“Collectives Are Synonymous With Organization, Not Violence”, or Why the International Media Have Never Talked About Participatory Democracy Under Construction for 15 Years
One of the features of the far-right that has recently rebelled against the election results in Venezuela or El Salvador is its “paramilitary culture”. The idea is to destroy everything that moves in terms of participatory democracy, selectively murder communal leaders, install a culture of fear. The private media, hegemonic in these two countries, contribute to this campaign to criminalize social movements. It is on this rearguard action (but also and above all on the construction of the communal state, hidden for fifteen years by the international media) that journalist Clodovaldo Hernandez interviewed the critical sociologist and university teacher Reinaldo Iturizza, appointed Minister of the Commune and Social Movements by Nicolas Maduro.
By Clodovaldo Hernandez/Special Ciudad CCS.
Clodovaldo Hernandez – We have recently witnessed a criminalization of popular organizations. As in 2002, with the case of the Bolivarian Circles, it is now claimed that responsibility for the use of violence is attributed to “collectives” referred to as armed paramilitary groups. In your opinion, is this type of matrix likely to impose itself on public opinion, as happened in 2002?
Reinaldo Iturizza – It’s already done. We can see it through the very demarcated but nevertheless intense demonstrations of hatred that manifest themselves on the territory of some municipalities of the country. They are stakeholders in the political culture specific to a specific sector of the Venezuelan opposition. I still think – I do not know if this indicates some form of ingenuity – that all of this is a minority attitude.I know many people who are not Chavists, but who do not think that way. However, we are dealing with a very hard core of the opposition that turns out to be genuinely and openly fascist.
Q – Does this form of protest reach the ranks of the supporters of the Revolution?
A – In no way has the social basis of chavism been sensitive to this type of discourse. In fact, I am convinced that during the coup against President Chavez in April 2002, the multiple demonstrations of force (the marches) of the opposition, were made possible by the fact that the register of “fear” had been very skilfully instrumentalized by it.
A form of fear swarmed and seized many people, translating as follows: the chavism would have been violent and criminal. The fallout from this psychological work has continued, and we have not been able to completely erase its effects. I believe that we are going to be faced with the same type of scenario that we have a duty to fight until the will for peace emanating from the majority of the people is a lasting necessity.
Q. Does this campaign to demonize collectives affect them, and does it contribute to a climate of usury within the various forms of expression of popular power such as the communal councils and the municipalities that embody it?
A – In no way. Internally, there is the same kind of reaction within the collectives as when fascism is attacking chavism in general: people regroup and group cohesion emerges stronger. The recent actions of anti-prisoners, whose virulence is far superior to what has taken place in the past, have fostered the rise of a decisive effort, rooted in the deepening of the work of collectives within their respective communities.
In some neighbourhoods, collectives play an unprecedented role, which is to focus on sectors as important as political training and various forms of cultural and sporting expression. Moreover, many facets of the policies implemented by the Bolivarian government, such as the Social Missions, find concrete application because of the existence of these collectives.
Q – What is the reality of the relationship between collectives and the use of weapons?
A – It is not possible to link collectives to the use of weapons. I believe that in this respect, President Chavez in the first place, and President Maduro more recently have set themselves a course of action, without the slightest doubt: anyone who takes up arms on the grounds that it would be necessary to defend the Bolivarian Revolution is out of the game and outlawed. Because it is the state and no one else who has the monopoly of force as a democratic obligation. We also have to make an effort to explain this, in order to avoid the risk of focusing the debate on the terms of this alternative. For us, the action of the collectives cannot in any way take place in the field of violence or weapons, but on that of participation, organization and popular mobilization, working together with a revolutionary government, in order to solve the concrete problems facing communities.
Q – Does establishing a link between collectives and violence correspond to a political line that the right would adopt against the organizational capacity of the people?
A – This line is clear and is definitely long-term. In this area, the action of anti-abortion is perfectly coherent. He knows that in order to achieve the political objectives he has set himself, it is necessary to criminalize any form of popular organization. Because the latter is the main obstacle to be felled on the path that must lead to the defeat of the Revolution. Advocates of anti-Chasing know full well that the more clearly the people show their willingness to organize, the less likely they are to rout the Revolution. Many of them expressed a firm intention to embark on a business of demoralizing the revolutionary masses.
Very skilfully, in 2012, Capriles Radonski surrounded by his presidential campaign team placed himself in this perspective, when he addressed the theme of the pistonné (“enchufado”). At no time did this move destabilize senior leaders. It was, however, intended to incriminate the Municipal Councils and its spokesmen. To do so, it relied on the existence of suspicious practices and corruption in minority numbers. They had also been reported by the members of the communal councils themselves. Capriles Radonski’s campaign therefore consisted of demonstrating that these isolated cases were part of practices inherent in all communal councils as such. The manoeuvre, if it had achieved its goal, would have resulted in the destruction of this organizational structure.
The right knows that through the communal councils, it is the people who manifest themselves through their active participation. The people who had never been given before, the ability to occupy the field of active politics; (a) who had never been given the power to administer their own resources before. This is why the Communal Councils represent so many fundamental spaces in which the Bolivarian Revolution is given the opportunity to flourish.
This is also the reason why it is necessary for the right to subject them to the rolling fire of its critics. The key issue is that the people no longer believe in their own potential; that it considers its spokespersons and its ad hoc organisations to be a problem and not as they really are, that is, a constituent part of the solution.
Finally, the right, and especially its fascinate wing, are guided by a cyclical reason that encourages them to criminalize popular collective structures. For it is a question of blaming them for violent actions derived from their own ranks; to have at their disposal a pre-appointed culprit, who gives them the latitude to claim that violence would come from elsewhere.
A PROFOUND CULTURAL UPHEAVAL
Q – In addition to these types of campaigns, grassroots organizations face other challenges. The predominance within the working-class sectors of values inherent in capitalism such as individualism and selfishness are examples to be cited. How do you apprehend these questions, you who were at first the theoretician, and who for some time, perceive them through direct practical experience?
A – I believe that the ability to survive the current political process lies in its ability to constantly reinvent its own forms and spaces for participation and organization. President Chavez was based on a principle: to overcome/amend the logic of representative democracy, and the traditional spaces of participation. However, it is not a question of ignoring parties and trade unions.
Nevertheless, we strive to systematically reinvent the effective practice of policy. I recognize that at one point I was convinced of the need to revise and reinvent the way the Communal Councils operate. However, when I began to live my experience as a minister in practice – especially when we laid the foundations of the Government on the street – I began to understand much better, the idea that President Chavez had of the Communal Councils, when he conceived the need for it. It was at this time, I humbly affirm, that I understood the importance of the strategic place, which the Communal Councils occupy within our Revolution. As a result, I have fairly appreciated what was done within this Department, prior to the accession to the affairs of the team that accompanies me.
There is not a single place in the country that lacks a popular organization. Everywhere, there are people who know where the most important problems lie… In truth, none of us have demonstrated the capacity to relate the history of the impressive and profound transformation that has taken place in the field of political culture. As a general rule, people who serve as spokespersons for these organizations will pay less attention to their individual and family problems. On the other hand, they will focus on issues to be resolved related to the school as a whole.
It is undeniable that there are still cases of individualism here and there. It is sometimes clear that the community is not as involved as it should be in finding solutions to the problems facing it. It absolves itself of any responsibility by turning to its spokespersons, who do not wish to assume the role of permanent representatives… However, they end up taking on this role because of the lack of participation of the majority of the people involved.
We also face problems related to a poor reactivity of institutional structures and the state, when they have to respond to requests from the Communities. However, if the reaction time is too long, the spokespersons who act as intermediaries between them and them are at odds with those who entrust this task to them.
The image of the state also suffers. In any event, this generation of men and women – especially women – who have assumed these heavy responsibilities, which have given substance to collective protagonism, deserve to be paid tribute to them, far beyond the formalities of use.
Sooner or later, it will be up to us to highlight the enormous work that has been done in these new citizenship spaces. At the same time, it is up to us to be very firm when faced with cases that show that the assemblies of citizens have been abused. We are thinking of those who use their office as spokespersons for personal enrichment or for the benefit of individuals or small-scalers. All of this must be sanctioned. These are obstacles that stand in the face of the path that any revolution will follow. However, they can be defeated because they are only isolated cases.
Q – Has the so-called “social contraria” gained ground in parallel with these changes that are reshaping Venezuela’s political culture?
A – When one approaches the theme of the conduct of one’s own affairs by the people, many prejudices arise. It is said that we are giving people the ability to take control of their own affairs, when they are completely unaware of the rules of general administration. We must not forget that the path we are taking has just been cleared. We are also talking about a people who have never been suggested to be involved in the management of their resources. It is obvious that when we are dealing with the first time, the problems are sure to arise. This does not in any way mean that one should adopt the complacent posture of “let go” and “let it go”.
On the other hand, we need to make efforts to service the practices inherent in social contrary. We need to ensure that popular management control is improved. This implies, for example, that the State should do its part, by ensuring that all of these processes are “debureaucratized”. It must also be even more effective, when it comes to supporting communities that are expressing a desire to support their respective communal councils.
THE MEDIA, THE WORK THAT STILL NEEDS TO BE DONE
Q – It is clear that the private media opposes various forms of popular organization. On the other hand, what happens in the public sector and the popular, community or alternative media? Have they made progress in their task of counterbalaing the weight of these destructive systems?
A – I think we’ve moved forward at very slow steps. But the president has insisted on implementing projects such as the television of the commune, VTV Comunas, whose first images we will soon see. On this subject we have thought about it and I can say, in a self-critical way, that we still have much, much to do to move forward in the dissemination of everything that popular power achieves. It’s about telling a lot of stories that are happening right now at the same time, in a lot of places, at the very moment we are speaking. Thousands and thousands of people have something to say. And that we need to hear. We still have a long way to go.
Q – One of the sectors involved in the Revolution, which occupies an important place in the ideological debate, asserts that the organization of the people on the basis of the Communal Councils and the communes cannot lead to socialism, on the grounds that this organisational structure gives birth to a kind of individualism encouraging the circles concerned to take care of their specific interests. How do you feel about that?
A – I absolutely disagree with that analysis. I repeat, for my part, that the fate of the revolution is subordinated to whether or not it will give itself, the ability to invent or reinvent new forms of participation. President Chavez made this clear at a time when the revolutionary process was still in its infancy. He was clearly aware of the need to stimulate the emergence of forms of participation with a reticular logic.
In October 2012, he mentioned the existence of this huge network that spans the entire territory of the Fatherland. This reticular logic differs from traditional forms of participation. I am a strong supporter of the party because it is necessary to carry out specific tasks/duties. However, any revolution must constantly explore the field of organizational structures, not confine itself to the form of a party. I will not, however, say that the Communal Councils turn out to be the ultimate configuration of participation.
It seems to me, however, that at this very historical moment, the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution rests on them. If the municipal councils did not exist, the Bolivarian Revolution would not be supported as it is. If all this were to improve in the future, we could only welcome it. That remains to be seen. In any event, the decision will not be the responsibility of any person who formulates a political analysis. This responsibility falls to the Venezuelan people, who elected the current political leaders. I believe that the conditions are in place to rely with confidence on the people and the political leadership of the Revolution.
In recent months, President Maduro has demonstrated that he is indeed the legitimate and constitutional president, but also a political leader of the revolution, which is gradually proving to be. It is sometimes difficult to think of another leader after a personality as striking as that of Chavez. However, I believe that Maduro succeeds in achieving his own goals. This is a reflection that Bolivarians from the ranks of the old left should be considering. If they showed a little more confidence in people, perhaps they would achieve what Chavez achieved from 1998.
A DEFINITION WITH A SOUL. BUT ALSO FLESH AND BONE.
What is a Commune? This is the question posed by the sociologist Reinaldo Iturriza when he became Minister of Popular Power for the Commons and Social Movements. There is no need to resort to a purely academic definition. “This definition must arise from an overall consideration, endowed with a soul, but also of flesh and bone. From the outset, we have had this conviction: this explanation, it is women and men, as constituent parts of the Commons, who must provide it. Without it, no one will understand the deep meaning,” he says.
He also looked at another type of questioning: What makes people want to form a commune? The various conversations he has started with the social actors involved encourage him to be very optimistic. Of course, a lot of people have mobilized. And this, thanks to the ability to wake up, to stimulate politically that Chavez has manifested. It is possible, however, to discern the existence of other reasons for this mobilization, different from those that fall within the decisive/strategic role of the leader. “There are many reasons that inspire people to do their part, and that will ultimately make a difference. These are the ones we need to spread,” he said.
Iturriza, who became part of a cabinet after gaining a great reputation as a very sharp political analyst, has benefited from a rare opportunity: to travel the country and, therefore, to get close to what is called the “people’s power”. While for others, it’s all pure abstraction. “I believe that it is essential to make every effort to create the conditions for an emergence: that of the people’s self-government, so that the real actor of this process is the people as an organized force.”
THEORY AND PRAXIS
His total commitment to the revolution, combined with a constant critical spirit, was what caught President Chavez’s attention. One of these articles published after the 2010 parliamentary elections was noticed by the Bolivarian leader, who praised it during one of his public speeches. Therefore, like all that will be touched by the “magic wand” of Chavez, Iturriza will no longer be able to escape notoriety, although he is one of those men who prefer discretion. Of course, this express recommendation of the President ended up influencing his appointment as head of the Commons and the Social Movements.
With this vision of things both committed and critical, and endowed with practical experience resulting from a daily investment, he immerses himself totally in the waters of popular power. Thus, he can draw a draft of an analysis of theory and praxis: “It is absolutely common that within revolutions, forces arise that rely on the bureaucratization of processes, and that others defy the people, even if all this seems contradictory. I believe that is why President Chavez made a personal and forceful commitment to ensure that ministries would be given the name “People’s Power.” Some people don’t settle for this term for very valid reasons, but it’s the bureaucrats who hate it the most.”
Spanish translation: Jean-Marc del Percio