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‘Where Danger Lies…’: The Communal Alternative In Venezuela

Above Photo: Illustration for “Noticias de ninguna parte: las comunas en Venezuelas.” Ulises Mendicutty/lapublica.net.

Chris Gilbert explores the ecological aspects of Venezuela’s project of communal socialism.

A radical and comprehensive solution to capitalism’s destructive alienated social metabolism.

In 2009, the same year that he launched the communal project in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez attended the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen. He spoke brilliantly there, joking that if the climate were a bank, it would have been rescued already. Riffing on Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Chávez argued that there was a “specter” haunting the conference and it was “capitalism.” He also mentioned that one of the best slogans he had heard in the street protests taking place around the event was “Don’t change the climate, change the system!” In his talk, which was well received by activists around the world, Chávez never mentioned the new project of building socialism with the commune as “its basic cell” that he had kickstarted that summer, but the fact is that the project of communal socialism that was emerging in Venezuela at that time is precisely the kind of system change that could save the climate and the Earth System more generally.1 Following this line of thought, this essay looks at some of the ecological aspects of Venezuela’s project of communal socialism, as well as its relation to the country’s inherited extractive economy.

To frame the ecological promise of Venezuela’s communal project, it is useful to consider some of its main features, and contrast them with the capital system. The communes in the country are quite varied, in part because, as expressions of grassroots political and economic democracy, they have developed along diverse lines according to their geographic and social contexts. However, one consistent and decisive feature of all Venezuela’s communes—part of both the legal framework and the on-the-ground reality—is that they involve returning control of production to direct producers, whose conscious organization of productive processes substitutes for the capital system’s rule of abstract value relations that alienate laborers both from their own activities, and from their material and social environment. From an ecological perspective, this transformation is key, for in communal contexts centered on de-alienated labor, production methods and goals can be rationally sorted out in ways that are harmonious with natural processes, cycles, and limits, in contrast to capitalism’s inexorable logic of accumulation. Quite often, communal production in Venezuela can be made more sustainable by being guided by the nonproductivist cosmovisions of the region’s Indigenous societies.

A second important feature of Venezuelan communes has to do with how the consciously organized sociality developed in them is not just something involving the communards as producers, in the narrow sense of that term. That is because the country’s communes generate situations where, free from the law of value and the wage-labor regime, capitalism’s hierarchical distinction between value-generating “productive” activities and the full range of reproductive labor can be abolished. This not only points in the direction of a nonpatriarchal, more equitable social metabolism, but it is also a step toward greater sustainability, since communal contexts in which economic value is no longer the goal are spaces where renewed importance can be given to care-oriented reproductive activities that are in themselves highly valuable, but are more labor- than material-intensive, and hence have smaller environmental footprints.

A third relevant feature of the communes is how they work to reconnect production and consumption. The fracture between production and consumption that capitalism opened up has been key to its unprecedented productivity and expansiveness. This occurred because capitalism automatized huge swathes of productive activity, separating them from the limited communities to which they were bound, tying them instead to a perpetuum mobile of ever-expanding value. The jump in productivity, based on this separation from the needs that self-determined consumers would pursue, was once a source of marvel and awe, but it is now putting the planetary bases of human life in danger through its senseless profit-driven production of exchange values. As against this problematic logic of separation, the country’s communes bring together people—people who are both producers (whether of human life or material goods) and consumers—in situations where they can jointly ask and answer such questions as: What activities do we value? What kinds of products and services do we really need? How much of them? And with what impacts on our lives and on the environment? The rational and democratic resolution of these questions by communities of producer-consumers is precluded by the unthinking, antidemocratic rule of capital.

Communities In Command

The main earmarks of this incipient system can be seen operating in Venezuelan communes such as El Panal Commune in Caracas, which produces fish and pork for its community, or El Maizal Commune in Lara state, which does likewise with corn and cattle production. The new social relations in such contexts mean that the communards’ labor processes and life activities more generally are under community self-government, with the former being controlled and guided from the outset, neither dominated by capitalist owners nor regulated post festum by market feedback. This alternative kind of control and regulation happens in the communes because people meet there to decide democratically what to produce and how, according to criteria they established themselves. There are various frameworks for establishing this kind of grassroots control. On the one hand, monthly assemblies are held of all communal parliamentarians, who are elected in pairs from the community councils—which usually number between ten to twenty—that make up a given commune. Here is where the broadest, most general decisions in the commune are made. On the other hand, there are smaller meetings of specific committees such as Finance, Economy, and Alimentation, which meet with greater frequency.

The result of this grassroots democratic institutionality is a profound, substantial change in how production is undertaken and borne in such communities. If the communal laws indicate that a commune’s main means of production should be “social property,” this kind of social ownership is worlds apart from the Soviet state-run variety, whose “social character” turned out to be something so abstract that it was alienated from workers and often resulted in irrational production and waste.2 By contrast, social property in Venezuela’s communal contexts is concrete in the sense that it is the communards who directly control the productive means, deciding how to use them, what to do with the product, and what to do with the surpluses. Moreover, instead of imposed top-down planning being used to coordinate production and consumption, this coordination now occurs from below, because the consumers are participating community members who are either the same as or connected to those producing. Likewise, inputs and advice from a wider community and other communes can enter into the planning and organization of production.

Overcoming capital’s double fracture between production and reproduction and production and consumption in this kind of holistic social context, and thereby liberating “productive” labor from the treadmill of ever-expanding value generation, has impressive consequences in Venezuela’s communes, even if it is part of an ongoing process that is still taking its first steps and is still conditioned in some measure by the surrounding capitalist economy. In the dozens of working communes in the country, the process has already shown its capacity to open up fertile ground to all-round human development, centered on the free exchange of life-sustaining activities and more creative and enjoyable work, rather than senseless growth. In the communes that I have visited, one senses the dignity and power they give to ordinary people whose lives are now in great measure the ends of their own productive activity, not the means to an alien one. The new kind of grassroots socially controlled production in Venezuela’s communes can be expressed with a Maoist slogan: “Politics”if that means the rational aims of human beings who are equally valued, and not profit and growth“is in command.”3

The Imperialist Elephant

Despite the promising model of social emancipation and sustainability offered by this new mode of organization, socialist communes currently represent only a fraction of the Venezuelan economy. A far larger part—and the elephant in the room for any discussion of the country’s relation to an ecological transition—is petroleum extraction. Oil has been central to Venezuela’s economy for more than a century, and it has represented the country’s main export since 1926.4 However, any approach to the extractive question that ignores the role of imperialist capitalism in driving and determining the use of oil and other resources is not only analytically bad, but also falls short as a guide to action. As Andreas Malm points out, the global fossil fuel economy, however much it now touches upon almost the whole productive apparatus and incorporates a wide range of people and their lifestyles downstream, must be understood as one in which some people organize the extraction of fossil fuels for some (usually the same) people’s benefit.5 That is to say, fossil fuel use is not the result of some mysterious subterranean agency, nor should it be seen as an equally shared “resource curse.”6 In fact, oil-dependent economies have largely been imposed on both the Venezuelan people and the majority of people worldwide by the elite social class that rules the global system.

This is why Venezuelan struggles and mass mobilizations to establish national and popular control of the oil industry, carried out during the first years of the Bolivarian process, were not only important efforts in terms of social justice, but also because they laid the ground for a possible environmental rectification. Because oil extraction is an imperialist, class-driven project, a subaltern group who fights against the power of the oil monopolies and their allied states is taking an important step in an ecological sense, by helping to break transnational, concentrated rule. A group that fights against such power blocs is surely doing more to preserve the natural environment than the Global North’s well-heeled buyers of electric cars and other costly green products, who reinforce monopolistic imperialist rule through their virtue-signaling purchases. This is true even when, in a paradox that is not difficult to understand, the latter usually have “clean hands,” while the subaltern groups, such as the guerrillas of the Niger Delta, might have their hands “dirtied” by ungreen practices such as oil bunkering and piracy. The same could be said of a mass movement in a dependent country like Venezuela, which dirtied its hands by moving to control fossil fuel extraction in a sovereign way. The blow to imperialism that the Bolivarian process has carried out, by partially breaking with the transnational domination of fossil fuel production, is a potentially powerful (if insufficient) move toward addressing the environmental crisis and abolishing fossil fuel use, in as much as it strikes against the imperialist-capitalist system that relies on and drives the use of such fuels.7

Venezuela’s situation, as an oil-producing country whose socialist goal necessarily implies a rational and sustainable approach to production and life that is incompatible with fossil fuel use, is rife with pitfalls and ironies, even if many of these ironies are simply a distilled reflection of those of the socialist transition anywhere in the world. All transitions to new forms of social organization are essentially bootstrapping operations; they are processes of building the new, based on the old. For this reason, István Mészáros, who was a key influence on the Venezuelan revolution, compared the socialist transition to the complex process of rebuilding a house from within, relying on the example of the Goethe family house in Frankfurt.8 In the context of Venezuelan communes, people are fully aware of and have developed a discourse for addressing these contradictions. They typically call the economic mainstay of a commune, whether maize cultivating, cattle raising, or sugarcane growing, the commune’s “PDVSA,” and they want the surplus from these projects to finance the diversification of production. Since the acronym PDVSA refers to the national oil company (Petroleos de Venezuela), this figure of speech reflects popular consciousness of the need to transform the country’s production and connect it with real, locally determined needs. In the context of Venezuelan state politics, this kind of process has long been referred to as sembrando petroleo (sowing petroleum), according to a turn of phrase invented by twentieth-century intellectual Arturo Uslar Pietri.

In one commune that I have researched, the Cinco Fortalezas Commune in Cumanacoa, the women who run the project want to use the economic surpluses derived from the sugarcane growing that is done in their zone to foster fish farming and peanut cultivation.9 The colonialists here imposed sugar monoculture through plantation systems that went hand in hand with racialized forms of labor domination, just as imperialism inserted petroleum extraction into antinational and antidemocratic enclaves of wage labor. Dominating people inside the country through exploitative and coercive social relations, both kinds of imposed economic activity were also externally oriented, away from the endogenous self-determined needs of the people. Dependent linkages to the outside guaranteed that such projects were essentially geared toward generating the cheap food and fuel needed for the economies of the imperialist countries. By contrast, as the communards in Cinco Fortalezas attempt to break out of these imposed forms of production, and thereby transform the inherited productive apparatus, they are also building the social and communitarian relations—which are essentially grassroots and democratic ones—that could sustain and support kinds of production that reflect the use values actually needed by the local population.

Abundance In A Blockaded Country

In Cinco Fortalezas and other Venezuelan communes, communitarian relations are used to promote qualitatively relevant forms of production, but can also be key in guaranteeing sufficient quantities in an environmentally sustainable modality. That is because the communal model allows us to confront the logic of atomization that reaches deeply into our societies, leading us to undervalue what is shared, public, or common—whether software, schools, or libraries—and making us believe that only a greater quantity of goods can guarantee that there is enough for everybody. In the opening sentence of Capital, Marx describes how the wealth in a capitalist society manifests as “an immense collection of commodities.”10 If we pursue capital’s logic of social atomization, it would seem that in our time, despite environmental risks, no such collection of commodities could be big enough! Yet, contrary to what we have been told, having people come together in popular organizations and around common property is actually the key to solving most economic and environmental problems, including that of guaranteeing sustainable material abundance. In Venezuela, the need to overcome scarcity in an out-of-the-box, noncapitalist, non-growth-based way has played out in existential terms in recent years.

The necessity of overcoming scarcity through communal, rather than growth-based solutions, was initially imposed on Venezuelans through the severe shortages created by the cruel U.S. blockade. The blockade posed an urgent, life-or-death question to people all around the country: How could more be done with less when economic growth was simply out of the question because of the sanctions and accompanying crisis? This could only be done by rediscovering another, alternative conception of abundance—that is, only by changing the rules of the game by which people were then living. The truth is that, contrary to popular belief, capitalism actually generates scarcity for the vast majority, through its logic of privatization and expropriation.11 Capitalism needs the majority of people to be dispossessed of the means to integrally reproduce their lives, and it has consistently done so by expropriating communities of their commonly held goods. That means that the path to recovering a democratic and sustainable form of abundance is nothing other than reversing capitalism’s foundational logic of “original expropriation” (or “so-called primitive accumulation”), which was and is largely a matter of expropriating the commons.12

An aggressive reversal of capital’s logic of private expropriation is exactly what people did in Venezuela during the middle of the 2010s, when the sanctions began. This is also when the most energetic wave of commune-building and expansion took place. It is true that the template for making communes had been developed some years back, when Chávez announced on national television that communes were “the spaces where socialism would be born.”13 However, despite Chávez’s wishes for an immediate start to the project, the communal proposal really only took flight during precisely the worst of the crisis, which unfolded in the middle part of the next decade, well after he had died. This was the worst of times in most respects—the average adult lost twenty-two pounds, medicines were in short supply, and many people were forced to emigrate—but it was one of the best of times for communal organizing. Now, Chávez’s slogan, “Commune or Nothing!” acquired a very literal meaning, since the majority of us in the country faced the question of making things common or having nothing.

The spur of necessity combined with the conscious search for new forms of abundance based on solidarity and sharing led to socialist communes popping up or expanding all around the country. This was the time when the communards at El Maizal Commune in Lara state began to seize and put under a regime of common property the idle and underproductive land in their territory. It was the time when the Che Guevara Commune in the Andean foothills region of Sur del Lago brought people together around a coffee growing cooperative that had been hibernating for almost a decade, and used the revenues from coffee processing to help people satisfy social reproduction needs, sometimes even without the mediation of money. It was the time when the collective memory of Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous maroon communities called cumbes and their practices of communal life were reactivated in a pair of communes in Yarucuy state called Hugo Chávez and Alí Primera. Likewise, the El Panal Commune in Caracas, declared itself to be in “Year Zero” in response to the crisis and began to organize people in an urban context around mutual aid practices and communally controlled means of production.14

Plan Pueblo A Pueblo

Marx’s original examples of what in Marxian ecology is now widely known as the “metabolic rift” focused on how capital’s social metabolism introduces a divide between city and country that disrupts the natural metabolism of the nutrient cycle, since city dwellers’ waste no longer serves as fertilizer in rural areas where crops are produced.15 However, beyond the nutrient cycle, capitalism’s city-country antithesis overlaps with a general rupture that its alienated social metabolism introduces between consumers and producers, generating a whole range of undesirable impacts on both human bodies and nonhuman nature. We have seen how in Venezuela, individual communes have worked to overcome this rupture by developing a self-managed, and therefore nonalienated, social metabolism, that allows production to be oriented toward the community’s real needs—needs that can be downscaled by practices of “commoning.” Nevertheless, beyond the sphere of the individual commune, there are also efforts in Venezuela to overcome this kind of fracture that operate on a larger geographical scale, attempting to transcend the urban-rural disconnect by establishing noncapitalist relations between rural producers and city consumers.

Most often, this kind of effort has been conceived as the project of building “rutas” of distribution among communes and communities. There have been numerous attempts to do so, including far-reaching plans made by the Unión Comunera, which was founded last year as a self-organized “coordinating instrument” for the country’s diverse communes. However, the most ambitious and consolidated project of this nature is Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, which works independently of the Unión Comunera. Founded in 2015, Plan Pueblo a Pueblo has as its central objective organizing and connecting rural producers to urban consumers without the mediation of capitalist merchants. To do so, Pueblo a Pueblo operates with what it calls a “ladder of double participation” methodology, as a way of coordinating both sides of the production-consumption equation that capitalism has broken. That is, the project tries to educate and organize urban consumers—mostly aiding them in processes of self-organization—and it works to organize small rural producers, helping them with planning and distribution. The graphic representation of the project’s methodology (Chart 1) shows how, instead of production and consumption functioning as two relatively autonomous spheres that only come together post festum through the market, they can be coordinated from the beginning in a grassroots manner. This is done through synchronized processes involving analysis, assemblies, and planning, which the diagram represents as parallel rungs of a two-part rising scale.16

Chart 1. Plan Pueblo a Pueblo Methodology (Source: Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, “Metodología: Escalera de Doble Participación.”)

The project of Plan Pueblo a Pueblo has a clear anticapitalist dimension inasmuch as, in Venezuela’s socioeconomic formation—which is characteristic of the Global South—it is the intermediaries who typically subordinate the exchanges between its small rural producers and its urban consumers to a capitalist dynamic. That is to say, most of the small rural producers that the organization works with have a horizon of operation that is based simply on reproducing family and community life. (In fact, the activity on their family farms has many points of comparison with domestic labor because it is a round-the-clock affair in which production times are much longer than labor processes, while it also involves constant vigilance and an attentive relationship to a highly complex and varied natural medium.17) Conversely, the city consumers that the project works with from poor urban barrios are, in the first instance, engaged in noncapitalist reproductive labor.

If connecting the two poles is a clear rupture with capitalism, then the project’s ecological dimension manifests in how the grassroots coordination of production and consumption that it facilitates helps to rationalize consumption by bringing it more in line with what can be grown efficiently at a given time and season, in concert with natural cycles and rhythms, and with the least use of chemical inputs and corporate-controlled seeds. Furthermore, the coordinated relations established by Pueblo a Pueblo give a leg up to peasant producers who risk being displaced by agro-industry, while they also shorten transportation distances, thereby decreasing fossil fuel use. On the production side, Pueblo a Pueblo likewise encourages explicitly agroecological techniques, such as polyculture, the use of organic fertilizers, and alternative pest control techniques, while it works to strengthen endogenous practices of mutual aid such as the convite and mano vuelta.18

One fascinating example of what the communication between producers and consumers can yield is observable in the San Agustín del Sur barrio of Caracas, where Pueblo a Pueblo has collaborated with a local collective called San Agustín Convive to organize food distribution from small producers in Trujillo state. The barrio’s population is largely of African descent, and people in the local collective have been attempting to recover Afro-Venezuelan culinary traditions.19 Thanks to the connections facilitated by Pueblo a Pueblo, they have been able to communicate their food requirements to the rural producers. Since Afro-Venezuelan culinary traditions reflect needs in terms of crops that are well-suited to the country’s land types and its climate, this in turn allows for a more sustainable kind of production. The Pueblo a Pueblo initiative also appreciates the need to combat hegemonic cultural codes by making visible real-life producers and consumers. Peasant producers have long been undervalued in the country through racist and classist stereotypes, despite their efficient, more sustainable forms of production and their centrality in the real economy.20 Working in the opposite direction, Pueblo a Pueblo’s photographic, video, and textual registers serve to give names and faces to the underrecognized campesinos who have long provided the country with most of the food it needs, finding ways to do so not only in times of abundance but also in crisis. In the urban areas, the project has empowered racialized women in the poor barrios, and it has worked to make visible the challenges and ingenuity of their social reproductive labor. Overall, Plan Pueblo a Pueblo provides a platform and organizational process that gives protagonism and power to what it calls the “invisible nation,” made up of Indigenous, Black, and peasant communities, which actually sustains the country in terms of its food needs, as part of its comprehensive project of establishing “a new relation between country and city.”

De Facto Environmentalists In The Center Of A Storm

The fact that ecological initiatives such as Plan Pueblo a Pueblo or the Venezuelan communes more generally, like much of the environmentalism of the poor, have been largely shaped by objective circumstances and pressing needs does not make these projects any less ecological, but more so. When people are driven by material circumstances to transform their reality, this can make their steps more solid and less reversible, especially if they are accompanied by conscious reflection and revolutionary strategy, as has been the case in Venezuela where these grassroots processes occur in an overall context of transformative politics. The geopolitical situation of Venezuela, as a resource-rich country close to the center of imperialism, has long put it in the frontlines of conflicts between imperialism and countries fighting for multipolarity, and between imperialist practices of resource depredation and efforts to defend and diversify national economies. Hence, it is hardly surprising that at the flashpoint of this conflict and in the midst of these intense pressures—which are simultaneously cultural, economic, and political—one of the most fascinating and viable alternatives would also develop in the shape of Venezuela’s current project of communal socialism. As romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin once wrote: “Where danger lies, there also grows the saving power.”

This struggle is not only political and social in the customary senses of those words, but also has salient, irreducible material dimensions. Venezuela’s mammoth oil reserves, the largest in the world, may have first put it in the sights of imperialism, but oil is not simply one capitalist commodity among others. To paraphrase what Marx said about gold and money, one could say that oil is not by nature capitalist, but capitalism is by its very nature oriented toward the material substance that is oil.21 Oil and other fossil fuels are the preferred energy resources for the capitalist project because their use is not bound by weather conditions (like water, wind, or sun), hence they are suited to capitalism’s nonstop temporality and tendency toward acceleration. Additionally, fossil fuels are eminently storable (having been stored in the earth for millions of years) and easily transportable, corresponding to the de-territorialized nature of capital. The historically attested consequence of this is the material-social constellation that is fossil capitalism: the unhappy, if lasting marriage between industrial capitalism and an overdetermined material base. In fact, the relationship has become so solid and engrained that the end of capitalism sometimes seems easier to conceive now than the much-needed end of fossil fuel use.22

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that a people who has suffered the effects of the fossil capital system so closely are the ones best prepared to combat and overcome it. The Indigenous people who lived in sustainable self-governed communities in western Venezuela called oil “mene,” and used it sparingly as medicine, as well as to strengthen baskets and make impermeable sails for their boats.23 When the oil companies began to operate in the country, they developed publicity campaigns that promised a new world of abundance and happiness to the Venezuelan people. However, decades of intense monopolistic oil extraction brought little benefit to the majority who even in the 1990s, after sixty years of rampant extractivism, still lived in dire poverty, while their work and resources literally fueled the United States’ military-industrial complex and its costly, comfortable suburban lifestyles.24 Just as important as the economic failure that petroleum spelled for the majority of Venezuelans was the political one, and both were educative. That is, hand-in-hand with oil extraction, there emerged political forms of concentrated, deterritorialized, and overly centralized state power in the country—dictatorships and highly unpopular regimes of representative democracy—that helped Venezuelans understand the importance of grassroots control mechanisms and dispelled their illusions about excessively state-led forms of socialist emancipation.

The upshot of this collective experience was to impel an urgent, long-lasting search for mechanisms of grassroots democracy, and make participative and popular control of both government and resources central to the program of the Venezuelan revolution. In an almost forgotten but telling episode in the development of Venezuelan revolutionary theory, the professor and former guerrillero Kléber Ramírez, who was an ally of Chávez and helped forge his initial programs, began in the 1990s to call for a new kind of governance through widespread community participation and the forming of a “communard state.”25 In this way, Ramírez anticipated by many years the tortuous process by which the Bolivarian revolution would later understand the need to translate its ideals of participative and protagonistic democracy into the communal socialist project that emerged in 2009. This was an early glimmer of how the Bolivarian Process, as part of a longstanding class and decolonial project forged in the confrontation with state formations marked by the fossil fuel system, would come to develop an integral alternative that could represent the overcoming of that system. Importantly, this took shape not as a mere attack on the symptoms, broadly described with the term “extractivism,” but as a more profound attack that involved positing a viable nonproductivist and sustainable alternative to the social relations underpinning the whole capital system that inevitably relies on uncontrollable resource extraction and a generalized robbery of nature. That alternative is essentially the commune.

Notes

  1.  Hugo Chávez, “Venezuelan President’s Speech on Climate Change in Copenhagen,” Venezuela Analysis, December 16, 2009, www.venezuelanalysis.com.
  2.  Ley Orgánica del Sistema Económico Comunal, Articulo 2, Gaceta Oficial de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, December 21, 2010.
  3.  In this article, the focus is on the Venezuelan communal movement’s attempts to construct a new social metabolism from below. The movement’s complex relation to state power, including its aim of abolishing alienated state institutions altogether, is addressed in my upcoming book, Commune or Nothing!: Venezuela’s Communal Movement and Its Socialist Project (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2023).
  4.  Aníbal R. Martínez, Cronología del Petróleo Venezolano (Caracas: Foninves, 1976), 77.
  5.  Andreas Malm, The Progress of This Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World (London: Verso, 2018), 98–102. See also Malm’s critique of Bruno Latour in chapter 4.
  6.  The representation of oil as a resource curse is widespread. For example, Venezuelan oil minister and OPEC founder Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso famously referred to oil as the “devil’s excrement,” while economists frequently refer to the distortions introduced into an economy by oil or gas as the “Dutch disease.” The resource curse ideology, which obscures class struggle, typically relies on a form of crude material determinism or a questionable ontological framework that assigns agency to inanimate matter.
  7.  The claim that national and popular control of oil resources is an important step to transitioning away from fossil fuel production, follows from the fact that control by transnational corporations that are allied with imperialist states will always make such a transition impossible, since the ruling class in the imperialist countries has everything to gain and little to lose from continuing the fossil fuel system. By contrast, more dispersed and democratic control of oil resources could lay the groundwork for a global accord to abandon fossil fuel use entirely in a way that makes provisions for current global inequalities. For that to happen, it is important that the control be not merely national but also popular, which means it must include the communities most affected by “externalities.” The efforts to establish truly popular control over the oil industry are far from fully realized in Venezuela. State control has wavered over the past twenty years between popular control and mere positioning of PDVSA as another global oil company. A high point for popular control in Venezuela occurred in the wake of the oil sabotage in 2002–03, when the industry was actually recovered through worker control, giving the lie to the claim that it could only be run by an elite “meritocracy.”
  8.  István Mészáros, Beyond Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995), 493.
  9.  Cira Pascual Marquina and Chris Gilbert, “Rebellious Sugarcane Growers: Voices from Cinco Fortalezas Commune,” Venezuela Analysis, April 29, 2022.
  10.  Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 125.
  11.  Kohei Saito, El Capital en la era del Antropoceno (Barcelona: Ediciones B/Sine qua non, 2022), chapter 6.
  12.  Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 20 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 129; John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, The Robbery of Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020), 35–63; John Bellamy Foster, “Extractivism in the Anthropocene,” Science for the People 25, no. 2 (Autumn 2022).
  13.  Chávez explained the communal project in 2009 in the television program Aló Presidente Teórico No. 1. The following year, in 2010, a group of five laws called the “Popular Power Laws” were developed, establishing a legal framework for the communes.
  14.  See Chris Gilbert, “Red Current, Pink Tide: A Visit to El Maizal Commune in Venezuela,” Monthly Review 73, no. 7 (December 2021): 29–38; Chris Gilbert, “A Commune Called ‘Che’: A Socialist Holdout in the Venezuelan Andes,” Monthly Review 73, no. 10 (March 2022): 28–38; Cira Pascual Marquina and Chris Gilbert, “The ‘Old-Yet-New’: Past and Present Intermingle at the Hugo Chávez and Alí Primera Communes,” Venezuela Analysis, January 15, 2023.
  15.  Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 637; Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 949.
  16.  More information on Plan Pueblo a Pueblo is available at the organization’s website, planpuebloapueblo.com. Among its far-reaching projects, not addressed in this article, are its coordination with the PROINPA seed potato nursery and laboratory in Mérida and an ambitious school lunch program in Caracas and other cities.
  17.  Armando Bartra, “De labores invisibles y rebeldías excéntricas” in Cuál es el Futuro del Capitalismo, eds. Raúl Ornelas and Daniel Inclán (Mexico City: Akal Mexico, 2021), 38–63.
  18.  El convite is similar to the Andean collective labor practice called la minga in which community members come together voluntarily to carry out an important task. Convites usually take place on family farms and involve offering participants a shared meal (hence the name: convite means “invitation”). Mano vuelta refers to the practice of one person helping another in fieldwork, who later returns the favor.
  19.  Niyireé Baptista, Edgar Abreu, and Arturo Mariño, Alimenta al poder popular (Caracas: El perro y la rana, 2017).
  20.  Gabriel Gil Torres, “La lucha contra el latifundio en la Venezuela Bolivariana,” paper delivered at La Primera Conferencia Internacional “Tierras y Territorios en las Américas,” August 23–26, 2016, Universidad Externado de Colombia, Bogotá; Ana Felicien, Christina Shavoni, and Liccia Romero, “The Politics of Food in Venezuela,” Monthly Review 70, no. 2 (April 2018): 1–19.
  21.  “Although gold and silver are not by Nature money, money is by Nature gold and silver.” Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 183; Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (New York: Charles H. Kerr and Co., 1904), 212.
  22.  The deep intertwining of capitalism with fossil fuel use should not be taken as an excuse to shirk combating the latter even within the current capitalist framework. Obviously, both the capitalist system and fossil fuel use need to be overcome, and the urgent character of the environmental crisis should lead us to aggressively pursue an end to fossil fuel use now, even if its complete elimination is unlikely to occur while capitalism persists.
  23.  Martínez, Cronología del Petróleo Venezolano, 27; Miguel Tinker Salas, Una herencia que perdura (Caracas: Galac, 2013), 54, 67.
  24.  For a fascinating account of oil’s deep imbrication in U.S. society and culture, see Matthew T. Huber, Lifeblood: Oil, Freedom, and the Forces of Capital (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
  25.  Kléber Ramirez Rojas, Historia documental del 4 de febrero (Caracas: El perro y la rana, 2005/2017); George Ciccoriello Maher, Building the Commune (London: Verso, 2016).
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