Communal Endurance in 23 de Enero

Marco Teruggi

Caracas is several cities at once. People turn their backs on each other, sometimes they fear each other. The east is the hub of news about Juan Guaidó and the opposition, the west is the territory of Chavista majorities, the Miraflores Palace, the centers of power. In the east, people live in hills, and in the west they live in hills. One of these hills is that of the parish of 23 de Enero, where there is a grassroots resistance from the era before the emergence of Hugo Chávez, and several collectives have emerged, as one of the forms of Chavista organization.

The word collective has now become condensed in the myths of the right in order to demonize the revolution. Collective groups would be criminal gangs dedicated to carrying out the dirty work of the state security forces, such as preventing opposition mobilizations. Marco Rubio, Republican Senator, affirmed that they should be catalogued as terrorist organizations by the United States.

One of the collectives in 23 de Enero is that of the Patriotic Forces Alexis Vive. The presence of the organization is visible from the entrance to the neighborhood, where above a high arch is inscribed: Bienvenidos, Comuna Socialista El Panal 2021. Upon entering, there is the communal bakery, the daily life of a popular sector of Caracas with children, dressed in school uniforms, kiosks, murals, motorcycles, music, and those in search of shade to avoid the Caribbean sun.

“We collectives are grassroots social organizations that work in the political, social, communal, productive construction,” says Robert Longa, representative of Alexis. He is sitting on the Arsenal radio station they built, in front of the communal sports court. In 23 de Enero there are about thirty collectives, he calculates.

“We are a radically communal movement, we believe that we should be fused within the masses, it is a theme of collective vanguards, and that collective vanguard is the commune, we are part of the insurgent movement in the neighborhood,” he says. Alexis Gonzalez was assassinated at the beginning of the revolution, in one of the right-wing coup attempts. Thirteen thousand people live in the communal territory, and the commune, hand in hand with the Patriotic Forces Alexis Vive, has set up self-governing bodies, and has focused its development on the economic and the social: a sugar factory, a bakery, a textile factory, a collection center, a blacksmith’s shop, its own currency, a dance school, a sports school, a swimming pool for boys on weekends.

The Alexis, like other collectives, is at the centre of media and political attacks from the right. “They see the collectives in the neighborhoods as pockets of resistance and retaining walls, as the committees for the defense of the revolution in Cuba, we are the focus of media and material attacks to try to implode the arteries of our communities. On February 27, 1989, we went down the hills, on April 11, 2002, we also went down, we played a fundamental role in the seizure of power, and I deduce that they see the collectives as the cornerstone for generating the social explosion they seek,” he analyzes. sector of 23 de Enero where the Patriotic Forces and the Commune Panal 2021 are is quiet. The organization manages to build answers to problems such as insecurity, and faces the daily struggle represented by the economic situation. The picture is complex in the popular sectors in Caracas, and even more so in the cities far from the capital. Product of the economic and financial blockade, declared by the U.S., and also of its own errors: “we have internal flaws and we think that the dirty rags of the revolution are washed internally, changes are made in revolution, outside the revolution there is nothing,” says Longa.

That day an activity took place on the field: the delivery of tools for production by the Ministry of People’s Power Communes. Communes have come from the west of Caracas to engage in activity, people debate the economic situation, the difficulties and needs to produce, costs, the meetings between the United States and Russia, which can happen in a context of such instability where popular organization is a central part within the architecture of Chavism to build and defend.

“We always knew that this moment was going to come, that sooner or later we were going to see the face of the empire,” Robert says. “We can expect everything from them, they bet on surgical operations ranging from the assassination to the imprisonment of the president, they seek to generate friction in the Bolivarian National Armed Force to achieve a fracture that will lead us to a civil war, they put U.S. contractors with Colombian paramilitaries to generate Syria-like scenarios”.

Political conditions in Venezuela offer few moments of surface tranquility. Although in this, as in most of western Caracas, Guaidó’s emergency never translated into mobilizations of support. There is a consolidated Chavismo, convinced that the strategic course proposed by Chávez is the correct path, the communes, the power of the people, regardless of the errors of leaders who risk stagnation of the revolution, it is part of the contradictions of the process,” says Longa.

Time can speed up again like a gunshot at any moment. This is known by the Alexis Vive Patriotic Forces, which, like so many forms of popular organization, have been declared to be targets by the strategy that not only seeks to overthrow Maduro, but also to reform society, which means erasing the Chavista subsoil that became a leading actor in politics. Longa is one of the thousands who are convinced that they will not succeed: “Venezuela is a country with the legacy of a liberator and the blood of Caciques [Indigenous Leaders],” he says.

Translation by Internationalist 360°