Why I'm Confident About Venezuela's Future: Chavez Death Won't Kill Social Transformation
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“Chávez was one of us,” say the poor from the barrios in Caracas, the people throughout Latin America, and Bronx residents together with probably two million poor people in the US, who now have free heating thanks to the Chávez government. Sean Penn said of Chávez: “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.” These are sad days.
I am not going to delve into the many accomplishments of the Bolivarian process with regard to healthcare, life expectancy and education – even if no country in the world has improved living standards as much over the past 14 years as Venezuela under Chávez. Nor will I write about how Chávez shifted hemispheric relations, helped to bring the Free Trade Area of the Americas to an end and built Latin American and Caribbean unity for the first time without the US or Canada. Many articles and writers focus on these matters.
Instead, this article addresses the different approach to social transformation in Venezuela, the idea of revolution as a process and the primacy of the constituent power, which has been developed from below in the form of popular power throughout the country. Chávez was an ally in the construction of people’s power and creative building of a new world. This is the reason that while I am so sad about the passing of Chavez, I am also totally confident about the future of Venezuela. As with the people of Venezuela, I know where the power is. In the neighbourhoods, in the towns, villages and cities, organized together.
The Two-Track Approach – From Above and Below
The particular nature of the Bolivarian movement stems from the fact that social transformation and the redefining of the state have led to the creation of a “two-track approach”: on the one side, the state, institutions and traditional left organizations, and on the other, movements and organized society. It is a construction process both “from above” as well as “from below.” This entails the participation of antisystemic organizations and movements, along with individuals and organizations which can be characterized as traditional and state centred (for instance, unions and political parties).
Both from the government and from the rank and file of the Bolivarian process, there is a declared commitment to redefine state and society on the basis of an interrelation between top and bottom, and thereby to move toward transcending capitalist relations. The state’s role is to accompany the organized population; it must be the facilitator of bottom-up processes, so that the constituent power can bring forward the steps needed to transform society. The state has to guarantee the material content the realization of the common wealth requires. This idea has been stated on various occasions by Chávez, and is shared by sectors of the administration and by the majority of the organized movements.
The Communal State
Since January 2007, Chávez proposed going beyond the bourgeois state by building the communal state. He applied more widely a concern originating with antisystemic forces, meaning the movements and political forces that assume that the state form has to be overcome. The basic idea is to form council structures of different kinds, especially communal councils, communes and communal cities, which will gradually supplant the bourgeois state.
The Communal Councils are a non representative structure of direct democracy and the most advanced mechanism of self-organization at the local level in Venezuela. The most active agents of change in Venezuela have been--and continue to be--the inhabitants of the urban barrios and the peasant communities.