Thursday, March 9, 2017

“La comuna o nada!”

“Building the Commune – Radical Democracy in Venezuela,” by George Ciccariello-Maher, 2016

This illuminating little book goes a great way in explaining how socialism might advance in the present day.  It illustrates how a combination of a mass Socialist party, repeated electoral victories by that party and progressive legal/government law changes intersect with a mass movement on the ground, intent on creating communes, cooperatives and collectives across a country.  In a sense, how both a national and local approach to socialism can be successful if joined together.  In Venezuela it has created a socialistic political and economic ‘dual’ power challenging an entrenched capitalist state backed by a bourgeois counter-revolution.  
Commune members on the March in Venezuela
Ciccariello-Maher combines a Marxist analysis with in-depth reporting and interviews on people’s developments in Venezuela.  On the U.S. terrain we have only these things in embryo, which shows the incredible weakness of our society of de-politicization.  What the U.S. propaganda network shows about Venezuela is uniformly negative.  This book is highly optimistic about the possibilities for radical social change, even in the present dire circumstances in Venezuela.  As communistas say in the book, the revolution will not die even missing Chavez or Maduro.

The reason is the communes formed and forming across Venezuela, combining economic self-sufficiency and production with political mass democracy and socialist goals.  Mostly organized in geographic zones, they exist in barrios and rural areas, defended by armed 'collectives' comrades on motorcycles, Chavista-era laws and some state money.  They exist against the right-wing in the Chavista United Socialist Party (PSUV), as well as the capitalist political organizations.  The do not oppose the general to the specific, the local to the national, the large to the small, the top to the bottom, the central to the decentralized, the island to the sea, but dialectically attempt to combine the two.

This movement towards collective organization all started in 1989 in Venezuela during the ‘Caracazo,” when the right-wing pro-imperialist government’s army killed many during a mass uprising against the economic and social system.  The Caracazo was a stimulus to Chavez and the subsequent growth of Venezuelan socialism.  Collectives began to develop based on self-defense of certain geographic areas, which became no-go areas of the police.  After Chavez was elected, a law in 2006 gave governmental support to the development of communes.  This allowed them to take over unused land or buildings or the property of renegade capitalists, and which allowed them to receive some governmental financial aid.  This aid, which most left communistas know can weaken a commune, spurred them to become even more self-sufficient.  Since 2013, 1,546 communes, 45,000 communal councils and 1000s of ESPs were registered in Venezuela.  An ESP is a ‘social property unit.’  Squatters, the landless or land poor, the homeless, the mass of barrio dwellers, the proletariat and precariat, the street vendors and some peasants (Venezuela is 90% urban, but there is a leftist ‘back to the land’ movement developing) all were drawn into communes. 

The communes produce manufactured goods, rural foodstuffs or materials, host television, radio and sports programs, form retail outlets like restaurants and super-markets, rely on democratic elections to control their activities, form a base for the left in the Socialist Party and include links to armed ‘collectives’ that protect the communes.  These collectives helped corral the drug trade in some barrios and will not lay down their arms, in spite of demands to do so.  The communes attempt to bypass the import sector, the source of a culture of upper-class consumerism centered around expensive whiskey, electronics and cars.  The goal of many of their leaders is not simply to exist, but to grow and eventually lead to a socialist Venezuela. 

In a sense, this is the Venezuelan version of Paris Commune, the ‘soviets’ of Russia, the ‘workers councils’ of Germany or Italy, the ‘communes’ of China, the liberated areas of India, the ‘peoples’ assemblies’ attempting to launch in the U.S.  They are no historical accident, but the inevitable development of a new society attempting to be born out of the old.  As Ciccariello-Maher says: “Still capitalist, not yet socialist, Venezuela stands uncomfortably between two economic systems and two different states…”

As part of the book, Ciccariello-Maher does in-depth work undermining of the upper-class rebels in Venezuela – the only thing known in the U.S. about this country  The 2014 upsurge by the wealthy and middle-classes involved only 19 of 335 municipalities nationwide.  He explains the present ‘capital strike’ whereby food is diverted from the population by Venezuelan food corporations to be sold overseas or to create hunger.  The rebellions and discredited leaders are funded by the U.S. State Department through USAID, the NED and the IRI.  This was the policy of the ‘progressive’ Obama administration, which was trying to turn back the ‘pink tide’ in Latin America, specifically focusing on Brazil, Honduras and Argentina, in favor of U.S. corporate ownership overseas.  No different than former U.S. governments helping United Fruit, but with a more sophisticated ‘fox’ as the cover.

The main issue in Venezuela then is to move forward toward a communal society and state or be destroyed by local reaction and it's big brother, imperialism.

Other books on Latin America or involving it:  Anthology of Writings of Jose Carlos Mariatequi“, “Open Veins of Latin America,” “The Diary of Che Guevara,” “Drug War Capitalism,” “Secret History of the American Empire,” “Dream of the Celt,” “The Daminificados” and “The Structural Crisis of Capitalism.”

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
March 9, 2017

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