Seeking communal power in Caracas

July 17, 2010
Caracas commune network director, Wilder Marcano

Wilder Marcano is a director of the network of communes in Caracas. The communes are part of the push, supported by President Hugo Chavez, to deepen popular power and create a new, revolutionary state. said on February 8 there are 184 communes “in construction” across the country.

The communes are local institutions made up of elected representatives from the grassroots communal councils in the area. The councils are based on neighbourhoods of 200-400 families (less in rural areas), in which the highest decision-making body is a popular assembly of all residents.

Venezuela’s revolutionary process has implemented polices to redistribute oil wealth to the poor majority, resulting in poverty rates halving; providing free health care and education; and bringing key sectors of the economy under state control.

However, one of its most radical aspects has been the push to promote participatory democracy and build a new state from the ground up.

This process remains in an early stage and faces opposition from a range of entrenched interests, but the examples set by new institutions, such as the communes, point to the potential for a radical overhaul of Venezuelan society.

Susan Spronk and Jeffery R. Webberspoke to Marcano on June 18 just before he addressed a crowd of a few hundred representatives of different communes from around Caracas. The representatives had gathered to discuss issues related to building popular power from below in the poorest barrios (neighbourhoods). The interview is reprinted from The Bullet.

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What is the role of the communes in building socialism in Venezuela?

In Venezuela, we have a national political project for the country. In relation to organisations 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. At the heart of this is the stimulation and participation of the people. We believe that building up from the starting point of the commune is the way of realising the political project.

The commune is a way of radically reorganising territory, a geographical radicalisation 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 capitalist economy and needs to be based on the principles of socialism.

What are the most important challenges facing the communes?

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. The Bolivarian constitution stresses that our democracy has to be participatory, with the people as its protagonists.

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 and having people become protagonists is one of the biggest challenges we face.

The second challenge has to do with the economy, which is a tremendously important issue. We need to make the communes centres of production for the people, and we need to improve their organisation.

We’re talking about breaking from a system with hundreds of years of history, which has created a capitalist ideology 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 United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV] and is necessary in order to build a new economy based on the values of socialism.

What is your vision of socialism in the long term?

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 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 and the hateful inequalities of capitalism are overcome. We want a society where we have real freedom in all the spheres of social life, which is not run by the private owners of the means of production and the media.

In essence, we want a country in which children can pursue an enriching life, where they can be guaranteed education and health, have security and the possibility to be happy and free. This is our vision.

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 communes, 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 communes have to do with territorial control in the communities, with themes of production in these locales and meeting the needs of the people in their neighbourhoods.

In many ways, the objectives are the same. It’s about people having control over every aspect of their lives. The party is one mechanism for uniting these aims, and it draws from these sources, because it has the long-term vision of building socialism.

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