Popular Legislators: Fuel for the Revolution

José Roberto Duque
Image for postIn December of this year there will be parliamentary elections in Venezuela. It means that a new National Assembly will be formed, after the one elected in 2015 dedicated its time, resources and efforts to the overthrow of the government of Nicolás Maduro and to the delivery of all the assets of the Republic to the United States. The first mission was an absolute failure; the second has been partially achieved.

This organ carries with it various burdens and wounds, and one of them is the very one that reveals the tremendous weakness of the electoral system of bourgeois democracy. Within the Revolution, it is legal to vote for groups of power that want to end the Revolution. It is not possible to decree the unbeatability of popular power when the system of representation is still alive and makes possible phenomena and absurdities like the one mentioned, and something else of greater political-institutional insanity: it is legal for a group of criminals to propose to end the institutions and obtain support from the whole satellite system of allies of the United States.

Situations like the one described cause us to reflect on something that must be dealt with at any moment: it is time to design an alternative mechanism or method to the standard ritual of elections, created by the bourgeoisies as a requirement for “popular” legitimation of the apparatus known as the bourgeois national state.

As they have been imposed and accepted by most of the nations that support the old world “order,” electoral processes of national scope seem to be an irreplaceable piece of that other mirage that the West calls “democracy”: a country whose citizens do not vote are living in a dictatorship. Venezuela has given the West and other political-cultural hemispheres a master class in how to survive and subdue an enemy by navigating the rules that that same enemy created. But the meddling of the hegemonic powers, their power to impose blockades, pressure and threats, their enormous military superiority (and the desire to use it to liquidate us as a political experiment and as a people) demands even the gesture of looking at possible alternatives and discussing them broadly, clearly and openly with the greatest frankness.

My very personal position: the factors that want to turn Venezuela into the colony of the United States that we were until 20 years ago must be neutralized, removed from the scheme of freedoms and possibilities of access to power. This is a matter to be expanded upon later.

But this December there are elections and we must participate in them. Let us see what options there are, apart from the very necessary but monotonous and mummified corpse that says “we must go and vote”, as if we did not know that this call includes those who bet on our death and physical destruction.

The proposal

Chavism and the Revolution have contributed to the history of this country some resources and exercises that qualify as experiments towards a relaunch of democracy. The current Constitution enshrines some concepts that we have exercised to a greater or lesser extent, with greater or lesser audacity or boldness. For example, the protagonism of the people (this stage of our history is called “Participatory and Protagonist Democracy” and sometimes it seems that we forget it, or that we don’t believe it) and the street parliamentarism, preliminary stage to a very powerful weapon called “Popular Legislators”.

Street parliamentarianism has been exercised and implemented in a rather timid, almost symbolic way. On the other hand, its later or higher stage, the Popular Legislators, is a political animal which is there, sleeping or resting, and it is time for us to wake it up or to bring it out of its hibernation.

In 2006 Nicolas Maduro was president of the National Assembly. In this capacity, just at the moment of assuming this responsibility for the second time, he granted Marcelo Colussi, from Argenpress, an interview in which he released this declaration:

“What we have called “social parliamentarism in the street” is nothing other than the social leadership of what is now being experienced in Venezuela. It is to convert the National Assembly -which is the parliamentary body of the country- into a true popular power. That is to say: that it is not simply a Congress of elites where the elite decide for the people, where they substitute the popular will, where they think and decide for the people, but where they eventually join with the elites of economic power – national and international – to continue maintaining the status quo in matters of the fundamental laws that govern the economy and social life of the nation. By the broad, absolute majority we have in the National Assembly, the opportunity has come to take a leap forward, to turn it into a people’s power. How does this manifest itself in practical terms? Simply in that in the Assembly we are building and strengthening a national network for public consultation on all issues, all laws that need to be discussed, and on social control, that is, control of what happens to public plans and policies, so that all this is done together with the people. This has already begun; and it has begun very well. We are strengthening this process in two ways: on the one hand, organizational strength. That is to say, that the network is woven at the national level and that it reaches the last neighborhood, the last town in the country. And on the other hand, the strength that comes from having a technological-communications platform that allows us to take all the systems that have to do with broadband Internet, teleconferencing, the National Assembly’s television, satellite transmissions, in other words: all the technical support that allows us to reach the last corner of the national geography. (…) All of which is going to allow us to discuss important laws, such as the Health Law, simultaneously with 100, 200 or 300 communities in the interior of the country, thus allowing the people to give their opinion from the Amazon, from the state of Zulia or from any neighborhood in Caracas”.

In spite of the immense leap forward that this proposal and practice meant and continues to mean, it is necessary to insist that this was only the first phase of a more profound and revolutionary phenomenon, which took shape and took to the streets soon after: the Communal Councils. The reason for this can be found semi-concealed in the last lines of the statement cited by the comrade who is now president: “… thus allowing the people to have their say from the Amazon, from the state of Zulia…”. Street parliamentarism allows people to speak and  sometimes just that.  Another level is the direct exercise of parliamentarism that decides and transforms.

The Communal Councils were, in procedural terms and also in terms of the effective exercise of power, the spaces in which we Venezuelans (Chavistas and non-Chavistas) learned to legislate: since 2006 an enormous majority of Venezuelans understand and accept that there are important and palpable issues that are better resolved collectively, in assembly dynamics.

In the Communal Councils we learned, understood and saw the exercise of parliamentarianism materialized on the sidewalk in front of our houses, on the first floor of the buildings, in the plazas and under the mango trees.

The Communal Councils made us discover ourselves as a legislating people. The word “parliament” has a weak point because of its etymological origin (in parliaments people meet to talk, and almost always just to talk), but the exercise that we developed in the Communal Councils produced tangible, measurable and verifiable results. In a Communal Council you are not going to give your opinion so that others can decide: there your opinion is a bishop or missile whose range is decided by your neighbors.

At this time in the course of the Revolution, the Communal Councils, and also the Communes (which have their own parliament) are in a moment of withdrawal and of low spirits, except in some places where the Legislating People continue to be a living and active animal. The historical need for the reorganization of the people in the CLAPs has made the exercise of that real parliamentarism, in real areas and capable of showing real results, seem deactivated or in recess.

It is time for this exercise to return with power and a vocation for the full reconstruction of the institutions: thousands of small local (or communal) parliaments represent a collective display of democracy and power that is more profound and evident than that of a single National Assembly in which elements defending transnational or anti-national interests will inevitably be brought together. A few days ago we discussed in a closed group the importance of finding a “hinge” between this national power that has to be elected and these thousands of local parliaments. After searching for that hinge or point of articulation it would be good to search for traces and clues, because nothing is more legitimate than a flood in which millions of citizens participate and are responsible.