[OPE-L] GLW Interview with Marta Harnecker

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Wed Dec 20 2006 - 12:26:50 EST

From *Green Left Weekly*

             Marta Harnecker: Venezuela's experiment in popular power

             Coral Wynter & Jim McIlroy, Caracas
             30 November 2006

             Marta Harnecker is the Chilean-born author of *Understanding
the Venezuelan Revolution* (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and
other books dealing with revolution and Latin America. She has
been an active participant in Venezuela's Bolivarian
revolution and an adviser to that country's socialist
president, Hugo Chavez.

             Harnecker has been involved in the formation and development
of Venezuela's Communal Councils -- bodies intended to be
vehicles for popular power and public participation in the
process of creating  "socialism of the 21st century?".
Harnecker was interviewed by *Green Left Weekly* in late

       *How were the Communal Councils created and how is the process

            What I have done in the past year is to look for interesting
experiences, to find people who can exchange experiences. In
Cumana, [in north-eastern Venezuela], I discovered that an
organisation had existed for many years before the Communal
Councils came into being. It was organised within a very small
space, smaller than a *barrio* (neighbourhood), 200-400
families. And in some rural zones, you need even less, say 100
families, in an area where everybody knows each other, and you
don't even need transport to get to meetings. It's easy to
meet. It is a space that allows everyone to participate.

           Evidently, the people who thought about this, discovered that
such a small space allows the people who do not normally have
a great ability to express themselves ... to express their
opinions and to make decisions. As Freddy Bernal [mayor of
Libertador municipality in central Caracas] said, [the
Communal Council] is a basic cell of the future society.

            If we are successful in constructing communities that
orientate toward solidarity, the people will be concerned with
the poor people who live in their area. Within [a framework
of] solidarity, they look for a solution for this sector ...

             Chavez was looking at different formulas for popular
organisations. The Bolivarian Circles are more within a broad
political framework. They are organisations aimed at political
power. The Communal Councils include both those who are with
Chavez and those who are not. They are the community: the
Communal Councils must reflect all the colours of a rainbow;
must cover everyone who wants to work for the community,
without political affiliations, without government
associations ...

            Through this project, when one begins to work for the
community, one begins to put solidarity in the forefront, one
begins to be transformed. I think this will replace
"Chavismo". At times, people think that to be involved
politically one has to go out with placards, banners, red
[caps and T-shirts]. The people in this period in which the
world is living think that politics is [limited to a formal
political] practice.

          If you organise in the barrio, the organisation is on a much
smaller scale. You need a person who is flexible, not
sectarian, with the capacity to work with everyone ‚?"
carrying out projects, trying to solve the problems of the people...

            In an article I wrote about the 4 million votes that were cast
in the 2004 referendum to remove Chavez, I said that 3 million
of those did not really vote against the Chavez project. They
only voted against the Chavez project as it was presented by
the opposition. Only about 1 million who voted against Chavez
were completely convinced and knew what they were doing. The
other 3 million were influenced by the opposition media, which
say the Chavez project is a project of  "communism",
authoritarianism, dictatorship ...

        When people become involved in practical work, they can begin
to see that Chavez is an open, direct person, and that the
president's project isn't what they thought it was. In
regard to the election, the problem is that many people are
not fully informed. There are many people who are
anti-Chavista who have been misinformed by the opposition
media in this country. The media do not respect the basic
right of people to be properly informed.

        Middle-class people are more susceptible to the media's
work. The media manipulates the situation by beginning with
small truths, and small failures, which they then exaggerate ...

      *What role does the workers' movement play in relation to
community organising?*

        Logically, we accept that in general the experience of popular
power means that, as it is based on territorial spaces, the
workers do not appear [directly] as active members. I remember
a very interesting discussion in Cuba, when they were planning
popular power through electoral registrations. Inevitably, the
neighbour who proposed a candidate in their area would choose
the person who could solve the most practical problems within
the community. This meant it was difficult, up to now, for the
workers to be directly involved.

       Because of this, in Cuba, it was suggested that there be two
forms of choosing candidates, one territorial and the other at
the workplace -- two ways of deciding ... In Venezuela, up to
now, we don‚?Tt have unity of the workers within the
[revolution]. The union movement is not strong enough at this

       I have said to the trade unions, "Why don't you strengthen
the communal councils, by integrating with them? You, as
workers, should be involved in the community." Up to now,
they have not done this.

       We should think of the communal councils as a central
community of workers, [as well as of neighbours]. To me, it is
very important to consider the micro-economy and the necessity
to bring in economic organisations so that they can be
democratised, in the direction of solidarity and not of
corporatism. There should be a close link between the
organisation of work and the community.

     *Could you describe how the Communal Councils work?*

       There are now 16,000 CCs, established in six months [since the
start of the program this year]. It is a very serious
initiative, in my opinion. The CC process requires many months
to allow people to mature, and to elect true leaders. We began
with a process involving motivators. The committee of
motivators have to go house-to-house to make a census. This is
one of the most basic jobs -- a socioeconomic census. It
requires the committee to visit all the households in the

         It seems that it needs serious and diligent leaders who are
capable of going house-to-house. Because of this, we think it
would not be possible to elect spokespeople for the CC without
going through this process. There should be an assembly first,
and then an election.

         There has to be a team, a promotions commission, who should do
this social and geographic history ‚?" the story of the
community. [To achieve this], it would take at least eight
months. When they have the meeting of the assembly, they will
elect the future spokespeople. Then the process is approved
[legally]. Some of the CCs are working okay, others are not.

           Another very important thing is that the CC has the
opportunity to elect a new leadership ... The leadership must
be elected by a general assembly where anyone can be proposed.
The spokespeople are not the assembly -- they are not the
organisation. The assembly must ratify the proposals --
whether from a committee for housing, or a committee for
health. If someone who becomes the spokesperson does not have
the confidence of the assembly, the CC will not work.

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

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

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

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

        These are methods that allow the community to resolve issues
... We make an assessment and prioritise problems: what the
community can resolve, and what it can't. The "voices"
of the different communities must discuss these problems at a
higher level.

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

         * What are some of the differences between the Cuban experience,
and Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution, with its missions and
 so on?*

            I think this revolution has been carried out through the
peaceful route, but the president has not been disarmed. In
the Chilean case [Salvador Allende's left-wing government in
the early 1970s], it was the peaceful way, but not armed. It
did not have military support. Venezuela is very powerful,
because it is armed, with the backing of the National Armed
Forces. Nevertheless, it has been a process in which the
correlation of forces means that the president could not
impose a project on the country. The Venezuelan process
obliges the government to achieve harmony.

       The project has gained consensus with most of the sectors of
society. Consequently, this obliges the transformation to be
much slower. The state apparatus means that you have 80% or
more of people employed in the government through clientalism,
who are not interested in working. It is a public service, but
it does not function. The majority of public servants are not
public servants; they work against the public ...

           [Venezuela] is a "rentier" country that does not have a
high level of industrial development. The great majority of
workers are in the informal sector. In Cuba, the revolution
undertook [socialist] projects almost immediately. Instead,
here, the series of battles are primarily ideological.

           Thus, the direction of popular power is important, because
they need time for the project to mature. With the peaceful
route, it is much slower than a sharp transformation of the

         *Could you comment on Chavez's project for "socialism of
the 21st century"?*

           The truth is we have many critics. Eduardo Galeano, the
Uruguayan writer, said that when socialism failed in the
Soviet Union, the West said that socialism died and so did
Marxism. Galeano said that the socialism that is dead is not
our socialism, because the socialist project that we are
defending is fundamentally humanist, democratic and based on
solidarity. The socialism that died was a bureaucratic
socialism that the people did not defend, because there was no
real participation.

     I think Chavez knows this. Chavez knows that you can only
create a socialist society of the future if the people, the
most humble, the poorest, the most exploited, participate in
this process. The great merit of Chavez is that he is a leader
who promotes popular organisation -- who is convinced that
the force of this process is in the organisation. Chavez is
always calling for more organisations and inventing new
organisations. At times, too many. It is a creativity that
gives the possibility that everybody can be organised.

From: International News, *Green Left Weekly* issue #693
6 December 2006

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