Building the commune – radical democracy in Venezuela

Patrick Caulfield, Grade, 1988
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By JOSÉ DIRCEU*

Presentation of the book by George Ciccariello-Maher

I still remember, in April 2002, when I heard on the car radio the news of the successful attempt, as everything indicated, of the coup d'état against Hugo Chávez. Without hesitation he said: “if I were Venezuelan, I would take up arms to defend the government and the Bolivarian revolution”.

I was shocked by the position of some leaders on the left, but I understood them. Hugo Chávez, they remembered, staged a military coup with some popular support, against the betrayal of Carlos Andrés Peres – CAP who, elected president with a program and promises, submitted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and implemented an anti-popular fiscal adjustment .

I didn't forget the caracazo, when the people came down from the hills and revolted in February 1989. Years later, Hugo Chávez knew what he was doing and already had his Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement (MRB). He was arrested, failed in the rebellion, but planted the seeds of his electoral victory in 1998. On the left, the distrust that weighed against Hugo Chávez, because he was a military man and because of the coup attempt in 1992, and we ourselves, from the Foro de São Paulo, we had different opinions about him and his Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement.

 

popular self-defense

His overwhelming victory in the Constituent Assembly, the resumption of Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA), the agrarian reform, the founding of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), left no doubt. Chávez was one of ours, a Latin American leader, who did justice to Simon Bolivar.

The book building the commune, by George Ciccarello-Maher, is a rare opportunity to get to know a radical, democratic, political, cultural, socioeconomic experience: the communes, a form of organization of democratic, participatory revolution, and with radical content, which depending on the correlation of forces and the social environment, can only constitute a political collective, be productive, self-defense, armed. It is political, cultural, it is popular power.

The book brings lessons for us Brazilians, who faced the same destabilization and sabotage strategies between 2013-16; the same methods, forms of organization, tactics and instruments that led to the institutional coup in 2016 and Lula's arrest in 2018.

There was resistance there. First, in 2002, when, preventing the coup, the communes and collectives played a decisive role in convening and guaranteeing that the people supported Hugo Chávez. This popular and organized resistance was lacking here. There, there was not only the support of part of the armed forces after the forced resignation of Hugo Chávez, but also of the majority of the people, who gave him successive electoral victories and even elected Nicolás Maduro in 2013.

There, as here, the defeated right at the polls called for the destabilization and sabotage of the country between 2014-16, the period this book covers. Demonstrations, pots, burning trenches, economic lockout, all supported by the middle classes and the US. It is the way to fight in this context that the book describes, the external support of NGOs and foundations, the creation of right-wing political groups such as Vem Pra Rua and Brazilian MBL; there the “operation freedom” and the Youth Activa United Venezuela (JAVU), supported by the government agency United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute (IRI), National Endowment for Democracy (NED), among others. They financed and trained the opposition in Venezuela.

Another parallel – in addition to pots and violence in the streets against PT members, our flags, offices and symbols – was the use of social networks and fake news, concealing the opposition's responsibility for the violence and the lack of basic necessities.

It was before the 2015 victory that the opposition attempted a failed insurrection, but ended up disorganizing the economy, already weakened by the drop in oil prices and the boycott and subsequent US blockade, in a country totally dependent on oil and imports. With Hugo Chávez dead and popular dissatisfaction growing, the result was predictable. Thus, after two victories in 2013, the PSUV lost its majority in the National Assembly in 2015.

 

When favelas organize

The book studies, reveals and tells the history of communes, popular power, self-defense, organized people, new cooperative or collective forms of production and popular control. Emerged between 1980 and 1990 as a form of self-defense against gangs, these are the guerrillas that went against the very repressive police of poor and black people. During the revolutionary process they were transformed into popular power, forms of production and popular organization.

For us, who have already suffered a similar process, it is crucial to understand how and why the Bolivarian Revolution, despite the seriousness of the economic crisis, partial stoppage of the economic system, almost total blockade by the US, survived and continues. Is it just because of military support or is it due to the roots of chavismo?

The changes effected for the benefit of poor people, the revolution and Bolivarian thought, are deeper and are rooted in the people, the same people who came down from the hills freeing Hugo Chávez in 2002, who supported the validation of the political and economic process in Venezuela. A people who resisted a coup attempt and another of insurrections in the streets, who built the communes, which were decisive in mobilizing and organizing resistance.

Between 2014 and 2018, it was the Chavista communes and people who faced the armed right in the streets and on the barricades, who fought against the attempt to divide the army and carry out a military coup, who voted for the Constituent Assembly of Maduro. Without them, Nicolás Maduro and the Army would not have resisted the right, which has the support of the US, Europe and the Lima Group, as well as the Brazil of Jair Messias Bolsonaro. Venezuela, without Chavismo and its people, would already have had the same fate as Iraq and Libya.

The book is mandatory reading for us Brazilians, who surely faced a similar process and were defeated in 2013-18. Jair Bolsonaro, his PSL, MBL, VPR, his militiamen, will not leave power without resistance. This, without considering that the Armed Forces, the militia, the police-judicial apparatus are at the service of the rentier elites and, just like there, they also have the support of the USA.

Here we are experiencing the dismantling not only of the social advances of the Lula era but also of the National State itself. The struggle in Venezuela and here also represents the defense of our sovereignty and our independence, the defense of democracy, always the first victim of these coups, as we are experiencing with Jair Bolsonaro.

* Jose Dirceu he was Minister of the Civil House in the first Lula government. Author, among other books, of Memoirs (editorial generation).

Reference


George Ciccariello-Maher. Building the commune: radical democracy in Venezuela, São Paulo, Literary Autonomy, 2020, 190 pages.

 

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