Popular Power: If Not Now, When?

Martha Lia Grajales, of the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current, argues that only an emphasis on popular power, communal production and social property will allow the Bolivarian Process to maintain its strategic course toward socialism.

By Martha Lía Grajales Pineda – CRBZ
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Participants in the Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, a self‐organized food distribution project, in the San Agustin neighborhood of Caracas. (Archive)
Participants in the Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, a self‐organized food distribution project, in the San Agustin neighborhood of Caracas. (Archive)

Amidst the terrible crisis in Venezuela, many ask themselves if the socialist horizon is still the strategic goal that guides our discourse and political action – both for the Chavista leadership in government and for popular movements – or if instead the pragmatism and common sense of the capitalist economy are imposing themselves as a strategy, in the best case scenario circumstantially, to overcome or mitigate the effects of the crisis in Venezuela.

In the popular movements, this socialist horizon is generally being reinforced and deepened despite this terrible crisis. Many experiences, such as the El Maizal commune or the Pueblo a Pueblo plan (to mention but a few) have shown how economically efficient and politically powerful the construction of popular power from below can be. This construction itself is generating the conditions for the strategic goal of socialism.

In the El Maizal commune the people have elected – autonomously and from the grassroots – their candidates for bodies such as the National Constituent Assembly, city hall and municipal councils. And unlike what has been happening at a national level, popular participation in the commune has increased and grown in quantity and quality. Since 2009, when the commune was constituted, its productive capacity has continually increased. Currently, more than 1000 hectares of corn are sown every year, alongside production of pork, milk, and vegetables such as peppers, scallions, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis, and more.

The Pueblo a Pueblo plan, with only 270 organized producers, has managed to produce, in a self-managed fashion, over one thousand tons of food in the past three years. It has coordinated efforts to rescue our native seeds, producing seeds that reduce the need for peasant producers to import them, and it has designed a distribution system based upon a new relationship between city and countryside, that eliminates the intermediaries from the productive chain. This way more than 1.200 families have access to high-quality foodstuffs on a weekly basis, saving at least 60% compared to market prices.

Time and again the grassroots of the Bolivarian Revolution have shown that popular power is the best weapon to fight back and transform this crisis, and in turn to give birth to socialism. Popular power built from below is the only way to beget socialism, something that Chávez made clear on countless occasions:

“Socialism needs to emerge from the grassroots, it won’t appear by decree; it has to be created. It is a popular creation, of the masses, of the country; it is a “heroic creation”, like Mariategui said. It is a historical construction, which does not come from the presidency”.

Although it may be that socialism will not be created by a presidential decree, in Venezuela we also know from experience how important it is to have a popular government that will enable and push for the construction of this popular power. Precisely for this reason, we wonder if, unlike what happens in popular movements, the Venezuelan government, which we consider to an ally in the construction of popular power and the transition towards socialism, is opting for the pragmatism and common sense of the capitalist economy (in the best case scenario as a short-term plan to overcome the current crisis in Venezuela).

If, on the other hand, the socialist horizon remains as the strategic goal, how do we explain that, amid this crisis, there is a bigger emphasis on cooptation than on popular participation and protagonism? This is evidenced, for example, by the suspension of the communal council elections in 2016; the appointment -- and not the election – of the CLAP spokespeople and of the PSUV leaders at local and national levels; together with the sidelining of the construction of the communal state and popular power in the national political agenda.

Why is assistentialism prioritized over self-management? The subsidised food in CLAP boxes and the bonuses assigned through the homeland card (Carnet de la Patria) are undoubtedly necessary steps to reduce the effects of the crisis on the poorest sector of population, which suffers the most. But why have these become the government’s flagship policies, marginalizing those policies that allow for the advances of popular power, of poor people, towards the strategic focus on self-management and self-government, as well as economic policies that focus on increasing social property over the means of production?

Why is our government more committed to empowering private capital instead of social property? Statements such as the one made by Foreign Trade Minister José Vielma Mora, during a meeting with the leadership of the National Council for Investment Promotion, on June 11, 2018, offer stark proof of this: “We want to be highly productive, and we will accomplish it together with the private sector… I’ll say it again: we may have big political differences, perhaps insurmountable, but when it comes to trade it’s a different matter”.

Is the transition towards socialism by any chance compatible with agreements or peaceful coexistence with capital? I don’t think so. While we go on making pacts with capital, under the assumption that the crisis is forcing us to be pragmatic, the common sense of capital will end up imposing itself in every aspect. In the words of Miguel Mazzeo:

“One of the greatest challenges of the Bolivarian Revolution is eliminating the entire field of collusion between private/state capitalism and the bureaucratic and corporative logics which, from the inside (and practicing a Chavismo “from above”), cling on to a path based on forms of parasitic capital accumulation and hold onto a model that has little to do with communal socialism. If capitalists, or a bureaucracy that assumes the role of the bourgeoisie, hold in their hands the property, the management and the direction of companies while subaltern and oppressed classes are relegated to implementation tasks, this supremacy of capital will inevitably express itself in political terms”.

Only through social property of the means of production and organizations such as communes, communal councils, cooperatives, and others, is it possible to create a new, socialist, economic model, inserting social property and a socialist mindset, into every step of the production chain: production, distribution and consumption.

For those that argue that embracing popular economy, as the central strategy to overcome the crisis, is at best naive, I would retort that what is naive is to go on believing that capitalists are out there to save anyone but themselves. The latest Oxfam report actually shows that wealth is being concentrated at an accelerated rate in recent times:

“The number of billionaires rose at an unprecedented rate of one every two days between March 2016 and March 2017.” (Oxfam, 2018)

Thus the challenge for the Chavista popular movement – the one that embraces and deepens the socialist horizon as the only way to fight back and transform the deep crisis we have in Venezuela – is to grow and articulate, to build collective agendas of struggle that will allow us to strengthen popular power, socialist productive chains, and fight with the political leadership and other actors in order to maintain the transition to socialism as the strategic orientation of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.