Venezuelan communes

From Anarchy In Action

In Venezuela, hundreds of thousands of people live in (as of 2016) more than 1,500 participatory communes.[1] The communes' locally-managed workplaces produce "millions of tons of coffee, corn, plantains, and bananas annually."[2] Anarchists tend to critique the communes' dependence on state funding and the repressive role of the communal police forces.

The communes' origins can be traced back to neighborhood assemblies of the 1980s, but after Hugo Chavez took power in 1999, the new regime passed key laws encouraging and formalizing these structures. A 2006 law established "communal councils," of which there are now about 45,000.[3] A 2010 law established the communes as self-governing spaces federating communal councils and local productive units known as "social property enterprises."[4] In 2015, the communes formed a national federation.[5]

George Ciccariello-Maher describes the process for starting a commune:

Forming a commune is relatively straightforward: participants in a number of adjacent communal councils come together, discuss, and call a referendum among the entire local population. Once the commune is approved and constituted, each communal council and production unit sends an elected delegate to the communal parliament--the commune's highest decision-making body. Like the councils themselves, the parliament is based on principles of direct democracy. Anyone who is elected--just like all elected officials under the 1999 Constitution--is subject to community oversight and can be recalled from power. Communes even manage local security through participatory "collective defense," and an alternative system of communal justice seeks to resolve conflicts through "arbitration, conciliation, and mediation."[6]

The communes receive state funding, and there is debate over the relationship between the communes and state power. Seeing the communes as a vehicle for contesting the state, Venezuelan leftist Ronald Denis argues, [T]he communes could create a productive capacity that begins to compete with capitalism, with its own internal rules and logic, and this could really progressively generate a non-state.”[7]

On the other hand, some anarchist critics have accused the communal councils of corruption. Venezuela's Committee of Victims Against Impunity has argued that the communal councils comprise a para-state apparatus. Venezuelan anarchist Rafael Uzcátegui writes, “Lamentably, to become an executing arm of the state's politics, the CCs have reproduced, rapidly, the governmental apparatus's own vices.”[8]

Examples

With revenues from community agriculture, the Commune El Maizal has installed new schools, houses, roads, and electric lines. In 2017, the commune decided to stop relying on state finances for its corn production. Within the commune, writes the Venezuelan journalist Katrina Kozarek, "There is no boss, but rather an organizational structure dedicated to administration, education and training, and social control."[9]

Around 2014, the Commune Jose Pio Tamayo partnered with workers who had been occupying an closed beer factory. While the barley in the factory's silos were no longer fit for human consumption, the workers began producing animal feed. Through a Producers' Council, the factory workers, commune members, and local farmers coordinate to ensure that everyone gets reasonably-priced materials and that the meat is sold to consumers at fair prices.[10]

The Commune El Panal 2021 has a packaging plant that packages beans and sugar. They have provided housing, basketball courts, and other infrastructure to the community. The commune has its own cable television company which funds local television and radio stations. Implementing a sort of direct democratic form of mass surveillance, the company also allows neighborhoods to "place security cameras all over their community which all inhabitants can access any time, guaranteeing a collective security."[11]

In 2013, the Commune Negro Miguel took over an abandoned farm and began using it for communal agriculture. In 2015, they and five other communes took over additional, abandoned land and began producing corn there. In 2016, the commune took over and ran and abandoned dairy farm.[12]

  1. George Ciccariello-Maher, Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela (London: Verso, 2016), ch. 1. Ciccariello-Maher, "Communa o nada," Roar no. 1 (2016), https://roarmag.org/magazine/venezuela-communa-o-nada/.
  2. Ciccariello-Maher, "Communa o nada."
  3. Ciccariello-Maher, "Communa o nada."
  4. Ciccariello-Maher, Building the Commune, ch. 1.
  5. Ciccariello-Maher, Building the Commune, ch. 1.
  6. Ciccariello-Maher, Building the Commune, ch. 1.
  7. Ciccariello-Maher, “Communa o nada.”
  8. Lamentablemente, al conver- tirse en un brazo ejecutor de las políticas de Estado, los CC han reproducido, rápidamente, los propios vicios del aparato gubernamental. Rafael Uzcátegui, Venezuela: la Revolución como espectáculo (El Libertario, 2010), 208.
  9. Katrina Kozarek, "Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement," Counterpunch, 24 November 2017, https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/11/24/venezuelas-communes-a-great-social-achievement/.
  10. Kozarek, "Venezuela's Communes."
  11. Kozarek, "Venezueala's Communes."
  12. Kozarek, "Venezueala's Communes."