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The experience of the communalisation of public policies in Barcelona [north-east Venezuela] has been attracting much attention, not only in Venezuela but also abroad.
Interest to learn more about what commuards in Anzoategui State’s capital do in urban and rural spaces, where they have been building on their very complex daily lives through solidarity and collective work, grows every day. The newly built social relations allow citizens of the city to discover infinite possibilities of organisation, production and community coexistence in the most human way of coming together: flaming the vital fire of self-government and planting the seed of revolutionary power that has been building from below.
Like the entire Venezuelan communal movement, tanned as it is with accumulated experience in the heat of combat against imperialist aggression, Barcelona’s residents firmly advance amid the enormous difficulties imposed by the criminal blockade. The transfer of municipal government powers to the communes has been one of the important steps in this process. The communards and communes already have much of the solid waste collection and recycling system under their control, as well as the production and distribution of food, medicine distribution. Care services based on popular feminism also prevail in the communes.
[PSUV] Constituent Deputy Julio Chavez was right when, in the popular Barcelona neighbourhood of Los Tronconales, he proclaimed that “Barcelona is making history in terms of popular power and the dream of eternal commander Hugo Chavez: the construction of a communal state, which is being consolidated with the protagonist participation of the people.”
One of the commune-led recycling projects in Barcelona, Anzoategui State. (Luis Jose Marcano)
Indeed, the organised people of Barcelona’s Simón Bolívar municipality mobilised actively and in an organized and disciplined manner when a popular consult was held on 28 July 2019, in which more than 86 percent of the vote approved the transfer of the solid waste collection and recycling services to the communes. Part of the proposal was to optimise these services and, at the same time, generate resources that will be directly managed by the communities for the benefit of the residents.
This popular consultat was part of the communal offensive directed by President Nicolás Maduro, with which he raised the need to face the challenge of building a new revolutionary institutional base from the grassroots in a concrete way. The PSUV’s former mayor Barcelona, Luis Jose Marcano, who is now a candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections on December 6, understood the possibility of a vigorous communard offensive in Simón Bolívar municipality. The initiative was generated through the widest democratic participation of those involved in the Bolivarian Project. “It has been proven that the only way forward is to deepen the process of popular empowerment through the communes,” he said.
By mobilising, the organised people of Barcelona were able to demonstrate that they possess a high level of citizenship, understanding their status as revolutionary subjects ready to assume power without intermediaries – a possibility opened up by the  Bolivarian Constitution. They also showed that it is possible to move away from the obsolete clientelist environment and/or reformism. Each communal council became a rector for the consult in its own territory: it organised, promoted, mobilised, discussed, proposed and consciously activated the people. The National Electoral Council (CNE) also diligently offered its full capacity to safeguard the electoral process.
As such, we could see that the first step was taken with a fairly clear roadmap. It was a very important step forward which opened the path towards the concrete construction of the great project of the Bolivarian and Socialist Revolution, as Hugo Chavez dreamed. This was also a great step forward in terms of renewing hope, at a time when the exhaustion of the old state’s capabilities is becoming increasingly evident.
Barcelona’s experience offers elements of revolutionary practice that can help to renew – or resume – the necessary debate concerning popular power. This debate was on the backburner largely due to the changing priorities faced by Venezuelans in the face of the brutal imperialist aggression. Let us assume, as Rosa Luxembourg argued, that popular power can only be consolidated at the superstructure once social transformation has occurred. As such, this is a great challenge that tests the transformative potentials of the Bolivarian Revolution because, in a capitalist society, it can only develop under the condition of being an uncertain possibility (Mazzeo, 2007).
Let us remember that Commander Chávez was not content if the Bolivarian Revolution was to just win portions of power in the structures of the old state (through elections or fighting coup conspiracies such as those of April 11, 2002 and the subsequent oil lockout). He called a Constituent Assembly and made a gigantic effort to drive forward transformations within the state, attempting to to adapt it to the new reality. However, he never had any illusions about the old apparatus: he always sought to nurture the Bolivarian Revolution with the vital substance of the people’s movement, which, in essence, was what set it apart from the other revolutionary or progressive experiences in the rest of the continent.
Always with a strategy in mind, Chávez was the promoter of popular power’s autonomy – which looked to develop all of its own creative powers – so he set out to build a counterhegemonic social current that would greatly enhance the possibilities of developing the people’s movement. In this, he faced the old partisan tradition that tends to colonise power structures through different methods, with the most nefarious tradition being clientelism.
Chavez also understood the role of the revolutionary party. He proposed very clearly that the struggle for power had not finished, that it was just beginning, and that class confrontation or conflicts of interests of all sorts were inevitable. He was concerned (see the Strike at the Helm Speech) that if the dynamics of building popular power ceased to advance, then isolation and wear and tear would follow, or even worse, the enemy would begin to invade the terrain by taking advantage of the disenchantment and ensuing depoliticisation and demobilisation that is inherent to the practices of the old state, including inefficiency, corruption and bureaucracy.
Chávez left us the popular power laws as an inheritance. They were created with a vigorous structure that is based on the Constitution. These laws established that the communes – which are defined as socialist spaces for the self-government of communities and where direct, participatory and protagonist democracy is practiced – are the fundamental cells of the communal state, which is the greatest revolutionary achievement established by the Bolivarian Constitution.
It is not about obtaining a perfect or finished work, but about an experience that is enriched by confrontation with one’s own or external difficulties, such as those implemented by the enemies of the Revolution. In particular, these difficulties have been exasperated by US administrations that over the past seven years have increased attacks through a criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade combined with terrorist aggressions and military threats.
The experience in the construction of popular power in Barcelona has become a collective social work, perfectable in the daily practice of participatory and protagonist democracy, where citizens believe, criticise, propose, debate, make, choose and can be elected with the most ample democratic freedoms.
Fifteen months after the popular consult, Barcelona’s comunalisation, whose strong point is the transfer of municipal competences to the communes, can present important achievements. Among these we can refer to the fact that nine communes have already received the transfer of solid waste collection and recycling services and are equipped with the tools they need (nine compactors, boxes for the collection and other supplies) to serve 18 communes.
Additionally, forty-six Communal Supply Points (PACs) have been established. There, food is distributed to the population at lower prices. These PACs also guarantee sale points for producers (communal or private). 546 communal councils are also due to benefit from a communal pharmacy and 15 community care centres. More recently, to commemorate the eight years of the Strike at the Helm Speech, 40 communes were given the resources for the participatory budgets that they will be executed in the territories. All this in the context of the intense creative work that our communards develop and communicate daily.
To successfully push in this direction, it must be clear that the role of the municipal powers is to promote and encourage the development of popular power from the different spaces, from productive economy to public services to social policies. In the communal council and commune assemblies, this is the thesis held by Luis José Marcano, which has been enriched by patiently listening to hundreds of popular leaders in each of the 149 communes that are active in Anzoátegui State.
This is how President Maduro works with those committed to strengthening popular power. His proposal is that the main push should be in the construction of communal cities to work towards a harmonious transition in the distribution of resources and in the administration of the State. Under this transition, the backbone would be communal organisation. From there, the communal parliament must have a relationship with the National Assembly as a fundamental decision-making factor. This is precisely what radiates from the Barcelona experience.
Iran Aguilera is a teacher and leading member of the PSUV in Anzoátegui State. He is a regular writer for progressive outlets including Aporrea and Red Angostura.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.