Venezuela’s Maduro declares 95% salary hike to mark Workers Day


The president said the increase is an effort to protect the working class from the effects of U.S.-led economic war against Venezuela.

TeleSUR – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a 95 increase to the overall salary to mark this year’s International Workers Day, in order to take care of the country’s working class from the effects of the economic war led by the United States against the South American nation, the president said in a press conference Monday.

“It is a brutal economic war that we are going to contain and we will move forward,” Maduro told reporters in Caracas. “Let’s move forward together towards a productive and prosperous Venezuela, Venezuela is growing with better conditions for our workers.”

The president was speaking at the Expo Venezuela Power exhibition, which has been visited by 302,000 people over the past three days.

Maduro said 367 public and private companies participated, while 734 agreements of productive alliances were signed and 478 credits were delivered in the order of 15.8 billion bolivares.

“Sales were negotiated in the housing sector in the order of 778,431 Petros, which is worth more than 46 million dollars. This is the methodology, the concrete articulation”, he stressed and assured that the key is the development of the workforce of the productive sector.

The reality of wages and workers’ struggle in Venezuela

Ricardo Vaz reports from a public conference held in Caracas by a number of social movements and trade union organisations.

The conference called on numerous trade union and pressure groups to participate (Aporrea)

By Ricardo Vaz, Venezuela Analysis

“Salaries in Venezuela have been pulverised” – this was the overarching message from a recent Caracas forum titled “The reality of wages and the workers’ struggle”. Organised by a number of leftist organizations and trade unions, the event was meant to be held in the auditorium at the headquarters of the state telecommunications company CANTV. But the night before the venue was cancelled, leaving the organisers scrambling to move participants to a new location.

Throughout the event, multiple speakers stressed how hyperinflation has eroded wages in Venezuela, drastically reducing Venezuelan workers’ purchasing power as prices continue to soar, with no apparent end in sight. This reality is common to workers both in public and private sectors. Some of the other points ubiquitously touched on were the need for stronger worker control over production, distribution and even price fixing, and the need to peg wages to inflation. A worrying trend that several speakers highlighted is a growing intolerance for dissent in state companies. Several speakers told stories, some of them personal, of union representatives being fired or criminalised for criticising management. A prominent example is the case of Elio Palacios, leading trade unionist of the state electricity company CORPOELEC who was arrested in February for warning of impending nationwide outages due to company management just weeks before numerous western Venezuelan states were hit with massive rolling blackouts. Palacios was later released due to popular pressure from trade unions and leftist parties.

Venezuela has been mired in a severe economic crisis over the past several years. The steep fall of global oil prices, from an average of $80 a barrel to under $40 in 2016, dealt a severe blow to Venezuela’s import-based economy, with petroleum accounting for over 90% of the country’s export income. The sharp decline in imports, coupled with government mismanagement as well as private sector hoarding and speculation, has led to shortages. The government has implemented regular wage increases, a large part of them through food supplements known as cestatickets, but these have been “eaten up” by inflation. Since late last year, it has also started delivering cash bonuses through the Homeland Card system (Carnet de la Patria), the last of which was of 1 million Bolivars, around $2 at the ever-rising black market rate and distributed on occasion of Venezuela’s independence day, April 19.

Wages and bonuses

Leander Pérez, from Lucha de Clases, a group affiliated with International Marxist Tendency, expressed critiques regarding the recent policy of Homeland Card bonuses as well as the supplementing of wages with cestatickets, which now comprise the majority proportion of worker salaries.

“The bonuses are an admission from the government that it is impossible to live on the minimum wage,” Pérez stressed, adding that by doing this the government is assuming a responsibility that should belong to employers. Moreover, bonuses reduce the value of labour, since social security payments, or severance fees, are based only on the actual salary.

Pérez also pointed out that so far the bonuses have worked in an ad-hoc fashion, with no regulating state body. Another issue is that if bonuses become larger than wages, and transportation costs keep on rising, there will be less of an incentive for people to go to work. Pérez argued that while mechanisms to protect the working class are welcome, a strong response against the economic war is what is really missing.

Stark numbers

“This is the biggest crisis in Venezuelan history” – this was the opening statement of Manuel Sutherland. A Marxist economist by training, he is the coordinator of the Centre for Worker Research and Training (CIFO), a political organisation dedicated to providing information that can allow the working class to understand their struggle.

Sutherland’s intervention focused on numbers that exemplify the current economic crisis. To name a few, GDP has shrunk by 50% after five successive years of recession, inflation between April 2017 and April 2018 was 8.200%, and purchasing power decreased by 75% in the same period. Oil production is also down to less than 1.5 million barrels per day, meaning that Venezuela is not taking advantage of the rise in oil prices, which have topped 56 dollars per barrel for Venezuela’s extra-heavy crude. State oil company PDVSA has suffered for years from a lack of investment, while it has also been increasingly targeted by US sanctions. Critics have also pointed at mismanagement and corruption, and a recent anti-corruption drive by attorney general Tarek William Saab has led to a series of high-profile arrests.

The government policy of “printing money”, that is, of giving bonuses, has no real backing and generates inflation, Sutherland said. Furthermore, money is not actually “printed”, since there is also a shortage of cash in circulation that keeps on worsening. The issue, according to him, is production, which is why trade unions have a tremendous challenge ahead of them.

What is to be done?

Inevitably, the discussion became more polemical when centred on the Maduro government and the upcoming elections on May 20. Members of Socialist Tide, a Trotskyist group that broke away from the ruling PSUV in 2015, mentioned the need to defend the wages and audit how state dollars have been granted for imports, but their assessment – namely that only the government is to blame and needs to be replaced – could easily be mistaken for mainstream opposition views.

Others hit back, calling for people to vote for Maduro on May 20, if nothing else because of what a return to power of the right-wing would entail. It was also highlighted, even by some who criticised the government’s policies, that the workers should not lose sight of who the class enemy is, nor of the overwhelming threat and presence of imperialism. What was clear for the around 120 participants in the forum was the need for the workers to fight for their rights and to defend (or revitalise, depending on the perspective) the Bolivarian Revolution.

Venezuela: Rebellion and Production in Caracas’s 23 de Enero

Studios of Radio Arsenal, the community radio of Panal 2021

Ricardo Vaz (Investig’Action correspondent en Venezuela) – The 23 de Enero is a neighbourhood (barrio) of Caracas with a rebellious tradition. It was in the eye of the storm during the Caracazo in 1989, the failed military coup led by Chávez in 1992 started there, and the people came down from there to defeat the coup against Chávez in 2002. Nowadays, even with chavismo in power, the people from the 23 de Enero, and the Alexis Vive Foundation in particular, embrace this spirit of rebellion as the engine behind popular organisation. It was in this barrio that the Panal 2021 commune (1) was created, and it was the first commune to be officially registered in Venezuela. The commune is currently developing a host of activities in the spirit of self-government and of building socialism from the communes.

The very name “El Panal” (“Honeycomb” or “Hive”) is no coincidence. The members of the commune drew inspiration from the organisation of bees, which are all workers willing to defend their queen, which in this case is the community, and to protect the hive. There are several socially owned enterprises working in the Panal 2021 commune: bakeries, a sugar packaging plant, a textile factory, a communal bank, tv and radio stations. The community has also started to grow food.

Sugar packaging plant at Panal 2021 (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

One of the first enterprises set up in the commune was the sugar packaging plant. With a capacity to process up to 30 tons of sugar a day, its operation is planned such as to supply the necessary sugar for the 3.600 families living in the community. Next to this plant an operation to produce animal feed is being set up. This will be destined towards domestic pets as well as chickens and cattle, and it will also be supplied to producers that collaborate with the commune.

1, 5 and 10 Panal banknotes (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

At a time when there is a tremendous shortage of cash, because of inflation and of a massive operation that is extracting bills to Colombia, the Panal 2021 commune, through its communal bank, has issued a currency called “Panal”, which can be used in all businesses in the community. This includes the 243 consecutive communal food markets. These allow people to have access to meat, chicken, cheese, vegetables and much more, at fair prices. Through a platform called “Pueblo a Pueblo” (“people to people”), the commune established direct relations with producing communities throughout the country, thus avoiding intermediaries and the food distribution monopolies.

Another experience currently being developed in the commune is the textile factory “Las Abejitas del Panal” (“little/busy bees”). In a space abandoned by successive businesses, Chávez proposed that a textile factory be set up, as a way to reinforce the role of women in the Bolivarian Revolution.

“It’s not Puma, it’s the original Panal” – backpack produced by the “Abejitas del Panal” (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

The factory produces clothing, school uniforms, backpacks, re-usable diapers and many other things. Despite not being a capitalist venture which is driven by accumulation, it still suffers the consequences of the economic war, since raw materials need to be bought from private market suppliers. Nevertheless, the “Abejitas del Panal” are determined to provide products that contain 0% exploitation and, as the photo shows, 100% pride.

Faced with the inevitable question about the upcoming May 20 elections, the answers from the many people we talked to were not uniform. They stressed that recent times have been tough and that the Venezuelan people have been hit very hard, which may cause disillusionment when the time to vote comes. However, they argue that socialism is the only model that can provide human rights and a decent life for all Venezuelans. Little by little, this reality is being built by the comuneros of Panal 2021.


(1) Besides Panal 2021 there are other communes in the 23 de Enero

Source: Investig’Action

Spain’s Zapatero Condemns International ‘Double Standard’ on Venezuela, Opposes Trump’s Interventionist Policy

Zapatero spoke at the III Zero Hunger Summit in Cuenca, Ecuador.

On Friday Venezuela’s National Electoral Council invited Spain’s Congress of Deputies to send a delegation to observe the elections.

TeleSUR – Former Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, condemned the international communities “double standard” on Venezuela Friday. Speaking at the III Zero Hunger Summit in Ecuador, Zapatero said: “We all celebrate dialogue, but not with president (Nicolas) Maduro, who was democratically elected.”

Zapatero, who participated in peace talks between the Venezuelan opposition and the government to secure an agreement for coexistence, said that continued dialogue was the only way to produce meaningful results.

“In international relations and conflict resolution I only see one way which is one of peace and dialogue… to sit together once and again, the timed needed, because the alternative can only be a disaster, a civil conflict,” Zapatero argued.

He explained that the current conflict in the South American country had “two readings, with two ideological conceptions that need to be understood sooner or later, in a coexistence agreement that must be revived.”

One solution Zapatero proposed is full participation in the country’s May 20 presidential and legislative election stating “there is no other way out for Venezuela other than dialogue and consensus.”

Zapatero also condemned the United States policy on Venezuela stating: “I do not agree with the policy that President Trump has set for Venezuela, with Trump they changed many things, but I do not, I simply do not agree.”

Zapatero’s comments come just days after Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) invited Spain’s Congress of Deputies to send a delegation to observe the elections. “Given the expressed interest by Spain’s Congress in Venezuela’s situation, the electoral power thinks the presence of a legislative delegation to participate in the observation program would be very positive,” the CNE said.

On April 12 the congress of deputies approved a motion to not recognize the Venezuelan elections with 164 votes for, 94 abstentions and 79 voting against.

Despite the international boycott, Caracas has confirmed the participation of over 2,000 international observers and accompaniers from Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

US and its Allies Refuse to Recognize Upcoming Venezuelan Elections

The rhetoric comes even as the Government ratifies agreement on electoral guarantees

Photo Credit: La Tercera

By Zoe PC / The Dawn News

The VIII Summit of the Americas was held this year in Lima, Peru from April 13-14 and as always, was marked by controversies and managed to be the material expression of the deep contradictions of the US-supported bloc in the Americas. Notably, the summit – whose central theme was ‘Democratic Governance against Corruption’ – was held in a country where the President, Pablo Kuczynski, was forced to step down recently. The same Peruvian president had revoked the invitation to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. During the closing of the summit, several leaders announced that they would not recognize the Presidential elections on May 20 in Venezuela.

These announcements are not a surprise. Since Maduro announced the elections on February 7, the US and its allies have taken a hardline stance of complete rejection of the process. The US State Department released a statement on February 8 saying, “The United States denounces the decision by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to unilaterally advance presidential elections without guarantees to ensure free, fair, and internationally-validated elections. These elections do not have the agreement of all political parties and limit the ability of individuals to run in the election. By denying participation in the electoral process, the Maduro regime continues to dismantle Venezuela’s democracy and reveals its authoritarian rule.”

The ‘Lima Group’, a group of the conservative governments of Latin America, in addition to Canada, has since its inception in August, following the National Constituent Assembly elections in Venezuela, served as a mouthpiece of the United States to denounce every move taken by Bolivarian Venezuela. They too denounced the elections, stating that the process would not be free and fair under the current circumstances and urged the date to be changed.

At the Summit of the Americas, Argentina’s right-wing President Mauricio Macri declared that in Venezuela “the right of the Venezuelans to choose in freedom is being violated, with political prisoners and without minimal guarantees of transparency. So Argentina will not recognize any process of this kind; this is not a democratic election.”

Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile, echoed the sentiment. “The elections are not democratic, they are not transparent and so any country that really wants democracy should not recognize these elections.”

US Vice-President Mike Pence, who filled in for Donald Trump, who was engaged in unilaterally ordering missile strikes on Syria, spent the majority of his speech criticizing Cuba, Nicolás Maduro and denouncing the upcoming elections.

Last Friday April 13, Tibisay Lucena, the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Venezuela, held a press conference in which she announced the ratification of the Agreement of Electoral Guarantees signed in the Dominican Republic by the Venezuelan Government and several opposition parties.

She stated “The guarantees in our electoral system are full. Many countries wish they had an electoral system that is this transparent. We invite the High Representative of the European Union to send a technical mission of accompaniment and observation so that they can learn about it.” She announced that all of the documents reporting the election results from each station as well as information about the election will be published on the official website of the CNE. Special measures to guarantee that people with disabilities are able to exercise their right to vote were also announced.

It is also important to point out that the same countries that are criticizing the electoral process in Venezuela, were silent when it came to the flagrant violations to the electoral process in November in Honduras. Furthermore, they were the first countries to congratulate Juan Orlando Hernández on his ‘victory’. They also seemingly have no issue with the principal candidate and projected winner of the Brazilian elections, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, being in prison on charges that are widely seen as trumped up and not supported by any evidence.

Hondurans occupied streets and highways for weeks protesting the electoral fraud

International Community Pledges Supports for Venezuelan Election

Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela’s electoral authority, is touring numerous countries to explain the electoral system and its guarantees.

Tibisay Lucena was welcomed by Sergey Riabkov, Russia's Vice Foreign Minister. Moscow, April 24, 2018. (@planwac / Twitter)
Tibisay Lucena was welcomed by Sergey Riabkov, Russia’s Vice Foreign Minister. Moscow, April 24, 2018. (@planwac / Twitter)

By TeleSur English &

Russia is one of numerous countries to back the upcoming Venezuelan electoral process this week following the visit of Tibisay Lucena, the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council.

Her visit, which is a part of a tour to several African and European countries, looked to promote the strength of Venezuela’s electoral system in the world following attacks from the US government and their allies.

Lucena was welcomed by Russia’s vice foreign minister, Sergey Riabkov, who acknowledged that there is an international attack on Venezuela’s democracy.

“We support the efforts of the Venezuelan electoral authorities and wish the people of Venezuela success and peace in the upcoming elections,” he said.

The Russian official also declared that Moscow will be sending a team of international observers for the May 20 presidential elections. The news came as Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza confirmed that the UN has rejected an offer to accompany the process. Arreaza said that the UN cited a lack of time to organise the mission as the apparent reason.

Similarly, Latin America’s Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA), which perennially sends observer missions to Venezuela, offered declarations reaffirming the transparent and fair nature of the country’s electoral process.

“There has never existed a difference between the digital votes and the manually counted votes. We have tested the process step by step so there can’t exist a single suspicion of fraud,” said CEELA President Nicanor Moscoso.

Venezuela’s electoral system uses electronic voting machines but every vote also produces a paper ballot which is used to publically audit the electronic count at the close of voting in what is known as the citizen’s audit.

CEELA, which brings together electoral technicians and authorities from across the continent, accompanies all off the twenty-plus audits of the voting system which are carried out before and after election day. They are also present for the vote itself.

Venezuela: Rural communities organise to confront economic crisis

An assembly of campesino farmers in Merida state on April 20. Photo: CRBZ

Green Left Weekly – With campaigning for the May 20 presidential elections underway in Venezuela, the United States has stepped up its crusade against the Nicolas Maduro government.

Hiding behind claims of a “humanitarian crisis” and “growing dictatorship”, Washington’s aim is to bring down the government by any means. It seems to end the two-decade-long pro-poor Bolivarian Revolution that was initiated by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez. 

For now, its main focus is on delegitimising the elections and tightening economic sanctions with the aim of strangling Venezuela’s economy and stoking internal discontent. However, several US state officials — including President Donald Trump — have publicly supported the idea of a military intervention or internal military coup.

This anti-Venezuela campaign has been vigorously promoted by the corporate media. It provides ample space to right-wing opposition leaders while ignoring the voices of grassroots social movements fighting to overcome the crisis in Venezuela.

To help get these voices heard, a range of solidarity groups organised a series of meetings in Australia over March and April with Pacha Catalina Guzman, a leading activist with Venezuela’s largest peasant-based organisation, the Ezequiel Zamora National Campesino Front (FNCEZ). Guzman is also a spokesperson for the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current.

During her visit, Guzman spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Federico Fuentes.


Often in the media we hear the voices of the Venezuelan opposition, and very occasionally from the government, but rarely do we hear from the social movements, particularly radical left movements in Venezuela. As a representative of one of these movements, how do you view the current economic crisis in Venezuela?

The truth is that we are facing not just an economic blockade but also a media blockade. Among the social movements in Venezuela and those that support the government, we have been trying to overcome this crisis with the little we have.

The situation in Venezuela is critical. There is a shortage of food and medicine as a result of the blockade. However, we are not dying of hunger, as the media claims.

We blame the economic crisis on the economic sanctions that the United States has imposed on Venezuela. They are the main reason for why the situation in Venezuela is so difficult today.

Nevertheless we are overcoming this situation.

What is your opinion of the measures that the government has implemented to try to overcome the economic crisis?

We are an organisation that has worked with the state to implement a number of its policies. We have reiterated on many occasions that the economic model that the state is attempting to build is one that we as an organisation support.

Our organisation has dedicated itself not just to supporting but also implementing certain state policies in parts of the country — I’m talking here about policies regarding food production.

For us, the state’s policies have been correct in terms of helping to overcome the economic crisis, even though there are certain difficulties and weaknesses.

The state’s policies have helped to continue and strengthen the policies that Chavez implemented in terms of economic and social issues.

As long as that is the case, we will continue to work with the state. If the state was to modify its position, then they would find opposition from us. But that is not the case today.

So you disagree with the view that, following Chavez’s death, the Bolivarian process has changed course, or that at least the Maduro government has moved away or broken with the policies of the previous Chavez government?

We understand the criticisms that some sectors have of the government. But while some have described certain state policies as neoliberal, the reality is that these policies do not respond to the interests of big business or the International Monetary Fund.

The economic policies that are being implemented in Venezuela seek to solve the economic crisis that the country is facing. In terms of social policies, there has been very little change.

If we have any criticisms, I think that internally we are able to discuss and resolve them. But we do not see this as a neoliberal government or as one that is working against the interests of Venezuelan people.

Could you talk about some of the projects your organisation works on and how you work with the government?

By organising in the campesino sector and among urban communities, our organisation has been able to obtain funds from the state for community projects.

We have been able to build houses for families, fix roads; on the basis of helping communities to organise themselves we have been able to achieve land titles for campesinos in the countryside. We have also been able to get loans, machinery and equipment for rural communities.

We have created a mechanism for food distribution that allows us to transport food from the countryside directly to urban communities. This was an initiative we took as an organisation and the state has supported us, for example with trucks for transportation.

Everything that we have achieved has been as a result of organising in communities. The majority of our activists spend their time going to communities to see what their needs are and help them to organise themselves.

Then, on the basis of the alliances and relationships we have with certain state institutions, we have been able to work with the state to meet the demands of the communities.

That is why we continue to support the state, not because it is a paternalistic state but because it responds to the needs of the people. We are an autonomous organisation, we do not depend on the state for anything, but we support the state where it responds to the needs of the community.

In one of Chavez’s last speeches he spoke about the importance of the communes as a form of grassroots self-governance — he said: “commune or nothing”. How has the process of building communal councils, communes and communal cities, which Chavez described as the foundations of a new communal state, come along since Chavez’s death? Does the idea of a communal state continue to be more a vision than a reality or have steps been taken in that direction?

In the past five years there’s been a rise in the number of communal cities; there are many more than there were before. New communal councils continue to appear, though not at the speed that we would like, but there has been an increase in communal organisation.

But I think the idea that, perhaps in 10 years time, we could have a communal state is something that will be very difficult to achieve; difficult because of the situation we face.

Today, in the context of the current crisis, the people are not prioritising popular organisation, instead they are prioritising meeting their day-to-day needs. In this sense, there’s been a certain pause in building this communal state, which continues to be the vision, the idea for where we want to go.

But for now, people are focused on other issues, which is a real shame. Hopefully, we will be able to get to the communal state, but this will only be possible as long as the current state continues to support us, because if we depended only on popular organisation, unfortunately this would not be enough.

We need the state to involve itself in building communal power and at the same time accept its replacement by this communal power, because that is the idea — to replace the existing state power.

Some would say that the only way to resolve the immediate problems is by deepening community organisation, yet you spoke about a certain pause in community organisation to focus on immediate issues. Do you see this as a problem or as something that is inevitable given the current situation?

There is a complex situation in Venezuela as a result of the blockade and the sanctions. It means that our priority is that we must begin to produce food, whether that be as communal councils or not. The people need to begin producing, the issue of under what type of structure they do this has dropped to a second plane.

I’m talking here about what we, as grassroots organisations, can do within the country. Of course, the broader international economic issues are something that the state has to look at; these things are not dependent on us. But we can help overcome the issue of food shortages. Similarly with the issue of medicine shortages: this is not something that we at the grassroots can overcome.

What we are seeing in Venezuela is that people are dedicating themselves to resolving day-to-day issues and looking for ways to diminish the effects of the crisis on society. That is the reality of everyday life.

There is little point of talking to people about the idea of forming a communal council when they are concentrated on working out how they are going to eat tomorrow. So the priority is confronting the food problem: we are 30 million people, that means 30 million people that need to eat every day. So that is our priority.

It is also the priority of the state, but the state has other priorities; it has to operate on several fronts, such as dealing with the shortages of medicines and how to import those products that we cannot produce in Venezuela.

How can the international solidarity movement help the Venezuelan people?

I think in first place, the international solidarity movement should help us disseminate the truth about what is happening in Venezuela. Most people outside of Venezuela associate the Venezuelan Revolution with failure, hunger, misery and death.

This is even true of the concept of socialism; where you hear it mentioned in other countries, they associate it with Venezuela and they associate it with complete failure.

The allies we have internationally, who know the reality of Venezuela, should help us spread the truth.

I think that, for now, international solidarity starts with speaking out about what is being silenced and hidden, and talking about and defending what we are building in Venezuela.

Beyond this, I don’t know … if the gringos invade Venezuela, then I suppose you’ll have to come and help us [laughs].

[Federico Fuentes is a national co-convenor of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network.]

Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela – interview with Dario Azzellini

“Nobody surrenders here! Commune or nothing!” – a mural depicting Chávez and the commitment to building the commune (Photo: Venezuelanalysis)

The communes should be the space in which we are going to give birth to socialism.” – these were the words of Hugo Chávez in one of his famous presidential broadcasts. To discuss the Venezuelan communes and the new forms of participation, as well as its successes, difficulties and contradictions, we have interviewed Dario Azzellini*. He has investigated and documented theses issues throughout the Bolivarian Revolution. His book Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela has recently been released in paperback by Haymarket Books.

In your book you talk about a “two-track process” in Venezuela, from above and from below. Can you explain this?

Traditionally, some people have a vision that change is coming from above, so you have to take over state power and the government and then you change everything from above. Others disagree and defend that you have to do everything from the bottom-up and the grassroots, and overcome the state.

I think Venezuela shows that the state is there, whether you want it or not, it does not go away if you ignore it. On the other hand, we also have the experience that if you try to change something from above without having the self-organised structures in society to sustain it, then the conscience of people is not really changed and everything can fall apart like a house of cards a few seconds after you lose state power.

A characteristic feature of a few recent processes in Latin America, and in Venezuela especially, with all their difficulties and contradictions, has been the combination between certain kinds of changes and reforms from above with a strong self-organisation on the ground. Also if we look at it, especially in Venezuela, many of the proposals that were successful, from the recuperated workplaces to the local self-administrations of communal councils and communes, were things that were created by the people, at the bottom, and then picked up by Chávez and turned into government policies.

Chávez visiting the El Maizal commune in 2009 (Photo: Minci)

The “two-track” approach means that you have at the same time these efforts for change from above and from below. From a logic standpoint, you can have a bottom-up logic in some state institutions as you can also have a hierarchical top-down conception in some of the grassroots movements. So it is more complicated than it seems.

What are the contradictions that emerge?

There are strong contradictions, it still is a constant relationship of cooperation and conflict. Because these are two completely contradictory logics, even if they declare to pursue the same objectives.

The logic of an institution is always to measure everything with statistics, whereas the social logic is often not measurable in statistics. When I was working in Venezuela with communal councils, you could have the communities, for instance, starting to meet once a week to watch a film together and then discuss. Or they could start cooperating with the adjacent community council on some common issues, maybe solving some conflict that had long existed between the communities (and nobody remembers why!).

At the same time, from an institutional standpoint, a government body or a ministry that is responsible for the construction of these communal councils, has to prove its worth to the next institutional level, it has to measure something. Watching a film or cooperating with the neighbouring community cannot be fit into any statistic. But if this community builds 2 kms of a new asphalt road, then it is great! We can report the 2 kms of road, the cubic meters of asphalt needed, and the money spent, to show they have been doing something. However from a social and political logic, it is much more valuable to watch a film or cooperate with the other community.

The logic of the institution is always a logic of representation and it is always questioning any non-representational body even if they formally agree with it. Someone sitting in an institution, who has to explain to his boss and institution what he has been doing, is weary of letting the people decide. What if the people decide wrong!? Thus he may feel inclined to decide himself what is best. You have these contradictory logics all the time.

Moreover, there is the contradiction of a power asymmetry. The institutions control the finances and have privileged access to media and other institutional levels. Therefore this power asymmetry has to be taken into account.

The hillside barrios surrounding Caracas have a long tradition of popular organisation (Photo: Ryan Mallett-Outtrim/Venezuelanalysis)

What about situations in which the state was (at least in principle) on one side, like struggles for workers’ control?

You still find these contradictions at play in cases like workplace occupations. For instance, workers would occupy a given company, and an institution that was very eager to support them would come in immediately, and after two weeks expropriate the workplace. But the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to grow in the struggle, to really figure out what they want.

This expropriated workplace would then hardly ever make it into a self-organised, worker-controlled workplace, because it could not grow organically. At the same time the institution that intervened or the new administration might have no interest in surrendering control to the workers, or even actively sabotage and hinder workers’ control. And once the workers’ councils were introduced, they tried to undermine them, co-opt them, or reduce them to consulting bodies without any real power, while workers fought and still fight for workers’ participation and control.

So that is why I say it is a constant logic of conflict and cooperation between these two: between the constituent power (workers, grassroots movements, etc.) and the constituted power (state institutions). And that is the motor of history.

Therefore with all the problems that have plagued recent Latin American processes, due to pressures from the outside, from the right, from the inside, from mistakes that were made, etc., what happened over the past 20 years has the imprint of both the constituent and constituted power. And it is based on the friction between these two powers.

It is interesting that we are used to seeing class struggle for the state or outside the state, but here it is somehow brought into the institutions…

It is both inside and outside. We could say it is “inside, outside, with, against and beyond” the state and the institutions! Which is really complicated and contradictory. We have to keep in mind that these are (at best) bourgeois institutions, so their tendency is to assimilate and co-opt everything, not to build socialism or participation, obviously. Therefore it is a very complicated and contradictory struggle, which has been an important element in countries like Venezuela.

In countries that are built around very few extractive industries, oil in the Venezuelan case, class struggle has not been direct but mostly about access to the state, which was the big distributor of the oil rent. This was true even before Chávez. You had private capitalists trying to get as much money as possible, while workers also directed their demands to the state. After 1998, with the election of Chávez, this struggle was moved also inside the state and it is still there.

Meeting of the national network of communes in 2011 (Photo: Red Nacional de Comuneros)

Unfortunately I think that huge pressure from the outside is silencing too many contradictions and struggles. In a moment when the threat from the outside is so strong many of the movements who would have critiques to voice have to close ranks. Because obviously if the opposition takes back power, or if the US intervenes militarily, directly or using Colombia as a proxy (which I think is more probable), then there is not even a chance to have these discussions because everything in the Bolivarian Revolution would be eliminated.

Let us make a little detour. Whenever Venezuela is discussed in the media, or even within leftist circles, the focus is never on these struggles, or the new models of participation that we will get to, but always on the supposed shortcomings from the perspective of “liberal democracy”. But in the book you argue that this is not the proper, or the more relevant, “yardstick”. Why is that?

The Bolivarian Revolution is a result of the failure of liberal democracy. This is not specific to Venezuela, liberal democracy has been a failure everywhere. We have seen in the recent past millions of people out on the streets because they think that liberal democracy is not democratic. All the new movements, progressive or leftist, that we have seen emerging, are a result of the non-democratic nature and the failures of liberal democracy. And the same is true for the right-wing populist movements we see in Europe, or in the US with Trump.

Even the term “liberal democracy” is a contradiction in itself, because we should remember that liberalism and democracy were two opposites. They had been fighting each other for hundreds of years. Liberal democracy came to be when the liberals managed to exclude from the democratic process the economic and social spheres, thus reducing participation to the political sphere through the act of voting for representation. Therefore liberal democracy has in fact very little to do with democracy.

The starting point for Venezuela and most of the movements in Latin America is the failure of liberal democracy, the failure of allowing for social advances, the failure of improving people’s lives, the failure of being democratic, the failure of making people feel that they have a say. If this is the starting point, we cannot be criticising or measuring what is happening with liberal democracy as the yardstick. Liberal democracy is what has to be overcome.

Chávez speaking at the closing of the 2012 presidential campaign (Photo: AVN)

From the very start of the Bolivarian Revolution, and with the 1999 Constitution, there is a new emphasis on participation and protagonist democracy and there are several experiments, some successful, others not so much, until you arrive at the communal councils. Why were the communal councils the first ones to really succeed?

From the very early 2000s the Bolivarian government was already thinking about mechanisms of popular participation in institutional decisions. The first examples mirrored experiments that existed in other places, like the participatory budgets. Then they started with experiments of creating bodies to bring together institutional (e.g. the municipalities) and grassroots representatives. And these failed, because those were still largely representative bodies with a very clear power inequality or asymmetry, like I described before. This made it impossible to have any kind of grassroots autonomy or decision-making.

These difficulties were not exclusive to opposition mayors or municipalities, they also happened with chavista ones. The communal councils were the first attempt to separate these structures as much as possible (1). A communal council is the assembly of a self-chosen territory. In urban areas it comprises 150-200 families or living units, in rural areas 20-30 and in indigenous areas, that are even less densely populated, 10-20, and they decide themselves what is the territory of the community. The communal council is the assembly of all people of the community that decides on all matters.

The communal councils form workgroups for different issues, depending on their needs: infrastructure, water, sports, culture, etc., and these workgroups elaborate proposals that are then voted by the community assembly to establish what is more important. Then they get the projects financed through public institutions. The financing structure that was created was no longer attached to the representative institutions at a local level, which would have brought them into this direct, unequal competition I had mentioned. Instead it was situated at a national or at least regional levels. And this created a possibility to have a more community centred, more independent, projecting and decision-making.

Forming a communal council in the El Manicomio neighbourhood of Caracas (Photo: Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas/Venezuelanalysis)

How many communal councils are there in Venezuela? And how do we get to the communes?

Nowadays there are formally 47.000 communal councils. Obviously that is a huge number and I do not sincerely think that all of them work as democratic popular assemblies. There will be many of them that probably do not really work, especially with the economic crisis. Others will be driven by a few activists that have the support but not the active participation of the community, while many others are really working as community assemblies.

The next step was the creation of communes, which again started by self-deciding on the territory. They do not have to correspond to the official territorial divisions, they can stretch across different municipalities or even states. For example in the outskirts of Caracas you have communities that formally belong to the state of Vargas on the coast, but because of the cordillera they do not even have a road connecting them to Vargas. Their infrastructure and cultural links are with the city of Caracas, so they form communes together with communities that are officially part of Caracas.

Communes in urban areas are usually made up of 25-40 communal councils, and in rural areas between 6-10 or 15, it depends. And also have the participation not only of the different community councils but also of other organisations existing in the territory. These may be peasant organisations, or the community radio, or organisations like the Corriente Revolucionaria Bolívar y Zamora. All organisations existing in the territory take part in the assemblies of the commune.

How do the communes function?

The commune is again only a place to coordinate proposals and take them further. The basic decisions are still taken in the communal councils. And the next step beyond that would be a communal city, which would not necessarily be structured as a city, but rather it is made up of different communes. There are a few communal cities, even if there is still no law about them!

This is a familiar pattern. The communal councils started being built from below, with different names, some even had institutional backing, and no law regulating them. Then Chávez saw these assemblies and named them communal councils, and by the time the law was drafted in 2006 there were already some 5000 of these councils running. The same thing happened with the communes. They started to be built exist because the communities needed a bigger structure to decide on bigger projects, and by the time the law of communes was passed there were already hundreds of them in existence.

And they had to pressure the institutions to recognise them and register them officially as communes, because during the first years the institutions were declaring all communes as “communes under construction”. From an institutional logic, it is in their interest to declare as many communes as possible as needing their support. Once a commune is declared as functioning that is no longer the case. So in the end the communes needed to force the institutions to register them.

Schematic depiction of the communes (Photo: Ministry of Communes)

And how many communes exist nowadays?

Now there are around 1600 registered communes. Again, as with the communal councils, I would say they fall into three groups. Some are not really functioning after state support disappeared because of the crisis, others keep on functioning because of some well-organised activists that do the heavy lifting, with the support of the communities but without the assemblies meeting regularly, and other ones that are still functioning well.

One thing that I would definitely say is that the communes that are working are the structures that are being more successful in confronting problems that people are facing. There are interesting experiments with huge community controlled production facilities, or closed-down workplaces that were taken over by the community and the workers to set up all kinds of production. During this very difficult crisis, that strains social networks by pushing people to more individualism, these things are very relevant.

What has been the role of women in these participatory bodies?

Women have been the driving force. In the community councils, especially in urban areas, I would say over 70% of the people taking responsibility and pushing the struggle are women. There are many reasons for this. On one hand the rentier model of Venezuela has generated lots of speculative and informal activities that do not always supply regular work, and this naturally becomes worse in times of economic difficulties. But while this affects men mostly, women retain the experience of regular work because of all the other responsibilities (children, domestic work, etc.).

Therefore women are very much the centre of the household, and the centre of community life. This also has historical roots. If you read anthropological literature, in a Caribbean societies like Venezuela, the trans-Atlantic slave trade implied that men were sold more often, and thus women were the more stable part of slave society. This is some kind of late consequence of that, reinforced by the long-standing economic model.

One of the features that you mentioned is that the communal councils and the communes emerged from the bottom-up and then there was legislation to follow. This contrasts a bit with the (media-pushed) perception that somehow everything was happening via a Chávez decree…

I think that one of Chávez’s extraordinary capacities was that he was able to pick up what the people were doing, and what was working, and then function as a kind of loudspeaker! He would propagate these things that he saw as being successful, something that political scientists might call “good practices”, and make them widely known. And obviously because he was so charismatic and people trusted him, he was able to make them immediately discussed and propagated, so they would expand.

So contrary to the general perception like you say, most initiatives that Chávez launched and were successful, succeeded because they were practices that the people were doing already. He broadened them, made them better known and helped them expand, and at a certain point gave them a legal standing. This of course is not exclusive to Venezuela. For example the workers of Rimaflow in Italy (2) used to discuss how every law favouring workers in Italy came into being after the practice already existed, after different struggles and strikes had already forced them into place. So even in what can be considered as a favourable context like Venezuela, these “good practices” are often implemented first and later made legal.

Corn harvest in El Maizal (Photo: Prensa El Maizal)

On the larger issue of the communes, Chávez stressed very often that communes were the “Venezuelan way to socialism”. How do communes help us reach socialism?

Well, according to Marx, the commune is the finally discovered political form to emancipate labour (3). It is a step of decentralisation, of local self-government, that is connected to workers’ and community control, which is very important as a step towards socialism. It makes it possible to create different values, to create a different consciousness from the bottom-up, to create a self-organisation oriented towards the collective advancement of people in communities beyond capitalism.

The communes allow for a tendential overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, turning more resources into commons, to be managed by the community. (I say tendential because this is still a parallel structure amidst still existing representative, institutional structures, and capitalism in general.) This is what socialism was in the imagination of Karl Marx and many others.

Can we see these advances of these participatory forms of democracy in a more global context, connected to the failure of liberal democracy that we discussed before?

Indeed. The last huge uproar of council socialism were the workers’ councils in the early 20th century. After that the model of representation also took grip of the left and the communist movements, imposing itself as the hegemonic model even for socialist transformations.

So these currents become a minority while the Fordist model of production also reflected itself in an imagination of socialism as a representative, top-down paradigm. Now that Fordism is exhausted as a production model, liberal democracy as the political model serving Fordism is also at its limits. We should remember that the rights gained were not because of liberal democracy. They were forced on liberal democracy, they were won in struggle. For a while it was possible to push and advance progressive struggles within the framework of liberal democracy, but now it is clearly no longer the case.

This is the reason why we are witnessing a resurgence of socialist/communist/anarchist ideas, whatever you want to call them, models of self-administration, of council democracy, of self-organised socialism. The first internationally visible case was the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, we saw it in Venezuela like we have been discussing, but also in places like Argentina, Bolivia or even Kurdistan, always in different forms. We saw it in the workplace recuperations that occurred worldwide, we saw it in Occupy Wall Street and 15M, in Gezi and Tahrir, as well as plenty of other cases that we barely heard about, for example in Africa.

In summary I would definitely say that there is a resurgence of these concepts and ideas of socialism based on direct, council democracy, on self-management, on self-organisation – on this long history of people themselves organising their lives.

President Maduro meeting with comuneros in 2015 (Photo: Prensa Presidencial)

Going back to the Venezuelan communes, one of the discussions/debates within this spirit of conflict and cooperation with the state is that once you create a Ministry for Communes, there is a risk that they start being seen as just a sector of society, and not as something that is supposed to replace the state in the long run…

That is exactly one of the problems. Chávez was very clear about the idea of the council democracy replacing the institutional framework, and he coined this term of the “communal state”. Which is a bit of an oxymoron, because if it is communal it is not a state anymore! But this is a long-standing confusion in the whole socialist and communist movement. For example, Marx insisted that the Paris Commune was not a state at all, but a government, while the council communists of the early 20th century were mainly arguing that council democracy is not government (some of them later called it a proletarian state).

Chávez insisted and was adamant that the communes should at some point overcome the bourgeois state. It is not that clear whether the same view is held among government officials and institutional actors in the rest of Venezuela, there are many that see the communes as a kind of permanent parallel structure to the representative bodies.

And at the local level there are often conflicts with the communes, which may be seen as a threat…

Yes, definitely. Local and regional administrations are very often in conflict with the communes because they see them as a direct threat, and they are a direct threat! That is the point of the whole thing! They are representing structures that have to be overcome by the communal system. Of course politically they are supposed support it and not fight it, but this goes back to the clash between the participatory/communal and representational logics that I talked about before.

Let us talk about workers’ control, which is a subject that you discuss in great detail in the book. How did this logic of conflict and cooperation affect the struggles for workers’ control, for example in the basic industries in the state of Bolívar?

It affected them in a very problematic way. The whole workers’ control struggle in Bolívar, in the heavy industries (aluminium, iron, steel), did not advance at all. Through the years there were a lot of efforts, but eventually they stalled, while at the same time the production also did not really advance. Corruption and sabotage involving local power structures, institutional resistance, and contradictions within the workers’ movement doomed the struggle to failure. The basic industries are in a really troubling situation today.

In other cases, like state-owned Lácteos Los Andes (a big milk, yoghurt and juice producer) and in Aceites Diana (the biggest margarine and oil producer) there were strong workers’ struggles in 2013, and as a result the government agreed that the gradual workers’ control would be introduced, but still the question did not advance. There have been successes on a smaller scale, for example production facilities that have been taken over by workers together with communes. There is Proletarios Uníos, which used to be the Brazilian Brahma Beer producer, they are now bottling drinking water from a deep well. They have also set up animal food production, all in cooperation with the surrounding communes, for example exchanging with another worker-controlled facility that raises chickens.

Workers’ assembly at Alcasa aluminium plant (Photo: Prensa CVG Alcasa)

To conclude, there is a very clear economic crisis and economic war in Venezuela today. Where does that leave the model of communes and workers’ control? Is it still the way forward?

I would say yes. With all the problems and contradictions that exist, the “new Venezuela” of the people, the new idea of socialism, of collectivism, is being developed in the communes and the communal councils and the recuperated workplaces. And this is not just an academic debate. We should remember for example that during the oil sabotage or lockout of 2002-03, the heavy industries and the oil industry were saved by workers taking control. The organised workers and communities have always offered the staunchest defence of the Bolivarian Revolution.

But obviously with the economic crisis and the death of Chávez the current context is not favourable for the communes and for workers’ control. A few years ago there might have been an expectation that the government would solve everything, but nowadays most grassroots organisations, movements and communes are convinced that they are the ones that will have to build socialism. They support the government in avoiding a military intervention, fighting against the financial blockade and economic war, they understand that they need to close ranks otherwise even the possibility of discussing more structural changes will disappear. But they do not expect any significant steps towards socialism to be taken from above. Rather, they hope to be afforded the space to keep building socialism from below.

*Dario Azzellini is a sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker. He has worked and written extensively on the issue of workers’ control and self-government. Together with Oliver Ressler he has produced two documentaries about Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela from below andCommune under construction. His latest book on Venezuela, Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela. Building 21st Century Socialism from Below, has recently been released in paperback. More information on his work can be found on his website.


(1) On this matter Chávez said “[…] a grave error was committed, the communal councils cannot be converted into extensions of the mayoralties […]. That would be to kill them […] before they were born.” (Aló Presidente 246)

(2) A former manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW in Milan, Rimaflow was taken over by the workers when abandoned by the owner and now engages in a number of activities, from recycling industrial pallets to producing artisanal liquor. For more, see our previous interview with Dario Azzellini, or the documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” (by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler).

(3) Karl Marx described the Paris Commune in these terms: “It was essentially a working class government, the product of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.

Source: Investig’Action

Western Media Shorthand on Venezuela Conveys and Conceals So Much

By Joe Emersberger, FAIR

A Reuters article (4/18/18) reports that the European Union “could impose further sanctions on Venezuela if it believes democracy is being undermined there.”

The line nicely illustrates the kind of journalistic shorthand Western media have developed, over years of repetition, for conveying distortions and whitewashing gross imperial hypocrisy about Venezuela.  A passing remark can convey and conceal so much.

The EU’s sincerity in acting on what it “believes” about Venezuelan democracy is unquestioned by the London-based Reuters.  Meanwhile Spain, an EU member, is pursuing the democratically elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, for the crime of organizing an illegal independence referendum last year. Weeks ago, he was arrested in Germany at Spain’s request, and other elected representatives have been arrested in Catalonia, where Spain’s federal government deposed the elected regional government after the referendum.

In July 2017, a few months before the referendum in Catalonia, Venezuela’s opposition also organized an illegal referendum. One of the questions asked if the military should obey the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which was an extremely provocative question, given the opposition’s various efforts to overthrow the government by force since 2002.  The referendum required an extremely high level of political expression, organization and participation. It allegedly involved 7 million voters. The Venezuelan government disregarded the results—as Spain disregarded the Catalan referendum results—but unlike Spain, did not jail people for organizing it, or send police to brutally repress voters. In fact, two weeks later, Venezuelan voters (overwhelmingly government supporters, since the opposition boycotted and did not field candidates) were violently attacked by opposition militants when they elected a constituent assembly.  The attacks resulted in several deaths.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has hardly failed to call attention to the hypocrisy of both the EU and Spain, but the Reuters article made no mention of it.

Reuters also reported that “the country’s two most popular opposition leaders have been banned from competing” from Venezuela’s presidential election on May 20. Reuters didn’t name the two supposedly “most popular opposition leaders,” but in the past (e.g., 4/12/18, 2/28/18, 2/19/18) the wire service has identified them as Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles. As it happens, according to the opposition-aligned pollster Datanalisis, whose results have been uncritically reported by Western media like Reuters for years, opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcón has been significantly more popular than Capriles in recent months, and barely less so than Lopez.

Approval Ratings of Main Venezuelan Political Leaders

Mark Weisbrot (in an opinion piece for US News, 3/3/18) broke the news that US government officials had been secretly pressuring Falcón not to run, so that the election could be discredited as including no viable opposition candidate. Two weeks later, Reuters (3/19/18) discreetly reported Weisbrot’s scoop.

However, by far the most important thing Reuters neglects telling readers about the “two most popular opposition leaders” is that had they done in the EU what they’ve done in Venezuela since April 2002, Lopez and Capriles would both be serving long jail terms.

Capriles and Lopez together led the kidnapping of a government minister during a briefly successful US-backed military coup in 2002 that ousted Venezuela’s democratically elected president, the late Hugo Chávez, for two days. Lopez boasted to local TV that the dictator installed by the coup (whom Lopez called “President Carmona”) was “updated” on the kidnapping.

Imagine what Carles Puigdemont’s predicament would be if, rather than organizing a peaceful referendum, he had participated in a foreign-backed, ultimately unsuccessful military coup against the Spanish government. Needless to say, running for public office would not be on the table. That would be the least of his worries.

In Venezuela, Capriles eventually served a few months in prison for participating in the coup, while Lopez avoided doing any time, thanks to a general amnesty granted by Chávez. Lopez was finally arrested in 2014 for leading another violent effort to overthrow the government.

I’ve reviewed before (teleSUR, 1/9/18) violent efforts to overthrow the government that Lopez, Capriles and other prominent opposition leaders have been involved with since the 2002 coup. I also described how Julio Borges and Henry Ramos (two other prominent opposition leaders) have openly sought to starve the Venezuelan government of foreign loans as it struggles with a severe economic crisis.

In August, Trump’s administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s entire economy that will cost Maduro’s government billions of dollars this year (, 3/22/18). It has threatened to go even further, brandishing an oil embargo or even a military attack. With sufficiently compliant media (and the collusion of big human rights NGOs like Amnesty International), such depravity becomes possible.

The Reuters article also says that Venezuela’s economic “collapse has driven an estimated 3 million people to flee the country.” No need to tell readers when the economic “collapse” began—2014—much less who made the estimates or if other sources contradict them. In fact, the UN’s 2017 population division numbers estimate Venezuela’s total expat population as of 2017 at about 650,000—only about 300,000 higher than it was when Chávez first took office in 1999. Even a group of fiercely anti-government Venezuelan academics estimated less than 1 million have left since the economic crisis began. (See, 2/18/18.)

Cherry-picked statistics aside, when Western powers want a democratically elected government overthrown, the approach is clear. Complete tolerance for violent foreign-backed subversion—which the powerful states and their allies would never be expected to tolerate—becomes the test for whether or not a state is a democracy. The targeted government fails the test, is depicted as a dictatorship, and all is permitted. Only the tactics required to bring it down need be debated.

Messages to Reuters can be sent here (or via Twitter: @Reuters). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Understanding Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution: A View into the National Constituent Assembly

By Dae-Han Song
(Chief English Editor, The [su:p])

The following analyzes the current situation in Venezuela within the global struggle, effort and creation of a world beyond capitalism. It is based on research and informed by an interview with Jehyson Guzman, one of 545 members in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) — Venezuela’s highest power superseding even the president. The NCA is made up of representatives elected from communities and social sectors. Jehyson was elected by 82% of the vote to represent the community of Libertador municipality in Merida state. Before the NCA, he was part of the student movement in high school and then college and served in various ministerial posts in government for education.

Exploring the current situation in Venezuela, it’s clear that Chavistas are waging a fierce fight for the survival of 21st century socialism. While the drop in global oil prices,[1] reporting, many people are also limited by their own blind spots: Venezuela’s political context is wholly different from that of most our countries. Free of context, it is easy to liken a Venezuelan protester with a mask over the mouth throwing rocks or molotov cocktails with protesters fighting global inequality in the 1999 anti-WTO struggles in Seattle. But the former is part of protests instigated by Venezuela’s elite and part of a larger movement funded by the U.S. government to destabilize the government. Police in riot gear pacify violent protesters. Yet, their reaction must be contextualized with the reality of protesters burning police cars and destroying government buildings and local health clinics.[2] The police maintain law and order not for the interests of the 1%, but to protect a revolutionary process that for the past 18 years has uplifted people with social programs and transformed them into social protagonists. And while at the heat of the moment, clashes between protesters and police may turn complicated and murky, people need to challenge their simplistic notion that police are bad and protesters are good.

Venezuela is at the vanguard of a handful of countries where left revolutionary movements have taken power. They face these problems because they’ve advanced to a stage where the old has not yet died, and the new is being born. In this moment, the old customs and elite fight fiercely to stay in power, while the new government has yet to win the cultural hegemony[3] necessary to dismantle the old structures of society and build new ones. If the goal is social transformation to a world beyond capitalism, then Venezuela is further advanced than the United States, where the right has won the presidency. It’s also more advanced than in Europe where a growing resurgence of the left has received much acclaim, but is still where Venezuela’s left was before taking power in 1999. Because Venezuela’s 21st century socialism involves transforming social relations not only domestically but regionally in Latin America, this path puts Venezuela on a direct collision course with the U.S. empire and its agents in Venezuela and Latin America.

President Maduro’s convening of a National Constituent Assembly — existent until 2019 and charged with creating a new constitution and endowed with an authority exceeding the five branches of government[4] — has stirred great controversy in the mainstream media. The opposition’s boycott of the election for delegates to the NCA resulted in their ultimate absence from this body.[5] The media broadcast widely the opposition’s message of protest: the NCA was illegitimate because it did not carry out the necessary national referendum; delegates representing social sectors were a ploy to introduce pro-government delegates. Yet, absent or marginalized from the coverage is the fact that President Maduro is constitutionally endowed (by article 348) with the power to create an NCA superseding not only the National Assembly (currently dominated by the opposition) but also the president himself. In fact, the opposition dominated National Assembly (with a ⅔ approval), the municipal councils (with a ⅔ approval) and even the general population (with 15% of the electorate) is endowed with this same authority.[6]

Absent from mainstream discourse is the National Constituent Assembly’s consistency with a radical notion of democracy and sovereignty: the original constituent power rests with the people (article 347), it can even be convened by 15% of the electorate (article 348) and its proposed constitution once ratified by a national referendum cannot be overturned by the president (article 349).

Furthermore, is the rationale of creating a supreme NCA to deal with the extraordinary circumstance facing Venezuela: in moments of extreme crisis, the ultimate decision making power passes onto the people. Jehyson Guzman, a delegate of the NCA, explains that it was the extraordinary threat of the opposition’s shutdown of the government, its violence and U.S. government’s destabilizing the government that forced President Maduro to convene an NCA with authority to override all the other branches of government.

Venezuela’s process may at times be murky, corrupt, problematic, but it is democratic. The National Constituent Assembly — unlike political institutions in most countries and definitely in the United States and South Korea — is directly accountable to the sectors and communities that elected it. The delegates are unaffiliated to political parties. This is significant in creating a greater sense of inclusiveness as delegates were not beholden to an political party machinery to get elected and are not beholden to a political party line. Rather, their duty is to represent the communities and sectors they represent and are in ongoing discussion with. Jehyson explains, “Most of the time, creating a constitution is a negotiation between one political party with another. Political parties don’t have the problem of the work week or of maternity leave. But a worker, a mother does have these problems. They not only have the problem but can also create proposals to solve them.” It is for that reason that the various sectors (e.g. fisherpeople, the disabled, farmers, the elderly) are represented in this process. Guzman explains that NCA members “don’t have to be a part of a political party. They simply have to represent that sector.”

Furthermore, including representatives from the business sector in the National Constituent Assembly opens indirect spaces for negotiation and even compromise with a business sector that has been destabilizing the economy through shortages[7] and inflation.[8] To protect consumers and the economy, the NCA is passing laws to battle the economic war by controlling the currency[9] and safeguarding established prices for consumers. However, it is also listening to the demands of the business sector with a “law to allow greater dynamism in export” by facilitating the “export [of] tropical fruits, coffee and cacao” to places, Jehyson adds, such as Korea.

Furthermore, the National Constituent Assembly would incorporate the rights already won — such as the right to study at a university, or to own a personal computer — into the constitution. Jehyson elaborates, “President Chavez created the canaima computer that is given out to all students. That way they can increase their knowledge and capacity and access to knowledge. We want to incorporate this into the constitution as a right.” In addition, while the first constitution “specified a 44-45 hour work-week, the constitution would be amended to reflect the current reality where “the work-week in Venezuela is 36 hours of work with 4 hours dedicated to personal development.”

Ultimately, the National Constituent Assembly is about winning peace and order by achieving a new inclusive social contract reached through dialogue. Greater harmony and thus social consensus creates greater unity in staving off U.S. and Organization of American States (OAS) intervention. As Guzman explains, “The call for an NCA knocks down all the strategies of the United States. Through the NCA all of the country is united in creating a new legal system and a new social pact that we can all respect which recognizes the laws and the institutions and to start the revitalization of the powers.”

While uniting Venezuelans under a National Constituent Assembly representing and addressing people’s needs by community and sector is currently more of a goal than a reality, the latest elections indicate that support for the government’s actions and direction is increasing among the public. The Oct. 15 governors’ elections yielded 18 out of 23 states to the Chavista PSUV.[10] Furthermore, the Dec. 10 local elections[11] added another governorship[12] and yielded 308 out of 335 mayoralties with 23 of the 24 state capital cities (including Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city) to PSUV and its allies.

The government is establishing rule and order in the country. Its process at times appears chaotic and troubled. It’s a contested process. It’s also a democratic one where the opposition has access to domestic and global media outlets — even greater than the government’s. More importantly, the whole process involves the people, a refreshing approach to the author living in Korea where politics including the constitutional reform process happens behind closed doors in negotiation between the parties. The Bolivarian Revolutionary process may err, falter, regress, but it still remains the most advanced in building a world beyond capitalism decided and built by the people. From those of us in countries lagging behind fighting to join that construction, Venezuela deserves closer inspection and even some of our humility.


  1. Venezuela’s wealth in oil has created dutch disease: High demand for its oil results in a high currency thus eliminating the economic competitiveness of cheap production that helps a country industrialize through production for domestic and global consumption. In short, it is cheaper and easier to use dollars acquired from the sale of oil to buy goods produced abroad than to produce them domestically. Though there were efforts to industrialize Venezuela’s economic base ever since Hugo Chavez took power, Venezuela’s economy and its social programs remain dependent on the global sale — and thus price — of petroleum. Efforts to increase agricultural production also face the same problem.[/ref[ corruption and incompetence by the government contribute to Venezuela’s problems, the often overlooked siege — by the old ruling elite (which still controls the country’s production and imports) and the U.S. State Department — turns these problems into existential crises. At stake is the political direction of Venezuela: Will it advance towards 21st century socialism based on the power of people or will it revert to capitalism based on the interests of a small minority? Despite this reality, many of us misunderstand the events in Venezuela, looking upon them in isolation, ignoring or failing to understand the framework and political context. This has led to people’s interpretation that the National Constituent Assembly is an illegitimate dethroning of the opposition-dominated National Assembly despite the fact that such action is allowed by the constitution, can be explained by Venezuela’s crisis and is consistent with radical democracy and people’s sovereignty.The media is to blame for their partial and isolated. An example of such out-of-context reporting is challenged by FAIR: a seizure of toys from a toy company hoarding with the intent of selling the toys at an inflated price is likened by CNN to President Maduro being a Grinch. Yet, missing is not simply the fact that those toys will be handed out to the children of impoverished families, but also that the criminalization and confiscation of hoarded goods is an effective means of combating an economic elite that is using their control of production and imports to immiserate the lives of ordinary Venezuelans and destabilize the government.
  2. Protests — following the 2013 elections in which PSUV candidate Nicolas Maduro beat opposition MUD candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5% — targeted health clinics based on the accusation that Cuban doctors were housing stolen ballot boxes.
  3. In here we refer to cultural hegemony as the act of winning the hearts of people. Or rather, as Marta Harnecker states, when a class’s “values, its proposals, its societal project are accepted, looked upon sympathetically and taken up as their own by broad sections of society.” Thus winning hegemony is a democratic process “the opposite of imposition by force.”
  4. While most of the world has three governmental powers/branches — the executive, the legislative and the judicial – Venezuela has two more created by President Chavez and included in the constitution: the electoral power in charge of the electoral system and the citizen’s power that guarantees the coexistence of all the powers and transparency in the government.
  5. Despite the opposition-led boycott and voter intimidation by violent protests, 41.5% of the electorate voted for the National Constituent Assembly.
  7. In “The Visible Hand of the Market,” Pasqualina Curcio Curcio first points out the contradiction between increasing GDP (outpacing consumption demand), increasing share of GDP by agricultural products (a growing share of food products in the economy), increasing foreign currency given to importers (which taken all together should increase the supply of goods) and the shortage of essential goods in Venezuela. This disparity is explained by the increasing cost of imports in dollars (far greater than changes in the fixed exchange rate provided by the government to these importers) of essential goods such as food (measured by an increase in the dollar cost of 1 kilogram of food). In short, the food importers are charging more per kilogram of food not accounted by an increase in global prices nor the exchange rate they are being provided by the government to buy this food. This disparity is explained by the increasing dollar reserves in foreign accounts by these importers.
  8. Curcio shows the connection between inflation and a manipulated black market exchange rate (BMER). She first proves through economic models that the BMER listed in online websites lacks an economic basis (i.e. determined by the foreign currency reserve or monetary liquidity) and has been manipulated since 2012. Secondly, she shows that 70%* of the national price of goods is determined by the BMER. This is explained by 1) Venezuela’s historic and present dependence on imports for inputs in production as well as final product.** 2) the monopolization of imports by 3% of Venezuela’s companies. Despite receiving dollars for imports of essential goods at a low fixed rate, these companies are able to charge prices at the far higher BMER because of the essential nature of goods such as food and medicine.
  9. In the opposite direction, some such as Mark Weisbrot of Center for Economic Policy Research advocate a floating currency exchange that in one fell swoop would cut open the Gordian knot of inflation and parallel currency exchange rates. Some could argue that such move would be politically risky especially in a period of political and economic siege.
  10. Despite the opposition’s active participation in the election, 61% of the electorate voted: 55% for the coalition political party of the government and 44% for the opposition.
  11. While much of the opposition boycotted the election, not all of it did. In the end, 47% of the electorate voted. The overwhelming number of votes went either to PSUV or to other Chavista political parties that took the opposition’s boycott as an opportunity to field their own candidates against PSUV. Compared to 2013, the 2017 election voter turnout was 11.6% lower revealing the limited impact of the boycott. The fact that the Chavistas had a landslide victory among the 47% that voted and that 11.6% of voters boycotted in support of the opposition’s call lets us discern the weakness of the opposition in the latest elections. In comparison, the 2017 municipal elections for mayor in Los Angeles had 20% voter turnout and New York had 14%.
  12. The governor elected on Oct. 15 for the state of Zulia was removed from office after refusing to be sworn in by the NCA. Thus, the position was up for election again.