Why I'm Confident About Venezuela's Future: Chavez Death Won't Kill Social Transformation
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Communal Councils began forming in 2005 without any law and as an initiative ‘from below.’ In January 2006 Chávez adopted this initiative and began to spread it. In April 2006, the National Assembly approved the Law of Communal Councils, which was reformed in 2009 following a broad consulting process of councils’ spokespeople. The Communal Councils in urban areas encompass 150-400 families; in rural zones, a minimum of 20 families; and in indigenous zones, at least 10 families. At the heart of the Communal Council and its decision-making body is the Assembly of Neighbours. The councils build a non-representative structure of direct participation which exists parallel to the elected representative bodies of constituted power. In 2013, more than 40,000 Communal Councils had been established in Venezuela.
The Communal Councils are financed directly by national state institutions, thus avoiding interference from municipal organs. The law does not give any entity the authority to accept or reject proposals presented by Communal Councils. The relationship between Communal Councils and established institutions, however, is not exactly harmonious; conflicts arise principally from the slowness of constituted power to respond to demands made by Communal Councils and from attempts at interference. The Communal Councils tend to transcend the division between political and civil society (i.e., between those who govern and those who are governed). Hence, liberal analysts who support that division view the Communal Councils in a negative light, arguing that they are not an independent civil-society organization, but linked to the state. In fact, however, they constitute a parallel structure through which power and control is gradually drawn away from the state in order to govern on its own.
At a higher level of self government there is the possibility of creating Socialist Communes, which can be formed from various Communal Councils in a specific territory. The Communal Councils decide themselves about the geography of the Commune These Communes can develop medium and long-term projects of greater impact while decisions continue to be made in assemblies of the Communal Councils. As of 2013 there are more than 200 communes under construction.
The idea of the Commune as a site for building participation, self-government and socialism traces back to the communitarian socialist tradition of the Paris Commune, and also to Venezuelan Simón Rodríguez, who proposed local self government by the people, calling it ‘Toparchy’ (from the Greek ‘Topos’, place) in the early 19th century. It's also traced to traditional forms of indigenous collectivism and communitarianism and the historical experiences of the Maroons, former Afro-American slaves who escaped to remote regions and built self administrated communities and settlements.
Various Communes can form Communal Cities, with administration and planning ‘from below’ if the entire territory is organized in Communal Councils and Communes. The mechanism of the construction of Communes and Communal cities is flexible; they themselves define their tasks. Thus the construction of self-government begins with what the population itself considers most important, necessary or opportune. The Communal Cities that have begun to form so far, for example, are rural and are structured around agriculture, such as the ‘Ciudad Comunal Campesina Socialista Simón Bolívar’ in the southern state of Apure or the ‘Ciudad Comunal Laberinto’ in the north-eastern state of Zulia.
After 13 years of revolutionary transformation, the biggest challenge for the process is the structural contradiction between constituent and constituted power. Especially since 2007, the government’s ability to reform has increasingly clashed with the limitations inherent in the bourgeois state and the capitalist system. The movements and initiatives for self-management and self-government geared toward overcoming the bourgeois state and its institutions, with the goal of replacing it with a communal state based on popular power have grown. But simultaneously, because of the expansion of state institutions’ work, the consolidation of the Bolivarian process and growing resources, state institutions have been generally strengthened and have become more bureaucratized. Institutions of constituted power aim at controlling social processes and reproducing themselves. Since the institutions of constituted power are at the same time strengthening and limiting constituent power, the transformation process is very complex and contradictory. Nevertheless, the struggles liberated by constituent power in Venezuela are often struggles for a different system and not within the existing social, political and economic system. The contradiction is grounded in the difference between institutional and social logic.