The first ever International Congress of Communes and Social Movements was held in Caracas’ Alba Hotel over the weekend.
The gathering was attended by 130 international delegates from 27 countries joining around 600 Venezuelan representatives, according to government sources organising the event.
The congress was held under the slogan “Communes or Nothing” on occasion of the seventh anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s influential Strike at the Helm speech, in which he stressed the need to devolve power to the people.
Delegates discussed macro political issues such as national sovereignty and self-determination, as well as more communal-specific topics including communal production and financial systems, as well as the conformation of communal cities and their relationship with local mayors and governors.
Delegates were also joined by the wider Caracas population in a “Great Internationalist Communard March” on Saturday.
Speaking at the close of the event, President Nicolas Maduro explained that the initiative to organise the Congress emerged from the July meeting of the regional left-wing regional bloc, the Sao Paulo Forum.
The president went on to highlight the role of communes and popular power in Venezuela, describing it as “the soul of the Bolivarian project [and] the only road to construct Bolivarian Socialism.”
Venezuelan communes bring together local communal councils into regional decision-making bodies that also incoporate other grassroots community groups, including workers’ councils, feminist or ecological groups, as well as the Bolivarian Militia. Some of the more organised communes have spearheaded recent efforts to overcome the economic crisis by creating self-sufficient community productive units and providing local solutions to problems in the health and food sectors. Their efforts have often led them into conflict with state bureaucracy, private landowners, and local government representatives.
From Caracas, Alberto Maza of Carabobo State’s General Manuel Cedeno Commune explained that “Communes are of strategic importance for the construction of socialism in Venezuela [and also] the fundamental cell for the new mode of production.”
According to Maduro, there are currently 3,173 communes organised in Venezuela, and 25,772 communal businesses have been registered. He also indicated that there are 48,090 communal councils, of which 22,095 are urban, 23,363 rural, and 2,632 based in indigenous territories. It is unclear how many of these communes were represented at the congress.
Last October, Maduro publicly apologised to communal leaders for “half-hearted” progress in the devolution of powers to the communal structures, claiming his mandate has been plagued by mere “speeches and applause” on the issue.
However, his government has since come under continuing fire for pushing forward with privatisations of state land and enterprises in lieu of turning them over to communal organisations.