Friday, December 15, 2006

Venezuela’s Experiment in Popular Power

This is a description of the Communal Councils which are being formed throughout Venezuela. It seems to me to be an important development in decentralized direct democracy and something anarchists should be involved in. In my own city there are Neighborhood Associations and in a more militant situation these associations could be the nuclei of such councils. Needless to say, I am a member of my Neighborhood Association.

Could you describe how the Communal Councils work?

There are now 16,000 CCs, established in six months [since the start of the program this year]. It is a very serious initiative, in my opinion... Another very important thing is that the CC has the opportunity to elect a new leadership … The leadership must be elected by a general assembly where anyone can be proposed. The spokespeople are not the assembly — they are not the organisation. The assembly must ratify the proposals — whether from a committee for housing, or a committee for health. If someone who becomes the spokesperson does not have the confidence of the assembly, the CC will not work.

It is a democratic way to renovate the leadership, and permits the assembly to choose a new leadership. I think the law respects this will of the assembly. I was part of the group that oversaw the formation of the CCs. In the law it is very clear: Where is the power? The power is not with the spokespeople — it is with the general assembly. Why are they called “
voceros”? Because they are the voice of the community. If they lose the position of spokesperson, they stop having any power …

I think this is an experimental way of organising popular power. But, for me, it is the future direction we should be taking. This is the basic idea: not from above.

It also depends on the type of problem. There are problems that require the involvement of various CCs, because they are problems of the whole barrio — for example, the water pipes that pass through the whole barrio. This must be resolved at the level of the Barrio Council. The stairs, the lighting, the rubbish — you can resolve these within the CC. These CCs are the base — very democratic; a scheme for participation …

They are looking for ways to prioritise the things the community can resolve: but not to create a kind of “begging” neighbourhood that sees a problem, and just calls on the state to resolve it …

This is how solidarity begins, because you start to see that your problem is wider than your small reality, and you must help others. Thus, the Communal Councils are more of a school for political formation. I think popular power, when it is really democratic, is the best school, because it produces this process.

By Marta Harnecker:


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