I’ve been reading a couple of books recently that I feel have some links to things happening in the UK right now. I’ll look at the books for now and will write about how I think they could apply to the UK later.
So the first that I’ve been reading is Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It’s a slim book, but not the easiest to read. The sentences are complex, the language (I’ve been reading it in English translation) difficult and the presentation of the ideas not always clear. Often I thought the ideas themselves were actually relativley understandable but hidden behind a presentation that complicated things. The most interesting parts (as far as I was concerned) looked at some practical ways that the ideas could be put into practice. Namely how dialogue could be put into practice with communities. This dialogue would occur between a ‘leadership’ from outside the group and a community group itself. The focus of this could be, for example, literacy. However the dialogue would have to encompass more than just literacy, and could not be just a process of rote learning. It would have to involve a genuine discussion about the lives of those living in the community, and of the ‘leadership’. Both must learn from each other and the outcome should be more than just the community being literate at the end. It has to open up a dialogue about the ‘objective world ‘ around them and their ‘subjective views’ of it. Through these discussions the objective world can become clearer and the actions that need to be taken to become more liberated are revealed. The book centres the importance of genuine dialogue and a genuine interest in discovering truth through this dialogue. The leadership is not there to dictate to the community. Perhaps another example where this could be put into action is clean water and making wells. Obviously the creation of a well is not enough, at the very least the local community need to know how to use it, how to fix it and how it’s made so they can repeat the process if needed. To put the dialogue truly into practice though you would have to go beyond this. Clean water leads to discussion about health, about health inequalities, about the roots of the inequality and perhaps the articulation of these problems as political, economic and social. Suddenly we’ve got a different set of issues that need addressing that are all related to the initial question – the clean water supply.
The second book I have read is Building the Commune by George Ciccariello-Maher. The author is very openly pro-chavez and has little time for the Venezuelan opposition. He is not blind to the faults of the government though, especially with regards to the contradictory actions it has towards the Communes throughout the country. The focus is on the Communes that have been formed in venezuela and how they have become semi incorporated into the state in some cases. The state gives powers for communes to take power of certain previously private resources, allowing local groups to form and take control of certain parts of the production or the flow of goods and commodities. The communes are varied in their aims, with some having specific enterprises to make certain products for the community. Others centre more around reproducing a communal culture, creating communal housing, or in some cases trying to prevent gang violence. The communes are varied in their stances towards the state, some standing against the government (although having no illusions about the opposition). Others working with the government more and accepting their help. An important part of the book is the contradiction between the states vocal support for the communes, and the actual lack of support and sometimes antagonist actions taken by the local chavistas. They see in the communes a threat to their power. Examples are given of chavez visiting communes extolling their virtues and promising them more powers, but then once he left nothing changed. The communes had not option but to continue on their own, often fighting the local chavista officials to reach their aims. This is not to say the government gives no material or legal support to the communes, but there are tensions between the different ‘centres of power’ if you will. In some ways what may be developing a system of dual powers, the government and the communes, which are sometimes allied, but still have different interests. There are no doubt many in the government who want to push power to the communes, just as there will be many who will be wary of giving up their newly gained power to these institutions. Ultimately the book’s thesis is that any socialist future in venezuela will involve the expansion and increasing power of the communes.
The relationship between the Venezuelan leadership and the communes could be looked at through the lens of pedagogy of the Oppressed. The communes have projects, ideas and goals that they wish to achieve. The government comes to ‘dialogue’ with them. From speeches chavez and other chavistas have made it seems genuine that they wish to work with them and help them. The new laws giving communes powers to take control of and etc also seem to point to a genuine wish to work with them. So in this respect the first part of ‘dialogue’ seems full filled – a genuine wish to discuss ideas. However the problems that have been experienced between the state and the communes suggest that the dialogue is not truly achieved. This may be explained by the chavista project itself creating new layers of interests within the state and local governance who do not want to share their powers (as mentioned before). To truly unlock the potential of the communes the government must fully engage with the communes near constantly. Discuss the sources of their problems and essentially must learn from them. They cannot go in arrogantly assuming the Commune would be so grateful to just have them there. I am not an anarchist, I am not convinced that the state can be dismantled and the powers just taken over by the communes immediately. There will be conflict between the two, those in the government who believe the true transformative potential in society is within the communes must push for more dialogue and more powers to be transferred to communes as they organise and demand more. The two can never be fully in sync, but perhaps it will be through the tensions and contradictions that will exist between these two sources of power that will lead to new ways of organisation and production. Over time new institutions of popular power may grow from these tensions. The future of socialism most likely lies in these communes, which currently both need and fight against the state. Certainly the opposition will have no truck with them and they know this. The government needs these communes as well. The revolution was predicated on them, and will be doomed without them. Pedagogy of the Oppressed has something to offer those in government truly interested in transforming society.