Christian Stalberg travelled to Venezuela with CODEPINK and Task Force on the Americas on a Delegation in August 2023 to learn about the Venezuelan socialist communes’ movement. As part of the delegation, Christian worked and lived with the communards, experiencing their warmth, hospitality, and dedication to building a better society. Learn about their inspiring work and help end the sanctions against Venezuela by contacting your congressperson today.
Venezuela’s socialist communes’ movement
By: Christian Stalberg
Originally published in Peace Press
In August this year I along with 14 other comrades visited Venezuela to experience the commune movement there. Before going I did not know that there was a government sponsored enterprise there that fostered local self-determination. Today there are 45,000 communal councils and over 3,000 communes in Venezuela. As I am keenly interested in local direct democracy, I jumped at the chance to go to Venezuela to learn more. As there are no diplomatic relations between the United States and Venezuela, we had to arrange for our visas at embassies outside of the US. Furthermore, there are no direct flights between Venezuela and the US, so we all had to fly to another country first and then book separate flights to Caracas.
Venezuela is complex politically. While elements of socialism exist through changes having been instituted in the central government since Hugo Chavez’s ascendancy to the presidency, Venezuela remains overwhelmingly capitalist. The concentration of wealth with an oligarchy in place trying to restore their feudal privileges of old continues ad nauseum. While there has been some land distribution since the revolution, 88.5% of Venezuela’s population is urban. Venezuela is one of the most urbanized countries in the world. The reason for this is beyond the scope of this article. By percentage, domestic food production is among the lowest of any country in Latin America with almost total dependency upon food imports. This fact against the backdrop of US economic sanctions has created a standard of living nightmare for the average Venezuelan. Venezuela’s GDP plummeted from $56B in 2014 to $700M in 2020. It is a well-known fact that government-imposed sanctions only hurt the people of the targeted country, never achieving the stated objective of regime change. In the case of Venezuela, as I see it there are two basic reasons the country has been targeted for sanctions by the US government. The first is that Venezuela has one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world and the US-based oil industry would like to topple the current government so they can seize these currently state-owned oil reserves. The second reason is the level of political literacy amongst the poor enabling them to understand and passionately defend their revolution against the outside forces of imperialism (foreign interference) and neoliberal capitalism. Chavismo as an ongoing liberatory and defensive positioning against these forces appears to be quite successful. This in spite of the economic hardships experienced because of the sanctions. Whatever the ruling party is doing to foster and maintain a high level of political engagement and literacy to defend the revolution appears to be working. Economic conditions are slowly improving thanks to new and/or strengthened agreements between Venezuela and other countries including China, Iran and Russia.
The formal commune movement in Venezuela dates from 2006 when federal laws institutionalizing communes were adopted. This led to the creation of the Ministry of Communal Economy in 2007, which then in 2009 was combined with the Ministry of Participation and Social Protection and renamed as the Ministry of Communes and Social Protection (I’ve learned that you can learn a lot about the intention of a government by the names it chooses for its ministries and departments). Communes form when one or more communal councils agree to join forces and begin a collective economic enterprise providing income and jobs for the communards. Communal councils were actually taking shape as long ago as the 1980s when barrio residents began meeting informally to debate how to bring about local and national change. These barrio assemblies began to network and with the help of some former state employees formed the National Network of Comuneros and Comuneras which provides technical and other assistance to what is now a confederation of communes, now called Union Comunera.
There are both urban and rural communes in Venezuela, ranging in size from just a few households in a neighborhood, to thousands of members spanning a territorial sector. Our brigade visited a half dozen communes and we were not just mere tourists. We stayed, ate and worked alongside the communards, including having frank, open discussions with them about life in our respective home countries. Of course, the subject of how US sanctions were impacting them was always in the mix of conversation. I found the Venezuelan communards to be incredibly warm, caring, and welcoming. This despite our own government’s evil conduct towards them and their popular, democratically elected government.
While we visited a half dozen communes, I will describe one urban and one rural. The first commune we visited after arriving in Caracas is El Panal. Occupying a hilltop overlooking the city, El Panal has 1,200 families and over 3,000 inhabitants. The commune includes at least one large several story high rise apartment building. They also have a school; grow some of their own food including corn, fish and pork; a bakery; and small-scale crafts production. While we visited, they were building a laundromat and a credit union. We joined in the work on these projects cleaning and painting. Our brigade presented them with soccer balls and other useful items.
A rural commune we visited in the eastern part of Venezuela in Cumanacoa township was called Las Cinco Fortalezas de la Revolución Bolivariana. Comprised of 5 communal councils, 450 families with 1,249 individuals on 780 hectares of land, 63 of which is planted in sugar cane. The commune has a service program of growing and distributing food amongst the poorest in their locale. Our brigade had brought with us heirloom vegetable seeds for a number of crops to present to them towards their developing vegetable seed self-sufficiency. There had been a recent storm that had damaged a ceremonial space, so we joined with them in its reconstruction. We toured the sugar cane and vegetable fields, including seeing their recently acquired 100+ year old sugar cane press in action.
There is a great deal more that can be said about the trip. This article barely scratches the surface. I will end by requesting that you contact your congressperson and tell them to end the sanctions against Venezuela.
Venezuela 2023 delegation: Read CODEPINK's Recap
Christian Stalberg is a PhD student in Anthropology & Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies.