BOOK REVIEW: Building the Commune

Reviewed: Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela, by George Cicciarello-Maher, Verso Books, 2016.

Venezuela’s kaleidoscopic political scene – a constant struggle which is often simplified in mainstream media – is articulated with clarity inBuilding the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela (Verso Books, 2016). Drawing upon historical episodes and the more recent forms of right-wing violence, political scientist and author George Cicciarello-Maher allows the reader to delve into a tangible Venezuela with a perspective that is conscious of political complexities and the historic importance of grassroots movements.

In a previous book, the author makes an important distinction between the late Hugo Chávez and the people, reversing the prevailing narrative which portrays the former leader as the sole protagonist of the Bolivarian Revolution. In Cicciarello-Maher’s new work, a key focus is the commune, which is intertwined with Chávez’s legacy and is manifested through the people’s will to participate in political discussion and economic development from below. By empowering the communes, Chávez ultimately helped continue Venezuela’s long struggle against neo-colonial rule and elitist violence.

In Building the Commune, Cicciarello-Maher points out that radical democracy, while channelled by Chávez through state policy, rests among the residents of the barrios, whose fight for geophysical space in the city is a natural reaction to dispossession by elites. The rewriting of the Venezuelan constitution in 1999 indicated a shift from rhetoric to action. As the author states, “It’s too easy, Chávez insisted, to simply call things socialist without changing their fundamental structure.” Read more.

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