After the May 20 elections, the Bolivarian Revolution is entering a new stage. Plenty of analysis has been written about the elections, and there are many demands that are waiting to be fulfilled in the context of Nicolás Maduro’s reelection. The dangers are evident: our enemies are advancing with a plan that is clear to everyone. However, the question remains: how is the government going to drive forward the strategic project of constructing socialism?
For many, the road ahead means following Chávez’s path: commune or nothing. More than a slogan, this phrase captures the long road of 20 years of revolutionary experience, of achievements that are now threatened. As such, this phrase demands not only the political reorientation of the Revolution but also its advancement.
In many areas of our society, one can talk of a before and after Chávez. Nevertheless, one fundamental aspect is the push for participatory and protagonist democracy which, in accordance with the progressive development of legislation, has advanced hand in hand with the Revolution.
This advancement allows for the formation of a popular political subject which we now call Chavismo, a subject which is present all over the country and which has the communal movement as one of its organizational expressions.
Similar to the development of participatory and protagonist democracy, the communal movement is the synthesis of many experiments of popular organization with different orientations and which gradually allowed for the political conception of a new project: the commune.
The communal project has not been fully developed from a political perspective, and we could even argue that in recent years it has been sidelined from the government’s agenda. Despite this, it has yielded important achievements which today makes it one of the key areas for the construction of socialism in the popular imagination of the Chavista and popular sectors. As such, President Maduro should take it into account in this new era.
With our sight set on urgent popular reinforcement, here we take a look at the main achievements of the communes in the Bolivarian Revolution and discuss some of the challenges before us in this new stage.
Achievement #1: The commune is popular self-government
The communes are a movement borne out of earlier experiments across the country, in many cases with organizational traditions that pre-date the Revolution, and in other cases from government-driven policies such as Water Technical Committees (Mesas Técnicas de Agua)[i].
The revolutionary context stimulated these initiatives, and they experienced an organizational leap with the emergence of policies that called for the formation of the communal councils and, years later, of socialist communes.
Thus a space of popular power was constituted with the objective of fostering self-government and building socialism. Revolutionary democracy was presented as a formula to get the people to directly exercise their rights. The possibility of self-governing was born.
Achievement #2: Women in the commune
Everyone was called to mobilize, to organize, and to build the Revolution. In this context, the faces and hands of women who undertake invisible tasks such as building goodwill, conforming community spirit, and looking towards the future whilst remaining firmly grounded in reality, appeared with great strength.
It would have been impossible for the communal movement or the Revolution as a whole to advance without the decisive actions of women: they have won their rights in Revolution, and we'll defend them as we move towards other landmarks. The Socialist and Bolivarian Revolution will be feminist or it will not be a Revolution at all!
Achievement #3: Transformation of the natural habitat
To get an idea of the magnitude of Venezuela’s Great Housing Mission (Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela)[ii] beyond the numbers, we should take into account the thousands of projects that popular power organizations have directly managed with community leadership and social accountability.
As such, the entire landscape of popular neighborhoods has been transformed and new communities have been founded. Apart from the actual houses built, there are countless community infrastructure projects including communal centres, cultural centres, squares, sports facilities, and meeting spaces that are used for self-government by both the communal councils and communes.
Territorial socialism has as its base the assessment and transformation of the local environment which ensure the viability of socialism. This is only possible in Revolution and under the direct leadership of the people.
Achievement #4: A new political culture
Chávez’s words served as a guide for millions, whose learning process took place in a socialized and permanent fashion. Undoubtedly Aló Presidente[iii] was one of the main tools to achieve this, despite not being the only tool available.
Through this TV program, Chávez’s knowledge, viewpoints about the world, decisions, ways of doing politics, of solving conflicts, and of taking responsibility in front of the country were imparted to us.
Honoring one’s word, respecting the decision of the assembly, being accountable, and questioning our practices all became sacred values and were shown to be principles which contributed towards the overcoming of the representative logic of the old political system. Codes of direct democracy entered our daily practice and even became law.
Without idealizing the issue nor denying natural contradictions, we can say that the communal processes is sustained by the key elements of revolutionary democracy.
Achievement #5: Productive communal experiences
The democratization of the economy is fundamental. This has implied pushing forward projects in which the people take a leading role in production. This can be achieved from methods including creative labour all the way to the control of the means of production as direct social and communal property.
We find ourselves in a country where multiple attempts to create communal economies exist. In the majority of these cases, growing food is prioritized, though this is not the case for all. They are also experiments with direct product distribution in the surrounding areas between popular organizations in the countryside and in the cities. More projects need to be developed.
To do so implies consolidating the productive communal initiatives that currently exist (and also adding the recuperated and worker-controlled companies to them). It also implies prioritizing their development with integral and coherent policies. At the same time we need to multiply and protect these initiatives that are under attack and under pressure to disappear, as we see with the setbacks in occupied land plots. These are the minimum requirements of a Chavista policy in the current scenario.
The construction of a communal economic system requires boosting popular and financial autonomy in order to build the social and productive fabric required by socialism and which Chávez demanded of us all.
Achievement #6: Laws to build communes
The Bolivarian Revolution uses the Constitution and a vast juridical body as a shield. Included in this shield are the Laws of Popular Power which allow for the formal construction of a base of revolutionary law and a deeper participatory and protagonist democracy.
Without a doubt, it is an experiment that has allowed the multiplication of experiences of popular power across the country within the framework of a progressive outlook of popular organization (with its inherent contradictions and pitfalls). With this geographic multiplication of popular power, we can promote the necessary dissemination of policies which allows the construction of the new geometry of power.
In the “Strike at the Helm” speech[iv], Chávez stressed with vehemence and even outrage that we still have the task of turning the content of our laws into a reality, and it would be fair to say that the same contradictions within the Revolution itself have slowed this process down.
It is up to us to protect our legal achievements, to learn the lessons from their implementation, and to evaluate so as to make contributions to the government and the National Constituent Assembly in order to constitutionalize the main tenets.
There should be measures which point in this direction in this new stage of government which began with the May 20 victory of Nicolás Maduro, and the new constitution should embrace these contributions, which are the key to Bolivarian socialism.
The commune is a mandatory reference point when considering socialism in Venezuela; it is part of the fabric that Chávez proposed for the completion of this project, and it is no coincidence that it appears so prominently in the “Strike at the Helm” speech.
His position is clear: in the territorial sphere, the commune is where socialism will be born from, being as it is the base unit for the coordination between national policies and a system of popular government that stems from the principle “all power to the people.”
There is a political gain to be won in developing the communes during this new stage of the Revolution that began with Maduro’s triumph on May 20. There have been clear demonstrations of the potential of these organisms, and our challenge is to make them the way forward. This should be a challenge for the Revolution as a whole, and to the contrary, the commune risks withering away in the context of the current crisis. Having the potential is not enough.
As such, we need to assume an integrated policy line which is coherent with the principles of the communes and, above all, push forward in an offensive to win over the majority in favour of a new revolutionary hegemony. This is something that is always needed and is even more relevant nowadays in any reading we might have of the electoral results. Chávez used to say that history is planned, and this is more relevant in moments of adversity.
The formation of policies that are founded in overcoming the ingrained rentier logic and beginning an honest evaluation of the harsh reality we are living through is urgent. This will allow us planning tools to cross-reference relevant data and information from our communities with the goal of creating integrated self-government projects and development plans.
This challenge means that communal development plans become our battle cry for the crisis, prioritizing strengths, identifying potential means of production that should be transferred or taken over by communities, designing strategies to contribute in the social tasks before us in this context of economic war.
It is necessary to understand the communal aspect as part of the political identity of Chavismo and as something connected to revolutionary democracy, hegemony and social property in the hands of the people. It would be a mistake to reduce it to just having to do with communal councils and communes.
We need to sum together as much as possible. In the terms set out in the Laws of Popular Power this means adding layers of political coordination to self government in neighboring communities, or in other words converting communal councils into communes, communes into communal cities. We need to articulate the political coordination of different groups as much as possible, between communes, social movements, workers, in different sectors and geographical locations. This will generate a dynamic that can sharpen a political identity which will be able to place the key points that Chávez set out for the construction of socialism in the public agenda.
This also demands that workers, students, women, and all revolutionaries comprehend that the challenge of building a new society does not rest on a given sector, but that the common good is defended and developed by all.
In summary, the task is to define the communal subject in political terms, to define the communal movement in a broad sense, to increase its autonomy, its aggregative and articulated ability. Only then can we foster an exercise of political co-responsibility that can create the conditions for the constitution of a system of popular government, and that’s where we will find socialism, that’s where we will find the Bolivarian Government and the Revolution that Chávez tasked us to build.
The people and Nicolás Maduro have a new opportunity to make it happen, and the time is now.
Translated by Venezuelanalysis.com.
[i] Water Technical Committees are community based work-groups which looked to address and solve problems of water supply. They represented one of the most successful attempts at community organisation in the 1990s.
[ii] The GMVV is a government-led public housing construction program. At the time of writing, the program has built more than 2 million homes since 2011. Some of these are built by private contractors and others by communities through the donation of materials to communal councils or communes.
[iii] The weekly television program run by President Chavez in which he combined unveiling public works, interacting with citizens, music and dance, checking up on ministers, as well as pedagogically-oriented speeches on revolutionary theory.
[iv] Chavez’ famous last ideological speech in which he leaves many guidelines for the future.