Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adam Gill interviews Michael Albert, "Venezuelan direct democracy – The case of the Consejos Comunales," ZNet, November 19, 2008.

[Readers familiar with Albert's participatory economy will easily recognize the community councils. The biggest risk at the moment is that we will fail to grasp the opportunity presented by the economic collapse. -jlt]

  Venezuela seems to me to be uniquely seeking a gigantic revolution in structures and relations - not just economically but also politically, socially, culturally - all non violently and even without much confrontation, none provoked by the agents of change.

In 2004, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez created a movement named the consejos comunales (communal councils) aimed at creating more responsive local governance by handing local budgetary and legislative power to the councils. This movement was seen by Chavez as one of the most important of the five motors of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution' in that they should influence policy from the grassroots upwards. Great interest in the councils was evident between 2004 and 2007 in that thousands formed quickly and $5 Billion was given to them during this period. Communal banks are a pre-requisite to receiving funds from the government so as to avoid clientalistic relationships of dependency.

Local councils have the power to vote on issues directly affecting their community and have used this to make significant changes. Major improvements have included building social housing and repairing roads. The local councils are formed with 200-400 families with members aged 15 and above and have an executive council and representatives of groups within the community.

I asked Michael Albert if he might be able to offer his opinion on this movement in Venezuela.

What do you feel the role of the Communal Councils is strategically and politically?

Well, I believe they are partly intended, in the present, to push forward the whole revolutionary process by increasing current participation, raising consciousness, etc.

But I also believe that for a great many folks in Venezuela, both inside and outside the government, the councils are the evolving infrastructure of a new polity. The idea is that people should govern their own lives, and in that context local councils are the proposed vehicle for doing it. As such, they are intended to become an alternative to rather than just being an adjunct to local governments of mayors and governors and the like.

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