Communal State

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= political/governance project in Venezuela


Description

By EWAN ROBERTSON:

"The Venezuelan government and commune movement are taking steps to move towards the creation of what is referred to as a “communal state”, which involves community organisations assuming collective control of local production and decision making.

Communes in Venezuela are formed out of groups of community councils, which are small neighbourhood organisations representing 250-400 families – 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 themselves are created when an election of local residents is held to select spokespeople from each community council in a given area to form a communal parliament, which has different sub committees and covers community affairs over a larger territorial zone. The commune can then take on larger scale tasks and responsibilities than individual community councils. They can also register with the Ministry of Communes, which makes them eligible to apply for public funding for productive, educational, cultural, infrastructure or other development projects.

There are currently around 40,000 communal councils and 600 communes registered in the country, with more communes currently in the process of formation.

Over the past year and a half the Bolivarian government has stepped up efforts to encourage citizens to organise themselves into communes. This coincided with a speech that late former president Hugo Chavez made in October 2012, criticising the lack of progress in establishing communes in the country, and the appointment of Reinaldo Iturriza as minister of communes by President Nicolas Maduro last April.

Some of the main ideas behind the creation of communes expressed by activists and commune ministry figures are for local communities to play a greater role in productive activities such as agriculture, and for communities to play a greater role in local decision-making and administration.

Earlier this month, President Maduro created a Presidential Council of Communal Governance to act as a direct link between the government and communes and to receive proposals from communes on how government policy can better support communal development.

“You make the proposals, I’ll articulate them with policies, and you send me the criticisms about the shortcomings of the Bolivarian government. Long live grassroots criticism, let’s learn to grow from criticism, let’s not fear the truth, that’s Hugo Chavez’s method,” said Maduro to 10,000 communards (commune members) in Caracas upon making the announcement.

Another announcement was that authorities will distribute 980 cargo trucks to communes in order to support their productive and agricultural activities. This will help local farmers transport their goods to markets without expensive private sector middlemen charging speculative rates for the service, which drives up the prices of food and reduces farmers’ incomes.

Press also reported that Maduro agreed to a meeting with communards to examine difficulties for communal enterprises in issues such as investments and sales, in order to resolve these issues with presidential law-making powers.

Various other commune meetings are planned for June such as a national communal productive fair. There is also a proposal to be debated soon in the Federal Government Council for the transfer of some competencies of local government to the communes.

Dameris Herrera, a spokesperson of the Orinoquia commune in eastern Venezuela, told media her impression of the announcements. “He [Maduro] is saying that yes we can, especially in the transfer of powers, because we can be the administrators of many things that are being done at the level of the constituted power [local representative governance], and as the constituent power [direct participatory governance]; we have this responsibility,” she said." (http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10710)

Discussion

The Communal State as dual power strategy

Antonios Broumas:

"The idea of revolutionary change through a duality of powers is alive and kicking in the Bolivarian road to the socialism of the 21st century, its social praxis being evident in the emerging communes and the massive social movements of Venezuela and their contradictive interrelations with the bureaucracies of the Bolivarian state. But the roots of this idea within bolivarianism and chavismo should be searched for in the guerrilla insurgency of the Party of the Venezuelan Revolution (PRV), a small split of the Communist Party of Venezuela, which refused to come down from the mountains back in 1968 and, since then, blended council communist and autonomist currents of marxism with indigenous traditions to build their own revolutionary theory and praxis against the deep ―putrescence‖ of the Venezuelan state. According to PRV’s Kleber Ramírez Rojas and his idea of a commoner state, ―Venezuela needs to break out of, to explode the straitjacket that the Gomecista state represents, creating a new state, a commoner state [...] centralism as such will collapse when organized communities choose and recall their own authorities, formulate and prioritize their own plans for the development of their well-being, and whose budgets are then administered by themselves (Ramírez Rojas 2006, cited in Ciccariello–Mahier 2014). With the rise of Chavez to power and the initiation of the Bolivarian process, it became clear that the countervailing force to capital had to form, in Chavez’s words, ―a network that works like a gigantic spider’s web covering the new territory‖, otherwise ―it would be absorbed by the old system, which would swallow it up, because capitalism is an enormous amoeba, it is a monster‖ (Foster 2015). The task of this networked social counter–power within the Bolivarian process would be to construct a communal state in the ashes of the old bourgeois state. In his call to arms for this cause, Chavez stated that ―the time has come for communities to assume the powers of state, which will lead administratively to the total transformation of the Venezuelan state and socially to the real exercise of sovereignty by society through communal powers, quoting the exact words of Kleber Ramírez Rojas (Chavez 2010). Yet, whilst before Chavismo the commoner state was to be built through the emergence of an insurgent social counter-power from below and its act of destructing the Venezuelan state from the outside, the Bolivarian project for the construction of a communalist state is a process of transforming the constituent power of the people to the constituted power of statutorily recognized institutions, however decentralized and unified with society, in order to devour the state from within (Ciccariello–Maher 2015). The historically unique character of the Bolivarian process for a communal state lies in the approach that social transformation could be constructed both ―from above‖ and ―from below‖.

Hence, the Bolivarian process differs not only from leninist and social democratic approaches, both of which see the state as the main tool of the political vanguard for social transformations, but also from movement-based approaches, which completely disregard the state as incapable of having any role whatsoever in the social revolution (Azzellini 2013). Its current fluid state of affairs features a constellation of movements and counter–institutions under construction, which penetrate the local / regional level of self–governance, touch the relations of production and, at the same time, spread to communities of socially reproductive commons, the peasantry and the students, indigenous communities of struggle, citizen militias, ecological and civil rights’ struggles. At its forefront lie the communal councils, i.e. non-representative structures for local self-administration, based on assemblies, direct democracy, spokespeople and higher levels of coordination (the communes and communal cities)‖ (Azzellini 2014 : 219). Currently, more than 40.000 such communal councils exist, bringing together 150 - 400 families in urban areas and at least 20 families in rural zones or 10 families in indigenous zones. Communal councils in various areas have already been confederated in hundreds of communes and at least two communal cities. In the context of production, after experimentation with various forms of social property and self–management, the most successful forms of social production have proved to be the Enterprises of Communal Social Property (EPSC), productive units that are based at the community level and operate with the direct participation of both workers and community members (Azzellini 2013 : 29). Yet, the Bolivarian process for a communal state faces four serious backlashes. First of all, the growth of counter–power institutions alongside and against the bureaucratic institutions of the bourgeois state remains an inherently contentious process, with the latter constantly limiting the constituent power of the communes and obstructing necessary social transformations (Azzellini 2014 : 218). Furthermore, the inherited asymmetry between social counter–power and the capital–state complex renders the whole process vulnerable to being ultimately shaped by state bureaucracies instead of political subjects walking ― at the rhythm of the real movement,‖ i.e. communism at work at the base of society (Marx 1970/1845). Correspondingly, reliance for resources and statutory recognition of the communal system by the state bureaucracy has resulted in the dependence of many communes on the state, which may backfire when co-relations of power within the state become less favorable. In this case, citizen militias from within the factories and the movements could play a decisive role in the defence against counter–revolution. Finally, the decentralized and trial and error approach to social change, though superior than top down approaches, has led to patchy transformations which may be co-opted and reversed by the distributed powers of capital, especially in the context of a strong petite bourgeois class gradually emerging in the country. All in all, the Bolivarian process towards a communal state is clearly a distinct road to social revolution through dual power and against the confines of the nation–state, which, albeit its contradictions and shortcomings, should be seriously taken into account by all militants and grassroots movements throughout the globe in the quest for societies beyond the world of capital and states." (https://www.academia.edu/14169439/Commons_Movements_and_Progressive_Governments_as_Dual_Power_The_Potential_for_Social_Transformation_in_Europe)

Example

Venezuela

Dario Azzellini:

"In January 2007, Chávez proposed to go beyond the bourgeois state by building the communal state. He thus picked up and applied more widely a concern originating with anti-systemic forces. The main idea was to form council structures of all kinds (communal councils, communes, and communal cities, for example), as bottom up structures of self-administration. Councils of workers, students, peasants, and women, among others, would then have to cooperate and coordinate on a higher level in order to gradually replace the bourgeois state with a communal state. According to the National Plan for Economic and Social Development 2007-2013, “since sovereignty resides absolutely in the people, the people can itself direct the state, without needing to delegate its sovereignty as it does in indirect or representative democracy.”4

The notion of a separation between “civil society” and “political society”—as expressed, for example, by NGOs—is thus rejected. The focus is rather upon fostering the potential and the direct capacity of the popular base to analyze, decide, implement, and evaluate what is relevant to its life. The constituent power is embodied in councils, in the institutions of popular power, and in the basic concept of the communal state. As was proposed in the constitutional reform that was rejected in the 2007 referendum, the future communal state must be subordinated to popular power, which replaces bourgeois civil society.5 This would overcome the rift between the economic, the social, and the political—between civil society and political society—which underlies capitalism and the bourgeois state. It would also prevent, at the same time, the over-centralization that characterized the countries of “real socialism.”

The communal councils are a non-representative structure of direct democracy and the most advanced mechanism of self-organization at the local level in Venezuela. In 2013, approximately 44,000 communal councils had been established throughout the country. Since the new constitution of 1999 defined Venezuela as a “participative and protagonistic democracy,” a variety of mechanisms for the participation of the population in local administration and decision-making have been experimented with. In the beginning they were connected to local representative authorities and integrated into the institutional framework of representative democracy. Competing on the same territory as local authorities and depending on the finances authorized by those bodies, the different initiatives showed little success.

Communal councils began forming in 2005 as an initiative “from below.” In different parts of Venezuela, rank-and-file organizations, on their own, promoted forms of local self-administration named “local governments” or “communitarian governments.” During 2005, one department of the city administration of Caracas focused on promoting this proposal in the poor neighborhoods of the city. In January 2006, Chávez adopted this initiative and began to spread it. On his weekly TV show, “Aló Presidente,” Chávez presented the communal councils—consejos comunales—as a kind of “good practice.” At this point some 5,000 communal councils already existed. In April 2006, the National Assembly approved the Law of Communal Councils, which was reformed in 2009 following a broad consulting process of councils’ spokespeople. The communal councils in urban areas encompass 150-400 families; in rural zones, a minimum of 20 families; and in indigenous zones, at least 10 families. The councils build a non-representative structure of direct participation that exists parallel to the elected representative bodies of constituted power.... " (http://occupywallst.org/forum/the-communal-state-communal-councils-communes-and-/)


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