Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro led a gathering of commune leaders this weekend as part of the IV Congress of Communes and Social Movements, during which he made a series of important announcements in the area.
The event follows a host of meetings by President Maduro during past months, with campesinos in August, businesspeople and international investors in September, and more recently with workers. The Commune Congress comes on the heels of a series of regional encounters to elect delegates of community leaders to participate. It was organised under the auspices of the Ministry for Communes, and whilst participation levels were unclear, unconfirmed reports suggested that some of the most self-sufficient communes did not participate.
Speaking from Miraflores presidential palace where the congress was held, Maduro began by highlighting some of his government’s failings in making progress towards the communal state.
“I think that if we review these six years [since Chavez’s passing], critically and self-critically we can say that only achieved and advanced half-heartedly,” he told community leaders gathered.
Maduro spoke on the sixth anniversary of late President Chavez’s most emblematic final speech, known as “Strike at the Helm,” in which he publicly criticized his ministers for failing to make promoting communal self-government their top priority. Communes are agglomerations of local communal councils, which according to Chavez’s vision, combine participatory democracy with socialized ownership of the means of production in a bottom-up effort aimed at gradually displacing the existing bourgeois state apparatus and constituting a decentralized, self-governing communal state.
“We haven’t advanced in the plan for the transfer of power to the communes. It has been simply speeches and applause. ‘Let’s transfer power to the Communes’ and then nothing. This is the government’s responsibility, which hasn’t completed the task! I tell you ministers, let’s make it happen, I want a detailed plan for the transfer of state power to the communes,” Maduro declared.
The Chavista leader also specified that his orders are to take effect immediately , announcing,“I want to start next week to hand power over to the people in the communes, and I ask for your forgiveness for having failed in this aspect.”
More communes and inclusion in the new constitution
At the gathering, Maduro was presented with a series of proposals from communal leaders.One of the proposals taken up by the president was a request that the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) place the series of laws regulating the organisations of popular power as a “central nucleus of the new constitutional text,” effectively making them “untouchable.”
Maduro also called on community leaders and Communes Minister Blanca Eekhout to speed up the formation of the 403 communes needed to reach the target of 3,000 communal organisations in the country.
“In Venezuela there are 47,634 communal councils,” he explained. “Of these, 23,418 are active with different levels of development and grouped into communes, of which there are 2,597 functioning,” he continued.
However, many communal activists have been critical of government efforts to foster communes “from above,” which they argue tends to stifle local initiative, resulting in corruption, deficits in democracy and transparency, as well as long term dependence on the state which they are meant to replace.
Universities, micro missions, and communications
Maduro also announced the creation of a new university following the demands of those present at the gathering, which will be known as the Bolivarian University of the Venezuelan Communes (UBCV).
It is, though, unclear how the new educational institution will benefit the organised communities, or what topics are to be taught.
Likewise, Maduro ordered the launch of the “Nourishing the Nation” micro-mission which looks to strengthen the community Food Houses in the poorest sectors of the country. Food Houses provide free or low cost food to the most needy, and are often run by the communities themselves.
Equally, Maduro encouraged community leaders to step up their efforts in the communicational field, especially on social networking, as part of a bid to dispute the hegemony of the right-wing opposition in this crucial arena.
Petro mining and crop sowing
The president also approved the creation of electronic cryptocurrency mining installations in all of the communes and communal banks of the country, so as to reportedly enable them to “self-finance” by generating Petros and other hard currencies.
Cryptocurrency mining requires expensive high-tech computers and draws excessive amounts of electricity. An expansion in mining “farms” was recently identified as one of the causes of an electrical meltdown in Zulia State.
Maduro also approved resources for the Communal Crop Plan 2018, which focuses on small scale production of white and yellow corn, high demand products in Venezuela that require relatively little secondary or tertiary processing.
The plan looks to sew 200 hectares across the country both in urban and rural areas, with financing reportedly guaranteed for the “seeds, storage, and logistics” necessary in production.
Communal crop production has been a flagship policy of Maduro since 2013, when he urged Venezuela’s communities to start producing, even on a very small scale. Communal plots are normally owned, managed, and administered by the community, with the produce shared among or sold to the members of the same community. Whilst the vast majority are limited to primary production without the capital to invest in secondary or tertiary processing, some communities, such as El Maizal Commune in Lara State, have managed to achieve a significant degree of financial self-sufficiency, allowing them to acquire processing machines and produce with larger economies of scale.
The list of demands from the communal leaders also contained a series of elements which the president made no comment on during his speech to the Congress.
Amongst the unanswered demands are calls for better efficiency and planning in public administration, especially in local government, the transfer of Orinoco Woods and unnamed cotton industries to community management, and the installation of a commune leader-government workgroup to identify state-run companies which may be transferred to communal administration.
Delegates also requested that the government create a series of communally-run transport companies for public, cargo, land, and water transport.
Likewise, they called on the government to culminate the long anticipated but incomplete rail networks set to link Venezuela’s key industrial sectors, such as Caracas, Miranda, Aragua, and Carabobo, as well as create a new network of cargo land transport to address problems affecting the distribution of products.