Activists from across Venezuela met last weekend 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 around 2000 communards (commune members) from around the country, most of whom are representatives of 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 represents another step forward for Venezuela’s communards, who seek to replace the state’s representative political structures, particularly those of local and regional governance, with direct participatory bodies such as communal councils and communes.
Communal councils in Venezuela are small neighbourhood organisations 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, which then assigns different sub committees to cover community affairs over a larger territorial zone.
The commune can 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 funds to create productive, educational, cultural, infrastructural or other developmental projects.
During the meeting last weekend, communard Abraham Simenez explained some of the aims of the commune movement to Venezuelanalysis.com.
“The commune movement is a launching pad to consolidate this process of change toward socialism, to put people first. It’s a way for us to end with 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,” he said.
The activist continued, “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”.
Creating new structures
The council was sworn in by communards at a final plenary session following a day of discussion groups (Ewan Robertson)
Communards raised their hands to approve the creation of the National Communard Council and other proposals (Ewan Robertson)
One of several dozen discussion groups in which communards debated proposals to be approved in the plenary session (Ewan Robertson)
The driving force behind the creation of the National Communard Council last weekend 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 President Nicolas Maduro vía the Presidential Council of Communal Governance. It will also work to strengthen grassroots and regional communal organising, and will seek to take on certain state powers itself, such as requesting to take over some functions currently performed by the Ministry of Communes.
The National Communard Council is composed of communal spokespeople from each regional state, and 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 groups. The conclusions reached were presented at a final plenary session during which the different councils were sworn in.
As a result of the discussion groups, it was announced that the demands to be put to the national government include to take over management of the national commune registry from the Ministry of Communes, and to be granted control over public TV channel Tves. Other proposals agreed 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.
Debate and interpretation
The commune minister, Reinaldo Iturriza, was invited to speak at the meeting’s plenary event. Afterwards, he offered his thoughts to VA.com on the council’s creation.
“The National Communard Council is a very valuable initiative because it aims to coordinate the disperse 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 some sixty experiences of this underway in the country,” he said.
The minister added, “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 related their experiences of communal organising during the meeting. A coffee grower, Jorge Franco, said farmers in his local 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 that to do this the farmers had organised themselves into communes and were receiving public funds to aid them in this task. “Nationally, the government is supporting farmers in every way, with the idea that rather than rural workers going to the city to work, they stay in the country and dedicate themselves to planting crops,” he explained.
Meanwhile, many communards stated the opinion during the meeting that while they were able to work with “allied” governmental figures and state institutions to further their aims, there also existed institutional opposition to their project.
“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,” said the coordinator of one discussion group
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, and so many were opposed to the move toward what activists call a “communal state”.
“We still have people that 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,” she said.
The communard also argued that growing people’s consciousness and the desire to self-manage the country’s resources was the reason the government of the United States was “afraid” of Venezuela’s political process.
Communards also 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 organisations undertaken last September, it was found that there existed 40,000 communal councils and 1,400 formed or developing communes in the country.
The next national meeting of communards will take place in the capital Caracas this weekend, in order for communes to share organisational, productive, and technological knowledge.