We caught up with Wilder Marcano, director of the network of Comunas in Caracas, on the morning of June 18, 2010. He talked with us just before addressing a crowd of a few hundred representatives of different comunas from around the capital who had gathered to discuss issues related to building popular power from below in the poorest barrios.
What is the role of the comunas in the construction of socialism in Venezuela?
Right, in Venezuela we have a national political project for the country. In relation to organizations of popular power we have the communal councils, and the commune is the principal organ of this political project. This project has to have a strategic orientation, and at the heart of this is the stimulation and participation of the people. We believe that building up from the starting point of the comuna is the way of realizing and concretizing the political project. The comuna is a way of radically reorganizing territory, a geographical radicalization in which human beings are put at the centre, where the real needs of human beings are responded to, and from where a distinct form of economy can be constructed. The new economy needs to replace the failed capitalistic economy, and the new economy needs to be based in the principles of socialism.
The biggest challenge is that we have to break with the old way of doing politics here in Venezuela. One example is the need to build a participatory rather than representative democracy. In the Bolivarian Constitution it stresses that our democracy has to be participatory and protagonistic.
This means that the people have to liberate themselves from their fears and anxieties and assume their role in the construction of this new reality. Breaking with the old way of doing politics, having people become protagonists is one of the biggest challenges we face.
The second challenge has to do with the theme of the economy, which is a tremendously important issue. We need to make the comunas centres of production for the people, and we need to improve their organization. Why? Because we’re talking about breaking from a system with hundreds of years of history, which has left behind an ideology of capitalism that is deeply ingrained in people. This ideology has many mechanisms through which it reproduces itself.
Our socialist project is not yet fully understood at the grassroots level. There is still a great deal of learning and education that has to take place. This is part of the role of the party [the PSUV], and is necessary in order to build a new economy based in the values of socialism.
What is your vision of socialism in the long term?
In the concrete case of Venezuela, we see socialism as a path of opportunity. If we look around the world at all the tragedy, if we look at our own tragedies in the history of Venezuela, it’s clear that the capitalist system does not function. We see socialism as a way of making our independence that began with Simón Bolívar real and authentic. We see it as the way in which we can build a new and distinct reality for Venezuela, in which the needs of human beings are placed at the centre, where the hateful inequalities of capitalism are overcome, where we have real freedom in all the sphere of social life, a society which is not run by the private owners of the means of production and the owners of the media.
In essence, a country in which children can pursue an enriching life, where they can study, be guaranteed education and health, where they have security, where they can have the possibility to be happy and free. This is the vision that we have.
We can see that there are really two central facets to the struggle from below in this country. The struggle for workers’ control, on the one hand, and the struggle for popular power in the comunas, on the other. What needs to be done to facilitate the union of these two sets of struggles?
This is the fundamental task that the PSUV is taking up in its leading role in the struggle for liberation of society in its totality. Workers’ control has to do with controlling and managing the means of production, with the takeover of enterprises. The comuna has to do with territorial control in the communities, with themes of production in these locales, with meeting the needs of the people in their neighbourhoods. Their objectives in many ways are the same. It’s about people having control over every aspect of their lives. The party [PSUV] is one mechanism for uniting these aims, and it draws from these sources, because it has the long term vision of building socialism.
Susan Spronk teaches in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is a research associate with Municipal Services Project and has published several articles on class formation and water politics in Bolivia.
Jeffery R. Webber teaches politics at the University of Regina. He is the author of Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (Brill, 2010), and Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation and the Politics of Evo Morales (Haymarket, 2011).