You"ve probably heard a de nombreux about thé Bolivarian energy in Latin amérique by now - marqué have tu heard around Venezuela"s 1,500 grassroots-lead municipal which oui been your driving force? In this article, originally published in ROAR magazine"s first issue, George Cicciarello-Maher guides you through thé political mobilisations du contemporary Venezuela.

Vous lisez ce: Expropriation d un terrain par une commune

George"s new book, Building the Commune: de base Democracy in Venezuela, is out now and 40% off until sunday 30th October. Click here à activate thé discount.
Have amie heard around Venezuela’s communes? oui you heard the there space hundreds of thousands ns people in almost 1,500 municipal struggling à take control du their territories, their labor, and their lives? if you can not use heard, you’re no the seulement un one. Ont the tendency media howls about concis crisis and authoritarianism, there is little couverture of thé grassroots revolutionaries who ont always been the backbone of the Bolivarian process.

This blindspot is reproduced by année international left whose dogmas et pieties creak and groan when confronted with a political procedure that no fit, in which thé state, oil, et a uniformed soldier have toutes les personnes played crucial roles. That a sad testimony to auto state de the left that when nous think of municipal we are an ext likely to think du nine arrests in rural france than thé ongoing tentative of this hundreds de thousands. Cible nowhere is communism pure, and the obstacles Venezuela’s comuneros confront today are people that nous neglect at our very own peril. 

"Revolutions room not made by laws" 

What is a commune? Concretely speaking, Venezuela’s communauté bring ensemble communal councils—local devices of directement democratic self-government—with productive units known as social fabriquer enterprises. Auto latter can be one of two people state-owned or, much more commonly, straight owned par the communauté themselves. Direct ownership method that cette is the communal parliament itself—composed ns delegates from every council—that debates and decides je vous demande pardon is produced, how much the workers space paid, how to distribute auto product, and how best to reinvest any surplus into the commun itself.

Just oui the late étreignant Chávez did not create auto Bolivarian Revolution, the Venezuelan state go not develop the ville or thé communal councils that they comprise. Instead, thé revolutionary motions that “created Chávez” did no simply arrêter there and stand earlier to admirable their creation—they have continued their developmental work in et on auto world passant par building radically democratic and participatory self-government from thé bottom-up.

Before auto communal councils existed on paper, barrio residents were forming assemblies venir debate both local affairs et how à bring about revolutionary change on the denchères level. And before the ville existed on paper, many de these same organizers had actually begun to expand and consolidate communal regulate over more comprehensive swathes du territory. After all, oui Marx insisted among others, “revolutions space not made with laws.” 

But what the state has done has been venir recognize the existence of first the councils et then thé communes, formalizing their structure—for better and for worse—and even encouraging your expansion. Within the state apparatus, the ville found ne sont pas greater ally 보다 Chávez himself who, knowing complete well the his days were numbered, dedicated thé last principale speech avant his death to the extension of what cette called thé “communal state.” and since his death, grassroots revolutionaries have seized upon his words for the leverage they provide: insisting that à be a Chavista is à be a comunero and the those who weaken popular force are non less than traitors. 

Communes Against thé State

And traitors there space plenty. Not seul did auto state not create the communes, cible the majority de the state apparatus is openly hostiles to communal power. This is especially true of local elected officials—Chavistas really much included—who positively loathe these expression of grassroots democracy that cut into their territory and resources et threaten their legitimacy ont leaders. For this reason while many local leaders undertake Chavista red while mouthing the words of popular participation et revolution, in practice they frequently attack, undermine and obstruct auto most participatory et revolutionary spaces in Venezuelan culture today. 

Ángel Prado, a spokesperson parce que le the sprawling El Maizal commun in auto central-west de the nation that aujourdhui cultivates 800 hectare of corn, explains how the history of the commune is a testimony to auto tense des relations between communal power and the state. It took grassroots pressure parce que le Chávez to throw his load behind these comuneros by expropriating thé land, but even when he did so, the lands pass into thé hands du the state agricultural corporation.

Organizers to be left wondering, “why is auto state here si this belongs to auto commune?” and had to undertake a seconde struggle against thé “revolutionary” state. De organizing themselves and nearby communities and by proving they could produce even more effectively than corrupt bureaucrats, El Maizal at some point gained the faire un don of Chávez à take over auto land parce que le themselves. Marqué even today, Prado argues that local Chavista leaders and the PSUV represent their “principal enemies,” and are actively attempting to “extinguish the commune.” “We comuneros share very signification littérale with thé governing party,” he insists.

For some—like auto longtime sans bras Roland Denis—this clash comes as no surprise. The formulation “communal state” is “a camouflaged name à la the communist state,” et even année outright oxymoron. Si Marx had defined the paris Commune oui “a transformation against auto State itself,” refuser wonders: “What state, si we space actually talking about a non-state? thé communal state is a non-state, otherwise that a bureaucratic-corporative state.” Ideally, “the communauté could create a fertile capacity the begins to compete with capitalism, v its own interior rules et logic, and this can really significantly generate a non-state. There are some an extremely interesting ville moving in this direction.”

Free Socialist Territories

Alongside thé political antagonism of locale leaders, the municipal face a daunting économiquement challenge the is, in fact, their raison d’être. Since the discovery of oil in auto early 20th century, the Venezuelan economic situation has been virtually entirely reshaped in that image: cheap imports et a lack of appui for the peasantry saw an exodus from the countryside into auto cities, make Venezuela simultaneously thé most urban country in Latin America—93.5 percent de the populations lives in cities—and the seul country in thé region to import more food than ce exports (nearly 80 percent du food passant par the 1990s).

The communauté are année ambitious attempt venir reverse this trajectory by encouraging self-managed production geared towards what personnes actually need nous the local level, et what auto country needs ont a whole. It is therefore no surprise to find thé bulk ns Venezuela’s ville in the countryside—the entire communal job requires reversing this migration, decentralizing thé Venezuelan population et its production. Toward this end, the municipal are producing—directly and democratically—millions of life of coffee, corn, plantains et bananas annually, and straining upward for increased regional and national coordination.

Groups of ville are coming together from below to form regional structure known oui “communal axes” jaune “political-territorial corridors.” According to Alex Alayo, a member of the El Maizal commune, thé goal is à develop what he calls “free socialist territories” in which communes exchange directly with une another, cutting out the global economy et the residential capitalists entirely. Through this broader integration, the communes will it is in able “to communalize or even communize” entire territories not from above, but as année expansive form of self-government from below.

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This développer has led to a it is too dirty dual puissance situation, auto uncomfortable and even antagonistic coexister of the new with the old. Conditions météorologiques the une hand, there is what Alayo considers a famous government in a bourgeois state structure, and on the est différent hand, this expanding network ns communal areas “building a nouveau state” from below. Tensions et “frictions” room inevitable, et will seulement un increase oui the ville expand: “Here nous are fighting an outright war against thé traditional, bourgees state. Chávez invited us to build thé communal state, and that’s walking to oui a lot of enemies. Chávez may even have been the only auditeur functionary who agreed with cette completely.”

Producing auto Commune

If there is a single most important contradiction interior to thé communal project, ce is this: not tous communes produce goods. While Venezuela’s urbanization saw the rural population abandoning potentially abundant lands, the est différent end de their journey observed them congregating in barrios where little fabrication has ever taken place. Barrio residents have been auto spearhead du the Bolivarian revolution since they set cette into motion by rebellion against neoliberal revolutionary in the 1989 Caracazo, marqué without fabrication there is no hope parce que le communal autonomy and sustainability.

Where the mouvement is unproductive, however, communauté have responded creatively et in different ways. Some have developed a fertile apparatus where none had actually existed with the soutien of government loans or the demand of state companies parce que le specific goods. Others oui sought à adapt to thé economic terrain of the barrios themselves by establishing communal mechanisms pour the circulation du people (transport collectives) et goods (distribution centers). Toujours others oui developed communal linkages that bridge the urban/rural divide by establishing barter exchanges between urban et rural communes.

Most ambitiously, some ville have demanded control over locale urban industries. When a beer factory in Barquisimeto formerly owned de the Brazilian transnational Brahma (now a subsidiary du Anheuser-Busch) to be closed, employees took over the factory et began to bottle water parce que le local distribution. Today, auto workers continue to resist bas orders à remove them, and are demanding auto factory it is in expropriated et placed under the habitent democratic control de the surrounding Pío Tamayo commune.

Producing products is no everything, however. Former commune minister Reinaldo Iturriza says that while communes need venir produce, “the partagé is likewise something that is produced.” In divers words, specifically amid and against auto atomization de urban areas, creating communal culture is a primary and very concrete task. Parce que le example, i spoke v young comuneros in Barrio Sin Techos, in the violent area de El Cementerio in southerly Caracas, for whom establishing a partagé meant developing something really tangible: a local gangs truce et a vibrant et cooperative youth culture.

Crisis et Counter-Revolution

The Venezuelan communes are emerging against thé daunting backdrop de sharpening concis crisis. Auto plummeting price of oil, thé government’s ineffective response to a currency devaluation spiral, and the continued reliance ns a “socialist” government on private-sector importers have all conspired venir pull thé rug out from under the stabilité growth of the Chávez years. Economically, this has meant routine shortages et long lines pour certain, price-controlled goods, as importers would rather speculate nous the money than fill the shelves.

But every crisis is also année opportunity. Venezuela’s communauté today room struggling to produce, marqué there is good reason to believe the they are more productive 보다 either auto private jaune state sector. In this case, auto crisis itself et the corruption and treason du the private sector might be enough to forces the Bolivarian government à throw its weight behind the communes oui a abundant alternative. Et while auto sharp decrease in oil income has hit the municipal hard, it has likewise forced a long-overdue national debate about thé country’s endemic oil dependency.

Politically, Venezuela’s oil suspended has additionally mean reliance nous cheap imports—a dependency that has actually become the government’s Achilles’ heel, et we have all seen thé result. Shortages et long lines have whittled away at popular appui for Chavismo while giving a pretext for life right-wing protests (in early 2014), and more recently, a landslide lopposait victory for control de the national Assembly (in December 2015). While thé government continues to blame auto crisis on année “economic war” lugged out by opposition forces, this terrible defeat shows clearly enough that countless Venezuelans are not convinced.

The consequences de the lopposition victory in the national Assembly are very real: right-wing forces are currently strategizing how best to remove Maduro indigenous office avant his hatchet is up, et planning à roll ago many cardinal gains du the Bolivarian process. The communauté are directly in auto crosshairs, with auto Assembly threatening to revoke communal civil liberties to land expropriated under Chávez and Maduro. This life major defeat pour Chavismo at auto polls instantly galvanized revolutionary fermenter at the grassroots, sparking rue assemblies and sharp auditeur debates about what had unable to do wrong.

But ce remains to be watched whether the “whip of the counter-revolution” will provide année alibi pour continued government inaction or a foothold pour new qualitative leaps. Ont is soja often auto case, auto biggest difficulty of tous lay precisely on the politics level: si Chavismo united can’t even defeat the lopposait in elections, then quel hope is there pour a Chavismo divided—communes against je vous demande pardon is called the “endogenous right”? Reversing a century ns perverted économique development while simultaneously confronting thé opposition, right-wing Chavistas, and the machinations ns US imperialism can seem année impossible task.

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But no one ever before said communism would certainly be easy…

The Communal Wager 

The temps has come to pari it tous on thé communes. Thé wager peut faire seem a risky one, but according to une estimate, 2013 alone observed some $20 exchange rate (with a “b”) merely disappear into a le noir hole of fake income companies—imagine je vous demande pardon the municipal could faire with $20 billion! thé middle class, the ni-ni’s (neither-nors) in auto center, auto parasitic bourgeoisie, auto state bureaucracy, a Socialist Party incapable of even winning elections, increasingly corrupt army sectors—the au lieu de, remplacer to the communauté is no alternative at all. 

For Ángel Prado de El Maizal commune, the seul possible saviors du the Bolivarian procedure are those who have saved cette on every différent occasion—and who aujourdhui coalesce around the horizon du the commune:

It’s radical Chavismo the participates in thé commune, hardline Chavismo, those who ont been Chavistas their entire lives… thé grassroots sectors the withstood thé guarimba protests , that withstood the coup d’état et oil to win , the resisted tous of these et neutralized thé right-wing.

If the government doesn’t take on this difficult core ns Chavismo, it can’t perhaps hope to survive. “And si the government—with toutes les personnes of auto challenges du imports, hoarding, and prices—is fucked, that else deserve to solve this? nous can, thé communes… because nous don’t depend nous the state.” auto wager today is auto wager du always, one meilleur expressed de the so late Venezuelan writer Aquiles Nazoa: “I think in auto creative powers ns the people.”

As auto crisis deepens and divides the state versus itself, setting thé opposition-controlled denchères Assembly against thé Maduro government, something is possible. The seul certainty is that thé tipping alloue is rushing forth à greet us, et Chavismo will certainly either relocate decisively to auto left jaune retreat to auto right. Marqué retreat would be as cowardly oui it is naïve—as goes auto commune, so goes auto Bolivarian Revolution as a whole. Ont Chávez himself frequently put it, auto choice nous the table is significantly between la comuna à nada, the commun or nothing.