Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela: Building 21st Century Socialism from Below

„Communes and Workers’ Control in Venezuela combines an examination of the experiences of grassroots bodies involved in neighborhood and workplace decision-making with theoretical analysis of the role of state institutions in the transition to socialism. The author champions “the idea of a communal socialism” (54), while detailing the ways that the old state’s bureaucracy during the presidencies of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro has impeded the full development of a new state based on popular participation. Azzellini points to the “centrality of territory in the Venezuelan struggle” and adds that “the most active agent of change” in the nation has been barrio and rural inhabitants. In contrast, industrial workers are “frequently privileged” and have largely been led by corrupt trade unionists “co-opted by the political system,” while “the building of workers councils” has proven to be particularly “difcult” (32).“

Azzellini relies heavily on a 2008 study from the Jesuit think tank Centro Gumilla to refute “liberal critics” who warn that communal councils undermine the existing institutional system of checks and balances. On the contrary, the Centro’s data showed, in its words, “‘a low level of state interference in the dynamics of the communal councils’” (112–113). The study also demonstrates that, contrary to the allegations of these same academics, 80% of the councils “admit differing political positions” (115), and that there was no “difference in  financing between different socio-economic areas (which also tend to correspond to different political preferences)” (107). Finally, the academic “liberals” criticize the communal councils for being dependent on the central government and bypassing the municipal government. Nevertheless, according to Azzellini, councils that respond to the central government are more likely to promote popular participation than those “under the responsibility of local and regional authorities” (108).

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