Venezuela: Extraction-ism, Movements, and Revolution

Source: La Jornada,

Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuela Analysis

Some days ago a meeting was held in Caracas to debate the relationships between movements and states, and how autonomy and popular power can build alternatives to development that is dependent on the extraction [of oil and minerals] model. Members of thirty organisations and movements participated, from cooperatives grouped into Cecosesola and the National Network of Bartering Systems, to Amazon and Yukpa indigenous groups, youth, culture, afro descendents, feminist, and urban and rural collectives. There were also debates and meetings with the Tenants Movement.

It’s important to affirm the strength and determination of these movements, the profoundness and truth of their analysis, the autonomous character of their reflections, the certainty that they face a decisive period of political life. If one had to summarise, something that is difficult when words circulate around and around, there would be three central topics that were discussed: getting away from extraction-ism, deepening autonomy, and constructing a new type of productive model.

Exctraction-ism appeared in two ways. One was expected and customary, linked to the social and environmental damages that mineral and petroleum mining cause, which threaten the life of indigenous and rural communities. The killing of Yukpa chief Sabino Romero by rancher mafias on 3 March in the Sierra de Perija in Zulia state is part of the offensive by the large landowners against those who struggle for the demarcation of their ancestral territories in an area where mining is advancing.

Many non-indigenous groups and even urban ones fight against the consequences of the extraction model. The consequences generated over the last half century or more by a model based on extraction and exportation of petroleum are added now to the growing presence of mining and the construction of large infrastructure works.

The criticisms of the “rentier culture” which converts the movements into dependents of the state and which has a long tradition in Venezuela, was something unexpected. One of the big changes in this country has been the democratisation of the petroleum income, previously reserved for just a few people and now showered on the popular sectors. However this democratisation has reinforced the rentier culture and installed the productive model as something immovable.  In the heart of the movements, this culture goes against productivity, as some collectives that make the Central Park Tiuna el Fuerte stated.

The interesting thing about this view is that it places the problem below, not above. Extraction-ism is a fact of reality, just like the hegemony of rentier culture. But what they denominate as lack of “productivity” is part of a cultural challenge that can be dealt with and won. That’s what the movements talked about and they are focusing their efforts on this task.

The producers grouped into Cecosesola (Central Cooperative of Social Services of the State of Lara) supply a quarter of the population of Barquisimeto, capital of Lara, with food, with their three weekly markets that sell 450 tonnes of food.  In their six health centres they attend to 190,000 people per year. Everything they do is self-managed.

The bartering network exchanges what it produces, from food to handicrafts, but also knowledge and services. It uses communal money and it asks itself how to promote the construction of popular power without being destroyed by inept civil servants or the power of money.

The Tenants Movement is occupying over three hundred buildings in Caracas, many of which were abandoned and are now self-managed.  The urban movement groups together tenants who resist evictions, the urban land committees that were born in 2002 when the regularisation of self-constructed urban settlements was approved, residential workers, and those who have lost their homes to floods. They are building fourteen groups of housing based on mutual help, they create urban communities on the path to a profound urban revolution.

Tiuna el Fuerte is one of the most powerful urban youth experiences in the continent. It’s one of the few collectives that manages to work with poor youth who do illegal things, to build spaces with them for cultural and artistic creation through their participation in the Endogenous School of Hip Hop. The reflections about petroleum rentier-ism  by the women of Latent Voices, who work with the collectives of Tiuna el Fuerte, are notable; if we manage to change the rentier culture and inclusion through consumerism  for a productive and self-management culture, we’re starting to leave the extraction model behind.

It could be said that in harmony with certain structuralism, while the productive model isn’t changed, the behaviour of the population won’t be, that culture depends on production, that culture can’t do it alone, that this way of doing politics has post modern repercussions. However, the class struggle, the struggle in general, isn’t a structural fact but rather a building of ethics by those from below. There aren’t determinisms from the productive forces towards the rest of the society. We shouldn’t judge without knowing the intentions of those who are doing.

In Venezuela there are powerful movements, understood as collective practices capable of transforming parts of society, modifying the material and symbolic place of those who form part of them. On occasions this part of society has felt and feels supported by the state and by diverse governments. On occasions, it hasn’t. The truth is that there are people in movements, doing things to change their lives and society. Whatever happens will happen in the next few years, they will be there, fighting for a better world.