for the hegemonic rearmaming of the Bolivarian revolution.

We insist that one of the areas which needs building by revolutionaries, by the communards, hand in hand with the Bolivarian Government, is a System of Popular Government, which must generate the necessary transitional tension between what has yet to die and what is being born.

This system must begin from the fact that the people must take on the task of the construction of the Communal State with the establishment of popular self-governments and experiences exercising co-rule with the revolutionary government (in all of its forms of representation), which develops the new institutional framework necessary in order to advance forwards.

All this occurs in the context of fierce attacks from all possible sides. The international onslaught is the best orchestrated in many years, with real chances of stopping our process. Yet, the local division of the opposition allows us to experiment with dual power and the transfer of responsibilities to the organized people not only as part of the necessary action of a revolutionary government, but also for the creation of layers of popular resistance in case of any adverse scenario.

The majority of the work groups reaffirmed their support for the candidacy of Nicolas Maduro in the upcoming presidential elections. An important number of criticisms were presented regarding his government but it is was also clear that the fight for the realization of the communal way to socialism is only possible within the framework of a Chavista Government, of which we will demand more effort and which we will accompany whilst it does so.

The challenge is here. The gathering allowed more than a few of us to regain our strength so as to continue on this road. These are not easy times but it is an opportunity for necessary autonomous development so as to reconfigure and advance forward in the communal experience. The continuity of all that was proposed lies in the hands of the many. Chavismo is still defining its paths, and we continue on the socialist road proposed by Commander Chávez.

(1) Communal Movement Simon Planas continues with the construction of the project of Commander Chávez: We will promote the System of Popular Government of our future Communal Federation.

(2) Statement of the meeting in solidarity with the Commune movement of Simon Planas: Commune or nothing!

*The Golpe de Timon was a speech made by Chavez in October 2012 shortly before he passed away in which Chavez laid out the importance of revolutionary efficiency, the renewal of leadership, and the rebirth of the Bolivarian movement

Translation by Venezuelanalysis