A New Subjectivity for a New Communal Society: A Conversation with Iraida Morocoima and Juan Carlos Rodríguez (Part II)

For the Pioneros Movement, building houses is just one part of radical social transformation

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Juan Carlos Rodríguez (Venezuelanlysis)
Juan Carlos Rodríguez (Venezuelanlysis)
By Cira Pascual Marquina – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Iraida Morocoima and Juan Carlos Rodríguez are spokespeople for the Campamentos de Pioneros [henceforth Pioneros], an autonomous Chavista initiative dedicated to self-organized housing construction, but whose struggle goes beyond individual housing solutions. Pioneros is part of the larger Movimiento de Pobladoras y Pobladores [Settlers' Movement, henceforth Pobladoras], a platform bringing together several organizations struggling against the logic of capital in urban environments. In Part II of this interview, Morocoima and Rodríguez talk about two conflicting models of the state, and about their proposal for building a radically new communal society. [Read Part I here.]

In the Bolivarian Process, there are two paradigms: one that is grassroots and popular vs another that is statist and clientelistic. The Great Venezuelan Housing Mission [henceforth GMVV] is an umbrella project including some grassroots initiatives such as Pioneros, but with an overall paradigm that is statist and clientelistic. How does Pioneros fit into this?

Rodríguez: There are indeed two paradigms in our society. The dominant paradigm conceives the modern state as a provider of goods and services, and in this case as a housing provider. In fact, the paradigm of the state as a housing provider dates back to the 19th century. Here, in Venezuela, the Banco Obrero [Workers' Bank, a state institution] was founded at the beginning of the 20th century to provide housing for the working class.

This paradigm prevails in much of the GMVV. In fact, the mission is an umbrella that covers many initiatives, including housing construction with the direct participation of popular power, and even the Pioneros initiative. However, the overall GMVV vision is not linked to the construction of popular power. Instead, it tends toward consolidating the welfare state as a guarantor of people’s rights.

Pobladoras is not about satisfying needs, since we aim to build power from below: popular power and communal power. Our struggle is not just about individual housing rights. Rather we work to produce a context for communal living.

Thus, what we struggle for are means for communal living and not the houses themselves. We fight to take the land away from capital. We also get the construction materials from the state, which centralizes them. On our side, we democratically organize the struggle, the production process, and we produce housing collectively. At the end of the day, we are fighting to place the means of production in the people’s hands.

This is how the Pioneros housing developments have been built: through processes that are participatory, popular, collective, communal... and through struggle!

Of course, this runs up against the state as provider and guarantor of welfare. Tension arises because our vision implies transferring power to popular organizations, the organized pueblo, whereas the bureaucracy resists this.

Even when Chávez was alive and there were abundant resources, the bureaucracy resisted. Still, the popular movement managed to twist its arm to obtain materials and other support. Now, however, the resources managed by the state are meager and the dispute has become very tense.

However, the root of the contradiction is really not the availability or lack of resources. The contradiction emerges because there are two different political conceptions. The question is: with limited resources available, are you going to continue building houses by contracting with capitalists, or are you going to build communities with the people to open another political horizon?

Morocoima: As an autonomous and grassroots initiative, we had to fight for recognition and to be part of the GMVV.

Chávez put the construction of three million houses in motion to ensure that the poor would have roofs over their heads, but he also opened the doors for us. In fact, Chávez also listened to our proposal to wrest vacant land from the “urban plantations.” The law now legitimizes such actions.

However, the situation has changed. Although we continue to maintain and defend the rescued plots taken from the “urban plantations,” there are bureaucratic forces that – with the aim of dividing the movement – have either threatened or offered “alternatives” to some of our initiatives. This is geared toward dismantling our popular, grassroots work.

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The self‐organized building process in the Campamento de Pioneros Amatina in Caracas (Darwin “Diko” Cañas Betancourt).
The self‐organized building process in the Campamento de Pioneros Amatina in Caracas (Darwin “Diko” Cañas Betancourt).

Every revolution involves an internal struggle between grassroots and statist approaches. Here, in Venezuela, the contradiction expresses itself as a conflict between the bureaucratic leadership and the currents committed to popular power. The popular movement must decide whether it will operate within the schemes of established power or question institutional structures. How does Pioneros see this dilemma?

Morocoima: These differences are important and have consequences downstream. When a family receives the keys to their home, the house becomes a space that can potentially separate them from the rest of society. Family members can participate in the communal council or not, they can vote or not, they can commit to the collective or not. By contrast, a Pioneros project has collective work as part of its DNA and the commune as its horizon.

Rodríguez: Popular, self-organized projects will always struggle for resources from the state. However, when it comes to Pioneros, the dispute with the state has a special character. There is a permanent struggle over the land because someone will always want to “be government” in any territory-based project. This entails a permanent power struggle.

Nonetheless, I should highlight that our main struggle is not with the state or with constituted powers. Our main struggle is to build a new subjectivity. Actually, there is an ongoing dispute over subjectivity within the organization. Sometimes people opt for an individual solution. That, of course, tends to imply breaking with the organization. Yet while some people give up self-organized living, others are continually incorporated into the grassroots process.

For about two years now, you have been promoting the “Law for Self-Organized Production of Popular Housing and Habitat” [Ley de Producción Autogestionaria de Hábitat y Vivienda Popular]. What can you tell us about this project?

Rodríguez: This law would open up the possibility to self-produce popular habitats and, more importantly, pave the way for the collective production of life in general.

The law would bind the state so that resources and support be made available to grassroots initiatives. This would provide a legal basis for more and more people joining the struggle.

I should highlight that our conception, as reflected in the legal initiative, does not focus only on the state and its resources, but on all forms of established power. It used to be that the state managed most of the nation’s resources. Now, however, the state has seen its resources shrink, with the private sector growing. Hence, although we will continue to struggle so that the state’s resources are channeled to popular, self-managed initiatives, we will also have to struggle to wrest resources from the private sector.

Morocoima: With Chávez some ten years ago, the collective, grassroots production of life through housing really got underway. Now, however, we must work to consolidate the project, since there are many forces – economical, political, and ideological – that conspire against popular, self-managed initiatives.

Also, as Juan Carlos was saying, the law is not only about self-managed construction of popular housing. It is a law that promotes a collective and grassroots conception of life.

We hope that the current National Assembly, with its overwhelming Chavista majority, will pass this law favoring participative and protagonistic democracy.

In concrete terms, what can you tell us about the law’s content?

Rodríguez: First, the law would guarantee some “minimums” for popular self-construction. The law would commit institutions to making resources available for grassroots initiatives. As it is now, it is up to the political will of people in institutions to support them. The law would guarantee a minimum of support for popular and collectivized projects.

The law would also establish how self-management initiatives should operate in relation to the state. Pobladoras is a self-governed and autonomous organization, but that does not mean that there should not be a regulatory framework governing the relationship between the state and the organization: a kind of pact. Otherwise, the tendency is for the institutional logic to impose itself on popular, self-managed projects.

One thing to note is that institutional factors can sometimes intervene in popular initiatives with good intentions. However, they always bypass internal processes, and thus bureaucratic power tends to break the organization. This is because the self-managed form of organization and production responds to a logic that is quite different from that of the state.

The law would make it possible to establish relations that would keep the bureaucracy from “colonizing” grassroots initiatives.

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Upper left and lower left: Movimiento de Pobladores marches in Caracas. Upper right and lower right: Campamento de Pioneros Kaika Shi, Caracas. (Movimiento de Pobladores)
Upper left and lower left: Movimiento de Pobladores marches in Caracas. Upper right and lower right: Campamento de Pioneros Kaika Shi, Caracas. (Movimiento de Pobladores)

Finally, let’s discuss the communal project. As I understand it, a communal society is the ultimate goal of Pioneros and Pobladoras.

Rodríguez: Pobladoras prioritizes the construction of communal life as an alternative to the life imposed by capitalist, colonial, and individualist modernity. For us, it is fundamental to consolidate a way of life that is collectively produced. At the end of the day, this way of life is needed if we are to advance in building a communal society.

This has civilizational implications: we are working to build an alternative way of life!

The communal spirit actually expresses itself in the grassroots and self-managed processes taking place in the Pioneros encampments and in the new model for living that we foster within Pobladoras.

Our strategic horizon is a communal one. For that reason, our project enters into contradiction with the modern capitalist city.

I bring this up because a debate about the “Communal City Law” is currently underway at the National Assembly. However, communal cities cannot emerge if the state favors capitalist modernity and the latter continues to organize urban space. Therefore, it is necessary to think about how to organize life, which also requires analyzing power.

We need to analyze the logic of public power, distinguishing it from communal power. Sometimes people confuse the two. To give you an example, some people argue that the commune is a structure that should be subordinated to the local town hall. It would be a very serious error to incorporate the commune into the structure of public power in the regions. Public is not the same as communal. The commune is the alternative to capitalist modernity.

Modernity has eliminated the commons. It committed genocide against communitarian forms of life. The communal is precisely what our comrades in Bolivia and in many parts of Latin America are recovering: the communitarian way of life as an alternative to the project of modernity.

It is time to analyze and transform power, which requires a radical transformation of the economy, of our subjectivity, and geography. This implies questioning not only the public sphere but also the private sphere of accumulation. We don’t argue for a transition from public to private management.

This may sound very abstract, but in concrete terms, we are talking about control of the territory, of politics, and of the economy – all based on the logic of the common as opposed to the individualistic liberal logic. They are antagonistic. All this is complex. It is not a two-day exercise.

Morocoima: Now that the old model is exhausted, it’s time to advance. But the process must be true to Chávez’s proposal: it must overcome the old bureaucratic logic of power.

We must always remember that, as we move toward a communal society, we are defending the commons and Chavez’s legacy. Conversely, if we abandon the communal proposal, we are abandoning Chavez. That is why it is urgent to advance in building popular unity: we must break down barriers and eliminate privileges. We must recover Chavez’s slogan, Commune or Nothing!