Venezuela: Activists form communard council

Monday, June 23, 2014
Communards raised their hands to approve the creation of the National Communard Council and other proposals. Photo by Ewan Robertson/Venezuela Analysis.

Activists from across Venezuela met this month to form the National Communard Council, which aims to coordinate the country’s commune movement and present its demands to the national government.

The council was formed in the western state of Lara during a three-day meeting of about 2000 communards (commune members) from around the country. Most represented a particular commune.

The meeting was the fifth national gathering of the independent National Communard Network since the organisation was founded in 2009.

The move is another step forward for Venezuela’s communards. They are seeking to replace the state’s representative political structures, particularly local and regional governing bodies, with direct participatory bodies such as communal councils and communes.

In Venezuela, communal councils are small neighbourhood groups where local residents organise to develop their local community and run community affairs. They can also receive public funds to undertake a variety of projects in their area.

Communes, meanwhile, are made up of groups of community councils. They are created when local residents hold an election to select spokespeople from each community council in a given area to form a communal parliament. This group then assigns different sub committees to cover community affairs over a larger territorial zone.

The commune can take on larger tasks and responsibilities than individual community councils. They can also register with the Ministry of Communes, which makes them eligible to apply for public funds to create productive, educational, cultural, infrastructure or other development projects.

During the meeting, communard Abraham Simenez explained some of the aims of the commune movement to

“The commune movement is a launching pad to consolidate this process of change toward socialism, to put people first,” he said.

“It’s a way for us to end the state as it is currently constituted, with regional state governments and mayors, and for us to arrive at a communal state with constituent power [direct participatory bodies], the base of which are the communes.

“It’s through the communes and organised communities that we can propose projects [to the national government] to acquire public funds and carry them out ourselves for the good of the community.”

The driving force behind the creation of the National Communard Council was the National Communard Network, which groups together many of the country’s communes.

The council aims to present the commune movement’s demands directly to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro via the Presidential Council of Communal Governance.

It will also work to strengthen grassroots and regional communal organising. It seeks to take on certain state powers itself, such as some functions now performed by the Ministry of Communes.

The National Communard Council is composed of communal spokespeople from each regional state. It has sub-councils on communal economy, political organisation, communication, education, security and defence, and youth.

The specific characteristics and functions of each council were decided after communards met for a day of discussion. The conclusions reached were presented at a final plenary session.

The demands to be put to the national government include taking over management of the national commune registry from the Ministry of Communes, and taking control of public TV channel Tves.

Other proposals agreed to were to strengthen the communal economy, found new institutions of higher education, create a communal newspaper and form a communal intelligence agency and strengthen the communal militia.

Commune minister Reinaldo Iturriza told “The National Communard Council is a very valuable initiative because it aims to coordinate the diverse efforts of communes in the country.

“There are parallel (complementary) experiences in this regard, with the formation of territorial groupings of communes and communal cities. There are about 60 experiences of this under way in the country.

“I understand this initiative as a unified political platform, about which the Bolivarian government doesn’t have to say if it’s good or bad.

“The government observes how the people’s movement, in this case the commune movement, decides how to organise itself. Our job is to accompany this experience.”
Many communards described their experiences of communal organising. A coffee grower, Jorge Franco, said farmers in his area were organising to develop their own coffee processing capacity and cut out the private sector from the processing, distribution and sales chain.

He said to do this, the farmers had organised themselves into communes and were receiving public funds to aid them in this task.

Many communards said during the meeting that although they were able to work with “allied” governmental figures and state institutions to further their aims, there was also institutional opposition to their project.

The coordinator of one discussion group said: “We must be clear that this National Communard Council is the start of a new struggle. There are those who are going to come and try to take this down, and we need to overcome that situation.”

Jasmy Quintana, a communard activist from the eastern Anzoategui state, said that, in particular, mayors and governors would lose autonomy and responsibilities if the commune movement were to grow. This means many were opposed to the move towards what activists call a “communal state”.

She said: “We still have people who say they are revolutionaries and belong to the Bolivarian process, but they don’t support people’s power. That’s why we, independently of whether they speak to us nicely, have to be vigilant that these nice words are translated into practice.

“We don’t want sugar coated words, we want action. We are just beginning. We have to consolidate our base from below, to go for a constitutional reform … to take autonomy away from the mayoralties and state governments.”

The communard said growing people’s consciousness and the desire to self-manage the country’s resources was the reason the United States government was “afraid” of Venezuela’s political process.

Communards discussed differences in strategy at the meeting. One point of debate was whether the commune movement should seek a gradual “transition” of powers from representative to communal structures, or whether these powers should be “taken” more quickly.

In a national register of community groups undertaken last September, it was found that there were 40,000 communal councils and that 1400 communes had been formed or were developing.

[Abridged from]

From GLW issue 1013