November 19, 2013

Tour by Activist from Venezuela discusses Socialist Communes

(Courtesy Venezuela Analysis) 

By Peter Miller,
Rebel Youth Magazine

Venezuela is a country that represents a different vision for our future. Its Bolivarian revolutionary process is the opposite of capitalist austerity and neoliberalism that many working class people around the world are facing today.

In November, Katrina Kozarek came to Ontario and Quebec for a speaking tour about Venezuela today.

Kozarek is active in the Ataroa Socialist Commune and a long-term activist in the Nacional Association of Community, Free and Alternative Media (ANMCLA). She grew up in Apollo, Pennsylvania, but moved to Venezuela in 2003.

Kozarek gave a background into the situation in Venezuela before launching into discussion about the pro-socialist communes. Venezuela faced neoliberal policies in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1989 uprisings occurred across the country against neoliberal politics.

Hugo Chavez was elected to be president in 1998, backed by a people’s movement and progressive forces. Right away he initiated policies that helped the poor, including a land law that redistributed unoccupied land to peasants or the state.

Chavez’s reforms went too far for rich corporations, and the right wing organized a CIA-backed coup in 2002. The coup was to no avail though, mainly because the people in Venezuela showed their strength on the streets and pressured the democratic-minded forces in the military to quickly free Chavez.

The main part of Kozarek’s presentation focused on her experiences living and working in "Ataroa Socialist Commune" which has a population of around 30,000 people in Lara province. The people of Venezuela have been setting up communes even before the government implemented the Ministry of Communes in 2009. The communes are real living examples of democracy and the seeds for socialism.

Communal councils are made in areas of around 250 families. These families get together frequently in what are called citizens assemblies to take control over their lives, and democratically organize their communities.

Spokespeople are elected from the councils, and these spokespeople represent the communal council in larger communes, and in some cases, even communal cities. Decisions made in higher bodies, like communal parliaments, are to be brought back to smaller communal councils for approval, allowing everyone to have the opportunity to have a say in decision making.

The people decide the geographical boundaries of communes in Venezuela.

“In our commune, we have a territorial ties because we fought together against the privatization of health in our community,” Kozarek explained. The history of organizing in the Ataroa community, and other factors, were what influenced the community’s decisions about the boundary of the Ataroa commune.

Now, thanks to their struggle for public health care, a health clinic that faced threats of privatization is now a hospital that is socially run by the commune.

The commune Kozarek is from, like all communes in Venezuela, organizes to control communal enterprises in common. The idea is that these enterprises will benefit the community. For instance, Ataroa Socialist Commune runs its own block making enterprise under communal control. Therefore, as well as getting some funding from the government, people in communes look to create funding from these socialist enterprises.

The Ataroa commune also democratically controls a school that teaches people construction skills, and another separate agricultural school. Along with schools, enterprises, and a hospital, the commune runs cultural events, and allows people in the commune to be empowered by collectively operating different grass roots media outlets that Kozarek is very involved in.

The Ataroa Socialist Commune sometimes has conflict with big business. The owners of big business do not want production to be organized and controlled by workers and communities in communes.

For instance a company that extracts sand from a river in the area of the commune causes environmental damage.

“That company causes problems for the commune, because it’s under private control and it has no interest in the community whatsoever,” Kozarek explained.

The commune has a plan however.

“The idea is somehow to do a take over of that company and get permission from the Ministry of Environment to take over the extraction,” she added. By extracting sand in their territory in an environmentally friendly way, the community can benefit from collectively taking over extraction.

The Ataroa Socialist Commune is also located in the state of Lara, an area of Venezuela that has elected an opposition governor, making it impressive that the people have been able to set up a people’s commune. Unsurprisingly, the commune has faced opposition from the governor of the state, Henry Falcon, a neoliberal politician in support of big business.

For instance, the sewer system in Ataroa is about to collapse; yet the people are receiving no support from the Falcon to fix the problem. Falcon has been in office for four straight years without tackling the issue despite growing demands. The reason behind his inaction is his dislike of socialist communes that threaten the material interests of his main supporters, big business. The communal city also has goals of connecting with communal cities to create a communal state, something that would make his position obsolete.

Kozek emphasized the importance of organizing in solidarity with the Venezuelan people in their process of the Bolivarian Revolution. Wealthy corporations, and rich people with particular interests, have been trying to cause economic chaos in Venezuela. Speculating on the dollar value has caused Bolivars to be worth little compared to the dollar. At the same time, companies are hoarding food and other resources to create psychological and economic panic. People often have to wait in long lines for food when companies and supermarkets behind closed doors store large amounts of food. The result is a type of psychological warfare.

Wealthy elites in Venezuela and imperialists from Canada have interests in sabotaging the Bolivarian revolution because they want to overthrow a government that takes into account the interests and demands of working people.

“Venezuela is preparing itself for some sort of military intervention in the next months,” Kozek warned.

Kozek emphasized that there will be municipal elections on December 8, and the right wing opposition is already threatening to create havoc during the elections to make the Bolivarian Revolution look bad. It is important for supporters of the revolution in Canada to hear true stories during any upheavals that will happen during the municipal elections by connecting to people on the ground in Venezuela. By connecting to people in Venezuela activists can spread the true story of the Bolivarian Revolution to fellow citizens. 

Delegates to the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students will also have the opportunity to meet with youth from Venezuela. Their stories will be reported here!

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