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Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela

Latin America’s experiments in direct democracy
Since 2011, a wave of popular uprisings has swept the globe, taking shape in the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, 15M in Spain, and the anti-austerity protests in Greece. The demands have been varied, but have expressed a consistent commitment to the ideals of radical democracy.

Similar experiments began appearing across Latin America twenty-five years ago, just as the left fell into decline in Europe. In Venezuela, poor barrio residents arose in a mass rebellion against neoliberalism, ushering in a government that institutionalized the communes already forming organically. In Building the Commune, George Ciccariello-Maher travels through these radical experiments, speaking to a broad range of community members, workers, students and government officials. Assessing the projects’ successes and failures, Building the Commune provides lessons and inspiration for the radical movements of today.

Reviews

  • “George Ciccariello-Maher reminds us of the extraordinary achievement of Venezuela’s communes in fostering direct democracy at the community and workplace scales. Whatever storms may come, they represent the highest level of popular self-organization in modern Latin American history.”
  • “Democracy has been emptied of its content, and Building the Commune offers an alternative model for political organization: the Commune, whose roots are in 1871 Paris but whose contemporary emergence is in Venezuela. A sharp and important book that puts at center-stage the ambitions of ordinary people to govern themselves.”
  • “George Ciccariello-Maher’s careful engagement with the revolutionary creativity of the communes traces a trajectory of hope for Venezuela – and also for the rest of us looking for the forms of our emancipation. Attuned to the ways left and right exploit the streets and social media, Building the Commune is essential to the Left’s renewed discussion of the tactics and strategies for building collective power.”
  • “In the post-Chávez era in Venezuela, one under-reported institution stands out as the repository of popular aspirations: the Commune. George Ciccariello-Maher brilliantly describes their activities against the background of increasing political strife. Essential reading for all those anxious about the future of Venezuela.”
  • “Behind the rampant debates on Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro's legacy, millions of men and women in Venezuela's smallest towns and largest cities are building local communes. Ciccariello-Maher's book is a triumph of reporting, narrative, and theoretical analysis. It's a testament to what happens when you keep your eyes open, your ear to the ground, and your head on straight.”

Blog

  • The desire for a leader

    Sophie Wahnich's reflection on the first round of the French presidential election was first published in L’Obs on 27 April. 



    What I take from the campaign and the result on 23 April is French people’s increasingly powerful desire for a leader. The three figures who dominated the debates expressed this same aspiration: Marine Le Pen, of course, but also Emmanuel Macron, acting solo against the parties, and finally Jean-Luc Mélenchon, even if he claims not to be doing so.

    This aspiration to be led by a powerful incarnating figure is a worrying one. For the people crying out for this are often the same ones who often refuse themselves to engage in the invention of the society of tomorrow. The desire for a leader often goes hand-in-hand with a refusal to take responsibility. Certainly, the presidential election encourages this. In my view, this desire is a symptom of the present day world, and is not specific to France.

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  • Mélenchon: A Radical Reformist Against Mounting Oligarchy

    The Belgian philosopher Chantal Mouffe — a thinker who inspires French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon — defended her project in a column appearing in the 15 April edition of Le Monde. Translated by David Broder.



    Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s breakthrough into third place in the presidential polls has unleashed a campaign by defenders of the status quo trying to pass him off as a "communist revolutionary." After long having dismissed Mélenchon, part of the press is now working to destroy the credibility of his programme, presented as the "cloud-cuckoo-land plans of the French Chávez."

    Painted as a dangerous extremist, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is attacked by all those who think that there is no alternative to neoliberal globalisation. For them, democracy requires acceptance of the "post-political consensus" established among the centre-left and centre-right parties. Any questioning of this consensus must be the work of populist demagogues.

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  • Verso Books at Historical Materialism NY



    Verso Books is a proud Co-Sponsor of this year’s Historical Materialism New York Conference: “Resurgent Radicalisms in a Polarizing World.” The conference will be held April 21-23 at NYU and will bring together hundreds of radical scholars in conversation and debate on some of the most pressing questions posed today by social movements and Marxist theory. More information about the location and registration is available here

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