In Venezuela, socialist communes play a key role in the production and distribution of food directly to families as hyperinflation, price speculation and illegal U.S. and Canadian sanctions limit access to many necessities. In the wake of Juan Guaido’s unconstitutional self-proclamation as president, communes have also taken a more active role in the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution by holding those who are leading it accountable, including incumbent president Nicolas Maduro’s government.
A commune is an amalgamation of communal councils, each made up of at least 250 neighbouring families.
Each council elects members to be part of working committees that identify the issues affecting their communities as well as brainstorming solutions as a community. Those solutions are presented to a citizen’s assembly made up of at least 10 per cent of the families within each communal council. Funding and resources come from government ministries.
Communes are not only large communal squares tied together by geography. They are autonomous communities bound by “cultural, social and economic ties” that make them more akin to a political organization than a communal square, according to Venezuelan-American journalist Katrina Kozarek.
“(T)he essence of the commune is based upon principles of sovereignty,” she explains in a CounterPunch article. It’s “the organization of the people in order to define their own destiny.”
As one of former president and commander Hugo Chavez’s most important legacies, communes are among the government’s main funding priorities.
Indeed, according to a report by Public Radio International, “(t)he government began transferring billions of dollars to a network of more than 70,000 (communal councils) under the administration of late president Hugo Chavez.”
El Panal 2021 is an “incredible example of communal economy,” writes Kozarek. The commune has its own packaging plant for beans and sugar, and alliances with rural communes to produce the beans. It negotiates with state-owned companies that provide the sugar at a fair price, and has a bakery that produces bread and a distribution system that gets these products directly to people’s homes.
The commune “has had a tremendous ability to view their development and organization from a perspective of autonomous economy and planning,” Kozarek notes. It even has its own cable television company which “provides autonomous financing for their communal television and radio stations.”
In the past, the commune has been able to reinvest revenues directly into needed infrastructure such as social housing, and basketball courts and stadiums.
Communes are also important hubs of organization and mobilization.
In 2014, workers who had been occupying an illegally abandoned factory for two years partnered with the commune Jose Pio Tamayo and formed the direct social company Proletarios Unios.
“The association with the commune not only gave (the factory workers) a legal status as a company,” Kozarek writes, “but also gave them a new impulse to open up production.”
“With the technical assistance of the communal council Palito Blanco, (Proletarios Unios) began using (barley) to produce animal feed” which, in Venezuela, “is controlled by private transnational companies and…has become increasingly difficult to find at a fair price.”
Small producers who buy that feed, along with members of the Jose Pio Tamayo commune, have also organized into a Producers Council that determines the cost of animal feed “based on the factory’s costs and needs.”
“The alliance…creates an organic, participatory economy that has covered part of a community’s consumption needs at a price that is fair for all involved,” Kozarek notes.
As the economic war has intensified, making it harder to find food and staples, people have turned to alternatives.
For example, when flour went missing — used to make arepas, which are a staple of Venezuelans’ diets — people began to make arepas from yucca or plantains or even potatoes. When “soap became scarce and expensive, many learned how to make soap and shampoo, and even sell it in their houses,” says Kozarek.
“People organized themselves,” adds Ruth Rodriguez, who lives in the city of Barquisimeto, where she works as a masseuse out of her home. She spoke with rabble over the phone in Spanish. “In this way, we began making our own money and products, something the transnationals never allowed before.”
Rodriguez says that with the help of communes, Venezuelans have also learned to eat healthier and to be more self-reliant. Many have begun learning how to grow their own food. “Because it’s important that we learn to feed ourselves and not live off of oil anymore,” she says. “This war (the opposition) has waged on our food has forced us to reflect very deeply.”
Rodriguez, an ardent Chavista, says this is all part of the political consciousness that the Bolivarian Revolution — through Chavez — has helped instill in the working-class sectors of society.
“With Chavez, people’s political consciousness was awakened,” she says. “We know who the enemy is. The enemy isn’t Maduro. The enemy is the empire.”
Communes play central role in mobilization and defence
Communes and popular movements have been actively focusing on mobilization, outreach, communication and defence, as well as the “radicalization of the Bolivarian Revolution” itself.
In 2018, a 500-kilometre Indigenous-led march demanding the government rectify agrarian policy was a prime example of this “radicalization” in the spirit of Chavismo. The large group of Indigenous peasants and farmers marched to “raise awareness about the many problems faced by small farmers, including evictions, harassment and general neglect at the hands of government institutions,” according to a report by Venezuelanalysis.com.
Another example of this type of defence can be seen in people defending their neighbourhoods from violent opposition members. This year the opposition tried staging more violent protests — known as guarimbas — in Barquisimeto. But the “people from the barrios themselves came out to put a stop to it, and it was done,” says Rodriguez.
Canadian lawyer and journalist Dimitri Lascaris reported something similar from Caracas. While he saw “massive” anti-government demonstrations called on by Guaido in the “affluent, if not the most affluent part of the city,” similar “massive” rallies of “tens of thousands” of ardent Chavistas have simultaneously occurred. Both have been peaceful.
“What is notable about this,” Lascaris reports for the Real News Network, “is that Western leaders have characterized Nicolas Maduro as a brutal dictator, and have accused the security forces under his command of having committed numerous atrocities against Venezuelan protesters and those who support the opposition. I’ve seen absolutely no evidence of that here.”
Since 2009, a militia that counts the “massive participation of popular sectors, men, women, young and elderly,” says Kozarek, has also been at the forefront of the defence of the revolution.
“One of the foundations of the Bolivarian Revolution is the union between civilians and the military,” she explained in an email. “Many communes have a defence committee which articulates the communities’ needs in terms of defence with the militia and the armed forces. Territorial defence until now has focused more on general security against gangs, food distribution, preventative security created by sports and cultural activities.”
Though members don’t currently possess firearms, they are still trained to use them.
“As armed intervention has been a threat repeated by the Trump administration, there is a renewed interest in the militia. Right now, the focus is still on prevention: education and food distribution, but […] the militia are also trained to use arms and if need be, are capable of participating in armed combat in defence of their country.”
One of the main ways to support the Bolivarian Revolution and its communes from abroad is by continuing to stage rallies and demonstrations that show people are aware of disinformation in the media.
Call-in days, letter-writing campaigns and meetings with representatives are also important strategies that can help publicly pressure legislators to rethink their foreign policies.
“Whether you agree with the Bolivarian Revolution, socialism or Maduro’s government is not the issue at hand. At this point and time, it is about defending a country’s sovereignty, their right to elect their own president and their own system of government,” said Kozarek over email.
“The human rights violations caused by coercive economic sanctions and the violations of Venezuela’s sovereignty should be sufficient causes to spark outrage and solidarity in the international community.”
Fernando Arce is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Toronto and writes strictly from an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial stance. As a committed communist, his work is devoted to amplifying the voices of the grassroots and working classes as well as those of Indigenous Peoples resisting colonial projects around the world. He has a BA in Political Science from York University and an MA in Journalism from Western University.
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