Social Change in Venezuela

To get a fuller image of South America's new direction, it is important to examine the economic and democratic experiments within Venezuela. Are real changes occurring in who holds democratic and economic power in the country?

By Alex Serafimov - Interstate Journal of International Affairs
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Amidst highly politicised coverage of Venezuela and the media’s obsession with its controversial leader, Hugo Chávez, it is clear that the current government is the most proactive of the progressive forces on the South American continent. To get a fuller image of the continent’s new direction, it is important to examine the economic and democratic experiments within Venezuela in more detail. Are real changes occurring in who holds democratic and economic power in Venezuela?

This study will show that, at a national level, there is a process of innovative democratic structures being set up. For example, 30,000 Communal Councils and over 60,000 workers’ cooperatives have been established and tentative steps towards workers’ self-management have been made. On a regional level, Venezuela has been central in implementing and hosting new international institutions. One example is the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA),1 a heterodox political, economic and social cooperative organisation innovatively including social movements in its decision-making processes. Another is the Bank of the South (BancoSur),2 a rival to the hegemony of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on the continent. These national and regional programmes are setting new precedents for community participation and the funding of social projects all the way up to the international stage. As the philosopher Slavoj Žižek noted, Venezuela goes beyond liberal norms of inclusion by ‘not including the excluded in a pre-existing liberal-democratic framework’, instead, it reorganises ‘political space and political forms of organization so that the latter will “fit” the excluded.’3

This study will be split into two parts. The first section will briefly examine the historical background to these reforms through the lens of popular dissatisfaction with neoliberalism, the crisis of legitimacy of the Venezuelan two-party system and the emergence of Chávez as the “candidate of the poor”. The second section will outline, in more detail, the programmes mentioned above through sections on ‘Communal Councils and Communes’, ‘Cooperatives’ and finally ‘Regional Cooperation'.

Overall, an image of a potentially deeper grassroots movement that goes beyond the outspoken and controversial leader emerges. We see a state seeking wider influence in the region and the world, one that is moving away from its traditional northern partner, the United States, and is experimenting with programmes of popular participation in its democratic governance and the economy.

I - Background

At a time of economic and social stagnation in Venezuela, during the period of 1981-1989, its GDP fell by 3.8 per cent, with a fall of 8 per cent in 1989 alone. Unemployment stood at 50 per cent and inflation reached 81 per cent.5 It was in these conditions that Carlos Andrés Pérez, who had previously served as president in the 1970s, launched his campaign to run again. After making ‘populist promises to oppose the IMF and implement reforms to protect popular living standards’6 he was elected into office. However within just two weeks of his inauguration, surrounded by a group of young neoliberal Chicago School economists, he had already set in motion exactly the type of IMF reform package which he had attacked to gain popular support.7 Once an economic “statist”, he now believed that ‘the best thing for us is to reduce the intervention of the state to a minimum’. In doing so, his administration joined the unstable fold of the ‘Washington Consensus,’8 whose doctrine recommends that governments agree on ‘ten areas’ of economic policy; the most telling being financial and trade liberalisation, promotion of foreign investment, privatisation of state enterprises, deregulation of the economy and the defence of private property.9

However, these neoliberal initiatives soon caused a popular reaction. On February 27th, 1989, an uprising erupted in the city of Guarenas, 30km east of the capital Caracas, due to price hikes and other measures that were part of Pérez’s economic restructuring programme. By mid-morning, five major cities in the country were consumed by mass protests that originated in the shantytowns and suburbs. However, on the President’s orders, the army cracked down on the uprising. Government estimates claimed that at least 276 lives were lost,10 with other sources claiming as many as 3,000.11 This event, named the Caracazo, caused an almost final break between the poorer populations and the ruling class, and radicalised disaffected army officers – amongst them Hugo Chávez. As a progressively minded officer, Chávez came to prominence when he led a coup against the Pérez government on February 4th, 1992. Chávez and his supporters within the army attempted to occupy key parts of Caracas. However, unable to reach the President and accomplish his goals, Chávez called for his allies to lay down their arms.12 In a famous televised speech that night he stated that only ‘por ahora’ (‘for now’) he could not meet his objectives.13 Though unsuccessful in the coup, Chávez made a mark on the Venezuelan political sphere and became a symbol of resistance for the poor; making it clear that his time would come again.

Imprisoned for his role in the insurrection, Chávez was amnestied two years later, following the collapse of the Pérez government under the weight of corruption scandals. Turning to electoral means, Chávez ran for the 1998 presidential election as the candidate of the poor. In the face of an opposition still experiencing a crisis of legitimacy Chávez swept to victory.14 From this position, his administration - whilst always being driven by pressure from ‘below’15 - began to implement reforms and programs of popular participation that will be discussed in the next section. Chávez even faced a (ostensibly US-backed) pro-business coup in 2002 and was only restored to power by spontaneous protests and calls for his return. The poor descended from the shantytowns into the city as they had during the Caracazo and, combined with the actions of the loyal army, ensured that the coup ended after only two days.17

To have seen a previously stagnant democracy with a strongly entrenched two-party system rocked by a progressive challenger was a very significant development in Venezuelan politics. This shows that greater proportions of the previously excluded classes had entered the democratic arena and that therefore their interests, demands and cultural sensibilities were now being represented at the highest levels for the first time.

To sum up, the major events which set the stage for the progressive reforms in Venezuela were firstly: (1) the popular revolt against neoliberal policies which showed an opposition to the marketisation of Venezuela; (2) the violent repression of that resistance which discredited mainstream political parties; and (3) opening a space for a third party challenger. Secondly, there was the unsuccessful coup led by Chávez, which nevertheless secured Chávez’s reputation amongst the poor who would later elect him. Finally, there was the mass action by the same communities that had revolted in the Caracazo, descending from the shantytowns in defence of their new government - once again showing their willingness and capacity for mass participation. All of this, when taken together, shows the population’s determination to take part in mass participation, which would be legitimated by the creation of Communal Councils and other bodies.

This piece will now move on to discuss in more detail how these shifts in Venezuelan society were translated into the progressive policies of the current government.

II - Communal Councils and Communes

Although several participatory democracy clauses had been included in the new 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, initiatives to involve the populace were originally quite small scale and local.18 However, the scale of participation increased greatly in the following ten years. By 2010 there were 30,000 Communal Councils, local democratic bodies representing 200 to 400 families each, in operation.19

The Communal Councils are horizontally structured20 ‘instances of participation, articulation, and integration between various community organizations, social groups, and citizens,’ whose goal is to ’permit the organized people directly to manage public policy and projects oriented toward… the construction of a society of equity and social justice.’ They operate on principles of transparency, accountability and ‘social and gender equality’ amongst others. They work through committees whose spokespeople are elected for revocable two-year terms.21

To give an example of their financing, in 2006 Communal Councils were allotted 1 billion USD,22 as well as 50 percent of all Venezuelan petroleum revenue going to social programs in 2007, and communal council funding rising thereafter. This suggests that these participatory initiatives are backed by serious economic commitment.

Furthermore, there are currently 184 Communes in construction around Venezuela, encompassing 5,900 families at this early stage.23 These Communes are a way of collating Community Councils together into what will be self-governing areas or towns.24 On December 10th, 2010, the Venezuelan National Assembly passed the Organic Law of Popular and Public Planning. These laws further expand civilian powers in the country by ‘promot[ing] decentralisation of power, collective property, self government, and the Government Federal Council as the planning organisation’. The Government Federal Council itself was created earlier in the year, bringing Communal Councils, Communes and social movements into the planning of the national budget.25 On top of that, the national government has promised to ‘submit’ to the desires of the Communes and will be active in their processes only to the extent required to implement their desires.26

Innovative articles of the new law give greater precedence to communally owned enterprises over state-owned industries in providing services28 and the creation of a Communal Parliament. This concerns opposition parties because they fear it has the potential to displace the National Assembly.29 The National Assembly report on the new law stated that it institutionalises a ‘methodology that is centred on the coordination among entities so that public planning, as a political instrument, orientates the actions of the state’.30 This makes it clear that public planning has the potential to not only coexist with the state, but also guide it.

This development in Venezuela is unique because grassroots movements and the state do not stand in opposition, unlike in most other cases. Instead, the Venezuelan government is willingly expanding civilian powers and helping to create a challenge to its own power. At the same time, they are openly advocating the transformation of the state, in line with Žižek’s analysis.

However, there are dangers in this model of “dual government”. Will the state maintain its sincerity in expanding civilian powers, or will resistance from bureaucratic elements in the government31 grow as civilian powers continue to encroach on their own? Only the vigilance of the people engaged in this project, and the dedicated activists of the “Bolivarian movement”, could prevent this. Hopefully, the fact that this is a consensual transfer of power downwards will mean that the project should have less risk of degenerating. Therefore, in a move almost without precedent, the state apparatus in Venezuela is helping to create structures and participatory bodies that will undermine its own power. Much of this is driven by the initiatives and demands of civilian groups. As members of one Commune noted: ‘The communes aren’t something you decree, they are born out of the needs of the people and the communal councils’.32

Overall, Communal Councils have been successful in completing thousands of community projects throughout Venezuela, in that ’community council leaders are engaged in a wide variety of activities and programmes that have no precedent in Venezuela’s community movement’ and by giving previously marginalised sections of the population experience in collective decision-making.36 At the same time, they have demonstrated that their members have the competence to oversee considerable budgets. These initiatives, along with others from across the region and the world (like ‘Participatory Budgeting’ in Brazil,7) offer a significant challenge to the hegemony of liberal democratic thought. This adds substance to the idea that a more inclusive democracy, beyond political party competition, is feasible. The only dangers remaining are that as legislative creations, the Communal Councils depend on support from the state, to a certain extent, for their continued existence. Another concern is the possible showdown between state and civilian centres of power, with the latter wishing to supplant the former as the legitimate authority in the country.

III - Cooperatives

According to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), cooperatives are an ‘autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.’38 It was codified in the 1999 Constitution that the state would ‘promote and protect’ cooperatives, described by some commentators as being ‘at the center of Venezuela’s new economic model’.39 The Constitution sees cooperatives as ‘key economic actors within the nation’s social economy, portrayed as tools for economic inclusion, participation (article 70), and state decentralization (article 184)’.40 The state began to encourage cooperativisation through: (1)  the help of scholarships to train in cooperativisation, production and accounting through the new Ministry of Popular Economy (MINEP); (2) aid in transforming conventional businesses into cooperatives; and (3) credit for start-ups.41 To give an example of the increase of the prevalence of cooperatives in Venezuela, when President Chávez took office in 1999 there were just 762 legally registered cooperatives with about 20,000 members in the country.42 In contrast, by 2008 there were 62,879 cooperatives with 873,000 members making Venezuela the leader in South America in the prevalence of cooperatives.43

However, not all Venezuelan cooperatives are created equal. As Elvy Monzant, from the University Cecilio Acosta de Maracaibo (and cooperative member), noted the majority of people employed44 are in what he terms ‘Classical Cooperatives’, that is those with traditional, hierarchical decision-making structures. Alongside these are what he calls ‘Innovative Cooperatives’ which are more participatory alternatives coming closer to the ICA ideal, as are ‘Co-managed and Alliance Cooperatives’ which encourage worker management, and ‘Spontaneous Cooperatives’, formed without any state help by communities perceptive of the “cooperatives boom” in Venezuela. These are also based on ‘solidarity and participatory economics.’45 Furthermore, one large network of cooperatives has shown that hierarchical structures are not fixed and that Venezuelan cooperatives can be subject to transformative change from their members. Starting out with hierarchical management, this network of cooperatives went through a process of “flux” over several decades until almost all administrative and managerial decisions are now made through consensus in meetings attended by all members, and members’ job roles are regularly rotated to stave off hierarchy.46

However, Rosa Luxemburg explained in her work Reform or Revolution, that cooperatives are ’small units of socialised production within capitalist exchange’, not a systemic alternative.47 Cooperatives do not challenge the economic status quo by their economic practice (they still operate on a ”market” basis of supply and demand, profit and competition), and over time even have the ability to devolve into conventional enterprises, or collapse, if they begin to hire wage labour. Indeed, at its peak 268,000 cooperatives were set up in Venezuela. However, the majority of these (77 per cent) became inactive. They failed, according to Monzant, because many were conventional, hierarchical businesses set up as cooperatives only to qualify for loans or government contracts. Compounded with this, they were missing what Monzant called the ‘cultural transformation’ that would drive them; they hired employees and most workers were subcontracted, not qualifying as “real” cooperativists.48 However, the over 60,000 functioning cooperatives and their rate of growth still place Venezuela at the forefront of South American cooperativisation. 

However, even though most Venezuelan cooperativists work in hierarchical cooperatives, there are still thousands of people taking part in participatory economic experiments in the ‘Innovative’ and ‘Spontaneous’ cooperatives. They add weight to the argument that democracy in the workplace, not just in political life, is practicable, while robustly challenging the hierarchy of conventional businesses and ideas about how labour should be carried out. Finally, challenges exist in diversifying cooperatives into the mainstays of industry where they lack influence, and an encouragement and expansion of the ‘Innovative’ cooperatives, if they are to be a transformative influence in Venezuelan society as a whole. As Rosa Luxemburg continued, as long as cooperatives are ‘excluded from the most important branches of capital production’, such as petroleum or machine construction, they ‘cannot be seriously considered as the instrument of a general social transformation’,51 even if the current government, and many cooperativists, may see them as such. Both of these points hold true for Venezuela where cooperatives do not cover the major industries, such as oil, the country’s largest export, with only 8.3 per cent of Venezuelan cooperativists working in industrial manufacture.52 Yet, the greatest importance of cooperatives in Venezuela, as elsewhere, is to be found not in their economic practice, but in how they demonstrate that democracy in the workplace is practicable.

IV - Regional Cooperation

Venezuela has also been instrumental in formulating and hosting regional organisations which aim towards political and economic self-determination in the region and acting as a bulwark against the influence of the IMF, the World Bank and free trade agreements. The first of these is the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), described by one commentator as ‘perhaps the most important initiative’ in combating neoliberalism in the region.53 It currently encompasses eight countries from South and Central America and the Caribbean including Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua. ALBA is an international organisation advocating ‘a new model of integration for Latin America’ based on socio-political and economic cooperation which attempts to ‘offset the power of U.S.-friendly, market orientated regional organizations’.54 One way it is accomplishing this goal is by adopting its own trading currency (in 2009), the SUCRE (The Unitary System of Regional Compensation),55 symbolically named after Antonio José de Sucre, a South American independence hero. The SUCRE is an attempt to displace the US dollar in the region and will eventually become a hard currency itself.56 ALBA also has a principle ‘[t]o develop basic industries so that ALBA member states can become economically independent’.57 

Another principle is to promote workers’, students’ and social movements58 and one important way it has done this is through the creation of the ALBA Council of Social Movements as a part of its organisational structure. This Council coordinates some of the largest social movements in the region including those of indigenous peoples, alongside two other Councils, the presidential and ministerial. Two of the social movements currently involved include Via Campesina,59 the international peasant movement, and the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST),60 some of the largest on the continent.61  This allows for ‘grassroots participation in decision-making’ in the body at the highest levels through direct involvement in planning and administration.62

These social movements have had real influence, for example making the issues of land redistribution, free healthcare, free education and food security part of official ALBA policy. There is however, some mistrust between social movements and ALBA, with social movements seeing it as a primarily state-based initiative, despite its efforts to include them in an ‘oversight’ role.63 However, one incident showed that social movements seemingly do have influence within ALBA. After Venezuela proposed the building of an oil pipeline to Argentina through rainforest, a Venezuelan social movement aligned with the Zapatista movement in Mexico succeeded in pressuring the government into putting the plans on hold.64 Furthermore, ALBA also ‘commits’ member states to advance participatory democracy in their own countries.65

In economic cooperation, there is The Bank of the South (BancoSur), which has been conceived of and driven personally by President Chávez since his election.66  According to previous Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas, the Bank of the South’s ‘lending priorities’ will be for regional integration, reducing the asymmetries between and within South American states and providing finance for development.67 Explicitly in opposition to conventional International Financial Institutions, The Bank of the South will have a “no conditionality” policy in regards to its loans. Also, proponents of the Bank of the South place national and regional development and “South-South” investment ahead of integration into global markets.68 This is significant because moving away from conditionality-based finance symbolises a break with the policies of neoliberalism in the region.  As Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted, ‘one of the advantages of having a Bank of the South is that it would reflect the perspectives of those in the south’.69 This indeed appears to be the case. As The Guardian’s South America correspondent put it, the Bank of the South acts to ‘wean the region off Washington-dominated prescriptions and help to deliver economic independence’.70

Formally established in 2007, The Bank of the South will likely be operational sometime in 2011.71 It has been inactive mostly due to political debates over its direction; with Brazil preferring a more market based approach, and Venezuela and Ecuador leaning towards a more progressive structure.72 Politically, the Bank of the South has strong support from social movements who feel that they will eventually become influential enough to affect its policy in meaningful ways.73 ALBA, meanwhile, also has its own source of finance in the Bank of ALBA, which has an explicitly equalising mission in ’seeking to eradicate economic asymmetries’ across the bloc, and like The Bank of the South, does not impose loan conditions.74

What appears, is a country taking a leading role in strengthening ties with its regional partners on a mutually beneficial basis. At the same time, it is taking steps to directly include civilian groups in the decision-making of international bodies, and making moves towards achieving economic sovereignty through development within the continent instead of depending on its northern neighbours. Overall, ALBA is the only regional or international bloc which attempts to include the direct input of its citizens in its processes, and ‘the very fact’ that the Bank of the South has been set up is a robust challenge to dominant International Financial Institutions.75

V - Conclusion: Successes and Challenges

Venezuela, if we look deeper than its controversial leader, has seen significant developments in its social, democratic and economic spheres. Through including the population in decision-making from the local to the international level, especially the previously excluded and disenfranchised, it has educated, emboldened and politicised a new generation wanting to participate and hold their government to account. At the same time, although opponents fear a concentration of power in the executive, the state is relinquishing increasing amounts of its own power downwards as a central part of its political and economic project. As the driving force behind the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and the Bank of the South, Venezuela has created socially conscious alternatives to development and cooperation in the place of the market orientated impositions of the IMF, World Bank, the Free Trade Area of the Americas and others. In using the profits from oil sales to fund wide-ranging social welfare programmes it has cut poverty by half76, and extreme poverty by 72 per cent, amongst other social gains.77 Most importantly, it has demonstrated that development can be made with redistributions of existing wealth in even a generally poor country; and that lifting many out of poverty can allow them a fuller engagement with politics. However, the so-called “Bolivarian movement” cannot relax. It must allay the fears and criticisms of its opponents, and must continue to expand the executive powers of the Communal Councils (and Communes), while at the same time being wary of the dangers of bureaucratic resistance to these processes. It must encourage worker management and expand it to larger industry if the cooperative movement is to be as transformative as some commentators hope. Furthermore, as a movement of the poor, it must improve its relations with the aspirant middle class, who remain sceptical.

To sum up, radical and long-term social change is occurring in Venezuela, illustrated best by the experiments in democratic and economic participation that signify a shift in the locus of power in the country. If its innovative projects prosper and continue to grow, they will further demonstrate that civilian groups are indeed able to hold and exercise real power, without being guided or “defended from themselves”, a concept tacitly central to representative democracy.78 This could have a wide-ranging influence and be encouraging for those who feel excluded from the democratic process in their countries, see representatives as corrupt or unaccountable and feel that their economic system is inequitable.79 This is where the greatest impact of these changes comes from; their ability to challenge existing, rarely questioned conceptions of the role of the citizenry in the running of a country and its economy, and their input in international affairs.      

1 Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA)

2 Banco del Sur or Bancosur

3 Žižek, S. First as Tragedy, then as Farce (London, Verso, 2009), p. 102.

4, 5, 6 Raby, D. L. Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today (London, Pluto Press; Toronto, Between the Lines, 2006), p. 141.

7 Hellinger, D. ‘Political Overview: The Breakdown of Puntofijismo and the Rise of Chavismo’, in Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarization and Conflict, edited by Steve Ellner and Daniel Hellinger (London, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003), p. 31.

8, 9 Quoted in Gott, R. In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chávez and the Transformation of Venezuela (London, Verso, 2001), p. 53.

10 Gott, In the Shadow of the Liberator, p.46.

11 Grant, W. ‘Former Venezuela minister charged’. BBC News (online), 18 July 2009. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

12 Hellinger, ‘Political Overview’, pp. 31-2.

13 Ibid., p. 150.

14 Raby, Democracy and Revolution, pp. 158-9.

15 Ciccariello-Maher, G. ‘Dual Power in the Venezuelan Revolution’. Monthly Review (online), 23 August 2011. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

16, 17 Hellinger, ‘Political Overview’, pp. 50-1; Raby, Democracy and Revolution, pp. 166-7.

18 Le Grand, G. ‘Venezuela’s Communes; Not as Radical as You Might Think’. Council on Hemispheric Affairs (online), 24 September 2010. Available at’s-Communes-not-as-radical-as-you-might-think/ (Accessed 24 February 2011).

19 Ellis, E. ‘Building community power’. Correo del Orinoco International (Caracas), 10 September 2010., p. 4. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

20 Navarrete, P. and Ellner, S. ‘The community revolution’. Red Pepper (online), January 2010. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

21 All of these quotations are from the 2006 Communal Council Law, as cited in Ciccariello-Maher, ‘Dual Power’.

22 Jim McIlroy, ‘Venezuela: Building Popular Power through Communal Councils’ Links, citred in (online), 10 October 2007. Available at (Accessed 2 March 2012).

23 Pearson, T. ‘184 Communes Currently in Formation in Venezuela’. (online), 8 February 2010. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

24 Ellis, ‘Building community Power’.

25 Pearson, T. ‘Venezuelan National Assembly Passing “Popular Power” Package of Laws’. (online), 10 December 2010. (Accessed 24 February 2011).

26 Reardon, J. ‘Venezuelan National Assembly Passes People’s Power “Law of Communes”. (online), 13 December 2010. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

27 Quoted in Pearson, ‘Passing “Popular Power” Package’.

28 Ibid.

29 Reardon, ‘Passes People’s Power “Law of Communes”’; and Peñaloza, P. P. ‘National Assembly to be superseded by “communal parliament”, translated by Conchita Delgado. El Universal (online), 19 March 2010. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

30 Pearson, ‘Passing “Popular Power” Package’.

31 Pearson, T. ‘The Insidious Bureaucracy in Venezuela: Biggest Barrier to Social Change’. (online), 17 May 2010. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

32 Quoted in Pearson, ‘Passing “Popular Power” Package’.

33 Partido dos Trabalhadores

34 LeGrand, ‘Venezuela’s Communes’.

35 Pearson, ‘Passing “Popular Power” Package’.

36 Navarrete and Ellner, ‘The community revolution’.

37 LeGrand, ‘Venezuela’s Communes’.

38 Quoted in Jensen, E. and Isaacs, A. ‘CECOSESOLA Cooperative: An Interview with Gustavo Salas Romer’. (online), 20 September 2009. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

39 Bowman, B. and Stone, B. ‘Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution: An economic experiment is the hidden story behind Chávez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’’. Dollars & Sense (online), July 2006.  Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

40 Harnecker, C. P. ‘The New Cooperative Movement In Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process’. (online), 17 December 2005. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

41 Bowman and Stone, ‘Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution’; and El Mundo, ‘Microcredits to generate 150.000 new jobs in 2004’. (online), 4 November 2003  Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

42 Bowman and Stone, ‘Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution’.

43 Membership calculated by author from figures included in Maheshvarananda, D. ‘“Diagnosis and Perspectives of the Social and Solidarity Economy of Venezuela” by Elvy Monzant’. Prout Research Institute of Venezuela (online), 11 August 2011. Available at“diagnosis-and-perspectives-of-the-social-and-solidarity-economy-of-venezuela”-by-elvy-monzant/ (Accessed 17 September 2011).

44 The exact figures are 680,000 cooperativists in classical, 31,000 in innovative, 48,000 in co-managed and alliance, 52,000 in state-promoted and 62,000 in spontaneous cooperatives. There are 882 classical, 402 innovative, 3,023 co-managed and alliance, 8,832 state-promoted and 27,798 spontaneous cooperatives. There are also 21,058 communal banks, which are attached to each Communal Council. (This figure must be higher as they are compulsory and there are now around 30,000 Communal Councils.) See ibid.

45 Maheshvarananda, ‘”Diagnosis and Perspectives”’.

46 Jensen and Isaacs, ‘CECOSESOLA Cooperative’.

47 Luxembourg, R. Reform or Revolution: Chapter VII Co-operatives, Unions, Democracy. Available from: [accessed December 9 2010].

48 See  Maheshvarananda, ‘”Diagnosis and Perspectives”’.

49 Luxembourg, Reform or Revolution.

50 Bowman and Stone, ‘Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution’.

51 Luxembourg, Reform or Revolution.

52 Bowman and Stone, ‘Venezuela’s Cooperative Revolution’.

53 Hattingh, S.  ‘ALBA: Creating a Regional Alternative to Neo-liberalism?’ MR Zine (online), 7 February 2008. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

54 Madrid, R. L., Hunter W. and Weyland, K. ‘The Policies and Performance of the Contestatory and Moderate Left’, in Leftist Governments in Latin America: Successes and Shortcomings, edited by Kurt Weyland, Raúl L. Madrid and Wendy Hunter (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 169.

55 Sistema Único de Compensación Regional

56 Pearson, T. ‘Venezuela and Ecuador Consolidate Bilateral Agreements, SUCRE Currency System’. (online), 18 January 2011. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

57  Hattingh, ‘ALBA’.

58 Carlson, C. ‘ALBA Summit Creates New Model for Latin American Integration’. (online), 30 April 2007. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011); and Hattingh, ‘ALBA’.

59 ‘The Peasant’s Way’

60 Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra

61 Hattingh, ‘ALBA’.

62 Carlson, ‘ALBA Summit Creates New Model’.

63 Hart-Landsberg, M. ‘Learning from ALBA and the Bank of the South: Challenges and Possibilities’.  Monthly Review (online), 22 August 2009.  Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

64 Hattingh, ‘ALBA’.

65 Ibid.

66 MercoPress, ‘American leaders sign agreement creating South Bank’. MercoPress (online), 27 September 2011. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

67 Bank Information Center. ‘Bank of the South’ (Washington: Bank Information Center, 2007, pp. 7-8. Available at (accessed 17 September 2011).

68 Bank Information Center, ‘Bank of the South’, pp. 4, 8.

69 Quoted in Carrol, R. ‘Nobel economist endorses Chávez regional bank plan’. The Guardian (online), 12 October 2007. Available from (Accessed 24 February 2011).

70 Carrol, ‘Nobel economist endorses Chávez’.

71 According to Chairman of the board of directors of Ecuador’s Central Bank,Diego Borjas. 

Correo del Orinoco International, ‘Bank of the South to initiate operations this year’. Correo del Orinoco International (Caracas), 20 May 2011, p. 5. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

72 Hart-Landsberg, ‘Learning from ALBA’.

73 Ibid.

74 Janicke, K. ‘Summit of the Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) Concludes in Venezuela’. (online), 27 January 2008. Available at Summit of the Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) Concludes in Venezuela (Accessed 17 September 2011).

75 Romero, M. J. and Bedoya, C. A. ‘The Bank of the South: the search for an alternative to IFIs’. Bretton Wood Project (online), 26 September 2008. Available at (Accessed 17 September 2011).

76 The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Permanent Mission to the United Nations [Bolivarian Republic], ‘Statement by Ambassador Jorge Valero, Vice-Minister for North America and Permanent Representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations, High-Level Plenary Meeting On the Millennium Development Goals’ (New York: Bolivarian Republic, 2010). Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011); and Weisbrot, M., Ray, R. and Sandoval, L. ‘The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators (Washington, D.C.: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2009), p. 3. Available at (Accessed 24 February 2011).

77 Ibid.

78  ‘Now there are two “functions” in a democracy: The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. Then, there is the bewildered herd [the majority of citizens], and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy, [Walter Lippmann] said, is to be “spectators,” not participants in action. But they have more of a function than that, because it’s a democracy… once they’ve lent their weight to one or another member of the specialized class [in an election] they’re supposed to sink back and become spectators of action, but not participants. That’s in a properly functioning democracy.’  Chomsky, N. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, 2nd edn. (New York, Seven Stories Press, 2002), pp. 16-17.

79 The global Occupy Movement and the indignados of Spain are very good examples of such feeling.