“The commune holds the solution to the crisis” – interview with Ángel Prado
- 24 Aug 2018
El Maizal commune is located in the middle of the Venezuelan plains, between the Lara and Portuguesa states. With a history of struggle and construction of popular power, it is a flagship of the communal movement in Venezuela. In this interview we talked to Angel Prado, communal spokesman, about the political project that El Maizal is pushing forward, the questioned mayor’s elections of December, the role of the commune in the current context, and how the issue of the commune should enter into the new constitution (1).
With idea of moving forward with the commune (2), there have been discussions about the “communal city.” Can you explain what this is all about?
With the political experience and strength we have in this territory and with the work we have been doing, El Maizal has found itself in a collective leadership role for all this area of Simón Planas, and perhaps also in the rest of Lara state. We have gotten a lot of solidarity and many friends among social and popular movements in Lara and throughout Venezuela. So with all this experience, and knowing that this process cannot be held back – it is growing day by day with popular initiatives, proposals and participation – we believe that it is time to stop thinking just about El Maizal and move towards a bigger organization, at a higher level, in order to build our dream of socialism, as President Chávez used to say.
Far from being a utopia, I think it is something achievable. Here in El Maizal there is a commune, which is permanently under construction, but which has been moving forward, and for us this progress makes sense. That is why we have dedicated our lives to this. We have the political clout to go to other territories and call on people to organize in a communal city, in a large organization that will contribute to developing the plans and projects addressing the needs of the people, but especially with the people themselves building and defending such projects. More than a discourse, we need to offer tangible results so that people can see for themselves that this makes sense.
The communal city project is not going to be easy. The principal enemy is the right-wing, because the communal city at some point will imply “communalizing” the territory. That project involves a broader scope and more power, in particular taking charge of means of production: factories, companies, etc. So we will be struggling for power in the face of forces that already exist. The bourgeoisie, for economic reasons, wants to put the brakes on Chavismo. Sadly, the reformist sectors in our camp are also looking to rein in on on the tendencies and political currents that threaten the privileges that some politicians in our government, or people close to them, have become accustomed to.
There is also a struggle inside Chavismo…
I think there is some political exhaustion, worn out politicians that have no initiative anymore. There are many politicians that might be over the hill, perhaps they believed that Chavismo was going to die with Chávez, or that president Maduro was going to be overthrown. Many have dedicated themselves in these past years to accruing riches and privileges while keeping popular participation at an arm’s length. But at least here in Simón Planas they have another thing coming, because here there is a political force that will not be stopped and which does not depend on one person. In my case, I simply take on the role of a spokesperson, one that is accountable and who always acts coherently accordingly to our people’s interests. What’s more, while we are here talking, there are people out there working, holding assemblies, having meetings, organizing activities, voluntary work projects, etc.
There is a very interesting dynamic which keeps the spirit of the commune alive. The communal city will bring together all the activity that has taken place in the area in a broader sense, involving multiple territories around here where the people relate in one way or another to the political and communal movement in Simón Planas.
What is the current status of the Simón Planas mayorship issue?
When we discuss this issue, it is important to recall the context in which it happened. In 2017 we were facing a very tough crisis: an economic, political, and (I would also say) moral crisis, a crisis of values. There was, and still is, an international aggression against Venezuela, as if punishing us for having gone through this very interesting revolutionary process together with Chávez. But, despite being a very tough year, 2017 was also a year of great achievements and advances from the communal perspective, both in political and electoral as well as productive terms.
When President Nicolas Maduro proposed the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), we, as the organized pueblo here in Simón Planas, took to the trenches, participated in that election, and won with over 80% of the vote. I had been charged with being the territorial candidate to the ANC. Then came the regional and municipal elections, in October and December, respectively. In the municipal elections, our community proposed that we participate in that process, and the communal movement of Simón Planas again assigned me the responsibility of being the candidate for mayor.
Then a lot of things happened. Unfortunately, both right-wing political forces and by forces within our government harassed us. These are regrettable things, that come from people that hold a great deal of power. We were denied the chance to run on the ticket of the PSUV’s (the governing party) and that of other parties of the patriotic coalition, but we managed to do it with the Patria Para Todos party (PPT). What followed was a great victory for the communards. We really routed the PSUV, handing them their first defeat in this municipality, which is one of the more Chavista and “PSUVista” municipalities of all Venezuela.
What happened after the election?
Despite winning in the midst of threats, blackmail and pressure, our victory was not recognized (perhaps that was to be expected). Our votes were assigned to the PSUV candidate. We went through a whole legal process with the electoral authorities – we filed an appeal before the Supreme Court – but so far there has been no response. Our position is that, if the communards’ victory in Simón Planas is not going to be recognized, at least the results should be voided and new elections held. Everything we have done is legal, so we hope for a resolution to this case.
Unfortunately, there have been no pronouncements. Instead, the issue has been ignored. Nevertheless, we know that having the mayor’s office is not indispensable for our project. We will not stop producing, we will not stop organizing, we will not cease to vote for the Revolution nor to support president Maduro. We have always made this clear. We have never wavered on our support for Nicolás Maduro, because we believe that with Maduro in the presidency we can continue to move forward and not towards confrontation. Because of a municipality, or the actions of a party, or because at one point the government did not pay heed to us, we are not going to lose sight of the strategic enemy. We remain Chavistas.
What role, in your opinion, can the commune play in the current Venezuelan context?
From my point of view, if the government looked more closely at the communal issue, it would realize that the commune holds the solution to the crisis we are living through and could ideologically deepen the Chavista project (the task of building socialism that Chávez set for us).
The commune, with its dynamic of production and participation, can also help free us from our dependence on private capital and on government patronage. So long as, the “cells” are built across the country and we also work to develop people’s political conscience, a new culture and new relations between communities that prioritize the common good, then we can make strides towards this model of society that comandante Chávez proposed.
Unfortunately, there are big contradictions inside the state, between the state and the popular social movements, and between the state and the commune. Because the government is very powerful economically, it has the capacity to make big decisions, and sometimes with a single blow, it can put an end to interesting experiences. In El Maizal we have had the determination, the strength and the ability to withstand the blows dealt to our organization, to our experiment. There have been acts of sabotage, but we have resisted.
Beyond resisting, we also need to go on the offensive against the enemy before us, whether it is the bourgeoisie, the oligarchy, or reformism. The reformists aim to protect a system that sidelined a class which for a long time accumulated riches to make way for a new bureaucratic bourgeoisie that, despite its revolutionary discourse, pays no heed to the people’s cries. We are not willing to live under those conditions, we are not willing to let Chavismo fall, nor to let reformism do in Venezuela what perhaps took place in Brazil or Argentina, where there have been significant setbacks.
El Maizal produces corn but sells its harvest to the state company Agropatria (1). However, if the commune is to contribute to the construction of socialism, should there not be control over the entire productive chain?
That is one of our aims in building the communal city and accumulating forces to allow us to grow and move forward. A first stage involves controlling more means of production, because we need them to go beyond being just primary producers and enter the cycle of industrialization. Before that happens, we know we will come up against a variety of enemies, but we will also count on plenty of allies in the government and throughout the country.
We believe that, with our experience and political capital, we cannot continue being mere raw material producers and hand everything over to the state or the private sector, and then leave this region with no supplies, which is absurd. The issue of self-government is about people realizing that territorial self-government is capable of solving problems. And right now the priority is food, and our economy is based on food production, so we cannot go on producing and have the state or the private sector take it all in the end.
For that reason, this year we are creating a network of micro-companies, using very basic technology, that will be able to receive, process, conserve and distribute within the communities. For example, for corn we have a small mill and we have the barn ready to install a small machine to process corn. The only step remaining is to build silos, even if in a do-it-yourself fashion. The milk and meat production, which has been increasing, is not being sold to the state nor to the private sector, but is instead distributed directly to the community. The same thing goes for coffee, vegetables and other things we are growing here in the commune and with small producers.
The next step is to set up a small industry that will at least allow us to enter this dynamic and consolidate an industrial system adapted to our capacity. We will not have a mega-industry like Polar (3), but we should at least be able to process what we produce.
With an agricultural commune, it is easy to imagine making the organization around production. But if we consider the case of an urban commune, how can production be carried out there? What does an urban commune produce?
I believe that organization is born out of necessity. Where there is a larger population, there is greater necessity. What is not produced in the countryside can be produced in the city. Here we can grow corn and raise cattle because we have the right conditions to do so, but in a city, in any house one can produce clothing, or the eyeglasses one needs, watches and shoes. One can also process food.
Now there is a certain “complex” we sometimes perceive, a selfish attitude among those who live in urban areas and believe that only campesinos should produce, that only campesinos need to organize in communes. If we were to apply the same logic, why not consider those in the city to be mere parasites? If a truck with food goes from here to Caracas, then it should return from Caracas with clothing! This is an important debate. We have told many communities in Lara state, that it is fine to come to El Maizal and buy something at a fair price, but what are you contributing from your end?
In the urban barrios of big cities, where there is a high concentration of people, there needs to be organizing, be it around the problem of security, of social coexistence, healthcare or services, in addition to developing productive activities. The big industries, the mechanical workshops, etc., are in the city. The workers live in the barrios! Because of this accumulation of people, there is also better access to information and technology. In effect, we need to dispel the myth that the productive commune can only exist in the countryside.
What do you think should be the role of National Constituent Assembly (ANC), of which you are a member, in the current political context?
I believe the Constituent Assembly should have assumed the role of legislating and taking tough decisions in order to really tackle the economic crisis. We have always seen the government depositing a lot of trust in the private sector, allocating dollars, and making concessions. We have given plenty of opportunities to the private sector, and yet what we see is the situation getting worse every day with regard to food, prices, inflation, etc.
The ANC received a lot of support for two main reasons, one had to do with the guarimbas and the need to secure peace, which to a certain extent it did. The other was the economic situation, which overwhelmingly affects poor people, and is still to be solved. Now, I believe the ANC also has the role of restructuring the constitution and implementing a series of laws to allow for an accelerated advance towards the communal, socialist state that we believe in and which Chávez proposed. There is a great deal of interest and hope to see, once we win the elections (4), what political course the country is going to take, keeping in mind that the ANC has yet to take the important decisions it should.
How should the commune figure in the new constitution?
We believe the commune should be a theme that runs through the entire constitution and not just an article in it. If the commune marks the way forward, then the whole constitution needs to reflect that, so that the state is reoriented towards the communal state and socialism. It makes no sense to have 350 articles and then add a 351st which states that the commune exists! I believe that, from the first article to the last, the issue of communes needs to cut across the constitution, to make clear the kind of state we want to build.
We should also point out that the commune is not just about legal and administrative questions. It is also a cultural issue; it has to do with building a new culture of government, a new way of doing politics and of managing and assigning resources. All of that needs to be addressed by the new constitution. Furthermore, when we talk about culture, that also has to do with terminology. By contrast, when we talk about municipalities or parishes, that is not ours!
Therefore, the commune also has to do with the territorial organization of the country. El Maizal is in two municipalities, in two states, but it is the same phenomenon. More than a political and territorial breakdown, the challenge is to create a new way of organizing the territory based on the people’s logic, the human geography, and do away with borders that were inherited from colonialism. In a way, it is about going back to Simón Rodríguez’s concept of toparchy: the government from the territory and with the territory.
We also need to take into account Chávez’s proposals regarding the commune that he made on many occasions…
I believe the proposal that President Chávez made was quite concrete, and his proposals regarding the new geometry of power are very interesting. On the question of, territorial organization, we find his proposals very appealing. For example, Chávez put forth the idea of the communal council, and then that of the commune. After the commune, he launched the idea of the communal city and then came the communal federation. Finally, at the highest level, we would have a confederation of communes spanning the whole country.
Now, I believe this should lead to an interesting and intense debate in the ANC, with a view to recovering, in case we have forgotten it, the proposal of comandante Chávez. It is one way of moving forward. It might not be the only or the most perfect one, but Chávez studied presented it, and from where we stand we believe it could be a viable way to carry out the territorial organization of the new state as we move towards socialism.
As I said, El Maizal is a territory that spans two states, and our communal city will spread through many parishes. The communal federation we envision, from here to Buría, which is an area where there are four communes, would incorporate territory across three states: Yaracuy, Lara and Portuguesa. Therefore I think the new constitution needs to address this new territorial order the way Chávez presented it: with new terminology, new forms, a new logic, and with the new geometry of power in the territory.
(2) The commune was proposed by Chávez as a fundamental unit of popular power for the construction of socialism. Bringing together communal councils and other organizations, the idea of the commune is to allow the community to wield power directly through assemblies, gradually taking control of both the means of production and the various instances of political power. Chávez presented many of these ideas in his landmark broadcast Aló Presidente Teórico #1.
Cover photo: “In this commune we work, produce and live the spirit of Chávez.” Billboard at the entrance of the El Maizal commune. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)
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