Communal power versus capitalism in Venezuela


Richard Moore

        What was very clear was the push by those leading the
        process of constructing popular power to explain to people
        that the councils were not the end point, but were the means
        to achieve something much more fundamental. The formation of
        the councils is seen as a process through which a sense of
        community spirit can be formed, and humans can develop

        We are seeing a whole new layer of revolutionaries that are
        yet to impose themselves on this process, but are beginning
        to do so through the combined dynamic of the communal
        councils on the one hand, and the new party on the other.

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Communal power versus capitalism in Venezuela

Stuart Munckton
25 May 2007

Led by the country¹s socialist president, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan revolution
is sending shockwaves through the corporate elite both within Venezuela and 
internationally. The Venezuelan people are waging a struggle to gain sovereignty
over the country¹s natural resources in order to rebuild the nation along 
pro-people lines.

From April 30 to May 9, a range of Australian trade unionists, including an 
official delegation from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), 
participated in the 2007 May Day solidarity brigade to Venezuela. This was the 
fifth official solidarity brigade, and the second May Day brigade, organised by 
the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN). It was the first brigade from
Australia to visit Venezuela since Chavez¹s announcement of a new phase in the 
Bolivarian revolution following his re-election on an explicitly socialist 
platform in December last year with the largest vote in Venezuelan history.

Chavez followed his re-election with the insistence that ³now we build 
socialism². He has announced a series of moves, including plans to renationalise
previously privatised companies, an ³explosion of communal power², and the 
construction of a new, mass, revolutionary socialist party that would unite all 
militants across the country to help lead the construction of ³socialism of the 
21st century².

While the brigade was going on, the Chavez government carried out the 
nationalisation of oil ventures worth US$17 billion owned by multinational 
corporations in the Orinoco Belt. Also, the mass registration drive for the new 
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began on April 29, and they have 
already signed up hundreds of thousands of people ‹ nearly 30% above the 
national target.

Green Left Weekly spoke to the brigade¹s coordinator, Federico Fuentes, who also
served as a GLW correspondent in Caracas in the second half of 2005, about the 
brigade and the recent developments in Venezuela¹s Bolivarian revolution.

Fuentes told GLW: ³The brigade had either official representation or members 
participating in a personal capacity from the Electrical Trades Union from three
different states, the Community and Public Sector Union, the National Union of 
Workers, the Australian Services Union, [and] the Rail, Bus and Tram Union, as 
well as perhaps one or two others. The brigade was an extremely important way to
cut through the lies in the corporate media and give Australian unionists a 
sense of what is really happening in Venezuela.²

The brigade was especially important because ³this was the first time the ACTU 
[has] sent an official delegation to Venezuela, on a fact finding mission to 
gather information on the UNT [the National Union of Workers, the pro-revolution
trade union federation established in 2003 after the right-wing Confederation of
Venezuelan Workers (CTV) backed attempts by the elite to overthrow the Chavez 
government], and the battle occurring inside the International Labor 
Organisation between the UNT and CTV about which federation has the right to 
represent Venezuela in the organisation, and about whether the Chavez government
is pro- or anti-union².

As well as extensive discussions with a range of unionists, Fuentes said the 
brigade was able to visit a range of community organisations, as well the 
popular health-care clinics that provide free care to the poor. The clinics are 
part of the Barrio Adentro health care program, one of the many 
government-funded social missions that allow the poor majority to enjoy the 
benefits of the nation¹s oil wealth.

Fuentes explained that the brigade got to witness the elections for one of the 
communal councils in Barrio 23 de Enero, a large, impoverished neighbourhood in 
Caracas that is a revolutionary stronghold. The communal councils are currently 
Venezuela¹s most important experiments in popular power. More than 18,000 
councils have been established, based on communities of no more than 400 

Fuentes explained the depth of the social gains achieved by the revolution, 
telling GLW that an article published during the brigade revealed that the 
purchasing power of the poorest wage income category has increased dramatically 
over the last year (in Venezuela the categories are rated from A, the richest, 
to E, the poorest). ³This is a phenomenal figure, and is on top of figures 
already showing a significant drop in poverty before this period. This doesn¹t 
even include the gains associated with the mass provision of free health care 
and education. They are continuing to reach out to more and more communities; 
there are still some of the social missions that have yet to achieve national 
coverage. The minimum wage was increased once again on May Day, by 20% ‹ higher 
than the rate of inflation.²

Fuentes said that returning to Venezuela he had been struck by ³a feeling among 
the people that, post Chavez¹s election victory, now was the time for serious 
inroads into the capitalist system, that now was the time the revolution would 
significantly deepen. And this has been expressed especially through the real 
surge of community organising.

³It is a powerful dynamic developing centred on the creation of the communal 
councils, with the community and workers increasingly organising to take power 
into their own hands. This is being constructed side-by-side with the process of
the formation of the PSUV, built from the grassroots up. This has created a lot 
of discussions in Venezuelan society ‹ what type of socialism, what type of 
party, what type of program for the party? These discussions are only just 
beginning, but this will undoubtedly come more and more to the fore through the 
year. There was a real sense that this is going to be a decisive year, perhaps 
one that breaks a bit of the deadlock that has existed.²

Fuentes explained that the discussion on socialism ³was much deeper than in 
2005", when socialism was identified mostly with providing for people¹s basic 
needs, such as free education and health care. He said the discussion was ³still
very open². ³There is a willingness to discuss and debate all different kinds of
ideas², especially what had failed in previous attempts to build socialism.

Fuentes said there are a variety of perspectives on what form socialism should 
take, however ³there is a very strong view that having property formally 
state-owned doesn¹t resolve the key question, which is how do you ensure that 
people feel the property really belongs to them? How do you not simply reproduce
the old relations of production?²

Giving a sense of how the government is promoting this as a mass discussion, 
Fuentes pointed out that one of the ³five motors² to advance the revolution 
announced by Chavez is the concept of ³education everywhere². Fuentes said this 
involves ³the massive expansion of education into all areas of life, not 
limiting it to the existing universities and schools. The government is saying 
we don¹t just want the ideological formation of just some people, but that 
everywhere is the site of this discussion.²

To this end, the government announced new legislation on May Day that by 2010 
will cut the working week from 44 to 36 hours, and will also mean that ³every 
week workers will be paid by their bosses for four hours to take part in classes
on socialism and the nature of the Bolivarian revolution². Fuentes said that 
this had already begun in the ministry for labour. There are plans to expand it 
to the rest of the work force over the next two years.

Fuentes told GLW: ³One group we met as part of the brigade was the Bolivarian 
Schools of Popular Power. They would work with the communal councils to go out 
into the communities for discussions on what sort of socialism they are trying 
to build, and [encourage] each communal council to have an ongoing school that 
can train council members to then go out into the community and give workshops.²

Fuentes said he was able to attend a meeting in Petare, the largest barrio in 
Venezuela, aiming to create a federation of communal councils in the area. ³I 
was able to get a real sense of both the exciting potential of the communal 
councils, as well as some of the problems they face. What was very clear was the
push by those leading the process of constructing popular power to explain to 
people that the councils were not the end point, but were the means to achieve 
something much more fundamental. The formation of the councils is seen as a 
process through which a sense of community spirit can be formed, and humans can 
develop themselves. This is in a community that has one of the highest murder 
and crime rates in Caracas.²

The revolutionary movement still faces serious obstacles, especially the role of
the old state structures and the bureaucratic and corrupt practices that 
dominate it, as well as sections of the pro-Chavez camp. Fuentes told GLW that 
this ³underpins the current push to Œdeepen¹ the revolution². He highlighted the
³inability of the revolutionary government to push forward on a lot of its 
programs, because of the fact that they have inherited an old state bureaucracy 
that was never built to carry out the types of programs the Chavez government is
pushing. It has created a very dangerous dynamic where the needs and wishes of 
the people are often not being met, where the results of the revolution are 
falling short of people¹s expectations.

³This is why you see the combination of the push around the communal councils, 
which seeks to organise the entire Venezuelan society, along with the formation 
of the new revolutionary party, which attempts to group together the real 
leadership emerging out of real struggles across the country. That is, those 
whose authority stems not from past struggles, but the real organic leadership 
developing today, which needs to be given space to develop. We are seeing a 
whole new layer of revolutionaries that are yet to impose themselves on this 
process, but are beginning to do so through the combined dynamic of the communal
councils on the one hand, and the new party on the other.²

Fuentes says this ³scares the pants off² some in the pre-existing pro-Chavez 
parties, who realise they stand to lose out through this process. Many of those 
currently in official positions would not be elected by the grassroots because ³
they haven¹t done the work². However, Fuentes said there were a number of 
officials who had used their positions to promote popular power, ³and the 
classic example is Chavez as president. He describes himself as the Œsubversive 
within Miraflores [the presidential palace]¹. He uses his position to undermine 
the old state bureaucracy.²

While the PSUV is still in its early days, Fuentes pointed out that already 
³over 2 million people have demonstrated their willingness² to join it, and it 
is expected at the end of the registration process that more than 4 million will
have joined. ³This is having a tremendous impact on the grassroots of the 
parties that have held back from joining the PSUV², Fuentes said. So far, For 
Social Democracy (Podemos), Homeland for All (PPT), and the Venezuelan Communist
Party (PCV) ‹ the three largest pro-Chavez parties after Chavez¹s Movement for 
the Fifth Republic, which has already dissolved ‹ have held back from joining 
the PSUV. ³Last I heard, Podemos [generally regarded as the most right-wing and 
consciously reformist pro-Chavez party] was down to around 30% of its original 
membership. This is ordinary members leaving en masse for the PSUV, saying 
clearly that they believe the Podemos leadership is heading for the camp of the 
counter-revolutionary opposition. I¹d say the PPT has lost a similar proportion 
of members.²

Fuentes said Chavez ³constantly talks about the need for unity², not to prevent 
discussion and debate, but to promote united action. ³Among the grassroots there
is 100% support for this idea.²

GLW asked Fuentes about the value of the brigade both for building solidarity 
with the Venezuelan revolution and for those who participate. He explained that 
³those who participate in these brigades do so as friends of the revolution. 
However, that doesn¹t mean they come without preconceptions and questions. Many 
participants get a real shock when they see exactly how far this revolution has 
developed and what has already been achieved. It is one thing to read about the 
revolution, it is another altogether to see it, live it and be able to speak to 
people who are breathing this revolution every day.² He said this enabled those 
who participate to come home as ³ambassadors² for the revolution, to tell their 
stories as widely as possible.

Fuentes told GLW that the Venezuelan people realise the importance of this 
international solidarity, and are very keen to tell their stories to 
international visitors. He said, ³The most important social gain that I could 
see has been the growth in feelings of dignity among the Venezuelan people². 
They feel like Venezuela is no longer ³just a hole in the ground for people to 
come and extract oil². He said this feeling of pride and self worth ³is the 
thing the old elite will never be able to take back².

[To find out more about the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network, visit its 

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #711 30 May 2007.
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From: International News
GLW issue #711 - 30 May 2007:

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