Friday, August 31, 2007

Misiones, State and Revolution, pt 2: Social Reproduction

A while ago, I wrote an entry concerning the 5 ‘motors’ of the Bolivarian Revolution. More than an organizing thematic or a template for nifty billboards, these 5 motors are reminders of is so revolutionary about the Bolivarian project. Case in point: today's installment of my series of entries re-thinking the state through the misiones Bolivarianas.

One doesn't have to have read Foucault to appreciate that capitalism and the state (to the extent that the two can be separated) do not reproduce themselves through blatant and obvious shows-of-force. Indeed, the most effective use of power, its most efficient production, occurs when state and capital can mold willing subjects, cloak our subjection (meant in both registers--subjection as in being subject-to as well as in being created as a subject) in the robes of 'choice' and 'liberty' (ahh...liberalism!). While "capital-p-Power" certainly retains the capacity to use violent and immediate force (indeed, it remains defined by such expressions), the use of violence by the state all too often signals a weak point, or at the very least the incapacity of the state to rule through its ideological and consent regimes. (There is a reason, after all, that the first thing Pedro Carmona and the other coup-mongers did back in 2002 is send the military to the streets to kill off uppity Bolivarians).

All of this is to say that the Bolivarian Revolution carries with it an authentically revolutionary appreciation of the situation in Venezuela, and the conditions underwhich it can be successful. Transforming the Fourth Republic reality of Venezuela they have inherited requires more than rewriting the constitution, more than establishing laws that are more favorable to the majority of Venezuelans. While these reforms of the state are indeed necessary and provide the necessary space for actual change to occur, the process can only be successful in the reproduction of capital and state Power is disrupted. This is the long, hard work of revolution, without which the Bolivarian Revolution is doomed to being referred to as 'an experiment' by future generations of Venezuelans and others who want to create a better world.

In this regard, the 5 motors provide us with a roadmap of what is to be done, and the misiones allow us to make it happen.

The First Motor, the enabling laws, is nothing new to Venezuela or the region. They have been used by every president since the end of the Pérez-Jiménez dictatorship either to get rid of urban guerrillas through various constitutional and unconstitutional means (Raphael Caldera's first presidency, 1969-74), nationalize important sectors of the economy (Carlos Andrés Pérez’s first presidency, 1974-79) or privatize them (Andrés Pérez’s second time around [1989-1993]). The difference between these past examples and those of Chávez has been that Chávez is looking not to avert an immediate crisis (Caldera), hand out benefits in order to gain popularity (Andrés Pérez) or meet the demands of international financial institutions (Andrés Pérez again) but rather to bring about a future where these sorts of measures are no longer necessary.

The second motor, constitutional reform, looks to make the potentials of the 1999 constitution reality, and to deepen the revolutionary process.

The fourth, the new geometry of power, is an authentic decentralization. That is, whereas previous rounds of decentralization allowed for more formal democratic participation by allowing local and regional officials to be popularly elected (previously, they were appointed by the president), this more often than not just made for the localization of strong man politics and more intense nepotism. This motor calls for power to be exercised in the country outside of Caracas and Maracaibo. It replaces ‘liberal’ or ‘representational’ with protagonistic democracy.

The third and fifth motors are absolutely essential for understanding the role of education and social reproduction in the Bolivarian revolution.

Third and fifth motors

The third constituent motor of Bolivarian Socialism, ‘Moral y Luces’ emphasizes the necessity of education and revolutionary commitment in the construction of a new society. Like Che Guevara’s much toted ‘New Man’ of the post-revolutionary period, the Bolivarians recognize and emphasize that the world they have inherited and been formed by – the morality, instrumental rationality and social hierarchies of the fourth republic in Venezuela and neoliberal capitalism the world over – are neither desirable nor sustainable for the vast majority of the world’s human and non-human population. In order to change this reality, to make a new society, one needs to produce new men and women.

These new men and women, full social beings respected for more than their capacity to sell labor and die quietly are the propellants of the fifth motor, the explosion of communal power. This, the most radical of the motors, is the real withering of the state which is taking place more and more with every new project planned and executed ‘from below’ here in Venezuela. This is what is most threatening to the opposition and their masters in Washington. That is to say, that is to say, aside from the explicitly racial formation of anti-Chávez and anti-Chavista sentiment, the most threatening aspect of the Bolivarian Revolution is the intense dialectic being formed between the extreme poles of constituting and constituted power in Venezuela. Political power is increasingly tending towards Chávez or the base communities, all mediating institutions and positions are being pushed aside.
(Hence the seemingly asinine response of the opposition to Chávez’s constitutional reforms proposed recently. Rather than arguing that the proposals should be approved or disapproved en bloc as demanded by Chávez, the opposition is demanding the proposals be voted on one by one. Three important things here: first, they know they cannot win an outright victory against Chávez by voting the entire package down. Separating out the reforms allow them to put all their energy into attacking those reforms that are most noxious to their interests, such as redrawing the political-territorial map of the country or the end of an autonomous central bank. Secondly, debating the proposals one by one can perhaps buy them a bit of the appearance of rationality, which have heretofore been sorely lacking. Third and finally – and here members of Chávista-affiliated parties like Patria Para Todos (PPT) and PODEMOS have just as much at stake as opposicionistas – such a maneuver makes them and their function look necessary. If developments continue apace in Venezuela, with Chávez announcing x, y, or z reform which the population at large can either approve or disapprove, or with the Communal Councils of x, y, or z municipality directly designing policies or infrastructural development without having to go through layer upon layer of absentee ‘representatives’ or state bureaucrats, the National Assembly may become all but obsolete.)

The Educational Misiones: Robinson, Ribas, and Sucre

These three misiones, like misión Barrio Adentro, are perhaps the most well known of the Bolivarian missions. By 2005, Misión Robinson I, a basic literacy curriculum, succeeded in making Venezuela an ‘illiteracy free’ country, having sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers and volunteers into the most dangerous and underdeveloped parts of the country as teachers.Misión Robinson II extends part I’s scope to cover primary school subjects like math, geography, literature, science and social studies. Students are often ‘non-traditional’ in their age and background, being predominantly adults from the sectors of Venezuelan society traditionally excluded from educational opportunity.
Misión Ribas (in which I teach English in La Vega, a large barrio in the south western part of Caracas) offers secondary education to graduates of Misión Robinson. In addition to directly providing education to students and citizens, the misión provides resources and scholarships as their studies require more and more attention. Misión Sucre does similar things for higher education, pursing and guaranteeing access to private and public universities. Sucre also includes the foundation and development of the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela in Caracas in 2003, though perhaps more importantly the misión includes the formation of more than 20 university level specialization and regional schools throughout the country.

Related to the concrete developments of the educational misiones has been the call by the government to end the entrance exam regimens for the nation’s private and public schools. It is telling, then, that the so-called ‘student movement,’ which discredited themselves as tools more quickly than any movement in the history of moving, has shifted the focus of their ire from the ‘closing’ of RCTV to Primero Justicia’s ‘Misión Vida’ and the demand for ‘autonomy’ of the university from the state in policy if not funding. This is classic class power at work. As the Bolivarians rightly point out, the ostensible ‘meritocracy’ of university admission is actually a rather robust filter that works to keep the majority of the poor out of universities. The fact that the revolution takes education so seriously (perhaps because, rumor has it, Chávez is up reading Negri long after I’ve fallen asleep watching illegal downloads of US-cooking shows) is both a testament of its recognition of the import of education to maintaining the current formation of class power as well as an absolutely necessary component of the building of a new society.

Misión Vuelvan Caras/Che Guevara

The terrain of Misión Che Guevara (formerly known as Misión Vuelvan Caras) is the very reproduction of the socio-political reality of Venezuela and the way it is and will be imbricated in global capitalist production. It not only argues that capitalism is fundamentally bad for human development, it seeks to produce actual and actualizable alternatives. The misión starts from an analysis of the role of poverty and unemployment in capitalism, human tolls it contends are the consequence of a social system that treats things like people and people like things. From the text of the misión’s mission statement:

“Unemployment and poverty are the main problems associated with capitalist production. The dependency produced by an import and mono-productive economy based in oil has made many nations forget the fruits of the earth and the creative capacity of their people, putting in place a market that only benefits the most powerful, pushing to the side small and medium sized productors.
“Misión Che Guevara is a program that celebrates the creative power of the people, through their protagonistic participation in the production of goods and services. In this way, the Bolivarian Government is pursuing a new model of development – from within the people – whose objective is to advance national production.”

That is, the new path initiated by Misión Che Guevara is one where the path of development emphasizes living labor, whereas capitalist development emphasizes commodity production. It furthermore extends this fundamental Marxist insight into the nature of capitalist society to the trap of monoproduction suffered by so many postcolonies in general and oil economies like Venezuela in particular. This is key. The Bolivarian revolution seek to redistribute the wealth of the oil economy, this much is obvious. However, the truly revolutionary task being undertaken is the redistribution of national production tout court – the transformation of what Venezuela ‘does.’ Without changing the composition of productive processes within the Venezuelan economy, the Bolivarian Revolution’s ability to provide for the poorest Venezuelans will be determined by the demands of the international market. More importantly, without changing what it means to work – that is, without changing the role of human labor power and creativity from its current position as an alienated commodity sold to an exterior force and inserted like so much machinery into the productive process to that of protagonist within the productive process, affirming rather than negating its creative capacity through human interaction – the Bolivarian Revolution will limit itself by failing to adequately diagnose the task it faces.

Thus, Misión Che Guevara emphasizes ‘endogenous development’ by which it means
“to develop all that we need to live from inside our society, without having to depend on other countries. [Endogenous Development’ is the social, cultural and economic transformation of our society, based in taking back our traditions, respect for our environment and egalitarian relations of production, allowing us to transform our natural wealth into products we can consume, distribute, and export to the outside world. It is also:
“To facilitate the ability of communities to develop the agricultural, industrial and touristic potentials of their regions.
“To incorporate persons who have up to this point in history been excluded from educational, economic, and social systems.
“To build productive networks where we all participate in an equality of conditions where we have access to knowledge and technology.
“To put the infrastructure of the state which have to this point been abandoned (state industries such as industrial cities, factories, idle lands, among others) at the service of the people in order to produce goods and services.
“It is, finally, to transform ourselves in order to transform society.”

‘Endogenous development’ thus not only means (finally) bucking the ‘why build it when you can buy it’ mentality of petro-states, it also means the revolutionary integration of economic and socio-cultural aspects of human life.
(One of my favorite examples from within Caracas: the predominantly youth-based artists' collective "Tiuna, el fuerte." And! they're online at
Projects which fall within the ambit of Misión Che Guevara range from artists’ collectives and youth hip-hop organizations in urban Caracas to agricultural centers in Aragua. Participants in the Misión also take part in other misiones – in the educational misiones as students or in Misión Arbol as organizers and workers, for example. The point that is always emphasized, however, is the trading of the egoistic pursuit of individual gain for the furtherance of the collective both in means and ends. Traditional wage labor structures are replaced by communally owned and directly democratic workplaces, cities transformed from what is increasingly a collection of privatized and fortified pods of nuclear families and smaller to sites which foster the participation of whole communities, and so forth.

The misiones in general, and these 4 (5, if you want to count both stages of Robinson separately) recognize that the terrain of contemporary anti-capitalism is the terrain of social reproduction. Leninist models of a dialectic between the seizure of state power and the distribution of power to workers' soviets, while important precedents, cannot obtain in Venezuela without significant adaptation. Work here is so informalized, so pre- and post- industrial (to the extent that such temporal descriptions edge on the absurd, and not just for 'industrial'--categories like the 'modern' and 'colonial' need to be used with rather heavy qualification in Venezuela if not the world over) that previous strategies and tactics of the class struggle should be seen as fellow travellers' examples rather than necessary antecedents and roadmaps. By centering so much energy and focus in 'the social,' the Bolivarian Revolution allows for a more fluid and expansive disruption of Capitalism in Venezuela, openning up more space for positive transformation and more occasions for victory celebrations.

1 comment:

Keegan Smith said...

nice article. I was there recently also but don't have the litarary skills nor historical knowledge for such an article. Mine are pure passion though I haven't yet done justice to my thoughts on Latin America or venezuela. My blog is
Thanks for sharing!