A grassroots leader talks about the commune as a means to transform the society and the economy from the ground up.
El Maizal is a flagship rural commune between the centrally-located Venezuelan states of Lara and Portuguesa, which produces livestock, corn, and other foodstuffs. Communal production in El Maizal is based on socialized control of the means of production. The democratic processes at the core of its initiatives include collective decision-making in the working process and in the distribution of the surplus, which is often destined towards addressing medical and housing problems in the community, supporting other communes, and fostering educational initiatives.
In this exclusive interview with Angel Prado, El Maizal’s key spokesperson, we talk about the role of the commune in the transition to socialism, the communards’ critical support of the government and their plans for an ambitious education and training initiative. Prado also reflects on the tenth-anniversary landmark of the commune and future challenges.
Since Venezuela is under siege by imperialism, there should be a unified front in the struggle for sovereignty. However, El Maizal Commune, like most grassroots Chavista organizations, has a critical attitude toward some governmental policies and positions. What is your view of the dialectic between support and criticism?
When El Maizal began occupying idle land and making it collective, that was when Comandante Chavez was carrying out a relentless war against the creole oligarchy’s large estates… so El Maizal was born in the midst of an economic and political struggle. In that context, we necessarily entered into contradiction with the existing order of things: the logic that prevails in our society. Thus, our very history has made us into a critical organization, fighting against the “anti-values” of capitalist society that need to be destroyed. That is why we cannot turn a blind eye to the way that a non-Chavista logic is entering into certain political spheres.
Since Chavez’s death, which made us especially vulnerable in the face of US imperialism, the government’s main focus has been to try to establish tactical alliances with many sectors, sometimes even privileging private capital. They did this in an attempt to avoid, first, a civil war or a military intervention and, second, to avoid the fall of the government.
Our principles, our objectives, and our commitment to Chavez mean that we cannot agree with some of the government’s policies. Many of the pacts privileging the private sector have sidelined the potential of the commune – hence we don’t support the government when it comes to these policies. However, as long as the government remains firm against imperialism (as it does), we will remain firm in a unified front with it.
We will continue to constructively criticize [the government], but no matter what, we will never contribute to creating conditions for a military intervention.
As you know, we cannot rule out a direct intervention, and we have already witnessed indirect US action in Venezuela. Moreover, it wouldn’t be the first time that the United States has intervened in Venezuela [eg. the 1902-1903 naval blockade], and the continent has a long history of interventions, the most recent being the invasion of Panama . Also, it’s not for nothing that the US has military bases in Colombia and Aruba.
Latin America has undergone a long history of US interventions, toppled governments, and massacred populations. However, Venezuela, now in the sights of US imperialism, has been able to stand on its feet. That is in part due to the international solidarity developed over time, Chavez’s process of continental integration (following Bolivar’s footsteps), and the internal working-class organization.
For those of us in the popular movement – with our degree of autonomy and our disposition to say what must be said – we are among those who have created conditions to impede US intervention, which would be catastrophic not only for the people of Venezuela but for the continent as a whole.
Backing up a bit: there are plenty of policies underway that we don’t agree with. In the face of those policies, we will be critical, not submissive. However, we understand our unwavering commitment to the defense of the Patria to be one of the keys in keeping the US from bombing and massacring us. Actually, as opposed to the governments of other oil-producing countries which were also in the sight of US imperialism, the Venezuelan popular movement’s closing of ranks with the government when it comes to issues of sovereignty, is one of the reasons why Maduro is still standing today.
As surprising as it may seem, I think we can say that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has so far defeated the imperialist project in our country. That example continues to inspire the peoples of Latin America, who are now rising up against the neoliberal system to which they have been submitted for so many years.
When you close ranks with the government to defend Venezuela, are you just defending sovereignty or are you also defending the revolution?
I would say that we are doing both. There is a revolutionary process underway in Venezuela, but there is also a reformist sector that has been in conflict with us. The latter are getting rich from the opportunities that emerge with the crisis. However, the pueblo is aware of this problem, and the popular movement is working hard to keep the revolutionary process afloat.
I am sure that someday we will be strong enough not only to combat US imperialism but also the sectors that have been hurting the revolutionary project from within – those that are personally benefiting in the context of the crisis and the economic war.
The defense of the revolution happens in the day-to-day. Defending the revolution takes place in the daily building of the commune. It happens when a campesino produces to satisfy his family’s needs, but also when the campesino is committed to the society as a whole.
It is a victory for the Venezuelan people that we are still a sovereign nation, which is not a small thing. The Venezuelan people also defend the revolution in the day-to-day. This is a very important victory as well, and it should be known to the world! Some of the international left may not understand this. To them we echo Chavez in saying, “There are people that have spent their whole life pursuing a dream, but in practice, they never built anything.” We have our method, our work, and our project. We will defend our project, and our final victory will be on the day that the “pueblo takes the power in its hands.”
From El Maizal, how do you understand Chavez’s proposal of the commune? Is it about local self-government or does it go beyond?
The commune is Comandante Chavez’s political wager. He positioned it centerstage… His slogan “Commune or nothing!” [“Comuna o nada!”] drives the concept home.
The commune is the political system that Chavez planted, pruned, and fertilized. He did this so that a new society would bloom. The commune is the reorganization of society as a whole, from the small to the large, so that the people will be able to assume power.
In Chavez’s way of thinking, the commune is destined to end with the power that for so many years concentrated around the bourgeoisie, the dominating classes, and their obsolete state – a state that kept humble people away from participation not only in the political sphere but in all other spheres of life as well.
The commune is an interesting proposal: it offers a form of popular self-government, it empowers us to define our own destiny, to decide over our own resources, to define our production model, and to imagine our model of life. I think the commune is the most viable way of overcoming the model imposed by capitalism, which built a state machine to maintain control over our resources while controlling the people with certain forms of cultural, ideological, and religious domination.
I would dare to say that the commune is not a proposal just for the Venezuelan people. It’s a proposal for emancipation for the peoples of the world. The popular classes, the dispossessed, the majority – all of us have to organize from the local level, building socialist communes. From there [the pueblo organized in communes] have to become the government of the people with real control over our natural resources and over our economic resources in general.
This is a popular project to change the political and economic model from the ground up. From there, the people have to become part of the project, assume it as their own, and begin to govern first at a local level. Also, to the degree that we, the pueblo, organize ourselves, we will be able to defend our countries, and even define the future of each country. At the end of the day, that is the only way to cast off the yoke of imperialism, which dominates and takes our resources, even if it is the local bourgeoisies who govern us.
The commune is a broad-ranging project. It is a project that integrates territories within a country, with the pueblo as the cornerstone. I think the communes could be the base from which to construct a true continental integration. As Chavez would say, the commune is the new Patria. It is the only political alternative when facing capitalism.
In the past few months, El Maizal has kicked off an important educational initiative. In any self-governed project, political education should be one of the mainstays. Can you tell us more about the proposal?
For our second decade at El Maizal Commune, we have laid out several strategic objectives. One of them is to build a popular education system that will educate us politically, prepare us technically, and give us tools for working toward collective transformation. We have built a commune and that is no small thing, but now is the time to work toward a profound cultural transformation. We need to create a new consciousness. We need our pueblo to see things with its own criteria and define its future through conscious processes of debate and reflection, as well as acquiring mechanisms for collective construction. To do so, we are developing our own educational system.
We don’t want a pueblo that just repeats slogans, who blindly follow some acronym or flag. This year we want to make political education and technical training a transversal objective. This objective shouldn’t be narrow. We are thinking about a system that begins with our youngest children who will be studying here in the commune, and we hope to build our own school curriculum for them. Adolescents, university students, workers – all must be incorporated into a system which has critical political formation at its center.
We need to cultivate patriotic consciousness and build political consciousness. We also need to create communal consciousness, and that happens by way of the example – through real work in the territory, but also through education and training.
We are doing this with the goal of culturally transforming our society, which comes replete with vices. It shapes us as submissive beings adapted to a system of domination designed by capitalism and imposed through violence.
The preparation of militant cadres is key for our commune, but technical training is very important too for all of our production processes. We aim for our educational system to be holistic.
We work towards the organization of a new society, and that requires a huge cultural transformation.
The year 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of El Maizal Commune. Can you give us a brief look at what has been achieved so far?
In ten years of communal construction here at El Maizal Commune, we have accumulated experiences and had battles on economic, political, ideological, electoral, and organizational fronts. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to form relationships with many people inside and outside of the commune who have contributed to the project. In other words, the commune is a collective construction for collective emancipation.
On the productive front, we have been able to design an economic system through which we finance diverse projects and initiatives within our organization and our community. We have been able to confront the difficult economic situation by producing, and we have broadened our distribution of food products and the redistribution of surpluses. We have also been able to connect small and midsize producers – both individual and collective ones – to El Maizal’s productive system. That has strengthened the commune as a whole.
Economic success is the key to political success. We have worked toward sovereignty and autonomy, consolidating projects that were initially precarious. We have done so with the help and orientation of many. Now we feel that we can initiate new projects in the areas of education and agriculture.
In the electoral sphere we’ve had some victories in tough battles against the political right, but also against our own government and our own political and electoral system. Now we have representation in the National Constitutive Assembly, in the state parliament, and in the townships in our territory. Those battles and those spaces of representation are symbolically important. That includes the representative posts that were taken out from under our feet in the dispute between the state, the party and the government, on the one hand, and the people and the popular movement, on the other.
Fortunately, in the electoral sphere, we were able to overcome a problem common among politicians of all types who often separate themselves from the people. That is to say, we continue to be humble people, some of us with responsibilities as elected representatives of the people… but above all, we are communards.
On the ethical front, I think we have advanced a lot. Today El Maizal has a wide network of young people incorporated into productive, political, administrative, and economic processes, and we are all in a permanent debate, questioning our values and focusing on our collective principles. Today El Maizal stands out not only for its productive capacity but also because it is an ethical example. Honesty and working-class solidarity at the service of the organization and on the path towards the construction of socialism – that is what we are about. Many popular organizations around the country and the world value this, and they recognize El Maizal as a small experience that is interesting and worth learning from. We have to live up to that!
I think that in our ten years on the communal path, we have advanced quite a bit. El Maizal Commune is made up of more than 22 communal councils. Our work reaches beyond our territory, and we have begun a process of connecting with other communities, with other organizational projects. In fact, among our historical objectives, the expansion of the communal project is considered strategic. So far, we have expressed our disposition to unite, and we have taken the first steps towards the construction of a communal society.
What are the main challenges you are facing for the future?
In the next ten years, we will work very hard to consolidate a new productive system, organizing our work democratically, moving toward industrialization, and eliminating intermediaries, with the objective of displacing the logic of capital and its monopolies, which aims to control the basic needs of our population while ransacking the humblest people.
To overcome the logic of capital, the only option is to strongly unify the many popular and communal organizations around the country (and the world). From the ranks of true Chavismo we are called to give solutions to the basic needs of our society. This will have to happen hand in hand with the construction of new mass organizations, with a political militancy that will have to be up to the challenges we are facing. This is not only about the political and economic sphere. We are obliged to build a large organization to make it understood that there is an alternative. It is also an ideological battle.
El Maizal has large challenges. As we face them we will grow. The process of building the communes is a learning and teaching process too, and we know that folks from around the world will continue to visit us and give us guidance, just as we hope to visit other projects and learn from them. Wherever life may take us, we will aim to strengthen communal and collective popular projects.
Featured image: Angel Prado is the main spokesperson for El Maizal Commune. (Marcelo Volpe)