Aló Presidente Teórico #1 stands as one of the Bolivarian Revolution’s most important theoretical references. It is not a book or a pamphlet, but a four-hour televised with over two thousand people. On June 11, 2009, Chávez introduced into the national debate the key ingredient in the Venezuelan path towards socialism: the commune.
‘Giving birth’ to socialism
“It’s impossible to have a revolution without revolutionary theory, that’s what Aló Presidente Teórico is about.”
This is how Chávez summed up the show’s goal. In the first episode alone, Bolívar, Marx, Mészáros and Mariátegui were a few of the references brought up.
The six-episode broadcast series, and the first one in particular was an opportunity to define concepts, add new elements to debate, link theoretical ideas to concrete popular experiences, tear apart traditions inherent to capitalism, all alongside a constant exercise of self-criticism.
The former Venezuelan president highlighted the “creative flexibility” that should be the mark of all revolutions, calling for a balance between building something new and drawing from past experiences, such as the commune in the Chinese Revolution. It was the moment to take the leap towards a higher form of popular organization, to “give birth” to socialism from the communes.
In this inaugural broadcast, Chávez dwelled on two important and symmetrical warnings. On one hand, he stressed that the communes would not be the work of the presidency or any other institution but a creation of the masses. He urged communards to take ownership of their popular governments, territories and means of production, and to never become the tail of government bodies or political parties. The commune belonged to the people.
On the other hand, he insisted that all state institutions should place communes front and center in discourse and practice, as opposed to thinking they were someone else’s problem. “Wherever the revolutionary government goes to set up a new socialist project, it needs to boost and help build the commune,” he said.
Chávez would come back to this point very strongly in his last public address, “” (October 20, 2012). He repeatedly asked his ministers “where is the commune?” and concluding with an impassioned cry of “commune or nothing!”
The nation’s new body
Participatory and protagonist democracy, a central tenet of the Bolivarian Process, was written into the 1999 Constitution. After that, different popular organization efforts finally took shape in the form of communal councils, with their legal basis set in the 2009 Organic Law of Communal Councils and the 2010 Organic Law of Communes.
In Aló Presidente Teórico #1, Chávez called for communal councils (nuclei) to come together and form communes (cells) according to their social and territorial reality. The communes would then take control of the local means of production in order to self-manage the needs and projects of their communities without submitting to outside political and territorial control.
According to Chávez, these self-government cells faced five main battlefronts: moral, social, political, economic and territorial.
The televised program did not allow for detailed discussion of every issue, but it did lay down guiding principles such as the need to consolidate social property. Equally important, in Chávez’s vision, was going beyond local dynamics, weaving communes together to build a unified national system in the mid to long term. Quoting essayist Antonio Aponte, the president emphasized raising political, social, economic and organizational relations from the grassroots to the national scale.
“This is the nation’s new body, built from below, from the communes.”
Progress and challenges for the communes
Between 2010 and 2012, 50 communes were registered and 214 were “under construction.” In 2013 there were 350 active communes. Nowadays, according to official figures, the country has 3,278 registered communes and a further 970 under construction.
Chávez’s call to multiply and empower communes has faced several challenges and contradictions. The economic crisis and US sanctions have undoubtedly hampered the process. Nevertheless, the communal project is still alive.
El Maizal Commune stands out as an example of this leap towards popular self-government. In Aló Presidente Teórico #1, El Maizal’s young spokesman, Ángel Prado, showed how the commune was breaking the old political-territorial barriers by spanning in both Lara and Portuguesa states.
In the 12 years since, has become a reference for popular power recognized in Venezuela and abroad alongside several others such as (Caracas) or the (Mérida). Amidst all the difficulties, these experiments have continued on their path of invention to uphold the socialist horizon.
“We won’t fail history, nor the future.”